Disclaimer: A bunch of people seem to own Naruto now. I'm just not one of them.
Author's Note: I highly suggest rereading chapter 5 over because of the editing that I've been doing to the story over the past several months, and there's a big change in what happens when Sakura comes home from Jounin training. I wanted to change the dynamics of her relationship with Sasuke, and I feel that this will add just a tiny bit more tension to the story as well as strain Sakura and Kakashi's seemingly perfect relationship. Other than that, I can't apologize enough for the long delay in getting this latest chapter out. I know it's been over a year…but…well, life just happened.
Kazuki slowly stepped out of the shadows just behind the shop, terminating his concealment jutsu, a specialty that only shinobi from the Hidden Village of Cloud knew, and he clenched his hands in anger. He watched as Naruto and Sakura blended with the rest of the villagers that rushed through the now crowded street, and he growled in disgust.
"I'm not going to lose her to that one-eyed freak," he muttered to himself. "I've got to get her out of this damn village before she remembers how she really got to the Hidden Village of Cloud." Enabling an Invisibility Jutsu, he jumped high onto the rooftops of the tiny shops, quickly finding Sakura's pink hair in the crowd, and he proceeded to follow her and her loud companion.
Chapter Seven: More Discoveries of the Distant Past
Naruto tried to be optimistic. He really tried to do his best to keep Sakura's attention as he pointed out various shops and places that they had been to together as Team Seven, but when they passed the Yamanaka Flower Shop for the third time, Naruto wearily called it a lingerie store for old women that his grandmother loved to frequent, and upon receiving another indifferent nod from Sakura, he had had enough.
"Sakura-chan, I don't think this is working," Naruto commented, pausing just outside of the Yamanaka Flower Shop, snapping Sakura out of her private thoughts.
"Yes, a lingerie shop, I heard you," she said absently, and Naruto simply shook his head, pointing her attention to the huge variety of flowers that filled out of the shop onto the sidewalk in front of it. Sakura felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment and readied an apology for him when he cut her off.
"No, don't worry about it. Maybe Kakashi-sensei was right; the excitement you've had today might've been too much already-"
"What does he know about what I can handle anyway?" she snapped at the mention of him, and Naruto held up his hands defensively.
"I'm not picking sides, but you do seem a little out of it, Sakura-chan," he said calmly. "I really don't want to do this if it isn't helping you any. And the entire time you've been with me, you haven't had any flashbacks or anything. I'm really not sure what else I'm supposed to do." Sakura felt even worse at his words, lowering her head in shame.
"I know you're trying your best, Naruto, and I'm really sorry that I haven't been keeping my end of things by staying engaged to what's going on," she whispered. "It's just that…UGH, he's so infuriating! I basically spilled my heart out to him, and he brushed me off…"
"I'm sure he's hurting just as much as you are," Naruto offered uncertainly. "It took him a long while to recover from your disappearance, and to have you suddenly back into his life must really be shocking for him." He felt a small smile spread on his face. "Even I can't believe that you're back here in Konoha; you were…-are one of my best friends, Sakura-chan. To think that you had died…Sasuke and I were devastated, but Kakashi-sensei must've had it a thousand times worse. Maybe he needs a lot more time than you do to figure things out." Naruto bit his lip, thinking he had gone too far, but Sakura slowly absorbed his words and finally nodded her head in agreement.
"You're right, Naruto, you're absolutely right," she stated. "It was wrong of me to keep pushing him to accept my reappearance. I guess I don't understand the situation as much as I thought I did." In a wave of spontaneity, she engulfed Naruto in a huge hug, tightening her embrace. "Thank you, Naruto. I probably would have been wallowing all day if you hadn't knocked some sense into me." She grinned as she looked up into Naruto's face, and when she saw his blue eyes soften at her, a sudden wave of familiar dizziness hit her, and Naruto, recognizing the expression on her face, carefully held her steady as she began to waver on her feet.
"So that's it, then!" Naruto glared at her as she struggled for the words that would not come to her defense. Naruto angrily paced in his living room as Sakura sat on his couch, looking guiltily at her shaking hands clasped tightly together on her lap. "He's been gone for years, Sakura! Now that he comes back, you're so quick to leave me-"
"No, you're wrong about that, Naruto!" she cried out, jumping up from the couch to face him. He paused in his steps. "It's just…it's been so long since he's been back, and he's seriously injured from his fight with Itachi. I just want to stay awhile in the hospital to be there when he wakes up, and I've just got to come up with a way to convince to Hokage-sama to pardon him-"
"What about me?" The tremble in Naruto's voice was obvious as he kept his head bowed low. "I've been here for you all this time, Sakura. We've been together since…since he's left, and I'm still here for you." He slowly lifted his blue eyes, slightly brilliant with unwanted tears, to meet her wide-eyed gaze, and quietly, he approached her, taking her hands into his as he reached her. "I love you, Sakura-chan. Ever since we've been little, I've always loved you, and being assigned to Team 7 with you years ago only gave me an even better opportunity to fall deeper in love with you. You're so much like me, you know?" A sad smile crept its way to his lips. "You always tried your hardest, and yet…it was frustrating to always have people remind you of your helplessness, right?" Naruto knew he hit a soft spot when she lowered her head, tears fighting to break free. "We're the same, Sakura. We understand one another. He can't give that to you, but I can."
"Why are you saying all this?" she fired out, breaking away from him. "Are you having fun pointing out my mistakes-"
"No, you know I wouldn't do that to you." He reached for her hand again. "I'm saying that we're happy, right? There's always been a part of you that loved Sasuke, and I know that I can never ever take over for him. He was your first love, and those are always the toughest to get over. But he can never understand you, Sakura. He can never understand how deeply you've felt for him, nor does he completely understand that all those times you've tried to look out for him, you only did so because you loved him."
"Sakura, he's not meant for you!" The words hit her like a block of cold ice running down her spine, and she flinched as she pulled away from him again.
"…He needs me," she whispered.
"I need you," Naruto shot back, anger drifting into his tone. "Don't I mean anything to you? Do you know what the hell you're putting me through? I've always been second to Sasuke in everything, especially when it came to you. Now that you're with me, do you honestly think I'm going to let you waltz back to him without putting up a fight?" Her shoulders shook as Naruto grabbed desperately onto her. "Do you love me, Sakura?"
"Of course I do!" she replied automatically, looking up to stare into his blue eyes. "I love you more than you know. I've told you thousands of times before-"
"Then marry me." Sakura paused in her struggling to gawk at him as her jaw dropped down in complete shock.
"Marry me, Sakura." His tone was that of a desperate plea though his face was impassive, showing little of the tension he was feeling throughout his entire body. "I love you, and you love me, and it's the only next logical step, isn't it? We've been together for years, and this is something that I wanted to go through only with you."
"…I…" All she could hear was her heart pounding painfully in her chest, screaming out that she didn't deserve such a man in her life, that she was lower than the lowest of scum, and above all, that if she married him, she would never be fully happy unless she could give her all to him. As much as she wished things were different, Naruto just wasn't that person, especially now with Sasuke's return. She had to try things out with Sasuke before she could go devote her life to Naruto, and as much as it pained her to realize this, it was tougher still to let the man who had supported since they had been children know of her decision. She couldn't live life through the endless thoughts of 'what if…' and now that Sasuke was back, she knew she couldn't let her chance slip away from her.
Even if it meant letting Naruto go.
Naruto knew her more than she realized when he took one look into her eyes to know what her mind had made up. Lifelessly, he let his arms drop to his side as he turned and stepped away from her.
"You don't have to say anything," he whispered bitterly, his back turned toward her. "I know what you have to do. Just go now…before I can't let you." Sakura inhaled sharply at what was happening, and as a natural reflex, she moved toward him, but paused when he moved away from her as though she would poison him with her touch. "Don't make it harder than it has to be!" he growled through clenched teeth. "Just leave!"
"Naruto…" She backed away from him and headed out of the living room toward the door. She took one final look back at him, and by the shaking of his figure, knew that he was trying desperately to hold back his emotions. "Thank you." That one sincere phrase from Sakura was enough to break his heart, but he kept himself composed as she slowly opened the door and walked out of his apartment.
Seconds later, Sakura heard a faint anguished cry accompanied by the sound of breaking glass hitting the front door. Immediately, she sprinted away to the hospital, her tears blinding her gaze as she ran.
Sakura opened her eyes only to discover a pair of familiar blue ones staring down at her in concern, and she shrieked, flying as far away from Naruto as possible.
"Sakura-chan, what's wrong?" he asked hurriedly, reaching for her, but she swatted his hands away.
"How can you ask me that when I've done such horrible things to you!" she blurted out, unaware of the crowd that was gathering outside of the Yamanaka Flower Shop. "How can you still be so kind to me when all I've done is hurt you? Especially…especially…"
Recovering from her rather shocking reaction, Naruto realized immediately which memory had been recovered when she refused to even look at him, guilt heavily playing upon her features. "Hey, Sakura, that was years ago," Naruto commented, trying to make light of the situation, though the pain of the repressed memory of their breakup was suddenly rubbed raw at the mention of it. The way Naruto had learned to deal with it was to forget about their relationship altogether, resorting back to putting Sakura on a pedestal where he could never ever reach her, wondering how in the world he had been so lucky to have been with her for so long. There was no way he could ever bring himself to hate Sakura even after all that had surpassed between them, and in the end, he had blamed himself for not being enough for her. The pain of his inadequacy in their relationship resurfaced as he stared at the broken woman in front of him. Once again, he wasn't enough to comfort her or bring her happiness.
"It's just…I didn't expect to find out that I was such a horrible person!" she whispered, her tone breaking Naruto's heart once more. As much as he wanted to forget about their relationship, Sakura had always been his very first love, and like he had told her in the past, those were always the hardest to get over.
"C'mon, Sakura, let's go somewhere else," he said, putting his arm protectively over her shoulders as he them away from the prying eyes of the curious onlookers. He was barely able to bring her to the alleyway next to the flower shop before she started to sob again.
"What the hell was I, Naruto?" she begged him to answer. "First I find out that I'd been engaged to my SENSEI, and before then, Sasuke-kun, and now…you…? What the hell, was I just some sort of Team Seven whore!"
"Whoa, Sakura, calm down-"
"Honestly, how can one girl go around through all of her guy friends like that?" Her cheeks were blotched and puffy from humiliation and she refused to look up at him. "What kind of person was I? Looking back at this girl I used to be, I just can't understand how I could have been so selfish and so…just so horrible."
"Hey, c'mon Sakura, stop," Naruto pleaded, not sure how to handle anything like this. The last time he had ever had to deal with her being this hysterical was when Sasuke had disappeared for good without anyone knowing of where he had gone to. But he had never ever heard her bash herself this much. She had always been the type of girl to come off as someone who was confident in herself, and even when they had been dating, she was extremely reluctant to show her vulnerability to him. They had been reaching that point in their relationship when Sakura was finally allowing herself to turn to him whenever she needed help, but Sasuke's return had simply ruined that. Naruto just couldn't take seeing his Sakura-chan this broken, and doing the only thing he could think of, he embraced her.
Sakura froze momentarily as soon as he had her, but she instantly struggled, feeling unworthy of such an act of kindness, especially with all that crap she knew she had to have put him through. Naruto wouldn't even budge an inch, and Sakura finally looked up at him, her face crinkled and messy as she recognized that same familiar expression he had always given her, she was sure, from days past. "Why are you so kind to me still, Naruto? I don't deserve any of it."
"I don't honestly know," Naruto answered truthfully. "You did treat me like crap." Sakura paused at the brutal honesty he was displaying, and when he smirked at her, she couldn't help but crack a smile back at him.
"I didn't expect you to agree with me."
"I'm stupidly honest." Naruto was fully grinning now, relieved that she calmed down even for a little bit. "Look, it's mid-afternoon, but you've already been through so much today, so why don't I take you back to your home? You should rest up so that by tomorrow, you can continue your progress-"
"I don't want to go home." Sakura crossed her arms defiantly as she turned her gaze outward toward the bustling street. "I don't want to see Kazuki right now, nor do I want to be alone with him in that house. I really don't know what's going on with him, but he's just not acting like himself. He's been so weird ever since we arrived in Konoha."
"I really don't trust the guy," Naruto stated, trying not to sneer at the thought of him. "I get a really bad vibe around him, so I guess I can understand why you wouldn't want to be around him right now."
"He really wasn't like this before." Sakura frowned as she thought back to her fiancé, and how different he was when they were back home in the Hidden Cloud Village. "He's really a very kind and caring man that it makes no sense to me why he's so suspicious of everything. Now, it seems he's always constantly watching his back for something to attack him." She shook her head as if to clear him from her thoughts before she looked back at Naruto. "If you really wouldn't mind, could we take that little tour around Konoha again? I was…slightly distracted the last time." Naruto grinned widely and nodded, and together they walked out of the alleyway, nearly running into a person who let out a very meek shriek before she was able to get out of the way just in time to avoid a collision.
"I'm really sorry!" Sakura let out to a very shy girl who was already bowing her head in apology even before Sakura had uttered a word.
"Hinata!" Naruto greeted, and the girl immediately straightened up, her cheeks aflame as she stared at her boyfriend. Even after all this time, he still was able to make her blush furiously beyond her control, and her eyes were so focused on him that she barely registered that Haruno Sakura was standing next to him, staring at her as if she had absolutely no idea who she was. However, when Naruto placed his hand Sakura's shoulder, Hinata felt her jaw drop at the sight of her, and for a moment, she felt her heart stop, especially when she silently observed how Naruto's face lit up in a way that she hadn't seen in years. She then felt her jaw drop even further when she realized that Sakura wasn't dead.
"Sakura, this is Hyuuga Hinata," Naruto introduced, and Sakura bowed respectfully, keeping a polite smile on her face, easily concealing all the despair that had been written on there just a few minutes before.
"I-I-I thought that you were-"
"She's been alive this whole time," Naruto immediately answered. "To keep things short, she's lost her memory of Konoha, so that's why I've had to reintroduce you to her."
"It's nice to meet you, Hyuuga-san," Sakura greeted, and Hinata merely bowed back in response, noting with a sinking feeling that time had only been very good to Sakura in terms of physical looks. 'Naruto-kun is already charmed by her!' Hinata thought to herself, feeling her old self-esteem issues arising for the first time in years. 'It's only natural to feel this way,' she thought quickly to herself, trying not to panic. 'Anyone would feel uncomfortable seeing their boyfriend hanging out with an ex-'
"Is there something wrong, Hinata?" Naruto was staring at her blankly, and she shook her head vigorously.
"No, I'm fine!" she answered in a high squeak before she cleared her throat and repeated her words in a much normal tone. "I was just looking for you because you told me to meet you at Ichiraku today-"
"Oh!" Naruto slapped his hand against his forehead. "I forgot that we had plans-"
Hinata wanted to cry. 'Oh no, it's already starting!'
"-after all the excitement yesterday and today with Sakura's return, things have just been slipping out of my mind." He chuckled. "We may have to postpone today's date because I've got to reacquaint Sakura with all the familiar places and people-"
"Hinata!" The outburst made both Naruto and Hinata jump as they stared at Sakura in surprise. "I remember you! Well, you appeared for a brief second in one of the memories that I've recovered. I saw you with Naruto…" Her voice trailed off as she looked back and forth between the two. "You two were dating weren't you?"
"We still are," Hinata said, finding her voice, and Sakura smiled in excitement as Naruto blushed a little bit.
"Well, then don't let me keep you from hanging out together!" Sakura was quick to say, but Naruto shook his head.
"I said I'd help you, and I'm not one to go back on my words," he insisted before he turned to Hinata. "You don't mind, do you Hinata?"
Hinata forced a smile onto her face. 'Of course I mind!' "No, I understand-"
"Look, we're right next to the Yamanaka Flower Shop so I'll just drop by to see if I can find Ino," Sakura insisted. "I don't want to keep you from enjoying your normal, everyday life just because I'm here-"
"But that's the whole point," Naruto shot back. "I never thought I'd see you again, but here you are…" Naruto's bottom lip trembled as he tried to keep his emotions in check, which was becoming a very hard thing to do with each passing second. "Now that you're back, I almost feel like I don't want to let you out of my sight in case this is some sort of messed up dream…"
"Naruto…" Sakura had no idea what else to say as she looked at him as though for the first time, trying desperately to comprehend the extent of the pain her sudden appearance in Konoha was causing those to whom she had been closest to. It was hitting her with every encounter that she threatened the closure that each one of them had struggled to deal with when they thought she had died in combat. Did she really have a right to make them to face such emotional trials again just so she could discover her past, a past that seemed to open up only more wounds the more she delved into it?
"I'd like to show her around," a voice called out to the trio, and they all spun around to the source of the voice. Sakura narrowed her eyes before she made to flee in the opposite direction. "Let me do this one thing for you. Please, Sakura." She paused mid-step as he whispered her name, and almost as if against her own will, she turned and stared back at Sasuke.