DISCLAIMER: Once again, I don't own anything. Sigh. And if the characters are OOC…hell that's what happens a lot in FAN FICTION. ^_^

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am SO sorry for the long delay! I've been swamped with papers to write for Film Theory…and if any of you have taken a course on the critical analysis of Film Theory before, you know how crazy the papers end up being o_0...It's surprising that I even find time to sleep…Anyway, thank you all for your reviews, and I'm so sorry that it's taken me this long to put up Chapter Three! I can't promise quick updates, especially since I've got tons of research to do for my classes…Sigh.

*****

Simple and Clean
By: Goddess-Isis-112
© 2003, Valerie Royo

"Of course I don't have a heart!" he yelled at them as they continued on their path. "You stole it from me a long time ago, Sakura…" He saw her stiffen as she looked back at him, biting her lip to prevent herself from crying. "You've had it for a long time," he went on as Naruto sneered at him.

"SHUT UP-" Naruto started to yell, but Sakura motioned for him to stop.

"I give it back to you, then, Sasuke-kun," she shot back, turning away abruptly as she pulled Naruto along. "I don't want something that's of no use to me, especially since its dysfunctional." A severe pain stabbed into him, as if Sakura had in fact butchered him with a knife; her words were sharp and intended to wound him, and he felt he was dying. His vision blurred, and turning in the opposite direction, he ran home, grateful that the sun had now completely dipped beneath the horizon. He didn't want anyone to witness his falling tears.

***

Chapter Three

Naruto sat in quiet contemplation on the roof of his apartment complex with Sakura leaning into him as they gazed at the Hokage Memorial. Their intertwined fingers lay just between them, and Naruto glanced down, as if mesmerized by the sight. Never in his dreams did he think that the day would come when he would be spending the evening with his Sakura-chan, holding her hand the way he was at that moment, studying the Hokage Memorial beneath the bright moonlight. He had always wished for it and had always hoped it would happen, but with Sasuke around, Naruto was never too sure it ever would.

Yet, for once in his life, fate had been kind and granted him one of his many wishes. He was there with Haruno Sakura, the girl he had been in love with for ages. He smiled against her hair, taking in the comfortable whiff of sakura blossoms she fittingly smelt of, and he glanced up at the heavens, thanking whatever deities made it all possible.

"…Naruto?" Sakura said quietly, tugging him away from his thoughts.

"Hmm?"

"Now that we're a little older, you look a lot like him…like Yondaime," she said, tilting her head slightly as she looked at him a moment before turning her gaze back to the Memorial.

"Jiraiya-sama said almost the exact same thing to me," he said. "Humph! But I'm far more devilishly handsome." He grinned widely at her, as if to prove his point, and she merely giggled, shaking her head at him.

"I guess so," she teased, tilting her head against his, and she smiled when she felt his fingers tighten their hold on her hand.

"Sakura-chan?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you really happy…you know, with your decision?" he asked, letting his insecurity slip into his tone for the first time, and Sakura straightened in alarm, studying his solemn face as he stared out to the town below. "It's just, when Sasuke finally said something…of how he really felt…I was scared." It was disconcerting to see him so vulnerable, especially when Naruto was anything but, given any situation.

"I understand," she replied, "but after all that's happened between the three of us, there was one thing that remained constant, one thing that never ever wavered." She smiled at him and pulled him in for a small hug, and he relaxed in her embrace. "Your feelings for me were always there, and you were never ever afraid to admit it. That's what made me fall for you, Naruto. I can trust you." He sighed when she snuggled against him, burying her face against his chest as she closed her eyes in contentment.

She didn't see his frown.

***

Sakura approached the bridge where Team Seven met every morning and wasn't at all surprised to see Sasuke waiting there alone. A little of her anger from the night before was triggered when she saw him leaning so casually against the bridge railing, but along with it, she felt a twinge of guilt for what she had said to him. She had admitted to herself afterwards when she had settled into bed the night before that maybe her words were a little too harsh. Sasuke wasn't one to openly declare his feelings the way he had, and Sakura had been too angry to realize how much it must have taken him to say what he did.

"Good morning, Sasuke-kun," she greeted solemnly, and he flicked his eyes in her direction before returning his gaze to the water below them.

"Aa," he responded, and she drew closer to him, noticing the bags under his beautiful eyes.

"Sasuke-kun…?" she began, and when she didn't continue, he turned to give her his full attention.

"What?" he asked bluntly, carefully hiding the fact that being that close to her again made him feel even more empty than usual. Her words haunted him all through the night, and no matter what he did, he couldn't abate the hurt that still lingered within him. He hated her for getting to him, for making herself such a staple in his life, and above all, he blamed himself for not realizing sooner how much she really meant to him.

"About last night, I'm sorry about what I said to you," she apologized, lowering her gaze. "I was so angry that I said some things that I shouldn't have said-"

"Doesn't matter," he cut in abruptly.

"I was harsh," she continued as if he hadn't interrupted, her eyes softening. "You didn't deserve any of it…not most of it anyway." She let out a forced chuckle that quickly died when he didn't reply and merely stared at her when she finished, and she smiled sadly at him. "Was it true?"

"What?"

"What you said last night," she clarified. "About, you know…your heart…?" Sasuke felt his cheeks redden and he looked away from her, making sure to keep a scowl on his face.

"Doesn't matter," he repeated. "It's not like it would change what happened-"

"Thank you," she said modestly. "Knowing your feelings…it means a lot to me."

"Aa," he answered brusquely, every cell in his body attuned to her close proximity. The wind had picked up slightly and playfully blew the strands of her pink hair across her face, shielding one of her brilliant green eyes from his gaze. Without another thought, he reached over, tucking the mischievous lock behind her ear, his fingertips brushing gently across her cheek. She flushed immediately, as did he, and he snatched his hand back as she recoiled away from him, looking in the opposite direction, distinct relief written on her face that their noisy, blond teammate had yet to make his appearance.

"Sorry," he muttered, shaking his head. "Don't know why I did that."

"It's okay," she said back, shuffling a bit on her feet with her arms folded over her chest. "I was just surprised."

"Aa." Once again, irritation flared at his indifference to everything and anything, and Sakura quietly frowned at him but said no more.

An awkward silence fell between the two of them, and conversation ceased altogether, both not knowing how to respond to what had just surpassed between them. The breeze picked up again, this time a little stronger, and Sakura shivered, turning her back to Sasuke as she discreetly trailed her own fingers down her cheek along the same path Sasuke's had followed just seconds before. 'Damn it, Sasuke!' Inner Sakura sobbed. 'Why now, why, why, why, why, WHY?!'

"Good morning, Sakura-chan!" a voice broke through her reverie, and she erased her troubled expression in time to greet Naruto with a smile.

"'Morning, Naruto-kun," she replied as he ran toward her, nearly knocking her down as he rushed to wrap his arms around her.

Sasuke watched them from the corner of his eye, and his scowl deepened, knowing that once again he was jealous of Naruto, not because of the immense power he was capable of, but because this time, Naruto was the one who got a hold of the only girl that Sasuke had ever allowed to get close to him. He observed Sakura blush prettily when Naruto proceeded to plant an affectionate kiss on her lips. Sasuke couldn't help but wonder what it was like kissing Sakura, and he turned away angrily, knowing that now that she was with Naruto, Sasuke would never get his chance to find out.

Just then, Kakashi arrived, much earlier than was normal for him, appearing in a cloud of smoke right behind Naruto and Sakura. His visible eye eagerly drank in the sight of the kiss, and Sakura pulled away from Naruto, fire in her eyes as she shook her fist angrily at Kakashi for rudely staring at what was supposed to be a private, personal moment between Naruto and her. Kakashi merely crinkled his eye and tilted his head as he smiled innocently behind his mask.

"Y-you pervert!" Sakura berated, hands on her hips in an uncanny impression of Ino when angered. "Why ruin your record and arrive on time?" With that question, Kakashi's face grew solemn, much to the surprise of his team.

"There is something we have to discuss," he answered simply.

"What is it, sensei?" Naruto asked.

"As you know, with the fall of Orochimaru, we've been able to have peace for a short while, though we've been keeping tabs on a few of his former subordinates," Kakashi explained, lacking his usual aloofness. "Now, we haven't been able to hold a Chuunin exam nor send Genin teams off to other Countries because of the high risk of ambushes from Sound and Sand. However all three of you are on Chuunin level, as are most of the Genins your age."

"What is going on, Sensei?" Sakura asked quietly, when Kakashi paused, as if to measure his words carefully before speaking.

"A few of our ANBU spies have obtained scrolls that support the rumor we've been hearing about," Kakashi replied slowly. "Orochimaru's subordinates are planning to attack Konoha once again, and they've teamed up with those of the Akatsuki, though we haven't any idea of what deal they've made with them-"

"The what?" Naruto cut in.

"The Akatsuki, a group of 9 shinobis with no allegiance to any of the major Hidden Villages," Kakashi explained. "They travel separately in groups of two, gathering and assembling new jutsus as well as working as paid mercenaries." He paused. "Most of them have been written down in the bingo book because they're highly dangerous."

"What exactly does this lead to?" Sasuke demanded bluntly. "When are they to attack?"

"It is estimated in two days, three at the latest," their sensei sighed heavily, "which is why I'm telling you all of this. We have to be on our guard because this might be the start of a new war."

"What do they want from Konoha?" Uchiha growled. "Why are Orochimaru's subordinates coming back?"

"It's me, isn't it?" a plaintive voice answered, and they turned to stare at Naruto who had grown quiet. "Because…of what's inside of me, right sensei? They tried to get me before when I was training with Jiraiya-sama."

"Yes," Kakashi answered, "but it's not just you this time. We have reason to believe they're going after a couple of others as well."

"Who else…?" Sakura asked, terrified.

"…The heir of the Hyuuga clan is also targeted as well as it's genius Branch member," he informed heavily. "They want the power of the Byakugan."

"But that means…" Sakura glanced wearily at Naruto who grew distraught at the news. Since their first Chuunin exam, Naruto had grown a deep-rooted respect for Hinata, especially after the way she handled herself in her battle with Neji.

"They're also after Hyuuga Hinata and Hyuuga Neji," Kakashi confirmed with a nod. "Because of that, the Hidden Village of Cloud is also joining Sound and Sand in attacking Konoha-"

"Because of what had happened with Neji's father!" Naruto cut in, his eyes wide. "They couldn't get the Byakugan from him because of the cursed seal he carried, which erased all traces of it when he died! That was what he was talking about during the 3rd exam…"

"Correct." Their teacher was solemn.

"Then why would they want Neji?" Sakura asked in confusion. "If they murdered him, they wouldn't be able to get the secrets of the Byakugan since he has the same cursed seal his father had-"

"We haven't all the details," Kakashi sighed, "but we are pretty sure that they don't know that which is why the Cloud Country hasn't complained about being unable to extract the secrets of the Byakugan from Neji's father. They've heard of his abilities because of the Chuunin exam that was held here a few years ago."

"So what part are we to play in all of this?" Sasuke could barely contain the anger in his voice. "You said the Akatsuki was going to attack with the others, didn't you? That means…that means-"

"Yes," Kakashi whispered, lowering his head. "Itachi is coming back, Sasuke. However, I must warn you that you can't leave the village because of what happened before-"

"I know," he growled out, his eyes narrowed into tiny slits.

"You should be grateful that Tsunade-sama was lenient in allowing you to return instead of having you executed," Kakashi continued.

"I KNOW!" Sasuke lashed out, breathing heavily. "I know that I can't do anything, okay?!"

"I can read those eyes of yours," Kakashi muttered, "and I don't like what's going on in your mind one bit, Sasuke-"

"Who asked you to?" he shot back, glaring hatefully, his hand instinctively going to the crook of his neck where his cursed seal used to dwell before it faded with Orochimaru's demise. "Don't worry about me. I know better now."

Do you really? Kakashi wanted to question, but kept silent as he studied his subordinate.

"We can't let them get Naruto!" Sakura's voice was hoarse and she reached out to clutch Naruto's hand in her own. "They might…t-they might-"

"Kill me?" Naruto finished quietly for her, and she shut her eyes at the words, moving even closer to him.

"That's a possibility we'll have to deal with," Kakashi answered, shrugging, "which is why all three of you must be alert at all times. It has been decided that the targets, Hinata, Neji, and you Naruto, will have a group accompany you during the next few days. You won't be able to wander off alone-"

"But-" Naruto started to protest.

"It's for your own good," his sensei cut in abruptly. "I know you are all older now, and that you've all grown tremendously during this tumultuous time, but you will not be left alone under any circumstances."

"I can protect myself!" Naruto growled, his injured pride ruling over his common sense. "I've done so before, and I don't need any fucking help-"

"Naruto…" Kakashi's voice trailed off in warning, and Sakura squeezed his hand, her green eyes pleading with him to calm down.

"NO! I understand why I'm a target, but I'm a strong enough ninja-"

In the blink of an eye, Kakashi suddenly appeared behind the stubborn shinobi, his hand crushed against Naruto's mouth, muffling his protests. "If you can't even escape from me, how do you except to dodge those who are stronger than me?"

"Show off," Naruto sputtered when Kakashi relinquished his hold on him before folding his arms across his chest.

"So that's our mission then?" Naruto frowned. "I just have to sit and hide while all of you protect me?!"

"Because we've been a team over the past few years, I'd like to think we've gotten pretty close," Kakashi commented wistfully, "which is why it would be wise to stick together. They might try to attack those precious to you…which is also why all of us, especially you and Sakura, have to be extra careful. Don't think of it as guarding just you, Naruto. Think of it as the best way to protect all of us."

Naruto growled angrily. "If EVER they lay a filthy hand on Sakura-"

"They won't," Sasuke confirmed just as fervently, his eyes flashing.

"Of course not!" Sakura scowled angrily. "I've grown stronger, too! Don't forget that. I'm not the same cry-baby I used to be." She straightened a bit, her eyes set in steely determination, and Kakashi smiled secretly beneath his mask.

"Now that all of that is established, I suggest you clean your apartment, Naruto, and make it somewhat fit for human habitation," Kakashi continued. "Sakura, Sasuke, pack a few things to last you a week, or more even-"

"Wh-what?" His three subordinates blinked blankly at him.

"Didn't any of you understand what I meant when I said we'd have to stick together?" Kakashi asked innocently as his visible eye crinkled.

Sasuke paled. "Y-you don't mean-?" The smile beneath Kakashi's mask seemed to grow wider as the cloth moved and folded with his lips.

"Yup! Along with an ANBU team, we're moving in with Naruto until this all ends!"

*****


TBC...
Okay, I don't know where I'm going with this. LOL. Please review!