She's getting used to having him around.
Standard disclaimers apply.
Notes: I actually quite like Naruto and Sakura. And I thought it was about time I took a hand in writing one.
It turns out that it was a lot longer than I had expected, and I rather think this is my favorite piece of fanfiction I have written so far.
Timeline: Pretty far ahead. As far as chapter 236 or so, manga-verse. Just pretend that Naruto never left ok? Those are for the spoilers, but I think in age, they're both around 18 or 19 or so. But feel free to put whatever age you want.
Pairings: NarutoSakura of course, and some one sided SakuraSasuke, implied InoShikamaru, and some hints of KakashiShizune.Habitual
He was always there, and she supposed that there were really only two options. Either she wouldn't be able to stand him anymore, or she would get used to it.
She chose the latter of the two.
It wasn't like she had ever really minded; after all, they had both grown up.
Grown up, and grown used to the silences that pressed around them, all in the form of a boy. Well, not a boy anymore, not really, but to them he would never grow, and never age.
They've grown used to being a three-person team.
They've grown used to the way the shadows moved when there were only three people. They would have had to, to stay alive.
Not that it had been easy, suddenly being left alone in the world, everyone (including themselves) pointing fingers at them. The stares and the whispers, and thinking this now, she realizes what it must have been like to be him.
But war was a much more pressing matter than perhaps spending time to talk snidely about the leftover team of the traitor, and they both learned to tread carefully around certain people. They had to, in order to survive.
It probably hurt the most when she realized that they were leftovers. People he had discarded carelessly when he left, people that perhaps he never even cared for.
But whenever she brought this up, even timidly, Naruto would only get a wistful look in his eyes. "He called me his best friend." He had said once. But only once.
It hurt each and every day, and she (they) slowly learned to get through life despite the pain. It ached like a constant wound in her side, and she knew it would never heal.
She supposed that was why he started following her home.
She didn't even know what home was these days, her parents being people she had to tread carefully around, and her apartment felt too new to be called a home.
She knew how he felt, she knew that if she was alone she would start thinking strange thoughts and wanting to cry. (Even when she promised to herself that she would never cry again, she still felt like it, and that was something promises couldn't change.)
It was not so much following he home, as trailing along and (at first) staying in the shadows. She had always known he was there, even when he was pretending he was not, for they were a team, and she was trained to sense him. He had also not tried to disguise his chakra; it flowed around him in a cloud that was too big to be anyone else's and too bright to be forgotten.
And everyday, when she was at her door, fumbling for her keys, (she had never quite picked up the knack of getting her keys out as she walked, and she knew that subconsciously, the reason for this was probably to prolong opening the door and facing the silence. Even more subconsciously, she wanted to give him time to catch up.) he would appear beside her, out of nowhere, just melt from the shadows to her elbow.
And she would say nothing at this, simply opening the door (somehow, after he appeared, she wouldn't fumble anymore, the keys would always just kind of fly into her waiting hands) and walking in. And trusted him to close the door behind him.
The first few times she had been startled (though she did not show it; something else she had learned over the years.) and even considered asking him why he was here.
But then she saw the look in his face. The look of sadness that rested there, that made its permanent home there, and she didn't want to ask anymore. After all, she had the same look on her own face. (And if she had asked him, he might have left, and she didn't feel she could stand the silence)
And it wasn't as if she actually minded. After all, he wouldn't make a mess, or go through her stuff. (not that she had any stuff to keep private. Not from him, anyways.) He would just sit, and watch her.
(The first time this had happened, she had felt an urge rise up within her, bubbling up and threatening to break loose from her throat. The urge was to scream at him, to tell him, I need you to be loud.
(She did not think about the I need part)
She had considered asking him what he wanted for dinner, before remembering who he was (or, more accurate, who he was to her) and started making her own dinner, ignoring him.
She had made two portions, though, and set two places. And though he did not say anything, or even smile, he had eaten it all with a quiet concentration, and she had taken it as a good sign.
And after dinner, he had washed the dishes for her.
She did not ask him to, or expect him to, but as soon as she was done, (Naruto, being Naruto, had finished much sooner than her—and even, she had noted wryly, managed to eat more cleanly than her) he was up and whisking her plate out from under her, and by the time she had turned around in her chair, her mouth open to protest, the water was already running.
And she had closed her mouth slowly, sitting quietly in her chair, not daring to move as he bustled around. She had felt like a guest in her own house.
But that feeling passed quickly, and by the time he was done, she was back on the couch. She was watching him as he walked into the living room, and she didn't know what to say. She didn't know if he was leaving or not, and just as she had made up her mind to ask him, he sat down. Carefully, trying not to make a sound, (though, being Naruto, of course he did. Not that his effort went unnoticed) he sat beside her.
She got up, and started on her training exercises.
When she first looked over, after about an hour or so, (sweat was starting to bead on her forehead, and she remembered suddenly that whenever Ino visited, she always complained of the lack of heat in the apartment, and she could only shrug, and smile, and say that she didn't have enough money to heat it like Ino's and Shikamaru, and that she didn't mind the cold so much. At this, Ino had met her eyes, for the first time since walking into her apartment, since the first time since he left, and in her eyes she had seen an infinite well of understanding and regret and she had realized—with dawning horror—exactly what she had said—double entendre and all—and before she could take it back, or protest that she hadn't meant it like that, Ino had smiled, and it had all been ok, because, in her heart, she had meant it like that. But the truth of the matter was that she was never in here long enough to feel the effects of the cold before she either started to train or to cook, and she had been blessed with many members of a family, that, faced with the prospect of a kunoichi moving out, was clueless as to what to give her as a housewarming gift besides blankets. And she tried not to spend too much time at home.) when she looked up, wondering what he was doing, just sitting there, (Naruto was not one for sitting still and quiet, no matter how hard he wanted to) his eyes had been focused far away, and she realized with a start that he was practicing his chakra control.
At this, she had smiled slightly and went back to her pushups.
And when she went to bed, she left him there, pausing in front of him uncertainly, not sure whether or not it was ok to disturb him.
In the end, she had settled for leaving him at it, trusting him to turn off the lights when he was done, (she had not lied to Ino when she had said that her salary as medic-nin did not go far) and just in case he wanted to leave, she had left the spare key on the table in front of him, knowing he would get the message to lock the door behind him.
She had not slept so well since he had left.
In the morning, long before the sun had risen, she was up and awake, and (for once) feeling refreshed. She had bounded into the living room.
The first thing she had noticed was that he had left. And that her key was gone.
The couch had his body indent in it, and she knew, smiling slightly, that he had slept there.
She also knew, even without checking, that the door would be locked.
That day, she had arrived at her usual time, and (as usual) he was there before her. It was not until she had raised her voice for her usual loud Good Morning! (She still said it in the same tones, and tried not to make it any louder, even if it was only Naruto left, even if the final piece of the team 7 puzzle was gone, making that she only said it to him) did she realize that she had not said a single word to him the night before. And he had not said anything either.
They talked normally that day, and they both gave more than 100, just to make up for the person that wasn't there, and, it was just an ordinary day.
Yet, even before she had started off for home, she knew that he would be following her.
And as time wore, on, he no longer bothered to hide, walking behind her in plain sight.
And as time wore on, her slowly stopped walking behind her, and began to walk beside her, and she started to enjoy watching their shadows grow long in the sunset.
Even on the days without training he was there. Waiting for her, yet not saying anything.
She began to expect it, to expect opening the door to him sprawled on her couch, all arms and legs and messy blonde hair.
And she slowly learned to smile at this.
The first thing she said to him, in her house, after he had left, was to ask him what he wanted for dinner.
A look of surprise flowered on his face (replacing the one of darkness that had rested there only seconds before) and she knew that half of it was because she was wearing that same surprised expression.
But it had quickly faded (and along with it, the weariness that had previously occupied the space) and a grin took its place. A big, goofy grin, the kind that stretched from ear to ear. (The kind that she had slowly learned to expect whenever he was about to do something exceptionally clever and he knew it, and after he received a mission, no matter how stupid or suicidal or bloody.)
And he had grabbed her hand, and dragged her out of her own apartment (she was not supposed to be this weak, she knew, but somehow, when his hand came into contact with hers, her body had gone nerveless and limp) saying with the same wicked charm that made him the talk of the market gossips, (demon or no demon, and she had always felt a surge of anger hearing it) "I thought you'd never ask, Sakura-chan."
And the next thing she knew, she was sitting at the ramen bar, and he was proclaiming that he'd treat her. (And the old man behind the counter was giving her the kind of looks that said far too plainly that he knew exactly what Naruto was doing, and why she was here, and that she was not the first (or the last). She had always wondered where Naruto found time to go on dates lately, since he was always at her place. She refused to listen to listen to the voice that insisted that he hadn't. Gone on any dates lately.)
But she had eaten the ramen just the same (making yummy noises even though she knew it was a lie and that Naruto wasn't listening anymore) and had blushed hotly (even though she didn't know why, because they were teammates, not, not, lovers or anything) every time her eyes met those of the old man behind the counter's.
Needless to say, the next time Naruto had suggested the ramen place (she could never remember the name of it, and always wondered why they didn't just call it "Crappy Ramen", since that was what she thought of it anyways, and no one would get confused) she had made a face that, though it wasn't very big, spoke volumes, and he had smiled wryly (a smile that said, I know exactly what you're really thinking, but it's ok, I don't mind) and had let it go.
And Sakura had found that she was eternally grateful for it, not knowing what she would have said if he had tried to press the matter. (As the days passed, she grew more aware of not wanting to hurt him. Though she told herself stubbornly that that was because they were both carrying enough hurt not to ask for more.)
And also, when she had asked (timidly), he had grinned, and said; of course I like your cooking.
Whereupon she had smiled back.
He had never missed a day, and even when they began to take more separate missions, he was still at her door, waiting for her to get home.
He still had her key, but he never used it except to lock the door on his way out, and she had never even considered asking for it back.
And after they had started talking, he helped correct her physical training, and she gave him hints to improve his mental.
Their talk was a shield, comforting her from her day, and the shaded glances that were thrown her way by the people in the village.
They never mentioned his name.
And when the war had swelled to its bursting point, she had stood in her apartment, (empty for once, since she and Naruto were only given a moments notice to pack and leave) and she had cried, despite her promises to herself.
While tears rained down her cheeks, she couldn't figure out who she wanted more to walk through her door.
It wasn't until the first night camped out, that she realized how much she missed it.
The fighters and the healers had been put into two different camps, each on one side of a huge clearing, with clear instructions not to leave or move after lights-out.
And it wasn't as if she hated sharing a camp with Shizune-san. (Quite the opposite actually, since the older woman was fun, and full of stories that made the Hokage seem like a real person, and not like the strict taskmaster of a teacher Sakura had known. And best of all, she knew not to talk about him.)
But she found that she missed his smile.
And she told herself quite firmly that habit bred comfort.
She was in little of the actual fighting staying behind instead. Yet she was ready to run out at a moment's notice, run out and perhaps sacrifice her life for a stranger's. She found, (during the war) that she thrived in the pressure of it all.
She only got to see him once. His face had been covered in blood, and he had been trying to wave off the medic that attended him. (Even from far away, she could practically read his lips as he was explaining about the demon's blood. Though the medic-nin didn't look too impressed by the self-healing story, instead focusing more on the wince on Naruto's face as he tried to pretend that a kunai in the arm didn't hurt.)
She had only seen him once.
Kakashi-sensei, however, was everywhere, as he always was. He was at the front of their advances, always ready with words of encouragement, even in the face of things that, though no one what they were, they all agreed that they weren't human, and had something to do with snakes. He even appeared next to her at one time, as she was waiting at the sidelines, hidden and crouching in the leaves, trying to watch the fighting that unfolded with the indifferent eyes of the veteran that she was and not quite succeeding. He had smiled at her with one eye like he understood, then offered her the shallow wound on his arm.
In fact, he often visited her in her tent (he seemed to be exempt from the "no movement after hours" rule) with words of encouragement, and asking her about her day. (Whether he was really there to see her, or Shizune-san, she had her suspicions, but any thought of her teacher having romantic thoughts towards something other than his books, no matter how worthy they were, made her shudder. And she noticed that her roommate never asked why he was there, and in fact, often walked Kakashi-sensei back. Which made her feel dumb, since it seemed as though that rule only restricted her.)
She missed most of what was known as "The Final Fight." All she saw of it was the exploding part of it, and as she crouched beside her patient, she could feel the enormous chakra (red was mixed in the darkness, and she felt relief knowing that Naruto was still alive, at least.
And she was there, when they pulled him out on a stretcher, Nine-Tails, for once, too weak to heal him.
When he had seen her face, streaked with tears that never stopped sprouting. Just as his wounds had never seemed to stop bleeding, he had tried to grin his usual grin.
And since, by then, the war was technically over, and since she just really didn't give a flying fuck anymore, she ran forward and hugged him.
She had been in charge of dealing with the bodies, both with removal, and identification, and as she did her job, she couldn't help but search for the traitor's face.
When she couldn't find it, she wasn't sure if she was disappointed or relieved.
When she had been allowed to visit Naruto (swathed up thickly in bandages and being held in the make-shift hospital they had set up, and grinning widely throughout it all) they were both weary and tired and jaded.
He had been surrounded with flowers (where everyone had gotten them, she had no idea, since they were still on the edge of the forest that rested up to stone cliffs, but one thing she learned being a shinobi was that when there was a will, there was a way. Another she had learned was never to trust someone to "always be there") and she had felt kind of embarrassed seeing them, and knowing she had none to offer up herself.
He struggled to raise himself slightly. (His chakra, having been spilled all at once that day, was slow in returning. Though the Hokage had estimated that it might only take a week before he was back to normal.) And then winced with pain
She had smiled slightly, and held up two bowls of instant ramen. His face had immediately brightened, and she tried not to think about the knot of worry that had loosened in her chest.
"I packed these before we left," she explained, walking towards the bed, "and I promised myself that if we were both alive by the end of this, we would eat it together."
(She did not tell him that she had a packed a third ramen bowl, for the absent member of their team. She could not even bring herself to think of it, nor to throw it away.)
They had all returned dusty and victorious with banners (and promotions) flying high, and when she went back to her apartment, she had felt relief upon seeing it.
She had learned that she was not that suited to war. That no matter how much she thrived in it, she was still dead tired and could still feel homesick.
She had decided firmly that she would spend at least a week resting before giving in to temptation and seeing if her new jounin status gave her a chakra boost. (Kakashi-sensei had accepted the open position of ANBU captain, though he had joked wearily—nobody listened, of course—that he was too old and lazy to don the mask again.)
She did not think about the emptiness that had filled her as she stepped into her home, and if she had, she would have just assumed it was because of the end of the war. And the still-missing-nin.
But she had been home only one day before he had come over.
She had been right in the middle of her training (she decided that, as a medic-nin, she could judge her body's own limits, and let her silent promise go the way of her New Year's Resolutions) when she had heard the knock.
Surprise (and sweat) had been plain on her face as she opened the door. She had never taken Naruto as the type who would knock. She did not mention that he still had her key, (silently afraid of its return) instead leaving the door open and returning to her training, heart full.
She found that she could enjoy the silences, when he was there to share in it. And then she always left the door open for him.
Less than a week after they had returned, he had shown up at the usual time, but something was different. Something in the way that he carried himself, and she was suddenly aware that he towered over her (gone was the shortest member of their team, gone along with the gangly teenager that she had had to live with, full of declarations of love. Naruto had not declared anything to her in a long time, not since she had been made chuunin and he jounin—all in the same day, Kakashi-sensei joking proudly all the while that they were really two of a kind. Her heart ached with what she told herself were memories.)
But, being Sakura, she had not wanted to ask him about this; this new air that hovered around him, the war, and the disappearance of the last unaccounted for general weighing down on her, and had merely blinked. Tried to blink it all away and have her old friend back.
Instead of saying this, she had merely asked him what he wanted for dinner.
He had gazed at her with eyes too blue to be natural (but they were, she knew) and said nothing, only shifting his weight slightly.
She had smiled at this (her smile, as they all were these days, was wide and fake and too bright to be anything but something to be plastered on) and turned to prepare something, wanting the cloud to vanish.
He had reached out a hand and stopped her then, grabbing onto her arm. She had frozen, aware of nothing but the feel of his hand on her skin, and her heart pounding in her ears.
"Sakura-chan." He had said, his voice low and even, and hearing it, her heart gave a lurch.
She had turned slowly.
"They—they found him." He told her, his voice cracking slightly. "They found out where he is."
She gazed back at him, her eyes blank and unseeing. His words echoed in her mind. They found him.
"Naruto—" she tried to say, her mind finally working, but slowly, oh-so slowly.
"Sakura-chan." His words carried more weight than they ever had. "They found Uchiha Sasuke yesterday."
And time seemed to flow in her world again. She could finally breathe again, though her breathes were more like gasps, and she was dimly aware that if Naruto was not holding her up, she would have fallen.
"No." she said, the room swaying slightly in her eyes. "No."
And then, for the first time, she noticed the ANBU mask hanging on his leg, hanging there as if it had always been there, as if it belonged.
He followed her gaze, and said, in the same heated and quiet voice, "Tsunade-baa-chan promoted me yesterday. They want—"
"Oh gods," she gulped, ignoring him. She reached out a hand and traced the shape of the mask. She felt the cool bone beneath her fingers, and only then did it feel real. (The mask was that of a fox, but whether Naruto had requested this, or it was a strange joke played on him by one of his superiors she couldn't tell. Nor could she deny that it fit.)
"Sakura." His hand caught hers, and for a moment, she couldn't see anything else, couldn't think of what his words meant, and only existed for him. His hand caught hers, and she couldn't even think about why he had dropped the chan from her name.
"Listen to me. They want—" his voice broke again, and he swallowed thickly. "They want me to after Sasuke. They told me that he's strong. That he killed most of the squad that found him." He paused here, and she could read his thoughts as clearly as if he had said them out loud, that he thought that maybe Sasuke had let one off on purpose. They both knew that it was hard to live with power. They both knew that Naruto still had nightmares of that day, facing off against the snake (and sometimes, facing off against—Sakura had heard him crying out—and that she still heard the dying screams of those she could not save.
"I—I have to go. I have to…kill him.
"Sakura." He said quickly, his eyes troubled and heavy and sad all at once. "He's dangerous. You know this. There's no other way."
But she was looking back at him, her eyes full of dawning horror, and she was already starting to draw away.
"No." she whispered again.
He let go of her arm with one hand (as he did so, she felt as if a piece of her was missing) and reached out to her face, as if—as if he was about to touch her, and she jerked back, and his hand dropped to rest by his side.
"Sakura-chan—" he started again.
"You're not going to come back!" she suddenly shrieked at him, wrenching her other hand away, despite the emptiness she felt as soon as their contact had been been broken, despite the tears that lurked in her eyes. "You're going to leave me too!"
"Sakura—" he started towards her, and she let the tears fall, falling down and curling up.
She hadn't cried in so long. But she broke her promise. She had broken it for the third time that day. It seemed every time she cried, it had something to do with him.
"Why do you have to go?" she whispered, trying (and failing) not to sob.
He kneeled beside her, and—awkwardly—put his arms around her. "It was and order. Only I can do it."
Then, sounding too wise to really be Naruto, old and clever and rueful, (she reflected through her tears that this was what the demon within him must sound like) he said, "And because we both need this. Don't pretend we don't. Tsunade-baa-chan called it 'closure' or something."
He sounded like he didn't really know what the word meant or like he believed it, but she saw through his lie.
She always did.
Her sobbing slowed into hiccoughs.
"I came here to say goodbye." He murmured into her ear, and she stiffened, realizing how close he was.
"But I'll come back." He added with renewed vigor. He tried to sound like he really believed he would be.
She looked up at him, so close, through a curtain of tears she suddenly didn't feel like crying anymore. "Don't die." She told him, her voice hoarse from crying, and from keeping back everything else she wanted to say.
Yearning bubbled up in her chest, and perhaps into her eyes as well, because he leaned down and kissed her, and for a moment she didn't care that the man she had been in love with and the man that she was perhaps in love with now were walking towards each other, walking towards, and only one would return. She didn't care about anything.
"I'll come back." He promised, and left her, and when he was finally gone—gone so far that even straining with all her skill, she couldn't detect his chakra anymore—she started to cry again.
He called me his best friend. He had said to her once.
They had been kids then, and betrayal had shone too clearly in each other's eyes, and he had not understood why Sasuke had left. Neither of them had.
But they were older now, and though she still didn't understand (she didn't know if Naruto did or not, and never asked) she could finally accept that he was gone. And he wouldn't be coming back.
It had taken her years to learn this, and to learn that she was waiting again.
She would wait forever if she needed to.
And the weeks had passed, and she slowly tried to smile again, and also tried not to sharpen her ears too much for news of the blonde.
The weeks passed, and she took to sleeping on the couch, leaving her bed neglected. Sleeping where he had slept.
There was no news, and after months, people passing would start to whisper, and she learned to keep her head down as they did so, her eyes trained to the ground.
And Kakashi-sensei was suddenly taken to appearing next to her without warning, glaring calmly with one eye, mask swinging at his hip.
(She tried to quell the tiny bump her heart gave every time she saw a mask, any mask, but it was hard.)
But he could not be there for her all the time, and even her old sensei could not stop the flow of time.
The months passed, and she began to tell herself firmly that the wound in her heart would be there to stay, and that she'd better get used to it.
She told herself firmly to stop hoping, that there was no way he could still be alive.
She stopped frequenting the Hokage's offices, learning the hard way that no news hurt her more than bad news.
But she still slept on her couch.
She was there, one night, a year after his departure, when her door opened.
It opened softly, the only sounds being the clicking of a key in the lock, and Sakura did not waken.
She was a trained shinobi, but exhaustion and grief weighed heavily in her heart.
But she did waken when something climbed in beside her, despite the fact that her couch was not very wide, (it had taken her many days to master sleeping on it without rolling off, as she was used to moving around a lot. She didn't even want to speculate how Naruto could do it.) and she was already sleeping on the edge.
It was weary and dirty body, and though she was awake instantly, she did not scream, because it was a familiar one.
"I told you I'd come back." He murmured tiredly, curling an arm around her in the darkness.
She smiled, and felt the weight lift from her chest. "Naruto—" she started.
He yawned. "Can I sleep first? I'm pretty tired."
She said nothing, but not even ten minutes had passed before he said quietly, into the silence, "Sasuke's gone."
Her heart broke even though she had been prepared for this. "I know." She said quietly.
His voice faltered. "He said he was sorry, before he died."
"Naruto—" she said, trying to tell him it was alright.
"He told me to tell you he was sorry." Naruto's voice sounded far away, and she wondered what else the prodigy had told him.
"He told me I was still his best friend."
"And you forgave him." She said quietly.
"Yeah." He whispered into the room. His hold on her tightened. And she knew that he would always be there.
They were both quiet for awhile, even though they both knew it wasn't over. But they were both willing to work through it together,
Habit breeding comfort wasn't so bad, she thought to herself.
"Naruto," she had said into the stillness, "what do you want for breakfast?"
They would think of everything else later.