A/N: Wow, I really didn't expect so many reviews for this fic! It makes me feel all giddy inside… hehehe. Thanks everyone, for reading and sharing your thoughts. It's really appreciated!

Here's the next installment… it came out a lot longer than the other two. These chapters are just extending by themselves! For those of you wondering about a love triangle in this fic, there might be some elements placed here and there. But overall, you'll get the picture after you read this chapter. Our Sakura is moving on in life, damn it! Haha.

Hope you like it!


CHAPTER III – Pink perspective

Sunshine streamed down through the window as a sleepy pink haired kunoichi made her way towards the kitchen, intent on getting her fundamental dose of morning caffeine. Her pink hair was in complete disarray and one of the straps of her light blue cotton camisole was hanging loosely off her shoulder. Turning on the coffee maker, she took one of her big mugs from a nearby cupboard, placing it down as she intently watched the dark brown liquid start to pour.

She had been extremely lucky to have Shizune-san look over her small apartment while she was gone. Everything was in pristine order and the whole place was extremely clean; it was as if she had never left. Knowing that Sakura would be returning sometime during the week, Shizune had made sure to replenish her fridge somewhat, so that the pink haired medic would have something to eat when she got back. She had also replenished her coffee supplies, which was extremely important; Sakura was notoriously known for being unable to start her day without it.

Pouring the coffee, she added some milk and sugar, lifting the mug to her face and relishing in the delicious smell. As she took her first sip, she felt her brain start to work again and she slowly came back into the world.

As her mind cleared, memories of the previous night came flooding back to her and Sakura found herself smiling widely when she remembered Neji and the moments they had shared. Nothing explicit had been done or said, but that didn't mean that there hadn't been something there. It was strange how after so many years of knowing the Hyuuga prodigy, it was only after her return that he managed to catch her eye.

I thought you said you weren't going to fall for him, Inner Sakura interrupted.

Deflating completely at the thought, she realized that her inner persona was right. She had promised herself to stay away from him... in truth, she had promised herself to stay away from any man. Neji didn't deserve an obsessive and neurotic girl like her. Sakura needed time to get her act together now that she was back in Konoha.

Through her four month journey, she had thought about an extensive number of things: from her relationships with her parents, her friends, her teachers… and her platonic love. Through it all, she had found a pattern in all those relationships and it had hurt to realize that all through her life, she had always been too eager to please, too eager to give others what they wanted… never had she given herself a chance to get what she wanted.

And she had wanted Sasuke… she had wanted him with all her heart and her soul.

But instead of approaching the situation in a more constructive way, she had groveled at Sasuke's feet like if she wasn't worth anything… and the worst part was that the Uchiha prodigy had reveled in it. Sakura had raised him on a pedestal above all other human beings and had worshipped him openly. And like some fickle deity, he had enjoyed every single minute of it, taking advantage of the situation whenever he could, denigrating his devotee with unimaginable cruelty.

Sure, they had shared lots of happy times together, but Naruto had always acted like a human buffer between them. The blond was there to alleviate the tension which would have unavoidably built up if the two of them had been left alone together. Sakura was sure that Naruto had felt the uncomfortable strain between his two team mates and had willingly sacrificed himself as the scapegoat, acting like the 'comic relief' all the time. This had allowed the three of them to get along really well and they had managed to accomplish remarkable goals as a team.

But due to this fact, Sakura couldn't recall even a single moment of her spending some time alone with Sasuke… there was always someone else present with them and she never had the chance to actually have a casual conversation with him or anything of that sort. They spent years working together, but never really got to know each other very well.

Of course, the sole exception had been when he had decided to leave for Sound. This had been the moment when Sakura had first found the hidden store of courage inside her being and had decided to go out there and get what she wanted.

But everyone knew how that encounter had ended…

As she thought over it while she was traveling, she became furious with herself. How could she have lowered herself to such levels? She had actually volunteered to go with him, to sacrifice the life she had known up to that moment… to leave everything she held dear just so she could be with him.

What had he ever done to deserve such unconditional devotion?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Her apprenticeship with Tsunade-sensei had started along the same lines as well. She had asked the Godaime to take her on as her student so she could help Naruto in the future to rescue Sasuke. She hadn't done it for herself, she had done it for someone else… it was the sad story of her life.

But somewhere along the lines, Sakura's point of view started to shift. Slowly, she realized she was actually good at something. All through her early shinobi training, she had been the brain of the class, but had never stood out when it came to the field. She had never had anything solid to give her confidence and had always walked in the shadows of her two team mate prodigies. However, when the time came for her to take a medic nin's techniques head on, Sakura didn't find that she was good at it… she found that she excelled.

Her sensei would sometimes try unsuccessfully to hide her surprise whenever the pink haired kunoichi dominated a technique after only one try and she would sometimes laugh mysteriously while hugging her pupil, as if she knew something the rest of the world didn't.

By the workings of the universe, Sakura had been allowed an opportunity to shine with her own light. Confidence in her abilities as a ninja came as a much needed second effect, and she realized she didn't need anyone else to be someone in life… she could stand on her own two feet with no problem at all and could kick some serious shinobi ass.

In the end, her apprenticeship took her down unprecedented roads and made her reconsider her original reason for becoming the Godaime's student. Everything was suddenly all about her, not about anyone else. She became an assertive woman who fought for the things she wanted and she conquered her goals with a flourish.

This was all and good in her professional life, but her personal life was a different matter. Through the years, she had maintained and reinforced her friendships with her fellow shinobi, with Naruto especially, but had never truly forced herself to analyze her previous relationship with the missing Uchiha prodigy.

She had successfully buried it deep within her heart, untouched and uncared for. It was always a touchy subject, but eventually, she managed to forget him on the surface and continued undisturbed with her life. This meant she had been able to have other relationships with different men, and in truth, she had managed to fall truly in love with them at some point. But always, deep within her, there was a thorn stabbing at her heart and an image of Sasuke's face would constantly come up in her dreams, tormenting her to no end.

And by the mysterious laws of the cosmos, she had been the medic in charge at the hospital the day he had been brought back.

When she saw Naruto enter the corridor, a limp body on his back, she knew something was wrong. By the way his intense eyes looked at her for a frozen moment in time, Sakura knew something big had happened. Her stunned emerald eyes traveled from his face to the man he was carrying and recognized him immediately.

Breaking into a run, she started barking orders at the resident medics as she went, signaling for Naruto to place Sasuke down in a nearby room. Coming up to him, as soon as his head hit the pillow, she examined him thoroughly. His chakra system was completely burnt out and it was not regenerating as it should. His heart beat and breathing were completely irregular… he was slowly fading and needed to be stabilized immediately.

"He's in a coma," she said desperately, hands already working furiously on the hand signals needed for the advanced medical jutsu she was about to perform. "Step back", she told Naruto and the 2 medics in the room.

An intense bright light emerged from her hands, and without hesitation, she brought them over Sasuke's heart, feeding his exhausted system with her own powerful chakra. After a few moments, her hands traveled extensively over his body, repairing damaged bone and tissue, working vehemently as she treated all his injuries, his life in her hands.

After around a whole hour of constantly pouring her chakra into him, he finally started breathing normally, his heartbeat at a steady rhythm. Closing her hands into tight fists, Sakura released the jutsu, stepping back and collapsing into a nearby chair.

"What the hell happened?" she asked, as an assistant brought her a glass of cold water.

Naruto proceeded to explain what they had been through, emotion in his sapphire blue eyes. By the time he finished, astounded emerald orbs stared back at him.

"After all the effort we put into looking for him, you just happened to bump into him?" she asked unbelievably.

"Well… yeah," the blond replied, a sheepish grin on his face.

Sasuke had to spend the next few days in the hospital and Sakura watched over him at all times while he was unconscious. He woke up 36 hours after she had treated him personally. The pink haired medic would never forget that day.

It had been late afternoon and she was sitting by his bed, looking intently at his sleeping face. He was as handsome as ever and his physique was worthy of admiration. She reached up and caressed his hair softly, thinking deeply.

'This is what I've been working for all these years,' she thought. 'I've trained with all my heart and soul to succeed in this moment… to be the one to save him when no one else was there. This is the reason why I became a medic nin.'

But if this was the incredibly sought-after pinnacle of her life, why did she feel so unfulfilled?

True, she had saved his life in an amazing demonstration of skill, but hadn't she done that an innumerable number times for other people… for comrades who had fought side by side with her?

This was Sasuke she was talking about; he was the love of her life. But as she stared at him for countless minutes, he suddenly seemed so… human. He wasn't the unreachable man she had fought for her entire life, the man who appeared in her dreams. She had fantasized about their reunion countless times, where she would cry over him and he would embrace her in return, taking all her troubles away with a single kiss.

But unexpectedly, here they were, back together. She wasn't crying over him and wasn't about to do so and she was sure that when he woke up, he wouldn't even think of embracing her. And ironically enough, she didn't have any troubles for him to kiss away.

He suddenly seemed so tangible… so mundane.

Eyes opening up slowly, she watched as Sasuke returned to the land of the living. Disoriented, he looked around first, not recognizing where he was. His eyes settled on her, widening in surprise and he looked at her silently for a few moments. Understanding came into his gaze eventually, as if he were remembering what had happened earlier with Naruto and his team. A half-smile graced his lips as he reached forward to take her hand.

And then he had to go and open his mouth.

"Still as annoying as ever, eh?" he said, a touch of humor in his unused voice.

Something inside her just snapped.

Laughing cynically, she lifted her face up to the ceiling.

This had been the reunion she had dreamed of for countless of years?

A sudden realization came flooding into her mind as if a dam had just broken. She had never truly been in love with Uchiha Sasuke… She had fallen in love with an image of him of her creation; an image which was utterly and absolutely incompatible with the real version of him.

Stupidly, she had overlooked all his flaws and all the things he did to make her feel bad, thinking that if she gave him a chance, he would one day transform into the man of her dreams… into the man who was a figment of her imagination.

How could she have fooled herself so?

It was suddenly too much. It was time to put an end to all this.

Turning towards him, she smiled one of her professional smiles, one of those she reserved for her patients, a practice she had perfected throughout the years.

"I'm glad you're ok," she told him, and before he could answer, she stood up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

"The patient inside this room is awake already," she told one of resident medics as he passed through the corridor. "Please take the best of care of him and refer him to Shizune-san. I won't be handling his case."

And with that, she walked out of the hospital without looking back.

Throughout the trial and days after it, Sakura kept her distance. She joined in the celebration but would always make sure she was never alone with Sasuke at any given moment. In all honestly, she was genuinely happy for him and was glad he had been able to rejoin the ranks of Konoha's shinobi, but she didn't want him to be anything else but an acquaintance.

Falling into depression, she managed to keep fulfilling her duties, trying to continue her life. But she was hurting too deeply and old wounds which she thought she had buried re-opened with a vengeance and threatened to engulf her whole.

This was the reason why she had decided to volunteer for such a long-term mission; she needed to spend some time by herself, away from everyone else. She had come to terms with the fact that she had been hurt terribly and needed to mourn for that lost ideal of a man to which she had held on to for most of her life.

But she also had to come to terms with the fact that not only had Sasuke hurt her… she had hurt herself. And the wounds she had inflicted upon herself were the worst of all.

Coming back to the present, she bustled round the kitchen, making herself a quick breakfast of eggs and toast. Sitting down by her lonely self at the counter, she ate slowly, refilling her coffee mug once more.

She was proud that she had enough courage to leave and didn't regret her departure in the least. Her time away had allowed her to come to peace with herself in certain aspects, but some other issues were still far from being solved. You didn't overcome years of verbal and psychological abuse in the blink of an eye.

This was the reason why she wasn't ready for any type of relationship, not this soon. At some point in her journey, she had actually sworn off men for good… at least for a couple of years. It was the healthiest thing she could do.

Reinforcing her resolve, she pushed away all thoughts of a certain silver eyed Captain as she placed her dishes in the sink. She had agreed to meet Tsunade-sensei this morning; she needed to start her extensive reports of her mission but the former pupil and teacher also needed to catch up with the current events in their lives.

Grabbing a fluffy towel from her closet, she made her way into the bathroom intent on getting a quick shower before stepping out.

XXXXXXX

Laughter echoed behind the door of the large office just as it opened, revealing the mirthful figures of the Hokage and her youngest student. They had spent all morning talking and sharing the experiences they had gone through while they had been apart. Now, it was early afternoon and the Godaime's workload had unavoidably accumulated, which in her perspective wasn't a problem. But Sakura knew how lazy her sensei could be when it came to dealing with Konoha's diplomatic tasks; hence, she had forced herself to leave so that Tsunade-sama would have the rest of the day to work.

Not that it mattered if the Legendary Sannin ended up falling asleep over the reports she had to go over…

Nonetheless, the pink haired kunoichi decided it was time go when they had finished eating a quick lunch.

"Remember you need to prepare for that lecture you're given the medics in a few days," the Hokage reminded her as she stepped through the door. "I'll reserve the auditorium for you and I'll make sure Shizune goes around telling people. We need as many medics from the hospital to attend so they can become familiar with the new techniques you brought back."

"Ok, great," Sakura replied. "I'll make sure to tell some people myself. Can I make it an open lecture?"

"I don't see why not… anyone's who's interested should be able to attend. But we need to focus on the medics, since they're the ones who will be applying the jutsus in the field."

"I know. The thing is, I was planning on telling Naruto to attend. You know, try to get something apart from ramen into his head at least for a few moments."

"That baka, he'll probably end up drowning the auditorium with his snores!"

Sakura giggled.

"But yes, he can attend. Just make sure to tell him that if he drools on the seats, he'll have to face me personally."

"Hai! I'll let him know," the pink haired medic replied with a smile. "It was great talking to you sensei," she finished, as she stepped up and embraced Tsunade.

"It's great to have you back", the Godaime replied, returning the embrace. "And I hope all that time on your own helped," she added, a knowing look on her face.

"It did," Sakura answered honestly, and with that, she turned round and walked down the corridor.

Heading down the long flight of stairs at a leisurely pace, the pink haired kunoichi stretched languidly as she watched shinobi going up and down the steps hastily, running important errands or in the middle of some task. She knew she would soon be joining them in their frenzy, since she would have to return to her medic duties soon, but for now, the Hokage had given her a few days off for fulfilling her mission so effectively.

Sakura had actually returned to the village with twice as many techniques as Tsunade had predicted, making Konoha's medical records the most complete in the world. With her quick smiles and her charm, she had managed to win over even the most apprehensive of villages, convincing their leaders that this was for the good of all shinobi and in return, she taught them some techniques herself. She also reminded them that whenever any village had the need to investigate any given technique, Konoha's gates would be open; and if they couldn't come to research it themselves, then she would personally send them a copy of the scroll with all the appointed notes.

This was an offer very few allied Kages could refuse, and all of them were willing to share their most advanced medical jutsus. The Kazekage had been the one who had traded the highest number of techniques. After Sakura had saved Kankurou's life, Gaara trusted her abilities completely. He had even asked her if she could come and train his medic team personally, but as much as she would've have liked to, she still had her mission to fulfill. She did go around giving some lectures at Sand's hospital while she was staying at the village and told the Kazekage that he was welcome to send an envoy of medics to Konoha to train under Shizune-san's supervision, since she would be traveling for some time. Gaara replied that he would likely take up her offer.

Sakura reached the first floor and proceeded to walk out of the Konoha's shinobi headquarters. The day was bright and the sky was a cobalt blue with very few clouds spread across it. Summer was quickly approaching and for the pink haired kunoichi, it was one her favorite times of the year.

With the sun shining brightly upon her, she felt that no inner shadows could reach her under its brilliance.

As she walked by the shinobi academy, she heard a distinctive yell.

"NO! That's not how you do it, Reizo!"

Sakura could recognize Naruto's voice a mile away even through a thunderstorm.

Turning in the direction his shouts were coming from, she walked slowly towards them.

"Yosh, very well done Rai!" another voice was saying.

It was Lee.

Curious as to what they might be doing, Sakura stepped around the corner of a nearby building only to emerge at a small training ground.

There standing in the middle were Naruto and Lee, two genins in front of each, as if the two youngsters had just been engaged in combat. Behind the two jounins stood another two genins, all of them paying rapt attention to what was happening.

'I didn't know they had been assigned a group of genins!' Sakura thought surprised, stifling a giggle at seeing Naruto act as a teacher. 'Oh no, now we're going to have chibi-Narutos running rampant and screaming 'dattebayo' every three seconds.'

Not being able to stop her laughter at that last thought, the pink haired kunoichi giggled out loud, but wasn't heard by the people nearby.

"Alright, one more time," the Kage Bunshin Master was saying.

Both jounins stepped back so the two boys could go at each other again.

'Oh, I see, taijutsu practice,' Sakura thought, as both youngsters attempted to attack each other with a series of punch combos.

A small movement caught the corner of her eye and she faced to her right only to find a very surprising sight.

There, standing underneath the shade of some nearby trees, arms crossed in front of him, Konoha headband on his forehead, a neutral expression on his face as he observed the scene, stood none other than Hyuuga Neji… three young genins of his own standing in front of him.

'He has a group of genins too?' Sakura thought in amazement.

As she looked over the group with an observant eye, a smile came unbidden to her lips. The three of them were a mirror image of their sensei, arms crossed over their chests, cold calculating stares in their eyes… compared to Naruto's boisterous students, who were by now screaming loud encouragement to their fighting team mate, Neji's group was the definition of discipline. They looked slightly older than Lee's and Naruto's kids, but just like the groups of these last two, there was one girl assigned to each team.

A loud thud brought her gaze back to the ongoing practice, only to find Naruto's genin lying face up on the ground.

"Come on, Reizo, you can do better than that!" the blond chided his pupil as he helped the boy up.

"He's just too fast, Naruto-sensei!" the young genin replied in frustration.

"Naruto-sensei?" Sakura asked skeptically as she walked towards the centre of the training ground, coming into clear view. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep at night with that thought," she finished, a tinge of humor in her voice.

At the sound of her voice, Neji hastily turned his face in her direction, a half-smile forming on his lips as he watched her approach. Her features were even more stunning under the daylight.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto greeted with a smile, knowing she was teasing him good naturedly.

"Yosh, everyone salute Sakura-san!" Lee exclaimed, and Sakura found his three genins in front of her, bowing in respect, their teacher doing the same right behind them.

"Hi everybody," she replied in greeting, returning their bow slightly. "I didn't know you guys had already been assigned a group of genins."

"I know, kind of scary isn't it?" Naruto said, scratching the back of his head, oblivious to the apprehensive stares he was receiving from his pupils at the statement.

Sakura shook her head in resignation at the blond's stupidity and addressed his somewhat nervous students.

"Don't worry guys, I know you're sensei can sometimes be a complete baka, but he knows what he's doing," she assured them.

She received three smiles in return, as if they knew exactly what she was talking about.

"How long have you been training them?" Sakura asked, turning to the jounins once more.

"We've been together for almost four months… Come to think of it, we were assigned to each other around a week after you left, Sakura," Lee replied.

Nodding in understanding, she was about to reply when someone stepped in front of her and bowed with deep respect.

"Sakura-sama", the young boy said to her.

Looking down at him in momentary confusion, Sakura's eyes widened in recognition after a few seconds.

"Kyoshi-chan!" she exclaimed, returning his bow as she looked him over. "My, you've grown since the last time I saw you."

As she straightened up, she looked over the brown haired boy's leaning form only to find Neji and two of his genins coming their way. Apparently, the youngster in front of her was the third member of the ANBU Captain's team.

"Neji," she greeted once he was closer.

Smiling in return, the raven haired jounin looked directly into her emerald eyes, making her want to squirm nervously under his intensity.

I thought we were going to avoid him! Inner Sakura yelled.

'We were!' Sakura replied inside her mind, 'this was a mere coincidence!'

Luckily she was forced to look away when one of Naruto's genins stepped abruptly in front of Kyoshi.

"And were do you know her from, Mr. Important?" the boy asked huffily.

Kyoshi turned angry dark brown eyes towards him. "She saved my father's life, Maro. Sakura-sama is the best medic nin in the village! Even you should know something like that, dobe."

Neji eyes widened slightly at this bit of information and he looked over at the blushing woman standing close by.

"Sakura-sama?" Naruto asked unbelievingly as he grabbed Maro by the shirt collar, preventing him from throwing himself on top of Kyoshi.

The pink haired kunoichi smiled sheepishly at her friend, cheeks tinged slightly red.

"Is that true?" Neji's female genin asked, stepping forward.

"Yes it is," Sakura told her, smiling. "Kyoshi's father arrived in a really bad condition after a mission late one night. I was on watch at the hospital at that time and I was the one who treated him."

"And what had happened to him?" she asked curiously.

"Errm," the pink haired kunoichi said hesitantly, looking up at Neji for permission to continue.

But as the Captain gave her a quick nod of assent, Kyoshi interrupted.

"He had been impaled through the leg with a double-katana. They brought him unconscious back to Konoha as fast as the team could, but he had already lost too much blood and was fading fast…it was likely that they would have to amputate his leg in an attempt to save him. But Sakura-sama showed up and with an amazing jutsu, she managed to stop the bleeding and repair the damaged tissue. It took her all night to do so, but in the end she managed to save him. My dad was in the hospital for almost three weeks, but at long last, he left the hospital walking on his own two legs."

After this small emotional speech, Kyoshi's eyes were dangerously teary.

Sakura let out a deep breath, thanking the heavens that the young genin hadn't gone into a detailed explanation of how the blade had sliced completely through his father's flesh, splitting part of the bone and causing large amounts of blood to cover the whole scene. These gruesome aspects were part her everyday experience as a medic, but it wasn't something you brought up at the dinner table or during genin afternoon practice, either.

"That was incredibly heroic," Neji complimented her.

"Just doing my job," Sakura said as she blushed even further, evading his intense silver eyes as best as she could.

"Sakura-sama", Neji's female genin addressed her formally, "thank you for saving Kyoshi's father." And with that, she bowed in deep respect towards the older woman. As if on cue, her other two team mates bowed as well.

Covering her mouth with her hand, the pink haired kunoichi found her eyes dampening at the unexpected standing ovation she was receiving.

"They are the most polite group of genins I have ever seen in my life," she said to Neji, admiration in her voice. "They take after their sensei."

"Thank you, we've worked extremely hard," he said looking proudly over his team.

"You've achieved a lot in four months," she continued to say.

"No, we've actually been together longer than that. It's been over a year. They're actually taking their chuunin exam in a month."

Sakura's eyes widened in amazement; it was a big reminder of how little she actually knew about the Hyuuga prodigy. "A year? Neji, that's amazing. How do you find the time? I mean, with you being ANBU Captain and all."

He smiled, taking her comments as a compliment. "The Hokage wanted me to prepare a genin team for this year's chuunin exams. She wanted me to train a specialist ANBU team. Our hunting nin ranks have actually declined lately and we want to start teaching them from a younger age so they can be incorporated more quickly. So, I have only been assigned the toughest ANBU missions for the past year and have been allowed the rest of the time to train them."

As Sakura looked over the three young genins standing in front of the Captain, eager looks in their eyes, smiling at their sensei's affirmation of them being a 'specialist team', her emerald eyes saddened slightly. Here she was, a medic nin, trained throughout the years to save life at whatever cost… and here were these three juvenile teenagers, trained to take life from the very beginning.

Would she one day have to treat one of them in an emergency during a mission after they had gone out there to fulfill their rolls as Konoha's angels of death?

Looking up at their Captain, she suddenly realized this was his roll as well and he fulfilled it with excellence. Would she ever have to treat him?

Suddenly, the ironies of the world weighed too heavily upon her shoulders.

Naturally, after being her team mate and best friend for most of her life, it was Naruto who noticed Sakura's sudden lapse into misery. Accustomed to such antics from the highly sensitive kunoichi, the blond rolled his eyes in resignation.

Coming up behind her, he patted her forcefully on the head. "Hey, the Real World to Sakura… come back to us…"

Years of being around her allowed him to have fast enough reflexes to dodge the expertly aimed punch making its way towards his face.

"I haven't gone anywhere, baka!" she shouted angrily at him.

"Well, with that enormous brain of yours, you never know to which imaginary world you've gone off to," Naruto was saying as he kept dodging her blows.

"Why you little…" the pink haired medic huffed as she kept going forward, trying to hit her friend, all sad thoughts effectively vanished from her mind.

As Lee and the genins laughed while Naruto tried to stay at a safe distance from the attacking kunoichi, Neji stared pensively at the fast moving woman. Her lapse into a mini-depression just moments before hadn't gone unnoticed by the ever observant Hyuuga, and he knew it had been triggered by something he had said. What exactly it could've been, he didn't know. But he did know that the thought of him being the cause of her momentary sadness didn't sit well with him.

"Calm down, Sakura-chan, calm down," the blond said after a couple of minutes, his hands in front of him in a placating gesture. "I was only joking."

She lowered her fists, but was still glaring openly at him.

Naruto let out a deep breath, glad that her onslaught had ended. One direct hit of her fists would've sent him flying up to the top of Tsunade's tower…

As the thought crossed his mind, an idea hit him in the face. He knew there was something he had been meaning to ask her once she got back.

"Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan!" he said excitedly, jumping up and down.

Shaking her head at his sudden lapse into hyperactivity, she wondered if it was truly an adult jounin standing in front of her. It was just so Naruto.

"What is it?" she asked patiently, reenacting the same scenario they had been playing ever since the beginning of Team 7: she standing calmly in front of him while he excitedly told her what was on his mind.

"Now that you're here, would you mind giving my team a small lesson on chakra control?" he asked sheepishly, scratching the back of his head, a habit he had never grown out of. "I mean, I've done it myself and I know how to do it, but I'm just not good at explaining this type of thing…"

Sighing deeply, Sakura knew she would be doing these genins a favor if she took them momentarily under her wing. Their sensei really was an idiot sometimes.

"Sure, no problem," she said, smiling at the youngsters. "I wasn't doing anything this afternoon anyway."

"YOSH!" Naruto's three pupils said in unison, coming up to stand at attention in front of Sakura.

"Would you mind if mine join in as well?" Lee asked politely, bowing towards the medic.

"Sure, why not," Sakura answered with a smile.

Neji's team looked up expectantly at their sensei, but the raven haired jounin was still staring thoughtfully at some point in the distance. From their perspective, they didn't notice he was keeping a certain pink haired kunoichi within the boundaries of his silver sight at all times.

"Neji-sensei?" Kyoshi asked.

Looking down at his pupil, the Captain gave no outer signs that his deep thoughts had just been interrupted.

"You can go," he told them, "the practice will do you good."

"Hai!" the three of them said simultaneously, joining the other genins in front of the pink haired medic in an orderly fashion.

Suddenly, Sakura found herself surrounded by a group of eager students, open admiration in their youthful eyes. She didn't know why, but it made her slightly nervous… but it was nothing she couldn't handle.

"Ok, before we start, I think we should move to a better location," she said, looking around the small training area. "I know a really good place in the forest just outside the gates."

Turning round, she started walking, her nine pupils following enthusiastically.

"And their teachers are coming too!" she shouted without even looking back, having sensed that Naruto was trying to tiptoe his way towards the opposite direction.

"Ah man!" he complained. "I thought I was going to have the afternoon off."

"Alright team," Lee said as he stepped up to the walking genins. "I think I know to the place Sakura-san is referring to. Let's use this opportunity as a chance to train hard! The last one to reach the clearing will run five laps around the entire village!"

"HAI!" Lee's team replied, jumping into a run just as their sensei sped away.

"Some things will never change," Sakura murmured under her breath with a smile as she and the remaining genins continued at a slower pace.

"You coming?" Naruto asked Neji, who was still standing in the middle of the training ground.

Nodding in his direction, the Captain stepped up to walk next to the blond, his silver eyes never leaving the figure of the pink haired kunoichi walking a small distance in front of them.


Quick note: concerning the 'double-katana', I really didn't know what else to call it. If you've seen the movie 'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children' (one my favorites!), it's the sword that Kadaj uses; two blades in one hilt.

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