Chapter 6: Ramen

It was the life.

After all, Uzumaki Naruto had it all. He had the skills, he had the status, he had the reputation, he had his girl, and he just had his share of beautiful luscious ramen.

If he was to die tomorrow, he would die a happy man.

With a loop-side grin on his already cheerful face, Naruto proceeded to observe his surroundings with a look of pure contentment spread across his sky blue eyes.

Of course, five bowls of miso-ramen would naturally do that to a person.

As he half-listened to Lee chattering away like a maniac, briefing the ever-so-boring-mission-of-the-century, Naruto merely took the time to drink in the serene atmosphere.

...After all, team seven was finally back.

And he would make sure that things were to stay this way for good.

Naruto did not want to make the same promises with Sakura, twice. Of course, it was questionable whether or not Sakura would make the exact same promise if the bastard left once more. After all, she no longer pined over the prodigy as she had done in the past.

But the question remained, would she break down once more?

Would her heart shatter beyond recognition? Would the salty tears adjourn her face and would her eyes loose its sparkle?

Is she still in love with him? And worse yet, if not, would she fall in love once again?

As far as Naruto was concerned, he was not going to take the chance nor the risk.

He did not wish to see his best friend/self-proclaimed baby sister break down to a pitiful empty shell. Once was more than enough. The anger, the despair, the frustration, the helplessness…

After all that Sakura had gone through, Naruto swore upon every fiber of his being that he would make sure she was to never fall into such depth…

Never again…

And with the unevitable snap, his wooden chopsticks shattered into tiny splinters, scattering about and around the table.

Letting out a shaky breathe Naruto forced himself to remove the raging chakra from his tightly clenched hands. Luckily, Lee and Sakura were busy sharing stories on his right, too deeply focused upon their task at hand to notice the momentary passing of intense, blazing eyes.

Never again…

Tightly clenching his jaws to a firm grim, Naruto managed to calm himself down before facing the occupant on the seat on his left - the notorious Uchiha Sasuke.

The prodigy blessed by the family genes of sharigan, the hypnotic scarlet eyes that haunted many with a single glance. His natural distaste for social events perhaps enhanced this image a lot more then that of Naruto's liking.

But this bastard was also his friend of many years.

Sasuke, Sakura and himself, were and will continue to be, teammates for years to come. Their countless missions, their constant bickering, and their rivalry that would hopefully last until the very end.

The separation had been trialing for all three in different ways, in which one had been forever waiting; one had been forever hiding whereas one had been forever running.

But all three had finally grown up and realized that the world still continued to revolve even when the three of them were no longer together.

Perhaps this had assisted in bringing them back together once more?

Naruto tasted the places outside the hidden village of Leaf as he trained with the perverted Jiraiya-sama, Sakura remained constant while training under the wing of the old hag, and Sasuke had fallen into the mist that covered the true meaning behind power. As Naruto slowly learned to control and accept the demon inside him, Sakura embraced the once dormant self within her while Sasuke learned that snakes did indeed poison all their preys.

But after all this, they had managed to find their way back to each other - still the same and yet so very different.

It bordered on that line of uncertainty, constantly striving for balance.

And this had definitely bothered Naruto since the day Sasuke re-entered their lives.

Something was definitely different, and it had the potential to break up team 7 once more…

It was now or never.

"You know bastard, now that you've obtained the first part of your goal when are you going to initiate the second?" He casually asked with half-lidded eyes.

"…"

The young man in question appeared unfazed but Naruto knew better.

"I need to know your intentions, Sasuke. Don't think that I don't notice the way you look at her," the blonde ANBU member darkly murmured while he toyed with a new set of chopsticks provided by the baffled owner.

Maybe it was the way Sasuke stopped in a matter of seconds or maybe it was the way his posture turned rigid under watchful eyes but whatever the reason; Naruto felt relieved for the first time since the day the bastard returned back to Konoha.

It relieved him unimaginably that the stoic prodigy actually cared - that he actually was aware of it all.

"I don't know what the fuck goes around in your head and…wait a second. Screw that! I don't even want to know any of the sick twisted shit that happens to be inside your head. You can be brain-dead for all I care!" Naruto argued with himself almost in a comical manner. But the next sentence was anything but comical.

"…But it does concern me if it affects Sakura-chan in any way," he breathed out darkly. "I suggest you think carefully before you act, Sasuke."

And with those final words the blonde attacked the newly arrived sixth bowl of ramen with the usual grin plastered on his face, as if nothing had occurred in that few minutes prior to the meal.

Never allowing his gaze to falter, the stoic Uchiha avenger eyed his 'best friend' steadily.

He knew the blonde idiot well enough to realize that the creative threatening method was something that he was not to overlook.

Sasuke watched the pink-haired kunoichi at the corner of his eye as she began consuming her own bowl of ramen while animatedly conversing with the 'green-beast'.

...He had already established the fact that Sakura was no longer the same girl from their past.

She had matured, she had grown up and she no longer 'fantasized' falsifications about him. She had now broken free of the fantasy world that she had once created…

He himself had also matured…he had grown up and he no longer was driven by the blood-thirsty desire for revenge. To gain something one had to give up another and Sasuke had given up humanity for vengeance. But now, he believed himself to be ready to pursue something of the 'heart'…

His emotional capability was not something he could brag on about… but it seemed to have finally reached that satisfactory stage that most males seemed to inhibit.

Therefore, He was ready to pursue the 'real' affections of a certain Miss Haruno.

He now fully accepted that having emotions was not a weakness. Now, this was not to suggest that he would make a complete fool of himself acting like Lee or Naruto, but he was ready to embrace these foreign grounds and most importantly, he was ready to embrace his feelings for the oblivious cherry blossom.

Like he said before… He was ready to do the chasing.

"...You know that I'm not going to declare pointless love poems like that annoying green thing currently sitting next to Sakura," he declared, quietly noting Naruto's momentary halt from stuffing himself to death. With a knowing smirk Sasuke continued on while toying with his own ramen.

The idiot seriously needed to find a new favourite food.

"And I'll be damned before I make a complete fool out of myself like you do with your precious Hinata-chan," Sasuke declared and paused for a brief moment as if to contemplate and carefully compose the final sentence.

Conclusions were, in his opinion, the most crucial aspect of the whole story.

"But, I am prepared to never make her cry like that; ever again."


"U-chi-ha-!" Each syllable emphasized with considerable force and yet, the receiver remained unfazed.

"It was nothing." Sasuke replied.

Throwing her arms in the air, dramatizing the current situation, Sakura resumed trying to convince the newest ANBU member.

"Oh please! You call Naruto rolling around the floor laughing like a crazy monkey, nothing?"

"The idiot is and always will continue to be a crazy monkey!" Sasuke nearly shouted in maximum capacity, instantly regretting his outburst.

The Uchiha Sasuke almost lost his temper because of Naruto? How degrading… But she did have a point… A very good point…

Just momentarily stopping himself from embarrassing himself by pulling out his hair in sheer frustration, Sasuke shot across his normal glare of don't-you-dare-argue-with-me.

"Just drop it, Sakura," Sasuke finalized the pointless debate and swiftly turned to head towards the Uchiha mansion. Laughter erupted in the dark streets of Konoha as Sakura sprinted towards the retreating figure of the sole-Uchiha survivor. It was still a bit disappointing to find that his methods initiated during his 'bastard-mode' did nothing to faze the new Haruno Sakura.

"Men and their 'guy stuff'…" Sakura mumbled beneath her breath with a smile as she walked along side Sasuke through the cool winter midnight streets of Konoha. But her playful nature subsided gradually as she began to tune in with her surrounding environment. The silent neighbourhood appeared to have surrendered under the spell of the sandman and all that inhibited the grounds were the silent snowflakes.

It was rare to experience serenity in a vibrant village such as theirs…

...Theirs?

Sakura suddenly halted while her face betrayed all that of astonishment.

The day Sasuke had left everything behind… She had completely detached him from the safe havens of Konoha by erasing him from all that related him here, her old childish self, her childish infatuations, her meaningless tears…

A shiver erupted from her shoulders to the end of her toes.

She had accepted the fact that Sasuke had changed and that certain aspects of their childhood disaster resorted as being both their faults…

But when had her treacherous mind accepted him to the extent to which she was to refer to the village as theirs? Did she already trust him so?

A squeak escaped her lips when she felt something warm swallow up her shoulders.

"Hurry up, slowpoke. I'll take you home before you freeze in that lab coat of yours." Sasuke stated while pulling her towards the quickest route to her small apartment.

"Gee, there is no need to make yourself sound like a gentleman, Uchiha. My apartment is on your way home after all." Sakura mumbled while burying herself in the warm winter coat. "And it's not a lab coat! It's a medic-nin's coat!"

"Same thing," he stated with too much ease for her taste as he forcefully dragged the protesting kunoichi onwards.

His hand was warm

...It was strange to suddenly notice these little things about the Uchiha. And it was even stranger having her hand held by the once coldest and the most uncaring ninja that had ever existed in all that of Konoha.

Perhaps she was beginning to trust this 'new' relationship with Sasuke.

After all, it just may reach that path towards a great friendship, but until then, Sakura would be content savouring the warmth pooling around her finger tips.