This is centered around the idea that Sakura took up Naruto's seat at Ichiraku's during his two year absence. Some Sakura angst about not having a team anymore, but all angst fades away when one thinks of Naruto (laughs). Mild NaruSaku, and a splash of Team 10. Reviews are appreciated, please enjoy.
Was it a lack of self control, an undetected addiction? A kinesthetic movement built into her legs from being dragged there uncountable times? Or was it something else?
Well, it must have been something, because Sakura found herself seated at Ichiraku's Ramen once again. Not that it was anything out of the norm. She had been having meals there every day or so for two whole years, after all.
A couple years ago she would have died than to dine daily on ramen. Just think of how unhealthy, oily, it would be - why, she'd have to spend a whole night training to compensate for the weight that would have surely dropped straight to her thighs!
Nowadays, she couldn't imagine not eating there. It had become a sort of haven for her, where she could eat her meal in relative peace and simply think things over.
Sometimes, Ino, Shikamaru, and Chouji would stop by in a ruckus to say hi, or even sit down and join her. They would talk and laugh, discussing recent missions and the latest gossip. Anything and everything was a subject of discussion.
They stopped, though, when the conversation drifted toward the past.
On rarer occasions, Hinata would come to say hello in her shy way, with Shino, Kiba, and Akamaru trailing behind her. They would exchange small talk, Hinata always politely refusing Sakura's invitation to join her for a meal, and then bid good day when Akamaru started barking impatiently and Hinata apologized, fingers tapping together.
A few times, Gai's team came by as well. Lee would always be the first to her side, his nice-guy smile as polished as ever, followed by a declaration of undying love. Tenten would be only seconds behind him, pulling him back with a smack to the head, and an apology to Sakura, who laughed lightly. Neji came last, smirking, as he nodded his head at Sakura in acknowledgement and she nodded back. Lee would compose himself, and fill her in on their latest exciting missions, promising to come back next time with even more stories of wonder. Sakura saw less of them in the past months, though, as their missions became longer.
The people she saw most at Ichiraku's were Konohamaru and his gang. It was always amusing to watch them as they came, as they did now, sweating but proud, from their training. They had a brightness about them that had long been dimmed in Sakura, and she couldn't help but grin because they reminded her of what was Team 7 years ago.
And as Sakura paid her bill and got up to return to the hospital, she smiled because she knew that they had what Team 7 didn't. A promise to each other.
Sakura had seen and heard many things from her seat at Ichiraku's. It was as if she was some grand spirit residing in that little seat in the corner of the ramen stand who watched the world pass by.
She recalled the day when construction began on sculpting Tsunade-sama's face into the Hokage monument and the time when Shikamaru had casually sauntered down from the Hokage's office to inform Sakura that Gaara had been selected to be the new Kazekage of Sand.
She also remembered Kakashi-sensei's face. It had only been for a split second, when he slid off his mask to take a single bite of ramen. He noticed Sakura freeze and blush, and she knew that he knew that she knew what was under that mask. Since then, he never ate with her, but would pass by with a "Yo" and a smile, Icha Icha Paradise in hand.
Then, there were the delicately intimate moments that she knew she shouldn't have witnessed, like the time Neji gave Hinata a crisp pink rose on her birthday and the sight of Lee and Tenten walking hand in hand, deep in talk. Moments like these, Sakura decided, were not for her.
It was night now. Ichiraku's Ramen had long been closed, and the moon was high in the sky.
Sakura wondered if she was crazy, getting out of bed at this hour. Yet then again, it seemed she was crazy in everything she did these days. She found herself becoming more spontaneous in her everyday activities and there was less and less time to just lie around and do nothing.
So sometimes, on nights like these, she simply wanted to sit and think.
As she climbed into the seat that she always sat in, Sakura let herself remember the times when she would sit with Naruto and Sasuke on either side of her. Now, she didn't sit in her old seat in the middle. Rather, she sat in the seat on her left that was always filled by Na -
Why, she had become a walking, talking, seat-warmer for that Naruto!
A vein throbbed in her temple as she digested this new revelation, but quickly faded as she sighed and propped her elbows on the counter.
It just showed that she really missed the idiot all along.
But there wasn't any point to it, because he wasn't coming back for who knows how long anyway.
It was funny, Sakura thought, that she had once felt light-hearted all the time. Back in the days when Team 7 had shined in glory, she had thought that nothing in the world could go wrong.
Now, she was older, and the world weighed more…as well as the people in it. (She was so going to kill Ino-chan for bringing up that topic the day before).
But it was true. Gone were the days when a visit to Ichiraku's meant the team's mission complete or a day had passed well. Gone were the days where she even had a team.
Even now his name drew tingles up her spine, but not in the ways that it used to. There were days that she wanted to crush him, make him suffer for all the pain that she had felt. Make him understand that if it wasn't for his stupid revenge, then maybe things would be different, and she wouldn't be eating alone at a lonely ramen stand waiting for something to happen.
But other days, she half-wanted to thank him for letting her grow up and become stronger. And when she thought of her hands that could heal the destruction he would render, she felt a little more complete. Well, she was more than complete after those bowls of ramen… Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Sakura's thoughts drifted toward Naruto then.
He had always been the glue that kept the team together, whether they liked it or not. Every memorable moment of the team that Sakura looked back on had him right in the middle. He had always attracted attention wherever he went, she noted with a wry smile.
When Sasuke remained expressionless and she had tried her best to do the same, Naruto had always worn his heart on his sleeve and wept his tears freely. His optimism and strength touched everyone around him, and Sakura had long resigned herself to the fact that his brightness had touched Sasuke, too, far more than she ever had. It was his big heart.
Well, his big stomach too.
She wondered what he was doing now, training with Jiraiya-sama. It had been over two years since she had last seen him, and his absence only accentuated the scattering of the team. She missed him, there was no denying it.
What shocked her was that she thought she might have missed him more than she missed Sasuke.
Sakura rubbed her eyes and yawned.
The next morning, Tsunade commented to Shizune about her apprentice's disheveled appearance.
Ichiraku wiped away what looked oddly like a small dried puddle of saliva from his ramen stand counter.
Yamanaka Ino smirked to herself and tucked away a newly taken photograph that would soon be manipulated into blackmail.
That afternoon, Uzumaki Naruto returned to Konoha.
A thousand thoughts raced through Sakura's mind at that moment, the first being to thank Shizune-san a thousand times for cleaning up her appearance.
Another thought also stood out. She was a seat-warmer no longer.
"Wanna go get some ramen at Ichiraku's?"
"No way, idiot!"
Weeks later, at the end of a surprisingly violent spar between Ino and Sakura, Shikamaru noticed the shredded remains of what might have been a photograph, while Ino mourned.
Two days after that, Team 10 was assembled in their usual meeting place upon Ino's request.
Not bothering to hide the triumphant expression on her face, she pulled out a new photograph and waited for Chouji and Shikamaru's reactions.
Chouji stopped chomping his chips. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow.
"This could be troublesome."
Chouji grunted in agreement.
It was a picture of Ichiraku's Ramen stand taken just before the sunrise. Two heads, one blond and the other pink, rested side by side on the counter.
Ino stood up, eyes flashing mischievously.
"Forehead-chan isn't getting away with it this time – I've made multiple copies!"
Oh how the mighty have fallen.