Hello my friends and readers! It's been a LONG time! I want to thank everyone who's been so understanding in my abscence. I've missed you guys terribly but I needed the break for reasons that are stated in my profile. But I'm back now. Or at least half-way back. I doubt I'll be updating as often as I used to but I'm not going to make you wait almost a year again. Things are still difficult and hectic but I'm trying to manage everything.
PS: If you sent me a note or email over say the past year or so, I probably didn't get it because I didn't check my email for a really, really long time and had over 600 emails when I finally did so I just deleted them all the other day. If you need to resend something feel free to do so. I just couldn't handle sifting through all those emails.
And without further ado, on with the story!
Out and about
The next morning, Sakura awoke to the dreaded sound of her alarm clock wailing and immediately began flailing about in an attempt to find the dreaded machine and smash it to bits. Then as quickly as the noise had begun, it stopped and Sakura sank back onto the bed with a sigh of relief.
Then BAM! She was up in a flash as her ninja instincts took over. She had realized in a second that if she hadn't turned off the alarm then someone else must have. She quickly scanned the room to come face to face to a small girl with big blue eyes. She stared for a minute, confused as to what was going on and why this girl was in her room when the events from the last couple of days slowly filtered back into her memory.
"Kichi," Sakura said with a sigh as she plopped back onto her pillow in relief.
"Good morning Sakura-san." Kichi greeted in her timid voice. "Sorry I scared you."
"It's okay." Sakura reassured her with a sleepy smile. "I just forgot you were there for a second."
With another sigh, Sakura rolled over and hopped out of bed and began to stretch her stiff muscles. As she did, she began to once again worry about how to explain their current situation to Kichi without scaring her.
"Kichi we need to talk," Sakura said as she took a seat next to the dark haired girl on the bed. "about Sasuke and everything that's happening and going to happen."
"About me staying with you until Sasuke-sama can come home?" Kichi asked in her quiet, timid voice that made her sound forever frightened. Her question startled and confused Sakura. Did Sasuke decide to leave out the fact that this kid was a mind reader or something?
"How did you know that?" Sakura asked.
"I woke up last night and heard you talking with Naruto-san" Kichi explained with a small, timid smile. "I wouldn't mind staying with you for a while. It might be… nice."
"We'll have lots of fun." Sakura reassured the young girl. "And before you know it, Sasuke-kun will be free to join us."
"Hai!" Kichi replied with a brighter smile.
"As for today, we have a lot of things to do and not a lot of time. We need to get you some new clothes. And I'll want to show you around a bit so you don't get lost in the future. But first we need to get ourselves cleaned up and ready to go."
As Sakura went through the lest of things that they had to do that day, she began to riffle through all her drawers pulling clothes out for herself and looking for SOMETHING for Kichi to wear that didn't look like she'd pulled it of a trash bin.
I mean, I know Sasuke was probably busy but couldn't he have found something semi-decent for the girl to wear!? Sakura huffed to herself.
Finally in a box in the bottom of her closet, Sakura found an old dress her aunt had bought her a couple of years back that she'd never worn but didn't have the heart to throw out. It had just been too girly for Sakura's taste, but her aunt had been so proud of it. After a little more rummaging around, Sakura decided that the dress was probably the smallest thing in her wardrobe.
"I guess this will have to do for now, Kichi-chan." Sakura said as she struggled to dislodge herself from her chaotic closet. "Why don't you hop in the shower and we'll see if we can make this thing fit."
"Hai." Kichi obediently hopped off the bed, took the dress from Sakura and headed for the bathroom.
"I'll be fixing breakfast while you do that." Sakura called over her shoulder as she headed toward the kitchen. "I hope you like pancakes!"
"Hai!" Was the muffled reply from the bathroom.
"That girl has been around Sasuke way too long. I'm going to have to teach her to speak using something besides monosyllable words or she'll end up like him using only "un" and "ah" ninety percent of the time." Sakura grumbled.
While Kichi took her shower, Sakura whipped up a quick batch of pancakes making sure to have enough for Naruto when he showed up. Which meant she and Kichi should eat up quickly before he got there and made all the food disappear. Sakura couldn't help but chuckle at the image of Naruto scarfing down everything in sight.
A noise behind her caused Sakura to turn around. There stood Kichi with dripping wet hair and wearing a dress that made it look like she had shrunk in the wash and not her clothes. The lilac material with small pink flowers sagged on her small body and dragged on the floor.
"Oh my, that's not going to work." Sakura motioned for Kichi to come closer so she could assess the situation better.
"Maybe we could tie it up?" Kichi offered a suggestion softly.
"Or we could just cut off some of the extra material, tie the sleeves back, and call it good!" Sakura said after she had examined the dress.
"Oh no!" Kichi exclaimed. "You can't cut up your pretty dress for me!"
"Don't worry about it Kichi," Sakura reassured her. "It's too small for me to wear anyway."
"Are you sure?"
"I wouldn't have offered if I wanted to keep it." Sakura answered softly.
"Okay." Kichi mumbled through a mouthful of her bottom lip.
It only took Sakura a few minutes to snip off the excess material and use some of her hair ribbons to tie back the sleeves. When she was done, she stood back to admire her work.
"It's not too bad." She admitted. "It's definitely better than what you were wearing. Besides, it's just for today."
"Thank you, Sakura-san." Kichi said with a polite bow.
"No need for all that. It wasn't that big of a deal." Sakura was amazed at how compliant this girl was. One would have thought Sakura had given her a silk dress not a cut up hand-me-down.
Sakura was snapped out of her revere by a low grumble. Her first thought was a furred intruder until she saw the embarrassed look on Kichi's face.
"It sounds like somebody is a little hungry." Sakura said with a smile. "I think I have just the thing to fix that."
Sakura gently nudged Kichi in the direction of the table and quickly fixed her a plate of pancakes and placed them before the dark haired girl.
"Eat up before Naruto gets here and eats them for you." Sakura said, eyes laughing. Kichi's eyes grew wide and immediately began to devour the food in front of her.
She's just so simple and sweet. Sakura thought to herself as she went about making herself a plate.
They ate in silence for the most part, each enjoying the food and Sakura the quiet before what was probably going to be a very hectic day.
About the time they were finishing their breakfast, there was a loud, frantic, knock at the door.
"That will be Naruto." Sakura rose to her feet to go to the door. "And I bet he smells the food through the door."
Kichi giggled softly as Sakura disappeared into the other room. Sure enough, Sakura found one drooling Uzumaki Naruto on the other side of her door.
"Ma, ma Sakura-chan, what smells so gooood?" As he talked, Naruto began inching forward trying to find a way to get around Sakura and into the apartment.
"Pancakes." Sakura sighed. Naruto was just too predictable. "They're on the kitchen counter and-"
"Woohoo!" Naruto flew past Sakura and into the kitchen before she could even finish her sentence.
"Why do I feel so used?" Sakura muttered as she trudged after into the kitchen. By the time she got there, Naruto had already piled his plate with as many pancakes as he could fit on it and was devouring them at a rate that only a vacuum cleaner could appreciate.
Poor Kichi was still sitting at the table watching him with wide eyes. When she saw Sakura in the door way, she gave her a look that clearly asked; "What is this?"
Sakura shook her head and walked over to Naruto promptly bopped him on the back of the head.
"Chew first and then swallow baka."
"Hai," Naruto grinned sheepishly and began eating at a slightly slower pace.
Sakura sighed in defeat and began cleaning up her and Kichi's plates and all the pans and things she had used to cook with.
When she had finished, she turned back to the table to find Kichi still watching Naruto with a look of mixed awe and horror as he finished the last of his pancakes with great gusto.
"That was great Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed as he pumped his fist into the air.
"Naruto-san eats really, really fast." Kichi uttered with amazement.
"KICHI-CHAN!" Naruto bellowed when he noticed the small girl for first time. "Ohayou!"
"Naruto! There's no need to yell, she's only a few feet away from you!" Sakura scolded.
"Gomen." Naruto grinned sheepishly. "I was just excited to see her."
"Kichi is happy to see Naruto-san too." Kichi said with a bright smile that lit up her pale eyes.
"Kawaii." Both Naruto and Sakura sighed at her soft voice and adorable expression. If it weren't for that nasty scar on her cheek, she'd probably the cutest thing in the whole wide world.
Maybe there's something I can do about that. Sakura thought to herself as her mind raced through techniques and crèmes that could help reduce the appearance of scars.
"So," Naruto interrupted her thoughts. "What are we doing to day? Training? Ramen?"
"No, baka." Sakura said with a roll of her eyes. "We're taking Kichi shopping for some new clothes and then showing her around the city."
"Oh. Then can we get ramen?"
"How can you think about ramen after eating all those pancakes?"
"It's ramen, Sakura-chan. Ramen."
"Why do I even bother asking?" Sakura sighed. "Com on Kichi, let's go before Naruto starts in on his "The Wonders of Ramen" speech."
As they walked through the village, Sakura found herself watching Kichi instead of their surroundings. The young girl gawked at everything around them with wide eyes full of wonder. She alternated between clinging first to Sakura and then to Naruto and then back to Sakura again. Despite her obvious curiosity, she never left the safety of her two companions. Sakura and Naruto pointed out various landmarks as they traveled toward the shopping district and Naruto added little funny stories that had occurred here and there.
When they entered the first store, Sakura thought Kichi's eyes where going to pop out of her head at the sight of all the clothes. It took a bit of coaxing to get her to go further into the store and even more coaxing to get her to try on clothes.
"Oh no." Kichi protested. "These clothes are much too nice for me."
"Nonsense!" Naruto argued. "A cute girl has to wear cute clothes! Right Sakura?"
"Of course. Besides, I'm sure Sasuke would want you to have the best and I won't dress any friend of mine in anything but the best." Sakura agreed.
Kichi frowned but allowed Sakura to lead her to the dressing rooms and help her with the clothes. Several hours later and more than one instance of Sakura having to throw Naruto out of the unmentionable department, they exited the store with multiple bags in tote.
After dropping the bags off at Sakura's apartment and allowing Kichi to change clothes, the headed back into town to have lunch. Much to Sakura's disapproval, Naruto insisted on going to Ichiraku and Kichi happily agreed. Apparently Sasuke had told her about Naruto's favorite eatery too. What hadn't he told the girl?
When they reached Ichiraku, Kichi stopped and stared in awe as if they had brought her to the gates of some great castle or shrine. Sakura could only shake her head in wonder and Naruto eagerly ushered Kichi inside. He even went so far as to help Kichi up onto the stool even though she was perfectly capable of seating herself.
After Naruto prattled off his long order, Sakura placed her and Kichi modest order. Luckily, the older man knew enough aobut people not to question them about the obviously shy girl.
Once their food was served, the ate in realitve silence except for Naruto's loud slurps and noises of approval. About halfway through the meal, a swish of the curtian signaled the entrance of another group of customers.
"Oi! Naruto." A gruff voice called out causing them to stop and turn around. Behind them stood Kiba and the rest of team 8.
"Kiba!" Naruto greated him eagerly as he hopped up to great his friends. "Join us."
"Konichiwa Sakura-san, N-Naruto-san." Hinata greated quietly as they took their seats.
"Konichiwa mina-san." Sakura greated in return. "Did you just get back from a mission?"
"Hai." The shy Huyyga responded just as Kiba launched into an enthusiastic account of their journey to which Naruto listened with great interest. The other three exchanged a few pleasantries but for the most part allowed their two boustrious team mates to do all the talking.
Sakura spent the next few minutes watching Kichi as she peaked cautiously from one new comer to the next. Hinata, in turn, stole curious glances at the girl between Naruto and Sakura.
"Would you like me to introduce you?" Sakura leaned over and whispered in Kichi's ear.
"Oh, I know who they are." Kichi replied. "That's Aburame Shino, Huyyga Hinata, and Inuzuka Kiba."
At the sound of their names coming from a complete stranger, team 8's attention was immediately focused on the dark haired girl. When she found herself the new center of attention, Kichi turned a pretty shade of pink and ducked to hide behind a curtian of of long hair.
"Who's the kid?" Kiba asked as he peered around Naruto at her.
"This is Kichi, a new friend." Sakura explained. "She's been traveling with Sasuke-kun for a while now and came back to Konoha with him."
To an observer, it probably looked like Sakura had just told them that aliens had landed and she was their long lost princess. (or something along those lines)
"Sasuke? Uchiha Sasuke?" Kiba asked with disbelief. "This kid was traveling with him?"
"Yup!" Naruto replied with a grin at the look on Kiba's face.
"Apparantly she likes him." Naruto snickered.
"Are we talking about the same Uchiha Sasuke?"
"The chicken-butt haired, cold hearted, revenge obssessed bastard who betrayed the village?"
"The very one."
Like a rusted over hinge that causes a door to open and shut at an agonizingly slow rate, all three heads slowly turned back to gape at the small blue-eyed child.
"Kichi likes Sasuke-sama." She stated with such innocence and pride that any doubts they had about her quickly melted away. Sakura enjoyed watching the look on her friend's faces as the young girl worked her special brand of magic and wormed her way into their hearts with just a look.
"Sasuke used to tell Kichi stories about his life here in Konoha and all of us." Sakura explained. "She heard the stories so many times that she knows everybody by description. She's been very excited to have the chance to meet everyone."
There was an awkward moment of silence as they tried to process all this information. Sakura had to admit that it was hard and a bit creepy to imagine Sasuke telling anyone a bed time story. Her imagination was good but not that good.
"Welcome to Konoha, Kichi-san." Hinata's soft voice interrupted her thoughts as she greated Kichi with a soft smile.
"Arigito and hajimemashite, Hinata-san." Kichi greated in return with an equally sweet smile. Hinata's acceptance of the girl was apparently enough to satsify her team mates because they shrugged and went back to their food.
"We just finished shopping for new clothes and now we're going to show Kichi around Konoha." Sakura informed them. "We want Kichi to see the place she's heard soo much about."
"Plus we want everybody to meet her!" Naruto added with a grin.
"Well have fun." Kiba mumbled around a mouthful of ramen.
"It was nice to meet you, Kichi-san." Hinata called as they exited the tiny stand. Kichi waved shyly back and then glued herself to Sakura. It was obvious that meeting new people had both excited her and made her nervous at the same time.
Today was going to be an interesting day if Naruto insisted on introducing Kichi to everyone they knew and Kichi insisted on hding behind Sakura the entire time.
The next hour was spent showing Kichi the various sites of Konoha accompanied by newer stories of its inhabitants. Kichi was completely enthralled in everything around her and every little detail they had to tell her. Every few minutes she would tug softly on Sakura's shirt with a question about something or other that she saw. If Naruto heard her question, he jumped to give an answer- usually a wrong answer that Sakura had to correct. Kichi didn't seem to mind their constant back and forth bickering and simply listened with a smile.
By late afternoon, they neared the larger training grounds and Sakura could tell Naruto was raring to show off his skills for Kichi. Unfortunately, Naruto's plans would have to be put on hold because the training grounds were currently occupied.
Team Gai was in the middle of an intense training session and Sakura would have gladly turned back and let them be but Kichi stopped dead in her tracks and stared at them as if Kami himself had appeared before her.
Naruto saw Kichi's expression before Sakura had a chance to act and began hollering and waving at the four shinobi. Sakura could have hit Naroto for his stupidity but settled for a mumbled rant and a death glare shot in the blonde's direction.
As expected, team Gai stopped what they were doing and turned to see who was making all the noise which caused Kichi the skitter behind Sakura's protective presence.
At the sight of Naruto and his beloved "Sakura-chan," Lee rushed over to greet them with all the mannerisms his "youth" required. Gai followed closely behind, greeting the students of his most "hip" rival in a similar fashion (minus the declarations of love for Sakura). Tenten and Neji follow at a more liesurely rate and mostly out of boredem and curiosity.
Sakura could feel Kichi trembling behind her and felt sorry for the shy girl who was probably on people over load by now.
"So what brings you this way Naruto-san, Sakura-chan?" Lee inquired once his initial greetings were over.
"We were showing a new friend around town and thought we'd stop and introduce her to to you." Naruto explained.
"Who?" Lee and Gai asked simultaneously as they peered around lookin gfor the new friend. They caught sight of a small hand clutching Sakura's shirt and leaned forward to investigate. Sakura reached behind her and gave Kichi a gentle push to encourage her to come out of hiding.
"Kichi-chan this Lee-kun, Gai-san, Neji-san, and Tenten-san." Sakura said softly as she waited to see if Kichi could muster the courage to greet them.
She shly peeked out from behind Sakura, eyes wide as she took in the sight of Lee and Gai staring inquisitively down at her. She looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights with her big eyes and standing frozen like a statue. But she wasn't completely frozen, Sakura could feel her shaking slightly as her hands clenched and unclenched Sakura's shirt. Luckily Sasuke had mentioned her obssession with the dynamic duo or Sakura would have thought the younger girl was terrified of them.
"Is that the girl that came back with the Uchiha?" Neji asked, breaking the moment.
"How did you know about that?" Naruto asked. "She only got here yesterday."
I was at the Hokage tower yesterday and overheard some of the shinobi talking about it.." Neji explained, expression blank as usual.
"Naruoto, if you keep your mouth open like that, you're going to start catching bugs in it." Sakura warned the wide mouthed blonde. "And to answer you question Neji-san, yes. This is Kichi. She's been traveling with Sasuke for the last couple of years."
"Then why isn't she in jail with him?" He asked.
"Because she hasn't done anything wrong and she isn't in the condition to be put in a place like that." Sakura hissed dangerously when she felt Kichi tense behind her. Luckily, Neji dropped the subject. Sakura couldn't tell if it was because of the venomous look she gave him or because Tenten choose that exact moment to pinch the crap out of him. Either way, he kept his mouth shut and Sakura was happy.
Kichi relaxed a bit but Sakura could tell her "flight" response was screaming at her. Luckily, Naruto was there to break the uncomfortable moments (or make them worse in some cases).
"Kichi's been wanting to met you guys." Naruto said to Gai and Lee. "Apparently she's got an affinity for speed and she's been told you two were some of the resident experts what with your extreme training and all."
"Is that so?" Gai beamed down at her. "Then you'll have to come train with us some time!!"
"Really?" Kichi spoke for the first time since their meeting.
"Of course!" We're actually doing speed training later this week!" Gai exclaimed happily.
"Awesome! We'll bring Kichi back and join you." Naruto agreed readily.
"IF Kichi wants to." Sakura added quickly with a glance at said girl.
They said their goodbyes soon after that and headed back into town. Lee stood waving frantically was they walked away and probably kept waving even after they disappeared from sight.
"So what do you think of Gai and Lee?" Sakura asked after a minute or two of silence.
"They asked me to train with them." Kichi whispered in disbelief.
"Yes they did." Sakura stroked the girl's dark hair softly. "But it's up to you whether or not you go."
"I don't' know…" Kichi trailed off thoughtfully. "Will you and Naruto-san be there?"
Sakura looked down into a set of big blue eyes filled with slight fear and trepidation.
"Of course we'll be there!" Naruto voiced from the path ahead of them. He had stopped and turned around to face them with his hands on his hips and head held high. "You know I'm always up for training!"
"Then that's settled. We'll set up a training session with them for later this week." Sakura smiled softly down at Kichi.
"But tomorrow I have a little surprise for you." Naruto said with a smile and he continued walking backwards ahead of them.
"What?" Sakura looked at him expectantly. "You didn't tell me anything about a surprise!"
"Well it's not really a surprise and it's not really from me." He admitted sheepishly.
"Well what is it?" Sakura asked in frustration.
"Ne, I got news from Baa-chan this morning before I left for your place that we can bring Kichi to see Sasuke tomorrow."
"WHAT?" Sakura screeched. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?!"
"I was planning on it! I swear!" Naruto threw up his hands in self defense and scooted away from the seething Sakrua. "But I was distracted by the pancakes!"
Sakura looked about ready to pounce on the poor boy when Kichi's soft voice stopped her.
"I get to see Sasuke-sama?" She asked excitedly. "Really?"
"Hai!" Naruto beamed. Much to both his and Sakura's surprise, the young girl responded by embracing Naruto in a tight hug.
"Thank you Naruto-san!" She grinned happily up at him from her position wrapped around his waist causing Naruto to do a very good impression of Huyyga Hinata and turn bright red.
"W-well it wasn't really me who did it." Naruto stammered. Sakura rolled her eyes and decided it was best to save him before he melted into a puddle of goo, bright red goo.
"This is wonderful news Kichi-san." Sakura said with a bright smile as she offered her hand to Kichi who readily took it. "I guess we better head back so we'll have plenty of energy for tomorrow."
"Hai Sakura-san!" Kichi agreed with a grin and a nod. Sakura and Naruto couldn't help but wonder and the way Kichi's face lit up at just the idea of getting to see Sasuke.
But I suppose it makes sense seeing as he's probably the only person in the world that she can remember ever caring about her. She looked down at the small girl who was smiling with a brightness that rivaled that of the sun. He must be the world to her.
She glanced over at Naruto who was chatting away. Someone who didn't know Naruto well would have believed that he didn't have a care in the world, but Sakura had know Naruto for a long time and probably knew him better than most people and she could tell he was far from sunshine and rainbows. He was probably thinking the same thing that she was.
Sasuke's life wasn't the only thing on line during the upcoming trail.
WOOT! I made this chapter extra long to make up for all the time I made you wait. I could have made it longer but I thought it would get sort of repetative with Kichi meeting EVERYBODY. I'm not very happy with the writing style but I figure it'll take me a while to get back into the groove after such a long break.
Please let me hear from you! I miss all of you!