Author's note: This will probably be the only one in the story, so read it. This was originally going to be a one-shot because I do those so much better than chaptered stories, but I changed my mind, it just didn't flow right. As a precaution against the horrible procrastination that plagues me, I am going to try to have at least the next chapter done every time I post. This will (very probably, there is as always a chance that I will change my mind) be a Naru/Saku/Sasu
Disclaimer: I own the clothes on my back, fifteen thousand notebooks (almost all filled), seventy candles, and a computer. Unfortunately on this list I can not add Naruto.
Summary: Sakura feels useless, and used and is tired of trying to live with one part of her heart while killing the other. Her relationship with Sasuke and Naruto is not going the way she wanted, and she is losing a little more of herself everyday. Its time for a change.
Not Just A Girl
(Not Just a Bed Warmer)
Sometimes Sakura felt remarkably useless. She was normally just optimistically obtuse enough to believe that her teammates needed her. If not for her battle skills (which were, for the record, formidable) than because without her Sasuke and Naruto had a frightening predilection for violence, and more often than not when they went off on their own the only wounds they sustained in the mission were from each other. Except that sometimes there were days like this. Days when Sasuke was given a mission and told he could take three other ninjas and he smirked in the vague direction of where Naruto might be and that was all the confirmation Naruto got that he was on the mission, watching Sasuke's back. Days when she waited the whole time for Sasuke to ask her to accompany him, even though she knew that Sasuke would have picked and confirmed his team within the hour. Days when she paced and fretted and wrung her hands and sent as many meaningful glances at Sasuke as she could find time for, when she finally worked up the courage to confront her Sasuke-kun, and he just looked shocked that she had expected to go with them. Days when Naruto overheard and sent her a toothy grin and told her to keep the bed warm for them. Days when the medic they chose to take was some damn Chunin who was dense and slow and who she had been training.
She had been the first of the three to make it to Jounin (granted this was most likely because Sasuke was off killing his brother and Naruto was on another one of his training trips)She had surpassed Shizune as Konoha's second best medic-nin. Perhaps she couldn't beat either of her lovers in a spar four times out of five, but she was at least as qualified as Kiba, and that loser medic-nin Sasuke had deemed worthy of accompanying him.
The fact that Sakura had been having days like this more and more often since Sasuke had been made a Jounin captain was seriously starting to bother her. If it had been anyone but Sasuke and Naruto passing her over she would have been mountain-toppling furious, but when the two men she loved enough to do anything for decided that she wasn't fit to fulfill missions with them, it hurt more than anything else. When they told her (Naruto's words and Sasuke's smirk) to "keep the bed warm" while they were away, she couldn't explain what it did to her.
When she was younger, and far more foolish, she had been accustomed to being the weak one, to watching their backs. It was a mindset, one she had worked tirelessly to break herself of. And all her teammates did was push her back into that old role. From Sasuke it could almost be ok, and was at the very least understandable, because Sasuke by virtue of being Sasuke was an ass, and had no problem acting like one. But from Naruto, it was heart breaking and soul shattering. The self-confidence which Sasuke and Naruto possessed in such a quantity that it radiated from them had always been lacking in Sakura, no matter what confident front she put up, so it was pathetically easy for her boys to knock down the hoard of confidence she had built up over the years.
Beyond their lack of confidence in her ability to fight (understandable, but unjustified) there were the looks that they shared. Deep, soulful, meaningful looks that neither one of the boys ever bothered to send her way. It was the fact that when they went out together Sakura never ended up feeling like anything other than a third wheel. Naruto would start telling a story and Sasuke would give a little smirk; the kind that people give when they know the ending to a story and feel superior because of it. When Naruto saw the smirk (and he always did, within seconds, it seemed that every twitch of Sasuke's facial muscles drew notice from the normally dense teen) he would trail off, sometimes he would glance at Sakura and hastily pick up the story, but sometimes he wouldn't remember that there was someone else, besides Sasuke and himself and he left Sakura wondering how exactly he had escaped from the fort, when he was buck naked.
In bed (which is where it sometimes felt like they spent all their time) Sakura was always in the middle, and every night the boy on top (usually Sasuke, he had more than a few dominance issues) would stare over her head at the one on the bottom. They moved inside her and ghosted touches over her slender body, there were moans and groans but nothing earth shattering. It was always a little bit routine (or so she assumed, as besides those experiences she had nothing to compare it to), and she was always a little bit disappointed. Not that they didn't pleasure her. They were always so careful, so considerate. Maybe that was the problem; it wasn't in their natures to be particularly careful, or especially considerate. Naruto was fire and passion and enough heat to rival the sun, and Sasuke was calm and cold with the intensity and power of an iceberg, and it was just so wrong with them being something they weren't.
Sometimes, rarely, she would be able to watch them when it was just them (and it was never just her and Sasuke, or her and Naruto, but there was enough Sasuke and Naruto to make her wonder) and it was violent and passionate. They screamed each other's name, bit and fought for dominance, until one of them made surrender look sweet, and the other took the spoils as is any victor's right. Together they lost themselves in a way they never did with her, and she was jealous and bitter and more than anything she wanted that.
Once a month (always the twenty-fourth) Sasuke would show up with a home pregnancy kit and wait (im)patiently for the three minutes and looked briefly heartbroken when the one line would show up. It was Naruto, always Naruto, who slung an arm around his shoulder and forced a reluctant smile out of him. She'd tried, tried over and over, every way she knew to coax that smile out of him, but all she ever got was a blank look and an even blanker voice as he replied with a thanks and told her that she would be fine. Every so often Sasuke would bring home a baby toy embossed with his clan's symbol. Or a little orange baby jumper, he never brought anything which would show that the baby was hers too. Subtlety had never been Sasuke's strong point.
More often than not she felt like a human incubator that they happened to be friends with. She felt (and felt awful and guilty and horrible for feeling that way) that if either of them had been able to carry the baby for the other one then there would truly be no place in the relationship for her. She knew that they cared about her, that if asked they would probably die for her, but she knew too that they didn't love her. Not like they did each other, and they probably never would. They wanted a baby and she was the easiest way to get the baby (not that either of them would realize the callous way that their thoughts turned). It wasn't what she wanted (not the baby, she would love a baby, had wanted a family since as long as she could remember), it was what they wanted, and for the first time she realized that the 'they' was a private relationship that she was not party to.
She needed to talk to Ino.
She untangled from the bed, and her boys. It wasn't hard she slept as close to the edge as possible and was only hindered by the perfunctory arm around her stomach, while Sasuke and Naruto were nothing more than a tangle of tan and pale limbs with a shock of hair on top. She slipped silently off the bed, after carefully removing Naruto's arm (it was pathetically easy, just once she wanted to wake up and be pulled back into a warm body, the way Ino said Shikamaru did) and padding over to the pile of abandoned clothes. She pulled on her tight, spandex shorts but couldn't find her top quickly, so she slipped on Sasuke's typical navy blue top.
The rustling brought the ever alert Sasuke out of his sleep. He raised himself up on a single well muscled arm. She noticed with a rush of longing that Naruto's arm, which had been splayed over where she once was, immediately went to wrap around Sasuke and pull him back down. Sasuke resisted and looked at her through sleep fogged eyes.
"Where are you going?" Even with his voice roughened by sleep, it could smooth over gravel. It was rich, and luxuriant, the sort of voice that got her all weak around the knees and once she'd thought that it was just an expression, but with Sasuke there was no doubt in her mind that the person who coined that turn of phrase had done so with Sasuke in mind.
She smiled, it was the kind of smile that took a little too much effort to force and that he would notice immediately, if he had been paying attention. "Its nothing Sasuke-kun. I just forgot something that I need to do before tomorrow. Go back to bed, and if I don't get back in time to see you off, you guys be careful ok."
At the hint that she thought she would be gone until past dawn Sasuke sat up straighter. "Where are you going Sa-ku-ra" He drawled her name in the way that never failed to make her weak in the knees, or to get an answer out of her on the rare times she didn't tell him at the first sign of his interest.
"Don't worry Sasuke-kun" The underlying steel in her tone was as close to a "Fuck off" as Sakura had ever come to giving Sasuke. Shocked and tired he obeyed her unspoken order, falling back into the comfortable embrace of his lover.
She smiled, a little sadly, Sasuke noticed and filed away for later contemplation, and turned to unlock the bedroom door. Sasuke was paranoid enough that all the doors in the apartment had locks and were routinely set with all sorts of dangerous traps, on the off chance anyone was stupid enough to attempt to sneak up on the near legendary trio. There were no window's in the apartment, something that Sakura had protested vehemently to when they moved in, but Naruto had taken one look at Sasuke's determined face and took his side, thus ending what could have been the first real argument of Sasuke and Sakura's lives.
She didn't bother brushing her hair or teeth, nor did she wince as she pulled on a pair of Naruto's orange sweatpants. She clashed, and looked bad enough that when she knocked on her best friend's door at three in the morning that all Ino did was take in her friend's air of desperation and holler at Shikamaru to make some tea. Ino escorted Sakura to the small living room in the cramped apartment and went to pull herself together and give her boyfriend a firm kick in the ass (if she had to be up, then damnit so did he). As soon as she was in clothes that didn't make her look like she had rolled out of bed she went back into the room to see Shikamaru already offering Sakura (who looked, now that Ino had time to look, pale and gaunt and frighteningly hollow) tea.
Sakura gratefully took the cup of tea from her best friend's lover and then folded in on herself even more. Ino sighed and strode confidently to the couch, where she sat close enough to Sakura, that should she feel the urge Sakura could wrap an arm around her and avail herself of Ino's shoulder.
"Want to tell me why you showed up, dressed like that" Ino was too much of a girl to not scrunch up her nose at Sakura's attire, and enough of a girl to gentle her voice after that comment "at three o'clock in the morning?" Sakura looked up through her bangs and Ino was thrown back over a decade to when she had first met Sakura. She didn't like how close her best friend, who had clawed her way past that teary-eyed sheepdog stage, had regressed so far since the last time she had seen her.
Sakura glanced at Shikamaru, who was all too happy to intercept that gaze and use it as an excuse to get back to bed. "Ino, I'll leave the tea and get back to bed, ok?" It was a mark of Shikamaru's silent worry that the word troublesome didn't pass his lips until after he was sprawled back across the bed, shamelessly eavesdropping as much as he could from his comfortable position.
"What is it Sakura?" Ino kept her voice at an octave light enough to be unthreatening and forceful enough that Sakura would open up under it.
"It's Sasuke-kun, and Naruto." Ino was too good of a friend to sigh, and prepared herself for what was doubtless not going to be something that she was going to want to be hearing about.
"They said they wanted me, that they weren't complete, weren't right without me. They said that I was the missing piece. That they needed me." She looked desperately at Ino for confirmation that they had indeed said that, that it wasn't something that she had made up so she could intrude on their relationship.
"I believed them, of course I believed them. They were my teammates and they never lie to me. Not to Sakura-chan, never ever to Sakura-chan."
"Of course you believed them." Ino reached out to lay a comforting hand on Sakura's shoulder. "What reason would they have to lie to you?"
"Exactly!" Sakura's cry was short and soft, but filled with a tone that told Ino that she had given Sakura the valediction she had needed. "Except, except that Ino," Her voice lost that tone and was back to being soft and contemplative. "Ino, they did lie."
Ino didn't want to ask. Nothing good would come of asking. But she couldn't resist. "How did they lie Sakura?"
"They don't love me. They don't even want me. Not really. Not the way they do each other. But I thought that it was okay. That they loved me differently but equally, because that is how I love them. They are different people, you can't love different people the same way, it doesn't work. But I do love them, and I love them both equally, and I couldn't choose between them. Not if someone was holding a kunai to my throat and told me that I had to choose, Naruto or Sasuke. I thought, but I was wrong
"They love each other, and they just need me. Because Sasuke, more than anything wants to restore his clan, and he'd choose that over Naruto, because he is so stupid, and so dedicated to that clan of his. And Naruto, he just wants a family, always has, since he was little. But they are both boys, and it doesn't matter that they can do i anything /i because they can't give each other what they want most, so they turned to me. Because I am a girl, and I can give them both lots of little Uchiha/Uzumaki's.
They do care about me. I know it Ino, they trust me, and with Sasuke that means more than anything because Sasuke doesn't trust anyone. But Naruto he just likes me, because he likes everyone, and maybe he likes me more than he likes most but he doesn't love me."
She looked at Ino pitifully and the statuesque blonde felt her heart breaking in sympathy. But she didn't say anything, because stopping Sakura once she got started meant that she probably wouldn't start again.
"I want to be loved. And I want to go to sleep and have someone pull me back to them when they sleep. I want passion, and I want if I have a baby, for it to be my baby, something that came from me and that I laugh and play with. I don't want to be that woman who carried it for nine months. And what if, once I finally do get pregnant, and why can't I get pregnant? We've been trying and trying and I just don't. Is there something wrong with me?" The tears began to trace a crystalline path down her cheeks. "But what if, after I have the baby, and it's a beautiful and wonderful child, Sasuke and Naruto don't want me anymore? They won't need me once the have their baby."
Sakura's words became unintelligible and Ino cast a desperate glance at her bed room, where the man she loved lay sleeping. She took her best friend into her arms and let the tears saturate her clothing. She stroked Sakura's hair and wondered idly at its softness.
Sakura lifted up her face and Ino didn't resist her urge to sigh this time. This was going to be troublesome (as soon as that thought crossed her mind she vowed to stop spending so much time with Shika-kun).
"You are my best friend Sakura, you know that right?" Sakura nodded her confirmation hesitantly. Nothing good could come after that sentence. "I really only want you to be happy. And so when they were making you happy, or at least making you think you were happy, I was okay with it. But you aren't happy anymore, so I'm not happy anymore."
She took a deep breath. This was not going to be easy, but she had to convince Sakura, it was the only way. "You need to leave."
Sakura gasped. "Ino, you don't understand I love them. I can't just leave them."
"Its because you love them that you need to leave Sakura. They are breaking more than your heart. The longer you stay with them, the more you lose of who you are. The last time you cried like this was when you found out that Sasuke and Naruto were in a relationship, and had been without telling you, for a year. That was years ago. You are different now. Stronger, and they are making you lose that.
When was the last time they sparred with you? Or gave you a compliment? When was the last time you went on a mission with your old team? The last time you used your full talents, and challenged yourself? You love to challenge yourself, and you aren't doing that any more. Sakura" She shook her best friend lightly "Sakura they are suffocating you."
Sakura took a shuddering breath and pushed her hair behind her ear. "I think you are right Ino. I'll break up with them when they get back from their mission."
Ino winced. It had been fairly easy to convince Sakura that she needed to break up, but this next part would be more difficult. "No Sakura, you need to leave. Completely out of their lives, and out of Konoha."
"But" Sakura stuttered. "I can't just leave, that would make me a missing-nin, and I am Tsunade's apprentice, she would send so many people after me, it would just be pointless if not suicidal. And all my friends are here, and I can't just leave them like that. They are still my friends."
"You know as well as I do, that all it would take for you to come back to them is a line from Sasuke and a pout from Naruto. That would truly be the definition of futility. And I don't want you to just leave. You are smarter than that. We need a plan. While Sasuke and Naruto are on their mission, how long is their mission anyway?"
"At least two weeks" came the subdued answer.
"Perfect. So while they are on their mission you can ask Tsunade-sama for a long term mission, and you know that you won't have to explain yourself much. Tsunade herself left the village for years so she could "find herself" so if anyone understands what you are going through it would probably be her. Then you leave the boys a note explaining that you are on a mission, and you don't know when you'll be back, of course you can't tell them where you are going because it is a confidential mission. Then add that you don't think that it would be a good idea for them to wait for you, and that over the time you think that you might get into another relationship. Add something about how you are tired of always waiting and want to use this time to experiment a bit. It'll make them furious enough that they wont think about looking for you for at least a few months, because they aren't smart enough-"
"Hey!" Sakura, ever loyal and still very much in love protested.
"Fine, they aren't level headed enough to think that it isn't a very Sakura thing to say. At the very least it will give you time to begin to mend yourself."
Sakura nodded reluctantly. She hated it when Ino made sense. Especially when Ino made a point that Sakura hadn't even thought of. She smiled half-heartedly and attempted a joke. "That's a pretty good plan Ino-pig, you really have been spending a lot of time with Shikamaru haven't you? All that intelligence was bound to rub off a bit."
"Shut it forehead. If I were you I'd go say goodbye before Naruto and Sasuke leave. You won't see them for a very long time, and it'll be the last time that you get to treat them the way you have been." Sakura paled at the realization.
"Thanks again Ino. You really are the best friend a girl could have" Ino smiled, and it lit up her already stunning face.
"Love you too Sakura. Now Scat! I want some beauty sleep, even if I don't need it." She flipped her long hair arrogantly.
Sakura snorted inelegantly and was out the door before Ino's outraged squeal escaped.
As soon as Sakura was out the door Ino trudged wearily to her bedroom. She flopped gracelessly onto the bed beside Shikamaru and laid her head gently over his head. One of his hands went to cup her head and the other one wrapped around her waist, pulling her even closer to his body. "I'm really going to miss her Shika-kun." He sighed and dropped a kiss on the crown of her head.
"I know you will, but this really is what's best for her, troublesome as it may be." Ino smiled up at the man she loved.
"I really do love you, you know?" He allowed a tired smile to creep across his face.
"I know." She waited patiently for him to respond with his own declaration of undying love. And when it didn't come, she slapped his chest half-heartedly. "Geez! I love you too, troublesome woman." She gave a contended smile and snuggled into his chest and fell into a deep sleep.
Sakura showed up at her apartment just as her boys were leaving.
"Hey! Teme!" Naruto's voice was boisterous, even at the early hour, and Sakura knew she would be getting a complaint about the noise later, if she was still there later. "Where's Sakura-chan?" She could practically feel Sasuke's shrug.
"What do you mean you don't know?" His voice was angry and dangerous. Sakura gave a rueful smile, he had always been ridiculously overprotective. "What if she got hurt without us? How could you let her leave? What if she's lying in a ditch dying, and she dies because we weren't there to find her." She didn't know what Sasuke said, but soon Naruto was letting out a low growl. She quickly turned the corner.
"Relax Naruto. I'm right here, I can take care of myself you know?" She smiled innocently at him. "You can't pick a fight with Sasuke-kun before your important mission. At least wait until after, okay? I promise I won't stop you."
Naruto gave her one of his contagious grins. "I'll hold you to that Sakura-chan." He bounded up to her and enveloped her in his warm arms. That close to her he sniffed and smelled salt. "Sakura-chan? Have you been crying?"
He felt a rush of relief when she gave out a laugh, and Sasuke felt a small twinge of alarm, that wasn't Sakura's normal laugh. "Of course not, I just went out for a run. I had all this energy you know?" Sasuke's eyes narrowed, but he let it go. Sakura would tell them what was bothering her when she was ready if it was important. She had probably just tripped running. But then again, if she had just been running, why hadn't she told him where she was going?
"Okay Sakura-chan. Give me a kiss to remember, and wish me luck!" Naruto's voice snapped Sasuke out of his thoughts, and he watched as their female lover took Naruto at his word and gave him a kiss that didn't look like any of the other kisses they had shared.
"Good luck Naruto" She hesitated for a brief moment "-kun" Naruto let out a whoop and turned to Sasuke.
"Hear that Teme? You aren't the only –kun anymore!" Sakura grinned at him, a real grin this time and any worry Sasuke had been harboring evaporated. She walked shyly over to wear he stood and hesitantly stood on her toes to kiss him too. Except that even then she was still significantly shorter than her first crush. With a cocky smirk he leaned down and allowed her to initiate the kiss.
Sakura pressed her lips confidently against his and gave him a hard, intense kiss before she rocked back on the balls of her feet. "Come back safely." With that she turned and walked into the apartment.
She draped herself across the bed, somehow her five foot two inches one hundred pound soaking wet body managed to completely cover their king-sized bed. She gave a small sigh before allowing herself to slip into a world of dreams built completely on the premise that neither Sasuke nor Naruto were with her, and that this time, it was by her choice.
Three hours later she was in Tsunade's office, observing the snoring Sannin. "Tsunade-sama you need to wake up, now." A ridiculously exaggerated snore came from her mentor's nose. She walked up to the blonde and pinched her nose tightly enough to block all intake of oxygen.
Tsunade shot up and whined. "What was that for?" She rubbed her bleary amber eyes. "Sakura-chan?"
"I need a favor." The grim determination in her pupil's voice had her straightening up, suddenly very awake, and very apprehensive.
"It depends. What favor would this be?"
"I need to get away from Konoha, go on a journey to challenge myself." At Tsunade's blank stare she hurriedly began to attempt to convince her before she made up her mind in a way Sakura would not approve of. "It would of course be beneficial for the village. I could study with other medic-nins, surely there are techniques that we could use in our hospitals that we are not yet aware of. And other than you I am the best person to send on such a mission, because I am far more likely than anyone else to learn and remember the technique, with my memory and chakra control."
There was desperation tingeing the voice of the young woman who was so very much like herself. She remembered, with perfect clarity the day she had decided that she needed to leave everything she had known to save herself. It had been cowardly. But sometimes cowardly actions were all that kept you alive. "Are you running away Sakura?" Her voice was serious, and her student straightened.
"Maybe, I prefer to think of it as a strategic retreat and regroup. I will be back, and I will be stronger." Behind the desperation their was determination in Sakura's voice.
Tsunade steepled her fingers. "Naruto and Sasuke won't be happy."
"Naruto and Sasuke are never happy, and I won't, I can't keep putting their happiness above my own. It might be selfish, but I don't care. I need this."
Tsunade nodded reluctantly. "Very well, Haruno Sakura you are officially on a mission to travel to all of Konoha's allies and gather what information they have on medical ninjutsu." She whipped out a scroll and scrawled something across it. "Give this to the kages of the villages you visit. It should explain your presence. Also when you have completed this, I would like you to visit Suna and assist that village with the training of their medic-nins. I can not give you a time line for this mission. Return whenever the job is done. This mission is of course confidential."
"Of course and thank you Tsunade-sama." Sakura bowed low and turned to leave the room.
"Oh and Sakura?" Tsunade prepared to add her afterthought.
"Yes Tsunade-sama?" Sakura didn't turn around. To tell the truth, she was a little frightened to.
"Keep in touch okay?" Sakura smiled happily.
"I will Tsunade-sama." Sakura left the Hokage tower quickly and began to prepare for her new mission.
Tsunade sighed deeply and took out her sake bottle. Sakura was far too much like her for her comfort, she only hoped her pupil learned from her mistakes, and she desperately hoped that history was not, as she feared, about to repeat itself.
Sakura had always felt that she was fairly verbose. She'd found it easy to express herself for the entirety of her life. And she could say with complete and total confidence that this letter was the hardest thing she had ever had to attempt to put in to words. She'd started and discarded at least fifteen drafts, before she settled on one. It wasn't ideal, but nothing about this situation was.
She sealed the envelope with a quick kiss and placed it gently on the freshly made bed. There wasn't much that she needed to do before she left on the mission, but with Sasuke and Naruto gone for so long she needed to clean the perishables out of the fridge and take out the garbage. She didn't want them coming home to a stench. The landlord needed to be paid for at least the next three months, because Sasuke and Naruto never remembered to do it. She'd pay for it herself, as a last act of kindness.
After Sakura had completed her simple tasks she cleaned out her drawers, she only had two, and no space in the closet, which should have tipped her off, because a man who wasn't willing to share closet space wasn't willing to share other things either. All her scrolls and medical supplies were cleaned out of their spacious living room, and tossed in to a separate bag. With one last melancholy sigh, she turned off the lights and prepared to go say goodbye to Ino.
It was just turning noon as they finished their teary farewells, and Sakura stepped out of Konoha for her first solo mission. She didn't look back until it was too late to see anything but trees.