A/N: All it took was a couple of (ahem) less than pleasant PM's to let me know that I have taken entirely too long to begin a new fanfiction. Further, they let me know that starting back with an OC fic was unacceptable. So I withdraw my OC fic (you don't know what you are missing out on!) and am going to use a few of my ideas from that for this lovely tale. So no more bitching, ok? Also, for all of my male fans, this is my first hetero fic! No boy love, I promise. Also, there are going to be spoilers in here. Just a heads up.

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The kunai was pressed into her neck hard enough that she could feel the tell-tale trickle of blood. It was over, and her inner voice was kicking her self all over. She tapped her leg and felt the arms wrapped around her neck release. Instinctively, Sakura's hand rushed up to put pressure on the minor wound her teammate, Kakashi, had just given her.

"KAKA-SENSEI!! HOW DARE YOU HURT SAKURA-CHAAAAAAAAN!!!" Even though Kakashi was just the third member of their team, neither Naruto nor Sakura had been able to give up the "sensei" honorific.

In an orange flash, Naruto was beside Sakura, arm around her shoulders, face ridiculously twisted in concern.

"Are you alright, Sakura-chan? Does it hurt?" When peering closer he saw blood on her fingertips and his face shifted from concern to terror. He gripped her shoulders and shook her, screaming, "SAKURA-CHAAAAN! DON'T DIE!!! I'LL RUN FOR TSUNADE, JUST HOLD ON!"

Naruto was so involved in his own dramatics he missed Sakura's fist raise slowly above his head, only to come swiftly crashing into his skull.

"BAKA, it is just a cut. I'm not a delicate flower, you know!"

Naruto sat on the ground holding his injured head, watching with hurt and interest as Sakura used a small bit of her chakra to seal the cut. In seconds, no one could have known she had ever been on the losing side of an attack.

"OWIIIEE, I was just concerned for my teammate, you didn't have to hit so hard!!"

Hmph. Naruto was actually lucky she was almost completely drained of her chakra, or her hit would have been much harder. During training she always left herself just enough chakra to heal her scrapes and bruises so her flawless skin could remain, well, flawless. Still, she probably was a little hard on him. It was just that she was damned frustrated.

How did Kakashi beat her so badly again?

Kakashi had been training them individually for weeks. Because she and Naruto had been able to grab the bells from him as a team years ago, he wanted them to hone their individual skills. It wasn't that she expected to beat her former sensei, the infamous copy-ninja. It was just that she didn't expect to be beaten so badly every time. Naruto didn't win, but he could at least make Kakashi work for the victory. Whenever she sparred with him, he never even needed to take off his eye patch. It felt like her extensive training with Tsunade-sama had been for nothing.

"Yo, practice is over. Go home and reflect on today." Kakashi began to pack up the supplied he had brought to training today.

"Sakura-chan, would you like to go on a date? I'll even pay!" Naruto jingled his frog-shaped coin purse. It sounded a little empty. "Or…"

"Thanks, but no thanks, Naruto. I'm beat. Can I take a rain check? Perhaps when you can actually afford to take me out?"

Naruto agreed easily so long as there was a promise for a next time. He sprinted off to town, his mouth already salivating at the thought of ramen. Sakura started more slowly, contemplating the day's exercises. Things didn't add up in her mind, though. Quickly, she turned back and found Kakashi, who was apparently going at another round of training solo. The thought that he still had enough energy to do so after fighting her further infuriated her. How could she be so awful after so much hard work?

She watched her former sensei, amazed at his grace and skill. He moved like fluid, like nothing could touch him, but his offense was obviously deadly. She had seen him fight before but it never failed to take her breath away. She remembered another man whose fighting style had taken her breath away. They had found him again, he had been right there, so close she touched him…

Sasuke. Of course, the touches had been more like punches, and while she was impressed that she had actually been able to stand up to him, the encounter had re-lit her heart. After the three years of his absence, she had almost convinced herself she felt only friendship for the Uchiha heir. But seeing him there…Even thinking about it now made her stomach queasy, her heart light and fluttery. God, it had been four years since then, she was now twenty and yet there was still that residual passion for a boy who was still gone, was still vengeful. While she regretted that she and Naruto had not found Itachi yet, she also was glad—she knew Sasuke hadn't, either.

"Maaah, Sakura? It is a little weird to have you staring at me with that look on your face." Kakashi's visible eye was scrunched in embarrassment.

Her face flushed red and she waved her hands furiously in front of her—"No No! It isn't like that, I was…I was thinking about something else!"

The visible eye relaxed and stared at her knowingly. "Do you mean someone else?"

He knows me too well. "Hai, I was thinking about him."

Kakashi waited for more, but Sakura made no move to continue. What could she say, really? That Kakashi's sharigan was a constant reminder of her former teammate, or that each day she wondered where Sasuke was, and what he was thinking about? Does he think about me even half as much as I think about him? No, none of that was something that she could talk to Kakashi, or anyone, about.

"Uh…you are doing the staring thing again."

She didn't turn as red the second time.

"Surely you didn't come back here to talk to me about Sasuke, Sakura?"

She winced—hearing the boy genius' name out loud was still painful for her. It reminded her of how very gone he was, and had been. He's been gone seven years… that was almost as long as she had known him.

"No, I didn't come to talk about him. I came to talk about…me."

Kakashi's eyebrow rose up in amusement. "Oh?"

"I've been training so long now, and I am still pathetic fighting alone! I do so well in groups but alone I am completely useless."

Kakashi walked over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. She realized how much she had grown, because this close she could see the arteries in his neck. Medical training automatically taught her eyes to find the major life points.

"You have gotten significantly stronger, Sakura. And no one can deny your incredible medical skills, particularly when you are so young. However, what was it that you were first so good at, before the strength and the medical training?"

The pink haired chuunin scrunched her face, thinking. "Ummmm…"

"Shogi."

This caught her off guard.

"What do you mean, 'Shogi!'?"

"I mean that you were a good ninja originally because you were smart. You've been so good at your new skills that you haven't needed to think. When you are in teams, you rely on others to think. The only time you use your intelligence now is for quick medical dilemmas. So go play Shogi. Learn to put some thought into battle, and you will be closer."

"Closer to what?"

"Beating me, of course!"

"KAKA-SENSEI—" She raised a glowing hand and slammed it into Kakashi's face. She heard a poof and she watched as a log of wood slammed into another tree, knocking it over.

Replacement technique. What a jerk.

And what kind of advice was 'Shogi', anyway!?

- - - - -

Sakura wandered into the Ramen shop. No surprise, Naruto sat there, surrounded by bowls. To her pleasant surprise their teacher from many years ago, Iruka, was there as well and laughing lightly with his former pupil.

"Hello!" She pulled up a chair beside Iruka.

"SAKURA-CHAAAAAN! I thought you were going home!"

"Oh? So you don't want me here? Fine, Naruto…but I had really been looking forward to spending some quality time with you." She made suggestive eyes at her blond teammate, then seductively slid off her stool and began to saunter towards the door. Before she turned she had seen Naruto's face, which had turned purple in his surprise, his eyes taking up half of his face. She thought she could hear Iruka stifling a laugh.

"OK, Sakura-chan! It wasn't that I wasn't looking forward to spending time with you, it is just that I have all these sore muscles…they make me cranky. And I need a bath. But now that you are here, I realize what perfect timing it is!"

Sakura turned and looked at him. "Oh?"

"I just realized you can give me a bath and rub out all of these sore muscles! I think I may have pulled one here—," to which he pointed at his inner thigh.

It was Sakura's turn to gape at her teammate. Iruka wasn't even bothering to hide his glee anymore.

"NARUTO-PERVERT!!!"

"I guess I can pass on the bath, but stay for dinner. I think I can make room in my stomach for another bowl."

Sakura sighed and sat back home. These were the good times. After the second failed attempt to bring Sasuke home, she and Naruto had become much closer. She knew that he sometimes viewed her as more than a friend, but they had figured out that they couldn't work out. Not with their history, and especially not without their third teammate. Sasuke. She was thinking about him again. Did she ever really stop?

Naruto ordered her ramen and his own.

"Naruto, you are going to make yourself sick eating so much right after a hard practice."

"Please, Saku-Chan. I know my limits-- I've been eating ramen for longer than you have been alive!"

"Idiot, we are the same age!"

When she almost tipped over Iruka's tea reaching across him to hit Naruto, Iruka's laughter was loud enough to be heard a block away.

"Alright, you two—that was my cue to go."

"Noooo, don't leave!" They said in unison. In their time back in Konoha, Naruto and Sakura had become especially close to the chuunin teacher. He served as a mentor for when things got tough, and was in many ways the only family Naruto had.

"Ah, but I have some papers to grade. Besides, with all of your flirting, I know where this evening is heading!" He winked at his former students and left before they could retaliate. Iruka knew better though, as did they. The flirting had been a recent development in the past year as both had turned twenty. Naruto hadn't grown up much, but he was much more secure in the relationship with his pink-haired friend. They did tease and he often made perverted comments directed to her. She had stopped hitting him (at least as hard) and sometimes even blushed quite prettily.

"I talked to Kaka-sensei."

Naruto's smile disappeared. He knew that when Sakura sounded serious, he needed to listen. "About…him?"

"No, though that has been on my mind. I talked to him about getting better."

"Better!? You are amazing, Sakura! You are freakishly strong and can heal just about anyone and you are drop dead gorgeous while doing it and—"

"Oh, Naruto, thanks, but…"

"But what? What else is there?"

"Well…I can't fight on my own yet."

"Bah, you kick my ass every day!!"

She had to laugh at that. "Yeah, but with you it is a given." She winked at Naruto as he tried to think of a come back.

"Well, WELL—," When nothing came, he just shrugged his shoulders. Ok, so he had grown up a lot more than she gave him credit for. He knew when to back off now, at least with her. His enemies were not so lucky, Sakura had seen that proven again and again. "What did that old lecher tell you?"

"He told me Shogi."

"What the hell is Shogi?"

"A game, idiot."

"He told you to get better playing a game? That makes no sense! You can just train more with me!!" Naruto flexed his arms, kissing his biceps and making his companion laugh again. He's too good at making me laugh. She had wished on more than one occasion that she could return his feelings, but they both knew that would never happen. Sad, because she knew he was probably better for her than Sasuke.

"He said it would teach me to think, and that is certainly something I can't learn from you! I just don't know where I should start! I guess those old men in the park?"

"The old men in the park!? The perverted ones that are out there everyday!?"

They heard a rustle behind them as Iruka re-entered the ramen hut.

"What about old perverted men? Are you talking about Kakashi-sensei again?" The tan ninja walked over to the counter, grabbing a black leather billfold off of it. "Sorry to eavesdrop, but I forgot my wallet!"

"We were talking about the old men that play Go and Shogi everyday in the park."

This caught Iruka's interest. Of course, usually Naruto's and Sakura's conversations were amusing, but they did not generally discuss anything involving long strategy games. "What about them?"

"Kaka-sensei recommended I play Shogi if I want to become a better solo ninja, and those are the only people I can think of to play with."

Those men, Iruka knew, were notorious for staring down pretty young women of the village. He heard once they had written a list of one hundred different names for women's breasts. Someone as pretty and as…volatile as Sakura probably would not have a good learning experience with those men.

Suddenly, the perfect answer hit Iruka.

"You should ask Nara Shikamaru. He is probably the best player this village has seen in over one hundred years! Plus…" Iruka's face fell and his voice dropped with compassion. "He could probably use the distraction."

Sakura grimaced. Shikamaru… It was a good idea, she knew it. He was still the lazy ninja he had always been, of course, and they had been tentative friends from way back when Tsunade had pared them together for several missions after Sasuke had left. But his demeanor had changed so much, since…

She knew Iruka was right.

"Thanks, Iruka-sensei!"

- - - - -

That night Sakura walked Naruto after he said he stomach felt a little weak. She tried not to laugh too hard at him when he threw up ramen-bile in an alley.

"I told you so," she murmured as she stroked his hair off of his face.

"Uhhhhhh….Sakura," Naruto whispered. She leaned down closer so that she could hear him better. "Sakura, come closer, I need to ask a favor…" She came so close her cheek was next to his.

"What is it, Naruto?"

Even though he had just been vomiting his guts out a moment before, Naruto turned his huge smile to her, clamped an arm around her neck and pretended to faint. Her quick reflexes easily allowed her to catch him, looking worried.

"Can you take me home and play 'doctor' with me!?" He winked and puckered his lips up big for a kiss. Instead of a kiss, though, Sakura dropped (or maybe threw) her teammate down.

"NO WAY BARF-BREATH!!!"

They both laughed and she walked him the rest of the way to his apartment.

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A/N: And so I'm back. My semester just ended, which is pretty awesome. In theory I will be able to update 1-4 times a week! But of course, I also am trying to get my warcraft character to lvl 70…so we'll see! Now, I admit this is probably more enjoyable to the general public than an OC fic. And in the end, I'll probably have more fun with this one!

Until next time, have a great week!