Shades of Grey

(A\N: This is a Sakura\Sasuke fic, but it focuses a lot on the relationship of team seven. I hope you enjoy it.)

Sakura Haruno had become quite fond of watching clouds. She'd taken to the afternoon diversions after she and Shikamaru had been on a mission and they'd finished early and he'd insisted on the strange hobby.

She was lying in one of the many fields outside of the village, close to the border of Konoha. She'd just returned from a mission and didn't feel much like heading back into the village just yet. She liked the solitude out here. Away from the villagers. Away from the hospital. Away from everything.

She was alone here, and she was glad.

She wanted a reason to feel alone, rather than to see it when she had everyone around her. That was when she felt the worst. When she would be surrounded by people and still felt utterly and completely isolated from them.

It was the worst feeling in the world.

And she'd learned to live with it—which made it all the more unbearable and disgusting.

She couldn't blame anyone else for it, however. Naruto…Kakashi…Ino…Tsunade-shishou…They tried. They couldn't see that she was dying inside. She was so good at pretending now…

She closed her eyes as she felt the grass caress her skin. The sun basked her in a warm glow. She wanted to fall asleep and never wake up.

Sakura looked up at the sky once more, picking out a few of the drifting clouds as she tried to shape them in her mind into a likeness of some sort. But they were merely clouds. They didn't change shapes, they made no pictures. Just clouds.

Sakura Haruno was used to being called weak. She'd lived with the fact that she was not the strongest her entire life. It wasn't hard to understand why she had lost the desire to train when she was younger. After being put on a team with a prodigy and a demon container with unlimited powers, it made a person feel quite inadequate.

But she had become stronger than before. She had pushed herself to her breaking point so many times. She had trained for days and days on end and yet she never felt as if she were improving.

She felt as if she were standing still and the world was passing her by. She wasn't strong enough. She knew she wasn't on Sasuke and Naruto's level. She couldn't keep up with them. He's a prodigy, and he has a demon fox…what can I do?

But she had slowly gotten over her own self pity. She couldn't help Konoha as a kunoichi if she were moping all the time. And so she had trained as much as possible. She was seventeen now—she had reached the age two days before. There had been no party, of course. She had been on a mission.

She knew her strength was small and insignificant. Her taijutsu that she had drilled into herself over and over again was only a little above passable.

But her mind…

Sakura had always prided herself on her intelligence. She spent years and years studying. She probably knew more idiotic, inane facts about shinobi than anyone else in the world. She knew every rule. Every code.

But it never seemed to matter.

Sakura's eyes shot open as she felt a presence heading towards her. She jumped up, a kunai in hand. She heard the soft skimming of a person against the grass and twirled around, throwing up her kunai to block the attack.

"See Kakashi-sensei! I told you Sakura-chan wouldn't let her guard down!" Naruto exclaimed as he caught the shuriken she'd blocked with her kunai.

"Sakura, what are you doing out here?"

Sakura looked up, her green eyes meeting one gray. Her former sensei Hatake Kakashi was as handsome as he had been years ago, when he had taught her, Naruto, and Sasuke. He never seemed to age.

She supposed she must have looked rather foolish. She had been lying down in the grass, clothes cut, bloodied, and torn from her latest mission, staring up at the clouds.

"Just taking a rest, Kakashi-sensei." Sakura answered, putting her kunai back in its holster. Kakashi almost sighed as he watched his former student—one who insisted on still calling him sensei. He'd expected that from Naruto, but he'd thought Sakura, at least, would just call him by his first name. He considered her his teammate now, not his student.

Naruto grinned enthusiastically at her, the sun making his golden hair literally glow. It matched his personality, and it made his blue eyes seem more intense. At sixteen, he had grown handsome, becoming less immature and a bit more serious. "I didn't expect to see you back from your mission so early."

Sakura shrugged. "It was a simple assassination mission. I didn't expect it to take as long as Tsunade-sama told everyone. What are you two doing out here?"

Naruto shot Sakura a worried glance at the way she brushed off her 'simple assassination mission'. When they had been younger, the thought of killing someone would have made her sick. She would have begged someone else to do it and take her place.

Like Naruto had begged her to do on his first assassination mission.

Naruto had been sent with Sakura on a mission to kill a businessman. The mission had been simple. Sakura had taken out all of the shinobi guards, and Naruto was supposed to kill the man. But then he'd begun begging for his life, and he'd looked so helpless and sincere. Naruto had begun thinking that perhaps they could just turn him in to the police, or let someone else do it. Surely he wasn't harming anyone enough for Naruto to kill an unarmed man?

And Sakura had merely looked at him and said softly, "Naruto, this is a mission."

Naruto had just backed up a few steps and closed his eyes, shaking his head furiously. "I…I can't…"

So Sakura had killed the man for him. And then she had squeezed Naruto's shoulder and he could see in her eyes that she wasn't mad at him. There wasn't any disappointment. Instead, there was a strange respect glinting in those faded jade depths.

Naruto blinked as he tried to come out of his own thoughts. He'd killed since then, but it had all seemed so strange. The way Sakura had just gone in and killed him so effortlessly, without any remorse, or so it looked.

But his Sakura-chan had changed over the last few years. She'd grown quieter, more inverted, after she and Naruto had failed to bring Sasuke back to Konoha. And now he was running amuck who knows where, as Sakura and Naruto trained to become strong enough to finally bring him back.

Kakashi watched his two students. Sakura was staring at Naruto, as if trying to read his mind, and as if she were warring within herself as to comfort him or not, since his face seemed so distant and worried.

They were so different now. It surprised Kakashi—and probably the rest of Konoha—when the weakest member of Team 7 became a strong and invaluable member of Konohagakure.

Her green eyes had faded from their brilliant emerald to the pale jade of the dying leaves on an ancient tree. She would smile a soft, sad smile, and sometimes Naruto and Kakashi could force her to give one of her true smiles, but it was a rarity indeed. He missed the old Sakura smile.

"Well, we were headed to Hokage-sama's office. She said she wanted to see us." Kakashi answered back readily.

"I'm heading there as well." Sakura nodded slowly as she held up a scroll. "I have a mission report to give her after all."

"We'll walk you there!" Naruto grinned as they began walking toward the large building. "So, how was the mission in Snow?"

"Cold." Sakura teased with a small smile. Naruto slung an arm around her shoulders as they walked. Kakashi smiled at that. Sakura and Naruto had become extremely close since Sasuke's departure. They were like brother and sister now—or perhaps mother and child.

Sakura always seemed to be looking out for him. And it was in those times that the old Sakura, the one they used to know, came back, shining through the dead eyes of the empty husk she had become.

(A\N: So? Not really that much to say. I hope you like it and continue reading. Well, until next time...

See ya!

Lady Hanaka

Corny pick-up line:

I heard milk does a body good, but damn girl, how much have you been drinking?)