Sakura's Choice

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did, it probably wouldn't be half as popular as it is nowadays, yup yup.

Author's Notes: Well, here's the second bit of the first chapter, guys. -insert random swearing here- From now on, I'm going with the Copy-Paste back-up plan EVERY TIME I go to hit Save Changes. Good plan, neh? Oh, and here's the promise I made you in the first chapter: Review responses! It's not for fleshing out the chapter more, to make it bigger. Perhaps it's to keep you coming back to see my responses?! Mwuhahaha. Anyhow, here they are.

Masterkeyes2: Thanks for the PoV praise! Although I will be flipping around a bit between the characters (you'll see what I mean in this chapter) the majority of the story will be told in Sakura's eyes. I do this to show the readers just how I'm changing the kunoichi, and what's influencing her most at the time. As for Naruto and Sasuke... Yeah, I understand that several years of rivalry can't just simply disappear in a day, but the way I think of it is this: If Naruto wasn't constantly being harassed by Sakura, and Sasuke wasn't constantly dodging her advances, wouldn't they be a bit more nicer to each other? I know I'll lose a few faithfuls with their seemingly OOC antics, but oh well. I write for myself as much as I write for the readers.

Jho: Don't you fret, Jho, I kept the story coherent to the manga for a solid reason: If I started changing the plot willy-nilly from the get-go, it would lose the Naruto-ness of the tale, if you know what I mean. That, and I like having a concrete base to start from. Stories that were too AU always annoyed me to no end. And... I wanted to develop the characters as early as I felt comfortable doing so, so the Sakura/Naruto/Sasuke conflict over romance/family issues seemed like a perfect place. I attempted to flesh out the classroom experience as much as I thought I could, and the walk to the Training Grounds was my idea entirely. Not to mention the whole passing out on a bench, actually. I'll be adding more AU scenes sooooooon... -evil laugh-

Mangalover248: But maaaan, I had the whole fight between Kakashi all fine-tuned and everything! -kicks computer- Owww... Now my foot hurts! Sheese, us writers have it tough. And, as for the length of the first chapter... I always think that my chapters are too short, or that I'm not adding the proper details. I've seen stories with over twenty thousand words a chapter, and on the other hand I've seen ones with barely 2k. I'll try not to drag things out too much, though.

Well, that's all I have to say! Thanks for your comments, and get ready to sit back and enjoy another chapter, Constant Reader.

Chapter Two: Every Other Way

Thirty minutes before noon, the two conscious members of Team 7 heard the sound of footsteps. A few moments later, their sensei appeared in the distance, serenely walking down the same path they had arrived from nearly two hours ago.

Naruto caught Sasuke's eye with a wave, then held a finger up to his lips: the universal sign of silence. He pointed to himself, then towards Sasuke, and finally gestured at the girl napping on the bench in front of them. Sasuke understood immediately. The two would be silent for as long as possible, letting Sakura sleep in. By the time the two boys had turned their attention back to the final arrival, he had made his way to within a few yards of the stone obelisk. Naruto shot him a scowl, and his only response was a silent shrug.

Kakashi looked towards the sleeping Sakura, then approached the monument her 'bed' sat beside. As he stared down at the weathered text, Naruto thought he saw the one visible eye move back and forth, as if reading the faded words. After a few seconds, Kakashi finally broke the silence.

"Ahem." The man cleared his throat softly, and that was all it took to set off Sakura's sharpened senses, honed through years of training as a ninja. Before her eyes had even opened, her body was in motion. The arm beneath her body tensed, then swiftly lay flat, already gathering the necessary energy to push upward. Her other hand, which had been lying in front of her face, streaked down towards the holster on her hip. As her right arm flexed and straightened out, her left drew a kunai from the pouch at her side and swung forward. As Sakura's eyes finally opened, she found herself sitting upright, with one arm holding her body off the bnech, and the other tightly gripping a small blade protectively near her chest. Less than a second had gone by since Kakashi had made a noise.

"Well, now that everyone's awake, let's get on with today's lesson shall we?"

Sakura shook her head from side to side, trying to clear the cobwebs from her thoughts. "H-how... How long was I napping?" She glanced down, and immediately noticed her skirt: in the swift movement of sitting up, it had hiked up her thigh, almost revealing... "If those two saw anything while we were sleeping, I'll gouge their eyes out with my bare hands! Cha!" After making a quick adjustment to her wardrobe, the kunoichi stole a glance at her two teammates, just to find them staring at the memorial beside her. As she turned as well, their sensei stood up. While Sakura was fixing her clothes, he had apparently bent down next to the stone, and pulled out three boxes. Two of them appeared to be plain wooden boxes, with non-distinctive designs. The third, however, confused her the most.

It was an alarm clock.

Apparently, she wasn't the only one who was perplexed by their sensei's actions. A moment later, Naruto spoke up.

"What're those boxes, Kakashi-sensei? And... Couldn't you have used that alarm to get here on time?!"

The older man idly scratched his head. "Well, you see, as I was walking here the Path of Life too-"

"We don't want to hear your excuses!" Sakura cut him off angrily, as she was slipping her kunai back in it's resting place. "But... Really, what's with the boxes?"

Kakashi sighed, then shrugged. "I'll explain them in a little while. Let's get going." Without another word, he strode away from the obelisk, setting a fast pace directly for the forest south of them. The three exchanged glances, then looked toward the monument, from which a low-pitched tick, tick, tick could be heard. The alarm clock's steady noises of time-keeping were the only response to the one question the students shared at the moment.

Now that the waiting was over, what came next?

The walk was a short one, and within several minutes Kakashi had lead the three to a small clearing in the woods. Surrounded on three sides by trees, the only open horizon was over the slow-moving river beside the clearing. The water held a slow pace, but one look was all it took to realize that the stream was nearly as deep as it was wide. A single maple had grown away from it's stiff brethren, choosing a spot closer to the water to sprout up. Their sensei led them to a spot roughly in the middle of the open area.

"Well then, now that we're here... " Kakashi began speaking at once, after distancing himself from the teens. With no wind, his voice easily carried across the short distance between them. "Let me first explain exactly what we'll be doing here. This exercise is to be considered a combat trial. As such, if you do not strike with the intent to kill, you have no hope of passing. Do I make myself clear?" Although confused, all three nodded hesitantly, and Kakashi continued. "Now then. What you will be fighting for..." The man reached down into his hip holster, and the teens strained their eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it is sensei was reaching for. A moment later, however, the looks of curiousity quickly shifted to more confusion.

He had pulled out two bells, each of them tied to a length of string.

As Kakashi began to tie the strings securely to his belt, Naruto was the first to speak up. "What are those bells for, Kakashi-sensei?!"

"Did you not pay attention to what I just said? Open your ears, Naruto, not your eyes. These bells are your final goal. Your mission: To remove them from my person, by any means necessary."

So, that's what he meant by the whole 'intent to kill' thing! But... "Kakashi-sensei, something's wrong." Sakura glanced back and forth between the two boys beside her, then faced their teacher once more. "There's... There's only two bells, and three of us!"

"How very observant. You are, of course, right: There's only two targets. Just as there are two boxes sitting in front of the memorial. Inside those boxes are two freshly-cooked lunches." At the mere mention of food, Sakura's stomach betrayed her hunger by letting out a low growl. "The two that get the bells pass, and get to eat lunch. The other... Fails. Completely."

The information hit them like a blow. One of us is going home?!

"This isn't good... Even with me here to cheer you on, our body's still too worn-out to fight. And he's a Jonin, too!" Sakura couldn't help but agree with her Inner Self: She was in no condition to fight. What little energy her body had managed to recover in her hour-long nap was already gone. Between the sudden waking and the walk to the clearing, her body was running off of pure willpower. And even that couldn't keep her going for long.

Naruto glanced to his left, and immediately clenched his jaw in anger. Sakura-chan's face was taut, the normally brilliant emerald eyes dulled by inner conflict and exhaustion. She... She wouldn't be able to take on Kakashi-sensei. If her previous movements were not faked, he knew that she didn't have long to go before everything just shut down. Naruto knew how much hunger could effect the body: after nearly starving several times as a young child, his body had grown to know the stages of nutrient depletion. Sakura-chan might have an hour or two to go, if her apparent tiredness didn't knock her out first.

And... Sakura-chan likes Sasuke-teme. Glancing even further left, the blond caught sight of his arch-rival. Although his face was grim, Sasuke appeared to be holding his own. Naruto's eyes shifted towards the ground as he weighed his options. On one hand, him and Sasuke just might be able to take both of the bells from their sensei. But, that would mean that Sakura-chan went back to the Academy, and the way she had talked about Sasuke yesterday afternoon... It would crush her to be separated from him. A part of his mind tried to argue the point that if he graduated he'd be one step closer to that, but Naruto knew that that was meaningless: he could just as easily graduate next year, and pursue his dreams. Sakura-chan, though... Once Sasuke-teme graduated, he would be out of her 'reach'. It didn't occur to the boy that his crush would be out of his reach, too. What mattered most was making sure Sakura-chan was happy, and if that meant... So be it.

"Now, on my mark, you will attack me. I suggest not to hold back in the slightest. One of you will be going back to the Academy, don't forge-"

The blond's patience finally snapped. Who the hell does he think he is, just sentencing one of us to failure?! He doesn't have the right to presume that! Naruto's right hand dipped down, already streaking towards the holster strapped to his pants, just above his right knee. With the same speed shown by Sakura only a few minutes prior, Naruto drew one of the short-handled kunais from the pouch. A flick of the wrist spun the blade in his palm, and white knuckles grasped the shaft of the knife, providing a stiff grip. All of this happened in the blink of an eye.

Sakura saw Naruto moving from the corner of her eye, and immediately looked towards their sensei. However, where he was once standing, nothing but empty space greeted her gaze. Just as fast as Naruto seemed to move, had their sensei promptly vanished in thin air. As she turned back towards her teammate, her eyes couldn't believe what they were witnessing.

Kakashi had somehow made it behind Naruto. The man had grabbed the hand holding the kunai and twisted the arm behind Naruto's back. The kunai he held was firmly planted behind his own head, and as Sakura stared in shock, a single drop of blood streaked down the sun-kissed flesh that was Naruto's neck.

"I didn't say go yet" Kakashi dead-panned, his drawling tone only infuriating Naruto further. A second later the Jonin released his arm, and Naruto managed to pocket the kunai without grimacing in pain: Kakashi's grip had been as strong as iron, it seemed. Their sensei took a few leisurely steps backwards, leaving perhaps two yards between him and his students. "Now then... Go."

Sakura saw Sasuke react first, in the form of throwing a small globe at the ground. Her eyes recognized the patterns on it's side immediately: A short-term smoke bomb. Already, her legs were gathering strength, preparing to launch her body towards the forest. A second later the sphere impacted with the hard-packed dirt, and smoke immediately burst outwards, surrounding the four individuals with a screen of gray.

Her leap managed to carry her to the edge of the forest, and the girl wasted no time in finding a suitable-sized bush. Crouching down, Sakura slid underneath the green foliage, ignoring the pricks on her neck and shoulders as small twigs jabbed into her flesh. A few swipes with a kunai, and she had made a suitable peeping hole of sorts, one that offered her a limited view of the forest around her and the field she had just left. By the time the hole was made, the smoke bomb had nearly dissipated.

After all, they had been taught basic guerilla warfare in the Academy.

If a ninja was outnumbered, or knew they had a very little chance at surviving a direct conflict, then other measures must be taken. If possible, conceal yourself in the immediate area. Any attempts at fleeing from the region could alert enemy ninja of your position, numbers, or intent. After finding suitable cover, proceed to watch the enemy. If you are to attack, you must know, if any, what their weaknesses are. Only after gather sufficient information on enemy tactics/formation should you hope to engage in direct combat. Launching an open attack on a shinobi was a good way to find yourself dead. And quickly.

The smoke bomb finally dissipated, and Sakura turned her gaze to the clearing. Immediately, she couldn't help but let out a small groan.

Things had gone from bad to worse.

Kakashi waited patiently for the smoke to clear. As expected, they had been taught the simplest forms of concealment and information-gathering. Sasuke's movements had been obvious from the start, but that was to be expected from someone with little to no actual combat experience. They're showing improvement already.

The last of the gray smog drifted off over the river. However, where the three shinobi-in-training had once stood, one still remained.

Naruto had held his ground.

As Sasuke was throwing the smoke bomb, the blond had gone through his options. If he ran, his orange attire would stick out like a sore thumb in the green forests. And if he attacked now, Kakashi would easily overpower him, even with the visual cover up. So, flight and fight were out of the question. Only one plan remained, and Naruto couldn't help but mentally curse. It was his weakest point, but there wasn't another way. And besides... He had already set one part of it in motion. Why not let the rest fall into place?

Kakashi's one visible eye was trained on Naruto, and as he spoke his contempt for the boy was clear. "Uzumaki Naruto. According to your previous sensei, you had the lowest scores in your entire class. You failed the simplest of Academy tests several times, and even managed to fail your Clone testing twice. Dead last. Judging by your actions so far, that description fits the bill. So..." The man's left hand slowly made it's way into the medium-sized pouch on his left hip, and Naruto knew that what came next would be painful. "I'll begin by teaching you the first of the Shinobi Arts: Tai-"

A shadow on the ground caught the Jonin's eye, and he immediately spun around, throwing his right arm out in a back-handed blow... Just to hit a Naruto flying through the air squarely in the gut. The clone gasped for breath a single time, then vasished in a puff of smoke. Clones! As the shock of the impact ran up his arm, though, Kakashi's original thought was thrown out the window: Clones never had that much mass. So this is... THAT Technique.

Sakura didn't know what to think.

One moment, Kakashi-sensei appeared to be scolding Naruto, and the next he was blocking some sort of attack launched from another Naruto. And... Although he had caught the first before it connected, she had seen where this fight was going already.

By the time the first Naruto Clone had disappeared, two more were already at Kakashi's sides. They promptly threw themselves at his feet, and after a moment's struggle, succeeded in pinning his legs to the ground.

Kakashi was running out of options, and the Narutos seemed to be growing in number. Improvement indeed.

It didn't take long to put the pieces together. Naruto had known what he was doing from the start, it seemed: the stunt he had pulled by attacking early was really a ruse, to get him closer. And then, there was the smoke bomb. Instead of running like he had been taught throughout childhood to do, the blond had stood his ground, perhaps even knowing that his very outfit screamed See Me! Then, while visibility was zero, he had made the clones. Even then, though, Kakashi knew that if he had attacked, it would have been a waste of effort. Instead, the boy had hid the Clones, probably with a Henge or two, and instead used his little 'speech' as the opportunity to attack. As a second pair of Narutos attempted to overpower his arms, Kakashi couldn't help but smile: his original assumption had failed him, as it had with his other student, Sakura. They're developing at an amazing rate! If they keep it up...

Naruto was out of options. And out of time. He could tell that although the Clones were succeeding in holding their sensei still for the time being, it was only a matter of moments before Kakashi-sensei simply used brute force to break free. The way he had effortlessly dispatched the first member of the ambush suggested that the man was far more physically powerful than even two dozen Narutos. So, Naruto did the only thing he could think to do: putting two fingers to his lips, he blew out a sharp whistle.

Sakura's attention was ripped from the pinned Kakashi to Naruto as the echo of the whistle faded, leaving an odd silence. Before she had even begun to contemplate what it's meaning was, her eyes opened wide with shock as a figure appeared next to her orange-clad teammate.

Sasuke had re-entered the clearing.

Naruto spoke a few words to his supposed 'rival' and Sasuke nodded, already striding forward. Sakura had no idea what to think. When did they plan this out?! A second later, she nearly slapped her forehead: Of course! They discussed it while she was napping. "And left us out of the secret?! We're their teammates too, damn it!"

Kakashi's thoughts were interrupted as Naruto let out the short whistle, and the man couldn't help but wonder what they had planned next. As Sasuke appeared beside the blond, their sensei grinned again. They were both in on this: Naruto wasn't just acting alone. Although he couldn't hear what was being said, Kakashi saw the look that entered the Uchiha's eyes: An eagerness that was almost frightening.

Sasuke approached the dogpile of Narutos slowly, as if in contemplation. He stopped perhaps fifteen feet from their sensei, and to Kakashi's sudden surprise, his hands came up to form one Seal: The Horse. T-that's not possible! A boy his age shouldn't have the reserves or the chakra necessary to perform such a jutsu! Sasuke stopped on the final seal, The Tiger, and spoke quickly. "Fire Style: Fireball Technique!" Drawing in a deep breath, the raven-haired boy blew it out towards their sensei.

As the jutsu finished Sasuke promptly dropped to one knee, panting. The chakra-made flames continued to burn for several seconds, then finally dissipated, offering a view of the damage done.

Sakura knew that nothing could have survived a direct hit from that jutsu. If their sensei was down there, he was toast. Literally.
And as the smoke cleared, all three saw the results of their labors.

The entire area was charred to a crisp, and nothing was moving.

"We did it! Cha!" Sakura couldn't hold back the shout of joy that surfaced on her lips. "Naruto! Sasuke! We did it!"

Naruto turned toward the sound of her voice, and she immediately ceased her cheering. Something in his eyes chilled her to the bone. They looked... desperate.

As she watched, the blond bent over and touched the ground beneath his feet. It immediately rippled, making it almost look like the dirt Naruto was standing on was more of a liquid than the solid ground she knew it had to be. He glanced back towards her, and she could now see the fear in his eyes. "Sakura-chan! Run! I'll do what I can!"

"B-but... I can't! You're my tea-"

"I know! Please, just get out of here while you can, Sakura-chan! If you get hurt..." Naruto trailed off, then glanced back down at the ground . A moment later, a disembodied voice resonated through the clearing.

"Lesson Two: Ninjutsu."

Sakura tore her way out of the shrub she was hiding in and bolted into the forest, chased by the echoes of shouts and cries of pain she could only presume came from Naruto.

A few minutes later Sakura finally slowed down, already nearly out on her feet. She had no idea how much longer her body could go on before she simply collapsed.

"I'll do what I can!"

She shook her head, trying to clear some of the thoughts from it. The plan Naruto had seemingly created on the spot had been for naught, despite their apparent victory. Somehow, Kakashi-sensei had evaded the final blow, and was now...

A twig snapped nearby and the kunoichi immediately reached for a kunai. A few moments of silence granted her little to no comfort: her hunter was an elite tracker, able to easily out-think a lowly Genin like herself.

"He didn't out-think Naruto-kun! Those two had him right where they wanted him!" Sakura smiled softly, her mind already going over the scene she had been witness to. It was an amazing plan, and gone off without failure from what she could see. Naruto had gotten the upper hand, while she had been hiding in the bushes like a scared kitten.

"Lowest grades... Failing tests... Dead last..."

Sakura let out a small sigh. If he's dead last, and I'm more worthless than him, what does that make me? As she went over the thought, it felt like her limbs had turned to lead: it was much too hard to remain upright while her arms seemed to weighed hundreds of pounds. She managed to shuffle her way over to a tree and promptly sat down, already thanking Kami for the rest. A moment later, however, even her thoughts seemed to have a weight of their own, and abruptly fell away from her immediate attention. As her head filled with silence, Sakura found herself falling deeper, deeper, deeper into the darkness, further and further away from her own consciousness.

"Lesson Three: Genjutsu"

The voice spoke in a soft tone, but the kunoichi didn't show any signs of responding. Sakura was already fast asleep.

Asleep, and dreaming.

It was a pink room, of course.

Well, most of it was, anyways.

Sakura found herself lying on a pink bed, staring at an unmarked pink ceiling. She managed to swing her legs around and sat up beside the bed, admiring the four pink walls that surrounded her.

At the center of the room sat a simple pink table. And on the table, to Sakura's pleasant surprise, was a pink vase.

What really surprised her, though, was the flower in the vase. Unlike the rest of the room, it was not pink.

It was actually orange. And pleasant-looking, despite the color. Or maybe because of it? She wasn't in the mood to analyze her thoughts on the matter at the moment.

As she pushed herself up off the bed, Sakura couldn't help but notice a change in the single flower. As she drew closer it began to wilt, the petals slowly dying from the outside in. By the time she made it halfway across the room, nearly half of the flower looked brownish, the orange swiftly fading from it.

"Flowers need three things: Water, love and light. Without water, the life of the plant fade away. Without love, the flower will grow not knowing the touch of another. And without light... It will grow in the darkness."

Sakura watched in awe as the center of the blossom began to slowly turn colors. The orange deepened, darkened, and eventually became a shade of red, the color itself seeming almost malevolent. The decay stopped, but the flower wasn't the same anymore. It was almost tainted with the new color.

"Can you bring yourself to water the flower, and watch it grow? To love it, and show it the touch of your heart? To be it's light, and keep it from the darkness?"

She closed her eyes and stretched out one arm, reaching across the table. As her fingers brushed across the petals, her hand felt like it was bathed in warmth. Sakura's eyes shot open, and there sat the orange flower, returned to it's former glory, not a trace of the vile red from before marring it's skin. Her eyes slipped shut, her body basking in the sensation.

"Flowers are like people, Sakura-chan. All they need is some good attention, and things will be alright"

Sakura's eyes shot open once more, and this time reality greeted her, like an old friend.

Finishing Notes: Please don't hit me! -cringes- I tried to keep that fight as fan-friendly as possible, while showing you all just how much I'm changing things. I always dislike the fanfictions that replay the Bell Test, and have Kakashi getting his ass kicked by an uber-Naruto alone, with or without random fan-added abilities. What I wanted to convey in that little bit of action is that yes, perhaps Naruto could show a small amount of cunning. I tried to refrain to 'God-Moding' it and making one person overly strong. Yes, he got the drop on Kakashi: I once heard a teacher of mine tell a classmate that, and I quote, 'If you'd shut up for just a moment, you'd hear yourself think'. I know at least a few people are going to read that scene and say to themselves, "Kakashi is uber!! He can notz b beeten!" For those of you that say that, you're missing a LOT of material. I couldn't really involve Sakura that much, considering the condition I left her in at the conclusion of last chapter (yeah, I could have fed her a Soldier Pill, but this story isn't going to be taking the easy way at every sharp turn in the road, if you know what I mean) but I tried to give her a few scenes, at least. Anyways, how did I do with the dream at the end? Yes, I know I left another non-action cliffhanger: I think I'm beginning to like them, heh. But yeah, if you have any qualms with the story thus far, feel free to leave them as reviews, and I might even address you directly in the next chapter! Until then, Peaceful Reading.

Lucky Thirteen