Dislcaimer: I don't own anything native to the Naruto world.
Sakura squinted at the bright ray of morning light through the open window. Turning away from the annoyance, she grumbled slowly rubbing the sleep out of her eyes before noticing she was neatly tucked into bed. Realizing that she fell asleep on top of Naruto, her heart sank and she searched about. Only the soft snores of Ino and light breathing of Tenten broke the morning silence. Spying a parchment on the small nightstand, Sakura cast for it and pulled the note close reading it fervently.
Ero-sennin said we had to move early in the morning. You looked so peaceful asleep, so I didn't want to wake you. Don't worry, I'll be back someday – it's my promise of a lifetime! I'll try to get Ero-sennin to allow me to send you some letters sometime.
Pulling the paper to her chest she bit her lip fiercely. That idiot, he should of woken me to say bye. Shannaro! Inner-Sakura growled in agreement. She stared forward for a long while until a wheezing cough and pained moan broke her out of her Naruto-withdrawal regret. "S'kura?"
Immediately brightening, she hopped off her bed to stand next to her blonde rival and friend. "Ino, you're awake! You gave me such a scare!"
The wounded blonde tried to sit up, failing miserably with a loud whimper with both arms bound in tight casts. "I'm glad to see you too Sakura… What happened? Where the hell am I?"
Sakura frowned, and sat on the side of the bed. I didn't want to be the one to tell her… "Ino… You won't be moving for a while. Your arms were broken and dislocated, and you have a few cracked ribs. And…"
The crestfallen Ino interrupted her, "Where's Chouji and Kakashi and Gai-senseis? Who was that guy… he said something about Sasuke-kun!"
Swallowing, Sakura stared forward. "Let me finish Ino… Kakashi and Gai-senseis are fine. But… This is hard to say… Chouji passed away." She choked out, Ino wavering at the news. "And Sasuke is gone too… he's the reason why all this happened." She clenched her fists tightly. "Orochimaru is in Sasuke's body… that was his sharingan."
Tears started to form at the blonde's eyes as she stared blankly upward toward the ceiling. "Is everyone gone Sakura… are we all who are left? Why did this happen…"
The rosette shook her head. "Tenten is right here, although she's hurt. Lee-san is alive, but you knew that. And Naruto just left with Jiraiya-sama… he'll find some others, I just know it!" She offered with more enthusiasm than she actually felt. Ino nodded slowly before breaking into sobs.
The days were felt long and arduous, as Sakura toiled through her training focused not to let the bleak world and absence of Naruto from halting her gaining of strength. The Sand siblings had disappeared the same day Naruto departed, while the other jounins loitered around the town while the girls recovered. Each of the other genin were also informed during this time of just why Akatsuki would be after Naruto, and his kinship with Gaara as a demon container. This was met with mixed reactions – confusion, disbelief, awe for the most part, with some underlying sympathy for the life he must of lead.
As the days passed, Tenten was the first of the kunoichi to be hardy and on her feet due to the nature of her injury, and soon departed quietly with Genma. After a month of limited movement and depression, Ino had made a recovery. During the time she quietly observed and began to pick up the more basic medical techniques – not to the level of Sakura's natural ability, but enough to augment her arsenal of support jutsu. The blonde didn't know what to think about spending and training for extended amounts of time with the silver-haired jounin of chronic tardiness and 'hip' mannerisms. However, she wasn't allowed to argue before she was dragged out of the town by Kakashi.
When Lee had finally made a recovery, Sakura had a surge for pride for the diligence of her sannin master. Tsunade had given him a choice and poured over several tomes and with the suggestion of Kabuto's healing jutsu that Sakura bear witness to – the spandex wearing taijutsu specialist would once again be in fighting form. The beautiful beasts of youth then left the sole medic unit of Konoha.
Two months later, Shizune shared fantastic news with Sakura while patching up the rosette after one of Tsunade's rougher conditioning sessions. Naruto had found a healthy Asuma and Shikamaru, which Jiraiya directed to report to the Sand village to be under Gaara's protection and an added contact in the area should his jinchuuriki status be sought out by Akatsuki.
After another several months, Sakura begun to finally appreciate the training despite the torturous injuries she sustained. Her reflexes and natural combat instincts had increased exponentially, and by now she had perfected most of the basic healing ninjutsu. It was around this time when a party of five Leaf-nins composed of Hinata, Kiba, Kurenai, and two chunin she recognized as some of the exam proctors arrived. She began to feel overwhelming relief that most of the ninja of her age group had survived the massacre thanks to their jounin senseis. After the new arrivals learned of the situation and the plan to remain scattered and silent – Kurenai and her two students departed in one direction while the pair of chunin, Kotetsu and Izumo, left in another.
When an additional year had passed, Sakura was nursing bruised knuckles while learning the knack for using her chakra control for heavy burst damage and powerful hits. Overjoyed that she could cause destruction near the level of Naruto's rasengan without the preparation, she felt she could finally be of use to the blond when he eventually returned to her. During this time, Tsunade had also moved their small party to that of another village – having expended her gambling business and desire to remain in the large city.
As more time passed, Sakura grew restless worrying about Naruto. She began to eye the latest edition of short mini-series that Jiraiya had begun to release which doubled as coded messages for the leaf. Thus far, it was Shizune that subjugated herself to the perverted literature and kept their group informed of the happenings with Jiraiya and the world which he had scouted. Finally her patience snapped, and while no one was looking at night Sakura fell victim to the wiles of the toad sage's writing under the excuse to hear from Naruto. At first, she didn't really know what to think of the writing, and disapproved at the content. Searching out for the code, she would just briefly glance through the small books. Finally, her curiosity got the best of her, and while she was quite naïve to the material – Sakura soon found herself reading a few extra pages beyond the coded message. At least that's how it started – soon the medic was reading the works with great enthusiasm in her spare time, and during training squirreled away the older volumes. She began to look forward to each new issue to not only hear fleeting news of Naruto, but to relieve the tension of her otherwise overly focused life.
Life had become tedious for the Kyuubi vessel. He was forced to put up with Ero-sennin's constant perversion, distractions, and necessary writings (which he knew was his fault, curse his big mouth). The majority of his time was spent honing his kage bunshin technique, increasing both his already phenomenal endurance and chakra capacity and utilizing Sakura's suggestion to use the clones to practice techniques with a memory component. Soon enough, not only had his chakra control grown beyond its general abysmal level (thanks to the Kyuubi), had he begun to be able to perform one handed rasengans. The added benefit of his clone training had also made him faster, and his sporadic fighting style slowly became refined – his muscles and coordination adapting through constant use and the dodging his own attacks.
However, his hope in improving his summoning technique had proved ineffective and the result was binary – summon giant Gamabunta, or the growing Gamikichi and his brother. At the very least, he was thankful that his small frog companions were growing at an alarming rate. Summoning was never his style to begin with, but it had saved both his and more importantly Sakura's life in the past – and may do so again in the future. The next time he resorted to use it in a combat situation – he would be sure to get actual results.
A year and a half into his expedition, they had finally tracked down Iruka's party and he was happy to find his fatherly figure alive and well. While quietly avoiding the otherwise spastic Anko – Naruto learned from his old sensei that Konohamaru, Teuchi, Ayame, and several other students and villagers had escaped the explosion of the Hokage Mountain, but have taken up new livelihoods in small villages. As non ninja, these people blended into normal society without a second look- and while loyal to the leaf, would prove a liability if brought anywhere near real shinobi while being hunted by the Sound. Jiraiya gave a special mission for Anko and Iruka, much to Naruto's dismay having enjoyed intelligent and non-perverted conversation for a time.
Toward the end of the second year, a battered figure stumbled into his camp. Unable to hide his surprise at the visitor, he rushed to greet a thin and haggard Neji. The Hyuuga prodigy had escaped the fires and death with the sacrifice of his uncle and many other older jounin. While escaping – sorely tired and wounded from his loss with Naruto, he could do nothing but watch with his Byukagan as ninja legends such as the last of the Hyuuga and InoShikaCho trio, teams of ANBU and others sacrificed their lives in hopes of protecting their homes and families.
Neji had dwelt in the wilderness, sparing only fleeting visits to towns – cursing his birthright. His pearly eyes caught much unwanted attention, and served only to notify possible enemies where they might find a Hyuuga of Konoha. Naruto was dismayed at the hardship the genius had gone through, and with Jiraiya, the three traveled for some time. Neji could finally rest easy with friendly faces to watch his back, and health returned to his features after short weeks.
Another year had passed in the company of the Hyuuga, and they had grown quite friendly with each other after Naruto's secret was revealed. The stoic Neji gained a high respect for the blond, and began adopting a sarcastic and cynical sense of humor. The two became avid sparring partners, and Naruto picked up many pointers in more subtle redirecting of punches and attacks, while Neji further explored the unique abilities granted to his clan through his bloodline. It was then they were reunited with Ebisu.
At first the blond for once was speechless, as it appeared the jounin specialist teacher was once again standing on two legs. The tall sunglass-wearing man smiled, and explained it was a special prosthetic which he could move as a replacement leg through the flow of chakra. It was by far inferior to any real leg, and he would never be able to run and jump past genin level – but it granted the restless Leaf-nin mobility, and the potential to still prove a worthy combatant through his ninjutsu. During this time, Jiraiya had insisted that Neji would accompany Ebisu, and scout an area of importance, which Naruto did not catch.
Now, Naruto found himself heading back toward the Fire Country with Jiraiya his mood bright at the prospect of seeing Sakura once again after their three year separation. The Leaf Shinobi were scattered in two's and three's, aware of Naruto's burden and preparing for the hardships of the future. The genins trained hard under the tutelage of their personal senseis, in hopes to provide being worthy adversaries to the likes of the Sound and quite possibly Akatsuki. Their survival was on the line, and the last issue of Icha Icha Holidays mini-series bade warning to the Leaf, sending directions to some. Akatsuki was on the move.
A/N: This chapter (aside from the first part) reads more like a narration than a story. I realize this, and while I thought about having a bunch of 'excerpts' of important bits – I really wanted to get this out and settled on doing it this way. Yes, it's probably not the most enjoyable read, and I'm telling not showing this part of the story. I just wanted to inform people of the more important events (dealing with other ninja mainly) from the time skip.
Some other notes, this should also account for all of the Konoha-11 aside from Shino which everyone is still in the dark about. There will be some differences in how the genin advance compared to the manga – for example, Naruto while he will not have his wind manipulation yet – will be able to use rasengans with greater efficiency, and will be much more adept with his clones and taijutsu reflexes – this is to compensate from learning clone training earlier. He is not a super Naruto, and will not be able to just thrash his opponents. Perhaps the other greatest example is Ino. With Kakashi as her 'sensei', she will likely pick up some offensive and defensive ninjutsu to augment her otherwise poor combat arsenal of skills. Finally, the genin are all being personally trained harder, so manga-wise they may be 110-130 (rough figures I pulled out of midair) stronger overall in varying amounts. This probably won't be that noticeable (aside from some techniques) in possible fights with the ridiculously stronger members of Akatsuki etc, however.
I do have many ideas already laid out for the next few chapters – however, I do not know when I will have updates up. My job has picked up, and thus I will no longer be able to produce new installments like a machine anymore. I will still try to post a chapter at least once every other week (I'll aim for one per week, but just don't get too hopeful), and I am also going to start investing more time in my other projects.
Thanks as always for your many reviews and continued audience!
Update note: I have not given up on this story but I've been really busy as of late and haven't had much time to invest in developing this plot. No the story isn't over, and I do plan to come back to this and still update it when I do find the desire/time to work on it. Between the job and other distractions, most of my 'writing' time will go toward my new project. I do apologize, and I will attempt to do updates still semi regularly.