Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are the property and copyright of Masashi Kishimoto and Shonen Jump. The author claims no ownership of Naruto or its characters. In other words, this is just a work of fanfiction. I own nothing.

The War Against Distance

by Raina1

It was gone.

Sakura hardly felt her nails cutting into her palm until the sting reached her brain. Forcing herself to relax, she loosened her fingers and very, very slowly exhaled. If it weren't for the tree trunk holding up most of her weight, she was sure she would have plummeted to the earth below. She leaned heavily against the wood, turning her face away from the distant glow, her forehead pressed against the damp bark. Small mercy the sky was crying for them now... small comfort. It meant nothing. Nothing did.

Not many had escaped the final assault of their enemies - and of what had, she did not know. There would be no dead to bury, the raging fires would assure that. By morning, what would remain of the village would be in ashes. The forehead protector she wore was an epitaph. It was all that was left of the great village now.

Konoha was gone.

Her heart squeezed painfully and she gasped like a beached fish. Unable to bear the sight of her home burning any longer, she found the strength to turn her back and leap off into the trees. Her progress was slow, for she was injured badly; most of her remaining chakra had gone to heal the wounded and dying. What good any of that had done, they had all died anyway. But she couldn't think about the people she couldn't save, she couldn't think of those she had known as children dying beneath her hands, people she had known and loved for years now gone forever. She couldn't think.

Sleep, her body begged, you need to sleep. Exhaustion and the beginnings of despair were wearing her down. Her desire to find anyone remaining alive was fast toeing the line between consciousness and dreams. Any flicker of movement she caught out of the corner of her eyes was phantom, imaginary. Tricks of a mind at the brink of destruction. Her limbs were disobeying her commands; many times she almost missed a tree branch and fell through the leaves.


Sakura landed on the forest floor below, sinking immediately to one knee. I have to keep going, she thought sluggishly, the rain whipping cold across her numb cheeks. I can't... I can't give up...

Her eyes closed and she collapsed right there, at the end of the world, under the weeping heavens.

When Sakura came to, it was unpleasant. A small bird had landed on her face and proceeded to walk all over it, its sharp tiny talons digging into the delicate skin under her eyes and cheeks. She snorted and in a moment of wide-eyed panic smacked the animal away, startling it into flight. The movement caused her to surge upright, breathing hard. Gradually she was able to calm her frantically hammering heartbeat. Just a bird, nothing more, just a bird. There were no enemies hunting her.

She looked around, gathering her bearings, examining her surroundings. It was a bright sunny morning, clear blue skies and the air was crisp, cool and clean. Hard to imagine that only a few hours ago, it had been raining biblical torrents. It gave the now almost pastoral scene surrounding her an eerie aural sense of unreality. She stretched out her senses as far as she could strain them, checking for residual chakra signatures. There were none. Inhaling deeply, she could scent the faint odorous whiff of ash being carried on the wind. Exhaling, letting the air drain from her lungs, Sakura sat there for a moment, eyes closed, taking in the sun's rays until eventually she began to move. First she removed her forehead protector and stowed it away then she peeled off her cloak, which was mostly burnt, damp and tattered. Standing carefully, she assessed her injuries and medicated them as necessary. Using what meager chakra regained during her slumber, she healed the worst of the lacerations and abrasions on her extremities. Other than mostly flesh injuries and smoke inhalation, she was able to move and function.

After checking on her weapons (several kunai, shurikens, a few exploding tags), Sakura moved on to the next course of action: finding a water source. Fortunately, she knew where, and found a small river within ten minutes. One thing to be said about Fire Country: there was no shortage of rivers or streams here. It was a saving grace and blessing Sakura was glad had not been taken away. Hell hath no misery than lack of water.

She washed her face and her hands, arms and legs, watching the blood, soot and dirt wash off her skin and then filled her canteen up. Raking her wet fingers through her hair, she clutched a handful of pink in each hand for a moment, savoring the feeling of being clean. Well, somewhat cleaner. What she really wanted was a nice long soak in a hot bath.

With her sanitary needs looked after, Sakura began to search the area. She couldn't be absolutely certain if the enemy was still around, picking off survivors as they were discovered, and she didn't want to endanger herself or anyone else by calling out names. So she kept out of sight, scanning the ground, the trees. Finding a hidden vantage point in a cluster of trees on a cliff side she huddled there, scanning the valley below for any signs of life.

Nothing. She sighed. It was like she was the only one left alive in the world. How could this be? I can't have been the only one to get out alive. That's... impossible.

In war, she remembered her husband telling her once, nothing is impossible. Naruto had agreed with him... and they didn't agree very often, which ought to have told her something right there.

Naruto, she thought. She knew he had gotten out alive. What could kill that man? Recklessness, stubbornness, the inability to know when to retreat to fight another day. No, she couldn't afford to hope too hard - she had already seen too many people die last night, and still yet had to discover the fate of several others. Inwardly, she mourned those who had passed away, though she refused to recall their names. If she acknowledged them she knew she would fall apart. Not yet. Her grief for them would follow in time, snatch her up when she would least expect it and crush her beneath its unsympathetic foot.

It wouldn't matter. She was already in pieces.

Despair overcame Sakura on the third week of hiding and searching and she found it hard to want to continue moving, continue surviving. After a week of hiding out along and within Konoha's border lands, the growing proximity of the enemy could no longer be ignored. She had to get out of there. Hating herself for abandoning her village but knowing it was tactically stupid to remain on conquered turf, Sakura struck out for Suna. Far as she knew, their allies hadn't been hit as hard by the war. She could take refuge there. After all, the Kazekage himself had offered Suna out to Konoha shinobi should they need a safe house during the war. She never thought she'd be a refugee in her own homeland. Funny, how some things turn out. Really, it was the greatest joke ever.

Sakura never thought there would come a day she'd want to see Gaara's face so badly. At least he would be alive. Someone she knew would be alive. She slumped against the side of huge rock, her insides twisting into a painful knot. Tears streamed down her face and neck; when she opened her mouth, a thick, choked sound emerged. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

Lee, Neji, Tenten, Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba, Ino - oh Ino! They were gone. Tsunade, she moaned in pain and covered her mouth, her knees giving out, Kakashi... no... he was gone too, she'd seen him die. She had tried to save him, had tried so hard, so hard...

She didn't know what had happened to Hinata, who she had remembered seeing evacuate. She was probably alive. Shino had been with her, last Sakura saw of him, so she was sure he was still alive too. They would go to Suna, where she was going. If they were alive, she would know when she got there. Sai... she didn't know. That rogue probably was alive somewhere, she hoped. He did have those ink-birds of his, he could have feasibly rode on one out of there. Yamato she didn't know either. Naruto... No, she didn't want to think about him right now.

Her parents were dead.

Sakura clamped on her lip, willing, willing, pleading, begging, for the images to stop tormenting her. She had purposely kept it all out of her mind until now, purposely had not thought about and now bringing their faces into her mind were killing her.

And try as she did, she couldn't prevent thoughts of her husband from entering her mind. They had just gotten married a few days before the village was destroyed. Just a few days! They didn't even get a chance to go on their honeymoon! She never could have imagined her happiness being so thoroughly ripped away from her.

A louder pained moan escaped her lips and she curled up, rocking back and forth like an old woman. Fuck being a kunoichi. Fuck not showing emotion. Fuck it ALL. If those bastards find me now, so what, so let me die, let me die now.

Her little show was attracting someone - she felt his chakra getting closer and closer. Good, someone to take with me, at least there's something. She curled her fingers tight around a kunai and turned mad, green eyes in the direction he was coming in. Her breath grew shallow and quick. She would slash him into ribbons and soak the earth red with his blood. Blood for Konoha, for her friends, her family... for her.

There. Edge of the tree line. No, she frowned, rising to her feet, eyes narrowed. He was there but now he wasn't. Where had he…

There! Her senses screamed. Behind you! She spun, holding the kunai up, sliding into a battle stance.

"Step out where I can see you!" she demanded, her voice low and deadly; it sounded like it belonged to a stranger. A stranger with a hoarse throat that had cried too many tears and swallowed too much smoke and screamed too many cries for unheard mercy. When whoever it was did not immediately emerge from the tree line, Sakura nearly lost it right there.

He did step out then. More like he slouched out into the open. He had a bad limp and needed to stay upright by grabbing a nearby branch to remain steady. His clothes, a shinobi vest and uniform, were soot stained and torn. His black hair was stiff and matted, mostly from lack of care and dried blood. His face was sallow and pale, and shuttered completely of expression. His dark eyes were dull, haunted, strained, and accentuated with grayish half-moons, indicating he hadn't slept in days. When he brought them to meet hers, a bit of recognition leapt into them like a spark of light. A thin smirk slowly curled his lip, weak, almost wobbly and yet there.

Her husband.

Sakura's tightly wound countenance went limp and her rage bled out. The kunai, held so tightly, slipped from her grip and fell to the grass, forgotten. Then she was running and throwing her arms around his neck, burying her face into his collar, holding him up and bursting into tears when he wrapped his arms around her, dropping his forehead onto her shoulder. Together they both slid to the ground, gripping each other tightly. He shed not a tear himself but held her as she cried long and loudly against him, her fingers digging into his clothes and making fists.

Sakura wanted, needed to make sure. She cupped his face in her hands, running her thumbs over his cheeks, brushing those dark locks out of his face, just caressing him, touching him, making sure he was alive, he was real. In the middle of her frantic, gentle touches, he leaned in close to her face, eyes closed. Her fingers migrated to the nape of his throat. They stayed like that, in silence, his cheek against her neck, her own leaning against the side of his head.

"I followed you," he finally murmured, so soft, she almost didn't hear him. "I wanted to call out but…"

"I know," she replied drawing away so they could see each other's eyes. "It's okay."

"Sakura, I'm…"

"No." She shook her head, her hands never removing themselves from his shoulders, fighting back more tears. "Don't." Changing the subject, she began. "Is anyone else with you?"

He shook his head, expression blank as ever. "I… didn't look."

She sat back on her heels. Of course, she should have expected that. You could count on your fingers how many people Uchiha Sasuke gave a rat's ass about and you could bet if there was going to be anyone in the world he would think of outside his own damn self, it would be his own family. These days, his own family consisted of himself and her, and to him that was all that mattered. Getting angry about it would be pointless. That he spent three weeks shadowing her until he was able to recover enough to be able to catch up with her… It was enough to quell any anger she might have held for him. Besides she had finished being angry with him many years ago.


Sasuke looked away. "No," he said eventually. "I haven't seen him."

They found themselves in a roadside inn a day later. They entered the room quietly and moved about it as if it were their own home. Sasuke ditched the bag he was carrying by the door and disappeared into the bathroom without a backward glance. He left the door ajar. Minutes later there was the sound of hot water running.

Sakura shucked her own clothes in a careless heap on the floor and slipped into the bathroom. Kicking aside his clothes, she drew the curtain and stepped over the edge of the tub. Sasuke sensed her behind him and automatically moved to give her room. When it became apparent he wasn't doing anything but standing under the hot water, when Sakura finished washing her hair, she started washing his back. Gradually he took the soap from her hand and finished the job himself.

It occurred Sakura in the fog of her mind this was the first time they'd been unclothed in each other's presence. She wondered why Sasuke's bare back wasn't doing more for her since she had dreamed of seeing him naked since before she could remember. But then he finally turned around and actually looked at her, Sakura remembered she was naked too. It was enough to make her flush completely down to her toes. Keeping her eyes on his face, her eyes wide with terror, she automatically crossed her arms over her chest. She was rigid and nervous under his dark stare as it took her body in, his gaze a long slow process. The roar of the shower filled in for the oppressive silence.

They'd never consummated their marriage. Sakura was willing to bet this thought was occurring to her husband too. Not that they'd had a chance to… obviously.

Sakura was surprised she didn't yelp when he grasped her by the shoulders and moved her against the tile wall of the shower, crowding her in the corner. His intent was unmistakable, though the look in his eyes was not. She could see the emotions roiling in them: lust, fear and an unfathomable desperation she could not begin to decipher. She was sure her own eyes were saying the same things to him. How she looked to him, she could not even begin to imagine.

Their skin touching felt good. The hard planes of his chest met her softer one and she liked the way they fit against each other. Her hands came up and began to eagerly explore his body.

He started by kissing her, which was fine, easy, familiar. Something they'd done before and that was always good. But clearly he meant more, his touch on her flesh was insistent, his tongue in her mouth declarative. Sakura gasped when he left her mouth and started on her neck. But the reason why she gasped was not because he was suckling the skin meeting her shoulder. It was because of what she felt against her leg. Sakura was a virgin but she wasn't naïve. His body was saying something very simple to her. She knew that by the way her own was reacting somewhere down below her navel, hers was saying the same thing.

Sakura's hand somehow wove between their bodies as he thoroughly explored the upper planes of his wife's body. She found him, hard, smooth and ready. A faint gasp/grunt from him brought a small smile, the first in these horrible weeks, to stretch across her lips. Unexpectedly, he immediately reached under the back of her knee, lifted it, settled his weight more firmly against her and started moving his mouth over hers hungrily. Sakura gasped at his renewed aggression and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, allowing her own mouth to take liberties exploring his neck, his chest, since his hands were now slipping all over her.

When she spread her legs and took his hand, inviting him to touch her, he paused. To encourage him, she caressed his hip gently with her fingers and drew him close to her. Then she began to rub against him, deliberately, arching her hips. He pressed back, harder, following her lead. It felt so good she moaned, the sound reverberating off the shower walls.

It was several moments later they were moving over the threshold of the bathroom and falling on top of one of the beds, still entwined. By this time, Sasuke's hesitancy was gone: he made it clear he intended on taking her roughly, from the way he spread her legs and positioned himself. Sakura had only just enough time to brace for it before she felt him thrust and then pain and stretching. She gave a small scream. He smothered it with his mouth before drawing out again and surging forward again.

"Sasuke!" she shrieked. She tried again but he kept plunging onward, slowly at first but quickly gaining speed. Tears streamed down her face and her face contorted with agony. Sasuke's own face was buried somewhere in her neck. She was glad he couldn't see hers.

Gradually the pain did fade, replaced by a gentle warm pleasure that steadily engulfed her being whole. She did her best to keep up with his erratic pace, rocking her hips against his, her hands alternating between them and his shoulders. His fingers dug into her skin so deeply they would leave behind bruises. Like her, his breathing was rapid, uneven. All too soon she felt the end near and as she rode on that last wave, he shouted a curse she'd never heard him use, before his whole body went stiff as a board. She finished soon after, kicking her legs out once and crying out loudly.

Finally, both wet from the shower and their own sweat, Sasuke rolled off her, his breath still having trouble coming to his lungs. Sakura laid still, her whole body virtually limp with exhaustion, trying to catch her own wind. Turning toward her husband, she leaned over him and kissed him before tucking her chin into his shoulder. He pulled her into his arms and held her close, his face pressed into her damp pink hair.

They made love several more times that night; often they just lied together, bodies touching, needing to know the other was there. Every so often Sakura would caress his cheek and plant small kisses across his face, eyes and lips. He watched her out of those dusky impenetrable eyes of his and then he rested his forehead against hers.

"I left you." He spoke bluntly, suddenly, a self-recrimination.

Sakura only let her fingers still in their travels across the planes of his body; his own hand moved over her side, across her ribs. "You came back," she murmured, watching his almost vacant eyes search her own, delving into their verdant depths.

He stared at her, his silence an objection, a token of his inner disagreement. It wasn't enough that he came back, it was that he shouldn't have had to, because he shouldn't have left to begin with.

"Sasuke-kun," she murmured, the childhood suffix only spoken now when they were alone together. "You're here now," she told him, letting her fingers rest on his cheek, gently emphasizing every soft syllable. "You're alive and you're with me. You know that's all that matters to me. It's okay. It's going to be. I know." It was a lie but she told it so well that she almost believed it herself.

"Sakura," he murmured, so painfully vulnerable, she couldn't believe this was the same man who would never allow himself to appear otherwise. "I… thought… before, when we were… when I couldn't find you…"

Sakura wrapped her arms around his head, pulled him to her chest, effectively silencing him. He returned her touch.

"I'll… find him," his voice was slightly muffled. "We'll find him."

Sakura closed her eyes, nodding.

It was a month later. They'd reached Suna in a week, taking as long as they did because of their deficient weapon supplies and still smaller food rations. War had ravaged Fire Country thoroughly and those who ventured risking crossing the vast expanses between villages were playing with their lives. Morality had little place out here – Sakura learned this the hard way. For all those years she spent chasing down the bad men and women of her heyday, she never imagined she would resort to petty thievery.

Sasuke didn't have a problem with it. He saw it as survival. "It's the world verses us," he told her, "We ditched our Konoha principles the moment it fell. I'm not about to cater to the rights of those who would never think twice about ours."

"We won't hurt anyone," she told him, looking him dead in the eye. "I don't care how bad it gets for us out here, I'm not going to kill anyone for it."

"Nothing is so bad it's worth killing anyone for, Sakura."

Words he had learned the hard way, she knew this intimately, and only nodded. Her husband didn't have it in him to kill needlessly, recklessly. He didn't believe in playing god with people's lives, a belief that constantly pitted him against the village Council since his return, until finally they stopped ordering him on missions because he refused to kill his victims. Even the ones the Council said needed killing. He'd drive them to death's door but would stop just before pushing them across the threshold. Subsequently, he wound up joining the police force and never took a mission again. Not that that had truly shocked anyone, especially those privy to the Uchiha's sketchy loyalties. As Hokage, Naruto had understood and never chided his friend for his decision. It wasn't as if he'd ever been able to stop the Uchiha from doing what he wanted anyway.

It didn't matter anymore. All of that was gone now and she better start getting used to this new life and damn quick.

Wearing a light red silk kimono, Sakura stood on the edge of the balcony, looking out across the village of Suna. It was so different from Konoha; colorless and bland in comparison to the vibrant greens she was used to. The heat pounded on her pale pink head relentlessly, reminding her again why armies of enemy shinobi dare not risk crossing the empty, sandy waste to the great village. For now, it would have to be home.

Home. Would anywhere ever be truly home she wondered?

From the moment she'd stepped through Suna's gates, she had immersed herself in caring for the refugees, some from Konoha, some from neighboring villages. Her work was cut out for her and frequently she found herself being carried home by her husband when she was too tired to stand or work anymore. On his side of things, he helped Suna's shinobi homeland defense, which often simply consisted of guarding the village borders. Gaara had hesitantly allowed him to join the Council meetings, simply because there was no other more powerful Konoha shinobi in residence at the moment. Of course, joining them had not been Sasuke's idea – Sakura had had to talk to Gaara and convince him that the only way to gain Sasuke's trust and him earn some in return was to let the man in on everything that was going on.

"He asked you?" Gaara watched Sakura over the top of folded fingers, his blue-green eyes steady and hard.

"No. This is my idea."

"I don't trust him."

"But you trust me."

Yes. That went without saying. Gaara pulled his gaze away and gave a slight bow of his head and she knew then that she had won. More than anyone else in Suna, the Kazekage knew that any friend of Uzumaki Naruto's would inevitably be a friend of his. Well, perhaps 'friend' was pushing it. Ally would be a more appropriate term.

Sakura smiled when she felt a familiar welcome presence sidle up behind her and rest his chin on her shoulder. This last month would have been unbearable if he hadn't been with her – and she knew that her presence in his life kept him anchored. So many years ago she had fought with every ounce of blood in her body to bring him home to be at her side again. His wordless dedication to her, to their team and to a village he clearly couldn't care less about, was testament to how much he was returning the favor. Every day for him was a struggle, even now ten years since that time.

"How is it out there?" she asked at length.

"The same. Sand, wind, heat and sweat. I killed a scorpion."


"It was sitting on Kankuro's shoulder."

Sakura laughed. Sasuke smiled, unseen.

"No emergencies today," she returned the favor. "A few more refugees suffering from malnutrition, a broken leg. It's like working in a clinic. An all-day clinic."

"You always wanted to."

"Yes, when I complained about the hospital. But…" she trailed off. "I did love it there. I would trade this simplicity for Konoha hospital any day."

"Aa," he replied softly, pressing his lips once against her neck. She leaned into him and watched people go about their daily lives below. You would have thought from the way they looked just then they had all the time in the world, had never suffered a single tragedy in their lives. It was infuriating and comforting at the same time, in a strange sort of way.

Like us, she reflected. We live in this tiny apartment, get up and eat our meals and tend to our daily tasks and fall asleep together in our bed. Maddeningly normal. You'd have thought we'd always lived like this…

"Have you heard anything?" she asked tentatively.

He knew what she meant. "No. I don't think anyone else made it out."

Since arriving in Suna, Sasuke had been keeping his eyes and ears open for news concerning their former comrades. So far only Hinata and Shino had turned up, though, aside from expressing relief over seeing one another again, they hadn't spoken to them much since. Hinata seemed to wither from the inside out when Sakura admitted she hadn't found out anything about Naruto's whereabouts. Sakura was sure without Shino's strong, silent support, the young woman would have fallen apart a long time ago. Other than her father and a few aunts, the Hyuugas had barely survived the assault.

"It's only been a month," Sakura quietly insisted. "I'm sure once the word gets out, more people will come here."

He sighed against her neck. "Maybe," he allowed, quietly. He turned her around in his arms and kissed her on the forehead. Sakura held him close, savoring in his scent, wallowing in his warmth. "I know you'll think I'm terrible to say this," his voice rumbled inside his chest against her ear, "but I'm glad it's been just us. We… haven't had the time."

That was true. In a way, their new life together was liberating. They were together every single night, something that had once only been possible every other week or so. Their mornings were quiet, peppered here and there with conversation. Sakura learned a few new things about Sasuke she hadn't known before, like his excellent culinary skills and his oddly extensive knowledge of how to mix alcoholic drinks. When it came to furnishing their small apartment, he had surprised her with taking interest in selecting various tables and chairs. He even suggested that bright beautiful center rug that now adorned the middle of the floor. He'd spent hours once fussing with the placement of the couch!

"Sasuke-kun, it's fine where it is!" she'd finally declared, sighing with exasperation. "Don't move it again."

She supposed she couldn't blame him. He tended to be rather obsessive-compulsive. He was a natural perfectionist (good night was he ever!) so it was to be expected.

Sakura looked up at him, smiling. He seemed a bit taken aback when she did. "You're not going to hit me?"

"No." She sneaked her arms around the circumference of his waist and dug her digits into his ribs, making him jerk back with a very unSasuke-like squeak. "But I am going to torture you."

"Sakura, stop it." Sasuke was ticklish and the deadly warning in his tone, face and eyes told her just how much.

"Make me." She dug in harder and he had to struggle to fend her off, something he only did half-heartedly. Abruptly he turned on her, getting her everywhere and causing her to melt into a puddle of laughter and mirth. He really was a bastard sometimes.

"I hate you!" she giggled, dangling from his arms, trying to push him off her with no success.

"Then why did you marry me?" He refused to let go.

"Oh Sasuke-kun, really, if you have to keep asking me, you'll never know." She gasped and half-dragged them both to the floor. "Oh, stop it already, you're going to give me a hernia!"

He did stop then, a self-satisfied victory smirk plastered all over his face. He never would change. Everything, even mild play, was a challenge to be met and won by the Uchiha.

Well, shoot, she was a Uchiha too. Two can play.

"Can't stand it, can you?" she teased affectionately, pulling him back inside their apartment by his hands. "Afraid your little wife's going to one up you?" Her lip puckered in a pout she purported to be thought adorable. She laced their fingers together, leaning back, forcing him to move forward. It was almost like a dance.

"That would be impossible." Then he kissed her. Boy, the man could kiss. When he started getting… frisky, Sakura protested mildly. Only mildly because when her husband got in the mood, she'd be the last one to tell him no.

"I was thinking the kitchen table," he spoke into her ear.

One last resistance and then she'll give in. "Sasuke-kun, it's the middle of the day!"

"And that matters how?" She could hear an undercurrent of mischief in his tone.

Many minutes later, when the table mats and the knocked over chairs had been corrected and straightened, they were eating ramen chicken noodles and discussing plans. Sasuke filled her in on a meeting he'd attended earlier that morning while Sakura made a list of medicinal supplies she would need to add to Suna's greenhouse. ("There are things not growing in there that should be!") Her husband suggested a few herb species she'd never heard of using and they were off and running on that subject for a while. By the time they finished their activities, the sun was starting to set.

Suddenly in the midst of helping his wife dry their bowls, Sasuke grew alert and procured a kunai. He touched her wrist. She paused, saw his Sharingan, put down the dishtowel and took the other kunai he handed to her. Looking at where his attention was focused, she tightened her grip.

Someone was on the balcony. The way the shadow was falling in the dim twilight, he was standing on the edge.

Together they flanked each side. Sakura motioned they act in unison upon hand signal. Sasuke nodded. Falling into the shadows on either side of the balcony exit, they waited for the intruder to enter.

They heard him leap down and stand at the threshold, presumably to scan the inside of the apartment. Then he stepped inside.

Sasuke and Sakura both unleashed a fury of kunai upon him.

They struck… and the man, whoever he was, burst into smoke.

"A replacement!" Sakura shouted, bringing her fists up readily.

"Damn you guys!" A familiar voice whined before another figure, identical to the one that had emerged ahead of him, stepped into the apartment. "Here I go looking all over the known world for you both and this is the kind of greeting I get?"

"Naruto!?" Sakura and Sasuke exclaimed, staring at their friend and Hokage of former Konoha in utter shock and disbelief.

He grinned. Naruto looked like he'd been through eight levels of hell and a hundred miles of desert but he still had that crazy twinkle in his blue eyes and his smile was as easy as ever. "You know it."

Sakura practically knocked the blonde down hugging him. "You idiot," she sobbed, too overjoyed and relieved to punch his lights out. He had it coming, no worries there, but right now she just needed to know he was alive.

"Dobe." Sasuke relaxed, flipped a kunai in his hand and caught it before he folded his arms, eyeing his former rival with a derisive air. "Took you long enough to drag your slow ass here."

His friend whipped around on him, his expression thrilled despite the other man's acidic words. "Yeah, well, if a certain bastard didn't keep taking those stupid zigzag routes so much, I would have arrived sooner!" Naruto protested indignantly, sparing a second to smile at Sakura pacifically.

"It's called evasive maneuvering, idiot, and I didn't know you were following us. They taught us how to do that at the Academy. Of course, you probably flunked that training."

"Shut up, teme."


"Guys enough." Sakura put herself between them. "Naruto, the shower's down the hall."

He made a face at her, softened with a wink. "Nice to smell you too, Sakura-chan." But he did what she said grinning all the way. "Make me some of that ramen, would you?" he called over his shoulder loudly. "I'm starving!" A second later, he went: "Whoo-wee, nice bathroom! HAHA, Sasuke-teme has a HIS towel!"

Thankfully the door closed behind him, preventing the owner of the towel from disemboweling him on the spot.

"He's not living with us!" Sasuke growled at his wife dangerously.

Sakura laughed, kissing him lightly on the cheek as she headed into the kitchen to start some ramen on the stove. Sasuke closed the balcony doors, shaking his head, but unable to prevent a genuine smile from stretching across his face.