(A/N)A little while back, I posted a segment of a story as a one-shot entitled "Love, Lust and Lies: The Ties That Bind." This is the first chapter of the story born out of that one-shot. This is meant to be a shorter story than what I usually deal with, so I plan on having if completely quickly. I am currently working on the second chapter and hope to have it posted within the month. To those who have read my work before, I thank you for your time and hope you find this as enjoyable as previous work. If this is your first time reading my work, I hope you enjoy it.


The Ties That Bind

Chapter One: Is Someone Getting The Best Of You?

"I hope you realize how much I will be counting on you two."

"Yes, Hokage-sama," the two teammates said in unison.

"Sakura, as my apprentice, you will be my eyes and ears, I expect you to be the one who does the majority of the speaking."

"Yes, Hokage-sensei," The girl never once looked at her teacher. Instead she found herself getting lost in the cerulean gaze of the yellow-haired boy at her side.

"And as for you, Naruto," Tsunade continued. "I expect you to be on your best behavior. This is your first ambassador's mission and your role is just as important as Sakura's."

"Yes, Hokage-sama." If the Fox container had been paying attention he would have realized he didn't bother calling Tsunade by his usual nickname for her. He was too focused on the impish smile that adorned Sakura's supple lips. He took a second to make sure the village leader's back was turned before he reached to take her hand. He felt her initial hesitation when she tried to pull away, but a heartbeat later he felt her fingers intertwine with his own. The girl turned and faced away from him, but her emerald orbs continued to stare at him out of the corners of her eyes.

"I will be ranking this mission as A Rank. However, I don't expect you to see combat."

Before Tsunade turned around, her two subordinates had already separated their hands. If the Hokage had bothered to look up from her paperwork she would have seen the identical looks of mischief on both their faces. "I am classifying this mission so high because of the importance it has on relations with our border countries. This could be the first step towards peace with our enemies."

They waited until she turned around before they reached out for one another again. Instead of grasping her hand this time, Naruto lightly and deliberately walked his fingers up the side of her slender arm. He could see her shiver slightly before she turned her head to glare at him. He met her gaze, expecting to see anger but was instead greeted by an expression of desire. He raised his brow and grinned at her, catching the meaning in her eyes loud and clear, 'I want you.'

He chanced another glance to see if Tsunade was still occupied. The woman he affectionately referred to as "Baa-chan" was still rambling about the details of their upcoming mission. Without taking his eyes off the back of his Hokage, the young jounin boldly slid his arm around the waist of his life-long teammate. With a quickness that surprised Sakura, he slid his hand down from her waist and let it rest on her backside. He then took a handful of flesh and squeezed firmly enough to startle the kunoichi.


The little noise came out a bit louder than she intended. The small outburst was more than enough to catch the attention of their mentor. The female Hokage stopped mid-sentence and turned to face them. By the time Tsunade turned around, Naruto had already pulled his hands away and Sakura was praying the warmth creeping over her cheeks wasn't too visible.

"Something wrong, Sakura?"

"Oh no, Hokage-sama." She said. "I'll think I'm just c-coming down with something."

The blonde Hokage eyed her apprentice for a moment with a questioning glance. After a moment she shrugged and glanced back down at her paperwork.

"I only hope whatever you come down with doesn't interfere with your work."

"No Hokage-sama," Sakura said as she stared at Naruto with a look of annoyance. This time he avoided her gaze and tried desperately to suppress the smirk on his face.

It was another ten minutes before the Hokage dismissed the two jounin teammates. When they exited the office, Sakura purposely rushed ahead of Naruto. Predictably, the blonde jounin sped up until he was walking beside her in the hallway. The girl tried not to smile at the gullibility of her teammate, but she ended up turning away to hide her amusement. Still, she got what she wanted; Naruto was following her and she wouldn't complain. She reached into her pocket for a pen, trying to pretend she didn't notice his presence.

"She acts like we haven't been briefed for this mission," He said, trying to strike up a conversation as he slid up next to her. "We have only been going over every detail for the last two weeks. We've spent six years as shinobi, the last two as jounin. You would think by now she would trust us a little more."

"I'm not speaking to you," Sakura said with a tone of mock annoyance. The young medic began to wrap her long hair around the pen in her hand until her rose-colored locks were pulled up in a make-shift bun on the top of her head. She pretended to ignore Naruto and tilted her head away from him with her nose up in the air.

"Hey, what did I do?" He tried to play hurt, but she could tell by the tone in his voice that it was just an act.

"You almost got us into trouble back there," she said matter-of-factly. "I'm surprised Tsunade-sama didn't figure out what you were doing."

"You mean what WE were doing," He corrected her, stepping in front of her to block her path. "I seem to remember someone biting her lip invitingly and giving me these little teasing looks. I only responded." He loved seeing the small smirk on her lips that she had now. It was so close to the sultry smile she gave him whenever she was in a playful mood and they were alone.

"I did no such thing," Sakura said as she sidestepped him and moved into the tower stairway. He quickly followed behind, the glint in his sky-blue orbs showing the thrill he got from chasing her. After going down a few flights to the bottom, he gave her arm a gentle but firm tug to turn her around.

"I seem to remember things differently, Sakura-chaaaan." He exaggerated her name as she stepped closer to him.

"Whatever could you be taking about, Naruto-kuun?" He reached up to the side of her face and felt the warmth radiate off her skin as he touched her cheek delicately. Never once did she break his gaze. He couldn't help but love the mischievous tone in her voice as she spoke his name. It was so inviting, so demanding of his attention. She knew all too well how to push his buttons and it only encouraged him to do the same to her.

"I seem to remember this little expression on your lips," He said as he ran his thumb across her lower lip and her eyelids fluttered as he touched her. "And that devilish look in your eye that seems to speak volumes." Sakura couldn't keep herself from taking a sharp breath as she laid her face against his palm. He took a few steps towards her until she was leaning against the wall behind the stairwell. Now his full attention was on her lips. She had them parted invitingly and they were slightly red from his touch. To Naruto, it only made him want her more.

"And what did my lips and eyes say to you?" she asked in a throaty, horse whisper.

"They told me that you wanted me to do something." By now she had melded her body against his and he could feel her heartbeat increase. His breathing had become labored now that their faces were close enough to feel her breath flow over his skin.

"So why haven't you done it?"

For a moment they stood frozen against the wall. Their breathing was so hard now that it almost seemed like they were panting. Her eyes bore into his with a look that dared him to act. Finally, he took one more ragged breath before capturing her lips with his own. Immediately she gave him access to her mouth and let his tongue find hers. She tried her hardest to merge her body with his, but no matter what she couldn't get enough contact with his body to satisfy her need. As they deepened the kiss, she moaned into his mouth and took hold of his head with both hands. When they broke there kiss, she had her left leg wrapped around him and he held her up by her backside. Both jounin desperately gasped for air like they had forgotten how to breathe. After catching their breath, she looked at him and noticed the glazed expression on the boy's face.

"Be at my place at nine." She told him before she untangled herself from his grasp. Naruto stumbled into the wall, shaking his head, trying to get rid of the dizzying sensation brought on from the kiss. She smiled and fanned herself as she walked away but didn't bother to look back at the poor boy. Sakura knew he was watching her so she adjusted her stride to give him a bit of show. When it came to Naruto, she thought it was always best to leave him wanting more.

She tasted the salty dampness of his skin as she groaned into his neck. For Sakura, it felt like he was taking her over with each movement and consuming her body and soul. For him, he touched her as if there were a hunger within him that urged him on and refused to be satisfied no matter how much of herself she surrendered to him. As he reveled in the softness of her skin, he heard her moan as she arched her back in order to feel more of him. His intensity fed her desire and she felt the familiar warmth building within her.

"More," she moaned into his ear. "More, Naruto, more!"

They moved together at a quicker pace and to Sakura it felt like a fluid dream. Finally, as she felt her release, she clawed his back as she cried out his name.

They laid there, the only light coming from the full moon beaming through the window. She panted heavily as she enjoyed the sensation of his weight on top of her. When did she come to feel so much comfort from his closeness? When did he start to make her feel safe? When did she start to crave him?

"I think I'm addicted to you." She said when she finally caught her breath. She felt his body shake as he chuckled.

"If that's the case, you were my drug of choice a long time ago." Naruto gave her a small kiss on the forehead as he slid down next to her. She snuggled into his side and he automatically placed his arms around her and pulled her closer.

"I'm serious," she said with a lithe tone in her voice. "I can't go a day without a fix from you."

He frowned at this, but he did not let her see it.

"You don't mean it." He said solemnly. She sat up now, detecting the hurt in his voice.

"Of course I mean it! I love you!" She spoke it as if were the most well known fact in existence. However, Naruto knew perfectly well it couldn't be completely the case; she had yet to tell anyone that they spent so much time together.

"Sakura-chan," He began with a sad smile. "I know you love me, but it's not the same."

"Don't you dare. . . ," Her eyes turned into thin slits as she spoke; she knew exactly where this was headed. "He doesn't count."

"Do you really mean that?"

"O-Of course I do!" However, she couldn't hide the hesitation in her voice. The light reflected off his eyes and she could see the small hurt in them.

"Sakura-chan, it's alright. I understand how things are." She couldn't look into his eyes now. The girl could see pain in Naruto's eyes and to her, his eyes were too beautiful to harbor sadness.

"It's true you know," she said in a tiny voice. "You make me feel better than I've ever felt."

"Do I make you feel better than he does?" The statement hit Sakura like a sucker punch to the gut. Her first reaction was to come back with something – anything – to prove him wrong. Yet all she could do and hang her head; her silence all the confirmation he needed.

"That's cruel, Naruto," She choked a tear back because she didn't want him to see her cry; not over this. "You're never cruel to me, it's not like you."

"I don't say it to be cruel," he pulled her close again. Surprisingly, she didn't pull away. "It's just the truth of the matter. I know where your heart belongs."

"It belongs with you." She said defiantly.

"Then why can't we tell everyone we are together?"

"Because I don't want them in our business." He looked at her with a skeptical grin. He had heard this argument so many times but after a year it was getting old.

"Who are you trying to convince?"

"You said you weren't being cruel."

"I'm not, my love, I'm not. I know the truth. But you know what; it doesn't bother me." She finally looked him in the eye. She searched his sky blue orbs to confirm his statement. As usual, she saw nothing but pure sincerity. It was at that moment she knew that she didn't deserve him.

"You aren't a replacement." She said with a little more hurt in her voice than she wanted.

"Perhaps not, but if I am, so be it," He leaned in and moved his lips next to her ears. "I have you now. Even if it's just for now, I will be happy with the time I have." She closed her eyes and purred as she felt his voice vibrate in her ear. The chills that ran through her body caused her toes to curl involuntarily.

"I honestly hope he never comes back." She whispered.

"Why is that?"

"Because my heart should belong to someone who won't abandon me." She turned to him now and found his lips with her own without opening her eyes.

"Your heart isn't yours to give me - and he will be back." He assured her.

"Don't say that."

"I know him, and this is home to him whether he believes it or not."

"Then he should have stayed! He had us to back him up. We would have gone with him to find his brother. We had all fought together against Sound and won; why not go after his brother as a team?" The bitterness in her voice flowed like venom from her mouth. He could feel the anger radiate off her skin as she spat out her frustrations with their estranged teammate.

"His vendetta with his brother is his own," he told her. "It wouldn't be right for us to interfere with that."

"So you don't think its right to drag him back from Orochimaru, but it's perfectly alright if he goes off to hunt down his brother?"

"That was different. He was flirting with evil there." Naruto explained. "I can't begrudge him his feud with his brother. I wish he would let us help. . . . . but I understand. Besides, he came back to us – to Konoha – when it counted. And one day, when he's done with his brother, he will come back to you." He looked out towards the window, and she looked up at him. He had come to understand everything around him much to the surprise of Sakura and the rest of their friends. In her years as his teammate she witnessed the metamorphosis from brash loudmouth to the calm and confident shinobi who she came to depend on. She honestly believed he knew both her and Sasuke better than they knew themselves.

She sat up and moved until she straddled him, something that took his attention away from his thoughts that were flying out the window. "I don't want to talk about other men while you share my bed," she told him as she fluttered kisses on his chest. "Right now I need you to make me feel better." He groaned as his body tensed up at the touch of her lips against his skin. She sat up straight and reached up to hold his face so that she could stare into his eyes. "Fill me with nothing else but you. Love me until his essence is gone and only yours remains." Her emerald orbs seemed to glow as she spoke these words, and a stunned Naruto could only look at his beloved with newfound love and desire. The two lovers rolled over until Sakura was on her back. Naruto pulled the covers over their bodies and did his absolute best to fulfill her demands.

They zipped through the trees in a zigzag pattern. The goal of their game was to come as close to each other as possible with out touching. Part-tag and part-showing off, the two jounin tried to outdo each other with each flip and twirl as they moved through the branches. Once, he flipped so closely over her head that he could smell the vanilla scent of her hair. She, on the other hand, had managed to slip so closely to the boy that their lips almost touched. No words were exchanged between the two; instead they concentrated on the others movements in order to match them. To the casual observer, it looked like training. For the two remaining members of Team Seven, it was flirting.

At some point during their traveling, the stakes of their game were raised. Along with dodging each other, they upped the ante by trying to cover as much ground as possible with each new leap. As Naruto glided over her, he got close enough to see the impish smile on her lips coupled with the frisky glint in her eyes. They told him what to expect when they arrived home to Konohagakure.

They both were still riding high from their successful mission. As ambassadors, the two shinobi had presented the terms of a peace treaty with Kusagakure and negotiated the signing. On a personal note, they had spent seven days together without hiding their affair. Instead of taking her own personal quarters provided by the village, Sakura choose to share Naruto's room. While they toured Hidden Grass, she actively took his hand and was very open with her affection towards him. Perhaps the highlight for both of them was during the banquet to celebrate the new peace treaty. Both of them danced under the night sky oblivious to the eyes of onlookers. For Naruto, it was a small window into a life that could have been if their lives were different. To Sakura, it signaled a chance to prove what she felt for him was genuine; even if she couldn't show the same openness at home.

Now, the two lovers were just hours away from Konoha and they intended to take advantage of every moment they had alone. While it wasn't said, they both knew the openness they shared during their trip would go back behind closed doors when they reached Konoha.

However, it appeared their time together would be cut shorter than expected. Naruto, alert even so close to home, sensed a chakra presence nearby their location. It seemed that someone was following them from behind. He glanced over to Sakura and noticed she too sensed they had a visitor. Both jounin landed back to back on the nearest branch, kunai drawn in front of them. Sakura let loose a few choice swears. Naruto, not used to her displaying her vulgar side, started to chuckle despite the tense atmosphere.

"Looks like the big dance is over, eh?" He said with a smile.

"You joke too much," She said as her eyes searched the area for their interloper. She didn't have a fix on where the person was coming from, but the chakra signature felt familiar.


Sakura snapped her head towards the direction Naruto pointed with his blade and she saw a rustling bush below them on the ground. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, a lone figure stepped from behind the foliage. From the looks of his gear, a tattered Konoha ANBU uniform, and the visible bruises and dried blood, he was seriously injured. He took a few shaky steps forward before going down to one knee and grunting. But it wasn't the severe wounds or torn clothing that stunned Sakura enough that she dropped her blade. It was the face she recognized from behind the broken animal mask the soldier wore; the face of her former lover and teammate, Uchiha Sasuke.

The blood in her veins froze when her eyes met his dark ones. For the first six months after his departure, she had often mentally rehearsed how she would react to seeing the Uchiha heir again. However, every practiced monologue and angry gesture she had pictured for over a year vanished from her mind the moment she laid eyes on him. While she was trying to recover from the shock of seeing her former love after almost two years, her current one did not hesitate to assist the man in standing.

For a few more moments, she stood on the branch frozen as she watched the two lifelong friends on the ground. Finally she joined them, but she still kept her distance. Naruto lifted the other young man until he was supporting his weight on his shoulder, and she could swear she saw the smallest hint of a smile on Sasuke's face. At last, he looked at her, his intense gaze equaling parts both alluring and disgusting to the young kunoichi.

"It's over," he said finally as Naruto helped him towards Sakura. "Itachi is dead."

"So what's the verdict?" Naruto pestered Shizune as soon as she stepped out of the Hokage's office. The woman rolled her eyes at the blonde boy. Despite being over 18, he still looked like the impatient little boy she considered to be her little brother. She couldn't help but smile, for it was good to know some things never changed.

"The council and the Hokage are going to place him on a probationary period," she began. "He is confined to his home for one month after he recovers from the hospital and after that, he will be stripped of his status as a ninja for a year."

"A year??" an outraged Naruto almost shouted.

"Yes, a year. .. .as opposed to a death sentence. I would say he got off REALLY easily," Shizune said. "However, the worst part is what they will do to him during his probation."

"What's that?"

"Jiraiya has to put a seal on him to nullify his chakra system. Sasuke won't be able to use any techniques."

"They can't do that!!"

"They can and they will," Shizune said with a little more anger than she wanted. She couldn't believe how her little brother was acting. How is it he could defend someone who put a chidori through his chest not once but twice? In the apprentice's opinion, the Uchiha boy didn't deserve such forgiveness, especially from Naruto. "It's not like it's permanent. The seal can be removed upon the council's decision that Sasuke has proved his loyalty. Personally, I think it was your speech that pushed them to show leniency to him."

"He's my friend; I would do the same for anyone."

"Well I don't think he would do the same for you."

The "brother" and "sister" turned around to see a pouting Sakura leaning against the wall near the office.

"Sakura, I thought you weren't going to come?" Naruto asked.

"I got off from the hospital early." She didn't bother hiding the edge in her voice.

"How is Sasuke?"

"Fine I suppose, I had some nurses assigned to help him," she waved her hand dismissively as she spoke. "It was a busy day and I had a lot of patients."

"Tsunade assigned you to him to make sure he recovered."

"I know my job, Naruto," the harshness of her voice almost made the blonde jounin wench. "He will recover just fine. Listen, I've got things to do. I just came by to see if Tsunade needed me. I can see she's going to be tied up for a while." Naruto didn't have time to stop her before she was gone through a nearby window.

"Damnit," he muttered as he gritted his teeth. He turned to give an apology to Shizune before he dashed off behind Sakura. Once outside, he caught a whiff of her chakra signature and followed her trail. It didn't take much for him to find her, but when he pulled up beside her, the pink-haired girl tried to speed up.

"Not now, Naruto!" She yelled.

"I'm not going anywhere until you talk to me!"

"Damnit! Can't you just let me be mad?" She demanded.

"You know me better than that."

She stopped next to a tree in the local park and flopped down on the ground. He didn't have to see her face to know she was crying. He went to her and tried to touch her shoulder, but she shrugged his hand away.

"He's a bastard."

"You're lying to me and to yourself," he said.

"Stop telling me how I feel!"

"Why won't you talk to him?"

"I don't want to." Her green eyes were surrounded by redness as tears flowed freely from them. She stood up now and faced her friend and lover. "I c-can't talk to him," she couldn't keep her voice from cracking. "Every time I go into that room, he looks at me with that expression he used to have when we were together. But I can't trust those eyes. If I look at him, then he will see my anger. If I let him see my anger, then he will try to soothe me and apologize. If he does that, then. . . then. . . I know I'll forgive him." The young girl leaned against him and sobbed into his jacket.

"Is that such a bad thing?" he whispered as he embraced her.

"I would feel like I would be giving in if I did," she answered between sobs.

"He does care about you."

"How do you know?"

"He told me when I went to visit him. He told me that he knew when he left that leaving would hurt you but it was something that had to be done. He hoped you would forgive him because he hasn't forgotten what he had while he was here." She didn't respond right away to his statement. Sakura let the words roll over in her head for a moment and pondered how they made her feel.

"He didn't have to leave. I love him."

"I know you do."

"Why are you so noble?" she suddenly demanded. "Why don't you stand in the way? It's ok to be selfish. I know I have been when it comes to us." He smiled and hugged her closer. "You always let me have my way. I demanded so much of you and you never asked for anything back. You're even letting me have my way now."

"Perhaps I'm simply a coward."

"You could never be a coward," He looked down at her and could see her tears were drying up. "A man who gives so much without asking for something in return is nobler than anything I know of." She reached up on her toes and touched his lips with her own. To Naruto, the sensation was so soft it felt like someone rubbing silk across his face.

"I got something out of it; I got the affection I've always wanted from the girl I've been in love with since I was a kid."

"You shouldn't settle for so little; it's why I don't deserve you," Sakura said. "I'm not as noble as you are."

"So are you going to talk to him?"

"Eventually," she reached up again and kissed him on cheek. "But I'm not ready to give you up just yet." This time she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a soul-searching kiss.

"You know, this is the first time you've kissed me in the open." Naruto whispered to her when they broke the kiss. For the first time since he saw her that day, she smiled.

"I don't care who's looking right now."

Anyone who has ever lived in Konoha will tell you that the village is at it's best during the spring. The forest area surrounding the shinobi village begins to pulse with life and frames the walled city perfectly. All the trees explode in various colors and shapes while dormant flowers come to life to paint the city and the surrounding landscape with colorful accents that punctuate its simple beauty. But the pride of Konoha is the sakura garden in the village's central park. The trees within the garden suddenly splash the park in various hues of pink and reflect off the still pond in the center of the foliage. During this time of year, the garden becomes crowded with visitors who come to watch the leaves fall and scatter across the manicured grass. Yet during the early hours of the morning before the park was open the public, the garden was often a favorite refuge for one Haruno Sakura.

The Hokage's apprentice often came here by herself to escape from life or to simply reflect on her past. The red bridge that crossed the small stream leading to the garden was the old meeting place for Team Seven during her younger days, and she felt that her visits kept the spirit of her old squad alive. However, her current visit was to relieve some stress.

She landed softly near the edge of the pond and surveyed the surrounding area to make sure no one was around. Sure that no one was nearby; Sakura took a step out onto the water and headed towards the middle of the lake. She stopped at the center and took a few controlled breaths before easing herself into a relaxed fighting stance. Once the kunoichi took a moment to gather her focus and let the water in the lake settle, she began.

Her first moment was a swift punch with a step to the left. The blow was graceful and defined, yet powerful enough to send ripples through the air and over the water. Sakura then closed her eyes and let her body remember the rest of the routine Tsunade taught her. She found her legs twirling her body around while her right arm led with a block against her imaginary opponent. Soon, her steps started to quicken as her body started to react to the familiar motions.

Instead of trying to think her way through the kata, Sakura emptied her mind and concentrated on the sensation of movement. The heavy thoughts that dominated her mind began to empty out and clear the fog as her body recalled the moves. Everything felt familiar and alerted her that her steps were right. This was also reaffirmed by the energy that gathered around her. The shifts between stances kicked up water and created a whirlpool under her feet. The young kunoichi embraced the sensation of chakra swirling around her body. Soon the energy grew stronger until it was thrashing and creating sizable waves in the body of water.

Finally, she came to a stop back in the middle of the lake. All the energy she gathered started to focus into her body as she quickly ran through a few hand seals. As quickly as the build up of energy came, it was now pulsing from within her. Sakura yelled out a breath as she brought her foot down onto the surface of the water and released all the chakra she gathered into one powerful blow. The force was more than strong enough to create a rather large wave that pushed away from her and crashed against the edge of water.

Sakura stood there, her body sweating from the energetic workout she just put herself through. She felt calm now after expending all the pent up energy and stress. At first, she had heard nothing around her, but after a few moments, the sound of applause broke the silence.

She turned around to find the source, not expecting to have an audience. There, leaning against a tree with a somewhat superior smile on his face, was Uchiha Sasuke. Sakura rolled her eyes and sighed at the sight of him. He was the last person in Konoha she wanted to deal with at the moment.

"This park is closed to civilians during this hour," Sakura didn't bother to disguise the contempt in her in her voice. "Only Konoha Shinobi are allowed here during off times or have you forgotten in your time away?" If Sakura's insults had any effect on the young man, he didn't show it. "Frankly, I'm surprised you were able to get in here."

"I've been a shinobi all my life," Sasuke glanced around the park and surveyed the effects of Sakura's workout had on the landscape. "Just because I can't mold chakra doesn't mean I don't have other abilities to depend on."

"Why are you even here?"

"This is one of the more beautiful spots here in the village. Now that I'm allowed to leave my estate I wanted to see Konoha again. I remember how much this place meant to you. I 'm glad to see you haven't lost your love for this place."

"This place means a lot to me. It's a part of my past and I would never abandon it."

Sakura suppressed her anger as best she could, but Sasuke still picked up on it. As the young woman made her way back to the land, he moved to meet her. He offered his hand to her, but she sidestepped him.

"I've never forgotten home, Sakura. But I still had goals to fulfill." Sakura's teeth threatened to grind down to nubs as she listened to Sasuke speak. "I never forgot this place, just like I never forgot how beautiful you are, even in battle." Sasuke barely completed his statement before he felt the tip of a kunai against his neck. His raised brow and look of surprise was met by Sakura's look of anger.

"You. Have. No. Right." Sakura emphasized each work with a step towards her former teammate. "You lost the right to call me that the moment you abandoned me in the bed we shared." Sasuke took a step forward but Sakura pressed the tip of the blade harder against his skin.

"I had to leave, Sakura," he told her. "Try to understand the situation."

"All I understand is you placed your petty vendetta above your love for me and this village. . . . not once but twice."

"Pardon me if I don't see killing the man who murdered my family as petty."

"It's still no excuse and don't try to turn this around. You LEFT me!" By now Sakura's voice was starting to waver and her hands were shaking. "You left me, you left Naruto, you left the life we built here. I trusted you to stay and you left."

"I had no choice. . ."

"That's Bullshit and you know it! You know me and Naruto would have helped you!"

"Don't you think I already knew that? If I had taken you and Naruto, I would have run the risk of Itachi killing one or both of you. He would not have hesitated to use you against me."

"I know the risks. I've been a ninja all my life just like you. But you didn't even give me the chance to make that choice for myself."

"I would rather you be mad at me than risk the life of the one I love." Sakura started to shake her head at his statement.

"Don't, just don't. You can't say that."

"It's true."

"You've been gone for almost two years and all this time not one word. Now you expect me to just let you in like nothing happened?" She removed the blade from his throat, he did not move. "Things have changed. I didn't stop living just because you left."

"I know all about you and Naruto." For once, Sakura was off balance.

'H-How did you know?"

"I knew the moment I saw you two in the forest. I followed you two for a while before I caught up with you. I saw the looks you gave each other. I know you two better than anyone."

"So then you know things aren't the same."

"You're right. They are different. It just means Naruto comforted you. I thanked him for that when he visited me."

"I love him now. HE didn't leave me. HE didn't abandon his teammates and friends. HE was there for me when YOU were gone. If it weren't for Naruto I would have never gotten over you."

"You never did," Sasuke said. "Just like I never got over you." He reached out for her, but this time she didn't pull away. "Every day I was gone I thought about what I had done and the pain I knew I caused you." She bristled as he embraced her, but Sakura started to remember the warmth of his touch. The familiar seduction of the dark-haired boy started to work on her.

"Tell the truth; does what you feel for Naruto change what you feel for me?" Sasuke moved to look her in the eyes, but she could not meet his gaze. A lump in her throat grew as she felt his heartbeat while he held her.

"I. . . I still. . love you," Sasuke allowed himself a triumphant smile as she whispered her answer. "but I can't deny Naruto." It took every bit willpower to push herself away from him. As she looked up to stare at him, Sasuke's eyes held of look of surprise at her actions. "I'm sorry, Sasuke, but I can't give in to you so easily. I told you, things aren't the same." They stood there across from each other, Sakura daring her old love to answer her stance. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders, adopting a nonchalant stance she was more than familiar with.

"I see," the small smile on his face did not tell her much. "I suppose it's inevitable; I did hurt you. For that I'm sorry. But I don't believe things will remain like this." Sakura's eyes narrowed at his arrogance. Sasuke read her displeasure and put his hands up in a defensive manner. "I'm not saying you don't care about Naruto. I just know we were meant to be together. You will see it just as I do. Even Naruto knows it. . . .I can wait until you see it too."

"Your arrogance knows no bounds." She shook her head, more to convince herself than him.

"Sakura, I love you and you will be beside me when it's all said and done," Sasuke bowed slightly to her before turning his back to her. "You know where to find me when you are ready." She watched him as he leap up to a branch on a nearby tree. In a few bounds he was over the wall. She shook her head again as she turned away, surprised he could still do so much despite the inability to use chakra. She walked back towards the lake to continue her workout. All the tension she had released previously had suddenly returned.

"What's happened today?"

Sakura glanced over her shoulder at Naruto as he held her.

"What do you mean?" She gave him a confused look.

"You only throw yourself at me like that when something is bothering you," he kissed her shoulder as he spoke. "You grabbed me by the collar when I came through the door tonight." She snorted and turned back towards the window.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Ah, so it's about Sasuke." She snapped her head back behind her at her blonde lover.

"I said I don't want to talk about it."

"Sakura-chan, I couldn't have spent six years as your teammate and not realize when something is bothering you." Naruto slid up closer to her as he spoke.

"Naruto. . ."

"Did he hurt you?" There was a warning in his tone. "He better not have."

"No! He didn't hurt me! At least no more than he already has."

"So did you two finally talk?"

"You know, for a man who swears he loves me, it looks an awful lot like your trying to hook me up with your rival. Do you get some sick pleasure out of seeing us together?" Sakura was out the bed starting at him now. "Do you LIKE torturing yourself?" He didn't look up at her for a moment as she stood over the bed huffing at him.

"You said his name while we made love, Sakura." The pink-haired girl seemed to deflate as she slid back on top of the bed.

"I-I'm sorry, Naruto. . . I didn't realize. . ."

"Don't apologize. It wasn't the first time you did it." Naruto sighed and looked over at the love of his life. "Look, if you don't want to be with him, then I will have no problems spending the rest of my life trying to make you happy. If it's too much hurt for you to handle, then I will be the last person to send you back to him. But I also see what's in front of me."

"He asked me if I still loved him."

"Did you tell him?" She nodded but still didn't look at him.

"I also told him I couldn't leave you just because he was back."

"Sakura-chan, I love you more than you'll know. But I want you to stay with me because you want to, not because you feel guilty about the time we've spent together." Naruto shifted to slide out the bed but he felt her hand on his back.

"Stay. I need you tonight."

"What about the next night?"

"I don't know. I just know I need you now." The blonde hesitated before he slid back under the sheets. She took her place next to his side and draped her arm over his chest.

"Do you hate me?" Sakura felt him kiss her on the top of her head.

"I don't hate you. I can't ever hate you. I just wish you needed me."

"I'll always need you, Naruto," Sakura moved her hand up to his face until her fingertips touched his mouth. "In some way I'll always need you." Naruto's chest puffed out before he gave a sigh of defeat. He knew where this was going. He had always known, but it still didn't make it any easier to deal with.

"Yeah, I guess I can deal with that." She pulled herself up until she was staring into his blue eyes. Sakura tentatively moved forward and gave him a chaste kiss without closing her eyes.

"Naru-kun," Sakura began with her pet name for him. "A part of you will always be with me."

"I part of my heart is always with you, Sakura-chan." They kissed once more before she leaned her head on top of his chest. She let the rhythmic pumping of his heart lull her to sleep as he watched her and played with her hair. Naruto smiled as he tried to engrave this memory of her into his mind. After all, he might not see it again.

Sakura hadn't been in this part of Konoha in almost two years, but the details over it were still etched into her mind. Aside from the slight overgrowth around the buildings, the Uchiha district held up well. She and Naruto had helped Sasuke repair it after letting go to waste for so many years. At the time, she and Sasuke had been together for only six months. He had allowed her to move some of her belongings into his house and she had unofficially taken up residence with him. Despite being only 17 at the time, her parents decided to look the other way when she started staying over with Sasuke. Their logic was simple: she had fought against and killed some of Konoha's most dangerous enemies. If she was old enough to defend and die for her village then she was old enough to stay over with a boy.

As she walked down the cobble path towards the main manor, she thought about the time had spent here with Sasuke. He had taken her around the grounds and showed her his family gravesite. One of the things they did often was cook meals together and Sakura was surprised to find that Sasuke was a more than competent cook. Still, most of their time together had been spent in relative silence. Sasuke wasn't much for small talk and Sakura usually busied herself with some project or another. Still, she found that while he was reserved most of the time, he was very sweet and compassionate when no one was looking. She remembered feeling honored because he only showed that side to her and only her. Because they were best friends he showed flashes of kindness to Naruto, but for Sakura he let a few walls down when they were alone. She reveled in it and fell even deeper in love with him for allowing himself to be vulnerable. It was only natural that she surrendered herself to him; she had already given over so much of herself that she felt it was the natural step. Again he surprised her in proving to be a very adept lover. He introduced her to desires and feelings she never knew existed. Sakura, ever willing to be led, allowed him whatever he wanted. In this, she found happiness perhaps for the first time in her life. After eight months, Sasuke started talking about having a family and reviving his clan. Sakura began to secretly plan for a wedding.

Then one day, she woke up and he was not there.

She first thought he was off training, something he often woke up early for. But then he failed to show up for dinner. After sleepless nights, she went to the Hokage's office to check the mission roster only to find his name off the list. Then she checked everywhere she knew he liked to go, but her efforts were fruitless. So she went back home – she had begun to think of the manor as home now – and waited. Days passed with no word.

Weeks went by and by and Sakura refused to leave the manor despite her friend's requests. Then a bird delivered a letter to the Hokage's office that was addressed to her, Naruto and the Hokage. It simply read "I've gone to find Itachi. Goodbye." After she read the letter, she didn't remember much afterwards. According to Naruto and Ino, she had to be removed from the Hokage's office and her two friends took turns watching her.

She remembered fading in and out of consciousness, hearing her parents and friends talking in hushed tones, but it might as well have been a dream for her. When she came out of it, it was two months later and Naruto was sitting by her bed half sleep. She looked a wreck and felt worst. It was that day when she learned to hate Sasuke. Anger and frustration took over the love she had for him. She swore after she picked herself up that she would never allow it to happen again. No man was worth her losing a part of herself. . .even if it was the great Uchiha Sasuke.

And yet, it was two years later and she was standing in front of Sasuke's home about to re-open all the wounds she had so carefully bandaged over time. Her hand trembled as she reached out to the heavy rope that signaled the bell. She knew why she was there, but the realization hadn't completely sunken in. It wasn't as if she didn't try to talk herself out of it; she mentally ran through every argument against going to him that she could, but each one was met with the same rebuttal: she loved Uchiha Sasuke. She loved him more than she wanted to admit to herself or anyone else.

Her hand held onto the velvety rope but she did not pull down. The bell was more than just a signal to Sasuke that he had company. It was her surrender, her admittance that Sasuke was right about her still wanting her. It also meant that everything Naruto told her was true; that he was simply a replacement and a crutch for her until it was time for Sasuke to make his return. Was she so weak? Did she truly need his love so much that she would forgive him? All she had to do to prove them wrong was walk away.

Silence for a moment as she let all her thought settle in her head. Sakura turned around and looked down the cobbled path she just traversed, then back to the rope hanging in front of the door. The wind was swirled around her as she watched the recently manicured grass sway back and forth. She slid her bangs out of her face as she sighed and yanked down on the bell. A loud gong echoed throughout the courtyard area. The young apprentice waited as the echoes faded into the distance until she heard the latch on the front door. She swung around as the door opened up and Sakura found herself staring in the dark eyes of her former lover.

There was no smugness there, no look of triumph or victory. He only looked at her with his usual deadpan expression, almost as if it weren't unusual for her to be at his doorstep.

"I think we should talk." She tried to make it sound more natural, but she had practiced it in her head so many times over the last few days that it felt a little mechanical. However, Sasuke did not seem to take offense. The Uchiha heir took a step aside and held on to the door.

"I'm glad you decided to come," He closed the door behind her. "It hasn't felt like home without you here."

"I can't believe it, Sakura and Sasuke back together," Ino looked at Sakura's charts as she paced inside the examination room. "Personally, I'm surprised you took him back."

"I thought the same thing at first," Sakura didn't want to look her friend in the eyes. "But I suppose I never stopped loving him."

"Are you certain everything is alright?" Ino touched Sakura's shoulder and leaning closer to her friend. "I'm just worried he might hurt you again."

"I think things will be ok. Thanks for worrying about me." The two friends smiled at each other. Over the years Sakura has become accustomed to Ino's concerned nature. As they grew older, their friendship evolved into a sisterly bond. The medical apprentice trusted her childhood friend as much as she trusted Naruto, so much to the point that she was one of the few who she allowed to do her medical exams. Ino was a rather accomplished medical ninja. . . . admittedly not in the same class as her best friend, but well respected enough that Tsunade often had her work stints at the village hospital. "So is everything in order?"

"I see nothing wrong. The samples I sent downstairs are all that's left. But while we are waiting for that," Ino sat down next to her friend and Sakura could see the wicked gleam in her eye. "We can talk about how things have been going with your and Sasuke for the last few weeks." Sakura groaned and shook her head.

"There's nothing to tell, so no major news for you to feed your little gossip brigade, Ino."

"I don't believe that," Ino nudged her friend with her shoulder. "If he missed you as much as he told you, then he must have made up for lost time." Sakura did not miss Ino raise her eyebrow as she spoke.

"Don't be so crude."

"It's not like we haven't discussed it before, you know. Why so evasive now?"

"That's. . . because there isn't much to tell." The sheepish look on Sakura's face was all Ino needed to know what's going on.

"You haven't slept with him yet?" Ino's outraged question only embarrassed Sakura more.

"Not so loud!" she waved her friend. "It's not what you think. . .I haven't. . .let him."

"How long has it been?"

"Three weeks."

"Well. . . why not?"

"Because. . . Because I'm not about to let him run me over like the last time," Sakura's voice steadied and she sat up straighter as she spoke. "You know how I was the last time. I don't want that again. I may still love him but that doesn't mean I'll be his lapdog."

"Good for you!" Ino threw her hands up in celebration. Sakura couldn't help but grin at her friend's enthusiasm. "I guess I shouldn't have worried after all."

"Well enough about me, Ino. What about you?" Sakura quickly decided she had given her friend enough of information and decided to turn the conversation to the only thing Ino liked talking about more than other people; herself. "So when are you going to find someone?"

"I haven't had time to find anyone, Forehead." Sakura rolled her eyes.

"Please, Ino. You don't expect me to believe that you have no one around."

"Well, no one around exactly, but I might have someone in mind." Sakura's eye lit up at the bit of news. Her friend hadn't been lying when she said she had been busy. She spent a lot of time recently as a messenger and spy for the Hokage.

"Oh really! So tell me, who is it?"

"Well," for once Ino's cheeks had a slight blush to them. "I'm kind of embarrassed to say. It was only recently that I realized something might be there. . ." Sakura waved her hands up and down with impatience.

"Who? Who is it? Don't tell me you've been seeing someone without telling me."

"No, nothing like that. It's just I've spent some time getting to know someone and I just realized how interesting and unique he is."

"Ino. . ."

"You know, perhaps I shouldn't say right now. It might be nothing."

"Out with it, Piggy!"

"Ok, Ok. . . . It's Naruto." Ino lowered her eyes to the floor trying to hide her embarrassment from her friend. In doing so, she missed the expression of shock on Sakura's face.

"U-Uzumaki Naruto?"

"Do you know any other Naruto?"

Sakura nodded slowly. "Why him?"

"See, I knew you would find it funny."

"No, no, not at all," Sakura waved her friend off in an effort to hide her surprise. "It's just that you've never shown any interest in him other than when we all hang out together."

"Well, it was kind of an accident," Ino began. "I mean I always knew him because of you were always dragging him around when we hung out. If not for you I would have never realized how nice he is. But it was when you started living with your parents again that I really got to know him. He really cares about his friends and I could tell how loyal he is by how he treated you and the faith he has in Sasuke. I swear he might believe in him more than you do. I guess all that time waiting with you caused me and Naruto to get to know each other. He's even treated me to lunch once or twice if we've had missions together."

"H-have you two done anything?" Sakura did her best to try to disguise the anger rising within her.

"No, not at all. I don't even think I'm a blip on his radar." Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. While she now had Sasuke, she couldn't help but still think of Naruto as her boy. She couldn't turn off her emotions and feelings for her old friend and teammate, but the mere idea that he might have cheated on her, with her best friend no less, was enough to send her after Naruto with homicidal thoughts. "In fact, I kind of wonder about him. I mean I knew he used to have a little crush on you all those years ago, but he doesn't seem to pay much attention to any other woman."

"Well, maybe he just has other interests."

"Well I hope he's got some interests in me." Sakura griped the padding of the seat underneath her so hard that it was creaking. Part of her wanted to shout at her best friend to stay away from her Naruto, but she felt she had no right. Naruto deserved happiness, even if it was with someone else. She also forgot to mention her fling with her teammate to Ino and felt it would only complicate matters. Most of all, Sakura's feminine pride told her that Ino just wasn't Naruto's type.

"So what do you plan on doing?" Sakura asked.

"Well, that's kind of why I wanted to talk to you about it. You know him best and he used to like you, so I was hoping you could help me get his attention." Sakura kept her mouth closed in order to hide her gritted teeth.

"I honestly don't know what to tell you. Just treat him right and give him some attention, I guess." Sakura tried to sound disinterested, but she knew all too well how to get Naruto's attention. However, the pink-haired medical shinobi wasn't so willing to share this information with Ino.

"Well, I guess I can do that," she fluffed her hair and gave Sakura her best sexy look. "I do know what it feels like to be noticed."

The two friends started to giggle, but for Sakura it was only to mask her jealously. They talked a bit longer until they heard a knock on the door. Ino went to the door and spoke to someone in the hallway. Afterwards, she closed the door and handed Sakura an envelope. "Your results came in. Looks like your ready to go."

"Thanks, Ino," Sakura said as she stepped down from the exam table. She took the folder and gave her friend a hug. "See you for dinner this evening?" Ino's cheeked reddened slightly.

"Well, I was kind of hoping to catch Naruto tonight. I want to see if I can get him to ask me out or at least spend some time with him to see what makes him tick." Sakura again fought her natural urges to smack her friend.

"Well, later this week then."

The young medic apprentice left room and quickly opened the file to check her results. She didn't expect anything to be out of ordinary due to the nature of her lifestyle. In her time as a medical shinobi, Sakura had become something of a health freak when it came to her check ups. She had regular ones that were required as well as the ones she had after a particularly rough mission. The first four pages seemed to be in order, but it was one section on the final page that caused her to stop. "This can't be right." She said to no one in particular. She reread the report to make sure she didn't miss anything but she found everything to be the same the first time. Without a second thought, she headed for the exit and towards the Hokage's office. She needed to make sure Ino hadn't made a mistake.

"Who is it?" Naruto wasn't used to visitors late at night and due to his body's tenant, he was always a little antsy when anyone came to his door. There was no peephole to look out of so he always had a Kunai waiting in case anyone decided to try and do the "demon boy" in.

"Naruto, it's me." The fox container opened the door quickly when he recognized the voice. Standing in front of him was a bleary-eyed Sakura clutching a tattered sheet of paper. She looked up at him before rushing to clutch him around his waist. The confused young man felt her shake as she cried into his chest.

"Did something happen with Sasuke?" The girl shook her head but still didn't speak. "What is it? Did something happen today?" The girl looked up at him with her green eyes and a tear-streaked face.

"Naruto, I'm pregnant. It's your child."