Greetings, Naruto fans! Whirlpool Country will be an AU story based in the Narutoverse (no crossover) and will pull bits and pieces from canon as things happen. Eventually the story will end up being entirely AU. The beginning of this story takes place shortly after Asuma's death, which is roughly around canon Manga chapter 435. I'm only going to do this once, because this is a fanfiction site, but I do not own Naruto or anything like that. Duh. It belongs to Kishimoto-sensei.

Update Mar 23rd 2010: I just wanted to welcome all new and potential re-readers. It's been a fun ride so far to where I am now. I've finally finished the edits the first 17 chapters so they are much cleaner than they were previously. As a note, I've gotten several remarks that the story starts out rather slow, and even I agree (I was a new writer for the most part when I started this 2 years ago) but it picks up quickly around Chapter 4 to Chapter 8... it varies for different readers. But typically by Chapter 8, everyone has been completely hooked. With that in mind, even if you were planning on passing this one up, hopefully you'll give it a chance and read at least that far.

Enjoy Whirlpool Country!

Chapter 1

Uzumaki Naruto hated being bored. Unfortunately, he was extremely bored right now. His traveling companion wasn't helping the situation either.

"Hey, Ero-sennin."

The older man did not respond. This didn't surprise the blond haired boy traveling with him. Ever since they left the last village they spent the night at, their way back to Konoha had so far confirmed that Jiraiya pretty much forgot Naruto even existed. This came as no surprise, however, since the man was out most of the night, having claimed he was falling behind on his 'research'. The perverted hermit was currently scribbling away in his notebook, his pen moving so fast that it was nothing more than a blur.

Naruto rolled his eyes. Normally he'd use his patented Oiroke technique to get Jiraiya's attention rather quickly, but the question he wanted to ask wasn't important enough to warrant using it. On top of that, he didn't feel like dealing with the whining that came after he dropped the transformation. That man was totally, completely, and utterly a pervert in every sense of the word.

Thinking back, Naruto mused that this entire two week sojourn around the Fire Country was rather boring. His sensei claimed that he wanted to begin getting the boy acquainted with his spy network - just in case. While that was fine and dandy, most spies are notorious for not really talking. Introductions went fine, there were grunts of greetings and acknowledgments, then quiet conversation between his sensei and the spy. Naruto was forgotten after every single introduction. When he inquired as to how he was supposed to contact these people in the future, should he need information, the reply did nothing but serve to agitate him further. "They are spies. You don't contact them; they contact you when they have something worthwhile to report. I'll give you the emergency contact message another time."

So all in all, him going on this trip was pointless. He was getting introduced to people that he may never meet again.

The past weeks were spent visiting the seediest bars and inns around, most of which had plenty of opportunity for Jiraiya to do research, while Naruto drummed his fingers on the tabletops and wished he was elsewhere. He couldn't even create a few Kage Bunshin clones to go train somewhere... they had to remain totally inconspicuous the entire time. Any hint of a rising chakra level and their entire mission was a bust.


Naruto moved his hands behind his head and let out a sigh. Looking up, he glanced at the few clouds in the sky, and noticed the position of the sun. It was up high in the sky, so it was probably now early afternoon. They had been traveling since the sun was just barely beginning to light up the horizon and had only stopped once, briefly, near a stream to get some water. Naruto wanted to run so they could get back faster, but Jiraiya had firmly stated they would be walking so that they could enjoy these final moments of this minor 'vacation'.

Only problem being - vacations are supposed to be fun. This mission was anything but. He couldn't wait to get back into Konoha and start training again, chow down on some Ichiraku ramen, and hang out with...


Suddenly interrupted from his thoughts, Naruto stumbled slightly, not expecting to be called. After gaining his balance he looked to his left, to see a smirking Jiraiya. The man leered at Naruto, the perverted grin growing with every syllable that left his mouth.

"You were thinking about your little sweetheart back home again, weren't you?"

Had it been anyone else on the planet asking that question, Naruto might have blushed, and even stuttered a bit when answering. But knowing his sensei... both of his senseis, actually... he knew better than to give the man even the slightest bit of ammunition. So he scoffed and shrugged his shoulders in an exaggerated rolling motion instead.

"I don't have a sweetheart. I'm just waiting for this boring mission to end, and wondering how long it will be until we are back inside Konoha."

Jiraiya looked around for a moment, then pulled out his map. He nodded a few times, and made a few grunting noises - as if confirming something to himself. Quickly folding the map back up, he returned it to his pack, and rubbed his hands together.

"According to my calculations, we are an hour or two away from Konoha."

Naruto couldn't help but let out a mighty sigh.

"You can't read a map any better than I can, so I don't know why you bother to pretend. Plus, if we're as far away as you say, why can I see the gates now?"

Jiraiya's head snapped forward, and his eyes widened. He let out a little chuckle, shook his head, and looked at Naruto with what seemed to be concern in his eyes.

"What happened to you, Naruto?"

Naruto looked at Jiraiya out of the corner of his eye, without turning his head. "Huh?"

"You seem a lot more... well... pessimistic than I'm used to seeing you. You seemed normal when we left on this mission."

Silence reigned for a moment while Naruto decided how best to answer. He looked down at his feet as he moved forward step by step, running through various words and phrases in his head, deciding how best to answer.

If it was at all possible, Naruto's silence made Jiraiya even more concerned.


The young jinchuuriki lifted his head and looked back up into the sky once again. "Have you ever felt that... I don't know... you've had to grow up more in a few weeks than you ever had to in years prior?"

Jiraiya kept looking at Naruto, but didn't answer right away. He knew what the boy was talking about. "Is this about Asuma?"

"That, and more."

"Oh?" Jiraiya was genuinely curious. The serious Naruto was something he was seeing more of recently, and he definitely interested to see how this Naruto reacted to various situations.

"Yeah, these two weeks were so boring that I was thinking about all kinds of different things. Asuma talking to me about my wind affinity. Kakashi-sensei telling me that he believes I'm the only one who can surpass the Fourth. Sasuke telling me not to come looking for him anymore because he's not coming back at all, and why he's so stubborn. Plus a bunch of other random things here and there that aren't really worth mentioning right now."

The Toad Sannin brought his hand up and scratched his chin while listening to Naruto. "How far did Asuma get with your wind training anyway?"

Naruto visibly slumped. "Not very far. He gave me some basic pointers. Mostly on how to feel and mold it. That helped me experiment a little faster with the exercises Kakashi-sensei had set up for me. There were more questions I had, but I figured they could wait until I had a little more practice under my belt."

A sigh. "If I only knew."

Jiraiya nodded his head in solemn acknowledgment. The loss of Asuma hit Konoha hard. He was the last of the shinobi from the Sarutobi clan that was still active as at least Chuunin or higher rank. They had three genin members, Konohamaru included, but the loss of Asuma left some mighty big shoes to fill. It also didn't help that Asuma was the only easily accessible shinobi that was experienced enough to teach someone else who had a wind affinity. Wind users were rare, and those who had mastered control of their element were even more rare.

Looking forward once again, Jiraiya noted that they were probably within ten minutes of reaching the Konoha gates. Trees were starting to thin out around them, and a few small shacks were now visible interspersed through the foliage.

"Well, Naruto, I happen to know someone who knows a bit about having a wind affinity... probably not as well as Asuma, but something is better than nothing."

Naruto's head snapped to the side to look at his sensei. "Really? Who? When can I meet them? I have tons of questions!"

Jiraiya couldn't help but bark out a small laugh. "Easy, gaki. I haven't seen them in years, so it will probably take a while before I can establish contact, and then even longer until I can convince them to help you out. But I think I can manage."

Naruto seemed to deflate again, but the slump in his shoulders wasn't as bad as before. "Well... okay. You're right, something is better than nothing."

They walked in silence for another couple minutes, Konoha's gates approaching ever closer, before Naruto spoke up once again.

"What about in Suna? We're allies... do you think Gaara would know anyone I could talk to? I know Temari uses wind, but I've never really seen her do much other than wave that big fan around and blow things away with it."

Jiraiya pondered for a second before he answered. "It is possible... I'll look into that too. Still, don't get your hopes set too high. Those with an affinity for wind are very rare."


Jiraiya blinked, and glanced at Naruto. "Why what?"

"Why is the wind affinity so rare?"

"Well, probably because while it is rather strong, its uses and applications are... how to put this... limited?"

Jiraiya started digging around in his pack for their papers, while Naruto looked at him with a blank stare. "I didn't think people got to choose what their affinity was."

"They don't." Jiraiya chuckled as he found what he was looking for, and swung his pack back over his shoulder. "You didn't pay attention to history in class, did you?"

"Not really."

"I didn't think so," Jiraiya sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "Well to sum it up as best I can, when the shinobi nations were first formed, there was quite a lot of selective breeding. Chakra had just been discovered, and of course it was tested for the abilities it could give in combat. Therefore, experiments were running rampant to find which affinity was best. Wind was decided to be the strongest, however its applications were limited, not to mention it was extremely hard to control. Earth was the weakest overall, however it was the easiest to control, therefore it had the most applications as well."

They finally reached the gates of Konoha, and headed over towards the check-in booth. There were two Chuunin there, as usual, however Naruto didn't recognize either of them.

"The shinobi gradually migrated throughout the land to places where their affinities could be best applied. Hence, the five main shinobi nations were born."

Naruto nodded, more to himself than to Jiraiya. They were heading away from the booth, down the main road through the middle of Konoha, towards the administration building.

"So wind is only rare because it's hard to control?"

"Exactly. Most shinobi don't like to get up close and personal with their opponent. They want to finish fights quickly, and that means being able to attack from a distance. Earth is one of the easiest, because its always beneath you, and therefore is always available. Other than wind, fire was the next hardest, because the fire has to come from within you. You have to will the fire to exist."

Naruto couldn't help but chuckle at that. "So that's where all those 'Will of Fire' speeches came from. I thought they were more original than that."

Jiraiya chuckled as well. "I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, most felt that wind affinity was rather useless, because beyond a few feet from your body, you can't control wind unless you have massive amounts of chakra. You can start a tornado with the wind, but once it gets a certain distance away, you'll lose control of it. So most felt it was best left as an extension or enhancement of chakra-tuned weapons. Over time, wind users have dwindled, while the other elements have expanded considerably. While rare, though... I doubt anyone without unique talents can beat someone who has mastered their wind affinity. Wind is simply the strongest element in close combat, no exceptions."

"I understand," Naruto sighed yet again, and scratched the back of his head. "I'll have to experiment I guess. Seems thats all I can do until someone is willing to give me more pointers."

"I'm sure my contact will help you, once I explain the situation."

The duo stopped in front of the entrance to the administration building, and they both looked up.

"Should we go in the normal way, or the shinobi way?"

Naruto grinned for the first time in a long time. "The shinobi way, of course."

They both laughed, and leaped up towards the Hokage's office.

Tsunade was sitting in her chair, trying desperately not to reach into her desk drawer and grab her bottle of emergency sake. The paperwork was never ending, and Shizune had just dropped off another stack of requisition forms for supplies a moment ago. She was sorely tempted to just quickly glance over each sheet and immediately stamp it, regardless of the consequences.

Muttering under her breath about the paperwork, she grabbed her glass of water and started to drink from it while glancing at one of the forms in her hand.


Caught totally unawares, Tsunade nearly choked and ended up spraying water all over, ruining the form in her hand, as well as many of the papers scattered across her desk.


Tsunade slowly turned in her chair to face the intruder... no... both intruders. Naruto was almost cowering, almost appearing as if he was trying to merge with the wall behind him, while Jiraiya was doing his best not to crack a smile... or break down laughing. The killer intent she was putting off was enough to nearly bring Naruto to his knees. If she was bothering to listen, she would have heard him whimper that he didn't mean to startle her.

"You both had best have a very good reason for entering my office through the window, instead of through the door like all my other respectful shinobi."

Naruto stopped cowering, took a step forward, and very steadily crossed his arms over his chest. The fear was gone from his face, and he was now staring at her with the utmost seriousness. "Because you're my baa-chan, I'm special, and I bought you a present," he stated, adding emphasis in all the right places.

Tsunade visibly relaxed, and even smiled. "Oh, well in that case, welcome back."

At this, Jiraiya finally broke down, laughing.

Tsunade's eyebrow visibly twitched. "Whats so funny, pervert?"

Jiraiya's laughing died down, and he wiped a small tear from his eye. "Oh Tsunade... I find it amazing how this gaki can please you so fast." He slapped Naruto on the back. "You need to use some of that charm on girls your own age! You should try it on that Sak-"

Before he could finish, Jiraiya was sent flying out the window by a fist planted firmly in his gut. He was propelled backward with such force it made Naruto wince.

Tsunade stood looking out the window with her hands planted firmly on her hips. She muttered something under her breath that Naruto couldn't quite catch, then turned to face him. "I'm used to him being a pervert, but when he tries to turn others into perverts as well..." Drifting off while shaking her fist in the air, she turned and headed back towards her desk, beckoning for Naruto to take a seat.

As he was getting comfortable in the seat, Tsunade reached into one of the drawers of her desk and pulled out a small scroll. Glancing at the seal briefly, she nodded, then set it on her desk. She gestured at Naruto, "Report."

Naruto shrugged. "Not much to report, really. We visited each of the designated locations on the list Ero-sennin had, met all his contacts, introduced me to them, and then came back. The rest of the time I was bored out of my mind because I couldn't train, and I'm sure you don't need me to elaborate on what you-know-who was doing."

Tsunade put her head in her hands and sighed. Rubbing her eyes, she leaned back in her chair and tossed Naruto the scroll, which he deftly caught with one hand.

"Whats this?"

"Permission to release funds to you as payment for the mission. It was considered C rank."

Naruto looked confused for a moment. "Ero-sennin said it was a vacation."

Tsunade just snorted. "Then consider it payment for dealing with Jiraiya for two weeks."

Not wanting to argue about being given money, Naruto neatly pocketed the scroll into his jacket. "Sounds good to me. Need anything else while I'm here?"

The corner of the Hokage's lip quirked up. "Didn't you tell me you bought me a present? Or did you want to go flying out the window too for being a liar?"

Naruto visibly gulped, and waved his hands in front of himself quickly. "No no no! I really did buy a present! But I had to mail it to you because I didn't want to carry around a glass bottle in my pack in case I got into a fight!"

An eyebrow lifted. "Sake?"

Naruto leaned back in his chair and looked off to the side. "It's a present, I can't tell."

Tsunade just chuckled. "Silly baka. I'm sure I'll like whatever it is. Anyway..." She grabbed some papers from her desk and started fanning a few, trying to dry them from the water that was misted over them earlier. "I have one small assignment for you before you do anything else. I need you to find my apprentice and tell her to come see me. We have to talk about an upcoming assignment."

Naruto nodded and stood up from his chair, heading for the door.

"Naruto, you have the next couple days off, but I need to see you here again tomorrow for a mission I have specifically for you. I'll brief you then."

He waved over his shoulder as he opened the door to leave. "Sure thing, baa-chan. See you."

The whistling noise of the desk clock flying through the air was the only warning he had before it smashed against the back of his head.

"...that'll teach you to call me baa-chan."

Ichiraku Teuchi saw the mop of spiky blond hair approaching his stand, and knew what he had to be ready for.

Before said blond could even squeak out a single word, he had a large miso ramen set down in front of him. The poor boy had to blink a few times and rub his eyes, stare at the ramen, then open and close his mouth like a fish a few times before he managed to speak.

"Thanks, ojiisan!"

Teuchi smiled at his favorite customer. "Welcome back, Naruto. Business is never quite the same without you around."

Naruto tried to smile, but the mouthful of ramen kept him from doing that. So he settled for nodding vigorously. He was about to shovel more into his mouth, but stopped and looked around for a few seconds. "Where's Ayame-neechan?"

Teuchi had already turned around and was washing some bowls. He spoke to Naruto over his shoulder. "I asked her to go do some shopping for some spices for me. She should be back soon, if you want to hang around and say hi."

Naruto yelped a quick 'ok', then started gobbling down his ramen once more. Once again, Teuchi was quick on the draw and had a second bowl set down in front of the boy just before he finished his first. Naruto displayed one of his rare dazzling smiles, and quickly dug into the second bowl.

"Oh, well look who it is. Hello there, Naruto-kun!"

Naruto turned to look who was talking to him, and remembered not to smile too widely with a mouth full of food when he saw Ayame. He settled for a small wave and nod instead.

Ayame giggled. "My, he finally learned some manners after all this time. Good job Naruto-kun!" She playfully rubbed her hand on his head, messing up his hair even further, then walked around to the back with her bag of groceries.

Naruto was on his fourth bowl after another couple minutes, and was slowing down.

"Ready for a fifth Naruto?"

Surprisingly, Naruto shook his head. "Not today, ojiisan. I think my stomach shrank these past two weeks, I didn't get to eat ramen once." He fake sniffled, then chuckled. "Thanks anyway though. I might be back for dinner!"

Teuchi smiled and nodded, then waved Naruto off and went to check on some of his other customers. Before he moved away from his stool, Ayame walked out from the back with her apron on. She saw Naruto getting up to leave, and visibly pouted.

"Aww, leaving so soon?"

Naruto slowly sat back down and placed both hands behind his head, chuckling lightly and smiling at the girl. "Gomen, Ayame-neechan, but baa-chan asked me to run an errand for her and she might get mad if I take too long."

Ayame nodded, "I understand. Come back for dinner and I'll make your favorite!" She smiled and winked at him.

"I'll definitely be back then, believe it!" Nothing in this world could make him miss Ayame's pork ramen. Well, almost nothing.

Naruto hopped off his stool after paying for his meal, then took off down the street at a steady pace. He was going over in his mind what he wanted to do, and then remembered Tsunade's request for him to find Sakura.

His mind flashed briefly back to the comments that Jiraiya made earlier in the day, but quickly frowned and shook his head to clear it. As much as he liked Sakura in the past, he had been doing his best to squelch those feelings before they got out of control and he ended up annoying her again. She was his best friend, and he didn't want to lose her friendship because he was nagging her about dates and things like that. Granted, she hadn't turned him down or beat him up the past two times he had asked, but he didn't know how long his luck would last. With a sigh, he took off for the hospital. She should still be working... if not, it shouldn't be too hard to track her down.

Haruno Sakura was tired. She had been going nonstop since dawn, one patient after another. For some reason today was incredibly busy, but she couldn't place her finger on exactly why. Only two or three of her patients had been trained shinobi. Most of the people she had helped today were standard artisans of one craft or another, who had some mishap with an instrument they were working with.

Moving around behind the nurses station, she stifled a yawn with her free hand as she replaced her now empty clipboard on the rack. Looking to the side, she noted the time, silently rejoicing that she only had a half an hour left before she was able to go home for the day. Having taken care of all her daily assignments, she decided to settle back in the chair behind her and stay around the desk for the remainder of her shift in case another patient walked in.

"Hey Sakura-chan!"

"ACK!" Sakura nearly fell out of her chair. Blinking her eyes a few times, she rubbed them once, glanced up to see a very sheepish-looking Naruto, then twisted her head to the side to at the clock again. It had already been almost 20 minutes!

"Gomen, Sakura-chan, I didn't know you were... um... sleeping. I couldn't see your face, I thought you were reading."

Sakura waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "It's fine, I'm actually glad you woke me up. If my boss saw me dozing off, she'd be furious." She moved her hand up to stifle another yawn. "So when did you get back?"

Naruto scratched the top of his head as he talked. "Just about an hour ago. Reported in, got food, and then I was asked to hunt you down to deliver a message from baa-chan."

That got Sakura's attention. "Tsunade-sensei? What's up?"

"I don't know," Naruto shrugged. "She just asked that I tell you to stop by and talk to her sometime today."

"Alright, thanks for relaying the message. I'll go see her. After that... I think I'm gonna have to take a nap. Today has been incredibly busy for some reason."

Naruto rubbed his chin. "They were setting up for some sort of festival on the east side of Konoha. They had signs up announcing it near the entrance, and stuck to the check-in booth. So there might have been people here who were working on that. I think the latest class of genin are graduating."

"I'll have to stop by and see if I recognize any names on the graduation list." Sakura's eyes widened a bit as she considered the rest of what Naruto said. "Wow, those people setting up the festival are incredibly clumsy then. I had to heal some of the stupidest injuries. How do you hit your own leg with a mallet? Some of those people would probably make you look like a genius." She couldn't conceal the small smile that appeared as Naruto's face started to scrunch up into his customary pout.

"Sakura-chaaaaan, that was mean." He crossed his arms over his chest and turned around.

"Oh whatever. I was just kidding. Stop acting like a big baby."


Sakura sighed and rolled her eyes. "I'll get you some ramen for dinner tomorrow... my treat?"

Naruto's demeanor did a total one-eighty. He spun back around, eyes bright and wide with a dreamy look, and a huge grin plastered on his face. Sakura couldn't help but grin once again as she saw the look on his face.



Naruto stood there for a moment, then let out a loud 'whoop' - loud enough to get a few of the other nurses, patients, and doctors to turn and stare.

"Its a date, Sakura-chan!" Naruto nearly shouted, then quickly spun on his heel and ran out the front doors of the hospital, leaving a gaping Sakura sitting at the desk. One of her fellow nurses who was nearby walked over to Sakura, giggling all the while.

"Nice catch, Sakura-san." She winked and continued to giggle.

Sakura spluttered for a moment, and managed to stammer, "Its... its not like that, Yuna-san!"

Her coworker merely smirked and started walking off. "Well thats a shame, he's a bit of a looker. If you're not interested, maybe you can introduce us sometime?"

Resisting the urge to hit the desk repeatedly with her head, Sakura got up and decided it would probably be best if she went to visit the Hokage now, before anyone else decided to comment on her blond friend's outburst. She had no plans on entering the matchmaking business either.

Approaching the door to the Hokage's office, she nodded to the Chuunin stationed near the door, from whom she received a nod in response. Taking that as the customary cue to proceed, she knocked twice on the door and waited.


Opening the door, Sakura walked into her sensei's office. "You wanted to see me, shishou?"

Tsunade looked up from her paperwork, nodded to Sakura and smiled briefly. "I'll only need a second of your time."

Sakura moved swiftly to stand in front of the Hokage's desk. If there was one thing she learned during the time of her apprenticeship, it was that Tsunade always appreciated people being punctual and respectful. Probably came from dealing with the likes of Kakashi-sensei, she mused.

"Sakura, I need your honest and blunt opinion. If you were to rate your own skills as a medic-nin, what rating would you give yourself? This doesn't mean I will classify you as such, I'm just curious."

Sakura blinked a few times, but managed to keep her face schooled into a neutral expression - or so she hoped. She was totally unprepared for a question like this.

"Well, I'm a lot more confident in my abilities these days. You've greatly helped me in strengthening my body and refine my skills. Since his return, Naruto has helped strengthen my mind, reinforcing my confidence in myself. I firmly believe that I could be rated as a B-rank nin, and perhaps bordering on A-rank by the end of the year. Assuming I keep the training schedule I have now, that is."

Tsunade remained quiet for several moments after Sakura finished, and continued staring at the top of her desk. After about a minute of no reply, Sakura started sweating, wondering if perhaps she said something wrong. As Sakura was getting ready to speak up and ask if something was wrong, Tsunade cleared her throat, startling Sakura. However, she quickly regained her wits and stood at attention, awaiting the verdict.

"I must say, I'm impressed with your assessment of your skills. You've definitely changed from when I first took you as my apprentice." Tsunade gave her a genuine smile, and Sakura visibly relaxed. "I asked you that, because I wanted to be absolutely sure of your confidence in yourself. I have a mission planned, and I'm probably going to need your help."

Sakura nodded, waiting for Tsunade to continue.

"I can't give you too many details now, because the planning is still underway. I will say that the majority of this mission revolves around our favorite knucklehead."


Tsunade nodded. "The one and only. This mission will be huge for him, and eventually Konoha, and Fire Country as a whole. On top of that, I don't know how to rank it, or if it even needs to be ranked, considering it may last for years."

Sakura paled slightly. "Years?" She had many questions already, but knew better than to blurt them out when Tsunade was giving one of her 'mission speeches'. So she figured one simple word would suffice for now.

"Yes, years. You will be integral to this mission as well. You've known Naruto longer than most other shinobi here, and are close to him because of your status as friend and teammate. I would send Kakashi, but Naruto has been known to clash - sometimes violently - with authority, and Kakashi isn't exactly the sentimental type."

Tsunade sighed and leaned back in her chair. "On this mission, Naruto will end up discovering things that could either make him happy beyond his wildest dreams, or shatter him completely. I certainly hope its the former, but with how things have been looking recently, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter." She leaned forward and looked Sakura directly in the eyes. "I need you there to hold his hand, no matter the outcome. To pick up his pieces and put him back together, should it come to that. Naruto can take a lot of punishment, but in the end, he is still human."

The look she gave, as well as the tone in which she spoke shook Sakura to her very core. Even more questions lit up in her mind, and she was nearly about to burst with her desire to ask them. As she was about to open her mouth and ask one, Tsunade held up a hand to forestall any comments or questions.

"I know you most likely have questions. Knowing you, I'd bet on it, and probably actually win for once." Tsunade grinned and chuckled lightly at her own joke - even Sakura managed to display a small grin. "I can't answer any right now, for various reasons. I will be giving you and Naruto separate briefings, and I'll try to explain as much as I can at that time. Keep in mind, however, that Naruto will be much more in the dark than you. There are some things he will need to discover on his own."

Tsunade leaned back again. "Now... I'm giving you the next two days off to rest and prepare. I'll send a note to the hospital that I'm pulling you for mission duty, and that you'll be unavailable for an extended period of time. I'll see you back here in two days, and hopefully be able to explain everything then."

Grabbing her stamp and a form that apparently needed approval for something or another, she got back to work. "You're dismissed, Sakura. Two days."

Without a word, Sakura nodded slowly, then turned and walked toward the door. Stepping outside and closing the door behind her, she felt two emotions, both of which she expected. The first was happiness, knowing that what was coming might actually make Naruto happy as well. The other was complete dread, knowing that there was also a chance it could shatter the boy's very soul. She didn't let that thought get her down, though. Clenching her fists tightly, she promised to herself that no matter what, she would not lose her last teammate... and her best friend.

With a deep breath, Sakura took off towards home, to get a much deserved nap.

Edited: April 1st, 2009

Up Next: Believe It