Distance

NaruSaku. Naruto grinned and grabbed her wrist, pulling her down to meet him on the bed. After all, it was a cold night in the Hidden Rain Village.

A/N: Hello all, this is my first NaruSaku fic and I shall try to be serious about it. XD Wow... the first chapter is surprisingly long which is not often my style but hopefully I keep this up. The beginning is rather slow but hopefully you continue reading, it'll eventually pick up. By the way, the summary might not happen for a while... XD

...

A clock ticked loudly, resounding throughout the nearly empty house. Nearly empty because there was someone there, weary and deep in thought as they sat gazing at the framed photograph of four people. A team of genin and their silver-haired sensei. Dark shadows ringed his eyes as he studied the young and unaware faces captured in time. Unaware of the future of sorrow and pain that lay ahead and the time that could never mend the wounds.

He closed his eyes wearily, replacing the photograph on the bedside table and stood, preparing to leave.

It had been two and a half years since that day that the wounds were made. A month since they had been re-opened. And now this.

A recent report had been made that Sasuke Uchiha had been spotted outside of the village.

Naruto picked up his headband, tying it on around his forehead. He fumbled with the cloth a few times, cursing the slight tremble in his hands. Finished, he turned and glanced at himself in the mirror.

Tired and anxious were the words that registered in his mind at the sight of himself. He had hardly enough sleep since the recent passing of Jiraiya...

He shook his head attempting to clear it. He needed to remain focused. There was no more time to mourn the loss of one of the closest people to him; he couldn't afford any further mistakes.

He had made far too many of those already.

With this thought in mind, he closed the door to his house behind himself and made his way down the pathway.

Sakura knew that roaming the streets had become a habit of Naruto's lately and it did not surprise her to see him wandering past her house, hands shoved into his pockets, shoulders slumped and gaze fixed to the floor before him. It was saddening to see such a defeated expression on his face; it was how almost everyone felt when they had witnessed him roaming about lately.

Sighing, Sakura made a mental note to check on her team mate later as the Fifth Hokage had requested her assistance earlier in the morning and knowing her sensei as she did, the would be no chance of her putting it off.

Besides, she understood that Naruto needed some time to himself.

Resisting the urge to open her bedroom window and call him, Sakura adjusted her headband and prepared to leave for her meeting with Tsunade.

...

Tsunade let out a long sigh and shifted in her seat, uncrossing her legs and recrossing it with the opposite leg over the other. It had been a long week and the dark rings under her eyes indicated so.

Today, she had decided to wear black as everyone else did. After all, it was an appropriate colour for such an occasion, was it not?

"Sensei?"

At the sound of her pupil's voice, Tsunade opened her eyes slowly, fighting off the sleep that was eagerly waiting to overcome her.

"Sakura, I'm glad you're here. I wanted to inform you that Team Seven will be having a new mission as of tomorrow," she explained, picking up her now cold coffee and sipping it, cringing. Horrible.

"A new mission?" Sakura repeated blankly, blinking in confusion.

"Yes," Tsunade said, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose as she sighed, the bitter taste of coffee lingering in her mouth as she spoke, "I wanted to make it clear to your that we cannot allow to have any more mistakes made. We've already lost two valuable ninjas and with the possible threat of Akatsuki attacking, we need to fortify our defences." She cleared her throat as she continued, "From Jiraiya's last mission, he had gathered information that the location of the Akatsuki is within the Hidden Rain Village. Your mission is to infiltrate the village, gather information about their actual location within the village and what they plan to do."

For Sakura's sensei to simply call her up to inform her of their mission that she could have done in front of the entire Team Seven and to remind her of something that was meant to be a general understanding in every shinobi mission did not make sense. It was hardly a reason for Sakura to be informed of the mission before the rest of her squad members. Understanding that there was more to the mission that Tsunade wanted to address, Sakura remained silent and waited as the Sannin gave the bridge of her nose another squeeze, an attempt to eliminate the painful headache that had been building up over the past few days.

"Sakura," the Fifth Hokage finally began, "please make sure that Naruto is able to get through this mission."

It was surprising to hear that Tsunade had called her to her office simply to express her concern over Naruto. But then, everyone had been concerned over Naruto lately and it wasn't difficult to know why. The usual bright and energetic teenager had vanished for the past few days, replaced with a sullen and moody character that no one could recognise to be the Naruto they had all grown to love.

Who was that lone boy that preferred to wander the streets of Konoha, who hardly spoke to his comrades? The thought upset Sakura as she cast her gaze to a spot on the floor in front her, biting her lip.

Nodding silently, Sakura wondering if Naruto was mentally and emotionally prepared to face Sasuke once again after that last failed mission to retrieve him. Especially after the death of his sensei who he obviously must have been very attached to.

Both Naruto and Sakura had trained hard for the past two and a half years; it was their goal to rescue Sasuke together, to bring him back home so that they could live like they used to before, Team Seven, finally together again. But the recent death had taken a toll on Naruto's well-being and most likely on his overall mission performance which Tsunade was probably aware. This was why Sakura was there.

"I'll look after him," Sakura vowed quietly. "I promised him more than two years ago that I'd look after both of them. I won't go back on my word," she said as she raised her gaze to her sensei's, a look of determination reflected in her eyes as she spoke.

Tsunade nodded approvingly. "Good," she smiled, swivelling her chair around to look out the glass windows. "I want you to round up your team mates and bring them here. I will be providing you all with the papers of identification and passport for your infiltration into the village. You're dismissed until then."

Sakura gave a brief bow and turned on her heel, heading out of the door and shutting it behind herself.

Usually, if a mission was as big and dangerous as their current mission given to them, Naruto would exclaim excitedly and be the first to have his bag packed, ready to leave the village as soon as he could.

"Oh, I understand," Naruto replied grimly, his brows knotted together in thought.

Although their mission was serious, Sakura couldn't help but miss the old Naruto who would have been thrilled to have an opportunity to display his skills, his attitude towards missions being rather childish. This Naruto, she couldn't help to relate to a certain dark-haired ninja...

She sighed and turned to her other team mate, hoping he at least hadn't changed beyond the point of recognition. Sai's usual smile was not present and instead, he too held a serious expression, but this was because he was studying Naruto's face carefully.

Sakura ran a tired hand through her hair. "Let's go get Kakashi-sensei and head to the Hokage's office," she said as no one else was willing to break the uncomfortable silence that had fallen upon the group. She glanced at Naruto one more time and wondered silently if he noticed how worried everyone was over him, how worried she was over him.

Shaking her head clear, she led the way to their sensei's house hoping that she would be able to keep to her promise she had made long ago.

...

"WWWHHHHHHHAAAAATTTTTT?"

A vein in Tsunade's forehead popped out dangerously. "You have some kind of objection kid?" she asked, her eyes narrowing as she glowered at Naruto, daring him to say something.

Naruto pulled a face. "Of course I have an objection," he grumbled before throwing a glare in Sai's direction and pointing accusingly at him. "Why is he and Sakura engaged?" he yelled, glancing at Sakura who simply sighed exhaustedly.

Tsunade massaged her temple. "It's part of the mission. For you to infiltrate the village successfully we need you all to be under cover. This is a covert operation Naruto. That is why we will have both you and Kakashi heading into the village two days before Sakura and Sai will so that no one will be able to connect the two groups to one another. You and Kakashi will play the roles of father and son, travelers from the Hidden Mist Village who wish only for a peaceful place to stay and as the Hidden Rain Village has such tight security, it's why you selected it as your place of residence. A secure place to call home," she explained as simply as she could, watching as Naruto continued to stubbornly give a disapproving frown.

"I still don't like the idea of them being engaged, I mean, I could play Sai's part easily!" Naruto complained causing numerous sighs to emit from everyone in the room.

"Naruto," Sakura said gently, placing a hand on his arm. "Tsunade-sama has already prepared our places of residence at the Hidden Rain Village. Your house will not be too far from mine, so don't worry so much." With this, Sakura smiled reassuringly at her team mate.

"Sakura-chan..." Naruto's voice trailed off as he stared at Sakura in surprise before giving in and nodding his head briefly.

Thanking Sakura mentally, Tsunade cleared her throat. "Now that you have all of the paperwork required to enter the village this mission will now commence. Team Seven, dismissed!"

Once they were outside of the room, Kakashi breathed out a sigh of relief.

"Really Naruto, you don't have to object to nearly everything the Fifth says," Kakashi said wearily as the team made their way down the corridor leading to the front door of the building.

"Pfft!" Naruto kicked at the floor bitterly, glancing sideways at Sai and wondering if he were happy to be engaged to Sakura. At the thought of their engagement, false or not, it aggravated Naruto to the point that he cried out, flailing his arms about wildly. "But he doesn't even like her!" he yelled, pointing indignantly at the apathetic Sai.

"It's just a mission, Naruto-kun," he replied smoothly, his eyes staring straight ahead of him. "Besides, I'm not interested in people who look like Sakura-san," he dismissed coolly, receiving a whack on the head from an outraged Sakura for his careless comment.

"I'm right next to you for goodness sakes!" she yelled angrily, her fist ready to pound Sai again.

Scratching the back of his head tiredly, Kakashi wondered why he always ended up with the strange kids. "Well anyway, Naruto, the mission has already commenced, so we will be leaving straight away you do realise that, right?"

Naruto nodded. "I just want to pack a few clothes before we leave."

"Make it quick then and make sure that's all you pack. We don't want them checking our bags and finding anything that could link us to Konoha."

"Right."

Turning on his heel, Naruto raced off in the direction of his house to prepare his things for the mission. Sakura watched as he ran and smiled to herself. She was glad to see the old energetic Naruto again.

The team met up again at the large exit gates of Konoha to bid farewell to each other.

Naruto seemed unsure now and stared at his feet as he spoke quietly to Sakura, "What if Sasuke returns while we're gone?"

Sakura was surprised at his question before she replied in a soft voice, "If that happens, remember that Tsunade has already promised that she'll call us back to strengthen Konoha's defenses."

This didn't seem to reassure Naruto for he continued to stare at his feet, the shadows under his eyes appearing darker than before. It was this that prompted Sakura to reach forward and tug at his sleeve, a weak and forced smile on her face as she held back tears that were building up within her chest.

Don't make that face Naruto, it's saddening. I want you to smile, please. The words she couldn't bring herself to say died on her lips and instead she mumbled, her smile more strained than before, "Do your best, Naruto."

Her hold on his sleeve released and her hand fell back to her side. She knew it was weak and that he could see past the forced smile but her breath caught in her throat all the same.

He had smiled in return, an embarrassed sort of smile that had been the cause of her breath catching in her throat. "I'm sorry to have made you wait," he said in a quiet voice, the shy smile portraying what he meant.

The all-knowing smile on his face, as if he understood what she had wanted to say brought tears to Sakura's eyes. The corners of her mouth pulled, a smile appearing genuinely on her lips as she thanked Shikamaru mentally for talking to Naruto the day before.

"You cry so easily Sakura, don't worry! I'll do my best," Naruto promised as Kakashi called for them to leave. "And I never go back on my word," he said, his smile still in place as he turned and ran after Kakashi to catch up to him.

The warm smile on his face that told her the old Naruto had finally returned had been worth the wait.

...

A/N: Siiiggghhh, long chapter... It'll pick up next chapter, don't worry. Please leave a review.