Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or its characters. This fic is purely made for entertainment purposes and not monetary gain. I do not own Stereophonics songs or album titles and am in no way affiliated with the band. I am merely borrowing the song names and titles for chapter and story titles. No copyright infringement is intended.
I'm using that OpenOffice software this site suggests until I have time to install Microsoft Office, so if spacing or formatting is weird, please forgive me. I haven't used this program before.
You Gotta Go There To Come Back
Chapter 1: Getaway
Sakura did her best at work that day. She smiled at the nurses, healed patients and gave the kids she saw high fives. No one noticed the empty smiles, the distant look in her eyes as she healed, or the coldness in her hands. No one noticed that Sakura was hiding something, just the way she wanted it.
Sakura made her usual appearance at the bar that night. She was laughing and smiling with her friends, seemingly with nothing amiss. No one noticed that the laughter never reached her eyes, that she didn't speak much, or that she nursed the same margarita the entire time. No one noticed that Sakura slipped out far before the rowdy crowd usually began to wind down, just the way she wanted it.
Sakura gave it her all at training the next day. She punched, kicked and flew through hand signs with ferocity. No one noticed that her hits lacked force, when she botched a hand sign, or her slower movements. No one noticed that Sakura had tears in her eyes as she left that day, just the way she wanted it.
When she went to see Tsunade after training with her team, she couldn't hide any of this from her shishou, nor was that her intention. She entered the Hokage's office without her usual smile or bounce in her step. "Good morning, Shishou."
The Godaime looked up at her student's lackluster greeting and frowned. Where was the chirpy voice with a sing-song lilt? Where was the flouncy way the young woman entered a room? Where was the brightness that Sakura seemed to bring with her wherever she went? It had been absent for a few weeks, which Tsunade had attributed to a spell of being down. After all, teenage girls had their moments when they were just depressed. But the older woman was beginning to worry. When Sakura turned to face her, the Hokage's frown deepened when she noticed the dried tear streaks and the puffiness in her apprentice's eyes. "What's wrong, Sakura?"
Sakura couldn't help the sad smile that came through at her master's straight forward attitude. She was thankful for it since she had no idea how to bring the topic to her Hokage's attention. She gingerly sat in the chair in front of Tsunade's desk and had to blink rapidly and bite her bottom lip to stop the tears from flowing again. She wrung her hands and then knotted them as she took a deep breath to steady herself. "Well, I have something to tell you. I don't know how you'll take it, but I have to get it off my chest."
The amber-eyed Hokage didn't like how this was sounding, but held her tongue so her apprentice could speak.
"I think I need to leave the village for a while."
Tsunade slumped back in her chair, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape. That had definitely been unexpected. She had expected maybe Sakura had a crush on a boy who broke her heart or someone had died on her operating table. But this? This was something she never thought she would hear her student say.
Sakura saw the shock on her shishou's face and hurried to explain. "I do have good reasons, I assure you." She drew another calming breath and began to speak her piece. "I feel empty here, like there's something I'm missing. I've always been loyal to Konoha and my friends, family and teammates. I thought being a kunoichi was what I always wanted. And I do. I love my job, my position, the people I come into contact with, I love this village. But there's more to life. There's a whole world out there that I only see as a shinobi and I want to see it as a normal person. I want to travel without looking over my shoulder or worrying about the high-ranking official I have to spy on. I want to find out who Haruno Sakura is once you strip away the headband. You did the same thing, so you can understand right?"
Tsunade understood all too well. She also knew there was more Sakura wasn't telling her. Sakura fidgeted when something was on her mind, and the way the young woman couldn't sit still was a clear indication of more to it. "What else, Sakura?"
The pink-haired woman's fidgeting intensified and Tsunade returned to her pre-shock position, sitting forward with her hands folded under her chin. Sakura let out a sob before she was able to speak properly. "I fell in love with Kakashi-sensei."
The Hokage was floored for the second time that day. When the hell had that happened? She certainly didn't recall any signs that Sakura had feelings for the Copy Nin which, when she thought about it, would explain the young woman's recent withdrawal. She had bottled it all up, knowing nothing could come from it and it had eaten at her. "Sakura, why didn't you tell me? I can certainly transfer Kaka-"
"NO! Don't get mad at Kakashi-sensei, it isn't his fault. He doesn't even know!" Sakura had hesitated saying anything for this very reason. She didn't want anyone to think Kakashi had any hand in what was happening with her.
"He never did anything to give you hope or cause this interest?"
"No. He's been the same apathetic, lazy, time-challenged jounin since the day I met him." Her green eyes locked onto a spot over Tsunade's shoulder as she spoke. "I thought it was just some harmless crush, you know? I figured I'd give it time and it would fade, but it grew in intensity and I don't know what to do anymore. When he's around I can't concentrate, my hands sweat, my heartbeat increases and I blush every time he looks at me or speaks to me. And the worst part is, I can't do anything to rectify it. What I told you earlier is true, I do want to travel and find myself. The Kakashi situation is merely the catalyst."
Tsunade thought over her student's words carefully before a small smile broke out over her features. "I had a crush on my sensei when I was your age."
Sakura gaped. "Sandaime?!"
Red painted lips pulled down into a frown. "He wasn't always an old man." She leaned back and clasped her hands over her abdomen. "I thought he was amazing. Deadly, precise and still kind and generous. What's not to like about that, right? But it was short-lived and I knew it was only a crush. Many girls develop crushes on men who hold positions of power, teachers are the most common ones."
Sakura gave her first real giggle in ages. "I had a crush on Iruka-sensei when I was eight."
"But that was different. I thought 'Oh, he's so cute!' but that was the extent of it. I never entertained fantasies of us being together. I can't help but picture little pink-headed girls with dark eyes and silver-haired boys with green eyes running around and Kakashi and I on the porch of a house, gazing at each other lovingly. And I know I'm much more of a romantic than I should be and it's silly, but that's the image that pops up most of the time." Sakura blushed at her unintended statement. Really, her fantasy world was not supposed to come up in conversation.
A blonde eyebrow rose in amusement, but dropped as she caught Sakura's beet red hue.
"So all of this leads you to the conclusion that you have to leave the village?"
Sakura nodded. "I don't know what else to do. It hurts too much being here and seeing Kakashi everyday and knowing I can never be with him."
Tsunade smirked. "What makes you say 'never'?"
Sakura looked up wide-eyed. "It's taboo for a student and teacher to have a relationship."
The smirk widened. "Well, it's taboo if the pair is still teacher and student at the time of the relationship, but as far as I'm concerned Kakashi is only your team leader. I'm your sensei. And ninja become of age once they reach jounin status."
Sakura's hope skyrocketed. "So if I become a jounin, it's possible?"
The Godaime sighed. "Don't get ahead of yourself. Problem number one, is that you're not ready to be a jounin. I won't promote you unless I'm absolutely certain you're ready. You're close, but not quite there yet. Problem number two, is even if you were a jounin right now you are still very young. Remember there's a fourteen year age difference. I'm fine with it once you're older, but people would not look kindly on a couple consisting of a sixteen year old girl and a thirty year old man." Tsunade watched the light snuff out in Sakura's eyes and stood to come in front of the desk. She leaned back to rest on it and Sakura recognized the position. It was what Tsunade did when she wasn't giving advice as the Hokage or her shishou. She was just a woman with more life experience, a mother of sorts, trying to help a young woman with her problems. "I didn't tell you all this to build you up and knock you down. I told you this because in a few short years, you will no longer be a child. You will be a jounin, a stunningly beautiful adult jounin who will have her pick of any man in this village. If you can be patient, I'm sure things will work out for you."
Sakura smiled lightly at the kind words. But staying around and having her heart crack day after day for a few years was not an appealing prospect. Plus, that didn't help her find out who she was underneath the title of ninja. "Until then, may I have your consent to leave the village? I promise to keep you posted on my whereabouts and I will rush back should you need me. But I feel like I have to do this."
Sakura smiled fully at the warm hands that came to rest on her shoulders. "I'll miss you while you're away, Sakura."
"Thank you so much, Shishou."
"Don't pack your bags just yet. I want you to take this list. It has friendly territories and places to avoid. And money. Do you have enough? You won't be able to take any freelance missions."
Sakura jotted down a figure on a scrap piece of paper and held it out towards Tsunade. "I live in a dump even though I hold a high paying position at the hospital and save all of my mission pay. I think I have plenty."
Tsunade looked at the number and smiled. "You must live frugally, Sakura. I don't think most of my jounins have this much money and they earn exceptionally high salaries if they're elite. You'll be fine on the money front."
Sakura looked at the older woman hopefully and Tsunade sighed before pulling her up and into a hug. "Be safe, Sakura."
"I will, Shishou."
The Hokage pulled back and made her way back to her desk, sitting down and digging into her paperwork without looking at her apprentice again. "Go on before I change my mind."
Green eyes sparkled as Sakura smiled at the gruff tone. "I'll miss you too, Shishou."
Sakura took one last look at her empty apartment and smiled. She was feeling relieved already. She had been moving her things into her parents' old house over the past few weeks so it wasn't too hard to get the last few boxes out before she had to get going. Sort of a pity she had that apartment in the first place. She only moved in six months prior, just before her parents announced they would be moving and she could have their house. But the lease had already been signed and she was stuck with it. She had dreaded them leaving to move into that apartment in the outpost town, but it seemed it was a blessing in disguise. Without any sort of rent to pay, that would help her finance her trip. She stopped at the house to make sure nothing was around that could cause a smell and then threw the master breaker so no electricity would be flowing. She had just one more stop to make and then she was on her way.
She found Iruka at the academy, just as she had expected. "Hi, Iruka-sensei!"
Gentle brown eyes looked up in surprise and he smiled at his former student. "Sakura-chan, what brings you here?" He pushed aside the papers he had been grading and turned his full attention to the young woman. He took note of her travel pack and quirked an eyebrow. "Going on a mission?"
A secretive smile graced pink lips. "Of sorts. Could I ask you for a huge favor? I'm afraid I just can't make it to the Hokage tower." Truth was, she couldn't look at her beloved mentor again without breaking down. Also, the more she lingered in the village, the higher her chances of running into someone who would ask too many questions, namely Naruto or Ino.
"Of course! I needed to go there as soon as I was done with these papers and hand in final grades to Hokage-sama. What did you need?"
Sakura knew final grades were due today, which is why she was visiting her old sensei. Being the Hokage's apprentice had its advantages. She pulled a video from her pouch and set it on Iruka's desk. "Would you give this to Tsunade-shishou for me? Please tell her it's for Kakashi-sensei, Naruto, Sai, Yamato-taichou and Ino. The names are also written on the case if you forget."
Iruka gave her another bright smile and Sakura wondered if he really was as happy as he appeared. "Not a problem. Good luck on your mission!"
"Thank you so much, Iruka-sensei! Till next time!" And she was gone in a swirl of sakura petals.
Sakura took to the rooftops to avoid even more people. She still had about five hours of daylight so she could get a good start on her trip. She would probably only head to the outpost town to visit her parents before taking off for good. She pushed a bit of chakra into her feet, her excitement rising as she spotted the huge gates to the village. And then she faltered slightly, heart sinking to her stomach, as she saw him. Kakashi was lazing on a rooftop, one knee bent and his other ankle perched on top, 'Icha Icha Tactics' in one hand, the other hand pillowing his head. How he had the audacity to lounge around on someone else's roof always amazed her. But then again, not many people would say anything to the legendary Copy Nin. He moved the hand behind his head out to give her a slight wave which she returned and then she shot off quickly, hoping he was only noticing her chakra and not looking at her. If he had looked he would have noticed her pack and asked where she was headed.
As soon as she made it to the gates, heart still racing from seeing Kakashi, she gave a sigh of relief. She had made it. Izumo and Kotetsu merely waved, wishing her a safe trip and then she pushed more chakra to her feet and took off. She felt the breeze whip through her hair as she bounded from tree to tree, a smile creeping to her face. She was free. Free to go where she wanted when she wanted. Free to do as she wished. She pulled the headband off and placed it in her pouch and pulled out a plain, black hair band, the stiff and curved kind normal girls wear, and placed that in her hair. She was just Haruno Sakura now.
Iruka made it to Tsunade's office fairly early. The teacher was afraid he would have to spend most of his evening in the academy grading papers since the words had started to run together. But a burst of energy had struck and he had finished in no time at all. After giving his end of year report he was standing to leave when an unfamiliar weight in his pouch caught his attention. "Oh I almost forgot. Tsunade-sama, Sakura asked me to give this to you. It's for Kakashi-sensei, Naruto, Sai, Yamato and Ino. I thought it was strange, but didn't want to pry."
The Hokage took the tape and nodded. "I see. I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. Shizune!"
The brown-haired woman stepped into the room. "Hai, Tsunade-sama?"
"Please gather these five and bring them to my office."
Shizune found Naruto first since he was entering the tower as she was leaving. "Oh, Naruto-kun! I was looking for you."
The Kyuubi-container's eyes lit up. "Is there some super great mission baachan needs me to complete?"
"Uh, no." At his pout, the young woman continued. "But, I could use your help. I need to find Ino, Sai, Yamato and Kakashi. Could you help me?"
"So it is for a mission!" The blonde looked up in excitement and Shizune sweat dropped.
"Still no. But she does need you all gathered for some information she has."
A little confused at the odd turn of events he tilted his head to the side. "Wouldn't she need Sakura-chan, too? And why Ino?"
"I honestly don't know the answers to those questions. Will you help me?"
Deciding the quicker they were all assembled, the quicker he would get his answers, the young man shrugged. "Sure. I've got Ino and Kakashi-sensei covered."
With a nod, Shizune took off one way and Naruto the other. He found Ino quickly at her parents' flower shop. "Hey, Ino."
Surprised at his entrance, the Yamanaka girl blinked quickly. "Naruto? What are you doing here?"
"Tsunade-baachan needs us at the tower. It isn't a mission, but Shizune-neechan says she has information for us."
With a quick nod, she took off her apron and disappeared in back for a second before hustling out the door with Naruto. "I still have to find Kaka-sensei before we head back."
Ino had heard plenty from Sakura about their sensei's lazy habits, so while Naruto scanned the streets, her eyes were darting rooftop to rooftop. "There. On that roof."
Sure enough, the Copy Nin was still lounging on the same roof as before, book over his face as he rested his eyes. Before Naruto could snatch the book from his face, the jounin's hand covered his book. "Something you two need?"
"We've been requested at the tower, Kakashi-sensei." Ino chirped happily. She didn't have a crush on the shinobi, but she could appreciate a prime male specimen and despite the baggy clothes he always wore, she was pretty sure underneath it all was Grade A material.
"Ah, you two go on ahead. I'll catch up."
Naruto shook his head. "No way. You'll show up late and baachan says she has information for us and I sure as heck want to know what it is. Especially since Sakura wasn't mentioned and Ino was requested. Plus, it's all of us. Yamato and Sai are supposed to be there, too."
The book was removed from his face and his eyebrow furrowed. It was certainly out of the ordinary and had him baffled as well. "I just saw Sakura earlier heading to the gates. She was probably picking up the afternoon reports for the Hokage. And if that's the case, she probably wasn't requested because she's already there. But a large group is unusual." He put a hand to his chin in thought and Naruto sighed.
"Well, the sooner we get there the sooner we find out. Let's go!" He waved at his sensei to get up and after much sighing on Kakashi's part and eye-twitching from Ino, the trio were on their way.
"Glad you finally decided to join us." Tsunade set her harsh gaze on Kakashi. "No doubt the wait was your fault."
He merely shrugged. "My apologies."
With an eye roll, Tsunade popped the video into the VCR. "Okay, here's what's going on. Hear me out. Do not overreact, Naruto. I know how you are. This is very important to Sakura-chan so you must listen before flying off the handle."
The mention of the absent cherry blossom had everyone slightly perplexed. What exactly did she have to do with all of this?
The Hokage continued. "Haruno Sakura has requested to leave the village for an undetermined amount of time."
A chorus of gasps sounded around the room and Tsunade raised her hands to signal for quiet. "She needed to do some soul-searching and I can certainly relate to that. She wanted to get out into the world and do a little growing up before she returns. In addition, she had fallen in love with an older man and needed to get away, knowing there could be no relationship between them at this point in time. I listened to her description of how she felt around him and I can safely say it is love." Was she saying too much? She honestly didn't think so. And if she dropped hints and had Kakashi thinking about her gorgeous apprentice, maybe it would help push him in the right direction when she returned, right? That's what she was hoping for. After Sakura's fantasy description she was kinda looking forward to those cute little kids she could spoil. And kids between those two would be some formidable shinobi. "Do not go searching for her. Sakura needs to do this and I have given her my permission."
Ino's leg was bouncing in a display of nerves. "What about income, Hokage-sama? She'll need money."
Tsunade smirked. "It seems our little cherry blossom is a saver. She earns a very high pay rate at the hospital being one of my top medics and our most requested one. She saves all of her mission pay. And she isn't one to spend on frivolous things, case in point her tiny apartment. I saw how much she has saved. It rivals some of my top jounin salaries."
Yamato spoke next. "Is she aware of dangerous places to avoid?"
A nod from Tsunade. "I handed her a list of allies and enemies before she left. I also informed her of places that were borderline allies and told her she could travel there as long as she kept her shinobi status secret, just in case. She left me this tape to play for you all." She pushed the play button and left, Shizune following behind her. The two women had watched in private while waiting for Kakashi, Naruto and Ino to arrive and couldn't watch again.
The screen flickered to life and the group watched in silence as Sakura appeared. Well, most of the group. Naruto loudly pointed out the obvious exclaiming, "It's Sakura-chan!" before Ino bopped him in back of the head and hissed at him to shut up.
Sakura fidgeted in her seat and smiled nervously. "I guess if you're watching this, I've been given permission to leave the village. Please don't come looking for me. I need to do this on my own. I need to know who I am under the shinobi title. I've been a ninja so long and worked so hard at becoming stronger that this is all I have right now. Each of you has a hobby or something you enjoy, but I worked so much that I didn't have time for a hobby and now..." she trailed off uncertainly. "I just need to get out there and do non-ninja things for a while. Please don't be angry with me for not giving you all a proper goodbye. I knew it would hurt too much and I knew some of you wouldn't let me go."
Naruto muttered, "Damn straight." and Ino bopped him again.
She took a deep breath to steady herself and started with her individual good-byes. "Yamato-taichou, you've been a wonderful friend and trustworthy team leader. I wish you nothing but the best and please make sure Sai doesn't get into trouble."
"Sai, you are socially retarded." The young ROOT member blinked while everyone else tried to cover their snickers as coughs. "But you've grown on me. If you have questions about relationships, ask Yamato-taichou. Naruto would lie just to see you get slapped. And remember that the most important things can't be learned from books."
"Ino, no pig you are not replacing me!" She scowled slightly before a smile took over again. "But please look after these guys if they need it. You don't have to hunt down Kakashi-sensei like I used to. Tsunade-shishou has agreed to look after him. Despite all our disagreements over the years, you are still my best friend and I still love you, Ino-pig. See you when I get back!"
"Naruto, you are the idiot brother I never had. Don't eat too much ramen while I'm gone! And please don't go looking for Sasuke." She averted her gaze to the floor. "You know after all that has happened things will never be the same. He'll never be welcomed back into the village and will most likely be put to death for his treason. I love him just as you do, as a teammate and friend, but sadly that's all in the past and the best we can do is remember him as he was back then. On a happier note, talk to Hinata! Love you and see you later!"
"Kakashi-sensei." Her voice broke and she started to wring her hands. "Just be careful when you go on missions and please make sure to go to the hospital if you're injured. Please!" The sobs started in harder and she was struggling to speak amidst gasps and sobs. "Don't you...dare...die on a mission...while I'm gone! You better...be there...when I get...ba-a-ack." She took a moment to calm down and started speaking again. "Don't read too much of that 'romance' crap." Kakashi smiled at her air quotes. "That stuff will rot your brain. And we don't want that genius mind to go to waste." She managed a watery smile. "I love you too, Kakashi and take care."
She gave a little wave before another fit of sobs took over and she stood to turn off the camera.
They all sat for a minute in shocked silence before Kakashi noticed Naruto clenching and unclenching the arms of his chair. "Calm down, Naruto. She'll be alright."
There was a moment of calm before Naruto stood and flung his chair against the wall. "DAMN IT! Why did she have to leave? Couldn't she find what she was looking for here? Weren't we enough for her?"
Yamato tried his hand at calming the youth. "It isn't as simple as that, Naruto. She cares about all of us. But there are some things that just can't be figured out in one's hometown. Sometimes people need to get out and see new things, new ideas, new ways of life to find out who they truly are. If she had stayed here, she would have ended up stuck in her same routine day in and day out. She wouldn't have figured out anything."
Ino added. "She will come back. I know Forehead and she loves this place with all she's got. Plus all of her friends. We've had our differences and our feuds, but she's always been the most loyal friend I've ever had. She'll come back to us, don't worry."
Naruto took a few breaths to calm himself. "I know. I know she'll be back, but..." He trailed off to gather his thoughts. "What if she's attacked or what if she gets hurt? What if she falls in love with some great people somewhere else and forgets all about us?"
Kakashi took on his teacher voice. "You know Sakura-chan better than that, Naruto."
The blonde withered under his sensei's intense gaze. "I know."
Ino's lips quirked into a mischievous smile. "I'm interested in knowing who this older man she fell in love with is! She never mentioned anything."
After a moment of thought Ino's eyes lit up. "Ooh, I wonder if it's Iruka-sensei! When we were eight, we were all discussing which sensei we thought was cute and she said Iruka-sensei was cute."
Tsunade entered the room at that moment. "It's not Iruka. I know who it is and I'm not saying."
Ino pouted. "Aw, but Hokage-sama!"
"No whining, Yamanaka. My lips are sealed." The Hokage took her seat and sighed. "So, there you have it. My apprentice has gone off into the world to find herself. And don't think you can find her real quick and convince her not to leave. Iruka brought this tape in for her and said Sakura was leaving when she gave it to him. She's long gone by now. She promised to keep me updated on her whereabouts and if she's needed she'll return. But just leave her in peace until she's ready to come back, please. Dismissed."
The group left and Kakashi felt slightly guilty. If he had been paying more attention, he would have noticed Sakura's travel pack when he spotted her earlier. And all he did was give a half-hearted wave to his former student, and who knows when he would get the chance to see her again?
Sakura made her way through the outpost town. Dusk was beginning to set and she was getting excited about seeing her parents. It had been almost six months since they had left Konoha and she hadn't had a chance to visit and they hadn't had the finances. As she passed an apartment complex, she looked up and saw her mother's silhouette in the window. That hand on the hip and hair flip was undoubtedly her mom exasperated with something. She jumped up onto the second story balcony and knocked on the window. There was a shriek she recognized as her mother's and then her father's large form came up to the window. Sakura put on a bright smile as her father opened the window for her.
Her mother grabbed her in a tight hug and giggled happily. "Oh, sweetie I'm so glad to see you!"
She moved over to hug her father and after being nearly suffocated in his burly arms she looked up to find him frowning at her. "Don't you ninja ever use the door?"
Sakura gave him a cheeky smile. "On occasion."
Mrs. Haruno rolled her eyes. "Oh, for Heaven's sake. Come on. You're just in time for dinner." A thought struck her and she turned to face her daughter. "Do you have time or are you on a mission?"
Sakura sighed. "I'll explain at dinner."
And explain she did. She even told them about how she had fallen for the Copy Nin, which caused a deep frown from her father but a happy squeal from her mother who insisted that was a good catch once she was old enough of course.
And after a visit that lasted well into the night, Sakura agreed to spend the weekend with her parents. Or being bullied into it, as the case may be. She happily flopped onto the cozy bed in the spare bedroom and slept soundly for the first time in weeks, excited about where she would travel next.
A/N: Reviews are appreciated, if you have the time! Smooches!