Disclaimer: this is my impression of not owning Naruto... oh wait, I reallly don'town Naruto.

"Naruto!" Sakura screamed, her feet flying across the floor of the cavernous room. Later she would see the huge demonic carving, with all nine eyes shattered and burnt, but for now she could only see one thing. Her teammate's body was too still, too silent. Why didn't he get up? The Naruto she knew was never quiet, never so still.

Beside her, she felt Kakashi falter a step, and she surged ahead.

"Naruto!" she shouted again as she reached his side, flinging herself to the ground.

Naruto's face was ashen and unresponsive to her voice. Green medical chakra blossomed at her fingertips, and she ran her hands over his prone body, searching for injury. Please, let me not be too late. Why wasn't he moving?

He was covered with superficial cuts and scrapes, bruised ribs, and at his leg she felt a broken bone. Wait. Naruto never had broken bones or superficial lacerations for long—the Kyuubi's chakra insured that. But deny it thought she tried, the cuts where there, as was the broken bone. That meant only one thing. Sakura ripped open his tattered orange jacket, staring at Naruto's exposed stomach. It wasn't there. The Kyuubi's chakra should have been pouring through Yondaime's seal, making it visible on Naruto's skin, yet his stomach was smooth and unmarred... just like his face. Sakura's thumb brushed aside a layer of grime and dried blood from his cheek, hand shaking. The three deep marks on each cheek were gone.

He was de—

"No!" Sakura whispered. He couldn't be dead. Cause if he was dead then she was the only one left. If he was dead, what would she say to Iruka-sensei? Tsunade-sama? How could she face them? If he was dead, Ichiraku Ramen would go out of business, and Naruto would never let that happen! He couldn't be dead because he hadn't fulfilled his promise to her yet. He hadn't become Hokage yet! If he was dead she could never tell him how much she lo—

"Sakura."

She looked up, hands still surging green chakra over Naruto's chest—he's not dead, he's not dead—to see Kakashi standing at her side. For some reason, he looked older, far older than he should and there were circles beneath his eyes. He put a hand to her shoulder.

"He's gone. Let him be."

"Hell no!" she shouted, tears blurring her vision. "Naruto owes me dinner, and I sure as hell won't let him get away without paying up!"

Her blond, hyperactive teammate had tried to hold her hand that night when she'd been forced to pay for them both due to Naruto's binge at Ichiraku the day before. She had punched him halfway across the street for that bit of boldness. How she wished now she had let him....

"Sakura, we have to report back to the village. The Akatsuki have what they need now—"

"Screw the Akatsuki!" Sakura whispered, her voice thick. She laid her ear against Naruto's chest, listening for a heartbeat, a shallow breath, anything.

Nothing.

Sakura swallowed the tears that rose again. She had to be strong. Kakashi-sensei needed her to be strong. He thought she didn't see the gloved hand he brought furtively to his eyes, but she did. One of her hands slid down the length of Naruto's arm, interlacing her fingers with his.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. She sat back on her knees, scrubbing at her eyes, and then leaned down to lift Naruto's shoulder. They wouldn't leave him here. His body was too big for Sakura to carry without impeding her movement, so she tried to lift him by the arms so that Kakashi could get him on his back.

As she was waiting for Kakashi to move and re-secure the rations pack he had strapped to his back, Naruto slipped from her grip a little and most of his weight shifted to his broken leg.

Like an electric shock, Sakura felt a shiver ripple through Naruto's body then with surprising strength he threw himself back with a bellow of pain that made her ears ring.

They both fell back to the rocky floor with a jaw-chattering thump.

"Damnit! That hurt, Sakura-chan! What did I ever do to you?" Naruto rolled away from her clutching at his knee above the break then wincing and holding his bruised ribs.

He was alive.

Sakura didn't even register the thought that propelled her through the space between them, but suddenly his face was between her hands and she brought her lips to his in a forceful kiss that knocked their teeth together. Time stopped and for a few moments Sakura could only hear one glorious thing: the steady beat of his heart.

"Uh, Sakura?" Kakashi prodded her shoulder, and she looked up, blushing, suddenly aware what she had done.

"Yes?" She tried to act casual, as if she was always kissing blond, mostly-dead teammates in front of her sensei.

"He needs to breathe."

Sakura looked back at Naruto, who was turning purple, and she realized she was lying across his chest, no doubt crushing his bruised ribs. Hurriedly she backed away and began applying chakra to his wounds.

"Ugh. I feel like sh—" Naruto paused and looked up at their two faces. "What's the big deal? Did someone die?"

"You did, you idiot!" Sakura snapped. "It's a miracle that you're alive. It's a good thing that stupid fox woke up otherwise..." She trailed off as she noticed that the whisker-like marks on Naruto's face had not returned; nor had the black seal on his stomach. "It's... gone?" Sakura looked to Kakashi who had squatted beside them.

"Naruto, can you sense the Kyuubi?"

Naruto stared off into space and was silent for so long that Sakura, in a moment of pulse-pounding panic, thought that oxygen had been deprived to his brain too long while his heart was stopped, and he was brain damaged and Tsunade-sama would never forgive her—

"It's… gone," he said finally, in a subdued voice. "Akatsuki had me, like they had Gaara. They were sucking it out of me. It hurt… really bad, and I felt myself dying. Then … something happened. It backfired."

"What do you mean?" Kakashi said intently.

Naruto fidgeted with the torn threads of his black t-shirt. "A while back… when we were looking for Sasuke—right before we fought that Akatsuki guy with the orange mask—I met Itachi in the forest."

"Naruto!" Sakura whispered, horrified.

"What did he do to you?" Kakashi said in a grim voice.

"Nothing! Well, nothing dangerous, I think… he didn't attack me or anything… he… he said that he gave me some of his power." He licked his lips, which Sakura noticed were dry and cracked. She handed him her canteen, and he took a few grateful swallows. "So, yeah… he gave me his power—which felt really weird—and then he left. He said he hoped I never had to use it. I actually kind of forgot about it until after the fight with that masked Akatsuki and then all that other stuff happened. Pervy Sage…" He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I was a little embarrassed. I mean, who would believe me anyway?"

"Sakura?" Kakashi looked at her.

"Right." Sakura focused her medical ninjutsu over his chakra networks, searching for anything that might show what that murderous bastard had done to him. She felt something strange, then. Naruto was covered with microscopic bruises emanating from his chakra network. Tomorrow by this time he'd be black and blue all over simply because it looked as if chakra had been pouring out of every single pore of his body. What in the world…?

"Naruto… It's… it's like your chakra exploded out of you… an extremely powerful blast. No wonder your heart stopped. You used all your chakra in that one jutsu." She shook her head and scowled at him. "Whatever it was, it was really dangerous."

"But I wasn't doing any jutsu, Sakura-chan!" Naruto protested, trying to sit up, but Sakura forced him back down, her healing chakra still working on his broken leg. "I told you, I was half unconscious from the pain… it felt like they were trying to turn me inside out and I could feel that bastard fox tearing at me as he left." He rubbed a hand through his hair. "I don't understand. Did Itachi save me?"

"It is possible…" Kakashi said in a thoughtful voice. "You two don't know this but Itachi was in my ANBU squad before the Uchiha Massacre. When that happened, I was probably the most surprised of anyone. Itachi was quiet, yes, and a brilliant ninja, but I never would have suspected that he'd be capable of such an atrocity."

"Sensei, are you saying that Itachi was… good?" Sakura said, eyebrows furrowing.

Kakashi shook his head in a thoughtful manner. "I'm not sure. Nothing can forgive the murder of innocents—but I do wonder if there was some other force at work. After all, he didn't kill Sasuke. Perhaps what drove Itachi was not madness but something else." He glanced at Naruto. "Perhaps in some way he saw you as a force for good… something that might save Sasuke from himself and so attempted to give you something that would help you survive should the worst happen and you be captured by Akatsuki."

Naruto rubbed his head as if it ached. "I don't know… can we go now? This place gives me the creeps."

"Can you stand?"

Together, they lifted Naruto to his feet, Sakura letting him lean on her as they limped to the cave entrance. Sakura tapped her radio in the "rendezvous" signal and received acknowledgement from Yamato.

"So… Sakura-chan," Naruto said as they walked. "Was I dreaming or did you… you know… kiss me?"

There was no avoiding the question as he was draped over her shoulder, and it wouldn't be very sporting to punch him—he had only just gotten back to life after all. Perhaps bravado was the key here.

"Your point being?" she said, her cheeks matching her red shirt.

"Sakura-chan likes me! Sakura-chan likes me!" Naruto said in a sing-song voice.

"Naruto!" Sakura growled.

"Sakura-chan likes me! Sakura-chan likes me!"

Sakura stopped dead and flung Naruto's arm from her shoulders. He stumbled slightly and looked alarmed. Sakura took a step closer, then another. Naruto limped backward, putting up his hands.

"W-w-wait, Sakura-chan!"

She took another step.

"I'm injured already! Give me a break! P-please?"

Sakura reached Naruto and flung her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. "I'm glad you're alive."

"Heh, me too…" He awkwardly patted her shoulder, clearly relieved.

Sakura gripped him harder.

"Uh, Sakura-chan, that's starting to hurt—"

Sakura looked up at him, eyes blazing. "If you so much as hum that little ditty you were singing just now when we get home, that kiss is going to be the last good memory you'll ever have! Got it, baka?"

"Y-yes, Sakura-chan!"

"Good." She smiled, slung his arm around her shoulder, and together they caught up with Kakashi.


A/N: This was an odd little oneshot for me. It literally came out of nowhere while I was standing at the copier at work. Of course, it'll be obsolete in a couple of weeks probably due to the fast moving things happening in the manga right now, but I still felt like posting it. Thanks for reading.