AN: I'm back again.
~KuroiTori-sama: Haha, yes, the inspiration certainly does :)
Thank you to all who gave me much appreciated feedback on Sakura's mother, you have no idea how relieved I am to hear you like her.
Now there is this one question I have been asked quite a bit by many readers, however I won't discuss that until after this chapter :)
Funnily enough I'm yet again nervous with submitting this final chapter, and I hope you enjoy it.
Update: Just a few typo fixes I missed from my proof reading.
Epilogue - The Day We Depart
The Konoha cemetery to the stranger's eye was an unexpectedly welcoming place. There were two sections, a lower section which had the numerous aisles of small memorial tombstones, and an upper area that was accessed via a grand marble stairwell. The only object in the upper area was a grand flame memorial, which represented the Konoha's will of fire. The cemetery was bordered off from the rest of the village by a tall wooden boundary in the lower section, with a single entrance that was always left open. The upper section's boundary was enclosed by a marble wall.
Within one of the aisle's stood Kakashi, who was postured in a way that everybody who knew him could recognise. His slanted, reminiscing posture, as he stared at a meaningful memorial of his past. This one was a lone small tombstone. The flat marker styled grey stone held little uniqueness, bar the name engraved upon it. There were two small freshly picked red flowers emplaced into the ground before it, brightening up the otherwise mono-shaded grave.
Soft footsteps on the grass nearby caught the scarecrow's attention, however he did not look in the area it was coming from as he addressed the person, "Hello Sakura, what brings you out here?"
Sakura was wearing her red vest with white shirt underneath it, along with her black skirt and sandals. She smiled at her sensei, not startled by how he knew it was her, "I just came here to visit my father's grave, Sensei. I only noticed you when I was about to leave."
"I see." He replied, as a calming silence fell before them.
Not too long, Kakashi asked, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm feeling much better thank you."
"I heard you still have to take medication though?"
"Ah, it is not really a major concern though. I still have some of the poison in my system, however its side effects are pretty much non-existent. You can almost look at it like an ordinary illness."
"Is that so? Well that is a very big relief to hear."
The silence yet again returned, allowing the bird's chirps in the distant trees to be heard. Taking a couple of steps forward, Sakura was now standing right next to her sensei, however she was continuing to look up at him. It was almost as if she was asking for permission. Meeting her sensei's eye smile, Sakura turned to the grave and looked down at it.
She didn't speak the name aloud, but her mind spoke the person's name which she had grown so much interest for the past couple of weeks. She didn't need a verbal confirmation, Sakura just felt in her heart this was 'her', that person Kakashi still denied ever existing to Sakura's face.
After she stood there by her sensei's side for some time, Kakashi turned and exited the cemetery with her.
Once they had crossed the threshold, Kakashi addressed his student, "So how are you and Naruto going?"
Deciding to leave the sadness behind them, Sakura gladly answered, "Things are going really great sensei. I introduced him to my mum the other day."
Quickly getting Kakashi up to speed, the scarecrow gave an eye smile, "Sounds to me like they got on very well."
"Mm, I'm very glad about that."
Feeling there was more to be said, Kakashi waited as he watched his student study the ground in deep thought for a moment.
Finally, Sakura met his eye in slight hesitance, "Sensei, there is something I need to talk to you about."
"It's about back in the forest, before you guys regrouped with me and Naruto."
"Is this about your argument?"
"No sensei, it was before Naruto even regained consciousness."
Seeing Sakura yet again pause, Kakashi decided to ask his own question, "Is this something Naruto knows about?"
Her eyes widening in surprise gave him his answer already, "N-No, I was going to mention it to him back then, because it was kind of the reason I was really upset when he woke up. My situation though from the poison stopped me from being able to explain. Now I think he has kind of forgotten about it."
"And you wish to run it by me first?"
"Well kind of."
"It must be something very bad then. However, you do remember what I told you-"
"Hai, I do. But I-…I'm afraid what it would do to him if I tell him."
Realising that she was falling into the same trap again, she looked up at Kakashi, "I want to be honest with Naruto, but I-…."
"-Yet at the same time you wish to protect him from things. That is all perfectly fine, just as I told you before. Feeling cold feet as well after such time has passed also is normal, since many people wish to bury the shadows of the past behind them. Do you feel this is such a memory?"
"I-…No, this is something very, very important. I feel this can't be ignored."
"Then have faith and trust Naruto, and tell him first."
Sakura opened her mouth to reply, but her hesitance made not even a whistle come out. Kakashi decided to add, "Remember, being honest with Naruto will not only strengthen your bond, but also strengthen your relationship."
Slowly closing her jaw, Sakura felt her resolve strengthen, and her face showed it as she nodded, "I understand."
"Do you still wish to tell me?"
Waiting a moment to think, Sakura answered, "Maybe depending on what happens, if you don't mind of course."
"I will pretend we never had this conversation then."
"Thank you so much sensei for reminding me. This time I will not forget."
Turning and walking now down another street from Kakashi, Sakura's composure was firm, 'I will go talk to Naruto about it. I know he hasn't forgotten, he never does about things that mean anything to him. I will tell him about Sasuke-kun, and…'
Sakura blinked as she found herself before Naruto's apartment door once she came back to reality. Bottling down her nerves, she raised her heavy hand and banged against the door a little too loud to be considered normal.
Hearing the sound of Naruto's muffled mumbling on the other side, Sakura waited as the door was opened to reveal a half asleep Naruto, wearing a loose brown shirt and pants she assumed he slept in.
She felt her sweat drop at his appearance, as he dazed sleepily into her eyes and yawned out, "Hey Sakura-chan, what's happening?"
"I forgot it was so early." Sakura muttered to herself, as she brushed off the matter and showed her apology.
"Sorry to wake you up Naruto, but can we possibly go for a walk?"
Mouthing out 'walk?' over another yawn, the blond quickly shook his head to wake himself up, "A walk?"
Now that the grogginess that was blurring his eyes had cleared from a quick rub, he became aware of her firm and determined filled expression, "What's happened Sakura-chan?" He asked, now fully awake and no longer slouching.
"I still owe you an explanation." Sakura was right to have guessed Naruto hadn't of forgotten, as his face showed understanding.
"O-Oh. Sure- umm, just give me a sec to get changed." Once Naruto had thrown on a black shirt with his traditional orange pants, they walked towards what Naruto noticed was the front gates.
Sakura didn't know why she was leading them here of all places, but somehow her legs had brought them to this spot. Sakura had brought them to the last place she saw Sasuke before he left for Orochimaru. Sitting down on the very same bench she was left on unconscious long ago, she admired the morning sun peaking over the trees before them.
Feeling the need to lighten the mood once Naruto sat next to her, she smiled at the view, "It's a beautiful morning don't you think, Naruto?"
Looking at the sun, Naruto didn't quite feel that 'charm' to it, "Yeah, it's alright I guess."
Feeling an opportune moment arise, Naruto looked to Sakura. Jiraiya these past few days had been yet again lecturing him about 'chatting up the ladies', and to his shock and disbelief, the blond actually listened.
Deciding since Jiraiya had been right as far, Naruto gulped as he decided to try what his 'knowledgeable' master had said, "It's not as pretty as someone else I'm looking at though."
Sakura snorted in surprise, as she blushed and instantly covered her mouth to hide her beaming wide smile and laughter. The result only made Naruto's stomach turn as he furiously scratched his head.
Sakura still hadn't calmed as she cackled over her soft laughter, "Ha-ha!-Y-You really suck at f-flirting, baka-hehehe!"
Naruto just laughed in return, while inwardly he felt humiliated, 'Stupid Ero-sennin and his stupid ideas! Bah! Now I looked like a loser.'
"Hehe, my bad Sakura-chan."
"What? Don't be silly! You were being sweet, Naruto."
Sakura replied back over her calming giggles, as Naruto was in shock, 'That lame and corny crap actually works? Seriously?'
While Naruto was struggling to accept his discovery that Jiraiya's lines were now proven to be successful, Sakura decided to bring up the point of why they were here.
"While this is becoming quite fun, that's not why I brought you out here, Naruto."
Stifling his bewilderment, Naruto's face became neutral as Sakura stared at the ground for a moment in consideration.
Looking up at Naruto's calm oceanic blue eyes, her lips parted, "While you were unconscious, Naruto, I…I saw Sasuke-kun."
Nara Shikamaru sighed as he entered the corridor to the hokage's office as he did every time like it was his routine thing to do. You would think he would be able to cloud gaze in peace after his mission for at minimum a week or two, but oh no, Tsunade would not have it. His lazed slumber was interrupted by an ANBU coming to inform him his presence was required at the Hokage's office immediately.
The groan that escaped his lips mimicked perfectly the same expression he did to the ANBU in response. Why did it have to be so early in the morning? To his own confusion though, his father was pushing him to hurry as if it was important. The shadow user found this peculiar because his dad had long given up trying to lecture him about importance, why was this announcement any different? He didn't even receive a scold or insult from his 'guest' this time. That alone made some alarm bells ring in Shikamaru's head.
When he knocked on the door to enter soon after, he wasn't as shocked when he discovered the room was full of people.
This all looked very familiar to him. At least twenty jounin's were standing by the border of the round room, encircling him and Tsunade's desk in the centre. His father was standing there as well amongst the group, looking at him with an expression Nara Shikamaru was a stranger of.
The shadow user didn't ponder how his dad beat him here, since even Shikamaru acknowledged he took his time on possibly the longest route to the hokage's tower. Facing Tsunade who was sitting ever so comfortably behind her desk, Shikamaru decided to be the one to speak first.
"What's going on?"
Tsunade's eyebrow perked, "Need I have to spell it out for you? Surely you of all people are smart enough to work out what is happening here."
"I might be able to, but that is just too troublesome."
Several groans from the people who knew Shikamaru buzzed around the room, however Tsunade gave an amused 'Hmmph'. She decided to make this official with her standard 'hokage' voice, "Nara Shikamaru."
"You have been a chuunin for well over two years now, and have taken lead in most of the missions you undertook. Your only failed mission as a chuunin was your first, otherwise your record has been outstanding. Time and time again, you have continued to demonstrate to your comrades your solid leadership, your intellect, and your abilities in creating cunning and well thought out strategies at the blink of an eye."
Briefly pausing for a moment, Tsunade asked, "Are you aware of the requirements of becoming a jounin?" Deciding for the first time not to be witty, the Nara shook his head, which seemed to have made his dad release the breath he was holding in.
Tsunade however gestured for him to have a guess, which the Nara responded by furrowing his brows in thought, "Chuunin's usually had to go through the Chuunin exams to receive promotion. While it would make sense to have the same kind of thing for Jounin's, logically it would not be the best approach."
"Oh?" Tsunade mouthed out, urging from the Nara to continue.
"Jounin's are the elite of any shinobi village, it would not be wise to publically show their talents in a public event such as the chuunin exams. We would be revealing our best to possibly our future enemies. With that in mind, it would make sense for some kind of in house examination."
"Very right way to look at it. However, there is no unified or official means to becoming a jounin."
Blinking, Shikamaru then shrugged, "So every village has a different way of determining how to become a jounin?"
"Correct. Some have internal exams, some give the promotion out after a certain amount of missions. They really are all different. Konoha also is different in how it judges, although some question if we are bit too exclusive."
At mention of 'exclusive', Shikamaru began to show more interest in the topic as Tsunade further explained, "We believe a jounin is an individual who has proven they possess outstanding capabilities both in strength and intellect. A Konoha jounin is a shinobi that has the ability to lead and coordinate with any team arrangement at top efficiency to ensure the best achievable outcome. It is also expected that a jounin is suitable for teaching and guiding a newly formed genin team, so that their students may in the future become similar or even surpass their sensei's talents."
Shikamaru summarised to what he understood from that, "So a jounin is someone who is powerful, intelligent, has the ability to lead and work with others, and is capable of passing their skills on to the next generation?"
"In a nut shell, yes."
Tsunade then raised her hand, "To be eligible for a jounin position, we have several requirements in place. Firstly you must have at minimum completed twenty missions as a chuunin, the number going up or down depending on a mission's rank. You also are expected to have successfully completed a mission of A rank or higher, and produce an exceptional end mission report for it. More importantly however, you require the approval of your comrades of equal or superior rank."
Shikamaru's eyes casually glanced to Kakashi, then to his own sensei, Asuma. Now he knew why Tsunade ordered him to produce a report along with Kakashi. The hokage had done it so he would qualify, and the shadow user was none the wiser.
"You have passed all of those requirements now Shikamaru, or at least your comrades believe such from you."
Tsunade's hand now only had her index finger remained risen, "There is one special requirement before all of that however, and that is if the individual themself believes they are suitable for earning the jounin rank."
Suddenly feeling exposed, the shadow users eyes widened as Tsunade's in return narrowed firmly, "Do you believe you're suitable, Nara Shikamaru?"
There was a heavy silence lingering around the room as Shikamaru cursed the sudden tense spot he was put in. The dozens of eyes all staring at him in expectation only made it worse. Finding it better to contemplate, the Nara closed his eyes for a moment. While doing so, Kakashi had looked up from his Icha Icha Paradise book now in interest.
Asuma was standing next to him, also looking at his student from long ago think, 'He has the opportunity being offered right to him. One would think you are a fool to refuse such an offer, but...'
The Nara appeared to have relaxed, as his shoulders slackened. His calm eyes then opened, as he gave his definite answer.
Several surprised mutters were heard around the room, as the Sarutobi sighed, '...But they aren't Shikamaru.'
Silencing the crowd by clearing her throat, Tsunade, with an intrigued grin to Shikamaru's surprise, asked the question all wanted to know, "Please explain, and it best not be its too troublesome."
As if all official standings were thrown out the window, Shikamaru stretched and rubbed the back of his apparently sore neck.
Shikamaru sighed, "Well I can acknowledge my intellect. However, I'm no guy worthy of being a jounin. I tire easily, and have dismal stamina which I rarely seek to improve since it's such a pain. Sure I work together with others and lead on missions, but me going as far as to teach a generation or two of genin? It would be a very, very troublesome drag. Being in Asuma-sensei's position and financial status is something I would rather avoid. It is a responsibility I know at this moment I simply could not do as well as my old sensei."
Said jounin grumbled into his hand, 'Why I am not even surprised at this truly baffles me. Should I also take that as a compliment or an insult what he said about me?'
Kakashi seemed to have expected it all, as he had cheerfully returned interest to his reading. Shikaku's shoulders fell in disappointment. He should have known his son better, as this very much was the type of response Shikamaru would give. Anything to avoid a 'troublesome' situation was something Shikamaru always would take rather than the alternative.
Tsunade still to the Nara's surprise was grinning, "Well it's rare to see such self-criticism from someone in your position. You have made your point though, you are not Jounin material."
'This entire discussion was for my own interests on just how your ever so complicated mind works.'
Tsunade then smiled, "However it is clear you are above a chuunin level in certain areas, which is why I have called you here today."
Silence fell once again, as Shikamaru gaped in now pure puzzlement.
Did Tsunade know he was going to do all of this?
"W-What do you mean?"
Temari shouted out in disbelief, and not for the reason one would expect. Shikamaru and his father had returned to the Nara household after the gathering the Hokage's office, and were now sitting at the family table with Temari.
Looking to Shikaku who was sitting next to his son across the table from her, Temari tried to get an answer, "D-Didn't you say the hokage was meaning to promote him to a jounin?"
Shikaku just eyed his son, who was masterfully ignoring the attention by admiring the 'beautiful' ceiling, "That was correct but…well, look who we're talking about again."
Doing as Shikaku rhetorically stated, Temari groaned into her hand, "You have an amazing point there, Shikaku-san."
Shikamaru at last grew uninterested in the ceiling and upon his bored onyx eyes falling on Temari, the Suna-nin happily began her traditional insults.
"You really are a lazy grouch!"
Shikaku's presence almost was an afterthought, as she quickly added, "Not being disrespectful of course, Shikaku-san."
"By all means, pretend I am not here."
Shikamaru shrugged uncaringly, "You were nagging me to get a promotion, as troubling as it is, that did happen."
"Yes, but I meant a jounin!"
"Special jounin to me has a nicer ring to it."
Temari easily read Shikamaru's sarcasm, "I'll give you a better definition of what that 'special' stands for."
Shikamaru used his grand skill to tune out the next several sentences of scolds directed his way. He wasn't going to argue, he had made up his mind and gave his reason as to why he believed he was not prepared for that kind of role. The shadow user himself was amazed with how serious he was with those beliefs.
His ears switched on again when he heard the Suna-nin mention someone, "Does Yoshino-san know about this yet Shikaku-san?"
"I don't believe so."
"I best find her immediately- Yoshino-san!" Shikamaru's head hit the table as Temari got up and searched for the one person who could give him more misery than even she could.
"If she can get up and walk around so easily why doesn't she go back to Suna already?" the disgruntled Nara mumbled into the table, as his father looked down to his son.
"Congratulations on your promotion, Shikamaru." The shadow user waved his hand lazily in acknowledgement above his head, before it lifelessly fell onto the table.
Shikaku however was not finished, "Did you really mean what you said to Tsunade-sama?"
"For the third time now, yes. I am fully aware of the responsibilities a jounin is expected to do, and I also know that I'm not there yet. Someone two years ago said to me that if my comrades are really important, that I should consider that I can become greater for their sake."
Sitting up straight now, he met his father's eye, "I feel that before I deserve such a rank, I must better myself even further for the sake of my comrades that I will be leading in my missions, and also in the students I may teach someday."
Shikaku's jaw hung wide at Shikamaru's words that he almost swore was too serious or responsible to be that of his son's. Shikamaru had just quoted what Shikaku said to him after he failed retrieving Sasuke.
Shikaku finally gave a pride filled smirk, "Well, I cannot argue with the person that told you that, you probably should listen to that person more often."
"He only occasionally says stuff I can agree with."
Shikamaru was more than satisfied anyway with his promotion, even though he didn't exactly want it. Special jounin's are given to chuunin's who have proven themselves to be at jounin level in certain areas. They are eligible for undertaking S ranked missions, which in Shikamaru's case isn't particularly any different to what he was used to. Temari still calling for his mother got his attention made Shikamaru groan once again.
Shikaku chuckled at his son's antics, "You really can't stand her, huh?"
Shikamaru felt he didn't require a response to that, while his father snickered, "You always going to let women bully you?"
"Not this conversation again."
"Well I'm impressed to see you can handle so much."
"I've learnt from the best when it comes to surviving overbearing women."
When Temari appeared to have gone outside the residence, Shikamaru sat back up, "Hey, dad."
"Why did you fall in love with mum?"
Raising an eyebrow, Shikaku looked plainly at his son, "This question again?"
"No, before I asked you why you married that troublesome woman. " Shikaku's other eyebrow raised now in interest, before they lowered.
Long accepting his son was baffled about the topic of women, Shikaku eyed out the window, "I was intrigued by your mother's charming personality, not to mention she was and still is quite a beautiful woman."
Hearing his son's nose scrunch up, Shikaku's eyes became firm, "You asked a question, I gave you an honest answer. What were you expecting to hear?"
Shikamaru dodged the question, "Mum? A 'charming' personality? You sure you aren't mixing grumpy and charming up?"
"As I told you long ago Shikamaru, no matter what kind of woman she may be, she will show her nice side to the man she loves."
Shikamaru was about to retort as he froze in remembrance. How could he have overlooked what he had witnessed develop the entire time of his mission. His father eyed his son's expression for a moment to conclude it was a look of confusion, before turning to the window again in disappointment.
"Perhaps you still aren't old enough to u-"
Shikaku span his head around in disbelief to see his son grinning at the table, "Somehow, I actually understand what you mean now, dad."
Growing very suspicious of his son, Shikaku's arm fell over Shikamaru's shoulder as he leaned down, "Shikamaru, is there something you wish to tell me?"
"Really? These questions regarding 'love' and the ever popular topic 'understanding women' just right now are simply for your education?"
"Wasn't it you who said I could ask you any questions I didn't know?"
"Don't turn this around on me, Shikamaru."
"You're becoming troublesome."
"Who isn't troublesome to you?"
'Real answer, nobody.' Shikamaru mused, but didn't answer that aloud.
"What? I simply said I finally understand what you mean now. That is all."
"Alright then." Shikaku said dismissively, however Shikamaru just felt the expression was feint. Right now though, Shikamaru had more issues to be concerned about when he heard the voice of his mother calling from outside, "Shikamaru has been promoted!"
'Oh, what a drag!'
The morning sun had barely moved from its position overlooking Naruto and Sakura, however Sakura could have sworn the sun was doing the reversal of what it should be doing based from the icy cold air blowing by. Concluding her story to Naruto, both teens were then met with the muted stillness of the early morning. Naruto's concerned gaze had not faded since she mentioned 'Sasuke-kun', and since it appeared he was still catching up, she tried to speak.
"That is why I was so upset when you woke up, Naruto. I-I know it's something I should have expected him to say, b-but-"
"I'm really sorry you had to hear him say all that Sakura-chan."
Meeting his soothing gaze, Naruto looked at the line of trees before them, "Sasuke kind of said the same to me back when we fought back at the Valley Of The End. No, actually he never spoke them, but I could just tell when we were fighting…he was really serious."
Shivering at a cool breeze, Sakura clenched her hand in hesitance to what she was about to say next, "Naruto, I-…"
"You don't want us to chase Sasuke anymore?" Sakura gasped in shock that Naruto yet again read her as perfectly as he gave a knowing grin.
It relaxed her enough to speak, "I'm afraid, Naruto. I even hate myself for feeling this way, but I just feel right now that bringing back what team 7 used to be is just a false hope I'm clutching onto."
"It's not only your dream." Naruto coolly stated, which Sakura quickly acknowledged.
"I know that Naruto, it's a dream we both want. However, I really am beginning to have doubt. Not in you or me, but in everything else. Sasuke-kun's position right now is not exactly something easy to undo, dare I say it's near impossible."
"Not easy doesn't mean it can't happen."
"Naruto, please. He has tried to k-kill you more than once, and attempted to kill me as well. I looked into his eyes when he asked me if I really wanted to understand his situation Naruto. He meant it, he was going to kill you right then to make his point. How can we reverse all of that?"
"But if we leave him be Sakura-chan, what about what that bastard snake will do to him?"
Expecting this entire situation to happen, she tried to argue back despite Naruto dodging her question, "I know if we don't act Sasuke-kun would be in trouble. This is not easy for me to say or think, please believe me on that. I want us to save him and bring him back so badly, but I-…I don't want to see any of us get hurt or even worse just trying to do it."
Naruto didn't miss that Sakura deliberately was avoiding saying what she truly meant. One of them dying, and that was including Sasuke.
The blonde's eyes flickered to show his resolve, however Sakura misinterpreted it as frustration, "I know you don't agree with me. You probably are really disappointed in me saying this, but it's what I truly feel Na-!"
She was stopped when his comfortable hand cupped her cheek, as he grinned widely, "What is there to hate about someone being honest?"
Sakura's eyes went wide as her lips parted to allow a sharp intake of air, as he continued with those capturing strong eyes still looking into hers, "I felt the same, you know? When everybody tried so hard on that mission, when I failed in keeping my promise..."
His hand slowly fell, while Sakura continued to lock her eyes with his as Naruto didn't stop speaking, "Maybe I was being childish, but I even pictured how it would all go down once I bought the teme back when I made that promise to you. He would have acknowledged me at last, you would have been happy, and the team would have all been back together again. That didn't happen though, and you have no idea how much that hurt that I had let you down when I saw you again."
"Even though I know you were trying to cheer me up that time Sakura-chan, I could see it so clear how upset you really were, regardless of how well you tried to hide it from me. It was though when you tried to accept it that I couldn't save him and forget about it, that I knew I was not going to give up on chasing that dream."
Sakura's eyes fell, "So you are seeing this as that situation again? I always saw it as Sasuke-kun being taken against his will, even though I heard him speak to me that night, insisting it was all him. I couldn't accept it. I'm not as oblivious or naive as I was back then Naruto. "
"But I can see it Sakura-chan. Although you are telling me all this, a part of you does not want to call it quits."
She met his eye again, but didn't reply. Sakura wasn't going to debate over that fact, she knew it was true.
Naruto gave his signature grin, "Alright, I won't pretend I don't know it and I will admit it. I know it's not going to be easy, the teme never has been one to fit into that word anyway. The odds are against us in every way, but as long as there is the tiniest chance that we will make that dream happen, then I damn well am going to give it everything I have to make it come true."
Stunned by his strong words robbing her from the cold, Sakura remembered to breathe as she exhaled deeply, "Jeez…you really have a way to make me feel terrible in my way of thinking."
"Eh? That's not what I was trying to do Sakura-chan. All I am asking is that you believe the same, it's our dream after all. I can't make it happen without you."
Smiling, she slid her hand from her lap to grasp over his on the bench. Not a single word was said in their still locked gazes of each other.
Sakura didn't need to give a verbal answer, Naruto already knew he had brought back her resolve, 'I don't know how we will make it all come back to normal again, but just somehow, together. We will make that dream happen.'
The next day…
Sakura was enjoying the view from the balcony outside of her room, recollecting the events from yesterday with Naruto and herself.
"Sakura! You have someone here to see you!" Her mother called from downstairs.
"I'll be right down!" Sakura replied, quickly walking back inside and began heading towards the stairwell leading to the store.
Halfway down the flight of stairs, she froze to becoming aware of two anomalies. The first being the strong scent of sake intoxicating her nostrils, the second being the twisted and flirtatious tone of a pervert coming from down the stairs.
"So you're her mother hey?"
"Indeed I am."
"Well I certainly see where she gets all her charms from, although it appears she didn't inherit all of them unfortunately, hehe!" Sakura by this time had sped down the stairs and flung open to door to see what she feared.
It indeed was Jiraiya casually leaning over the counter with an ever too wide for comfort smirk.
On the other side, there was Kangimo covering her embarrassed smile as she was giggling, "Why thank you for the compliment."
"It's my pleasure, Haruno-'chan', heh-!"
"OH JIRAIYA-SAMA! What a pleasant surprise!" Sakura harshly interrupted, almost tackling the sannin while the 'sama' revealed her murderous thoughts.
Neither the puzzled Kangimo nor Jiraiya could fit in a word as Sakura literally dragged the sannin out of the house briskly, while feigning a cheerful tone, "Let's talk while going for a nice walk! I'll come back soon, mum!"
Kangimo could barely wave and mutter a baffled fair well before Sakura had dragged Jiraiya past the window and out of sight. The moment Sakura couldn't see her mother, she slammed the sannin against the wall of her neighbours home, somehow resisting the urge to put chakra into it. The concern more so being for her neighbours misfortune, not Jiraiya's.
Jiraiya by this time had recovered from his shock as he processed that flat and firm word which was just barked at him. Sakura's glare was even adding more confusion as he shrugged innocently, "No what?"
Sakura raised her index finger as if it was a kunai to his face, "My mother is quite old fashioned and doesn't see what you are doing. But I damn well can see it very well."
"Stay away from her, she has no interest in finding anyone." She warned, while Jiraiya gaped now in comprehension.
He soon followed with that smirk he was giving Kangimo before, "Oh come on now. You can't keep our sparkling and lively passion apart forever!"
"W-What passion? You never were together in the first place! You just bloody met?" She hissed back, while Jiraiya was already enjoying this entire situation.
"You should be proud, I could very well become your stepfather, now wouldn't that be some grand bragging rights?"
Sakura literally was struck in pure terror by that fact, but she recovered with a crack of her trembling knuckles, "Say that again Jiraiya-'sama', I dare you!"
Jiraiya felt his sweat drop as he waved a hand defensively, "Hey-hey! I was only kidding now."
"You damn well better have been!" Jiraiya could have sworn he saw fire erupting out of the 'green eyed monsters' mouth when she growled out that retort.
Deciding it was best for his health to stop playing this dangerous and lethal game of what he was starting to dub 'Sakura roulette', Jiraiya's jest disappeared with a serious expression.
"I did not come with the intent to meet your mother anyway. I have come to tell you something."
"You're leaving?" Sakura repeated the words Jiraiya had told her.
Only it wasn't to Jiraiya, and they were no longer in her street. It was to a backpack carrying Naruto, and it was before the wide open gates that was the entrance to Konoha. Sakura knew this was going to happen eventually, but she never imagined it would be happening all so fast. It only had been an hour since she was told.
Despite Sakura's face showing her disbelief and melancholy, Naruto gave his ever bright fox smile in an attempt to brighten the mood, "Hehe, yeah, I'm surprised too. Ero-sennin just suddenly busts into my apartment and tells me to start packing."
Sakura and Naruto weren't the only two there. Further away, standing closer to the gate was Jiraiya and Tsunade. The latter appeared to be holding a contemplating thought as she listened to Jiraiya, "I've spent too long away now, not to mention the gaki and myself have a lot of work to do. Then I need to do some investigating on something that I discovered from the swordsman."
"The Sandaime Mizukage you mean?" Tsunade blandly responded in little interest, while Jiraiya looked to the teens.
"Naruto! We'd best get going."
Caught off guard by the sudden prod, Naruto span his head around to quickly nod, "J-Just a second Ero-sennin!"
Turning back to Sakura, Naruto chuckled, "Sorry-Stupid Ero-sennin." Sakura smiled in response, although she struggled to make it fully genuine.
She thought two years of wanting to see Naruto again to talk about what she discovered was unbearable, but now Sakura knew that these five months were going to make the past seem like a joy ride.
Five months sounded almost like a lifetime.
Trying not to ruin the moment, she took a step forward and wrapped her arms around him, "I'll miss you, Naruto."
Stunned by just how much meaning was on her words, Naruto was delayed before his arms hugged her back, "It's nothing to get down about Sakura-chan! Really, I'll be back before you know it." Naruto weakly beamed, while his hand rubbed up and down her back in comfort, reading her inner thoughts ever so well.
Finding it hard for either to let go, Naruto whispered into her ear, "I'll miss you too."
Breaking apart at last for their dispirited eyes to meet, both had trouble releasing the others hands. Sakura's head leaned in a fraction, but the butterflies in her stomach made her freeze from her ears picking up the sound of people behind them.
They were in public. Their agreement on discretion wasn't the cause, it was more so the self-awareness to it. Naruto was feeling the same way, only since he was facing that direction he revealed his self-conscious expression to the villagers. Like he ever was one to care about other people's impressions before. The villagers didn't even care he was there, yet he still couldn't do what both were wishing for. It had led to an awkward stare off due to neither having the ability to act. After a very tense minute, Naruto slowly pulled away his hand's hold of Sakura's, and began walking towards Jiraiya.
Sakura felt her heavy and disheartened eyes meet the ground, as she gave a sad smile.
The heart crushing scene made Tsunade curse the entire unfair situation, but she knew it had to come down to this. Jiraiya gave a very displeased grunt, as he began to pretend rolling up his sleeves.
"What are you doing?" Tsunade asked, while Jiraiya began to stomp his way towards Naruto.
"Making sure my gaki has a pair."
Naruto deeply exhaled. How he was going to go the remaining time like this was an obstacle he didn't know how to beat. Perhaps if he focussed all of his time onto his training, he could somehow manage. His deep thoughts had made him unaware of Jiraiya approaching him until he walked right into Jiraiya, who then took advantage of Naruto's misstep and span him around.
Naruto barely muttered out the 'what?' in his cry as Jiraiya pointed at Sakura, "Man up!"
"I said man up and kiss her you wimp!"
Naruto felt a sudden tremendous force push him forward as he hastily tumbled back over the short distance. Sakura had only become aware of his presence when she looked up to yelp in surprise and raise her hands to thump into Naruto's chest.
Both teen's looked wide eyed and agape at each other in their semi embrace, until Sakura's surprise morphed into a sheepish smile. Naruto lost himself in her emerald orbs, as his hand delicately threaded through the back of her shoulder length silk like hair, before gently bringing her head forward for their smiling lips to meet.
Once that magnificent contact was made, it was as if the scenery around them had faded away, and all that remained was the other, which made the fond kiss deepen. Jiraiya admired his handiwork with an approving nod, "That's more like it."
Tsunade smiled at the young couple, while walking next to Jiraiya, "I rarely say this to you…but good job."
Sakura felt her lungs begging for oxygen, but she didn't give a damn. She was going to pass out before she was going to pull away. Even when Naruto parted away for just a moment, Sakura sharply breathed in fresh air before diving back into his lips welcoming smooth texture. Still gripping onto his jacket tightly in fear that Naruto would run away, Sakura reluctantly backed out from the kiss, only to be taken by surprise when Naruto now was the one not wanting the kiss to end.
She lightly giggled against his lips, feeling the heat of his blush radiate against her own which only fuelled their passion. Going weak in the knees possibly due to lack of air, Sakura was now only being balanced up by Naruto's securing hold. The two were so occupied with their kiss, they never even heard Jiraiya's brief howl, before Tsunade abruptly silenced him with an elbow. Once their lips parted, both teens deeply breathed in the intimate air and opened their eyes.
Sakura barely was given time to recover as Naruto gently pulled her head in once again, only this time his emotion filled lips met her forehead. It was so overwhelming, that Sakura couldn't stop her own emotions from taking over, as her eyes were watering. She felt Naruto brush away the lone tear that escaped with his thumb automatically, as he cursed while backing away.
"Bah, you cry so easily Sakura-chan. You're making me look bad with my promise about that you know."
Sakura giggled while studying his blissful and soft oceanic blue eyes, "I'm not crying because I'm upset, Naruto."
"This again? How the hell can I tell the difference? Make it more obvious or something!"
Sakura only giggled louder, "I can't exactly make it any more obvious, you baka."
While she was laughing, Sakura snuggled into the blonde's neck as she had grown to do at habit, soon regaining her composure.
"I love you." She whispered, while feeling Naruto's stroking hand still threading through the back of her hair.
"I love you too, Sakura-chan."
Tsunade almost felt herself spring a tear, however she resisted firmly. Jiraiya to even his astonishment hadn't written a thing down into his notepad, instead he was grinning wide at the couple. While Sakura and Naruto were talking, Tsunade was hearing a very different conversation that happened so long ago.
"Will you write to me?" Sakura asked, only to soon sense Naruto's puzzled gaze looking down at her.
The voice Tsunade was hearing sounded very similar to Jiraiya, 'With Konoha's victory, will it end like he said?'
Feeling the need to clarify, Sakura repeated, "Will you write to me? You know, tell me what you are doing, or how you are going, anything. I don't mind. It can even be in that terrible handwriting of yours, it doesn't matter."
'When that happens, what are you going to do? Go on another journey?'
Tsunade recognised that voice as her younger self.
Naruto was about to genuinely respond, until he processed what she said and pouted, "H-Hey! What's wrong with my handwriting!"
'Maybe…Travel some more, and maybe write a book.'
The pair's laughter was dulled out by Tsunade's reminisce, 'Why won't you just settle down in the village?'
'I feel I haven't met it yet…' 'Your fate, you mean?'
"It's a promise then, Sakura-chan. I will write to you as often as I can. Will you do the same? You know, write to me as well? I'm sure Kosuke wouldn't care about doing a trip back?"
Tsunade's recollection started yet again, however to a time after a great blood shed had finally been concluded, 'What will you do from here on?'
"Of course I will, silly…"
'Who knows…I'll probably travel more. A place where I'll have a chance to run into a pupil who will change the world.'
"I guess this is it now, Sakura-chan."
"Ah…I'm really going to miss you these next few months, Naruto."
'Is that your destiny, Jiraiya?'
"Damn it." Tsunade suddenly blurted, causing Jiraiya to turn in her direction perplexed, "You say someth-"
"Sakura!" Tsunade over spoke Jiraiya, while walking up to the pair of embraced teens.
Sakura pulled her head out of the cuddle to look blankly at her master who walked right past them, "I need to speak to you for a moment." She announced with no signs of leeway in that sentence.
Sakura looked back to Naruto in hesitance, however Tsunade assured, "Don't worry. He isn't going anywhere just yet. Right, Jiraiya?"
Jiraiya blinked at just how stern his name was mentioned and just nodded, "Ok?" Reluctantly, Sakura backed out of the hug and tried to catch up to her hastily walking away master.
"Tsunade-sama?" She called out, however Tsunade wasn't slowing down.
"Let's go somewhere in private to talk."
Watching the pair leave, Naruto scratched his head, "What's going on Ero-sennin?"
"Beat's me gaki, but I have a bad feeling Tsunade will break me if we don't do what she said."
The training grounds of Konoha were quite abandoned at this time, with the exception of one spandex wearing chuunin, furiously bashing a well dented tree while calling out a triple digit number. A presence approaching Lee from behind did not break him from his aloud counting.
It was Tenten, who was wearing an expression of disapproval, "Really Lee, don't you think you're over doing it just a little?"
Who was she kidding? She knew Lee's crazed antics more than anybody else, but she felt it was always worth a try.
Lee switched into furious kicks as he hastily declared, "I fear I am not satisfying what I need to keep my word. I shall not slow down my training until I know I'm prepared!"
After a solid kick that made the tree emit a loud groan, Lee paused in his exercise, "Because Naruto-kun is my comrade. I need no further reason other than that."
Resuming his kicking, Tenten sighed deeply at his typical display. In a blink of an eye, Lee's senses suddenly screamed danger as he on reflex jumped to his side, to see a sharp kunai fly straight past him and plant itself into the tree.
Spinning back in puzzlement to his teammate, he saw Tenten smirking while holding a fresh kunai, "Well I guess there is only so much benefit you can get from bashing a tree all day, and frankly it's boring my brains out."
Understanding what his teammate was implying, Lee fell into his stance with an ecstatic grin, "YOSH!" While the pair began their spar, Team 8 was now visible on the field not far away. Kiba was awestruck by what he just witnessed, and was pointing his finger at Lee and Tenten.
"D-Did you see that? Is everybody on that team a bunch of loonies? She threw a freaking kunai at his back and he didn't care?"
The ever so calm bug user lurked over his shoulder and explained in his monotonous voice, "You simply do not understand how their comradeship works, how do I know this? Take our friendship for example-"
"AGH! Would you stop doing that 'I'm creepy' thing, Shino!"
The Inuzuka shouted in surprise, jumping away from his apparently sulking teammate, "-We still are yet to reach a mutual understanding…"
Recovering from his shock, Kiba turned serious, "Anyway, we have our own agenda, don't we Akamaru?"
The dog barked his approval, while formed a fist, "Like I'm going to continue to let that Naruto steal the damn spotlight from me time and time again! More importantly, we've got a score to settle with those Akatsuki bastards."
Hinata silently nodded, however Kiba wanted to see more enthusiasm from the heiress, "Isn't that right, Hinata?"
Naruto let out a great big yawn as he stretched against the building he was sitting up against by the gate. It had been two or three odd hours now since Tsunade had disappeared with Sakura. The sun had shifted now into the early afternoon, and to top it off he was starving. Jiraiya who was standing next to him had his arms crossed impatiently.
"What on earth is going on, Ero-sennin?"
"For the billionth time gaki, I have no clue."
Focussing his gaze in the distance, Jiraiya pushed off the wall, "About time." He mumbled, as Naruto heaved himself up on his feet.
Walking back into the middle of the pathway, Naruto narrowed his eyes to focus on Tsunade and Sakura. As the pair walked closer, Naruto was able to see Sakura was different from before. She was carrying a backpack, along with an encased thin scroll attached across her lower back like Jiraiya had. It also appeared she had changed into her shinobi attire.
Blinking in puzzlement, Naruto voiced his question when they were close enough, "Are you going on a mission, Sakura-chan?"
Jiraiya however, was holding more of a frown than confusion, "Tsunade, what are you thinking?"
Naruto looked up at the toad sannin further confused as to why Jiraiya sounded so serious, and then he looked back at Sakura. She was smiling at him unbelievably happy unlike what he saw before.
"What're you going on about Ero-senni-"
"-Piece it together, you dense idiot." Jiraiya retorted, which made Naruto gasp. Wide eyed now, he returned to Sakura's gaze, silently mouthing out a question in disbelief.
Sakura's slow nod made his heart skip a beat, as his hung wide jaw began to perk in growing ecstasy.
He only could mutter out a surprised but cheerful cry before Tsunade approached Jiraiya, "I have a few things to talk to you about."
The elderly shinobi walked a little further down the path, as Naruto's smile had fully surfaced, "R-Really- You mean-?"
"Naruto, even I don't fully know."
Flashback – Within Konoha, three hours ago
'Where is Tsunade-sama taking me?' Sakura asked herself, as she silently followed the hokage around the village. Recognising the path they were taking, Sakura soon could see the hokage's tower getting closer, and closer. Tsunade had taken them right to the very top of the building, and Tsunade was now leaning on the rail staring out to the village with her face still showing contemplation. Sakura, still confused by all this was standing not far behind her.
"Come here, Sakura."
Tsunade kindly gestured to her side, which Sakura obeyed, however still at attention. Tsunade grinned, "There's no need to be so formal, just relax."
Leaning over the rail as well, Sakura repeated the question she had been mentally asking herself since they left the front gates, "What is going on, Shisho?"
"Quite sudden all this happening, don't you think?"
"You don't want him to leave?" It was a stupid question, but Tsunade knew what she was doing.
Sakura's eyes fell to looking down below the tower, "I really wish he didn't have to, but I just know that it is for the best that he resumes his training with Jiraiya-sama."
"Is that so? Well that's quite the right way to look at it." Tsunade acknowledged, as she faced her village's direction again.
Tsunade then eyed Sakura in interest, "I have been considering sending a medic-nin with them."
The sharp gasp from Sakura amused the Godaime while she continued, "From all I have seen and heard it is quite clear those two are bloody reckless, as I should have known to begin with. They show little care for their well-being, and are going to pursue in training that can be quite dangerous. Then of course there is the Akatsuki. I'm not in any mood to receive news one of them has been gravely injured."
Tsunade waited for her apprentice to react, which Sakura did once she shook away her surprise, "I-It would make sense for that to happen. Shizune-sempai would be good for supporting them."
Tsunade's eyebrow rose in curiosity, "Indeed, Shizune accompanying them wouldn't be such a bad proposition. I actually was going to tell Jiraiya about it before they were going to leave. But now…I am starting to think there is someone more suitable for this task."
Sakura yet again gasped, now standing as straight as she possibly could while staring in disbelief at Tsunade, however she couldn't speak. The overflowing rush of sudden shock was the cause to her mute. The Godaime deliberately didn't add anything, waiting for Sakura to at least say something. When her throat went dry from remaining agape for a while, Sakura choked before being able to form a word.
"T-Then- you mean…" Tsunade now faced her awestruck student with an expression that Sakura could read clearly.
Tsunade saw conflicted emotions flicker over her apprentice, as Sakura turned to grip the rail, "I-I-I-"
Sakura's grip tightened enough that her hands were trembling, "I can't!"
The pained declaration caught Tsunade a fraction off guard, "Why ever not?"
Sakura looked back up to her masters neutral gaze, "I-I have my duties here! T-There's the hospital that needs me, I promised I would teach Moegi-chan medical jutsu. I-I…I need you to still teach me everything you know so I can be ready to help Naruto."
Sakura's hands were still clenched tightly on the rail, as if to symbolise her inner conflict, "I really appreciate the thought Tsunade-sama, b-but-…"
"Hmmph, it's a relief to see you still are thinking responsibly and rationally. I can admire you for that." Sakura paused in bewilderment at that comment, while the hokage addressed her concerns.
"Even if you did not go, there would still be a medic-nin out of the hospital who did go. As for this pupil of yours, which mind you, has me very interested to hear more about, there are many things that can be done for that. What have you taught her thus far?"
"U-Umm, I have only really started teaching her the basic medical jutsu."
"That is something that takes great amount of time to master as even you should be able to recall, unless she is as gifted in the area as you are. Either Shizune or myself can more than happily aid her for the time being while she is doing so."
"But Shisho, that still makes me look and feel bad."
"You can speak to her about the situation. Moegi's an understanding girl, she won't be offended."
Tsunade then moved on to the final obstacle, "Then there is your training."
Tsunade rubbed her temple in thought, "Tell me, what is it that you are hoping to learn under my guidance?"
Sakura didn't know what to say to the question, which Tsunade could see and tried a more direct approach, "Do you wish to become me?"
"What is it that you don't understand about that question? Do you wish to know everything I know to essentially become possibly my successor? Or do you have something else in mind?"
Attempting to collect her beliefs, Sakura finally responded, "I…"
Shaking her head clear of its clouded thoughts, Sakura focused on the one ambition she knew definitively crystal clear, "I have a promise that I made. A promise I made that swore that the next time Naruto tried to save Sasuke-kun, we would do it together. I also made a promise I would protect them from harm. You have taught me so much Tsunade-sama, you have given me the strength and ability to move closer to those wishes than ever before, but I just feel it is not enough. I want to learn more, and more. I don't want to stare at Naruto's back when he fight's, I want to fight with him, to help him, to protect him. I don't wish only to become your successor, Tsunade-sama. I want to surpass you in every way possible."
Sakura concluded with her firm and resolute eyes just showing how much every single word she just said meant. To say Tsunade was impressed by her apprentices display would be a serious under exaggeration, she couldn't be any more proud of Sakura for having the courage to say that to her face.
For some reason she did not know why, she worded out her thoughts the day Sakura had asked to become her apprentice, "You must be desperate too."
Sakura did not respond to Tsunade's comment, while Tsunade turned to head for the stairwell, "Follow me downstairs."
Quickly jogging up to her master's side, Sakura further protested, "But shisho, I must-"
"If your desire is to surpass me, then all the more reason for you to continue your training while traveling with Naruto and Jiraiya."
"…I don't understand."
"You've learnt a great deal this past month with Naruto, both in your knowledge to being a medic-nin, but also the supportive teammate you wish to be. From what Kakashi has told me, he can be a great inspiration for you to push yourself. So I see good use to take advantage of that. I have taught you mixtures of basic to complex medical jutsu, the rest are skills you will develop based from your understanding of the field from experience. I have given you the slug contract, which is an entire avenue of jutsu and knowledge for you to explore there. You also know how to use your chakra control both for a supportive and fighting role. Finally, you know a selection of genjutsu that you mastered through your own desire to learn, along with Kakashi giving you guidance. Of course there are many more areas I could teach you, but none that will be of significant benefit to you for what you desire in such a short time period."
Now half way down the tower, Tsunade entered into the hallway heading towards her office while continuing, "To sum it all up for you, I have given you the knowledge and abilities you need to branch yourself off from following my path to lead down the one you wish for. For instance, you adapted mizu bunshin as a means to put your medical talents to far greater use. Similarly, you realised your limitation with your combat ability was your stamina and agility, so you found a means to try and improve yourself in that weakness."
Idly staring at one of the weights she still was wearing on her wrist, Sakura could comprehend what Tsunade was telling her, however she still was hesitant to all this.
"Why are you offering me this, Tsunade-sama?"
Tsunade did not answer her until they had entered into Tsunade's office, "For two reasons. The first being because I have faith in that you have great potential, the second being…a personal reason." Sakura's eyes partially widened to her master's second statement, which Tsunade did not elaborate on.
Seating herself behind her desk, Tsunade sighed, "So what is your final answer?"
"I…I will do it."
"Excellent. I have a few things I need to get ready for you before you leave. Take this time to get ready and do what you have to do. Be back here in three hours please, I shall have a few things prepared for you to learn on your journey."
Turning to leave, Sakura was halfway to the door before she paused when Tsunade cleared her throat, "Before you go, there is one thing I want to make perfectly clear."
Facing Tsunade, Sakura was met by her serious gaze, "I am giving you this opportunity for the reason I said…along with in a way relating to you and Naruto's situation happening to me long ago. I do not wish for you both to experience what I did. However, I am also giving you this chance to ascend for your goal. Prove to me these next five months how serious you are with what you said before. I am not doing this just so you and Naruto can have a cheerful holiday. If you return with no signs of any improvement, words cannot describe how disappointed and hurt my trust will be, Sakura."
Tsunade always was one to be very upfront on matters, Sakura knew her master well in those regards and respected her for it.
Sakura matched Tsunade's strong gaze with even greater significance, "I promise, Tsunade-sama. I will not make you regret giving me this chance."
"Moegi-chan understands perfectly fine, although I still feel very guilty about it. She kind of got too excited when I mentioned Tsunade-sama's offer though. As for Mum...she's alright with it, but she asked me to write to her." She explained, Naruto's ecstatic joy not robbed by her sudden pause. Truthfully her mother did say it was fine, but Sakura knew her worrisome mother too well. Sakura knew Kangimo was only agreeing because she wouldn't be changing her mind.
Jiraiya's outburst made both teens turn their heads, "I think I'd prefer Shizune since you aren't going to let us leave without a medic-nin."
Sakura's eyes partially widened in shock at Jiraiya's harsh tone, while Naruto jumped to her defence. His growling tone showed he clearly was flustered by Jiraiya's comment, "Hoi! What gives Ero-sennin! What's wrong with Sakura-chan!"
Tsunade's face held the very same question, as Jiraiya's serious gaze fell on Sakura.
"Shizune…won't murder me in my sleep."
If Jiraiya hadn't of had said it in a so fearfully serious manner, everybody's reaction would have been to laugh instead of gawking wide. Sakura was the only one to react with a snicker, while Tsunade repeated in bafflement, "Shizune won't do what?"
It didn't take long to clarify, as every single airborne adventure and every threat flickered over his mind from these past weeks, "It's simple. That woman…hates me."
Sakura had to cover her wide open laughing mouth with her hand, while Naruto's sweat dropped largely. Tsunade took several moments before she chuckled, "Oh? I see now, Jiraiya. My apprentice and I share the same hatred for people of 'ahem' YOUR antics."
While Sakura was trying to supress her giggles, Naruto just could not hold his tongue, "Neh, you know Tsu-Tsunade-sama, Sakura-chan actually is a closet-OUCH!"
The solid stamping on his foot stopped him from finishing his sentence, while a red in the face Sakura poorly feigned shock, "-OH SORRY NARUTO! I didn't see your foot there, ha-ha-my mistake!" She shouted as if in an attempt to over talk him, however he stopped talking when she stomped his foot.
Tsunade shrugged it off and turned back to Jiraiya, not seeing Sakura giving Naruto a look that just spoke so much meaning, 'I am NOT a pervert! And don't you dare tell a soul!'
"As I was saying, consider her presence just a means to keep you in check." Jiraiya could only whimper at that.
To him, that basically translated to something very different, 'For the next five months, your 'research' will come to a great stop.'
"Oh and here is my warning Jiraiya-"Jiraiya's 'uh oh' face didn't shift Tsunade who continued lowly, "If you corrupt their innocence…do not return to this village." Short, sharp, and simple, just how Tsunade always put her threats out, and similarly Jiraiya still feared them like the very first threat he had received. With his shoulders slumped, Jiraiya nodded.
Now in full preparation to just how…uninspiring his recent future was about to be, Jiraiya turned and dragged towards the gate, "Well, we best make a start." He mumbled, with all joy somehow completely void in his voice. Sakura began to walk, however Naruto worded a somehow illegitimate 'woops' before running in the other direction.
Jiraiya looked behind him in interest, before exploding with frustration, "HEY! Where the hell are you going Naruto!"
"Just a sec Ero-sennin, Sakura-chan! I forgot something!"
He shouted back, disappearing into the streets of Konoha, while Sakura repeated blankly, "'Forgot something'?"
It was very quiet around the Haruno residence, as Kangimo was now alone in the household. Having just finished preparing some stock for the day, she decided to clean the dust off of the counter at the front of the store, despite it being spotless. Kangimo's interest was more so on what was happening with her daughter than it was on her task.
Kangimo had gotten used to Sakura leaving home for missions and such, but never one of such a great length. Sakura didn't even know where they were going to be traveling during this time, which didn't aid in the situation in the slightest. Accepting though that she couldn't change her daughters mind, Kangimo simply accepted the news and bid her daughter good luck. The sound of the front door opening startled her, which was soon followed by a surprised gasp to the person who had entered.
"N-Naruto-san? Shouldn't you and Sakura be outside Konoha's boundaries by now?"
The blond gave a fox smile in greeting, "Hey Kangimo-neechan! Not exactly, we haven't left just yet."
"O-Oh…I see. Please, come in." She gestured, although Naruto could see from her tensed appearance his conclusions before were spot on. He didn't miss Sakura's pause from earlier, and from what he knew about Kangimo, Naruto realised she was not settled by the news.
Kangimo was still needlessly cleaning the counter with a rag in an attempt to look occupied, "So what brings you here, Naruto-san?"
"I wanted to see you first before leaving." Stunned by what Naruto calmly said, she looked up in surprise to meet his soft expression.
"See me? Whatever for?"
"To see how you were going."
Kangimo was caught off guard by Naruto's reason, but recovered with a weak grin, "Well that is awfully kind of you. I'm fine, thank you."
Kangimo's assurance surely didn't sound along the lines of 'fine' as Naruto interpreted, however he played along, "That's great to hear."
After a brief silence, Kangimo resumed her cleaning, "Sakura tells me you both are going to be training while on your journeys?"
"Yeah, we have to make sure we are in top shape before we come back."
"To rescue your teammate, Sasuke-san?"
"That's right." The attempted conversation once again died after that, while Naruto's soft gaze became serious, cutting through the dull atmosphere as he spoke strong.
"I would like to promise you something though, nee-chan."
Kangimo still hadn't looked up yet, as she continued to rub the counter, "What is that, Naruto-san?"
"I promise you that nothing bad will happen to Sakura-chan."
Gasping, Kangimo looked up to meet his determined filled gaze, as he added with a grin, "I know we don't know each other for a bar of soap, but I know you worry about her a lot, I can see it right now just how concerned you are about all this. Sakura-chan I'm sure feels the same about you. I swear I will make sure she is always safe while we travel. I won't let a single creep even look at her funny. You have nothing to worry about anyway because she would beat them senseless with her freakish strength. I'll also make sure she writes to you as often as possible too, every week even, just name how often it would take to make you feel happy."
Kangimo was shocked, frozen by his resolve filled oceanic blue eyes. After a long minute, she smiled, "You look and sound unimaginably confident when you say that. Do you really mean it?"
Naruto's mouth burst wide with that fox like grin, "You bet! I never go back on my word. That's my nindo!"
Kangimo lightly chuckled, "I see. Sakura has said to me how serious you are with your word, it is not just for show it seems."
'He truly is a very interesting boy.'
Naruto could see his words had an impact, as Kangimo's tense shoulders had finally relaxed. She was about to speak, however Naruto's stomach suddenly growled loudly, which made the blonde's face go red in embarrassment, as he sheepishly chuckled while scratching the back of his head.
Kangimo lightly chuckled at his display for a moment, as she eventually calmed to show a much more genuine smile, "It sounds to me you haven't eaten yet, Naruto-san."
Back at the Konoha gates, Jiraiya growled when he saw Naruto in the distance finally returning, "Really gaki? You made us wait even longer so you could get something to bloody eat?"
Sakura however was stunned by what she was seeing. Naruto was almost skipping towards them cheerfully with a black, cherry blossomed patterned opened box in one of his hands, while he was eating a small fresh Castella. There was only one place in all of the fire country she knew that used those types of boxes.
Naruto shrugged uncaringly at Jiraiya, pretending like the box held no meaning, "What? I'm not traveling on an empty stomach for hours Ero-sennin. Not my fault you never stop for breaks."
"Oh whatever! We're leaving, before something else happens."
While Jiraiya was muttering something about his misfortunes, Sakura recovered from her shock, "N-Naruto? You…"
Walking past her, Naruto smiled at the afternoon sky, "Sakura-chan, your mum says she wishes you all the best and she will be waiting to hear from you soon."
Lightly gasping, Sakura recovered with a grin, 'He talked to her…'
Shooting a grin, Naruto took another bite of his Castella, "T-These –re so gewd-bayo!"
Sakura giggled at his childish antics, "You went there just for the bonus of her food didn't you?"
"Tch, you're such an opportunist."
"What's with calling me that all the time now-"
"Thank you." She interrupted, showing Naruto just how much his action had meant to her with a relieved smile.
Swallowing his mouthful, Naruto sheepishly returned the gesture, "It was no problem, Sakura-chan."
Tsunade almost felt guilty for bringing herself into their conversation, "Best of luck to both of your training. Sakura…remember what I said."
"Hai Shisho. You have my word."
Looking down at Naruto, Tsunade ruffled his hair, "Also, look after these two idiots for me while you are at it."
"I will do my best, Shisho."
"-WHA? I can take care of myself baa-cha-"
Sakura's sudden friendly elbow into his side made him correct himself, "Err-I mean, Tsunade-sama."
Sakura nodded her head in approval, but to her surprise, Tsunade looked a bit disappointed to the correction.
"Oh and by the way, Naruto."
"Quit trying to suck up to me already, it's getting annoying."
Sakura this time was the one to show surprise, while Naruto shrugged, "But I'm just showing respect, Tsunade-sa-"
"Don't make me forbid you from calling me that again."
Sakura's jaw hung wide, realising that her efforts to make Naruto call Tsunade in respect actually was crossing a line between the two's relationship. Her master must have gotten so used to being called 'baa-chan', she just can't take Naruto seriously calling her the more respectful way.
It was comical how Naruto looked to Sakura as if asking permission, which she just sighed and nodded.
"Good!" The dong on his head from Tsunade made him whimper as he rubbed his forming bump. Naruto just could not win with Tsunade it would seem.
"Naruto, Sakura!" Jiraiya called out in annoyance from the other side of the gate.
Bidding Tsunade farewell, Sakura and Naruto turned and began heading to the threshold of their village. Just before stepping over that line, Naruto turned to look at the Konoha standing behind the godaime. His eyes eventually wondered to the Hokage Mountain, admiring the one hokage that to him was his role model. It was the face of the Yondaime hokage.
'You better still be watching me…'
"What are you doing?" Sakura asked in curiosity, which Naruto replied to still looking at the Yondaime.
"Hmmph. I sure will miss this place."
"Yeah…It won't be too long though Sakura-chan, you will be surprised just how fast time went by for me."
"OI, LOVE BIRDS! HURRY UP!"
That seemed to have pulled both out of their trance, as they span around and jogged to catch up to Jiraiya, "Wait up Ero-sennin!"
By the time they caught up to Jiraiya, the sannin groaned, "Bout time."
"Jeez, just chill already, Ero-sennin."
Jiraiya didn't respond to Naruto's whine, as he set down the long road ahead, "We have quite a distance to travel. I shall explain on the way."
"Neh, how long are we going to be walking for?"
"Don't you bloody start gaki! You have your food."
"You're just going to 'detour' to a hot spring and try and peak on the women's section anyway, like you always do."
"Unfortunately, that isn't happening this time around, to my displeasure."
"Not on my watch." Sakura sharply added.
While the group again set off still bickering, Jiraiya inwardly sulked, 'Why me? The gaki is a handful enough, but the green eyed monster too? What did I ever do to make you hate me Kami-sama?'
Looking over her shoulder, Sakura could just see Konoha now in the distance. It wasn't the same like it was when she left on a mission, knowing she would return home soon. It was actually quite daunting now thinking about it. Hearing the sound of munching next to her, she looked to see Naruto eating one of her mother's Castella's. It must have been a big deal for him too, leaving all his friends behind to train.
Perhaps even Sasuke felt the same…perhaps.
Noticing her eyes on him, he grinned and offered her one of the desserts. Chuckling, she accepted it, "You really are unbelievable, Naruto."
Naruto didn't quite follow what she meant by that, "What did I do this time?"
Taking a small bite of her mother's Castella, she smiled, "Just be you."
As the group were walking, they were not aware that they were being watched from within the deep forest. Standing afar on the branch of a tree was a figure with the Akatsuki garment, and a swirly mask concealing most of his face, bar his right eye. His sharingan eye held great anticipation for the blond target, already feeling victory at his fingertips waiting to be grasped.
"Soon Izuna…your sacrifice will not be in vain."
Firstly I would like to upfront personally thank every single reader who has stuck with me throughout this story, and I hope I have delivered a worthy ending to your eyes.
I never have been one for writing a good ending before, but then again there are lots of things prior to this story that I had no experience in. Use of Japanese words and phrases which I have no knowledge of (Thank you to my friend who was patient enough to help me with that) and writing a story with romance certainly being a big first for me. Following that, I also wish to give a special thanks to everyone who has been very kind and helpful with their feedback and critiques. It most definitely kept me motivated to continue till finally reaching this point (Along with the communities and readers that have added my fanfiction to their collection of course).
Now the ending and that question. Quite a few people have asked me if a sequel will be following.
My answer to that...is yes, hence why I deliberately left the ending very open, along with other things that most have noticed.
Truthfully, I do not know exactly what to do with the sequel, however I will be definite in saying I do not wish to reiterate the manga's plot identically with only a few key changes. My primary goal has always been to form a new so called beginning if Kishi made this turn in the manga.
I however would be more than happy to hear any suggestions for what it is you wish to be in the sequel, along with where they wish for it to begin (During the training and after they return to Konoha being two possibilities I have imagined). In saying this, I would really appreciate any feedback and critiques in regards to this story before I dive into it's sequel. Examples being what did you like/dislike about it, what would you want to see more of or less of. Are my original characters out of place? Was it far too long? Is my grammar at an acceptable standard etc.
While I am at this point, there is one more issue I would really value an opinion on. The title. To be honest I originally was going to name it 'calm before the storm' (you may snicker now at my unoriginality), however a friend recommended I thought of something else. Since a fair portion of it was in regards to truths and set within Wave, I came up with its current title. However coming this far now, and having gotten much more creative (I hope) with my chapter titles, I'm starting to feel it's inappropriate now.
It has been great fun writing this story, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I certainly have learnt so much from it.
Before I make a start on the sequel though, there is another story I have left very poorly abandoned long enough.
Thank you all once again,