Story: Forever a Team

Summary: The infamous day Naruto leaves the village to train for three years with Jiraiya, the two get an unexpected request from Sakura when she asks to tag along. NaruSaku

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, the plot, or any of the characters.

Claimer: I do own this story and its context.

Chapter: One

Rating: T

The Mission

The Village Hidden in the Leaves – a well-known place of warmth and safety. Known as one of the five great nations, Konohagakure is admired by its allies and feared by its enemies; a respected village, to say the least. While the concept of it being a peaceful home seemed illogical to foreigners from the many wars previous, the villagers thought otherwise, fore they lived in a great nation. With strong forces and always a grand leader to guide their people, it was certainly a powerful village to be reckoned with.

But even with its ideal lifestyle, Konoha had its dark nights like every other village. The trees, rustling ever so slightly with the chilling air, held shelter to many intelligent animals that knew the dangers of nightfall. Children were rushed by mothers to be kept within the safety of indoors until the first crack of light over the horizon. Even the stealthiest of ninja preferred their homes over patrolling the dark grounds. Not a single being could be found wandering the streets after the shadows took control.

Tonight was an exception.

A pair of blue sandals stood unmoving against cold pavement, keeping oddly still compared to the owner's pale legs wobbling uncontrollably. The shaking girl, neither a child nor woman, shivered as a sudden breeze fluttered lightly over her bare arms. Her breathing matched with her movement as she took deep, heavy gasps for air.

A single sandal stepped forward, covering the ground with fresh drops of moisture. She inhaled another shaky breath before crying out, "I'm so in love with you, I can't even stand it!"

The boy ahead said nothing, keeping his back to face her. Unlike his troubled companion, he kept frozen on the empty path they stood upon. Not the coldest of the wind seemed to faze him, yet the girl standing a mere few feet behind appeared on the edge of collapsing. If her legs had enough strength to manage a couple more steps, she was sure her arms would be wrapped around him by now as she cried the words against his back.

The greatest she could muster in her current state, however, were only words. "If you would only be with me, I promise, I'd never let you regret it." She paused to see any sign of response; nothing. "Every day will be a joy. I can give you happiness! I'll do anything for you, so please!"

Pink bangs flopped side to side as she shook harder, feeling her eyes grow wet with each word. "I'm begging you – don't walk away! I'll even help get your revenge. I'll do whatever it takes to make it happen; I swear! So stay here…with me.

"And if you can't," she whispered, holding on the thought in silence. Her trembling body suddenly froze as her swollen eyes glanced up, watching a bright moon peak out a sliver from the dark clouds. Her breath grew hitched again as she drifted her attention back to the boy. "Then take me with you, Sasuke."

The raven-haired boy acknowledged kept deathly silent; only the sound of the wind fell upon the two, casting an eerie feeling within the shadows.

As if a sudden decision was changed, Sasuke spun on the heel of his sandal to face the weeping girl. A cold smirk seemed to grow naturally across his face. "You haven't changed. You're still annoying."

The girl took in a quick gasp as his cruel words slapped across her face. Her worse nightmare had finally come true; after all those years of admiration and intimate emotions, he hadn't changed his perspective over her. She was a mere fangirl, later growing to a pest on the day she was placed as his teammate. Even in her dark hour, she couldn't help but feel a snort well in her throat at the thought. She hadn't helped her team in the least – how was she to expect him being impressed over nothing? All she previously cared for was looking pretty to win his affections.

Reality dawned on her as Sasuke turned back to his original direction, taking a few steps toward the village gates. Against all laws of physics, more tears managed to flood down her already soaked cheeks.

"Don't leave me!" she called desperately, stumbling a short distance farther. "If you go, I'll scream and –"

Her voice was cut off when he disappeared from sight; she felt an unconscious shiver run down her back as his chakra presence was sensed from behind. Sasuke's breath kept at a calm pace, while she held her own in anticipation. Yes, she had come to terms in his leaving. After confessing her love, giving her word to help, and going far enough to offer abandoning her own village to help in his quest, she knew there was nothing more she could do. There was nothing more that she could even muster.

"Sakura," his voice whispered. She held the sound vibrations deep in her mind, knowing it was the last she would hear of him. Even with the acknowledgement of him vanishing, it still hurt to listen as he walked away. To watch him walk away while she knew she didn't have the power to stop him.

"Thank you for everything." Her eyes widened at Sasuke's last words before a sudden jolt whacked against her back, knocking her to unconsciousness.

Jade eyes flashed open as a chest heaved up, inhaling a sharp lung of air. Sakura groaned at her now awake mind, curling her body to a ball under salmon bed sheets. Sweaty bangs flipped over her face, sticking to its clammy surface. With a swift movement, she easily brushed the damp hair from her view to glance across the small, square room toward the framed window. A high sun floated brightly in the cloudless sky with many citizens roaming the grounds; she guessed the time to be around noon, frowning at the lateness in the day. She never slept this long.

Sakura grudgingly pushed herself off the comfort of her mattress – although much to her feet's protest – and slugged over to her dresser. As her arms worked unconsciously to slip on her regular ninja attire, the girl couldn't help but drift her thoughts back to her reoccurring dream. This would be the seventh day straight she's had that dream; exactly a week, and frankly she was growing sick of it. Her problems weren't with the repeated number of times she's seen it, but of the subject himself. No matter the multiple times she saw him in these dreams, her reaction would always turn up the same.

She paused for a second, freezing her elbows in midair as her shirt was held above her stomach. Was there something she missed that night? Some sort of unspoken sign? Could this be the cause of the same dream?

No. She lived through that experience, memorized each moment and reflected every detail. There was no message Sasuke had left; Sakura physically flinched at the mere mention of his name, feeling those same shivers from the dream crawl down her spine. She was still weak when it came to her recently lost teammate – even after time proved of his leaving a couple months ago.

Sakura shoved the negative subject from her mind, already halfway to the kitchen. Her senses picked up another presence nearby but chose to ignore it, focusing instead on a slice of bread. She began spreading butter across its surface before a voice intervened.

"Sakura." The voice cut through thick air sharper than the butter knife. The rosette turned her head from the counter, being met with another pair of jade irises. As if not affected, she returned to working on her toast.

The second time her name was called, this being with more impatience, Sakura calmly slipped herself in a chair across from the voice, setting her plate of toast against the table. She didn't bother looking up, but none-the-less acknowledged the presence. "Yes Mother?"

Ms. Haruno shot a glare across the table, unnoticed by her daughter who was currently munching on the buttered toast, keeping her eyes on the plate as if there were something of interest on it. Her head snapped up in surprise as her mother reached over the table, wiping off a few breadcrumbs from her face.

"My child," she sighed, continuing her attempt to rid of any bread particles. Sakura instantly pulled back and gave an annoyed look; this face was ignored by her authority figure. "My poor, sweet child. No wonder you have yet to bring a man home – look at yourself."

Her flinches of resistance froze while her mother finished the remains of food off her face. Sakura's eyes narrowed as they gazed blankly in her lap, feeling her once starving stomach have no need for food anymore. Her hands curled themselves into fistfuls of her clothing at the dark thoughts of what Ms. Haruno had unknowingly brought up. The mere thought of a boy slowly brought her dream back to the conscious world where she assumed to be safe of it.

Her mother, on the other hand, hadn't the slightest clue to the shift of Sakura's mood, settling back in her chair to pick at food on her own plate. She absently hummed a quiet tune as she poked at a small piece of fish, forming a creased brow at the oncoming worries for her daughter. Ms. Haruno always had the best intentions for her, which is why she grew Sakura with the knowledge of love and beauty – from her opinion, those two being the keys to life. With beauty came easy love, a love she hoped her daughter could obtain with no delay.

After all, she was her age in a past time and had chosen a man early. He was a brave, cunning shinobi unlike herself, fore she saw the ninja ways as dangerous, but he was considered an exception. The two fell for each other during rough times; after the birth of their only child, he was to head in battle the Leaf Village faced. She hadn't seen him since, marking his name on the stone of shinobi MIA.

Because of this, she nearly refused her daughter of asking to be a ninja if it weren't for her mentioning the name of her crush – another boy who was training at the ninja academy. Who knew after the years of training as an academy student, Sakura would be teamed with the only surviving Uchiha? Ms. Haruno saw it as instant opportunity for her daughter's future (and having a sensei like Kakashi Hatake was even better) and encouraged the stride for her to become the next Uchiha. Unfortunately for her, every great plan has a downfall.

Ms. Haruno subsided a growl inching its way up her throat; the mere thought of her child working with that demon brought her to the edge. If it weren't for the fact of Sasuke on her team, she would've removed Sakura to another by now. Love had obstacles, and she would have to teach her daughter the ways to rid of them. That dreadful boy already created a bad influence in under a short period of working together when Sakura came home from the Forest of Death, having her beautiful hair chopped up to her shoulders. How was she to win the Uchiha's heart if she couldn't match his rumored taste of hair length?

At some point, she had thought of the monstrosity child to be of actual use on his journey to return the missing heir. Of course, his coming back empty handed brought Ms. Haruno back to sticking her nose in the air at the mention of his name. For all I care, that damn Uzumaki kid can go die in a ditch and burn in–

"I'll see you later, Mom," a sudden voice interrupted her thoughts. The acknowledged mother looked up to see the girl across from her propped against a chair, strapping on a blue pair of sandals.

"Wait!" her mother called. Sakura leaned against the wall, tilting her head in a confused gesture. "Where are you going?"

The younger girl paused as if to think her answer through. "Out."

"And where is out?"

"To the Hokage Tower," Sakura replied robotically, bringing her focus back to her footwear. "Tsunade-sama requested me for early training." She bit her tongue on the last note, being sure to keep her eyes hidden from the other Haruno; if she caught a glimpse of Sakura's face, her mother would instantly tell that she was lying.

Ms. Haruno blinked, seeming to process the new information. At least her daughter was no longer working on that demon's team – the only good part of the Uchiha's leaving. And now working under the Hokage herself, her child was sure to show promise and honor to their name. With a small smile, she reached over to pat the girl's shoulder before squealing out, "Well, hurry off then! You wouldn't want to keep Lady Tsunade waiting."

Sakura gave a curt nod before stretching her bent legs, hurrying them out the door and into the blinding sun of midday. Her eyes squinted at the sudden burst of light, raising a hand for cover while she absently led herself on the long road toward the tower.

Guilt slowly crawled its way on her shoulder as she thought of the previous lie to her own mother. Yes, she was sure Tsunade wouldn't mind training her, but Sakura's real intentions were merely to escape her household. She frowned at the remembrance of ease it was for her to lie; even as it being a shinobi skill to give false information, that didn't remove any remorse for her previous actions.

What was a girl to do when she no longer could talk to the one she loved most? Sakura knew her mother always had the best intentions and meant well, but things weren't the same as they used to be. After the Forest of Death incident, Ms. Haruno realized her daughter's new view of life as a ninja and panicked. The rosette knew her mother couldn't relate on a shinobi level and dismissed any attempts she made to focus on beauty or boys. Unfortunately for the kunoichi, her younger times were wasted on how she was raised by looks, dragging her under the potential she could have by now if it weren't for that.

The girl abruptly stopped ahead of two wooden doors, pausing for only a moment before heading inside. Her short pink hair fluttered against her shoulders as she traveled at a quick pace, going two steps at a time up a spiral staircase. Using her little knowledge of stealth, Sakura covered her presence at reaching the top floor; she had learned from previous experience of her sensei's anger when being awakened. Precautions were always necessary.

Her steps slowed to silent movement as she neared the Hokage's quarters, finding the usually closed door cracked a sliver from the wall. Sakura furrowed her brow at the small opening, choosing wisely to lean beside the door at the sound of voices on the other side.

"And why the hell should I let you just head out like that?" Sakura recognized the owner of the voice being her sensei, Lady Tsunade.

"It's not for me, it's for him! You know this is the best way for him to grow strong enough to protect himself." She blinked in shock at Jiraiya's stern tone. What on earth was he doing here?

Tsunade's footsteps were sensed as pacing back and forth near a window. Her head whipped to the glass surface, looking over the village with a sharp eye. "How can you assume I'll simply let you two go? What if something were to happen? The village can't aid him against the Akatsuki in foreign territory."

"I'll protect him –"

"What, you think that's all it takes to convince me?"

"You didn't let me finish," he snapped. "I'll protect Naruto with my life. You have my word."

Sakura's eyes widened as she sank to the floor, keeping her head against the wall with questions zooming around in thick air. Why is Naruto leaving? How is Naruto leaving with Jiraiya? What is the purpose of him being specifically protected?

Her breath caught at a new question. Why is Akatsuki after him?

"That line is getting old," Tsunade sighed, breaking the tense silence. Jiraiya chuckled as her attitude went back to its previous state. "You wouldn't be able to protect the boy against more than one member. Are you sure you want to do this?"

The older man didn't hesitate. "For his training, I have to. Naruto can't – no, won't – be able to gain the abilities to bring back Sasuke Uchiha without learning more than this village has to offer. Besides," he grinned sheepishly, "I already told him to pack."

Sakura's body tensed at the mention of her lost teammate, although easily brushed off by the Hokage. "Fine. I grant you three years of being in outside territory of Konoha with Naruto Uzumaki – no more than that. If you refuse to return by the deadline, I'll be forced to mark you both as missing nin –"

"Wait!" Her actions and words few out of her mouth before she had the chance to stop them; Sakura stood in the now opened doorway, an uneasy feeling bubbling in her stomach from the shift of atmosphere.

Her jade eyes flashed across the small room, being met with a pair of brown ones. Tsunade stood against the far side of the office with her body propped against the window seal, an amused look on her face at the new arrival. She absently tightened one of her blonde pigtails, growing a smirk as she peered toward her worried student. "Sakura, I was wondering when you would decide to join us."

The girl referred to flushed at her sensei's comment, glancing to her side where the other figure sat. Jiraiya's face reflected the amusement of the Hokage, having a small smile of his own while slouched on a chair. Sakura made a quick recovery of being in the presence of two sannin, turning her attention to the blonde woman. "Tsunade-sama, I-I was just –"

"Eavesdropping?" A glint of laughter flashed in Tsunade's eyes.

"N-no, ma'am. Well, yes. Yes I did," she admitted, feeling her cheeks grow hot again. "I couldn't help but overhear your talking of Naruto."

Jiraiya gave a smile to the nervous girl. "You know him?"

"Hai," she nodded. "He's my teammate."

"I see. Is there something you needed to say?"

Sakura nodded again, looking from Tsunade to Jiraiya. Her mind had already processed her decision in the hallway; there was no way in hell she would lose another comrade. Not someone she owed so much to.

Her serious expression faced dead-on with the two sannin ahead. "I'm going with him."

-- -- --

Beep. Beep. Beep.

An alarm was thrown across a small room, followed by a tired voice mumbling, "Damn technology." A sudden hand shot in the air as it patted its dark surroundings in a search. The fingers snatched frantically for its goal, throwing any object other than it where the broken clock now sat. Upon reaching a soft fabric, the hand gave a hard tug to reveal the material as curtains, whereas the curtains revealed the light of day.

A boy sprang up from the now sunlit bed, stretching his exhausted arms in an attempt to move them. He held back a strong yawn making its way up his throat, settling instead on scratching the back of his blonde head. As he continued with small movements to wake himself, a wide smirk broadened across his face at the object against the far wall; that clock had finally been put in its place.

His legs forced themselves over the bed as they now hung lifelessly on the side. The blonde used this as a chance to fully wake, curling his fingers to fists and rubbing any remaining sleep from his tired eyes. As if a sudden blow horn went off, he jumped from the bed and raced to his closet. After throwing his clothes on in a rushed fashion, the boy headed out with a backpack slung over his shoulder. There wasn't a minute to lose today; it would be his last to see the village for awhile.

Being distracting to listen for the small click that would lock his apartment door, the blonde didn't pay attention to his surroundings as footsteps rushed over. "Naruto-san!"

"Ah!" The shocked blonde jumped to the building's roof, his oxygen supply now low from the sudden surprise. Naruto took a needed breath before glancing down from his great height wearily, instantly recognizing the intruder. A boy with a bowl haircut, bushy eyebrows, and green spandex gave off a sparkly grin.

He gave an odd look toward the other boy, hopping back to ground level. "Oh, hey Lee."

The referred ninja laughed, having his headband wrapped around the spandex flash the same Leaf symbol as the blonde's. "Haha, Naruto-san! What great youth you have so early in the day!"

Naruto was sure one of his eyebrows twitched from the comment. "Yeah, sure."

"However, I did not come to waste time." Lee's serious tone reflected the sudden change in their conversation mood; his comrade now noticed a box the spandex boy held tightly. "I have heard of your quest, Naruto-san, and could not help but feel your youthful goal motivating. As we know I cannot travel to aid you – although I am sure you'll be fine – I hope this could be of use."

"Brushy brow." Naruto felt a small smile tug against his lip at his friend's kind gesture. His cerulean eyes gave a glance at the plain white box, smirking at the matching color the single ribbon wrapped around it matching Lee's green outfit. He hesitantly looked from the square box to the boy holding it, not sure what to do; Naruto wasn't used to others giving him gifts. After receiving a nod of approval from the oddly-fashioned boy, he carefully took the box and held it as if it contained unknown treasures. Slowly removing the ribbon, the young blonde peered inside with a blank expression.

"Lee, um…"

"No need, Naruto-san! Your face says enough gratitude."

"No, it's just…"

"Please, there is no need for thanks! You –"

Naruto cut him off by shoving two items from the box, dangling them in front of him. "What exactly are these?"

Lee blinked, taken aback by Naruto's confusion. He gazed at the slim, metal objects that were part of regular activities for him, whereas it seemed his companion hadn't the slightest clue. "They are weights. You know, for body training!"

"Oh. Well, thanks." Lee grinned at the compliment, acknowledging it with a small nod. Naruto felt a sarcastic comment begin to form at his mouth, but instantly closed it; the last thing he wanted was to leave on a bad note with a good friend. Instead, he settled for holding his hand in midair for the other boy. "Guess I'll see you later."

The older male held a compromised look – all but his eyes, which were attempting to hold back a forming moisture. This would be the last time the two would see each other for years. Lee gave the blonde a strong smile, clasping the offered hand with his own in a handshake. "I expect nothing less than a true ninja when you return, Naruto-san."

"That goes for you, too." And with that last note, the two shook hands firmly and silently went their separate ways. Naruto grinned at his quiet surroundings, turning his head to glance one last time at his fading apartment; hopefully it'd be decent by the time he returned. His eyes returned to the objects he held, noticing a few weights for the arms and legs. The new tools were put securely in his pack, adding extra pounds to the luggage for an already tired boy.

His footsteps paused on the ground, hopping from roof to roof upon reaching a high water tower. Naruto glanced above all heights of the buildings, smiling at the sight before him of the four previous Hokages (they had yet to add Tsunade's face) carved into a great monument. With a raised hand and determined expression, the blonde held his fist toward the rock structure in a silent vow. I promise to come back and become the greatest Hokage this village has ever had.

After making his promise, Naruto continued his walk through the village of Konoha. He frowned at the thought of running into any other companions; it was nice to see them a last time, but saying goodbye wasn't his specialty. His insides felt crushed at leaving this way, but it would save time and heartache. The young ninja had plenty of past experience with pain and couldn't add much more at the moment. It wasn't as if he were leaving permanently – just for a few years.

Much to his dismay, Naruto bumped into more comrades on the way to the village gates. For awhile, he forgot his leaving and felt free-spirited when chatting with his friends. As time passed to force him away, however, his goodbyes were dull and empty. It was much harder than he thought to leave people close to him; he smirked as his mind referred to it all being troublesome, using Shikamaru's favorite line.

After receiving a final and rather loud farewell from Kiba, the blonde didn't bother to disguise his depressed state as he neared the exit to the village. He supposed sooner would be for the best, but his ties to Konoha kept him wanting to run back and stay within his home; his goals were the only things moving him forward.

Naruto growled as he sat on a bench, peering around to find no Jiraiya in sight. "That Ero-sennin is making wait while he's probably busy with –"

"You want to finish that, kid?"

The annoyed blonde spun his head to shoot an accusing glare at the voice spoken. Jiraiya returned the look with an amused expression, having a grin stretch across his face. Naruto felt his mouth open for a fiery comeback when his muscles suddenly froze, leaving him to gap at the familiar figure standing beside the sannin. He grew too lost in her jade eyes that the older man became uncomfortable, coughing to gain his pupil's attention. "We have a new recruit joining our team."

Naruto's face broke into a disapproving scowl. As much as it pained him to admit, the training would be too dangerous. "No, we don't."

Sakura stepped a few feet closer to her teammate, looking him face to face with a serious expression. "Naruto, I'm coming with you."

"But Sakura-chan, you can't –"

"I have to," she cut him off, raising her tone. Her eyes grew a shade duller as she gazed blankly down at her hands. Sakura's voice flew to a small whisper as she explained quietly, "Naruto, I'm tired of you and everyone else fighting my battles; I'm tired of being such a burden. I need to gain my own strength, and the best way to do that is with none other than –"

"Than what? The Academy's only failing student?" Naruto snapped, taking his turn to interrupt. His tone lashed out harsher than he intended, earning a blink of surprise from Sakura.

"Than my best friend."

The blonde's breathing suddenly caught in his throat. He was no longer aware of his surroundings like a ninja should, but rather drew his focus on the slightest of movements. The wind was now visible, blowing around him in a pattern similar to dancing. He could see the design of leaves on a nearby tree. The girl ahead of him had her mouth form a thin line; only he noticed the millimeter increase on the corner of her lip. A small feeling began to bubble inside him as the words echoed through his skull. Naruto smiled at it. He liked the feeling.

Unfortunately, the feeling didn't last too long as the world brought his head back to reality. He creased his brow at the sudden loss, turning to face the last person he wanted hurt. "What about Tsunade-baachan? You just began training with her."

Sakura formed a grin across her face, looking incredibly similar to a small child with a secret. "I spoke with Tsunade-sama earlier and she approved. She said that this trip will help me find my inner strength.

"Sensei even allowed me to bring her teaching scrolls with me. This way, I can complete what she's taught me over the past couple months," Sakura replied, slipping blue straps down her arms to reveal a fully packed bag. Naruto took a sidestep and peered at the traveling utensil, eyeing how bulgy the bag appeared; he inwardly sweatdropped at how predictable his teammate was, knowing too-well that she would over pack for a trip anywhere outside the village.

Naruto began feeling persuaded by her forwardness, growing a miniscule smile at the thought. Maybe they could bring Sasuke back together.

As if able to read his mind, Sakura quickly explained, "Besides, don't we both have a promise to fulfill?"

Naruto's smile widened. "Yeah, we do."

The older man made his presence known, stepping between the two preteens. "Well it's about time; kid, you take too long to make up your mind," Jiraiya sighed. "Because of this, we're running behind schedule. I expect the two of you to follow nothing but my exact orders, are we clear?" Receiving a nod from both his students, the trio headed toward the village gates.

Sakura felt her hands unconsciously clutch her bag's straps tighter as they passed through the huge entrance, taking a last look at her home. Konoha was a mere few yards away, yet she felt as if the village was already gone. What was this unpleasant feeling? She assumed earlier that her first week on the road would be filled of homesickness, but nothing as painful as how she felt now. It was as if she left a piece of herself in the Leaf Village. If only the pain would pass; the rosette hadn't felt anything like this since Sasuke's departure.

Meanwhile, the boy to her right had similar thoughts as to their lost teammate. If what he discovered was true, then Naruto had only three years to train his ass off and bring home the soon-to-be-sorry Uchiha. On top of that, he needed to avoid Akatsuki and their sudden sight for him, as well as keep the secret away from Sakura. His eyes darkened at the thought, but there were no other options for now; he couldn't risk losing her. With that last note, Naruto snuck a quick glance at his female teammate.

Being in such deep thought, the two shinobi hadn't noticed their sensei's change of pace as he now stopped to face them. Jiraiya smirked at his students' innocent and oblivious knowledge to the dangers of the ninja way. He planned on fixing that.

"Alright," Jiraiya coughed, gaining immediate attention from two sets of young eyes. His grin widened with attitude. "Consider this Day One of training. Welcome to hell."

Author's Note: If you are reading this, then I am happy to inform you that this is the second version of the original first chapter ^_^. Why would I rewrite it, you ask? It's quite simple: the first version sucked -_-. I hope you liked it, and continue reading more. I promise to update as soon as possible :) reviews are appreciated!