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.
A shrill voice bounced off the forest and echoed through the woods. Tall, dark trees hid the sky from view, making it impossible to tell whether it was night or day. Small animal eyes watched from the safety of bushes and shrubs. A dark red liquid dripped from each lifeless body spawled across the ground or hanging from tree limbs. The liquid was a sticky mess, splattered on the surrounding areas of the hundreds of bodies. Anyone could tell the liquid was a dirty blood; that is, whoever was alive could tell.
"Please, someone help! Anyone!"
The voice held the solo survivor of the massacre, judging from the squeaks of sobs that the being was a female. The girl, guessed to be in her late preteens, ran aimlessly through the dead woods. Her screams continued as she ventured deeper into the unknown paths. Of course the girl didn't look as worse as the corpses around her, but the various cuts and bruises revealed she hadn't come without a fight. The once shrill screams soon became soft gasps from her lack of oxygen flow. As a medical ninja, she knew if she didn't stop to rest it would be over, yet a presence in the forest kept her from doing so. She feared of that presence whom killed the shinobi before her. All headbands resting on a dead body revealed the Leaf Village symbol.
The girl suddenly collapsed, struggling for air. Her cries were now weak and desperate. "Someone help!"
Her head whipped around to see a pair of red eyes within the dark trees. She felt tears brewing in her worn, tired emerald irises. It was too late, and she knew she could never outrun him.
"W-why…why are you doing this?" she whimpered.
The voice seemed amused at her fear. "You are one of the few that should know without asking."
She knew the moisture welling in her eyes was threatening to fall and grudgingly held them back. Her ruffled, dirty rose-colored hair stood up in fright at the sight before her as the other voice walked in plain view. A boy the same age stood across the small clearing, holding a permanent smirk across his slim face. Even with his clothes smeared in the familiar red liquid and a few scars here and there, he was without-a-doubt beautiful. The girl sniffed back more tears as the mere sight of him; she felt like touching him, just to see if he were real.
His smirk grew darker as he gazed at the pathetic girl. Her clothes were ripped at various spots, revealing deep cuts and slashes. Her eyes, once a vibrant color he used to know, were widened and filled with fear. His expression seemed to harden as his sight rested on her forehead where a headband was securely tightened. An all-too-familiar symbol flashed off it, showing the same sign as the dead corpses.
The boy reached his arm around and gripped the sword strapped to his back. "You should've stayed with the others."
Her whisper was barely audible. "What others?"
A sudden rustle through the trees caused the two to look behind the girl at the source. Another boy aroused from the bushes, his worn and beat-up body matching the rosette's. Vivid blue eyes and messy blonde hair instantly revealed his identity toward the others. Both ninja before the new boy seemed pleased by his arrival, though not for the same reasons.
The girl was the first to break the silence, weakly calling out a small, "Naruto."
The acknowledged blonde didn't seem to hear her, keeping his eyes focused on the other ninja. His tone was much darker than she knew of.
"What are you doing here?" Naruto spat at the other shinobi. The dark-haired boy felt a twitch of amusement.
"What? No 'welcome back Sasuke'?" he replied fiercely, referring to himself in the question. His tone was met with silence. "No 'glad to have you back' or 'told you it would be okay'?"
More silence. Sasuke clenched his jaw as his voice grew louder, almost shouting, "Isn't this what you wanted, Naruto? Huh! Isn't this what you've been waiting for: my arrival 'home'?"
The boy's head twisted back to the girl, whom by now was sitting against the dirt on her hands and knees. Small sniffles were heard from the fragile, shaking body; even Naruto had turned his attention to the poor girl, giving her a sympathetic look. He started a step toward her before Sasuke's voice cut him off. "And you – didn't you want me back more than anything? Some plan to bring me back and have me fall in love with you, right Sakura? Was that it?"
Said girl coughed against the dirty ground, leaving a few small drops of red. The two boys gave her some time to catch herself, listening to the sobs between many wheezes. After catching her now-heavy breath, she lifted her head up to glare at Sasuke, keeping her place where she knelt in case of defense.
"No Sasuke, even now you still don't get it, do you?" she growled, having to pause for a moment to cough. "It's because I care. Myself, along with Naruto and the others in Konoha, we still care about you! We give you second chances, we want nothing for the best of you, and yet you act like we're some sort of pests in your way!"
Sasuke took a gentle step forward, eyeing both shinobi before him. His so called 'former comrades'. What a joke.
"No matter," he mumbled coolly. The two Konoha ninja watched in horror as Sasuke drew out a katana, noticing the familiar sticky red liquid dripping down its length. The blade flashed under a small white light from above – Sakura figured it was moonlight, although not positive by the dense cover of treetops – as his fingers wrapped around the handle in an offensive stance.
The dark smirk regrew across his facial features once his eyes met with another green pair, carelessly twirling the large weapon in his hand. "You would save a spot for me in hell, right Sakura? You would do anything for me – isn't that right!"
Before she had the chance to reply, let alone blink, Sasuke appeared at her feet, raising one hand with the katana. She didn't bother moving from her kneeling position; she wasn't stronger, nor faster, to get away.
There were many things Sakura regretted to not have done before this dreadful night. She regretted not being there for her friends, especially when they needed her earlier. She regretted being the weak link of her team. She regretted being a burden and needing saving at times when she overdid her little amount of strength. She regretted her lack of respect for her own mother. She regretted losing her friendship with one of her best friends – Ino. She regretted acting like a brat as if she knew it all, when in reality she would've died countless times if it weren't for her teammates. She regretted not being strong enough to protect her loved ones.
But above all else, she regretted not thanking her team.
Kakashi – although she sometimes questioned his own strength by his perverted readings, Sakura always knew her sensei taught her what little strength she possessed. She disrespected him countless times, pointing out his tardies, faults, and even unfairness. Reality only dawned on her at her last seconds that he was much more than some lazy-ass teacher. He taught her team discipline, patience, and the true form of the ninja, and without that none of his students would've gotten this far. She gave a small, bloody smile at the thought. 'Thank you, Kakashi-sensei, for showing me what I can be.'
Sasuke – although her soon-to-be assassinator, he was her childhood inspiration. Being the most mature on their genin team, he kept her and Naruto in check. He was harsh at times, and even more impatient at Sakura's lack in strength, but nonetheless would tell her straight what she needed to focus on. As she grew with him as a teammate, she realized that her feelings became more than a childhood crush. She wanted to help him, fight for him, and do whatever necessary to protect him. Even after his departure from Konoha, and now with his return of betrayal, she held respect for him, this being one of the reasons for her wanting him back. 'Thank you, Sasuke, for never losing faith in me – even if you wouldn't admit it.'
Naruto – the person whom she wished she could take everything back. Although Sakura was selfish in not wanting to rid of her blonde friend and her memories with him, she couldn't help but feel it would've been best. She had put him through too much that no one deserved, and she was an idiot to be the one causing it all. Yet no matter what she shot at him, accused at him, punched at him, he kept coming back to protect her like a loyal teammate would. Except he wasn't just a loyal teammate; he became her friend. He helped her through her darkest times at Sasuke's abandonment, guided her through training stronger, and made her the person she was today. She would be nothing without him.
Her eyes closed as she felt the wind from Sasuke's blade swing toward her chest, followed shortly after by Naruto's desperate shouts and hurried footsteps. A single drop of moisture fell carelessly down her cheek as she smiled at her death scene. At least she was with the ones she cared for most before the end.
A painful sensation flashed through Sakura's body as the blade pierced through pale skin, barely missing her troubled heart. Her smile grew to a grim smirk. 'Naruto, thank you for everything…'
Heavy eyelids fluttered themselves open, revealing a drousy pair of emerald orbs. A bright light blurred the vision from the eyes, causing them to blink rapidly in adjustment. The first visible color came into view: tan. The eyes swept over the color several times – seeming to take their time calculating as if worn down – before determining the tan as a ceiling. Going lower, a simple room appeared ahead; no special or unique qualities lit the space. A window to the left was considered the culprit immediately for the flash of blinding light earlier. Beyond the frame's plain beige curtains, the sun shown brightly from an inch of the top corner, leading the time to be midday. Farther to the left sat a lounging, three-person couch. Part of the couch's view was blocked by a wooden table, holding nothing but a single headband upon it.
The owner of those dazzed green eyes flipped in the opposite direction, being met with another pair of brown irises. It was the first sign of life; matching the room, a simple woman stood to the right. Again showing no bold qualities, the girl stood against the far pale walls, wearing only a long, button-up coat. Her face was currently scrunched with worry, giving an unusual look against her young skin. She had a clipboard tightly clenched between both hands as if it were about to run off.
Hesitantly, the woman took a few steps forward and repeated her question. "Haruno-san?"
The green-eyed girl acknowledged now had her brain fully awake, only her body being much slower with the process. She took in her closer surroundings to notice herself lying in a bed. Her fingers curled themselves around the white sheets, twirling the soft material between one another. It didn't seem that used up or dirty; she couldn't have been in it for a long period.
With a blank expression, she turned her attention back to the only voice spoken. There were many questions running through both her head and eyes toward the authority figure. Having her mouth not comprehend the consciousness of her brain, she made a weak reply. "Hm?"
"I apologize for waking you, Haruno-san," the woman breathed, inching closer. Her eyes darted back and forth from the clipboard to the girl in bed. "How do you feel? Do you remember anything?"
"It's Sakura," the dreary girl moaned, sinking lower into the mattress. When the older being gave a confused look, she explained more clearly. "My name. I prefer Sakura."
Chocolate eyes glanced wearily toward her. The woman fidgeted under her uniform, giving only a curt nod. "As you wish, Haru–…Sakura. I'm Nao, your nurse."
Sakura gave a weak smile, bringing attention back to her position. Her shoulders seemed unwilling as she drew herself a small ways from the covers, slipping against the wall. She leaned her head upon it for support and took unnecessary deep breaths, counting each inhale and exhale. Ever since waking, her head shot off a throbbing pain through her body; she needed some way to distract herself from it, but her mind kept wandering back to the insides of her forehead. It was a terrible feeling.
The nurse, once again, brought her back to reality. "Haruno-san, are you okay?"
Sakura shot her an annoyed glare at the mention of her last name, receiving an apologetic look back. She sighed and straightened up a little more, pushing her thoughts away from the pain and focusing on her situation. "No."
"No? What's wrong?"
"I don't know where I am or how I got here."
Nao gave a relieved laugh, propping herself on a stool beside the bed. She slid the clipboard smoothly in her lap before replying, "You're at Suna hospital." Feeling a questioned glance coming her way, she took an exhausted breath before continuing. "A man and a boy brought you here, claiming you passed out from a heat stroke. Do you remember anything?"
As if being whacked aside the head, Sakura's memory started clearing up. Everything seemed to make sense now. She remembered joining Naruto on his journey with Jiraiya, getting lost multiple times on the map (courtesy of her blonde teammate), losing the majority of water supplies, feeling nothing but the deadly heat from the sky's blazing sun in the middle of a desert…
From there, everything went back to where she originally started: blank. Sakura supposed that was when she'd passed out.
She moaned a few inaudible words under her breath as her legs were pulled from under the sheets, swinging over to hang lifelessly on the side of the bed. Nao grew hesitant with this action, but didn't speak anything of it; her patient seemed too deep in thought. Sakura's eyes gazed intensely at the floor as if there were something interesting on it, losing sense of her outer surroundings. Having millions of questions rummage through her head at lightning speed, one in particular popped, bringing her subconscious back toward the nurse. "How long have I been here?"
Nao gave a small smile, replying, "Only since morning; a few hours at most. There's no rush – we have plenty of patients pile in from the heat of the desert. It's recommended you stay for twenty four hours."
"Twenty four," Sakura repeated in a whisper, running a hand through her pink hair. She paused at the end of a strand, aimlessly spinning it around her fingers. A few hours counted as a few days in training time; she wouldn't be surprised if Naruto learned a new technique by now, pushing him one step toward success while she wasted her time sleeping. Not this time – her mind was made up. No more taking the easy road.
The preteen pushed herself off the white sheets, desperately ignoring the throbbing sensation in her head, and walked toward the door. Upon reaching the handle, she could hear Nao's feet standing in silent protest and waved her hand dismissively. Sakura gathered the strength for a timid smile, despite her grief for starting on the wrong foot for training, and flashed her nurse an apologetic face.
"Thanks, but I can take it from here." Without another word or waiting for a response, she slid out the door, past the hospital wing, through the exit and entered into Suna, the great Village Hidden in the Sand.
Sakura took her time walking around the village, noting each surrounding in detail. With her village being enemies of the sand before, she never had the chance to see Suna head-on. In fact, this was only her fifth village outside the Leaf she'd seen with her own eyes. The thought brought her depressed state back to walk alongside her. How could she be taken serious? How could she take herself seriously? The only interests she'd ever shown were to look pretty and have a certain Uchiha fall for her. She groaned at the thought of Naruto trying to explain her goals to Jiraiya.
Not that they were the same anymore. The rosette changed her ways ever since the departure of her beloved teammate, making her new goal in life to bring him back. She knew Orochimaru's reason for taking Sasuke, as well as his reason to follow Orochimaru, but she refused to let him take a path that would ruin his life. It wasn't about her simple love for him anymore, but for his well-being and safety. After all, she found it as her job as his teammate…or rather, old teammate.
Her eyes landed on a translucent window to the side, revealing part of the inside of a small shop, while the sun reflected images around her. She could make out her own reflection staring back at her, absently reaching out to touch one another. Her usual neat hair was knotted and screamed for a wash; her eyes appeared dull and worn out; her clothes were stained with sand particles and looked as if they went on her a week straight. All-over-all she had the appearance of a raccoon caught in headlights, yet her reflection made no move to improve anything. For once, she left her ratted looks as any ninja would in battle – uncared for.
Sakura's thoughts continued its ramblings as she walked blankly through the village. Her subconscious mind drifted toward earlier events: dreaming. She paused to think that problem through; what was with these dreams? A sign, perhaps? Maybe a warning? It was too early to tell, yet she was already sick of the nonsense. She had enough pressure on her as it is, let alone worry about her dream world seeking out to kill her.
Her inner battle was interrupted with a sudden wave, knocking her off balance to land square against the hard ground. Sakura let a groan rip from her throat, looking in disgust at the forming purple surrounding her lower right leg. As if spontaneously shocked, she quickly wiped away the annoyed look; she had to get used to being hurt – Sakura wouldn't allow her teammates to fight her battles anymore.
She glanced to the culprit of her fall, already knowing whom by the familiar sound of his voice. A boy her age stared back at the rosette, forming a wide smile at the recognition. His deep, cerulean eyes closed with his grin as he let out a nervous chuckle, stretching out his legs to once-again stand while holding an arm inches from her face. "Sorry about that. Didn't see you there!"
Sakura merely nodded, ignoring the helping hand to stand on her own. As the blonde boy awkwardly let his arm fall back to his side, she cast him a confused look. "Naruto, where's Jiraiya-sama?"
"Oh him," the acknowledged boy huffed, stuffing his hands deep in their pockets. "He's out doing his perverted research and whatnot."
"Research?" Sakura blankly asked. Naruto gave her a mere smile as his reply, not bothering to fully answer the question. She gave a timid smile back; at least he hadn't done much without her. The last thing she wanted was to fall behind on the first day of her new training.
"But," Naruto slyly started, "he did give me some scrolls to memorize some basic techniques. Maybe we could study them together!" He realized his mistake of adding the last word too enthusiastically, quickly recovering with, "I mean, we could go over it as teamwork – like at a restaurant or something."
His teammate raised her eyebrows in suspicion, but didn't retort what he expected. "Fine, as long as I decide what place. And it's not a date."
"Deal." With that last note, the two continued down the road with other strangers, glancing at different buildings here and there. Naruto, unnoticed by the girl beside him, shot a quick glance toward Sakura every few moments, knitting his brows together when she rubbed her forehead. He knew he was acting overprotective, but couldn't stop his worrying. After all, she'd passed out under his watch with not even a week after they left the village. He was also well-aware of her headstrong attitude toward her training, but even he knew of the consequences she could end up with if he didn't help her through. Jiraiya was more than a hard sensei, and Naruto had been under his teachings for only a short period.
Sakura, on the other hand, was more concerned with the choice of village. She'd been meaning to ask her new trainer for this answer, but never was given the chance. Was there even a real reason? Was the sand village just a random selection? Were there certain techniques he planned to teach the two involving rock jutsu? Was there a person in the village he wanted to see, or perhaps have that person train them? There were many questions she wished to ask, if only she could find her sensei. She scoffed at the realization of alikeness Jiraiya had to Kakashi – and not in a good way.
Her thoughts seemed to dissolve as she neared a billboard plastered above a door to a building. Sakura grinned and pointed in its direction for her teammate to view. "Here!"
Naruto gave the restaurant a casual look-over, eyeing the Go-ruden Watatsumi sign above suspiciously, before giving a small nod. Although it had an odd choice of a name, the backdrop of the board looked rather nice, showing a family enjoying their food in peaceful surroundings.
Their first steps inside told them otherwise of the billboard's image.
Rather than what they expected to be an enchanting restaurant, the place appeared to be worn down and tacky. The pleasant-looking tables from the board appeared delicate and fresh, whereas the actual wooden furniture spotted were placed around the room at random with beaten up chairs and rips in the ruined cloths; booths to the sides of the area weren't that far from the tables' shape. Wallpaper at various spots were ripping from their positions, with other spots growing moldy from old pipe systems. Both their eyes widened in amazement from the fact of the building still standing.
The two young ninjas shared a glance, and before they were able to speed out of sight, a waitress stepped in their path. She was a plump, old woman who appeared around her mid 50's. From the looks of her ratted gray hair and delicate wrinkled skin, an average onlooker would presume her to be a regular weak grandma, when in fact her livid eyes proved beyond that. With a closer inspection, one could find happiness in her soul – even in her old state.
She smiled sweetly at the pair. "Table for two?"
They once again looked nervously at each other, but what other choice was there? The two nodded simultaneously, following the old woman to one of the worn booths beside a window. Sakura snuck a peak across the restaurant while they walked, frowning at the odd customers who didn't seem to notice the disgust of the room. She found most people to either be of the waitress's age or young, amateur-looking ninjas who dressed of tough clothing, but didn't make the fit when it came to the long run. Not that she should be talking.
After the two settled – somewhat comfortably – facing across from each other in a torn red booth, the waitress slipped out a couple of menus and headed off to stop a few men from bickering over their desserts. Naruto opened his quietly to find a variety of mainly seafood, looking at a few descriptions with pictures. He smirked and leaned over toward his teammate, pointing at one of the images. "How much do you want to bet this isn't what it looks like?"
"That's a fool's bet," Sakura laughed, eyeing the picture amusedly. She continued gazing blankly at the food items until a bubble popped in her head. "Hey, do you have the scrolls with you?"
Naruto smiled, slipping off his backpack and rustling through its contents. "Already ahead of you," he replied, pulling out her current desires. He placed a few random scrolls across the table, zipping up the rest for later. After securing his pack beside him, Naruto looked back to see the rosette having already opened each of them. The blonde coughed awkwardly to gain her attention. "Don't you think we should go one at a time?"
"I know," she retorted, not leaving her eyes off the scribbled writings. "I'm just choosing which we should learn first." He kept quiet for the minutes followed, watching her silently debate on the different items; his face would glow with amusement every few moments when she scrunched her expression in frustration. After more passing time of silence and a beverage visit from the waitress, Sakura's face lifted to meet his. "How about this one?"
The blonde tilted his head to glance at a pale scroll, searching the page full of words for some recognition of an element. He heard an almost inaudible sigh from his teammate, followed by a finger tapping the scroll's blue handle impatiently. His eyes wandered up the page to read two bold words scribbled across the top: buki soujuu.
A frown tugged its way across his face. "Weapon control? That's what you think is most important out of all these other elements?" Naruto's hand waved across the table to emphasize his point; Sakura didn't need to glance in a mirror to know her eyebrows were twitching with annoyance.
"I know weapons aren't the most important information, baka! Haven't you learned anything from Kakashi-sensei? Always start with the basics."
"Well," he smirked back, "I already have the basics down."
She gave him an amused look. "So you already know how there's over twenty different ways to hold a kunai correctly against an enemy's vital spots?"
"Or how one of the top five death mistakes against one's self is mishold of a weapon?"
"You see, I…"
"Or when –"
"I get it!" Naruto snapped, receiving a satisfied smile from the girl across him. He let out a defeated sigh, absently swiping the scroll up and tossing it between his hands. Nothing worked; the words still seemed to mock him. "Fine, whatever you say."
After a quick food order toward the waitress, the two leaned in the middle of the table for a shared view of the scroll. Naruto strained his head for repeated minutes, attempting to focus on the scribbled writing, but with no success; he was too distracted. The thought of Sakura's presence this close to his own was unbearable. Her face was mere inches from his – close enough for him to reach out and rub her cheek. The blonde held his hands clenched under the table, though much to his dismay. It was better than being beaten like a rag doll once she felt his touch.
Not that he ever minded.
Naruto knew he was perfectly capable of getting out of her violent grasp. He knew he was stronger and quicker – although would never say aloud – than her. The problem was the main reason Sakura pounded on him: her frustration. She went through a lot, especially the departure of Sasuke, and he wanted to be there for her. He went through difficult times as a child and felt he could relate to her on a level, so he continues to let his teammate rid of her anger. To him, it was better than watching her bottle up her emotions and push herself too far; he didn't want her to end like their other squad member.
"Does that sound good?" Sakura's voice cut his thoughts.
"Hm?" She frowned at his one-word response, settling back in her seat to send a hard glare across the table. Once the sushi arrived, the two ate in silence. An occasional small talk would come up, but just as soon would fade away. The silence was neither awkward nor unfriendly, but rather comforting. This quiet atmosphere gave the teammates time to think of their first training session. How would their skills compare? Was one greater with a subject than the other? Could the pair work together so simply, when in fact the last of their teamwork was with their four-man squad? Many nerving questions silently floated in the air.
It was only a mere ten minutes later did the two start talking again, both grateful of leaving the dreadful restaurant; on the plus side, their bill was cheap.
Sakura walked quietly behind her partner, following him around in his search for the perfect training spot. It became more difficult than the pair originally thought, given the fact of Suna being mostly sand. Everywhere they went seemed unavailable. An academy's training grounds: occupied; open areas in the center of the village: too crowded; alleyways: too narrow.
By the time Naruto decided a location outside the village – although much to Sakura's protest – the two felt worn out, as if they'd already trained for hours; Suna was one place they didn't want to get lost in. The blonde headed a few miles east outside the village gates, coming across a vastly flattened area. Although still covered in sand, the particles rested smoothly against the ground without much of a breeze to blow them away.
Meanwhile, his female teammate frowned at the scenario. They didn't have much with not even a single tree in her eyesight. Sakura managed to brush her negative thoughts away, knowing fully-well it was the only location reasonable. After all, she didn't want the two to end up practicing in their small, cheap, cramped hotel room the blonde described to her earlier.
Naruto's voice drowned her thoughts. "This is it!"
"I guess it'll do," she sighed, pulling out the weapons scroll from her pack. Shrugging off her bag, Sakura shuffled through its contents before reaching her kunai pouch, strapping it to the side of her right leg; she figured they removed the weapons at the hospital. Her attention turned back to Naruto, who was currently realizing the lack of trees. "The best target to aim for would be the rocks."
He swiftly turned his head toward her, casting a confused look. "Wouldn't the kunai just bounce off?"
"The scroll explained about applying chakra to weapons, making them strengthen against any surface. It would be difficult, but if we mastered that, it should be uphill from there."
"How would we apply chakra?"
"That's what I'm worried about," she replied, turning her head down to the scroll clutched between her hands, shifting it back and forth. "We need precise chakra control for this to work."
Naruto's next words threw her off guard. "Then it's a good thing I have you on my team."
She met his casual grin with a genuine smile.
-- -- --
"Where did those damn kids run off to?"
A frustrated voice cut through the thick, dry air of the late afternoon sun. Hasty footsteps frantically followed the owner of the heavy voice, attempting to catch up with its giant steps. Two pairs of sandals – one a worn out, aged black with the other a fresh, deep blue – scurried along clean tile floors through a narrow hallway.
The sea-colored footwear belonged to none other than Nao, the young woman whom recently was positioned as Sakura's nurse. Her worried expression from earlier hadn't changed in the least as she attempted to keep pace with the tired man ahead, having her oversized pale coat flutter close behind her heels. She knew it was trouble to let her patient out before schedule; why had she not done anything to stop her? The brunette's voice kept intelligently quiet, occasionally apologizing over and over to the other person with a small, "I should've known better", "It's all my fault", or "Please forgive me, Jiraiya-san."
The recognized old man replied to none of these, focusing on his fists opening and closing, grimly smiling at the thought of his blonde pupil's throat being strangled by them. Jiraiya expected Naruto to follow his orders and check on their new teammate. He hadn't counted on Sakura leaving the premises early – she seemed like one to obey the rules. Of course now he knew the two probably met, wandering aimlessly around the foreign village and wasting valuable time. Naruto was easily distracted, and as for the girl, he needed more time to analyze her personality before drawing conclusions. Still, with them walking blindly through Suna not only wasted his and their time to train, but could also turn out dangerous.
With that last note, the white-haired man turned swiftly on his black sandal, causing the nurse to pause in confusion. Jiraiya gave her a stern look – one she received various times the past half-hour. "Do you have any clue as to the girl's whereabouts?"
Nao seemed hesitant, before bowing her head in shame. "I'm sorry…"
"I'm not asking for an apology; what's done is done," he sighed in anger. Jiraiya's expression turned weary as he glanced at a Suna map pinned against the wall beside him. "They could be anywhere, and I'm not familiar with the village's terrain –"
"I could help you there!" she piped up suddenly, causing him to face her again in interest.
"Well," she paused, "I know the best locations for training sites – my patients frequently visit past areas to reminisce."
Jiraiya grinned at her sudden usefulness. "Lead the way!"
The pair traveled to various spots across the village, searching for the other young shinobi. Their quest – they found the hard way – turned out more difficult than first imagined, looking far and wide through the most commonly used training grounds with no sign of Leaf ninja. Jiraiya began to grow impatient, while Nao became obviously frantic. She didn't want to have her patient getting hurt, and certainly knew the troubles a foreigner could come across. Rough gangs; dropout ninja; oncoming threats; their newly made enemies of the Sound. There were many reasons to be well-aware inside the village…
Wait a minute. Inside the village?
Her course quickly made a different turn, leading the older man toward the Suna gates. Jiraiya quietly questioned her path, only receiving a swift nod and determined expression; that was plenty to convince him. She strode silently for a few miles at a fast pace, the powerful shinobi trailing not-too-far behind, before coming to a clear view ahead. Nao's face broke in a relieved smile at the sight.
There, across a far sandy plain barely visible, stood two small dots. A few steps further would prove the dots to be figures, while a long walk across the distance would show their missing targets. Jiraiya hastily covered their presence – ignoring the confused look from the nurse beside him – and watched amusedly from the far distance. With his experienced eyes, even with old age, he could see the young ninjas crystal clear.
Drenched in sweat, blonde locks flopped across his face, the familiar gleam of determination in his eyes; Jiraiya smirked as his pupil swiftly snatched a kunai from his pouch and raced forward (although from Jiraiya's point of view, to his left), twirled the weapon between his fingers before aiming the metal at a small boulder. The Toad Sannin felt his left eyebrow rise in the opposite direction as the other, inwardly annoyed at the young ninja's weak choice of training. Weapon mastery? On the first day?
His eyes suddenly widened in surprise as the kunai gave off small sparks of a blue aurora, speeding quicker from Naruto's chakra supplied. The metal reached its destination with a small crunch against the rock, causing a few splinters to crack with sand dust. Jiraiya formed a wide smile as the kunai appeared an inch deep within the boulder; it was definitely a better start than he had predicted.
However, his blonde student didn't seem to agree. "You've got to be kidding me?!"
Another presence made Jiraiya aware of his other pupil, who currently seemed to be measuring the kunai's impact with the boulder. After glancing at a few odd angles, the girl turned her head back to face her teammate with sympathetic, green eyes. "At least you're getting closer."
"At what?" Naruto sighed.
His teammate avoided the direct question. "You're putting too much pressure in your chakra – almost like you're desperate."
"That was the point," he mumbled.
Sakura shot him a hard glare. "That will keep you at the position you're currently in. You need to focus your inner chakra. Harness it into the metal and make the two become one. Just relax, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e."
The blonde sent her a confused look at her last comment; she mentally slapped her head. "It means BREATHE!"
Jiraiya widened his smirk as Naruto mumbled 'I knew that', scratching his head in an irritated fashion; from what he could analyze by mere observation, the knucklehead still had troubles when it came to chakra control – a skill their female teammate seemed to have mastered prematurely.
His brain suddenly kicked in at the assigning Tsunade put to add Sakura on the team. His original theory was of her keeping the two together as to not lose one in search of the Uchiha heir, but their performance instantly ridded of the thought. No, the Hokage – his teammate – was much wiser than simply letting the preteens travel for personal reasons. The two were opposites when it came to their strengths; he knew of Naruto's great stamina and endurance, as well as the girl's precision and chakra manipulation.
Yes, Tsunade chose this team well. They would learn from each other like partners should, as they both had the potential each sannin witnessed.
For now, however, he had to focus on the link of their teamwork: getting them to cooperate. Jiraiya eased his way across the separating distance, barely paying mind to the confused nurse keeping pace behind him. Upon walking close enough for the students to notice his presence, he flashed the two an amused grin. "Working in the desert heat with those uniforms, eh? Not the wisest choice for training."
Sakura's face flushed to red – and not from the heat. She took a quick glance to notice both her and Naruto's sweaty appearance, turning back to face her sensei with an apologetic expression. The first day and already she received a bad remark. "Sorry, Jiraiya-sama. We were just having an early practice."
"No need for an apology," Jiraiya intervened with a wave and smile; at least she respected him, unlike his other student who preferably called him by–
"Oi, Ero-sennin! What took you so long?" Naruto growled impatiently.
Jiraiya felt his eyebrow twitch, but other than that pretended to not hear the blonde's accusing. "You two are a difficult pair to find – remind me to buy leashes next time I let you out of my sight."
"You're a sannin, yet you need help finding us mere genin?"
"You're really asking for it, kid," Jiraiya huffed, grudgingly turning his attention to his other student rather than knocking the loudmouth senseless. "However, I didn't come here to argue. Sakura, I have a tempory assistant to teach you."
Nao froze as all eyes suddenly turned on her. This was so not part of the plan.
Author's Note: First – before I receive many complaints I know will come – I apologize for my extreme tardiness in updating the next chapter. I suppose I could blame it on lack of imagination, the last months of school, or many other things, but I'm not; I was lazy and simply wasn't in the mood for writing. Still, that's a poor excuse to making others wait for me, and I'm sorry.
On the plus side, today is marking the last day of school. Thus, I will be updating much more often :)
On another side note while I'm apologizing, I'm sorry for not living through what questions I asked from the previous chapter. Technically, although Naruto and Sakura did start up on training, Jiraiya wasn't the one teaching (aka the first question). Also in response to avoiding the second question, I didn't mention any 'special technique' Sakura was taught, HOWEVER I plan to mention this in one of the next couple of chapters.
So, if you're still counting, the only question I kept true was the last. From the reviews, it was more than obvious that most people wanted the team to travel to Suna first (and personally, so did I ^_^). And before I'm spammed with complaints of 'WHERE THE HELL IS GAARA?!' from crazy fangirls (although I shouldn't be talking; I'm one myself), no worries – he will appear.
A couple last few words: thank you to all that reviewed! I can't exactly describe in words how grateful I am, but I can tell you it's a lot! Whether positive or negative, each one helps me stride to complete the next chapter – which I will finish much quicker than this one! Other than that, I appreciate all your support of reading my fanfic and hope you enjoy it :)
P.S. – Could it be possible for anyone to mention what a 'one-shot' is? I have a basic idea of what they are, but no one exactly explained so I can't be sure. Thanks!
P.S.S. – Sorry for such a long message! I just wanted to clear up a couple questions/confusions I noticed some reviewers had:
To ex0 and Ski Uzumaki: This is my fault for not going into much detail on the subject (but no worries, I've rewritten the first chapter so check it out! ^_^), but Sakura's mom is not a ninja. Again, my bad for not explaining thoroughly the first time and not to offend, but just giving the heads up!
To Lalaith Quetzalli: Fair enough for me to answer your questions after you answered mine :) Yes – Naruto will tell Sakura of his 'burden', but that is to come in later chapters. Probably not – At least, I think I'll mention Jiraiya's confession of Naruto's parents in this story's sequel when they're older. Definate yes – Naruto and Sakura are my favorite couple, so they will naturally end up together in my fics. It's confusing – I originally wanted this to be a simple chapter or so about their journey and skip to the present (Shippuden time), but if you will direct your attention to the changed summary, I am writing of their trip together; sorry if it's not as exciting as the Shippuden, but on the plus side their journey will end with them together ;D And lastly, sure – You're right, that was random about mentioning Itachi. No fear, though, because he's one of my favorite Akatsuki members, so he will be mentioned later on (and definitely in the sequel).
Hope that cleared up some last confusions; if not, feel free to describe in a review or PM. Again, thanks for reading!