STRAWBERRIES AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS

Ichigo awoke with a headache, a blinding headache. His entire body felt sore. What the hell had he been through? He couldn't remember. There was a bandage on his forehead, he could feel it. Why? Surely Orihime would have healed all his wounds, so why the need for a bandage? Could something have possibly happened to her, what was going on? The thoughts swirling around in his mind did nothing to ease his physical pain, and instead only heightened his mental uneasiness. He sat up abruptly and opened his eyes, in order to evaluate the situation. He blinked a few times, trying to clear his blurry vision. He was in a hospital room, not at his father's clinic and not at the fourth division headquarters either, so where?

So many questions, the answers not even within reach. He back tracked, trying to make sense of the events that happened previously. How did he even black out? Surely nothing Grimmjow could've done to him could have had this effect on him. He wanted to throw up; he never felt so uncomfortable in his own body, something felt very off. Could Szayel have possibly kidnapped him and done some weird experiments on him? He wouldn't put it past the deranged Espada, but how? Why couldn't he remember anything?

In an attempt to answer his questions, he carefully climbed out of bed [well as carefully as Ichigo ever did anything, which was more like jumping out of bed haphazardly at full speed]. After taking a moment to regain his senses, he proceeded to walk toward the door. He was feeling stranger than before now that he was standing. The proportions of the room felt odd, he felt shorter. If anything, he'd say he was shorter. While trying to clear his mind, he pushed his hair out of his face. It felt softer, he examined it, playing with one of the…blond locks? He tugged at the hair again, not daring to believe his eyes. Since when was his hair blond? He could've sworn it was orange. Yes, it was orange, wasn't that the reason why people ostracized him? So, blond? He didn't remember dyeing it. Could this be Renji's idea of a joke?

Ichigo was wrenched from his thoughts by voices coming from the hallway. The angry voices.

"That baka, I told him not to leave the village! How could he do something so reckless?! I'll kill him!"

"I understand, but you'll have to put those plans on hold, he's still recooperating."

Ichigo felt sorry for whoever they were talking about. That girl sounded like she meant business. Thank god he didn't know her. As he was about to open the door and begin his investigation, it slammed inward toward him, with such force, that though he dodged just in time, he still felt the wind being knocked out of him. When the door burst open, the first thing he saw was a glimpse of pink hair. Pink? Oh no, he was right, he was abducted by Szayel. Maybe it was one of those freak's experiments which turned him blond, and he was also now considering the possibility of being shrunk.

After recovering from his near death-by-door experience, the orang-blond boy was shocked. He thought Szayel was the only person who dared to have flamboyantly pink hair [with the exception of Yachiru but she was a special case], but the girl standing in front of him most definitely wasn't Szayel or Yachiru. Whilst he took his time to process this information, he noticed neither the steam coming out of her ears, the hellish fire in her eyes or the fist she was making at him, nor did he notice the conversation that was taking place.

"Naruto, you idiot, how could-"

"Sakura, calm down you'll kill him, you almost smashed him with the door!"

"Well, since he seems to want to die so much, I might as well- " Ichigo was only brought back to reality when she grabbed his collar, and the pink of her hair began to pale in comparison to the red of her face. Yeah, she was angry. Even more confused than before, Ichigo blinked. His brain could come up with no other plan of action.

"Stop blinking like an idiot, well, explain yourself!!"

This time, he pulled himself out of her grip and yelled for everyone in a fifty mile radius to hear, "What the hell, who are you?!"

Then he realized, his voice sounded different. What on earth really was going on? Why did this angry girl whom he did not know demand explanations from him. Explanations about what exactly? Did he really forget some important events? Did he know these people, who exactly were they? He couldn't sense any reiatsu from them, and also, he couldn't even sense his own.

The girl was talking again, she didn't seem to realize his confusion, or hear his question.

"Why Naruto, why the hell? You are so stubborn, are you even listening to me?!" she screamed, but this time a tinge of sorrow lined the anger.

Naruto? She had been referring to a Naruto ever since she walked into the room, but only now did he realize that she was addressing him as Naruto. He wasn't sure what to do, so he decided to play along.

She started again, "I was worried you idiot!"

"I'm . . . sorry?" he replied.

"What did you say?"

"I'm sorry?"

"What about, 'Sakura-chan, I swore I would bring him back, and I'll do that no matter what, cuz, if I can't save one friend, how I can I ever hope to become Hokage'? I had an entire counter argument planned for that line!"

Ichigo was even more confused than before, and he hadn't thought that possible.

She continued, "Now that I think about it, you've been acting weird. Are you okay?"

"Whaddya mean?" he said, wondering how this Naruto person was supposed to sound.

"Well, how do I put it? Something about you seems…akward. And you haven't given me those big apologetic, yet determined eyes yet, and you're scowling, since when do you scowl? Are you sure you're all right?"

Wow, her disposition had totally changed, she was so kind now, though he had sensed some concern from her from the very beginning. She kind of reminded him of Rukia.

"Actually, my shoulder kinda hurts…um…Sakura-chan?"

WHAM! He got one slap across his face. "It serves you right, you're always rushing into things, baka!" Okay, she reminded him of Rukia, A LOT.

"I'll leave you two to talk for a while. Sakura, as soon as he's better, bring him to Tsunade-sama's office."

"Hai, Shizune-sempai!"

The Sakura girl turned toward him again. He wasn't sure what to be prepared for, the evil side or the kind side. Even more disconcerting was the fact that he still had no idea what was going on. Where was everyone, what was happeni ng? so far, all he deduced was that he was blond, mistaken for someone called Naruto, and was in a totally unfamiliar surrounding, with none of his comrades in sight. There were two explanations, he was dreaming, or something really freaky had happened, he opted for the latter, because it was easier to see this being real than being a dream he would have, especially given his life. Now, as to what that freaky phenomena was and what caused it, he had no clue. He figured it was safe to assume that he and this Naruto person had switched bodies, but from that point onward, he was stumped.

"Naruto, are you sure you're okay, you keep staring off into space."

Ichigo continued to stare, Sakura waved a hand in front of him. Oh, yeah, he was Naruto. He composed himself and prepared to answer the question. He wasn't going to give himself away until he had a better grasp of the situation. For all he knew, these people could be enemies, dangerous enemies, and he felt as though he was too disoriented to fight himself out of any tough situations at that moment. The injuries coupled with the tiredness, confusion and transition into a new body did not leave him in a very good state.

"I'm fine Sakura-chan," he said.

"So, what happened?" she asked, her voice laced with a strange sadness and longing. She still showed her disapproval of whatever it was he did, but it was mixed with curiosity.

As Ichigo had no idea how to answer this question, he opted for something semi-truthful.

"I … can't remember," he stately dully. It was convincing, for, to him, he was being truthful. He could remember nothing, nothing at all. The last thing he knew was fighting Ulqiourra in Las Noches. He remembered being taken over by his hollow but after that, he had no recollection of the events which played out.

"Oh, well, I want you to know that I understand how you feel, but you shouldn't charge off into situations like that Naruto, you could've died!" and she added so that he couldn't hear, "I don't want to lose you too."

Ichigo just stared, listening to the words of the pink haired girl. Her voice was so solemn. He wondered what it was she could've been talking about. "You do realize that you disobeyed the Hokage's direct orders and single handedly went into the middle of a war which Konoha has nothing to do with in order to bring back one extremely powerful rogue ninja against his will?! I know that you've trained and you're a lot stronger, but Naruto, even you couldn't pull that one off, and I thought even you wouldn't be stupid enough to think you could, baka!" Ichigo heard it, throughout her speech he could sense her regret, her conflicting emotions, the battle between logic and instinct. Whatever it was he did that was deemed so reckless, that she said he shouldn't have done, she really wanted to do it, despite knowing of the dangers. Before he could stop himself, he said, "But you wanted to do the same!"

He noted that his voice sounded rather defensive. At first he thought she was going to dismiss the question, but after a short pause she cried out, "You never considered taking me along, you didn't say what you were planning to do, and when you left, Tsunade-sama practically had me on lock down, they didn't even let me join the retrieval squad!"

"So, you would've come?" Ichigo asked innocently, a little surprised that his deduction was dead on. Wham! Her fist collided with his face, a red bruise now adorned it as proof. "How dare you! Of course I would have! I want to bring Sasuke back just as much as you do! And though it makes more sense to follow orders and not act rashly, had I known you were going, I'd have followed in a heartbeat! This was a chance of a lifetime. But when I saw you calmly heed Tsunade-sama's words, I thought if Naruto could be so mature about this, so can I. Tsunade-sama has her reasons, and we should listen. But then you went and did something like this and ran off on your own! Do you see why I'm angry now!"

She stopped. Ichigo was amazed at how long she could go for without pausing for breath. He apologized for his previous statement, and he truly meant it. He could see that this girl was really confused and troubled with issues in her life. He felt as though he could relate to her. Yes, fighting for the sake of your friends, risking life and name, it didn't matter if you were a ninja or a shinigami … wait a minute, did she say ninja?

He was wrenched from his thoughts of shuriken and black outfits and Soi-Fon by Sakura.

"You always leave me behind. You take the world on your shoulders and I have to watch, never being able to help! I've gotten stronger too! I know you do it to protect me, but I don't need you to, I am an equal member of squad seven, I've contributed just as much as you and Sasuke, why won't you take me seriously!"

"Sakura, we do take you seriously."

Ichigo looked around to see who had spoken. A man entered from the window. His face was covered in a mask, he had untidy white hair and he was holding a book. "Yo, how are you feelin?"

"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura acknowledged.

He smiled at her. "Sakura, I'm sure Naruto sees you as one of the most important ninja in the village, much less in team seven, and so, he didn't want the village to lose you."

Wow, this guy was a smooth talker, thought Ichigo.

"But-"

"No buts, be thankful he didn't drag you along in his stupidity," he tapped Narut… Ichigo… with the book and continued, "I'd hate to be there when he has to face the Hokage for what he did." Kakashi finished with a smile, Sakura smiled a little too. He walked toward the door, as he was about to leave, he turned toward Ichigo and said, "Naruto, you have to be patient, we'll get Sasuke back with a proper plan." And he left.

Sakura gestured toward the bruise on Naruto's face, "I'm sorry," she said "you want me to heal that?"

Ichigo leaned forward, curious to see how she'd heal it, was she like Orihime? He was intrigued as he saw the bluish energy surround her hand… it gave off an aura kind of like reiatsu, but different, and then the bruise was gone. Ichigo couldn't believe it, further more, he couldn't understand why he couldn't believe it, he saw stuff like this everyday. He guessed that you only believe things exactly as they are in front of you, so the slight differences in the techniques were what had him in a state of awe. You didn't have to be a shinigami, quincy or a human with abnormally high levels of reiatsu to do things like this, you could be a ninja!

He still hadn't wrapped his mind fully around the concept of ninjas. Did he hear right. So they weren't shinigami or hollow, they belonged to an entirely different faction. How did they fit into the whole equation of his life. Was it there just to complicate things further. He had enough on his plate to deal with without having to watch out for people hurtling jutsus at him. However, while he thought this whole thing was just some new method God thought up to torture him, he couldn't help but be curious. He wondered how the ninja world operated, was it like Nabari, with the underworld secretly pulling the strings on the surface from the shadows. He couldn't believe he was becoming so caught up in this. Then he started to wonder, did Aizen employ the services of ninjas?! Did Aizen even know about the ninja world? He wouldn't doubt if Aizen were a ninja, after all, Aizen was all about pulling the strings from the shadows and catching people off guard. But something about this girl told him that they were not against him and his comrades in anyway, that they were good people. It was just a vibe he couldn't shake off, strawberry's intuition.

"Naruto, are you listening, I said we have to go se Tsunade-sama now."

"…" eh, what did she say?

Hmm, I wonder what punishment the great hokage-sama has for the strawberry who left the village without permission and may have started the next great ninja war?? And what's going on with naruto? *grins evilly* what does my mind have in store?