Author's Note: This is my first multi-chaptered Naruto fic. While I've written two one-shots, I've had a great time developing a story that's longer and more in-depth. I've got roughly half of the story finished, so I'm thinking it'll be about 5 chapters in length. Hope you guys enjoy.
This story is written from Sakura's POV.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Chapter 1 - Reunion
It felt like my head was splitting into a thousand tiny pieces. Piercing dots of pain stabbed into the darkness, stirring an odd pattern of red and blue behind my closed eyelids. The pain was so intense that it was all I could think about as I slowly awoke from the haze of unconsciousness. Pressing, squeezing, drowning me.
Breath wheezed out from between my lips and the pain doubled. I hadn't been aware that it could get worse, but it did. I felt more than heard the moan that resonated from my throat. I felt so vile I don't think I would've noticed if my head had just rolled off my body at that moment. In fact, it might have actually been an improvement.
I began to concentrate on breathing instead of watching the nauseating dance of colors in the blackness behind my eyelids. The careful in and out, and the soft whoosh against whatever my face was plastered against slowly pulled at my consciousness. I gradually became aware of the cradle of the mattress beneath me, the soft pillow under my head, the cool air against my bare back, the –
Uh…my what? Why was my back bare? I never slept naked. I shivered and then winced at the resulting pain, but I was caught by an unnerving thought.
Where was I?
My head pounded as I concentrated. I could only recall up until a point of the previous night; my memory stopped at the drunken disorder of the bar. I could vaguely picture the raucous cheers, banter, and voices of the sloshed sailors, the overwhelming smell of the ale (my stomach clenched at that thought), and the disgusting pinches and leers I had received while posing as a barmaid. And then finally, I recalled the fist coming at my face from the angry man that I dumped a whole pitcher of ale on because he had the audacity to grope me.
A horrible thought came to me then, and all I could think of was stupid, stupid, stupid. I had pretty much offered myself to the man on silver platter. Goosebumps peppered my skin and I just knew that someone was watching me.
The mere idea that the ruddy faced sailor had touched me was revolting, and the thought that he might still be watching me made my skin crawl. The pain in my head, while still present, took a secondary role the fury that rooted in my chest and flared like a white, hot flame. I may be a trained medic, but that didn't mean I wasn't against maiming someone.
Unless he was retarded, I was sure he knew that I was awake due to my moan of pain moments before. This meant I had to act fast and catch him off guard. I quickly went over my options. (1) I could jump up screaming from the mattress and rush him with only my nails and fists as my weapons, or (2) make a beeline for the door and try to escape. Neither were good options. For all I knew he was carrying a pistol and the second I popped up like a she-witch from the bed, he could shoot me clean in the head. And as for the second option, I had no idea where the door was, what the door lead to, and where to run to get out of whatever building this was. All in all, I was pretty much screwed.
Of course, I could always bank on the chance he might be blinded by my naked glory and freeze like a statue.
…which seemed about as likely as pigs flying.
But, it wasn't as if I had all the time in the world to act, so I made a snap decision. I was fast. Hopefully I would be fast enough.
Hand fisting in the sheet, I bolted off the mattress with as much strength as my wounded body could muster. For one panicked second, I was blinded by the light when I opened my eyes, and I barely managed to make out the outline of the doorway before I heard the quick intake of breath from the man watching in the corner. I had the door open before I heard the creak of the chair as he stood, and I was out the door before he had taken a step.
It was almost as if it happened in slow motion, my eyes darting left, right, forward, analyzing and choosing, my feet carrying me toward the narrow wooden stairs leading up to the sunlight – to freedom. As I ran, my vision dimmed slightly on the sides, and I prayed I'd be able to stay conscious long enough to get away.
Closer, closer, closer.
I thought I heard him behind me, chasing me, gaining on me, ready to tackle me to the ground.
I hit the stairs with so much force, I almost tripped. Up, up, up, up. My breath caught as I hit the landing and rush headlong into the sunlight. It was much brighter than the bedroom and the hall, and the light immediately made my eyes water. It was because of this I didn't notice it until I hit the railing, my stomach smashing forcefully into the wood.
The breath whooshed from me so fast I blinked in pain.
However, the it wasn't the railing. It was what was behind that railing - what the railing held me from. The bleakness of my situation hit me with such force that I gasped and felt an encompassing numbness spread through my limbs.
For as far as I could see, the deep, rippling blue of the ocean shimmered in the sun - beautiful, bright, and deadly. It damned me. It denied me my escape. And it might as well have killed me itself. It wasn't until that moment that I recognized the rhythmic rocking of the ship and the sound of the waves as they hit the wooden sides.
I would have jumped into the water, but all strength suddenly left my limbs, the world began to dim and blackness crept inward from the corner of my eyes. The pain I had shoved away hit me like a brick, and I whimpered as my knees buckled.
As I fell to the deck, I heard my captor mutter, "How bothersome."
And then there was nothing but darkness.
I dreamt of my past, of a time that I yearned for even now. My dreams were frequently filled with the perfection, the innocence, and the bonds of friendship that had defined me then. Sure, the horrid moments that had shattered my happiness appeared in my dreams as well and more often than I'd like, but instead of cringing from them and dreading them, they fueled me and kept me strong and focused. They served as a reminder of what I needed to accomplish.
This dream was good. One of the best. It was so mundane, but so profound to me. A simple moment that had defined my friendship with them. My two best friends. My love.
"I'll show you both. I'll get the berries."
The boy with bright blond hair watched me with slight apprehension, his usually smiling lips pulled into an uncertain frown. The boy with dark hair watched me with an almost bored expression, his lips quirked to the side in impatience.
"Uh, Sakura," the blond boy started.
"Doubt me and I'll punch you good, Naruto."
Naruto opened his mouth to respond, but the other boy beat him. "How are you going to punch him if you're dead?"
My eyes narrowed as I stared down at both of them, angry at them for doubting my brilliance. "It's not my fault you're both too chicken to get up here," I retorted from my high perch in the dauntingly tall tree.
"We were deciding who would go first," Naruto argued.
"Think a girl's too weak?"
"No!" Naruto exclaimed.
"Umph." I looked to see Sasuke's reaction, and I frowned at the nonchalance in his eyes.
Fueled by that even more, I reached up from my unsteady perch, my fingers grasping for the bright purple berries hanging only a short distance away. My arm wasn't quite long enough, though, so with a firm hold on a nearby branch with one hand, I leaned forward precariously, my other hand coming even closer to my goal.
I'd show them.
I reached and stretched as far as I could. Sweat beaded my brow as I clenched my teeth in concentration. The sharp snap of the branch I was holding onto for balance made me gasp in shock. I lurched forward as my feet slipped from the branch I stood on. As I tumbled forward, my arms outstretched, I was miraculously able to snag a small handful of the berries. I felt a sudden burst of elation, but that was quickly replaced with fear.
It wasn't as scary as it should have been, however. I was up high enough for a fall to seriously hurt me, but with two best friends beneath me, I felt safe, which was really quite ridiculous in such a situation. It wasn't a question of if they'd catch me, but when they'd catch me. It was funny how perfectly I fell onto both of them, knocking them both to the ground. The breath was knocked out me momentarily, and my ears rang from the sudden landing, but I was fine.
They both looked at me like I was crazy when I started laughing. A few seconds later, Naruto joined in, our laughter forming a duet of merriment. From the corner of my eye, I saw Sasuke crack a smile, the seriousness fading slightly from his face.
"Anyone want a berry?"
I jerked awake, bolting into a sitting position with a gasp. Without thinking, I immediately scanned the room, and sighed heavily when I found it empty. Though I had only been able to catch a small glimpse of the room I had been in before, I knew this one was different. It felt and smelled different. It looked like it was lived in, while the other room had had a distinct unused feel to it.
Random clothes were scattered about the cabin - on the floor, on the back of one of the chairs, at the foot of the bed. A half-empty plate sat on the large table a few feet away, and even from this distance I could make out the large navigation map that covered the whole surface of the table. A single bookshelf encompassed the entire wall opposite me, though there was only a few smattering of books, some knick-knacks, and then unsurprisingly – more clothes. Whoever lived in this cabin didn't know the meaning of cleanliness, and the most disconcerting thing as I continued to study the room was that it looked like the captain's quarters. What kind of slob ran this ship? And employed such monsters?
I wasn't naked anymore, thankfully, but the nightgown I was in resembled a potato sack. It was better than some lacy piece of fluff, though. I'd rather wear a potato sack than that for sure.
My stomach rumbled angrily. I sighed as I rubbed it absently. Hopefully my captors would feed me soon, otherwise, I would have to eat the crumbs on the plate across the room, and that wasn't the least bit appealing.
I slipped quietly from the bed, my eyes catching the circular window roughly ten feet away. I squinted, expecting the light to make my head pound, but was pleasantly surprised to feel only a slight, uncomfortable throb. Rest had definitely helped.
The sun was beginning to set, its orange fingers sliding across the muted ripples of the water, shimmering in the dimming light. I reached out slowly, touching my fingers against the cool window pane, slowly tracing my fingertips across the horizon of the water. The gentle rocking of the waves and the undulation of the light playing off the water was hypnotizing, and I wasn't sure how long I stood there ensnared by the unusual beauty. For some reason the view made me nostalgic.
These past few years, I had been wandering around the country, looking for my childhood friends after they had disappeared – Sasuke running after his traitorous brother, and Naruto after Sasuke to pound some sense into his troubled mind. They had both expected me stay behind like a good little woman.
Ever since meeting Sasuke when he was ten, he had spoken of enacting revenge against his elder brother for killing all of their family for a reason not even he fully understood. He never spoke of it. I only knew from whispered tales that when Sasuke was younger, Itachi had murdered all of his relatives, sparing only his brother. Some believed he just snapped like a twig one day, his sanity lost to the wind. Others believed him to be a methodical murderer, a master planner, a man more dangerous than an army.
When he was seventeen, Sasuke had left our village, setting out to search for the brother he abhorred to bring justice to his family's name. He had always been consumed by this demon of revenge. It had long since tainted every part of his being, leaving him cynical, his mind dark, his actions honed only for one purpose.
On the other hand, Naruto was the light of our group, the ever shining optimism that helped stain Sasuke's black world a light gray, and my world a brilliant hue of yellow. He was the dreamer, always daring the world to contradict his goals and forever beating impossible odds. Where Sasuke was methodical, ordered, quiet, and introspective, Naruto was messy, chaotic, boisterous, and intrusive. They were an odd pair of friends, always contradicting each other, but at the same time complimenting each other.
I wasn't quite sure how the three of us became the friends we did. We were near inseparable despite our differences. I thought of Naruto almost as the brother I never had, but Sasuke had always been different, exotic, and unattainable. Maybe that's why I was always drawn to him like a magnet, and why the bonds of friendship I had always felt for him had unraveled over the years, changing shape into a love that was almost like an unhealthy obsession.
It had felt like a kick in the gut when he had left without a word the night after I confessed my true feelings to him. I had always wondered since then that if I'd kept my mouth shut, might he have stayed? Was I the catalyst that ultimately drove him away? Did I provide that shove he'd been waiting for, yearning for? Naruto had been as blind-sided as I had been. A week later, after tying up loose ends and bidding me farewell, Naruto had followed after our friend in attempt to bring him back. He had returned three months later – battered, his usual optimism dimmed the slightest amount.
Naruto had always claimed he was going to be a ship captain while we were growing up. It was his ultimate goal in life. His ultimate love. On lazy days, the three of us would sometimes go to the port of our hometown and watch the ships come and go, comment on the cargo, and watch the sailors. Most importantly we'd watch the sea – the love of Naruto's life – until our eyes hurt and stomachs grumbled angrily for food.
When Naruto had returned from his chase, though, he was alone. And he didn't stay. He only came to tell me that he had gained employment on one of the ships he used to dream about. He'd finally taken a step toward the coveted dream of his, but it was for the wrong reason. He was going to use the ship as a means to search for Sasuke. Apparently our friend had left on a ship, off to investigate the claim of a hardened, deadly criminal sailing to seas willing to train men in the art of piracy and killing. The man – no, the pirate that Sasuke had searched for and supposedly found, was Orochimaru, the Black Snake, the most feared and treacherous man on the high seas. His methods, his deeds, his raids were cruel and inhuman in their brutality, and it chilled me to the bone that Sasuke would willingly become a part of a band of men led by such a monster.
Maybe I had never understood him, which was an almost crippling thought. Did I merely love a creation in my mind? Had I always misjudged him? My heart screamed no, but my mind was uncertain. I tried to be rational, but it was hard to be rational in matters that were connected to such strong feelings.
I had watched Naruto leave again with a broken heart, and I've yet to lay eyes on him since. I fell into a depressive state at that point, uncertain of what to do with myself and how to handle the desertion of my best friends. It wasn't until I received the first letter from Naruto that my mind clicked on, making me realize how weak, how useless, how idiotic I was being by merely waiting at home like a good girl, hoping for the world to fall back into place in perfect order without me lifting a finger. So I joined my friend in his search for Sasuke.
In the beginning, it seemed like an impossible task. Where to start? Who to question? What to do? A year after I began searching, I received news that Naruto's ship had been lost in a storm off the coast of the neighboring country. While his body hadn't been recovered from the wreckage, he was presumed dead. Not even Sasuke's departure had been more devastating – at least he was still in the world. Naruto, however, was just…gone. Like the snuffing of a candle, his life had been extinguished. I still mourned him - his contagious selflessness, his smile, his annoying ability to make me laugh while so angry I could just spit.
I smiled just thinking about him mussing his hair with a stray hand while laughing sheepishly at some odd, misdeed he had committed. To honor him, to keep his mission alive, I deepened my search for Sasuke. I would never give up. As soon as I escaped from this ship, I'd continue my search.
I had been so close the other night. Sailors from Orochimaru's command were rumored to have been staying in the area, and to get even the smallest clue as to where The Black Snake's ship was currently at, or to even find out anything about Sasuke would have been phenomenal. So I had posed as a barmaid, hoping they'd step into the area's most popular bar for a drink. And with alcohol, a man's tongue tends to loosen, allowing information to spill from his lips.
But, then, I hadn't counted on having the nastiest man in the bar grope and leer at me in the most disgusting manner. It had only felt natural for me to dump the pitcher of ale right over the top of head. Too bad I hadn't been fast enough to dodge his fist.
With a long sigh, I watched as the last slip of the orange sun disappear beneath the water, the haze of twilight receding into the encompassing darkness of night. I did have to wonder why I appeared to be in the captain's cabin. Hopefully he hadn't just stolen me from the sailor and planned to keep me to himself.
I shuddered and scanned the room for something to use as a weapon just in case. A shiny letter opener glinted in the candlelight over on the desk in the corner of the room. I padded across the room to the desk and picked it up, flipping it over in my hand, catching a sliver of my reflection in the long, dull blade.
It was blurry, indistinct, and distorted, and though my face looked like a squashed peach, the vibrant colors of the ring encircling my left eye were most likely accurate. I lightly touched a fingertip to the puffy flesh next to my nose and winced. Definitely sensitive. The green, purple, and yellow of the bruise blended in an ugly mess of colors. I bit my lip as I wondered how long I'd be graced with such a wound.
The sound of the door knob turning made me whip my attention to the door while I positioned myself behind the table with the navigation map. My stance was defensive, and I made sure to keep the letter opener hidden.
A man stepped into the room and closed the door.
I was too focused on his empty hands and holster-free waist to notice his face at first. My eyes took note of the deep blue trousers, the shiny black boots, the leather belt, the wrinkled linen shirt. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled partially up his arms, leaving his forearms bare. A deep scar ran along the top part of the man's wrist and went halfway up his arm. I stomach clenched with recognition, though, my mind automatically and very forcefully rebelled.
My breath caught and I couldn't find the strength to lift my gaze to the man's face, to feel the immediate and inevitable disappointment when I saw it wasn't him. Couldn't possibly be. I was such a ninny for even thinking, considering, and imagining it to be him. The scar meant absolutely nothing. It couldn't be identical to the one that he had received that day I fell from the tree, causing him to gash his arm on a tree root when I landed on him. He hadn't even admitted he was hurt at first. Stupid boy.
No. I was the dumb one. Always hoping for the impossible.
I held my breath and let my gaze slowly travel to the man's chest, up the untidy shirt to his neck, to his chin, to his nose, to his eyes. Bright, bright blue. More familiar than my own. His lips curved into the smile I had been dreaming about less than hour before, and his blond hair resembled that mussed condition so natural to him. The myriad of emotions I felt at that moment made my knees weak and I had to lean forward and press my hands to the table to steady myself. I felt like rushing at him, hugging him, punching him, screaming at him – just touching him to make sure I wasn't hallucinating.
Instead, I merely whispered, "Naruto."
He stared at me for a moment, and it looked like he was bursting to speak. Energy radiated off him. My mind couldn't comprehend what I was seeing, and I just gaped at him, dumfounded.
"Finally awake, eh?" Naruto grinned. "You were out for a long while. I wanted to wake you, but Temari threatened to throw me overboard if I so much as stepped into the room, so I backed off." He hunched his back conspiratorially and took a small step forward. "I had to get Shikamaru to distract her so I could sneak in."
I couldn't seem to force any words out of my mouth as I stared at his amused expression.
"Don't worry about that guy at the bar, though. I pounded him into the ground real good for you. He'll never bother you again." His expression had darkened a bit as he spoke that sentence, still playing the familiar role of a protective friend.
He quirked a brow and crossed his arms over his chest. "I?" he pondered with a grin.
He leaned forward slightly.
I sucked in a deep breath.
"Are you okay, Sakura?"
I made a strangled noise in the back of my throat. "Kidnapped," I hissed.
Bewildered, he took a step forward, concerned I was about to collapse onto the floor. "No, I saved you."
"I thought I had been kidna -" I swallowed and shot him a withering glare. "Kidnapped."
Naruto chuckled at that, his eyes twinkling. "As if I'd let that happen."
It was hard to describe the odd mixture of emotions that welled within me at that moment. I was so furious at him for disappearing, for dying, for acting like he'd never gone away and that he'd always been there, watching over me. But the pure exaltation of just talking to his stupid face, watching that simple, carefree expression light his eyes, and being able to have him there in front of me was overwhelming. I couldn't balance the anger and joy, the exasperation and the elation.
So I punched him.
I didn't feel guilty when I watched him stumble backwards into the book shelf, rattling the knick-knacks. He shook his head slightly, and rubbed a hand absently against his left eye.
Naruto sighed. "Well, some things never change."
And then I rushed to him, threw my arms around his neck and held on as tight as I could. I buried my nose into the warmth of neck and took in the salty scent of his skin. The comforting rumble of his chest told me he was laughing and when his arms wrapped around me, tightening the embrace, I couldn't help myself and began to laugh with him.
"I hate you," I wheezed.
If anything his laughter deepened.
"I'll kill you myself."
He lifted me off my feet and moved toward the table with the navigation map. My fingers dug into the thin fabric of his shirt and I couldn't help gripping it so tight my knuckles turned white. He sat me down on the table, but couldn't move away due to my death grip on him. His laughter had subsided to a light chuckle and I loved the sound of it. I never thought I'd hear the silly sound again, and it was brilliant music to me now.
"Why aren't you dead?" I whispered into his throat.
"I'm too hard to kill."
He said it with such smug pride in his voice that I rolled my eyes. I loosened my grip and with a slight shove against his chest, I was able to see his face and that self-satisfied smile on his lips.
"But they said you were dead. Why didn't you write to me? Tell me you were alive?" My throat constricted, and I willed away the tears threatening to spill. "You can't know how that felt when your mother wrote me about the accident."
He sighed and leaned away from me, his eyes darkening with concern and also what looked like remorse. "I couldn't at first. I didn't get out of that storm uninjured. It took a while to recuperate. I washed onto shore near an old widow's house, and she took me in and helped me gain strength. I did write, though. When I went back to port and got command of this ship, I sent a letter home." His eyes searched mine. "My mother wrote me back and told me you had vanished. Now how do you think that made me feel?"
I opened my mouth to argue, but the words withered in my throat. The sacrifice, the hardship, the adversity I had encountered wouldn't have been so unbearable if I hadn't been so stubborn about severing my ties with my village after I learned his "death", and taking off on my own to complete an impossible mission. I thought of the heartache I could have averted by being less stubborn and self-serving.
Naruto gripped my wrist and tugged. "Ugh, don't be so down. I didn't mean to make you sad."
"No. You're right."
I lifted my gaze and quirked a brow. "Appreciate that I'm saying you're right for once in your life."
His lips quirked the slightest. "But, I'm not. I've been selfish these last few months."
Naruto selfish? I couldn't even imagine it, and I told him so.
"I have, though. Instead of putting all my resources into finding Sasuke, I transferred them to look for you. When you still hadn't been heard from for two years, I had to do something. I mean I still keep my contacts busy trying to find the latest information on Sasuke and Orochimaru, but personally, I've been searching for you."
My gaze whipped to his. "What a ridiculous waste of time," I snapped angrily.
He raised his eyes to the ceiling and took a step back. "I knew you'd react like that."
I hopped off the table and stabbed a finger into his chest. "You promised me you'd search until you couldn't search anymore."
He looked weary then. Almost bone-weary. I watched him as he nodded and walked toward the door. "I know."
"I know," he interrupted. He glanced back at me as he opened the door. He looked different then from the boy I so vividly remembered. He was more mature, almost world-weary, and that spark of inherent innocence he once had was clouded by an almost shadowy perception the world. However, I could still recognize that stubborn determination in the tilt of his jaw and the clench of his hand. Naruto may have adapted to his new world, but he still retained what made him himself.
"I had to do what was more important, though," he said softly, breaking my reverie. My startled gaze jerked to his. He smiled sheepishly. "I'll have someone bring you some food. You must be starving."
And then he left.
I didn't know what to do with myself then, so I remained rooted to floor, my eyes glued to the wooden door. The past several minutes had been so mind-boggling, I was beginning to feel the after-affects of shock ripple through me. Tears blurred my vision, and I had a hard time breathing. The solitary existence I abandoned myself to had been turned topsy-turvy, and the disorientation made me weak.
I wanted Naruto back in the room so I could stare at him some more to make sure he was real. I wanted to piece together the puzzle of my life – study how the pieces I had thought were meant to fit together had suddenly changed form, making everything alter and break apart. I wanted more. Always more than what I had.
The boy who brought my dinner was named Konohomaru, and he helped to fill in those empty holes plaguing my knowledge. He was such a wealth of information. He obviously adored Naruto with something akin to hero worship, and whenever he spoke of my best friend, his eyes lit up with great admiration.
"Captain said to get this food up here as soon as possible, so I rushed and rushed. I hope you like the stew. Cook made it 'specially 'cause of you. Captain said you loved beef and potatoes, and that you don't much care for noodles, which is actually good, because he gets possessive of his noodles. That's the one food he hates to share. Captain said you grew up with him, and I think that's just a-maz-ing, I- "
I had been jamming food into my mouth so fast, I didn't notice at first what he was saying, but when it clicked I almost choked.
"Are you referring to Naruto as Captain?"
Konohomaru stared at me as if I was daft. "Of course. No other person could possibly be the Captain," he scoffed.
I set my spoon down. "How long has he been Captain?"
"Ever since I came on board two years ago."
"And this…," I glanced about the messy cabin with a cringe, "this is his cabin, isn't it?"
Konohomaru snorted. "Of course."
"Of course," I muttered back at myself, feeling so stupid. Of course this sloppy room belonged to him. It was uncanny how it resembled the disorder he left in his room at home. The clothes, the random knick-knacks, the pitiful collection of books – it all screamed Naruto.
I smiled slowly as I absorbed the meaning, though. Despite everything, he'd done what he had always wanted most in the world. He commanded his own ship, and if the rest of his crew had even a sliver of Konohomaru's admiration, they were loyal, trustworthy and indispensable. The pride that welled in me made me giddy, and when I grinned, the boy looked at me as I had really, truly, finally lost my mind.
But before he could take off and leave the crazy woman to herself, I managed to ensnare him into telling me about his idol. And as I listened to the fantastical, exaggerated story of Naruto's life from the past couple years, I couldn't help but be caught up in the boy's awe of Naruto.