Again, I thank all of you for your reviews and continued alerts and favorites. It definitely makes my day.
I've taken in the constructive critisicm of several non-basher reviewers and have tried to adjust to those improvements as I can and as the plot allows. However, I feel I have to tell you guys that this is not Canon, by any stretch of the word. The past leading up to the time travel incident with Madara, subsequent battles and fate of Itachi and Sasuke, are plot points that will be revealed throughout the story. Please be patient.
Some of you have complained, rationally commented, and bashed me about Naruto's actions last chapter. I have edited it, pruned some of the more OOC parts, and gave Naruto and Sakura a more streamlined and less one-sided dialogue- feel free to check that out. Now, as for Naruto's maturity level, Sakura's as well, that will be addressed in this chapter, by what I have dubbed my Bitch, This Shit is Real!Naruto (Related terms: Hokage!Voice). This is the Naruto we wish Kishimoto could write- a Naruto I struggle to characterize everyday.
On another note, I have also created a Sakura I like to think of as Kick Your Ass Through A Mountain!Sakura, also known as KYATAMO!Sakura, which I think is catchier. She's basically Inner!Sakura, with a much cooler acronym.
If Team Sarutobi noticed Naruto and Sakura's increased patrol frequency, they didn't mention it. The outpost had fallen into a routine since the medics and the relief team had cleaned up and refitted the small bunker.
Sakura would get up first- starting up the coffee and setting out something, usually ramen swiped from his own sealed away stash, and do a quick monitor of the perimeter sensors and boot up the transmissions systems to send an 'all clear message' to Konoha.
By this time, Naruto would be shuffling around, clad in boxer shorts and a plain black t-shirt- his hand weakly grasping the air until he hit the warmth of his coffee cup and ramen bowl. His hair, barely touching his shoulders, would be a wild mess without his forehead protector, which he only put on when he went back to his room to get dressed. Then they'd quietly slip out the front door and begin their allotted patrol slot- six hours away from the pot of awkward that Orochimaru had made their new acquaintance with their old sensei.
It was barely noticable to Jiraiya and Tsunade but Orochimaru and the remnants of Team Seven were subliminally aware of the tense atmosphere every time he stepped in the room. It was subtle, and barely there, but Orochimaru could sense it- something that only added to his distrust of Konoha's newest chuunin pair.
Orochimaru felt his eyes following the two as they moved, like prey eyeing a potential predator. The way they moved exuded training and experience- Sarutobi had mentioned them doing well enough in the jonin exams that if they'd been born in Konoha, they'd have made jonin hands down. It made him nervous and slightly on edge. They were an unknown; an unknown on the cusp of a warzone with his two utterly clueless teammates. In pitched combat, who was to say if they'd turn and stab him in the back if given half a chance?
He scowled at them across the clearing as they jogged back into view, slightly sweaty from their patrol. He trusted them about as much as he trusted Manda.
"Ne, Orochimaru-san," the pink haired one, Sakura, called. "there were some disturbances on the far northern bluff- some fallen rocks and such. I didn't see any signs of explosives, but..." she shrugged, flashing him a smile that went only an inch deep.
Orochimaru nodded slightly, turning away to continue his conversation with Tsunade. He caught the barely concealed sneer of dislike from Naruto and promised to keep an eye on them.
And his back to the wall.
"I'm bored." Naruto whined from his position on Sakura's bed; upside down, with his head on the dull carpet and the rest of his body sprawled across her comforter.
"I'm so sorry for you." Sakura remarked dryly from her desk, her pen scratching as she wrote their names in the patrol log, underlining their shifts for the records.
"Entertain me." Naruto pouted.
Sakura blinked. It'd been forever since Naruto had actually pouted, like he had as a genin on Team Seven. He hadn't since Sasuke, she remembered, frowning. She cleared her throat, covering the silence. "Well," she said, her voice cracking slightly. "you must be really bored. Usually you'd be out training right now."
Naruto huffed, blowing his hair out of his eyes. "For once, I actually don't have a technique to practice. That's why I'm boooored!"
"Boring is good." Sakura laughed, flicking a piece of scrap paper at her partner's face. "Boring means not dead."
"Really?" Naruto groaned. "I don't think I have a pulse." he crossed his eyes and let his mouth fall slack. "I'm deah' see?" Naruto managed.
She snorted. "That's tasteless."
Naruto sat up straight, the look on his face quickly going from Happy!Naruto, to Bitch,This Shit is Real!Naruto. It was really quite an amazing transformation, Sakura noted absently, before all her attention was pulled to his voice, dubbed his Hokage!Voice, which often accompanied the aforementioned serious Naruto.
"Sakura, we're in a war, right?" Sakura opened her mouth to wisecrack, only to be stopped short by one of her male companions looks. She nodded, silently. "We're going to have to be careful, right?" Sakura nodded, again. "We're going to have to kill a lot of people. Assasinations, search and destroy missions, the whole shebang. And we have another war to go. That's a lot of pressure, right? I mean, we basically have the weight of the future on our hands." He waved his hands around, as if trying to vaguely communicate the entirety of the Future. "We can't be so wound-up and touchy about it all the time, or we'll go crazy."
"Also," Naruto added, his grin coming back full force. "I'm technically your superior officer on this mission of SSSS- well, a lot of S's- ranked mission."
Sakura gaped. "W-what?" she sputtered. "You got a field promotion to chuunin. I made jonin six months ago!" And ANBU, on a mission to mission basis, she added.
Naruto grinned. "Nuh-uh. Guess who got promoted directly from chuunin to jonin, then to ANBU captain?" He gave her two thumbs up. "This guy!"
He took a second to bask in her astonishment, the smile on his face nearly splitting his cheeks when it morphed from surprise, to pride, to happiness. For him. Sakura-chan was proud of him. Naruto was highly aware that five years ago, she would have dismissed him, ignored him, berated him.
Sakura-chan, though she had always been one of his precious people, had become his inspiration, his proof that anyone could change. She had apologized for her behaviour once, when they been caught out on an A-rank mission together, trapped, fighting to protect a caravan from missing-nin. She'd taken his hand, just like she was now, and given him a hug. Sakura had whispered her apology in his ear and then turned back to fight; trusting him to make sure the caravan got out, willing to sacrifice herself to make sure that her team mate could complete the mission and come back and support her.
"Congratulations, Naruto." Sakura smiled, giving his hand a squeeze. "You've already done it once... I bet you'll be the first ninja to ever make ANBU twice."
Naruto's cheeks pinked slightly. "I think I forgot to thank Kakashi-sensei. I was so excited..." Naruto trailed off, his blue eyes trailing down to their still linked hands, and suddenly, their faces seemed a lot... closer...
Sakura felt her eyes flutter closed, and could sense that Naruto had done the same. An anticipation rose in her stomach, a fluttering of butterflies and hopes, and cold declarations of love on an icy mountain-
The alarm klaxon sounded, the sound so loud in the silence of their shared breathing that they both jumped violently, smashing their heads together.
"Oww." Sakura hissed, rubbing furiously at the lump. It was definitely going to bruise.
"What the hell!" Naruto growled, convinced the world was conspiring against him. That was the second time in his life he'd ever gotten so close to kissing Sakura, dammit (1). "I swear to Kami, if this is a drill or Jiraiya being an ass-"
The door to Sakura's room slammed open, revealing a bloodied and exhausted looking Tsunade. "Orochimaru... stayed. Attack... on patrol..." Tsunade gasped. Her breath hitched, and she was barely able to stagger over to Sakura's waste basket before vomiting.
"Slow down." Sakura ordered, her face stern. "And stand up. Doubling over like that makes it hard to breath."
Tsunade nodded, following orders by leaning against the nearest cement wall, wiping at the sweat dripping down her face.
"Now," Naruto said, calmly. "What happened."
It came out in a tumble, the words jumbled and stuttered, with Tsunade having to rephrase or repeat for them to understand. Apparently, it had been Tsunade and Orochimaru's turn to patrol, with Jiraiya staying at base with Naruto and Sakura. They'd gone to investigate the rock slide that Sakura had reported yesterday, only to have exploding seals carved into the very boulders themselves go off- separating Orochimaru from his teammate in the dust. She'd caught sight of at least fifty ninja before she was forced to flee.
"I heard him yell for me to get help, so I sprinted here as fast as I could." Tsunade finished, slumping to the floor, utterly spent.
Naruto and Sakura shared a look. "I'll get Jiraiya up." Naruto offered. "Be ready in ten minutes?"
"Five." Sakura answered.
"Five." Naruto agreed, turning to leave.
"Oh and Naruto?"
"Bored now?" The look on Sakura's face was practically predatory.
Naruto chuckled, his laugh echoing down the corridor. "Not anymore!"
(1): I am of course referring to one of the earliest Naruto episodes, where Naruto masquerades as Sasuke in order to kiss Sakura, only for his stomach to betray him at the last second. :D
Again, mostly filler to set up for the next chapter, which, I assure you, is going to be pretty much one huge asskicking fight scene with blood, gore, and possibly disfigurement for one of the characters without regenerative powers.
Yay for scarring.