A lot had been building up.
First and foremost was her budding relationship with her hyperactive teammate. Their romance - she still fought the urge to blush over such a description - was still in the early stages. They tried to act aloof, sneaking glances at one another whenever they felt brave enough, but everyone knew. Their smiles spoke volumes, and even if they attempted to maintain their usual behavior, the news of their relationship became the talk of the town within hours. Having a best friend whose most formidable skill happened to be gossip didn't help matters.
But even so, she and Naruto were happy.
Or had been happy. As it turns out, gossip has two faces. On one hand, it kept them from having to tell their story over and over until everyone finally knew that yes, they were together. The downside, though, is that people are talking about you. Not just your friends, but your enemies as well. Unfortunately, Sakura had found this out the hard way. Never had she thought twice about visiting a public onsen. She did now, and she wasn't quite sure when she would pluck up the courage to return.
Sakura had only just tucked herself away into a corner of the bath when she heard their voices.
"So I heard Naruto-kun has a girlfriend."
This had been what caught her ear, keeping her attention.
"Haruno Sakura right? His teammate? He had a crush on her I think."
Sakura sunk down further into the water when she heard a laugh.
"But she hated him!"
"That's right! She always wanted to get away from him."
"She only had eyes for Uchiha Sasuke."
An embarrassed flush crept onto her face. Suddenly, she wanted to be anywhere but there, but if she left they would see her. Mortified at the thought, she had no choice but to stay.
"You know, she only looked at Naruto-kun after he saved the village. And the Uchiha was a criminal and traitor."
"Ehhh? Whatever could you be implying by that?" It was clear from her voice that she knew exactly what was being implied.
"It seems like Sakura-san always manages to want the most popular guys!"
And they laughed, all of them, before moving on to another subject altogether and finally moving out of ear shot.
Sakura had been so mad, so mortified, that she had been in tears as she dried off and threw on her clothes.
That night, she acted so distant that Naruto asked about it. This, in turn, had soured her mood further, and she ended up taking it out on him. His anger as he left hadn't completely replaced the hurt look in his eyes, but she was too beside herself to make amends. The idea that that was what the villagers thought of her made her want to vomit. And what was even worse was that it was her fault they would think that way at all.
She couldn't face Naruto, at least not until she settled her own feelings on the matter. She also couldn't walk about the village without feeling the stifling weight of insecurity rearing its ugly head. So she asked for a mission, hoping that somehow she could manage to find a few moments to think about the matter.
This idea, however, only proved to add even more problems for her. The mission had seemed straightforward enough; even Tsunade was sure it would be a breeze. Unfortunately for her two teammates and herself, this notion proved to be false. The information from the mission client had been faulty. A sudden lack of funds had caused what should have been a six man mission to be requested as a three man mission. And even more unfortunate was the fact that her team hadn't found this out until it was too late to turn back.
They were stuck, barely getting away with all of their limbs, and forced to hunker down until a solution could be found. They certainly couldn't move forward. In fact, all they really wanted to do was make a hasty retreat. But the battle that had rewarded them with a semi-retreat had also crippled them. Sakura was fairly sure her leg was broken, but one of her teammates had a stomach wound that couldn't be left without treatment. Her chakra reserves were low, but she figured she had just enough to heal the wound so the other two could possibly get away.
No one much liked the idea. They were not so keen on leaving a teammate behind, and she really didn't want to find out what would happen to her if she was found by the enemy.
Blinking away the darkness creeping into her eyesight, a clear sign of her fatigue, she snapped, "You have to go! We need back up or else we'll all be dead!" She couldn't sugar coat the situation. Things were bad and she felt like she would break down and cry if she allowed herself to think about it. If she died today, the last thing Naruto would remember of her would be a cold shoulder and hurtful words.
She squeezed her eyes against the tears, hoping it looked like a wince. "As soon as I'm done healing him, you two go. I'll stay hidden here until you bring reinforcements."
Sakura didn't tell them she would almost certainly pass out as soon as she was done as her reserves were dangerously low. There would be nothing left to heal her leg, and she would be unconscious.
"Sakura-san…" She tried to ignore the understanding in his voice. Her teammate was smart and observant. He knew her words were false.
Sobs rose in her throat like bile, but she swallowed them down too. "I'll be fine."
He watched her carefully for a moment but she refused to look at him, instead watching as the flesh below her hand slowly stitched itself back together. Relief began to wash upon the wounded man's face as his pain melted away, though he was pale from blood loss. He needed a doctor. Her quick fix would buy him enough time to get to safety, but that would be all.
When she felt a hand on her arm, she did look up.
"Is there a message you want me to give? Just in case…"
She didn't need to ask what he meant. Her throat went immediately dry and her lip quivered. "Y-yes." She felt her hands trembling though she was unsure if it was because of her fatigue or something else. "Tell Naruto…" There was so much regret now. What could be said in such a short time? Nothing could ever really convey what she felt. Her eyes lowered and her brain became fuzzy.
A voice that sounded so far away now repeated, "Naruto?"
She tried to nod her head but felt it spin instead. "Naruto…"
And then she was certain she was dreaming, because she looked up into the trees and saw him come crashing into the clearing.
She was sure she had lost the last of her mental ability but was beyond caring. A moment later she found herself screeching, "About damn time!" Before everything went black.
Sakura awoke to uncomfortable jostling, causing her to wince.
Hearing her sharp intake of breath, the movement beneath her suddenly stopped. "Shit, sorry Sakura-chan! You were slipping."
She felt two strong arms supporting her legs, and when she opened her eyes she found herself staring at spiky blonde hair. Moving her head back, she observed Naruto's half turned face regarding her.
"How long was I out for?" she asked, her voice dry and her body feeling as heavy as lead. He offered her a water bottle and she drank greedily.
"Not too long. The others went on ahead."
"They're ok, Sakura-chan. We got them out."
She sighed in relief and collapsed against his back as he started walking again. Her last fragmented memories came back to her and she felt a rush of emotion.
"So it was you after all. I thought I had lost my mind."
"Of course it was me."
There was something wrong. He didn't sound right and it pained her to hear him so distant.
Suddenly she gripped his shirt tightly and said in a shaky voice, "I'm sorry Naruto."
He stopped again and looked at her, his face showing only complete confusion. "Sorry? For what Sakura-chan?"
"For being mean. I shouldn't have acted that way towards you the other day."
Naruto blinked, still confused. "What?"
She frowned. "When we fought."
"Oh!" He offered her a small smile. "I forgot all about that!"
Her face fell into exasperation. "Then what's wrong with you? You seem…sad."
Blue eyes widening, he suddenly turned away from her and began walking again. "No reason, just…um…tired."
Green eyes narrowed. "You can't be tired. I'm tired, you probably barely broke a sweat." She poked him in the ribs causing him to jump. "Now talk, Uzumaki!"
"Eh! Stop poking me with those boney fingers! Ow!" She was poking every fleshy place she could reach from his back, and he attempted to squirm away all the while complaining. And even though he was desperately trying to get away, he made sure to favor her bad leg, which someone had been kind enough to splint for her.
"This isn't fair!" he whined, spinning her around to get her to stop before running off down the path. The speed increase forced her to wind her arms around his neck and she had to stop her battle.
But she couldn't care less. She was alive still. Naruto had come for her even though he should have been mad. Smiling she nuzzled his head fondly and said, "Thank you Naruto."
And then he suddenly stopped. Sakura was barely able to utter a confused, "Huh?" before she was spun off his back and seated abruptly, albeit carefully, on a nearby rock. Opening her mouth to protest, she suddenly closed it as he gathered her into his arms.
Only then did she notice he was trembling. It was then that she understood.
She wrapped her arms around him, his face lying against the crook of her neck.
"I couldn't find you, in Sage Mode. I couldn't find a trace of your chakra." He puffed against her neck, his breath hot and his voice weak. She gripped him tighter, his pain breaking her resolve.
Her words came out in anguished whispers. "I thought I was going to die. And…it was so horrible thinking about how I fought with you." She squeezed her eyes shut but hot tears leaked out to trail down her cheeks. "I wanted to give you a final message, to apologize, or something, but I couldn't find the words. I was so scared, Naruto, and so sorry."
He pulled back to look at her, stubbornly wiping away her tears even as they continued to fall. "Me too." Then he gave her a fierce look, his eyes a vibrant blue. "But I'll do my best to make sure you never feel that way." It was a look made with all the confidence he could give, and she was reminded that he was the strongest person she would ever know.
Her hand found its way to his cheek and she nodded, her eyes confident as well. "Same with you, Naruto." And then she smiled, breaking the tension. "It's the least I can do, as your girlfriend. I won't let you down!"
He laughed, pinching her cheek fondly. "That's the feisty Sakura-chan I love."
"Oi, be nice! I was trying to be sweet!"
Impulsively, he leaned in to kiss her, and her head once again felt fuzzy, but in a much more pleasing way. "Yeah well, the guys sorta expect me to complain once in awhile you know, since we are together. I think Shikamaru even fears for my life."
She sobered from his kiss and gave him a dry look. "He might have the right idea."
"Then dog-face says you're too good for me." Blue eyes glanced to the side. "He might be right but I told him to go to hell. I want to be selfish this time."
Sakura sighed, her smile softening. "You too? I decided the same thing." She snaked her arms around him and this time she kissed him. "I'm going to keep you, Uzumaki. Whether they like it or not."
Not long later, once they felt wrapped up in that giddy exciting love they were usually in these days, he helped her up onto his back and sped off for Konoha. They were still the most talked about couple, but Sakura was beginning to handle it much more gracefully. As it turned out, 'go to hell' could be a very useful phrase at times. And once they grew out of their early shyness, Inner Sakura conspired, she would be sure to show extra affection whenever in the presence of those who might doubt her. It served them right, anyways.
A/N: Since I usually write fics where Sakura and Naruto are building towards a relationship, I wanted to try one where they already are in one, and yet are still sort of learning how to handle it. I've always wondered how people would react to Sakura being with Naruto, and since Naruto is becoming more and more popular, I thought this might be a problem she might come across.
And thanks to that guy...that I kinda like...for betaing.