An: Well here it is my next foray into Fanfiction. Unlike my other stories, I'm announcing the pairing from the get go and setting it in stone as Naruto and Sakura. I know I said I'd post it when Intentions began to go Harem but I figured why not since I promised a reviewer. Also I'm hoping to get chapter 11 of Intentions out by tomorrow. I hope you enjoy this new story your humble author S. o. t. A.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and I'm doing this for fun not profit.
Chapter 1: This fairy tale is real.
"Team Seven's roster will be…" the chunin instructor Iruka Umino said to his gathered students.
The recently graduated boy who only a few nights before learned that he was the container of the most powerful of all the tailed beasts listened with anticipation almost positive that was his team about to be announced.
"Yes," he thought elated before crossing his fingers thinking, "Sakura and anybody but Sasuke." Repeating it in his head over and over again until, "Sakura Haruno…"
"Alright," he shouted standing up in his joy but noticed that Sakura seemed to deflate like a balloon. Hardly upset as he was sure he could make her change her mind about him after all he had to change a whole village's if he was going to become Hokage.
But the next name caused the two of them to switch moods as Iruka said, "…and Sasuke Uchiha."
"Damn it," Naruto said flopping into his chair. Natural he raised a fuss and Iruka pointed out that due to his lousy grades the best student was paired with worse. The rest of the teams were assembled not that Naruto was paying attention, but when Iruka said, "I suggest you get to know your teammates and we'll introduce the Jounin-sensei's after lunch."
Naruto went off to eat on his own positive Sakura would turn him down, but as he ate by himself he was hit by a flash of inspiration. Managing to get the jump on Sasuke he left him tied up and went in search of his pink-haired crush.
Sakura was depressed since Sasuke had turned her down cold to eating together. Working over her plan of attack in her head she came to the sad conclusion that the only thing noteworthy about her was her forehead. She was pulled from her depressing thoughts when she looked up and saw Sasuke standing across from her his eyes staring right into her.
"Sasuke's staring at me so intensely," she thought before fantasizing Sasuke saying, "Sakura, you have such a large and charming forehead. It makes me want to kiss it."
Needless to say, hearing those very words repeated stunned the girl. The part of herself that often spoke up for her in her mind shouted, "Hell Yeah he's mine."
But her fantasy came crashing down when Sasuke added, "Just kidding that's something Naruto would say."
Nevertheless Sasuke sat down next to her on the bench, but again he surprised her saying, "Sakura there's something I want to ask you. What do you think of Naruto?"
Sakura paused a moment not sure why Sasuke wanted to talk about Naruto but was willing to indulge his curiosity. "Naruto's annoying. All he does is get in my way and doesn't understand anything about me. All I want is for you to acknowledge me. I'm serious because I like you." Seeing her chance Sakura began to move in to kiss him.
However a gurgling sound attracted her attention and Sasuke tried to get up to leave. Acting on instinct she grabbed his wrist holding him there saying, "Please Sasuke just one kiss." She could see Sasuke looked conflicted.
Naruto really wanted to kiss her but whatever it was doing flips in his stomach was most insistent. He was also surprised at the incredible strong grip she had on him. He leaned in hoping she would let go, but when she closed her eyes he moved his lips to her forehead. One because he knew it had always bothered her and two because he had begun to feel guilty so didn't want to steal her first kiss under false pretenses.
Feeling Sasuke's lips on her forehead was a dream come true for the pink-haired girl. Opening her eyes as Sasuke pulled back a blush adorned her cheeks, which she was surprised to see, was mirrored on Sasuke's.
Naruto tried not to let the elation that appeared on Sakura face get him down but it was hard. But more immediate concerns arouse when his stomach protested about him forgetting its plight. Grabbing his midsection he had to choose between maintaining the henge or losing control of his bowels naturally he let go of the henge. He winced not just from the pain in his stomach but the joy on Sakura face melting only to be replaced with shock which quickly turned into anger.
"Naruto you bastard," she shouted nailing him in the jaw. Stomping away Sakura left the battered boy who as quickly as he could, considering the whole earth seemed to be swaying made his way to the bathroom.
Sakura was still furious at the blonde prankster. "Stupid Naruto," she thought agitated. The blonde had decided to sit in the back and keep quit after lunch which since he had managed to anger both his new teammates was probably for the best. But as time went by while they waited for their sensei, Sakura began to calm and wonder just how it was that Naruto had seemed to be inside her head. Not to mention the butterflies she had felt from when he stared at her. She had tried to play it off that he had looked like Sasuke, but that couldn't be the whole reason. At least she hoped not as that made her rather shallow. No, there had been genuine warmth in his eyes when he stared at her of that she was sure. It made her a little uncomfortable, but not in a bad way. She glanced back at him from her spot in the middle of the room and although she could tell he was bored made a point to look out the window.
The door to the class opening drew her attention and in walked a man wearing the standard Jounin uniform. He had his headband tilted so that only one of his eyes was visible. He also appeared to be rather laid back as he strolled to the center of the room.
Kakashi staring at his future team was a little disconcerted that they were spread out among the class. Sasuke was sitting in the front with his hands folded in front of him. Kakashi could tell that the boy was gauging his strength trying to determine just how strong he was. The kunoichi was sitting in the middle of the class she appeared to be a little put off about his late arrival. Finally there was Naruto. He half expected that the blonde would have gotten up to some sort of mischief while he waited. But he looked to be depressed about something. Deciding he had left them on the hook long enough he said, "How about we head up to the roof to learn a little more about each other."
Naruto still hadn't recovered his excitement about becoming a shinobi thinking sadly, "Man, I blew it today. Sakura's never going to like me now." After they had told each other about their hopes and dreams their new sensei had told them to meet early the next morning for a training exercise. Although he seemed to have delighted in telling them it was actually a test which would determine if they actually became genin. Even though his whole future was on the line he was still depressed about what Sakura had said when Kakashi had asked about what it was she disliked.
"Naruto," had been her one word reply. But he supposed he deserved it as he would be upset to if someone pretend to be the pink-haired girl in order to get close to him. Having already blown his chance at love he couldn't really work up the energy to get psyched about tomorrow's exam.
Little did Naruto know that he was being followed by the girl of his affections. She couldn't get the way she had felt when he had complimented her forehead out of her mind. It didn't hurt also that she had run into the real Sasuke after clobbering Naruto and received a brisk, "You're annoying," as a result of her trying to talk to him. But her curiosity had grown due to what Naruto said during his introduction. About why he wanted to be Hokage which was to make people notice him. After all, plenty of people noticed him due to his annoying pranks and such. Yet as she had followed him home discreetly she noticed that people made a point of not seeing the blonde.
Not to mention since he didn't know he was being watched he seemed more pensive. She assumed it was due to Kakashi telling them that there was a test tomorrow but she didn't think that was solely it. Especially since once he reached a Ramen stand he appeared to brighten right up as he walked in, like he didn't want to burden the people inside with his troubles. Wanting to learn more about the suddenly mysterious Naruto, she henged herself to look like an unassuming older man and entered the stand.
Upon entering she saw a cute young girl leaning over the counter as she talked to Naruto. The sad boy he had been only moments before seemed to have disappeared. But the waitress wasn't fooled saying, "What's the matter Naruto?"
"Nothing Ayame," the boy replied.
Ayame stood back putting her hands on her hips and looked like she was about to pry more but noticed that the henged Sakura had her attention on her favorite customer. Smiling at Naruto she said, "Did you wash up before you came here?"
"Yep," he replied completely unconvincingly.
"Why don't I believe you," she said before telling him to go in the back while sending a look her father's way. The old man nodded, heading into the back as well on the pretense of getting some ingredients. Ayame sent a smile Sakura's way before walking to her. The henged girl assumed it was to take her order. So it came as no surprise that she was caught completely unaware when Ayame pulled a cleaver from the behind the counter and said darkly, "Why are you so interested in that boy?"
"What? I'm not," Sakura said sweating nervously, "I'm just here for some ramen."
"You better be," she said her voice giving Sakura a very good idea of what would happen if she was lying, "he has more than enough on his plate already."
A pot rattling told Ayame that Naruto was on his way back to the front of the store. Cleaver disappearing from sight, she turned to the blonde as he appeared giving no clue she had been brandishing a weapon and threatening a customer only seconds before. Naruto raised his hands showing they were clean before returning to his stool. Ayame took Sakura's order first, before returning and dotting on Naruto.
As the waitress chatted with him, Sakura tried to understand what she had meant by Naruto had a lot to deal with, while being sure to keep her eyes solely on her ramen as she listened to the two talking.
"Now are you going to tell me why you are so down," Ayame said her voice filled with concern.
"It's nothing really Ayame."
"Come on Naruto, I know you better than that. You should be bouncing off the walls since you graduated. Instead you are barely able to smile."
"Not to mention you've only had a single bowl," Teuchi said.
"Dad," Ayame said, "now's not the time to be worrying about all the extra stuff you prepared since you thought he was going to gorge himself today."
"Alright," Naruto conceded, "I guess it's just I did something really stupid today."
"Oh," Ayame prompted.
"I henged myself to look like Sasuke in order to ask the girl assigned to my team what she thought of me."
Ayame understood since she had often heard Naruto complain about Sasuke and all the attention that he garnered even though he didn't seem to want it. "Well that was kind of mean of you," Ayame said to which Sakura had to agree.
"I know now," Naruto replied sadly, "but I really wanted to know what she thought of me."
"It wasn't that Sakura girl you are always talking about is it?" Ayame asked.
Naruto nodded before saying, "Yeah, I told her I think she had a cute forehead like I always wanted to."
Sakura's eyes widened in surprise, but luckily for her Ayame was too engrossed in Naruto's tale to notice that she was eavesdropping or blushing.
Ayame shaking her head said, "You know she probably thinks Sasuke told her that making her even more infatuated with him." Sakura also had to agree to that as she remembered how her heart had sped up and the joy she felt making her like him even more.
"No, all I succeeded in doing was making her hate me more," Naruto said dejectedly, "Not that she thought highly of me before. Since when she thought I was Sasuke she said I get in her way and I'm annoying."
"She knows it was you," Ayame said confused.
"Yeah, she tried to kiss me when she thought I was Sasuke," Naruto said.
Ayame asked, "You didn't take advantage did you?"
"I might have," Naruto said honestly, "if I didn't suddenly get sick. I tried to get away but she grabbed onto my arm and wouldn't let go. I…I kissed her forehead, since I didn't want to steal her first kiss like mine was taken from me." Ayame cocked an eyebrow at that but Naruto shook his head saying he wasn't going to talk about it. Moving on he said, "Well in the end I dropped the henge and she hit me. Later she said she hated me, so I guess I really screwed up."
Putting another bowl in front of him Teuchi said, "Buck up Naruto. Aren't you going to be Hokage one day, there'll be plenty of women I guarantee you that."
"I guess…but they won't be Sakura." Naruto began to eat the free bowl and Ayame went to busy herself in back. Sakura meanwhile couldn't believe that Naruto thought so highly of her. She had always thought his constant asking out and other means of attracting her attention had been to get under her skin or in the way of Sasuke and her. But it appeared he genuinely cared and he had really meant what he said about her forehead, long considered her most unattractive feature. Finishing her meal she left behind the money for it and headed home
When she arrived at her house she noticed that no one was home which suited her fine since her mom would probably pester her for all the day's details. Walking upstairs to her room she looked in the mirror at herself. Remembering how she thought her body just didn't compare to the other kunoichi she put her fingers to her forehead where Naruto had kissed her. Touching the spot she was surprised to feel herself flush at the memory of it as well as the small smile she saw that adorned her lips. Pulling her hand away she thought, "It's only because he looked like Sasuke." But even as she thought that she knew that it wasn't entirely true. The honest way Naruto had spoken about her in the Ramen stand had affected her too, making her feel better about herself and more self confident. Looking at the time Sakura realized she needed to get some sleep because tomorrow was going to be a make it or break it day.
Team Seven was being given a second chance. After Kakashi had arrived hours late he had told them they had until a buzzard rang to get two bells from him. Naturally they had failed thus far. Naruto had attacked brazenly right from the get go. After easily being handled by the jounin and left upside down in a tree. Sasuke had made his move. He had fared better as expected of the number one rookie but in the end he had ended up buried up to his chin in the ground.
Kakashi had then focused on Sakura easily dispatching her with a genjutsu of her crush badly wounded sending her right into unconsciousness. While that had been going on Naruto decided to grab the bento lunches, but Kakashi had stopped him and tied him to the pole. Although, Kakashi had told them not to feed Naruto before he left and she was still a little angry at him for his trick she offered him her lunch.
Naruto had been surprised but not nearly as much as Sasuke. However he didn't complain seeing as he was going to have done it himself realizing that if they were going to succeed all three of them would need to be at full strength when they next assault the jounin. Plus, Naruto was proving himself to be quite a bit better than he anticipated and far stronger than Sakura.
Kakashi had suddenly appeared bearing down on the young girl asking if she had trouble understanding his directions. Sakura had stuttered a response but Sasuke thinking more clearly as well as not wanting to return to the Academy had simply said that if they were going to stand any chance of taking the bells they would need all three of them at a hundred percent. Much to the surprise of all three genin Kakashi had passed them. They had then taken off leaving the training grounds forgetting the blonde still tied to the post.
Naruto was surprised when ten minutes later Sakura showed up and stopped in front of him. "Uhm…hey…" he said lamely.
She was torn between glaring at the blonde and the interest that her observing him the day before had raised in her. Finally she said, "I want you to do something for me."
"Sure thing Sakura," Naruto said, "But…could you untie me first."
Sakura stepped behind the pole loosening the knot. Once the ropes fell away he asked, "So what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to ask Sasuke what he thinks of me," Sakura said having thought about henging herself to look like Naruto but decided to use the real deal as she was sure Sasuke would be able to detect her.
Sakura saw Naruto's face drop at what she requested, but before she could begin to twist his arm into doing it he said, "Alright Sakura. When do you want me to do it?"
Sakura was surprised but quickly said, "Tomorrow. Before Kakashi shows up I'll hide nearby. Okay?" Naruto agreed so Sakura giddy that she would finally know what her crush thought of her ran off. Confident that tomorrow she'd final learn the key to unlocking Sasuke's heart after all if he told Naruto what he liked about her she could highlight those traits to make herself irresistible to the last Uchiha.
Sakura was giddy with excitement and for a moment wondered if that was how Naruto had felt when he had approached her disguised as Sasuke. However a feeling of dread came over her as she remembered how well it had turned out for Naruto. Shaking it off she thought, "Get over it Sakura. No way Sasuke thinks of you as being as annoying as Naruto."
The plan was relatively simply as they waited for Kakashi to show Naruto would casually ask Sasuke what he thought of her. Since she had arrived early she had picked the perfect place to hide near the bridge. Far enough away that hopefully Sasuke wouldn't sense her, but close enough that she could still hear. As the meeting time approached Sasuke showed up promptly as usual. Watching him dreamingly she thought as he assumed his usual pose of leaning against the railing of the bridge with his arms crossed, "Wow, Sasuke's so cool. He makes even standing look so amazing."
Arriving a few minutes late as usual Naruto came running up. Sakura assumed that must have perked Sasuke's curiosity a little as he expected Sakura to arrive before Naruto but apparently he didn't feel like commenting on it. Naruto looked a little nervous and for a moment looked like he was going to back out of their deal. Sakura was sending malicious thoughts his way, which he must have sensed as he gave a small shiver.
Feeling the black specter of death bearing down on him Naruto said, "Hey Sasuke."
"What is it?" Sasuke responded turning his head the bare minimum necessary to look at Naruto.
"Well I was just wondering, what do you think of Sakura?"
"Hn," Sasuke replied looking away.
"Hey come on seriously," Naruto said stepping in front of him.
"Why do you care what I think of here?" Sasuke asked suspiciously.
"I don't really," Naruto thought but said, "I just want to know."
"Fine," Sasuke said with a shrug of his shoulders. "The truth is I find her and all the girls like her annoying." In the bushes Sakura gasped but it got worse as he continued, "I wish they would all leave me alone as they merely serve as distractions to my goals. What's worse is they can't even get a clue and realize they are all too pathetic for me to even consider them for one day helping me restore my clan. Does that answer your question?"
Naruto was glaring at him but merely nodded. He caught Sakura taking off from the bushes she had been hiding in behind Sasuke on the riverbank. Naruto began walking off of the bridge but was stopped by Sasuke saying, "Now I have a question for you."
Turning Naruto said, "What is it?"
"How did a dead-last loser like you learn a clone jutsu as advanced as the one you used yesterday?"
"I studied," Naruto said before walking away.
Kakashi in a nearby tree watched his team's dynamics before disappearing deciding to let the little drama unfold a little further before showing up for training today.
Sakura found a quiet spot to cry, which happened to be the park where Ino and her had first met. Wrapping her arms around her knees she pulled them up to her chest before lowering her head and letting her tears flow. "I suppose I deserve this for what I told Naruto the other day," Sakura thought miserably as she replayed all the things Sasuke had said.
"Hey," Naruto said walking up to her.
Looking up from her knees she saw Naruto standing in front of her with his hands in his pocket looking uncomfortable. "Please leave me alone," she said despondently before lowering her head back down. However instead of leaving Naruto sat next to her. Picking her head up she glared at him but it softened after a moment before she said, "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Naruto asked generally perplexed.
"For what I said to you," Sakura replied, "I said almost the exact same thing about you that Sasuke said about me."
Naruto merely said, "Oh," before turning to look away from her.
"That's it, aren't you going to say I deserve this?" Sakura asked staring at the blonde a little surprised since she might have if their situations had been reversed.
"You didn't deserve it Sakura," Naruto replied earnestly. Sakura looked at him with disbelief before he clarified his point saying, "I mean what you said to me was true I suppose. You never really hid that you thought it was annoying when I would ask you for dates in class. So I guess I can see why you would say I was trying to come between you and Sasuke. But the bastard was way out of line with what he said to you."
"Why?" Sakura asked letting the fact that Naruto had called Sasuke a bastard slide something she would have clobbered him for a half-hour earlier.
"Because when has he ever said anything to you about how you acted?" Naruto replied. "All he ever did was stare at you guys whenever you would ask him for a date. Then he'd make that annoying 'Hn' sound before turning to stare straight ahead or to walk away." To prove his point Naruto stared at her in a fair approximation of Sasuke before making an 'Hn' sound and staring away from her.
Sakura giggled slightly feeling a little better, but said, "Still I should have realized that I was being annoying."
"Ah you probably just thought he was being cool, Sakura," Naruto said waving what she said off causing her to blush as that would generally be her thought after being brushed off. Staring at Naruto in a new light she thought, "I guess he knows me better than I thought." Which prompted her to ask, "Naruto, why do you keep asking me out?"
"Well because I like you," he said scratching his cheek.
"But why, all I ever did was belittle you?"
"Ah it doesn't matter…" Naruto said looking away embarrassed.
"Please tell me," Sakura asked.
"Well because you're beautiful. I know you don't like your forehead, but it really is charming and you have the most amazing green eyes." Taking a deep breath he added, "And I guess because I sensed we were a lot alike."
"What do you mean?" Sakura said not offended like she thought she would be.
Figuring he had nothing to lose he said, "Well I guess I just sensed you were desperate for recognition too."
"What do you mean?" she asked but Naruto changed the subject saying, "Anyway you are looking at things from the wrong prospective. I mean if you want to capture Sasuke's heart you have a leg up on your competition."
Not really caring as she wanted to know what Naruto had meant but she played along asking, "What are you talking about?"
"Well all your other rivals still probably have the same misconception about Sasuke that you did, and Sasuke pretty much said what you were doing wrong so now you have a chance to correct it. Right?"
"Yeah…" Sakura answered but thought, "What about your feelings Naruto? Are you giving up?" However that didn't fit with what she knew about the blonde. Suddenly it hit her, "He's trying to cheer me up by helping me with Sasuke." Feelings of gratitude as well as something else she couldn't define swelled up within her so she said, "Thanks Naruto."
Smiling Naruto said, "We'll train extra hard today and before you know it Sasuke will only have eyes for you. Believe it!"
However for some reason that thought didn't fill her with the same elation as it would have before. Naruto though didn't seem to notice as he helped her to her feet and the pair returned to the bridge to wait on their sensei.
Watching them leave Kakashi thought, "I wonder if he realized that he used close to the same line as the one that you used to tell me made Kushina fall in love with you sensei?"
Sakura watched Naruto head off on his own after training again. Although she had been working hard the past week it felt like she was standing still compared to Sasuke and even Naruto. Granted Naruto still screwed up from time to time, but she believed it had more to do with his own competition with Sasuke then any idiocy on his part. When he got into one of his moods he didn't really concentrate on what he was doing as much as he should.
Today had been a perfect example as he had almost fallen off of a water fall while picking trash out of the river because he was too busy watching what Sasuke was doing. Luckily Sasuke had saved him but it only made matters worse. As Naruto sulked deciding to prove himself the next time, which of course meant he would screw up in a repeating cycle.
For Sakura shinobi life was falling far short of her romantic fantasies she used to have growing up. Training would generally start late afternoon since Kakashi was perpetually late. It would consist mainly of sparing and although Sasuke was easily the best of the three Naruto was making great strides. Not to mention he was completely inexhaustible, which meant by the end of the three hour session Sasuke would be on the defensive as Naruto kept coming.
It didn't fit with the Naruto that she knew from the academy. Although that wasn't entirely correct since Naruto had tried but when he grew bored and started to misbehave only Iruka had ever really cared enough to try and rein him in. Maybe had the other instructors been more on the ball Naruto would have been giving Sasuke a run for his money more often.
It just raised more and more questions which really bothered her and was why she was once again following him as he made his way through the village. Sakura noticed again how everybody went out of their way not to notice Naruto which she felt should be a difficult thing to do since the kid was dressed from head to toe in orange. A stray memory flashed in front of her of a young Naruto crying in a market place alone and what made it all the more potent was nobody stopped to ask why. She had been with her mother and had tried to stop but had simply been pulled along leaving the boy alone.
Naruto once again made his way to the ramen stand where he chatted and ate with the owners and operators. He then headed home to his apartment where she watched the light stay on for an hour before turning off probably to get some sleep.
Heading home Sakura couldn't really explain her sudden interest in her blonde teammate. But it was definitely there as she wondered why his life was so lonely. Granted his pranks could be annoying but they were for the most part harmless. And she couldn't get what the young woman that ran the ramen stand said out of her mind about his having a heavy burden. From time to time she could see that something weighed Naruto down, but she was positive whatever it was it was something he had just learned as she couldn't ever really remember seeing him looking so serious before.
But a blush adorned her cheeks as she conceded that she was too busy chasing after Sasuke to notice him. But the blushed intensified as she remembered the beautiful things that Naruto had said about her eyes and forehead. Replaying the event at the bench again she was surprised that her memory replaced Sasuke with Naruto. Just as she was surprised to learn that the same feelings of giddiness that she had felt during the original incident were still there.
She figured it was because she knew that Naruto had truly meant them, which made her wonder why Naruto hadn't asked her on any dates recently. She realized why a moment later and felt her hand come up to her chest as it clenched with emotion as a result of her understanding. He was stepping aside for her happiness. He was doing what she had always wanted him to do during the academy, to leave her alone to pursue Sasuke.
Sakura returned home to get some sleep of her own figuring it would be another long day tomorrow. She had a dream of her two teammates and was surprised by how real it felt. In the dream she saw her two teammates walking ahead of her getting further and further away. She ran to catch up but no matter how fast she ran she couldn't catch up getting frustrated she finally called out to them to wait, much as she expected only one of them turned to listen.
Kakashi smiled as he watched his team do the D-ranked mission of doing chores on a nearby farm. Kakashi had been pleased with Naruto today although he had been worried at first as the blonde had a habit of screwing up. He had been more mindful of him after Naruto's mistake had cost him a day's pay when the boy had destroyed a garden of priceless herbs because he had thought they were weeds and wanted to outperform Sasuke. As a result the Third Hokage had docked him seeing as he believed it was Kakashi's job to make sure such mishaps didn't happen. He wasn't mad at Naruto as the boy reminded him too much of Obito to make that a possibility, but he had been annoyed.
However today when Naruto was about to get ramped up into another of his must beat Sasuke moods, Sakura had approached him and gently admonished him. Although he didn't hear what she had said it had done the trick as Naruto visibly calmed and went about doing his tasks in a more thoughtful manner. Watching the pink-haired girl struggle with a bag of feed for the livestock, Kakashi knew she was probably berating herself, since both of her teammates were still going strong. Finally she couldn't hold it anymore dropping the bag. Sasuke had noticed but didn't stop repairing the fence he was working on, but Naruto who was painting a barn did and created a clone to continue his chore so he could walk over to her.
He was about to pick it up when Sakura said, "I can do it Naruto."
"Don't worry about it Sakura," Naruto replied picking it up, "I don't mind helping."
"Besides," he interrupted kindly, "Because of your advice I'm actually almost done with my list instead of struggling to keep up. So take it easy and come back when you are rested."
Sakura thanked him before moving towards a tree to rest in the shade. Sitting down she admitted it felt good to rest. She was seeing improvements but she still felt like she was standing still in comparison.
She was pulled from her thoughts by Kakashi as he said, "Taking a load off?"
"I'm sorry Kakashi-sensei, I'll get right back to work," Sakura said moving to get up.
"Relax Sakura," Kakashi said, chuckling a little, "that is what Naruto wanted after all." His amusement raised by the slightly embarrassed look that appeared on Sakura's face but he put her at ease as he told her, "Actually I wanted to know what you said to Naruto. As I'm sure you've noticed he can be a bit of a handful but today's he's been rather calm."
"I didn't say anything really Kakashi-sensei," Sakura said, "I just said he would probably do better if he didn't worry so much what Sasuke was doing."
"Well it seems to be working," Kakashi said as Naruto was feeding the livestock. Crossing his arms he added, "But maybe you should consider the same thing."
"What do you mean Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked surprised.
"Well, why didn't you stop when you were tired?"
"I…I didn't want to be a burden," Sakura said still disappointed in herself.
"Does Naruto look burdened?"
Staring at the blonde boy as he put a little feed in his hand to feed one of the animals, Sakura shook her head and said, "He looks happy."
"I'm sure he is," Kakashi said giving an eye-smile at the scene, "It's a nice change."
Sakura looked up only to see that her sensei had taken off, leaving her to wonder if Kakashi knew what it was about Naruto that people didn't like. He obviously knew that Naruto was or had been lonely in the past if what he had just said was any indication. "But what changed?" Sakura asked herself. "We did," she thought almost feeling like she wanted to smack her forehead, "Sasuke and I have acknowledged him." Granted, Sasuke and he still didn't get along, but even then their rivalry seemed to have meaning to Naruto. As to her, she had been trying to be nicer to the Blonde although she still had to rain punishment down upon his skull from time to time. But even then he would look up at her rubbing the knot on his head smiling. As if, even though she was mad at him it was enough that she was looking at him. It was a rather heady feeling for her to know she mattered that much to somebody.
Feeling rested she got up to go finish her share of the chores as she knew otherwise Naruto may do them all and she wanted to contribute to the team as well.
Naruto was happy as he made his way to his home for the night having convinced the Old Man to give his team a C-ranked mission. The bastard that he was supposed to guard was kind of a letdown since he had insulted his Team immediately upon laying eyes on them. He was going to go home and pack as it was finally his time to shine he felt since his training was showing some real progress. In truth, he owed it to Sakura since she would often calm him down when he was getting worked up about Sasuke.
Sakura was surprising him as well, not that she was improving as he had no doubt she was a talented kunoichi, but that she didn't seem to be trying to get closer to Sasuke. But Naruto supposed she had some sort of plan in regards to that. She had been quiet after Kakashi had dismissed them telling them to meet at the gate tomorrow morning to escort Tazuna to his home in Wave. He wondered if the C-ranked mission was bothering her, but before he could ask she had taken off probably to get ready for the mission.
Thinking of the pink-haired filled him with sadness since he had vowed to stop getting in her way as she pursued Sasuke. So although he felt closer to her, he refused to parlay that into his own desire for her. Maybe that was why Sakura seemed more at ease around him, but of course it was a semi curse to him as well. However all that mattered was that at the end of the day Sakura was happy. Figuring if that was true he should try and find out why she was so down he decided to put getting Ramen on hold in favor of finding out why she had been down in order to help her overcome it.
Sakura was sitting on a bench with a bowl of Ichiraku Ramen having acquired a taste for it from her time spying on her teammate however it remained in her lap uneaten. "Naruto you idiot," she thought without hostility. Although she wasn't sure if she was ready for a C-ranked mission a part of her had enjoyed the way Naruto had talked to the Third hating the menial tasks that they were often assigned.
However while she felt more confident about her skills, mainly because Naruto often told her how well she was doing. She still didn't know how comfortable she felt about operating outside of Konoha. It would undoubtedly be a whole new world in a way since they were operating far away from the safety of the village. It felt more real somehow.
But in truth her thoughts weren't entirely directed towards the mission but the boy who had landed them the mission. In the few weeks Team Seven had been together he had stopped asking her out, but never stopped helping to motivate her. Her realization that Naruto was stepping aside for her happiness made her realize that Naruto was truly amazing. How many other boys would stick around helping a girl they had become convinced would never return their feelings? "Maybe that's why I felt like ramen," she thought since it seemed to be all Naruto ate.
While the food brought her comfort much as the boy it was associated with she felt like she was at a crossroads. Basically she was going to decide if Sasuke was even worth having. Outside of the few "Hn's" that she had managed to elicit from him or the few times he needed to talk to fulfill a mission Sasuke remained as distant as ever. Knowing that after years of fawning over him all he thought of her as, was as an annoying fangirl really bothered her. Even if he came around, she had the feeling that it would only be once she had proved herself in some way. What would that say about whatever relationship they started that he was only with her because she finally lived up to his expectations of what the sire of his children should be. It made her feel a little hollow especially in light of Naruto's selflessness. He was simply going to stand aside and let Sasuke claim the results of his labors, in a sense, as she doubted she would be nearly as prepared for the upcoming mission if Naruto wasn't there to pick her up when she felt down or to push her when she felt like giving up.
"Well, well if it isn't forehead," Ino said pulling the girl from her thoughts.
"Ino-pig," she replied more out of habit than anything to do with there rivalry, "What do you want?"
"I want to know where Sasuke is," Ino replied, "I can't let you monopolize all his time."
"I don't know where he is. We have a C-ranked mission tomorrow, he's probably at home packing for it," Sakura said before trying to return to her thoughts.
"What you already have a C-ranked mission? No way, it must be because Sasuke's on your team, but don't think that means you're going to become his girlfriend forehead because of that."
"Whatever," Sakura said annoyed, "I told you where I think he's at, so why don't you leave me alone pig."
Ino was about to do just that till it dawned on her. Sakura had told her where she thought Sasuke was. Figuring it was a trick she said, "Nice try forehead but do you really think I'm that stupid. You tell me he's at home while you go off to where he really is well not today sister."
"I'm not trying to trick you Ino," Sakura said hoping using her former best friends name without the insult would help convince Ino to leave.
Ino seemed to sense that Sakura was being truthful but was conflicted. The part of her that had reached out to the girl that day when she was crying in the park couldn't resist asking, "What's wrong."
"What do you care? I told you where Sasuke's at go bother him," Sakura said not wanting to talk about it even with her former best friend.
Sitting next to the girl who glared at her Ino said, "I'm still not convinced you aren't trying to trick me."
A sad smile appeared on Sakura's face before she said, "Yeah, I guess I can understand that."
"Seriously Sakura you're beginning to freak me out," Ino said dropping her nickname for the girl.
"Ino, why do you want Sasuke?" Sakura finally asked surprising Ino.
"Well because he's handsome, popular, and only the greatest ninja to come out of the academy this year," Ino said ticking her reasons off on her fingers.
"But, what about him as a person?"
"What do you mean?" Ino asked confused.
Sighing Sakura said, "I mean is he a good person? Does he care about anyone but himself?"
"I-I…" Ino stuttered for a moment, while thinking but unable to answer asked, "Where's this coming from?"
"I know what Sasuke thinks about me. He finds me annoying and clueless," Sakura said to which Ino almost patted her back telling her how sorry she was. But the part of her that wanted Sasuke for herself did a little victory dance, till the pinkette said, "He thinks the same of you and every other girl after him."
Ino immediately stood up saying, "Oh I knew it this is some kind of trick very clever Sakura. Convince me that he hates all of us and then move in yourself."
"That's not it at all," Sakura said angrily wondering if she had truly been that obnoxious but sadly felt she probably was. Deflating at the thought she said, "You know what forget it. Ask him yourself what he thinks of you. I don't care."
Sakura stood to leave not wanting to argue in circles with the blonde. But stopped when Ino asked, "Is that what you did?"
"No," Sakura answered. The pink-haired girl relayed everything that he had said about her and the other girls after him. Ino still looked conflicted about whether to believe Sakura or not but when her former friend said, "You want to know what really has been bothering me? It's that if he really felt that way he could have said something. I think on some level he enjoys the attention while thinking us all as pathetic losers for giving it."
"The bastard," Sakura added raising her hand to her lips as if she couldn't believe that she had said it. "I mean I can't even remember why I began to like him now. I gave up my first friend, let my physical training slide, and for what so he could brush off my feelings like they didn't even matter. When all it would have taken was a simple, not interested, or... I don't know something. Instead he had to be mister cool and simply ignore us which really should have been a clue, but I was too dense to notice. What's worse is I was doing the same…"
"Thing," she finished in her head thinking of her own treatment of Naruto sadly. "I'm not much better," but she smiled slightly remembering that according to Naruto she was simply because she hadn't held back about how annoying she had found his antics. However unlike her who having been told she was annoying was thinking about giving up, he kept coming back. No that wasn't exactly true he was stopping in order to respect what he believed was her wishes of being with Sasuke. Again she felt her heart clench at the emotions that suddenly seemed overwhelming.
Ino was about to ask why her Sakura had trailed off and was staring off into space but was beaten to it by a shout of, "Sakura." The voice seemed to pull Sakura out of her trance and Ino noticed a smile appear on her face for a moment.
"What is it Naruto?" Sakura asked, Ino temporarily forgotten.
"Well you seemed sort of down, I wanted to make sure you're alright," Naruto said while looking around smelling the delectable aroma of Ichiraku.
"Thanks Naruto," Sakura said kindly surprising Ino who felt as if she had been forgotten. "I guess I was worried about the mission."
"I'm sorry; I suppose I shouldn't have pushed the Old Man into giving it to us."
"No, don't worry about it Naruto," Sakura replied placing a hand on Naruto's arm in a gesture that had become familiar to the two over the weeks but surprised the hell out of Ino. "I mean The Hokage did ask Kakashi-sensei, who said we are ready. I'm just a little worried I'm going to hold you and Sasuke back."
"Don't worry Sakura," Naruto said sincerely, "You're going to do fine." Scratching the back of his head and noticing the rapidly cooling ramen he said, "Hey are you going to eat that?"
Seeing that Naruto's gaze was focused on the forgotten ramen she said, "No, you can have it." The smile that split his face made Sakura feel happier than she had been moments before.
Sitting he gulped it down in record time saying, "You should have said you like Ichiraku, Sakura. It's my favorite I have all sorts of free vouchers maybe we can…" The way he trailed off made Sakura frown especially since she figured he was going to ask her for a date. Not picking up on it Naruto said hurriedly, "Well don't worry Sakura everything will turn out just fine. I better get going and pack for the mission. I'll see you tomorrow, bye," he shouted the last sentence over his shoulder as he took off.
Sakura watched him go, Ino still forgotten, as she found herself wishing he had finished his thought about going together as the few minutes he had been there really had lightened her load. Ino for the most part was trying to decide if she was in some bizarre mirror world. An upside down world, where Sakura almost seemed sad to see Naruto go or had shared her meal with him. Not to mention the things she had been saying about Sasuke. She pinched herself giving a little yelp which made Sakura focus on her again.
"I have to get going too, Ino. See you later," Sakura said walking away.
Ino watched Sakura before remembering the day Sakura had told her and all the other girls that she had liked Sasuke. Ino remembered she had been angry but not because of whom she had said she liked but the reason for it. Remembering the reason she blurted, "You were trying to fit in?"
"Pardon," Sakura asked confused at Ino's sudden outburst.
"The reason you picked Sasuke was because you were trying to fit in," Ino said remembering how she thought Sakura was simply trying to blend in again by hiding her feelings. "You picked him because everyone else did."
Sakura stared at her for a moment before saying, "Maybe your right. It doesn't matter anymore. You can have him." Saying that made Sakura feel a lot better, maybe Ino had a point maybe she had picked Sasuke because he was safe. As the girl with the giant forehead she didn't want to pick a boy that may have resulted in her being teased again. She couldn't say for certain but as she walked away from the stunned Ino she had meant what she had said about it didn't matter. She had wasted enough time chasing after Sasuke. It was better to focus her favor on someone who wanted her for her, not for what she might become in the future or years from now would feel she was finally good enough.
Although Naruto certainly fit the bill she couldn't say that she was positive she wanted to be with him as anything other than a friend. But maybe this upcoming mission could give her a glimpse of what Naruto was like over an extended period of time. After all thus far she had only been given glimpses of the depth that Naruto possessed, maybe this mission would give her more and help answer some of the lingering questions she had.
Ino watched Sakura walk away still shocked that in effect her rival had thrown in the towel. Just as the girl was disappearing out of sight Ino pinched herself one last time to make sure she wasn't dreaming. When the world didn't fade away she guessed she was still awake, but the euphoria that she expected never came. Instead she felt rather hollow was it because Sakura simply quit, that in the end her charms hadn't been the cause? Or was it because of what Sakura said about Sasuke thinking of her as a nuisance? In the end she decided to simply worry about it later in favor of heading home. Since she felt with Sakura out of the race, when she came to a conclusion Sasuke was as good as hers, if she still wanted him that was.
The next day came a lot sooner than Sakura wanted but she decided to face it as a proud kunoichi. She was a little self conscious since last night she had decided on some changes. She wasn't surprised that Sasuke stared at her raising an eyebrow but refused to comment nor was she shocked when she heard the surprised, "Sakura your hair."
"Do you like it?" Sakura asked Naruto holding a hand up to her shorter hair.
"Well sure," Naruto said not sure what to say as although he always found her hair beautiful never really thought about if he preferred it long or short.
"Do you think it's better like this?"
Wishing that Sakura would stop putting him on the spot he said, "No matter how it's cut Sakura is always beautiful," figuring that would stop her from asking more. It did, but he wasn't sure why her cheeks were getting red.
Tazuna showed up before Sakura calmed herself enough to say anything so instead of talking in front of the old man they settled into silence. Kakashi showed up five minutes late but promptly got them moving towards wave. Sakura watched Naruto who seemed to be the most excited since he had never been out of the village before unable to keep the smile from her face. While she hadn't cut her hair to impress Naruto it made her feel better to know that he didn't care if she wore her hair a certain way. As it simply proved that as far as Naruto was concerned he liked everything about not just one facet. Even the things she had considered ugly were part of her charm according to Naruto.
As he walked away ahead of the others his hands behind his head she thought to herself, "I wish I saw what it was that you see in me Naruto. But you know what; I'm beginning to see something special in you too."
Smiling as Naruto started an argument with the bridge builder Sakura followed behind confident that with Naruto around everything would turn out fine.