Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring
A Naruto Oneshot
Premise: As the seasons change, the bonds between three friends can never stay the same. Friends become rivals then enemies. Friendship becomes romance then love. But as the seasons always cycle back to spring, so can enemies become friends once again
Part 1: Spring Scherzo / Afternoon in our Secret Base - Age 7
Part 2: Summer Sostenuto / Midnight Bridge Across the Stars - Age 13
Part 3: Autumn Aria / Morning After the Rain - Age 15
Part 4: Winter Waltz / Evening at Home - Age 19
Part 5: Spring Symphonia / Perfect Day - Age 23
Part 1: Spring Scherzo / Afternoon in our Secret Base - Age 7
The sudden voice surprised Naruto into missing the nail and hammering his thumb instead, shooting a jolt of pain through his senses. "You bastard! What'd you do that for?"
Naruto then quickly bolted to his feet, on the defensive with his hands raised in comical fashion in some kind of roughshod taijutsu stance. The intruder's voice belonged to a fellow student at the ninja academy, from the class next door or something. It was what's-his-name, the class nerd, the teacher's pet, the guy all the girls in school fawned over. Goddamn it. "How'd you find my secret base?"
"I could hear you hammering a kilometer away," Sasuke replied with a shrug.
Sasuke frowned at that. "You shouldn't swear. My brother says that it's unprofessional."
"What'dya gonna do 'bout it? Tell on me?" Naruto jeered childishly. He then quickly blocked the exit with his small arms spread wide open. "But now that you've found my secret base, I actually can't let you tell on me."
"This crummy dump? It's not even worth reporting," Sasuke retorted. He was normally a very well-behaved kid, but there was something about this blond idiot that made him want to speak more freely, like social restraints and common sense didn't matter anymore.
"It's not a crummy dump! It's going to be the awesome secret base for my awesome secret yakuza gang!" Naruto insisted. "In fact, now that you know the secret location, I'll be forced to make you yakuza member number 002! I am of course number 001, the Banchou of this territory. And, someday, I'll rise to be the Souban of all Fire Country! Mwahaha!"
"I'll pass. I have homework to do," Sasuke deadpanned at the stupidity of it all. But just as he was about to leave, Naruto grabbed the back of his shirt collar, nearly choking him.
"Homework? Lame! What a boring guy!" Naruto snorted as he held out a pair of goggles and an armband with the logo for his gang on it. "You'll have way more fun with me."
Sasuke's eye twitched a little at being called lame and boring. He was still at the age where being called uncool was a big deal. He knew that studying, doing homework, and actually trying hard in class were all uncool, but he still had his ambition to catch up to his brother and live up to the Uchiha name. So he had tried to redefine coolness by being a popular guy and an honor student at the same time, and it seemed to be working out okay, but it still stung to be called uncool to his face like this. Being rebellious was cool. And how much more rebellious could you get than by joining a gang? Even if it was just a couple of seven-year-old kids.
And then there was that armband. He wasn't allowed to wear the Uchiha crest on his back yet; that was reserved only for those who could master the family trademark goukyaku no jutsu. And he wasn't allowed to wear the Konoha crest either; that was reserved only for real ninja. But this gang, even if it was a shoddy armband, it was some place he could belong.
"Then are you any less lame? What do you suggest we do then?" Sasuke finally retorted, snatching the armband and placing it around his sleeve. It was just a strip of red cloth with the numbers 4649 scrawled on it, but it felt good to wear it. "And what's with the numbers?"
"It's the name of the gang," Naruto replied with a roll of his eyes, as if it should be obvious. "4649, which can be read as Yo-Ro-Shi-Ku. Normal people write it in simple hiragana, while gangsters write it using difficult kanji, but we are another step above! We write it in numbers! We are the Yoroshiku Brigade! And, now, we're comrades."
"I don't know if you're a genius or an idiot," Sasuke muttered with a sigh. He did have to admit that it was actually kind of cool. "But why Yoroshiku?"
Yoroshiku meant a lot of different things depending on context, but Sasuke couldn't really figure out how it was at all relevant as the name of a gang aside from the fact that delinquents often did write the word using kanji. It wasn't a violent word nor intimidating in anyway; in fact, it was a greeting, with a sense of camaraderie. Nice to meet you. I'm counting on you. Welcome. I'll be in your care. Please. Thanks.
"Don't sweat the small stuff, it's a mistake of youth," Naruto replied, waving the question off. "I was in the middle of fixing up this crummy dump into a secret base worthy of the Yoroshiku Brigade, but that can wait. In commemoration of your membership, we will now go play a prank!"
"A prank? Won't we get in trouble?"
Naruto stared at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was being serious or not. "And people say I'm stupid?"
"Shut up! I'm still new at this yakuza stuff!" Sasuke huffed defensively. "So? What kind of prank are we going to play?"
"Hmm..." Naruto hadn't planned to play a prank that day, so he didn't have anything in mind, but just one glance outside at the swirl of springtime cherry blossoms that fell like snow gave him just the idea. "Hey... you know how everyone complains about what a pain in the ass it is to clean up the cherry blossoms that have fallen on the ground, right?"
"Yeah, my house has a bunch of cherry blossom trees, but my brother never does chores around the house, so I always get stuck sweeping up the blossoms. I really hate this time of year," Sasuke muttered. But thus was the hierarchy of Uchiha brotherhood.
"Well, since you're stuck with cherry blossom sweeping duty anyway, we'll kill two birds with one stone..."
The next morning, the Sandaime Hokage glanced out his office window and blinked in disbelief when he found that the streets of Konoha were swept clean of the ubiquitous April cherry blossoms. No wonder he hadn't received any complaints about the cherry blossoms yet that morning. The villagers appreciated the blossoms when they were up on the branches, but it was nothing but complaints once they had fallen and littered the streets.
He had been meaning to assign the sweeping duty to some of the new genin teams as a D-rank mission, but none of them had particularly wanted such a troublesome chore, so he wondered who could have done the village such a service for free.
But one glance over at the Hokage Monument was all it took as he choked on his morning coffee in shock and realized right away who had been responsible.
For the next couple days, each of the four Hokage on the monument wore a poofy pink afro made out of cherry blossoms.
Honestly, I was never good at dealing with people like you. You were loud, rude, irritating, and completely unable to read the atmosphere. That's why I didn't like you at first. Wait, what am I talking about? I STILL don't like you.
"Hey, let's take a break."
"It's finally starting to look like a secret base," Sasuke remarked, wiping the sweat off his brow as he took a step back to admire all the work the two of them had put into turning the abandoned pillbox bunker into something more habitable.
"We still need a conference table though," Naruto said. He had always wanted to try sitting ominously at the head of a table filled with his lackeys like the gang bosses in all those yakuza movies.
"Wouldn't a high table look kind of weird?" Sasuke pointed out, seeing as how the secret base was set up in a more traditional Japanese fashion. They had even managed to scavenge some old tatami mats for the floor.
"Good thinking... then what we need then is a kotatsu," Naruto declared. A small heated table wasn't exactly gangster-like, but he wasn't really one to sweat the details. He had always wanted to try one anyway; they looked like they would be very comfortable, especially since the secret base wasn't exactly insulated against the cold.
Sasuke grew a sweatdrop. "A kotatsu? In the middle of April?"
"It's because it's the middle of April," Naruto countered, having experience buying things out of season in order to save money. It was still a bit chilly this time of year, but the worst of the cold weather had already passed. "Hmm... but it'll still cost money though..."
"I don't think I can afford one with my allowance," Sasuke said.
"Then I'll show you something cool, a prank that's an easy way to make some money," Naruto said with a grin as he purposely smudged his clothes with some charcoal to make them look dirty. "Mind if I borrow five hundred ryou? I'll make it back ten times over."
"Uh... five hundred?"
"Oh, come on, you don't trust me?"
Sasuke hesitated as he reached for his money pouch. Five hundred ryou could buy a couple packs of those senbei crackers that he liked. "You're not going to gamble, are you?"
"Do I look old enough to gamble?" Naruto retorted.
"Fine, here," Sasuke muttered, handing him a five hundred ryou coin.
With that, the two of them headed off to the high-end market district where most of the rich citizens of the village shopped. Naruto, while being mostly well-known due to his infamy, didn't really show up in that particular district too often, so most people there really only knew of his reputation and not much else.
When they got there, Naruto had Sasuke hide behind a corner as Naruto headed to a populated street corner to dig through trash and pretty much act like a pitiful homeless orphan in those dirtied clothes of his. Sasuke actually found it a little odd to see most people actually go out of their way to avoid him, as if he were infected with some nasty contagious disease. Sure it was normal to avoid homeless people, but not to this degree. It was almost comical how much people wanted to stay away from Naruto.
Naruto was pretty crafty though. He had a good sense of the spacing of his environment and was able to subtly corner people into forcing them to cross paths with him. Sasuke knew that kind of skill was essential for a ninja, so it seemed like Naruto might actually turn out to be a surprisingly decent one if he put his mind to it.
"Sir, do you have any money?" Naruto asked as he held out his dirty hands to a noble-looking gentleman.
"Uh..." The man balked when he realized who the kid was and tried to scoot away but to no avail. "Sorry, kid, I don't have any."
"Oh..." Naruto hung his head in fake disappointment. "I know what it's like to not have any money, so... here, you can have some of mine, sir."
And Sasuke stood there stunned as Naruto handed the man the five hundred ryou coin. But when he saw the priceless flabbergasted expression on the man's face as he held the coin in his hand and realized he was taking money from an orphan child, Sasuke had to desperately fight the urge not to burst out laughing. The whole situation was just so absurd in its hilarity that Sasuke was pretty much convulsing with amusement.
"W-w-wait, kid... I... this... what I meant..." the man sputtered incoherently, making awkwardly wild hand gestures as he tried to clear up the misunderstanding when he realized that people were actually staring. Even if it was the Kyuubi kid, how low would you have to sink to take money from an orphan? And, for once, the dirty looks weren't aimed at Naruto.
"This is too much!" Sasuke snickered.
"Here, kid, just take it and go!" the man finally said as he shoved a five thousand ryou note plus the original five hundred ryou coin at Naruto before hurrying away in embarrassment.
"Thanks, sir!" Naruto called out happily before hurrying back to Sasuke. "So? Am I awesome or what?"
"I'll admit, that was pretty funny!" Sasuke said, wiping a tear from laughing too hard from his eye.
"C'mon, I'll treat you to some ramen," Naruto offered with a grin as he handed Sasuke back the five hundred ryou coin.
Naruto's jaw dropped. "You're joking, right?"
"My family never eats out, so we eat only what my mom cooks."
"Oh, man, then you're really in for a treat. I'm gonna show you one of the wonders of the world."
With that, the two of them bought an old kotatsu for cheap and hauled it over to their secret base, where they enjoyed some delicious cups of instant ramen underneath the warmth of their heated table.
"Delicious! Miso ramen is really the best!"
"Really? I kind of like this shoyu ramen better."
"Then there's clearly something wrong with you."
"Ha? You wanna fight?"
"You're on! Ramen battle royale!"
"I'm not going to fight if you give it such a lame name."
I was never good at dealing with people like you. I never knew what you were thinking, so how else was I supposed to interpret that arrogant smirk on your face without getting angry? If you have something to say, then say it to my face, you bastard.
"So you actually came to school for once, Dropout," Sasuke mused when he met Naruto at the school gate that morning.
"Shut yer mouth, Teacher's Pet," Naruto retorted with a playful grin. "You think I'm gonna miss seeing this prank play out?"
"The teachers are going to be suspicious that you showed up today. They're going to know that you were behind it for sure," Sasuke pointed out as they walked into the academy building together.
"I always did like being acknowledged for my pranks. The punishment is worth it," Naruto scoffed.
"Or maybe you're just a masochist."
"What's a masochist?"
"Shut up! Stop using such complicated words!"
"Well, if you're a sucker for punishment, then you're on your own. I think getting away with a prank scot-free is where the enjoyment is at," Sasuke remarked.
"Well, this is my class, so I'll see you later," Naruto said.
"Later." With that, Sasuke headed for his own class and sat down in his usual seat. And, with a perfect poker face, he waited for the chaos to unfold.
"Okay, class, open up your textbooks to page fifty-three," Iruka said, opening up his own teacher's edition. Sasuke then allowed his poker face the slightest twitch of the lip as Iruka's fountain nosebleed geysered forth to kick the prank off.
"KYAA! What is this?"
"Ew! Ew! Ew! I touched something dirty!"
The class was in total chaos when they had found that their textbooks had been replaced with porn. In the middle of the pandemonium, Sasuke sat outwardly unfazed, but inwardly he was laughing with diabolical amusement. And the best part was that no one suspect an honor student like him.
"NARUTO!" Iruka screamed, knowing full well who was behind the prank even though the boy wasn't even in his class that year.
"So Naruto-kun likes these types of girls..." Hinata murmured, staring at the glamorous gravure models with their long, dark, and shiny hair and supple breasts, before promptly fainting in embarrassment.
"AH! Someone get Hinata to the nurse's office!"
"Damn it, I didn't think they'd make me clean the entire school as punishment," Naruto grumbled as he found himself scrubbing the halls all by himself.
"Hey, Naruto, great prank! Mind if I keep it?" Kiba congratulated, giving him a thumbs-up as he held up the porn.
"Sure," Naruto replied with a grin, finding that acknowledgement made the punishment all worth it.
"Alright! My first porn mag!" Kiba cheered. "How'd you get your hands on all these anyway? I get caught so fast whenever I try to sneak into the R18 section!"
"I actually found a gigantic stack that someone was throwing out just lying out in the street on trash collection day," Naruto explained with a shrug.
"You mean we found it," Sasuke corrected as he came up to them with a bucket and a mop.
"You mean you're behind this too? Awesome!" Kiba exclaimed with a laugh as he gave Sasuke a high-five.
"What happened to getting away scot-free?" Naruto scoffed.
"You're so slow that it'd take forever for you to clean the entire school by yourself. It was irritating waiting for you, so I just turned myself in," Sasuke retorted.
"Well, hurry up with the cleaning duty. The guys got a game of soccer going out in the field. Catch you guys there!" Kiba said, waving as he headed off.
"So how'd your side go?" Naruto asked with a grin.
"Got a girl to faint!" Sasuke replied with a thumbs-up, causing Naruto to double-over with laughter.
"But, man, you got one specific fetish," Naruto remarked, shaking his head. All of the porn that Sasuke had picked out had featured girls with long hair and large breasts, while Naruto's selection had been more varied. "At this rate, there's going to be rumors going around that you like long hair and big boobs."
"I do like long hair and big boobs," Sasuke scoffed. "I'm not into flat chests like you."
"Deliciously flat chests," Naruto corrected. "Besides, I like girls who look good in a yukata, meaning slim figure and short hair."
"Argh, why are we talking about girls? So not cool. Let's just hurry this up and go play soccer with the guys."
"Thanks for helping me out."
"We're partners, aren't we?"
I was never good at dealing with people like you. But I'm a perfectionist, a genius; and if there is something I'm not good at, I fix it. That's the kind of person I am.
"Yes, Dad?" Sasuke paused as he was about to put his sandals on to leave the house. It was a weekend, so he was heading over to the secret base.
"Going out to train again?"
"Uh... yeah," Sasuke lied. He couldn't tell his dad that he was going to go goof off with Naruto at their secret base. It was a secret base after all.
"Then how about I teach you a technique today?" Fugaku suggested, still glancing out towards the koi pond that they had in the courtyard with a faraway gaze. Not once had he looked at Sasuke during the entirety of the conversation.
"A technique?" Sasuke blinked in confusion. His father never taught him anything.
"The goukyaku no jutsu."
"The... family technique?" Sasuke gaped, stunned. He had promised Naruto to show up at the secret base that day, since Naruto had told him that he had something cool to show him, but the chance to learn the Uchiha trademark technique was just too good to pass up.
"Itachi is a lost cause... so if you can learn this technique, then you can proudly wear the crest of the Uchiha on your back and be the next successor," Fugaku said in a distant voice, as if he were speaking to himself more than to his son. "Do you want to learn it, Sasuke?"
Without hesitance, Sasuke nodded. "Yes."
"That Sasuke... he's late," Naruto muttered grumpily as he ate some instant cup ramen to pass the time. He had been itching to show off the new ninjutsu he had invented and use it to pull off some wicked pranks that hadn't been feasible before. Pranking was always more fun with a partner in crime after all.
The secret base felt really empty all by himself. It was like it had grown twice as large but, at the same time, had shrunk to suffocating proportions. Loneliness.
"He's not coming, is he?" Naruto muttered to himself, resigned when a few more hours had passed. "Argh!"
He messed up his own hair out of frustration before forming the hand seals to the only technique he was good at. "Henge!"
When the smoke cleared, it was now a perfect replica of Uchiha Sasuke that sat alone at the kotatsu in the middle of their secret base.
But he was still alone.
So he formed another set of hand seals. "Bunshin no jutsu!"
Naruto crinkled his nose in disgust when an extremely deformed and lifelessly jelly-like clone that looked nothing like Sasuke appeared. "Never was any good at this... argh, screw this!"
With that, he stormed out of the secret base only to be confronted with the sight of a pink-haired girl crying all by herself in the middle of the woods amongst the swirl of cherry blossoms. What was her name again? He skipped class so much that he was terrible with his classmate's names.
When she noticed him, however, it seemed like she at least recognized him. "S-Sasuke-kun?"
Shit. He was still under the disguise of the transformation technique. Normally, kids his age would only be able to hold the technique for a minute at most before it wore off, but he was just too good at this one. He had just invented the oiroke no jutsu after all, so he had to be a master of transformation.
"Uh... here... for your tears. You can keep it," Naruto said awkwardly, still in the image of Sasuke as he took off his armband and handed it to her to wipe her tears since he didn't have a handkerchief handy. Then, not knowing how else to deal with a snot-nosed cooty-infested girl, he quickly took off.
Sakura, stunned that the school prince Uchiha Sasuke would show her kindness like that, immediately stopped crying as she stared hard at the strip of red cloth in her hands. She didn't want to dirty it with her snot and tears, but he had specifically given it to her for that purpose, so she did just that with gratefulness welling up inside her. It was enough for her to completely forget about the bullies that had been picking on her for her oversized forehead.
"Sakura? Here you are! I've been looking all over for you!" Ino exclaimed. "What are you doing in a place like this?"
But Sakura was still too shocked by Sasuke's gift to be able to speak.
Ino, mistaking Sakura's speechlessness for depression, sighed as she handed her a pretty red ribbon. "Here. You'll look much cuter with this! They only make fun of your forehead because you try to hide it! You have a cute face, so show it off confidently!"
Sakura blinked in surprise when Ino's gentle hands tied her hair back with the ribbon. Two good things happening in one day. Unbelievable. It was like a dream. She wondered if she had used up all her lifetime quota of luck just for this one day. "Th-thanks... Ino..."
"No problem! We're friends, aren't we?"
"Y-yeah... friends," Sakura stammered with a shy smile. "By the way... do you know what 4649 means?"
"Huh? 4649?" Ino raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Yon-Roku-Shi-Kyu... doesn't it mean yoroshiku (nice to meet you)?"
"Yoroshiku..." Sakura blushed a little at that. She, after all, hadn't ever actually interacted with Uchiha Sasuke before and thus had never properly introduced herself to him. "Nice to meet you..."
"Why do you ask?"
"I think I found a boy I'm interested in now..."
"Where the hell were you yesterday? I waited hours for you!" Naruto growled angrily when Sasuke showed up to the secret base the next day. His expression then darkened further when he saw that Sasuke wasn't even wearing the armband. "Where's your armband?"
"I finally mastered the goukyaku no jutsu, so I'm officially part of the Uchiha clan now. I can't be wearing two crests," Sasuke replied with a smug smirk as he showed off the new fan insignia on the back of his shirt.
"Teme! When you're in here, you're part of 4649!" Naruto shouted, grabbing Sasuke by the collar. "Don't go getting a big head!"
"Let go of me! How about you? You're not wearing the armband either!" Sasuke shot back.
"I have a good reason for it, unlike you!"
"Shut up! You wanna fight?"
"You're on, Teacher's Pet!"
"I'll beat you to the ground, Dropout!"
"Let's take this outside!"
I was never good at dealing with people like you. That's why I tried to get to know you better the only way I knew how, with my fists.
Naruto hadn't seen Sasuke at all for the next few days after that last fight. He had avoided both school and the secret base but, as time passed, the reason they had fought seemed sillier and sillier.
"I guess I'll go see what the Teacher's Pet is up to. Maybe some time off had give him a chance to cool his head and realize that he should be apologizing to me," Naruto muttered to himself as he headed off to the secret base.
The branches of the cherry trees were all nearly bare now as the last of the pink blossoms were now about to die out and fall. It was like they were telling him that nothing stayed the same forever, that everything had to change in time.
When he got near the clearing where the secret base was, however, he could smell smoke as he saw a plume of smoke rise up into the sky. "The hell? Is that bastard holding a barbeque or something? Without me?"
With that, he quickened his pace. Upon reaching their secret base, however, it wasn't a barbeque that he found. He froze in shock when he realized the secret base that the two of them had worked so hard to build was up in flames.
And standing there, watching, sullen in his poise, was Uchiha Sasuke.
"You bastard! What'd you do that for? That was our secret base!" Naruto screamed, furious. He grabbed Sasuke by the shoulders to spin him around and reared back his fist to knock some sense into him but then froze when he saw the fury in Sasuke's eyes. It was a fury that even outblazed the inferno that raged inside their secret base.
The Sasuke he knew, the Sasuke he had befriended, had cheerful and innocent eyes. But now... his eyes were filled with nothing but hatred. They were so filled with malice and vengeance that it Naruto felt that he wasn't even looking at him. It was like Naruto no longer existed in his eyes. Sasuke's eyes now only saw revenge and nothing else.
"Wh-what happened to you?"
"I don't have time for little kids games anymore. I don't have time for friends anymore. All that matters is power. Revenge is my new ambition, my new dream."
"What the hell are you talking about? You're not making any sense!"
"Then I'll say it in a way that even a Dropout like you can understand... goodbye."
Naruto clenched his fists in anger as Sasuke turned his back on the friendship they had built with their own two hands and walked away without an ounce of remorse. Feeling his bond with his first ever friend ripped apart so suddenly, he then lifted his head, held out his chest proudly, and said, "I won't say goodbye... but I will say this... thanks... for the good times."
Sasuke stopped but didn't turn around as Naruto's words cut through the hatred surrounding his heart. As a lone tear ran down his cheek, he just snorted and kept walking away. If he didn't walk away now, he knew that he never would.
Then, as Sasuke was fading into the distance, Naruto shouted after him, "And someday I'll make you acknowledge me again! I have a new dream too! I'll become Hokage and, as a Konoha ninja, you'll have to acknowledge me!"
I was never good at dealing with people like you. Maybe that'll change someday... maybe we'll meet again in our secret base someday...
Part 2: Summer Sostenuto / Midnight Bridge Across the Stars - Age 13
"Sasuke-kun! Naruto! Stop! Stop it!" Sakura screamed as the disarrayed cry of a thousand birds locked in on a lethal collision course with the controlled fury of a chakra typhoon, drowning out her desperation in the chaos.
Then, in the time that it took her to blink, Kakashi blew past her and redirected Naruto and Sasuke's lethal techniques that had been meant for each other to harmlessly collide into nearby water towers.
"K-Kakashi-sensei..." Sakura gasped, and with it all strength left her legs as she collapsed to her knees in sobs.
"What do you think you two are doing? On top of a hospital roof no less," Kakashi asked lazily with a nonchalant sigh that completely diffused the seriousness of the situation.
Sasuke just grunted as he pulled his hand out of the mangled puncture in the water tower and shook the water out of his soaked hair. He allowed himself a smug smirk when he saw that the water tower Naruto's technique had collided with had barely a dent in comparison.
"Sasuke, I didn't teach you the chidori so that you could aim it at a comrade," Kakashi said.
"Whatever," Sasuke muttered, not in the mood for a lecture as he hopped away. But then his eyes grew wide in shock, and then anger as his fists tightened, when he saw from a different angle the total obliteration to the water tower that Naruto's devastating technique had caused. "Tche..."
Naruto then jumped down to where Sakura was still an emotional wreck. "Sakura-chan..."
Sakura sniffled a little as she tried to stop crying. Through her tear-streaked vision, she looked to Naruto expectantly. She really needed some words of comfort and kindness right then. "N-Naruto..."
But, instead, his gaze was cold and unfeeling. "Sakura-chan... don't interfere ever again. You'll just end up getting hurt."
Sakura's eyes grew wide in shock before she hung her head in anguish. Naruto had never spoken to her in that tone before, and she could feel the once strong bond of teamwork between the three of them start spiralling out of control into darkness.
She had thought that she could always at least count on Naruto to stand by her, but she had noticed that he had been slowly drifting away ever since Tsunade had healed Sasuke from the damage of Itachi's Mangekyo Sharingan. At first she had thought that he was just being considerate in giving her some space with Sasuke, but now she knew that it wasn't that simple.
And Sasuke... she had felt that he had been warming up ever since he and Naruto had started that silly rivalry, but now that had blown up and he was even more unreachable than ever.
"Here... for your tears. You can keep it," Naruto said softly, handing her an orange handkerchief as he passed her and went on his own way.
In a fleeting moment of deja vu, memories of that day she had first fell in love with Uchiha Sasuke all those years ago flashed through her mind. "Naruto..."
Kakashi then caused her to jolt a little in surprise when he placed his hands comfortingly on her shoulders. Then, giving her a kind and gentle look, he said, "Don't worry. Things will go back to normal soon."
Once a year, on Tanabata, legend says that a bridge of magpies is supposed to allow Orihime and Hikoboshi, two star-crossed lovers, to meet. The magpies refuse to form the bridge if it rains on Tanabata though. I wonder how Orihime feels when it rains.
"Sasuke-kun? Where's Naruto?" Sakura asked, seeing only Sasuke at their usual meeting spot on the bridge later that evening. He was leaning against the railing with his hands gruffly stuffed into his pockets.
"He said he was hungry, so he went on ahead with Kiba and the others," Sasuke muttered.
Despite his foul mood, Sakura was surprised that Sasuke had even agreed to go to the summer festival with them in the first place when Naruto had suggested it. She had been really grateful to Naruto for setting up this chance for her to spend time with Sasuke, and now the blond idiot had taken it a step further by leaving the two of them alone together.
"That Naruto," she said with a warm chuckle. She really owed him one for this.
"Well, let's go," Sasuke said, starting to walk towards the festival without even waiting for her.
As her wooden sandals clicked and clacked as she jogged to catch up to him, she was a little disappointed that he hadn't said anything about the summer yukata she was wearing. She had spent such a long time preparing herself in order to impress him too.
"Ne, Sasuke-kun, do you know what you're going to wish for?" Sakura asked, trying to make conversation.
"Yeah," was the curt reply. It was in his usual tone voice that seemed to say, "Don't talk to me."
Sakura hung her head a little as Sasuke just seemed so far away despite the fact that he was walking right beside her. When had things gotten this way? How had things gotten so bad?
"Sasuke-kun... you didn't want to wear a yukata today?" she asked, trying to fill the void of silence between them.
Argh, Sakura you idiot, stop asking yes or no questions. She inwardly groaned as she silently berated herself. She knew that Sasuke wasn't the easiest person to interact with, but this was bordering on absurd.
And, all of sudden, she realized that they weren't even walking side by side anymore. She wasn't sure if he had sped up or if she had slowed down, but he was now a few paces ahead of her. It was only a few paces, but it felt like a distance she could never catch up. Sasuke was always so determined, always moving forward on some lonely journey, getting stronger day by day, Konoha's ace rookie; how was she ever supposed to catch up to be able to be acknowledged as an equal?
"Sasuke-kun..." she whispered softly as she reached out and grabbed his sleeve.
He stopped but didn't turn around. "What?"
While Sakura gathered her thoughts, the shrill and melancholic cries of the summer cicadas heralded the end of the day as the twilight turned to dusk and the stars began to twinkle in the darkness.
"Sasuke-kun... I..." Then, hesitating, she shook her head and said, "It's nothing... sorry, forget it..."
"Then let's go," he said gruffly, taking his sleeve back and resumed walking ahead of her.
She felt her chest tighten as the words she failed to convey to him caught in her throat. She had confessed her feelings to him so many times before, so why was it so difficult to tell him that she loved him now?
Because it had never hurt so much before.
Before, when she, Ino, and the rest of the girls were too busy competing with each other that it didn't matter how cold Sasuke was to them.
Before, when Sasuke's indifference was actually a good thing because it meant that all the girls could continue to love him as long as he didn't pick one.
Before, when he was every girl's idol, every girl's boyfriend.
Before, when she was ignorant of how deep Sasuke's hatred ran.
Before, when she wasn't in so deep in love with him that it was too late to back out.
Loving him was painful. But, even so, she fell deeper in love with him every time she saw him. So every day just hurt even more. But, even so, she was still happy to see him. She just couldn't help it. It was painful. But it was love.
But he never looked at her. He was always looking at something beyond her, far away. Yet she still loved him.
Why did she have to fall in love with someone who would cause her so much pain? Why couldn't it have been Naruto? She could have been happier spending her days basking in Naruto's endless cheer. But love doesn't work that way. People don't choose who they fall in love with. She just couldn't help falling in love with Sasuke.
As the tears began running down her cheek, she tried to stifle the sounds of her sobs. But she knew that Sasuke could hear her crying. And, yet, even so, he just continued to walk ahead.
What happened to the Sasuke-kun that had given her that red cloth to wipe her tears with all those years ago? What had happened to the Sasuke-kun she had fallen in love with?
She then reached into her small drawstring purse and pulled out the orange handkerchief Naruto had given to her the other day on the hospital rooftop to dry her tears.
On Tanabata, a bridge across the celestial river is supposed to allow Orihime and Hikoboshi, two star-crossed lovers, to meet. Sometimes I wonder what Orihime is thinking as she crosses that bridge. Sometimes I wonder what Orihime would feel if Hikoboshi never met her halfway.
"It's Sasuke-kun!" Ino cheered when Sasuke and Sakura finally arrived. "Wow! Sakura, you look really pretty! Though I'm way prettier of course!"
"Naruto would beg to differ," Shikamaru deadpanned as Naruto choked on his green tea at the first glimpse of Sakura in her yukata.
"Gimme a sec," Naruto coughed, still struggling to recover and catch his breath. "Damn it, Sakura-chan, are you trying to kill me? A warning would be nice before you show up looking all pretty like that, you know!"
"S-sorry," Sakura said sheepishly, feeling a little happy to get such a reaction. It was just what she had needed to get her out of the slump she had dug herself in during her walk with Sasuke.
"Hey! That was completely different from your reaction to seeing me in my yukata!" Ino whined.
"You're pretty too. And so is Hinata. I just wasn't prepared this time, that's all," Naruto muttered, waving her off. Though, oblivious to him, Hinata was on the verge of fainting in sheer bliss even at such an offhand comment.
"Sasuke-kun! Sasuke-kun! Do you think I look pretty in a yukata?" Ino asked cheerfully, clinging to his arm possessively.
"Yukata are more Naruto's fetish," Sasuke scoffed.
"Way to dig up the past, you long hair and big boobs fetishist," Naruto retorted, pulling Sasuke into a headlock. "And why the hell aren't you wearing a yukata anyway? It's the summer festival for crying out loud! Where's your festive spirit?"
"I didn't want to add homo-yukata to your list of fetishes," Sasuke sneered.
"Now you're asking for it!" Naruto snarled as he tightened the headlock.
Sakura had to giggle a little at Naruto and Sasuke's antics. It really amazed her how Naruto could just bridge the distance between people like that. "Ne, Naruto..."
Naruto and Sasuke put their wrestling match on pause for a moment. "Yeah? What is it, Sakura-chan?"
"Thanks for telling me that I look pretty. You look good in a yukata too," she said cheerfully. Naruto in a yukata was definitely a nice change of pace from his usual outfit. "Though I'm a little surprised that you didn't show up in an orange one."
"Thanks, Sakura-chan! I really wanted an orange one, but the only ones I could find were for women! Men's yukata are so boring!" Naruto complained. He was just wearing a standard indigo yukata with some subdued white patterns.
In fact, Naruto was actually the only guy wearing a yukata in their group. Sasuke just didn't give a damn, Shikamaru had found it too troublesome, Shino needed his usual outfit to conceal his insects, Chouji had wanted to wear something that would expand easier due to how much food there was at the festival, and Kiba had been spouting some nonsense about how his wildness couldn't be contained by traditional clothes.
The girls, however, were all wearing yukata. Sakura had on a white one with pink cherry blossom prints and a red obi. Ino's was purple with a white bamboo motif to go along with the theme of Tanabata. Hinata's selection had been surprising though. Everyone had thought she'd go with something traditional like indigo, but she was wearing a cream-colored one with bright sunflowers and an orange obi.
"You look really cute, Hinata," Sakura remarked.
"Th-thanks, you too," Hinata stammered with a deep blush. She had actually been really self-conscious about wearing such a bright design that stood out so much, but she had wanted to go with something that felt like summer. Plus, she felt that she should live up to her name, Hinata, meaning sunny. She wanted to be sunny and bright like Naruto.
"So now that everyone's here, let's go!" Naruto cheered. "What do you guys want to do first? Oh, oh, I want to get a festival mask! My head's kind of lonely without my forehead protector."
"Where does he get all his energy?" Shikamaru sighed as Naruto began running around like a hyperactive little kid.
"Naruto! You're going to get lost in the crowd!" Sakura called out after him. There were a lot of people milling about the various stands, and all the noise could make it easy to lose track of each other.
"Sasuke-kun, I'll hold onto you so that I don't get lost!" Ino squealed as she held onto Sasuke's arm tighter.
"Ino! Stop being so clingy! Can't you see that you're bothering him?" Sakura scolded.
"You're just jealous!" Ino shot back, sticking out her tongue.
Then, just in time to diffuse the situation, Naruto returned, now haphazardly wearing a white ANBU-style festival mask sideways on his head. "Hey, since it's Tanabata, let's start by writing our wishes!"
"Good idea! I'm gonna wish that I can have girls fighting over me too," Kiba joked, leading the way to one of the wish-writing stations.
"Be careful what you wish for," Sasuke deadpanned while in the middle of a tug-of-war between Ino and Sakura.
"I'm going to wish for Sasuke-kun's love!" Ino declared proudly, carefully writing her wish down on a strip of colored tanzaku paper.
"Hey, Naruto, you gonna wish to become Hokage?" Kiba laughed.
"Pshh, I'm not going to waste my wish on something that I can achieve with my own power," Naruto scoffed proudly.
"Probably something like free all-you-can-eat ramen then," Chouji said with a chuckle as he wrote down something similar.
"Great minds think alike!" Naruto grinned as he gave Chouji a high-five. "Shikamaru, you're not writing one?"
"Whoa, Hinata, you're done already?" Kiba asked in surprise when Hinata returned from hanging up her tanzaku on a branch of bamboo. "What'd you wish for?"
"Ah, that, I mean, uh..." Hinata stammered, making wild gestures with her hands as her face flushed red. She didn't want anyone to read her wish, so she had done it quickly and hung it up on a particularly crowded branch full of other tanzaku.
"We can kind of figure it out..." Kiba said, growing a sweatdrop. "Shino, what you wish for?"
"Just the fact that you even bothered to ask meant that it's working," Shino replied, hanging up a tanzaku that read, "I wish for my fellow peers to acknowledge my existence."
"What a sad wish..." Kiba said, growing another sweatdrop.
"Sasuke-kun, what are you going to wish for?" Sakura asked, still holding her pen poised over a blank tanzaku.
Sasuke merely grunted as he hung up a tanzaku that only had one word on it. "Revenge."
Sakura let out a small sigh as she stared at her blank strip of paper, not really sure what to write. For some reason, she just couldn't bring herself to wish for Sasuke's love like Ino had. She just couldn't toss around such a burdensome word like love so easily anymore, not after that depressingly dark and long walk getting to the festival with Sasuke.
So she decided to take a look at the tanzaku that were already hanging from the bamboo branches in order to get some inspiration. But when her gaze fell upon Naruto's tanzaku, a small smile crossed her lips as a feeling of warmth welled up within her, erasing much of the despair she had built up during her walk with Sasuke. It was just so like Naruto to make such a wish.
"I wish for everyone's wishes to come true."
On Tanabata, as Orihime is crossing that bridge of magpies to meet her beloved Hikoboshi, I wonder if Orihime ever thanks the magpies.
"Hey, let's try the cork gun game," Naruto suggested with a grin as he put down some money on the shooting gallery. It was pretty simple, just aim and shoot at the prize you wanted.
"Sure, why not," Sasuke said with a shrug, eyeing a kunai maintenance kit amongst the row of prizes. It was only a hundred ryou to play, so it would be a steal if he could get it in one shot.
But as he was about to aim his cork gun, he felt something hit the back of his head. Turning around, he raised an eyebrow when he saw Sakura aiming her cork gun at him and playfully sticking her tongue out. "What was that for?"
"We're supposed to shoot at what we want, right?" she said with a laugh.
"Hey, that's not fair! I want Sasuke-kun too!" Ino exclaimed, pelting Sasuke with corks.
"Cut it out!" Sasuke roared, startling the Sakura and Ino into silence.
"Damn it, Sasuke, what are you getting all mad for?" Naruto groaned, stuffing Sasuke into a headlock again and diffusing the situation before his usual humorless temper killed the festive mood. "Cute girls doing cute things, be happy for crying out loud! Now hurry up and shoot!"
Sasuke muttered something under his breath before resuming to aim his cork gun at the kunai maintenance kit that he wanted. Naruto, seeing exactly what Sasuke was predictably aiming for, face-palmed and shook his head at the massive amounts of fail. The guy had a couple of cute girls by his side and all he could think about was getting a prize for himself? So, just as Sasuke was about to pull the trigger, Naruto kicked him in the back of the knee just enough to throw off his aim.
"What'd you do that for?" Sasuke snarled as his cork ended up hitting a cute teddy bear instead. "What am I suppose to do with this?"
"Just give it to Sakura-chan if you don't want it," Naruto snorted as he aimed his own cork gun at the kunai maintenance kit. "Stop crying and I'll get you your damn prize."
Sakura blinked in surprise as Sasuke shoved the teddy bear into her hands and then smiled as she cuddled its softness in her arms. Though she wasn't really sure whether to classify it as a gift from Sasuke or Naruto. "Th-thanks, you two... it's so cute!"
"Here's your damn maintenance kit," Naruto said, tossing the prize to Sasuke. "Hey, who's hungry? Let's go get some grub! Takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, okonomiyaki, let's go!"
"Now we're talking!" Chouji cheered, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
"Hey, Naru..." Sakura called out, thinking that she could at least treat him to something to eat as thanks, but Ino got to him first.
"Hey, Naruto, you were actually kind of cool back there," Ino said teasingly with a playful grin. She wasn't really sure what was going on with Sasuke, but he was more of a ticking time bomb than usual, and she thought the way that Naruto had been keeping the situation under control all night long was kind of manly. Sasuke, in comparison to Naruto's surprising maturity, seemed really petty.
"What are you talking about? I'm always cool!" Naruto guffawed.
Sakura was grateful that Naruto was trying to help her get closer to Sasuke, but if it meant that Naruto had to distance himself from her in order to do so, she wasn't really sure it was worth it. So, as Naruto and Ino walked ahead while goofing off with each other like the cheerful blondes they were, Sakura's shoulders slumped a little as she felt everything and everyone slowly slipping further away.
On Tanabata, when I look up at the starry summer sky, I can never find Hikoboshi.
"There's Deneb, Altair, and Vega. The summer triangle," Naruto said as, once the festival fireworks had died down, it was the stars' turn to shine.
"Hmm, you're surprisingly knowledgeable," Shikamaru remarked lazily, being a fellow skygazer as well.
"Slept outside under the stars a lot when a certain pervy sage was too cheap to pay for a hotel room during our search for granny Tsunade," Naruto replied with a laugh.
"Altair is Hikoboshi and Vega is Orihime in the Tanabata legend, right?" Hinata said, making an effort to speak up more. She really liked the story behind the Tanabata festival after all; she thought it to be romantically bittersweet.
"Yup. Two star-crossed lovers separated by the river of the Milky Way," Naruto said with a nod, holding up his hand as if trying to bridge the distance between the two stars. Only on the seventh day of the seventh month, during Tanabata, were the two lovers allowed to meet, crossing a bridge of wings.
"It must be so sad to be so far away from the person you love and only allowed to meet once a year," Ino remarked with a sigh.
It is sad. Sakura knew. Even though Sasuke was right there, it felt like he was always so far, like he was on the other side of the wide celestial river of stars. So she looked up at the stars that Naruto had pointed out with sad eyes. If she was Orihime, then Sasuke was her Hikoboshi.
But then she realized something. "Wait... there are three stars in the summer triangle. So if Altair is Hikoboshi and Vega is Orihime... then what about Deneb?"
"Oh yeah, that's right, how does that third star fit in?" Ino asked. "No one ever talks about it."
Naruto got up and dusted himself off before hiding his face with the festival mask. "Deneb... that third star in the summer triangle... is the bridge... the bridge connecting the two lovers."
And, suddenly, as a tear rolled down her cheek, Sakura realized that she'd been crying a lot lately. Naruto... why are you so nice to me? I don't deserve it. Stop being so nice...
On Tanabata, when I look up at the starry summer sky, my first thought is how beautiful the celestial river is. Even though it is the distance that separates Orihime and Hikoboshi, I can't help but think that it's beautiful. Is that cruel of me?
"So you're really leaving?"
Sasuke chuckled a little as he stopped and stood there under the moonlight. He knew who it was even without having to turn around. "If anyone was going to stop me, I thought it'd be Sakura."
"Well, sorry, but you're going to have to put up with me," Naruto scoffed. "So is this why you agreed to come to the summer festival with us? Spend one last night with everyone before you leave? Was that it?"
"I'm not that sentimental," Sasuke replied with a shrug.
"I'm not either, so I'm not going to try to convince you to stay with some pretty words. I'm just going to beat some sense into you," Naruto said, blocking the village gate. "If you want to go join that snake bastard, then you're going to have to go through me."
Sasuke frowned. He was confident that he could defeat Naruto, but the fight would probably draw too much attention. Had it been Sakura, he could have probably just easily knocked her out since she was so trusting, but Naruto wouldn't put his guard down so easily.
"Then come with me," Sasuke finally said.
Naruto blinked as it took him a moment to understand what Sasuke was saying. "Wha? Are you nuts?"
"We don't have to go to Orochimaru. We can just go off on our own. We can't gain strength cooped up here in this village," Sasuke said. "Once we leave, we won't be able to wear the Konoha crest, so we can be 4649 again."
"But what about Sakura-chan?" Naruto sputtered.
"What about her? Do you really want her to get tangled up in this mess? I'm chasing after an S-class criminal, and there are S-class criminals chasing after you," Sasuke said calmly. "Hell, you're even a liability to the village just by staying and attracting those S-class criminals here."
Naruto clenched his fist as he remembered how Itachi and Kisame had just waltzed right into the village and totally thrashed Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai. Was it because they had been after him? Was he the reason why Akatsuki had come to Konoha?
"Fine..." he finally agreed. "But at least say goodbye to Sakura-chan... you know how she feels about you."
"You do it for me... you're better at that stuff than I am. Make it fast. I'll meet you at the north gate," Sasuke said as he took off.
Naruto was about to argue and chase after him but then let out a sigh as he felt Sakura's presence nearby. So he quickly conjured an image of Sasuke in his mind and formed the seals to the simple and unassuming technique that had somehow managed to spin the wheels of fate many times before.
On Tanabata, when I look up at the starry summer sky, I remember your words from back then and look for those three stars. But I can never find them without your help. Staring aimlessly up at the starry sky by myself... it's a little lonely.
Part 3: Autumn Aria / Morning After the Rain - Age 15
Sakura poured herself a cup of coffee before opening the morning newspaper for anything interesting. It seemed like such a long time ago when her two friends would often show up in the newspaper for whatever reason, maybe Naruto had pulled a particularly outrageous prank one day or maybe Sasuke had made some crafty investment venture with his family's money. But there was none of that in the newspapers nowadays. It had now been two years since the two of them had disappeared.
She warmed her hands on her mug before taking a sip. The summer rainy season had passed and it was now starting to get colder despite the clear autumn sky.
"I wonder what mischief those two are up to..."
It was raining just up until now, so I wonder if it's sunny where you are too. You're eating properly and taking care of yourself, right? You were always so irresponsible, so I still worry about the little things like whether you're waking up on time or not.
"Tche, you're such a pest. You didn't learn anything from the last time I beat you to the ground?" Sasuke scoffed, drawing his Kusanagi sword as the raindrops flung outwards in its graceful arc.
"Last time was a draw! Or did I beat you so senselessly that your memory has gone fuzzy?" Naruto retorted, pulling out his short ninjato in response.
After many battles with Sasuke, Naruto had learned that the slanted blade of a kunai wasn't good against Sasuke's katana, so he had taken up using a ninjato since the size and weight of the shortsword was similar enough to a kunai to not need much adjustment. The two of them were always trying to one up each other like that, trying to counter each other's styles, so Naruto had evolved into a fighter that specialized in taking down one powerful opponent while Sasuke had developed into a mass destruction specialist to take down Naruto's army of shadow clones.
"This time, for sure," Naruto said in a determined voice as the light morning drizzle grew heavier, weighing down the earth in heaven's tears. "This time... I'm taking you back to Konoha... to Sakura-chan."
About a year after the two of them had left Konoha, the crippling effects of the cursed seal had forced Sasuke to defect to Orochimaru's side. Ever since then, Naruto had been chasing after Sasuke, and Sasuke had been chasing after Itachi, running, pursuing, fighting, all over the entire continent for what seemed to be a year that kept dragging on with no end.
"It's pointless. I'm not the same person I was back then. Even if I go back, I'm not the Uchiha Sasuke that the village wants back," Sasuke muttered as he formed a set of familiar hand seals to charge up his trademark move. "Chidori!"
Naruto smirked as he merely stomped on the ground to kick up enough mud to obscure Sasuke's vision for a brief moment and used that to deftly sidestep out of the way. "Everyone needs a technique that can finish anyone off in one hit. But the only reason such techniques are so effective is because no one stays alive long enough to figure out how to counter it. So if you're going to try that move on me ten, twenty, thirty times... I'm going to learn a trick or two to avoid it, so what makes you think a fortieth time is going to work?"
"Shut up!" Sasuke growled as he switched over to using his katana and launched a series of blitzkrieg strikes that utilized the longer range advantage of his katana and katon jutsu.
Naruto quickly flipped his ninjato into a reverse grip that allowed him to seamlessly transition between taijutsu and kenjutsu on the fly and used his blade more as a defensive countermeasure to shorten the distance to close-range combat where he could use his fists.
But once the distance had closed too much, Sasuke once again jumped back. He then switched his katana from the right hand to his left. In kenjutsu, holding the sword in the right hand offered control and stability, but the left hand had range and power. And, right now, his advantage over Naruto was range.
Naruto quickly switched his footing to one that would offer the most mobility as he recognized Sasuke's stance. Sasuke often used slashing attacks when holding the sword in his right hand, which Naruto's ninjato could parry, but Sasuke's left-handed stance would mean thrusts, which would require dodging rather than parrying.
They slowly circled each other, with Naruto wisely staying just outside of Sasuke's attack range as he tried to find an opportunity to provoke an opening to close the distance. But to an experienced swordsman in a sturdy kamae stance, the range of the sword was an absolute frontal defense.
Sasuke, counting the rhythm of Naruto's footsteps, tried to calculate at which moment Naruto would have the least mobility to react. But Naruto's footwork was quick, smooth, flowing, flawless.
Fights were always a battle of measuring the distance to your enemy. Naruto was always trying to get closer, and Sasuke was always trying to break away.
It was raining just up until now, and the village has a fresh and crisp fragrance. This village that you love hasn't changed too much. Well, I guess one big difference is that you're not here right now. Come back soon, okay?
"Finally, last one," Ino said as she pulled out an unconscious mouse from the anesthesia chamber and placed it into a nose cone on the lab bench that continued to feed it vaporized isoflurane.
Sakura adjusted her surgical mask before using a chakra scalpel to shave off a small section of fur as Ino loaded up a mixture of cancer cells and gel substrate into a needle syringe. "Ready?"
"This should be about two million cells," Ino said, handing her the needle for the tumor xenograft.
Being the up and coming brilliant minds of a new generation, Tsunade had pushed her proteges to not settle at just mastering current medical techniques but to strive to further advance medical knowledge in general through research as well. Disease was just as deadly a killer as an enemy shinobi after all.
"Sorry, buddy, but you're gonna be alright," she said in a soft voice as she patted the unconscious mouse on the head before folding up the skin for a subcutaneous injection. "Done."
"Let's go get lunch, yeah?" Ino suggested as she shut off the oxygen and isoflurane before returning the mouse to its cage.
"Hinata, do you want to get lunch?" Sakura asked as the two of them headed to the tissue culture lab where Hinata was doing drug screenings.
"Sure, I was just finishing up," Hinata said, washing cells dyed with trypan blue off a hemacytometer.
Ever since Naruto had thanked her for her ointment during the Chuunin Exam preliminaries, Hinata had decided to continue pursuing her interest in medicinal herbs and pharmaceuticals. Ino often helped her out due to her vast knowledge of plants, and, together with Sakura's comprehensive medical knowledge, the three of them already had some success in isolating promising small molecule drug candidates from plants such as the turkey tail mushroom and the bark of the yew tree.
"Want to get some ramen? We haven't had any in a while," Sakura suggested as she washed her hands.
"Sounds good, especially since the weather is starting to get colder," Ino agreed. "We can go to that one place... what was it called?"
"Ichiraku," both Hinata and Sakura replied instantaneously in unison, at which they glanced at each other in surprise before bursting out into laughter. "Let's go."
When they got to Ichiraku, Sakura ordered her usual shio ramen, while Hinata ordered the miso ramen Naruto liked so much, and Ino ordered Sasuke's staple shoyu ramen.
As the delectable smell of the three different ramen broths came out, Sakura glanced over at the two empty seats to her left with sad eyes as she imagined Sasuke and Naruto arguing as usual over something stupid like which type of ramen was superior.
Sakura then laughed a little to herself as she joined the imaginary argument. You're both idiots; shio ramen is clearly the best.
It was raining just up until now. And now that the sky is bright and clear, sometimes I can't help but search for small fragments of you, even though I know that you couldn't possibly be there.
"I thought you said you were going to finish this quickly. I'm still standing," Naruto mocked through ragged breaths as the rain continued to pound down on them.
Sasuke paused for a moment to wipe his drenched hair out of his eyes and catch his breath. "I forgot how much fun it was toying around with you, so I figured I might as well humor you for a while."
"Glad you're having fun!" Naruto shouted as he resumed his attack.
Sasuke got into a defensive stance as his eyes sharply darted back and forth to keep track of Naruto's flowing movements. Naruto always did have an uncanny ability to adapt, so he was now using the slick and muddy ground to increase his speed with unpredictable sliding movements. Sasuke had been feeding chakra to his feet the entire time for traction due to his more orthodox approach to combat. While Sasuke liked to control his own momentum with an iron grip, Naruto preferred to just let it flow like the wind.
"You always did rely too much on your eyes," Naruto said as he suddenly tossed his own ninjato away with a nonchalant chuckle.
Sasuke's eyes grew wide in shock that Naruto would just throw away his weapon like that. But as his eyes instinctively tracked the location of the ninjato as it sailed through the rain and slid across the muddy ground, he realized that it had all been a feint to force him to take his eyes off Naruto. "Shit!"
"GOTCHA!" Naruto shouted, channeling power starting from his legs all the way into his fist for a powerful backhand slam to the solar plexus.
Sasuke, however, had shifted his stance at the last second to avoid what would have been a sure knockout. It was still a devastating blow though as he nearly crumpled to the ground with the wind knocked out of him.
"Tche, I was counting on that move to work, since it probably won't ever work a second time," Naruto remarked with a chuckle as he retrieved his ninjato. "Need a minute to catch your breath, Sasuke-chan?"
"Don't fuck with me!" Sasuke growled, struggling to get to his feet. But, despite everything, he really loved fighting Naruto. Through countless battles, Naruto had learned all of Sasuke's weaknesses and wasn't shy about coming up with new and creative ways to exploit them all. And it was through Naruto that Sasuke learned to cover up and compensate for all his weaknesses until, someday, he would have none. But he also knew that Naruto was the same way. He knew all of Naruto's weaknesses, but the number of weaknesses were decreasing every time they fought.
"Well, since that trick won't work anymore, I guess I'll just have to keep your eyes busy some other way," Naruto said with a smirk as he formed his trademark hand seal. "Kage bunshin no jutsu!"
Sasuke quickly blocked an attack from behind and was about to counter in order to get rid of the clone, but another attack was already incoming from a completely different, too fast, so he had to pull out a kunai to block that one. It was times like this that he wished he had access to the byakugan as the endless stream of hit-and-run from all directions was getting faster and faster.
"Chidori nagashi!" Sasuke shouted, using his entire body to channel lightning chakra as a defensive measure before discharging all of it through the muddy ground to get rid of the shadow clones in one fell sweep.
However, the combination of heat generated through a combination of the electricity's speed, the air's friction, and the ground's electrical resistance caused the rain to turn into a hot steam, obscuring both Naruto and Sasuke's vision.
"In the mood for a sauna, Sasuke?"
Sasuke smirked, shaking his head at Naruto's idiocy for giving his position away with his voice. "Over there!"
But as his fist connected, the physical sensation immediately fell away in a familiar poof. Tche, so he had another shadow clone. Sasuke then, having given his own position away, quickly tried to relocate within the cloud of steam.
"Gotcha this time!"
Sasuke's eyes widened in shock, his sharingan making the fist that was careening in towards his face seem like it was moving in slow-motion, but he knew that it was too late, his body wouldn't be able to move out of the way in time.
Despite his last ditch jutsu, Sasuke still braced himself for the impact anyway. But when it never came, he smirked and took the opportunity to drive his fist straight into Naruto's stomach. "You're not ruthless enough, Naruto."
"That's low, Sasuke... transforming into Sakura-chan like that..." Naruto chuckled, coughing up blood as he doubled over in pain. "But you know... the real Sakura-chan hits a lot harder. I'll have to bring you back to Konoha so that you can get a taste of the real thing."
"I told you... I'm not going back."
It was raining just up until now, and I think I'd like to try to understand the meaning of sunshine after rain.
Sakura had the afternoon off that day to recover, since Tsunade had given her a real pounding during training the day before. And the hospital director had told her to take the rest of the week off too since she had been logging way too many hours at work lately, something about overtime employment laws or something, so she wasn't really sure what to do with her free time.
But she realized that not having anything to do made her mind wander. Maybe she was becoming a workaholic. Or maybe drowning herself in work was just her way to keep her mind off Sasuke and Naruto, wherever they were.
"Maybe I'll cook dinner for Mom and Dad today," she murmured to herself as she inspected some fresh leeks at the produce stand. Fried rice maybe?
As she absentmindedly spun a leek around like a baton, she couldn't help but laugh a little to herself when she remembered the time they had that one D-rank mission that had required them to pull weeds out of someone's garden, but Naruto had pulled out and ruined all the edible leeks too. Then, feeling a little silly as people were starting to stare, she quickly put the leek back.
"Seriously, what am I doing?" She sighed a little to herself as she picked out some spices to make curry for dinner. Her father really liked curry, so she hoped that she could make it okay by herself. Since she had a lot of time, she figured she could even make it from scratch instead of using packaged curry.
She then started humming the curry song to herself as she started filling her shopping bag since it was the easiest way for her to remember the various spices, "La la la... everything is for love, turmeric... crying isn't fun, cinnamon, cardamom... but there's still a tomorrow, paprika, cori-cori-coriander... la la la..."
Once she had the spices, she moved on to get the vegetables such as potatoes. But what drew her gaze first were the bright red tomatoes that seemed to scream for attention with their luster amongst the sea of green vegetables. Oddly enough, Sasuke really liked tomatoes. Maybe she could use it. Tomato curry was one of those odd new trends that seemed to be popular lately.
But her father hated tomatoes, so she put it back. Naruto seemed to hate tomatoes too, but she wasn't sure if he actually hated them or if it was just on the principle that because Sasuke liked them that he had to automatically hate them by default.
She then groaned when she realized she was once again thinking about her two friends who had left her behind years ago. "Seriously... what am I doing? If even curry..."
It was raining just up until now, so now I can shop for groceries without worrying about getting them wet. But sometimes I still absentmindedly buy your favorite things even though you're not around anymore. Habits are scary, aren't they?
The graceful arc of Sasuke's katana slashed through the rain like it was a veil. But the rain wasn't what he had wanted to cut as his intended target dashed forward in a blur of orange and attacked with wild abandon.
"As reckless as always!" Sasuke grunted as he dodged Naruto's strike, hearing the ninjato slice the air, before stepping back to a distance where his katana was more effective. With a frighteningly quick overhead strike, he slashed down with his blade only to miss again as Naruto used the slick ground to slide around unpredictably.
"Well, you're not reckless enough!" Naruto retorted, seeing Sasuke stick to his usual predictably orthodox style.
Sasuke tended to minimize any unnecessary movements, which made him a little predictable, but it was the conciseness of his attacks that made him so fast that just being able to predict his moves was useless. Naruto, on the other hand, used an incredible amount of unnecessary moves in order to confuse the opponent by hiding that one critical attack amongst a random series of feints.
Seeing as how trying to analyze and predict Naruto's attack patterns was pretty much useless as they had been going at this all day, Sasuke chuckled a little as he figured he might as well give recklessness a try. "Sure... why not."
"Shit! What the?" Naruto was suddenly caught off guard when Sasuke had suddenly changed his style, with his usually quick and concise strikes combined with a more flowing and freewheeling randomness. He winced, starting to get pushed back as splashes of his blood started mixing with the falling ran.
Naruto had always just depended on fighting on instinct, but now he was finding that he actually had to start analyzing Sasuke's attack pattern and cutting down on his own unnecessary movements. As his strikes became quicker and quicker, the battle began to shift back to the stalemate that it had been locked in all day.
Naruto's weakness was that he wasn't enough like Sasuke. And Sasuke's weakness was that he wasn't enough like Naruto. But through the clashes of their blades, fists, and chakra, they were starting to feed off each other, evolve with each other.
"You're open!" Naruto shouted, driving his blade into Sasuke's thigh in order to disable his movement.
"As I said before, you're not ruthless enough. I opened up on purpose because I knew you wouldn't hit a fatal spot; now you're the one open. And you said I wasn't reckless enough... Chidori!"
It was raining just up until now, and I hope you're having clear skies as well. Even though you're not here, it's kind of comforting thinking that we're looking up at the same sky.
That night, Sakura lied down on her roof and looked up at the stars. The summer triangle were still visible but it was much lower in the autumn sky as the winter stars began to take their turn to shine.
"Vega... Deneb... but where's Altair?" she wondered out loud as she traced out a triangle to try to find that third star. But when she couldn't find it, she realized that it had already set below the western horizon.
"Only two now... that's a little lonely," she murmured to herself.
But after staring at those two remaining stars of the summer triangle, she got up to her feet and dusted herself with a determined look on her face. "Yosh, no more moping around. The Haruno Sakura today is stronger than the Haruno Sakura from yesterday. I can't keep relying on others forever. I can walk on my own now."
It was raining just up until now in this village that you love. Even though you're not here anymore, I'll try my best to walk on my own now. That's the one thing I can do now.
"I had one hell of a time tracking you down, brat."
Naruto chuckled weakly as he laid there on the ground where his blood mixed with the rain. "I was kind of counting on it, Pervy Sage."
"What were you planning to do if I didn't?" Jiraiya muttered as he hoisted Naruto's injured body onto his back.
"I always manage somehow," Naruto replied with a feeble laugh. "We goin' after Sasuke?"
"No way. I'm taking you back to Konoha to get you treated," Jiraiya said, taking to the trees for cover before heading in the direction of home.
"Get stronger first," Jiraiya replied sternly. "I'll continue to train you. We still have about half a year before Akatsuki starts moving, so I'll cram the two years worth of training that you missed out on. You're gonna be in so much pain when I'm done with you that a hole in the chest from that chidori jutsu is going to feel like a mosquito bite in comparison."
"Sounds good," Naruto said, chuckling. "But can we not do the whole training journey thing? Let's just stay in Konoha."
"I haven't been home in two years... once I go back, I'm not sure I'll want to leave again..."
"Sure, kid, we don't need to go on a journey to train."
"And... do I seriously have a hole in my chest?"
"It's not a fatal spot though."
"Tche, and he had the nerve to say that I was the one who wasn't ruthless enough..."
It was raining just up until now
As the the door to Naruto's hospital room slammed open, a desperately out of breath Sakura stood at the doorway and stared hard at Naruto's shocked expression to make sure he was real. A heavy silence fell between them as it almost felt like the rest of the world had faded away, leaving just the two of them alone.
"Uh... hey, Sakura-chan. Long time no see," he greeted sheepishly. "Sasuke got away again, but I'll bring him back next time. It's a promise of a..."
"You idiot!" she screamed, cutting him off as she flung her arms around him and buried her face in his chest so that he wouldn't see her tears. "I was so worried! I missed you so much! Don't ever leave me like that ever again!"
Naruto melted a little in her embrace and nodded. "I won't leave you, Sakura-chan... it's a promise of a lifetime..."
I think I'd like to understand the meaning of sunshine after rain
Part 4: Winter Waltz / Evening at Home - Age 19
"Hokage-sama, where do you think you're going?"
Naruto froze at the sound of Hanabi's stern voice as it seemed like his attempt to sneak out for a little bit had been foiled by his assistant. She was turning out to be just as strict as Shizune had been for Tsunade. "Uh... well... you see, since my schedule for the next couple days didn't seem too busy, I figured I'd go stretch my legs by tracking down an S-rank missing-nin or two."
Hanabi let out a sigh that almost sounded like a groan as she dragged him back to his office. "You call that stretching your legs? Honestly. Hokage-sama, your responsibility is to the village. What if..."
"Yeah, yeah, I understand, I've heard it a million times," Naruto said, cutting her lecture off before she really started to get rolling.
"Are you really sure you understand?" Hanabi scolded. Even if Naruto was Hokage, he was still a young man who had no idea what went through a girl's heart. "Then, if you have some free time, it would be better spent going on a date with your girlfriend rather than going off on a wild goose chase to search for a missing-nin who doesn't want to come back."
Naruto stiffened a little as Hanabi struck a sore subject. Now that he thought of it, he hadn't been able to spend much time with Sakura lately due to his duties as Hokage. And yet, now that he finally had some free time, his first thought had been to leave the village to search for Sasuke rather than to spend time with her.
Feeling a little silly being scolded by a fifteen-year-old, Naruto patted her on the head and chuckled. "You're right. What would I do without you?"
"Probably fail so much that you could even put fail into your fail," Hanabi grumbled as she tried to act tough to hide the fact that she really liked it when he appreciated the things she did for him. Perhaps she was even growing a small crush, but she knew that it would never work out.
"Then I'm going to take off for the day. I can count on you to hold down the fort, right?" Naruto asked, hanging up his hat. "I'll even get Konohamaru to help you out."
"I don't need that idiot's help," Hanabi muttered as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Don't be like that. He needs the experience," Naruto said with a laugh. He had originally wanted to make Konohamaru his assistant, but Konohamaru viewed Naruto as a rival, so his pride hadn't allowed him to become an assistant to a rival. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow, Hanabi."
"Thank you for your hard work today, Hokage-sama," she said, bowing.
"I told you, no need to be so formal," he said with a grin, patting her on the head again before taking his leave.
"Then... I'll see you tomorrow."
Why do you have to walk so fast? Slow down, we don't get many chances to meet, so I want to slowly enjoy spending this time with you.
Why do you have to walk so slow? Hurry up, we don't get many chances to meet, so I want to show you a lot of things and have a lot of fun with you.
"Sakura, seems like Naruto is looking for you," Ino said as she walked into the faculty lounge where Sakura was taking her break.
"Really?" Sakura's ears perked up happily but then deflated when she remembered how much work she still had left to do. After Tsunade had stepped down from the Hokage position, she had reopened the Konoha medical school that Dan had tried so hard to keep open all those years ago. So Shizune, Sakura, Ino, and Hinata as Tsunade's proteges were all busy training a new generation of doctors, medics, nurses, and pharmacists.
"Hina-tan and I'll take care of it. You haven't spent much time with Naruto lately since you're both so busy, so just go," Ino said with a roll of her eyes as she shoved Sakura out the door.
"But... are you sure? There's still a lot of work to do..."
"We'll manage," Hinata assured.
"Are... are you sure?" Sakura asked one more time, but this time her voice softer as she hung her head a little. She still felt a little guilty about Hinata losing out on her first love, so Naruto wasn't a subject she liked to bring up around her. Sakura knew what it was like to lose out on a first love, and it wasn't fun.
"I'm sure. Go on, we'll handle work here today," Hinata said with a kind smile, having grown into a confident and elegant young woman.
"Alright... I'll see you tomorrow," Sakura said, pulling on her winter coat and scarf. When she made her way outside, she breathed out to create a puff of condensation in the cold and crisp air just out of habit. It never snowed in Konoha, but it could still get pretty cold.
She smiled when Naruto greeted her. "Naruto!"
"Day off?" he asked with a grin. "Wanna go out on a date? I don't really have anything planned, but I'm sure we can think of something."
"Hmm..." Sakura tilted her head to one side as she tried to come up with some ideas. Since they hadn't had many chances to spend time with each other lately, just being able to see him was enough to make her happy, so it didn't really matter to her what they ended up doing on their date. "How about a quiet evening at home? Too boring?"
But Naruto's grin just got wider... and more perverted.
"Hey! I didn't mean anything ecchi!" she scolded playfully, laughing as she slapped him in the arm. "Let's cook dinner together or something."
"Your place or mine?" he asked.
"Yours, of course," she said with a roll of her eyes. "We won't get any time alone with my parents around."
"So we are going to do something ecchi?"
"Stop thinking about ecchi stuff and think about what we should cook for dinner! And please not ramen."
"Then katsu curry?"
Sakura brightened at that. "Yeah! I'll make you some really good curry! Let's go get the ingredients!"
"I have packaged curry at home," he said as she led the way to the market.
"Objection! I'm going make it for you from scratch! Haruno Sakura's special curry!" she exclaimed proudly. "Besides, the packaged stuff you have are all spicy. Curry is best when it's mild and sweet!"
Naruto chuckled a little at the memory of the last time Sakura had tried to eat spicy food and had nearly passed out trying to finish it all due to her stubborn pride. He actually found it cute that he was the only person she ever showed that childish side of hers to. To the rest of the world, she was Dr. Haruno, the ever so professional and mature genius at the forefront of many medical innovations.
"Hokage-sama! Haruno-sensei! Haven't seen you two around lately! Show your faces more often!" the owner of the produce market exclaimed with a hearty laugh when the two of them stopped by to pick up some vegetables.
"Sorry, Tennouji-san, things have been pretty busy lately," Naruto explained sheepishly as he scratched the back of his head.
"No need to apologize! We all know that you're working hard to bring back those peaceful days. Once things settle down, be sure to take it easy like Sarutobi-sama once had," Mr. Tennouji said, chuckling as he patted Naruto on the back. "Now what can I do for you two? I'll give you a special discount!"
"Thank you, sir. We'll just have a look around," Sakura said, smiling as she bowed politely.
"No prob, no prob, take your time!" Mr. Tennouji exclaimed cheerfully.
"Well, aren't you Mr. Popular?" Sakura remarked with a laugh as the two of them started looking for vegetables to add to their curry.
"I am the Hokage," he pointed out as he followed her through the aisles of fresh produce. "Hey, no carrots. I don't like carrots."
"Don't be such a kid. You need to eat your veggies," she scolded as she bagged up a couple of carrots.
"Says the girl who wouldn't eat a white radish even to save her own life," Naruto teased, for which he immediately received a sharp elbow to his ribs.
"Did you say something?" she asked cheerfully.
"Nothing," he replied with a stupid grin plastered across his face. Despite how much had changed and how far the two of them had come, he enjoyed the fact that they could still rag on each other like this.
Sakura then paused for a moment as she noticed a lovey-dovey couple, probably newlyweds, grocery shopping together in the next aisle. That made her wonder if other people saw her and Naruto as a couple. Probably not. They had only recently become a couple and hadn't really announced the fact that they were together, and they hadn't had much time to go out on public dates and stuff either. They had barely made it past kissing too, and after being best friends and teammates for so long, public displays of affection didn't really come naturally yet. Not that Fire Country's conservative culture really advocated anything beyond holding hands in public anyway.
Naruto and Sakura had acknowledged each other's mutual feelings shortly after the last war had ended, but they had put off dating for a long time. At first, Naruto had said something about not being worthy enough of a man to date her yet. Wait until I'm number one! Until I achieve my ambition to become Hokage! was what he had said. He had wanted to become a man who could support her and make her happy first. She never did understand that kind of manly pride, but she had admired his determination to not haphazardly rush into a relationship half-assed while the country was still in shambles from war.
But once he had become Hokage, Naruto had realized that it still wasn't enough for him to feel like he had become a worthy man. He still had a devastating failure hanging over his head. The shadow of Uchiha Sasuke still loomed over them even now. They still held onto so many scars from their past. Maybe that was why, even though they were dating now, they still acted like they always had, like best friends. No wonder no one even suspected that they were a couple.
"I'll carry some of the bags," she offered when they finished their grocery shopping.
"Nah, this is nothing," he replied, being able to hold all the bags in just one hand.
"But I feel kind of bad being empty-handed like this..."
Naruto then chuckled a little as he held out his free hand. Sakura blinked a little in surprise, not really understanding what he was getting at. Then, when it finally dawned on her, she smiled shyly as she interlaced her fingers with his so that her hand wouldn't feel so empty anymore.
"I wonder if we look like a couple," she said, blushing a little as the warm and fuzzy feeling within seemed to radiate all the way up to her cheeks.
Naruto grinned as he gave her hand an affectionate squeeze.
Why do you never get jealous? Do you not care if I hang out with other guys? I really love you, so sometimes when you start smiling for no reason I worry that you're thinking about some other girl.
Why do you even bother getting jealous? Do you actually think any other girl has anything on you? I really love you, so I don't like to see you frown. Cheer up, I'm smiling for your sake here.
"You know... you look really cute in that skirt," Naruto remarked in an off-hand manner as he breaded some pork cutlets. "It's kind of distracting; I'm having a hard time concentrating on cooking."
Sakura fumbled her ladle as Naruto's sudden compliment from out in left field caught her off guard. She wasn't used to being called cute or attractive, and it wasn't really common in Fire Country culture to throw around those kinds of compliments so easily. In Fire Country, a guy would normally say something like "that skirt suits you" or "that skirt is cute" so that it'd be more like an indirect and roundabout compliment that softened the impact. But Naruto never really did give a damn about social norms. Just having such a loud and brash Hokage preside over the traditionally demure country of Fire was a total culture shock.
So she did the only thing that she could think of; she elbowed him in the ribs.
"My girlfriend is as abusive as she is cute too," he gasped, coughing as he playfully overexaggerated the damage.
"It's b-b-because you say such weird things out of nowhere!" she stammered, turning around to hide her blush. She didn't think that just being called cute by her boyfriend could have such a dramatic impact on her. She felt really happy that he had noticed her skirt. Even though they didn't get to see each other often, she still dressed up in cute outfits just in case for days like this when she did run into him unexpectedly.
"It's weird to say that my girlfriend is cute?" he asked quizzically. It was actually. With the Hyuuga and Uchiha having had such a dominant presence for much of Fire Country's history, the culture of courtship had also been shaped as such, with the stoicism of Neji and Sasuke being prime examples of attractiveness.
"H-h-how am I supposed to respond when you say those kinds of things?" she grumbled, trying to focus on making the curry to take her mind off her thumping heart.
"Elbowing me in the ribs is fine, I guess," he replied teasingly with a chuckle as he dunked some panko-coated pork cutlets into some hot oil to deep-fry them into tonkatsu.
"Mou, concentrate on cooking. I don't want to eat burnt tonkatsu," she snapped.
"Yes, ma'am," he saluted with his usual goofball grin. "But, hey, when we're cooking together like this, it almost feels like we're newlyweds or something, huh?"
She had already noticed the warm domestic atmosphere between them as well, which was a nice change of pace from years of hectic chaos that the two of them were always mixed up in. She was glad that their relationship could work even without constant excitement, that even quiet evenings together like this could work too. The fact that he had noticed it too made her really happy. So, feeling another flash of happiness redden her cheeks, she elbowed him in the ribs again.
Sakura looked down at the curry that was nearly done and kept stirring it with her ladle in order to avoid his gaze. "Is it really okay... for us to be happy like this?"
There was always a price to happiness. Was it really okay to leave Sasuke behind like this? Was it really okay to take advantage of Hinata's kindness like this? Was it really okay to sacrifice Rock Lee's feelings like this?
Finishing up the last of the tonkatsu, Naruto switched off the heat on his side and quietly wrapped his arms around her from behind. She melted a little into his embrace, feeling herself fall back into his strong chest as he placed his hand over her heart.
Then, after just enjoying each other's warmth in silence for a little while, he whispered into her ear, "I love you."
Feeling her anxieties washed away by his love, she smiled and nodded. "I love you too."
Why do you never call me? Don't you know that I really want to hear your voice? I just love you that much.
Why do you have to call me all the time? I'll just go over to your place and we can talk face to face. I just love you that much.
"It's getting late," Sakura remarked sleepily. "Naruto, let me borrow some clothes."
"Clothes?" he asked, confused as he glanced out the window. "Like a jacket? It's not that cold outside."
Sakura let out a groan and face-palmed at Naruto's usual denseness. Hurry up and read underneath the underneath, you idiot! It's embarrassing, so don't make me spell it out for you!
"I meant something I could sleep in."
Naruto blinked for a moment as it finally dawned on him. "Ohhhh... uh... is that really okay?"
"We're a couple, so I don't see the problem," she said. "Is it okay if I take a bath?"
"Sure," he replied as he fished out a pair of his pajamas for her, since he usually just slept in a shirt and boxers nowadays.
"Thanks. And no peeking!"
"I won't if I get a proper look later in bed," he joked.
He chuckled a little, though he could feel his heart thumping in his chest from the anticipation of getting to spend the night with the girl he loved. So to keep his mind off of ecchi thoughts he busied himself with other stuff while Sakura was in the bath, like breaking open a new toothbrush and writing her name on it before setting it down next to his.
When she got out of the bath, however, his eyes immediately locked in on her post-shower appearance. The way her skin glowed from the heat, the way her damp hair clung to her, the way her nipples gently pressed against the fabric, and most of all her smooth exposed legs. His pajama set had been too big for her, so she was only wearing the button-up top, which was long enough to come down to her thighs. He was so mesmerized that he didn't realize where he was going and walked straight into a wall.
Sakura giggled in amusement as she self-consciously tugged down on the hem of the shirt to make sure her panties weren't showing. She always appreciated these over-the-top reactions of his. More than words, it was his reactions that let her know that he truly thought she was beautiful. She remembered one time during the summer festival many years ago when he had seen her in a yukata for the first time, he had comically choked on some green tea.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Am I okay? I've got to be the luckiest guy on the planet," he said with a ridiculous grin plastered across his face.
"Oh, stop that," she said, laughing as she playfully smacked him on the arm. "But, you know, your shampoo is really cold."
"Well, it is mint shampoo. Guys have short hair, so it's really refreshing. But girls have more hair, so its effect is probably too much," he explained as he put some toothpaste on his toothbrush before handing the tube to her. "If you're going to be sleeping over often, I'll go buy some of the girly stuff for you."
"Stock your place with some menstrual pads while you're at it too," she teased.
"Roger that," he saluted through a mouthful of toothpaste.
As they continued to brush their teeth while staring at each other in the mirror, they slowly realized that their brushing was starting to synchronize. Grinning childishly, they both tried to keep it up as long as possible before they both suddenly burst out in laughter.
"Ew! Gross! Keep your toothpaste to yourself!" Sakura giggled as Naruto failed to keep all the suds in his mouth.
"I'll go take a quick shower," he said with a chuckle as he took off his wet shirt.
"You can take your time," she said, staring at his bare chest.
"Nah, I'll be out in a jiffy."
In Fire Country, bathing was more than just a means to an end, it was more like a pastime, a hobby, and many people took an inordinate amount of time just relaxing in the hot water. But sometimes there was just some things better than a bath.
When he finished up his quick shower, he smiled when he found Sakura already sleeping on his bed. She was lying down on the far side of the bed, against the wall, to leave plenty of room for him. Taking in the sight of her sleeping face for a moment, he then turned off the lights before carefully getting in under the covers next to her.
"Sweet dreams, Sakura-chan," he whispered before kissing her lightly on her forehead.
"Hmm? Naruto?" she mumbled drowsily when she felt the bed shift with his weight.
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
"Nuh uh," she shook her head as she snuggled in closer to him and draped an arm around him. She hadn't planned on falling asleep, so she hoped that Naruto hadn't been too disappointed on missing out on getting to do some ecchi stuff when she had fallen asleep. But she was awake now, so she figured she'd reward him for his patience.
She shut him up by pressing her lips against his, clumsily at first before quickly melting into each other's love. It wasn't an overly passionate kiss, not like a firework that would burn out quickly and fade, but it was a kiss that seemed to convey to each other that they would be together forever.
Then, suddenly tasting something wet and salty, Naruto pulled back a little in surprise. "Sakura-chan?"
"I'm just happy, that's all," she said with a sheepish laugh as she wiped the tears away with her sleeve. "I love you, Naruto."
"I love you too, Sakura-chan."
Why is it that you can never tell me what it is about me that you love? I'm hopelessly in love with you, so I really want to know what you think about me.
Why do you keep asking me that pointless question? I love everything about you.
Part 5: Spring Symphonia / Perfect Day - Age 23
"What's the Hokage doing in a place like this?"
Naruto snorted in amusement, lying down on top of 4649's old secret base and watching the cherry blossoms flutter down from the sky. "What's an S-class missing-nin doing back home?"
"Just testing Konoha's security. Not very reliable if you ask me," Sasuke replied with a scoff as he joined Naruto on top of the secret base.
"It's only designed to keep A-class criminals and below out. We let the S-class criminals in on purpose so that I can personally kick their asses," Naruto retorted.
"Right, you keep telling yourself that," Sasuke said with a smirk.
"Ten years since you left Konoha," Naruto remarked.
"What have you been up to these past ten years?"
Naruto shrugged nonchalantly. "Not much. Defeated a mad man bent on world domination, became Hokage, got the girl, you know, the usual. You?"
Sasuke snorted. "Not much either. Tracked down a few S-class criminals in my free time, got rid of some harmless garden snakes out of my backyard, got into a small argument with a clan ancestor who should've died a long time ago, you know, the usual."
This time it was Naruto's turn to snort. "Small argument, right."
"Seems like you really did get your ugly mug carved into that mountain. Makes me want to give it a pink afro."
Naruto burst out into laughter. "Sure, why not. For old times' sake. But let's make it fast. I gotta pick up my daughter from the daycare in a little bit."
"It won't take as long as last time. We're not seven years old anymore."
"Yeah... we're not."
"But you sure still act like it."
"Hey, you picking a fight?"
"So what if I am?"
"Then you're on, Teacher's Pet!"
"You never learn, Dropout!"