She was seventeen the first time she noticed him.
It was something so unexpected and sudden that when it happened, she literally blank-spaced and humiliated herself in front of the rest of her team. And considering it was during training of all times, it was pretty bad.
As in fall-out-of-the-tree-you-just-landed-in bad.
She was running stealthily along the branches, looking for a place to routinely stop for a few seconds to fill her fist properly with chakra while dodging the boy's shadow clones, when it just happened. He stopped in front of her, his trademark stupid grin on his face, and the idiot leaned in inches away from her, and she jerked back. Granted this action was no problem for a skilled Shinobi like herself, but that's when she noticed how very naked his torso was.
He had taken off his sweat-soaked shirt somewhere back in the training grounds while she was running from his clones, and her body chose now of all times to get excited by the tan, lean muscles that were bulging under his calloused skin as he coiled back for an offensive attack. The way that his stupid determined smile made those oceanic blue eyes sparkled with an earnest that only he could muster and his silky golden spikes danced in the small breeze made her do a double take. She lost her step as he sprung his advance on her, and she quite blatantly fell off the thick branch and onto her gaping face.
Not to mention right on top of Sai's head.
She had rolled off the stunned boy and curled into the fetal position, hoping that her teammates would take the hint and go away to let her sulk in her own humiliation, but she had no luck. The very cause of her misery ran up to her curled form and dropped to his knees, panicking at the thought that his best friend could be injured. He rolled her over and snagged her hands, which was where her face was buried, and practically forced her to look into his concerned baby blues whilst bombarding her with questions. With his much larger hands cradling her own, and the way he was looking at her and how close he was and god did his body look good right then, she finally came to her epiphany.
Sakura Haruno was very much attracted to Naruto Uzumaki, and she had no idea how to deal with it.
After the incident, Sakura chose very wisely when she would see Naruto. It wasn't that she changed her preset schedule, oh no. She would still meet up with him and the team everyday for lunch at Ichiraku's, and she would attend the group training session every other day, and would greet him on the streets and when she saw him in the hospital, but she would no longer spend a whole lot of alone time. She also avoided looking at him for any longer than twenty seconds.
When thoughts of him came into her head, she immediately shoved them out and replaced them with images of his nasty, cockroach infested room or the time she accidentally walked in on her grandmother bathing and the burning sensation she felt went away. It was just a phase. She would be looking at him like the disgusting yet admirable kid she normally did in a few days tops and all would be well. There was no way she could like Naruto of all people.
Sure, there were times that even before the training incident where she would feel her heart flutter when he looked at her, or the weird somersault her stomach did the day he hugged her in pride when she saved a critical care ninja (which he did with every patient she did, but that time the feeling was different, and she had just brushed it off and blamed it on her sleep deprivation). She felt that if she ignored the feelings, things would go back to normal and she wouldn't be so confused and anxious, and gradually, it slightly did.
Now, almost three weeks from 'the incident', Sakura sits at her desk in her office at the hospital, stretching and groaning about her paperwork load. Things were settling down and going smoothly since the end of the Great War against Madara. The village is being rebuilt from the total wasteland the destruction put it through, and people were picking up the shattered remains of their lives and pushing forward. No matter how many times Konoha has been brought to it's knees (which was much more times in Sakura's life time than what she would consider bad luck) the village always brushed itself off and began anew. It was truly unbelievable.
Now things were quieting down after a year and a half of rebuilding, and the hospital's intake was very slowly buzzing down. The best part of the Great War, was that finally Sasuke Uchiha—their friend, teammate, brother—was home and where he belonged, with his family. Of course, not only is Naruto still pursuing his dream of becoming Hokage, but Sasuke as well. Kiba eventually dropped the idea of running against them when he saw the determination in both of her teammates drive, and nobody else really felt confident enough to stand against Naruto, the village hero, and Sasuke, the last remaining Uchiha.
Sakura considered the position, even declared her campaign in the heat of the war, but now that things have settled, she found she was needed elsewhere. The village's Head Medic was unfortunately killed during the war, and with Shizune declining the position and Tsunade still Hokage, Sakura was naturally the next person for the job. Despite her very young age, Sakura managed extremely well, which brought relief and pride to the village and her master. Under her watchful eye the hospital flourished, and she found that she felt satisfied with her career, and thus officially dropped out of the race to be Hokage.
Now she sits in her big desk, in her huge office, staring at her giant stack of reports and paperwork. Despite herself, she smiled forcibly and grabbed another handful, shuffling through them and reaching for a pen. She sat to work, plowing through the gruesome task with a mechanical motion. A few piles later, she reached for her mug and lifted it to her lips, tipping it back and expecting the now lukewarm liquid to slide down her throat, but frowned when she was greeted with air. Peering into her cup, she furrowed her brows and noticed the lack of the beverage.
With a frustrated sigh, she pushed off her desk chair and snatched her mug off the solid wood, shoving out the door and down the hall to the lobby. She nodded warm greetings to several patients, many of which she knew, and soon found herself in the tiny area behind the receptionists desk, where she kept her personal coffee pot. The coffee they have available in the lounge, as free as it was, was probably the worst excuse there was for the drink and had a taste similar to stale cigarette buds and acid.
As she poured herself another cup and doctored it with cream and sugar, she heard a familiar voice wading through the silence of the room. Despite herself, she smiled and turned just in time to see a blur of orange and black.
"Sakura-Chan!" he cheered, nearly bouncing up to the desk. "How's it going?"
"It's going." she sighed, clanking her stirring straw on the side of her mug before tossing it in the trash. "What brings you here, Naruto?"
"What? I can't come see you without a reason?" he teased, raising a blonde brow.
"That's not what I meant and you know it." she said and took a piping hot sip, scorching her tongue. "You normally come in here begging me for something."
"Well, I was wondering if there was a possibility if you're free right now." he admitted leaning forward on his elbows on the desk top. A pause ensued. "Are you?"
"I don't know. I'm pretty swamped. What did you have in mind?"
"I figured dinner at this little cafe down the street would be good. It's about dinner time anyways."
Was it now? Sakura glanced at the clock on the wall, and her eyebrows shot to her hairline. She had been there way longer than she needed to, and to her defense, there wasn't a clock in her office. She had been meaning to purchase one for quit sometime, but to everything that doesn't include immediate care to her work or friends, she was a bit of a procrastinator. She needed to get home.
"Who's all going to be there?" she asked, this time taking a deep gulp. Still hot, but bearable, now that her taste buds were singed.
"Well, Teme says that he has a meeting with his patrol officer, Sai is out with an Anbu mission, and Kakashi-sensi is no where to be found. So tonight I guess it's just me and you." he grinned widely.
Immediately Sakura threw out all thoughts of leaving the hospital, and panicked slightly. She remained calm and collected on the outside, and nodded as if nothing was wrong. "Sounds great, if only I weren't so busy. Sorry, Naruto."
She only slightly exaggerated to lie. She just wasn't ready to be completely alone with him yet. Especially something even remotely date-worthy like dinner at a small cafe. Not in the safety zone. She'll just pull another all-nighter as an excuse. Sakura ignored the dejected look on the blonde's face and continued to sip on her coffee. She figured she was off the hook, until the new receptionist (Ami was her name, Sakura thought) spoke up.
"Haruno-sama, you've been here all day. You're shift ended two hours ago. You're fine to leave." she smiled brightly, looking up at Sakura, who forced a tight smile on her face.
"Thanks, Ami. I wasn't aware. I guess I am free." she gritted out, her left eye twitching. "Wait here, Naruto. I'll go get my jacket."
"Sure thing, Sakura-Chan."
Walking down the hall, Sakura hurried into her office and slammed the door, yanking off her white coat and shoving it on the hook next to the cabinet. She then opened the latter object to get her jacket, and jammed her arms through it, bundling it around her and with a twist of her wrist she locked the door and shut it behind her, walking down the hall. When she approached, she noticed Naruto talking to Ami, his ignorance to the way she giggled and leaned forward, twisting an auburn lock in between her fingers etched all over his poise. With an irritated growl (she wasn't sure why) she strutted towards Naruto and grabbed him by the collar, leading him towards the door.
"H-Hey! Sakura-Chan! What gives?" he stuttered, trying to match her pace while her hand was still twisted in the front of his shirt. "Why are you so agitated tonight?"
Sakura realized just how strange she must have been acting, and now that she was away from Ami and her flirting, she felt ashamed and childish and slowed down while letting go of her blonde teammate. "Nothing. It's nothing. I was just tired of being in the hospital for so long, I suppose." she laughed tensely.
He rubbed his chest dramatically, playing the role of an abused puppy and stared at her skeptically. "You sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Just a little shorter fuse tonight I guess." she informed, falling into step beside him. "Now where is this cafe? I'm starving!"
"It's down by Teme's apartment. It just opened up last week and it looked good, and I heard good things about the tea there. I could eat ramen for every meal of my life, but I know you get tired of it, so I figured a change could be good." he chuckled and she smiled gratefully.
"Thanks. To be honest, tonight ramen sounded a bit overdone."
"I don't get you people." he shook his head playfully as she laughed.
"You're the one not to get! I bet when you bleed, you bleed broth."
"Sad thing is, I don't deny that."
Sakura laughed and ignored the way her body seemed to move closer to his. She decided to let it slide, as long as they didn't touch. She could practically feel the heat radiating from his body in the evening air, and shivered; not from the cold, but from the way her body ached to draw his heat closer. She frowned in disappointment at herself, having thought that she was past this immature stage of crushing, but Naruto's voice soon invaded her thoughts.
"You've been avoiding me lately." he stated blandly, as if he were making a disinterested observation. It was so distant and out of character that it had stunned Sakura.
He still didn't face her, but he continued to talk. "I know we still hangout with the gang and stuff, but I have asked you to hangout just me and you several times, and you always say you're too tired, or you have a lot of work. We've hung out tons of times by ourselves before and you didn't mind then." He paused. "You've been distancing yourself from me, and I wanted to know why." At this point he turned to her, and while she seemed collected, he could see right through her and into her slowly panicking jade eyes. "Is...is it something I did?"
Immediate guilt washed over Sakura. How could she be so selfishly stupid? Knowing Naruto the way she does, how could she not realize that the slight yet sudden withdrawal would make him worry and instantly blame himself? When she noticed the shift in her feelings, her first response was to run away from it, being confused and not willing to change. Maybe she should just let things be.
"No no no!" she rushed, and actually stopped her walking. "It's nothing you did at all, Naruto! Don't be stupid." She looked away, chewing her lip, thinking of a broad way of putting it. "I've just...had a lot on my mind here lately is all. Nothing to worry about."
"Are you sure?" Naruto stepped closer innocently, and Sakura gulped. "I'm here for you, you know that. You can come to me for anything, Sakura-Chan."
Butterflies swarmed in Sakura's stomach, and a glowing warmth filled her to the brim at that simple statement. As general as the words were, the fact that it came out of the blonde's mouth and was directed at her made her heart thrum. Naruto must have noticed a difference in her stature, and he raised an eyebrow in question.
"Yeah, I know." she said, smiling a genuine smile. Immediately her teammate reflected the gesture. "Come on, let's go eat. I'm starved!"
With a goodhearted tug at his elbow for reassurance, she pulled him back into the motion of walking. When they began to stroll forward, she had to mentally tell herself to remove her arm from his. For better measure, she tucked both offending limbs behind her back and pursed her lips. Naruto seemed to take no notice of any of her actions, and only continued to stare ahead, his arms folded behind his head in his typical habit. She continued to watch him as they walked, the way his eyes sparkled softly in the evening sun like gems set out during an autumn dusk. Silently she giggled to herself, wondering just when she began to become a poet.
Her teammate must have noticed the crazy playful grin on her face, because he slowly turned his wandering eyes towards her amused face, smiling hesitantly. She merely shook her head.
"What?" he asked, his arms falling to his sides.
"Liar!" he laughed, slipping in front of her and awkwardly walking backwards.
"I was just looking at you and thinking..." she muttered, her eyes settling on his chest, suddenly unable to look him in the eyes.
"About?" he gently inquired, and the soft tone of his voice had her eyes flickering to meet his.
Her heart thudded quietly. Yes, it was definitely a bad idea coming out with him tonight, especially with these new and confusing feelings still swirling inside her. None the less, she watched him with a strange gleam in her eye, and Naruto eyed her curiously, a dust of pink crawling up his neck by the intensity of her examining eyes.
"How can somebody be as ugly as you? Really, it should be a medical phenomenon! Cheekbones aren't supposed to be offset like that." she giggled, reaching forward and poking his cheek for emphasizes. She ignored the way her fingertip tingled afterward, and instead focused on the way his whiskered cheeks puffed out in mock agitation and how he squinted his eyes to look like a beady old man's.
"Mean. You are mean." he whined. "How could you, Sakura-Chan?"
"All I'm saying is, go get that checked out." she shrugged, trying to walk around him.
"Aren't you a doctor?" he asked, falling into step beside her. "Can't you check it out?"
"No. I'm off shift, remember?"
"Hey, hey! I thought it was, 'once a medic, always a medic', or something."
"Unless were off hours."
"Forget mean, you're cruel." he sniffed, swiveling his head to the side and lifting his chin. "So cruel."
"I am Tsunade's student, after all. Hey, there it is, isn't it?" She pointed out a small green building nestled between two other shops, and he nodded.
The building stood out against the other shops, the pastel leafy paint fresh and crisp against the chipping wood of it's neighboring businesses. An elegantly painted sign hung above a stain glass door, a beautiful pink lily swirling around letters that read "Junji's Tea". Sakura smiled at how cozy the little cafe looked, and was reaching for the door handle when a tan blur stopped her.
"Allow me, madam." he joked, but reached forward and opened the door whilst stepping aside for her. She gave him a goofy grin.
"Thank you, kind sir." she giggled, and rolled her eyes at his lop-sided smile as he followed her into the warm building.
A bubbly strawberry blonde bounced up to them as soon as they entered. She was clad in the traditional tea ceremony kimono, which Sakura found odd, considering this place didn't preform the actual tea ceremony for their customers. She shrugged it off as a mediocre way of setting the vicinity, and smiled politely at her nonetheless.
"Welcome." she greeted, her eyes darting between the rosette and the blonde at her side, but her gaze lingered on her teammate a little longer than to be a coincidence. "Two?" Naruto nodded, and she grabbed two menus. "Table or booth?"
"Booth, please." Naruto answered quickly. Sakura knew he would. He wanted a booth at every restaurant they went to.
"Right this way, sir." the waitress beamed, stepping closer to Naruto than what would be considered normal.
Sakura mentally growled. Has females always been this fan-girly over Naruto? The blonde idiot? She herself could admit that he was amazingly attractive even before her now confusing emotions about him. He was a great guy, the village savior, and could be genuinely funny. But these women have never seen him at his worst, like she has! They've never been there when shit hit the fan and things got ugly, they only see the happy, polite Naruto, not the sad and depressed, the angry and hurt, the embarrassing and stupid; none of it. That's when it hit her.
She's been through it all with him, and seen him at his absolute worst, and was still attracted to him.
She nearly groaned. How could she ruin their friendship with this little crush? He was her best friend and comrade, somebody she would give her life for; but she can't let it get any farther, no matter what she feels at the moment. Who knows, maybe it will change? She was almost certain that Naruto's feelings for her have changed to that of a close friend; she didn't blame him. With as many times as she's rejected the poor boy, she felt he deserved to move on, despite what she felt now. Maybe it was karma coming back to her for all those times she treated him cruelly? Even if he felt the same still, she didn't deserve his love. He deserves somebody who's always loved him. He deserves the best.
Yet why was she so angry, seeing girls like Ami and this waitress flirt with him?
"Here you are." the blonde girl sat them down a a table, her doe eyes batting the long lashes that framed them. Sakura squinted and noticed they were a very warm chocolate brown. A thin trail of freckles dusted her button nose. She was very pretty, and Sakura nervously looked over to her blonde teammate to see if he noticed too. He didn't, and was currently flipping through the menu. "What can I get you two to drink?"
"A pot of your famous tea, and two cups please." Naruto smiled up at her, his amazingly white teeth obviously dazzling the girl. She nodded with a blush and scurried away.
Sakura leaned over and nudged him. "Quit smiling like that. You'll end up like Rock Lee or Gai-sensei."
He shivered in obvious disgust. "God, please don't say that."
Setting back against the booth seat, she shrugged. "Don't say I didn't tell you so when you discover your fetish for green spandex."
"Ew. Just ew."
Sakura laughed and flipped through her menu, scanning the items and picked her favorite. Naruto was obviously done browsing way earlier than her, and when the waitress came with the tea, they both ordered and now waited for their food, sipping on tea and enjoying the soft murmurs of the other customers. Sakura felt at peace and almost sleepy, and was just starting slide in her seat when a deep voice broke her out of her stupor.
"Tired?" Naruto asked, giving a knowing look.
"Yeah." she admitted, sitting up straight and yawning. "Must be the low lights." she observed with a glance over at the dangling lanterns. "Long hours at the hospital."
"Been busy?" he asked with a sip.
"The usual, really. Things have been dying down, but two doctors were out today. I had double the surgeries and paperwork. Nothing I don't mind."
He stared at her intensely. "How do you do it?"
"Do what?" she blinked.
"Everything. They put a lot on you at the hospital, yet you never complain." He continued his staring, but leaned forward on his palm. "You just smile and take it."
Flushing slightly, she cleared her throat. "Yeah, only way it gets done right is if you do it yourself."
He chuckled as the steaming plates of food were put in front of them. "Yeah, I guess so."
"How do you think you'll feel when you become Hokage?" Naruto eyed her. "I know Sasuke is also aiming for Hokage, but still."
"I won't mind." he shrugged, breaking apart his wooden chopsticks. "It's something I would love to do, so no matter what it requires, I'll still enjoy it."
"Exactly." she nodded, breaking her own eating utensils apart. She paused thoughtfully. "Although paperwork still sucks."
"Yeah, I could do without the paperwork."
Sakura dug into her meal, shoveling a big bite into her mouth. The food was scolding, but she always ate and drank everything that way, so she didn't mind one bit. She was a few bites in when she glanced up to see her friend still blowing his first bite cool. She shook her head in amusement before diving in for another huge gulp before stopping herself. She probably looked ridiculous eating like this in public, but she forgot to eat besides breakfast that morning, and had neglected to notice how famished she was until then. Sakura took a swallow of tea and resumed eating, but slower this time.
"How was training today? I missed it because of that stupid extra shift I had to cover."
"It was ok." he said after he swallowed. "Sasuke got to spar against Sai today. The poor boy didn't have a chance against the Wrath of Teme." he snickered, picking up another bite. "The look on his face when Sasuke cornered him with his Mangekyou was priceless."
Sakura almost wished she had been there to see it. "Who did you spar with?"
"Kakashi-sensei. He's still great practice, but I'm used to having a real challenge, like when I spare with you or teme."
The rosette's chest swelled with pride. "Challenge?" she playfully snorted. "I beat you out of the water, every time."
Naruto smirked in good-nature. "Oh really? I wasn't the one who fell out of the tree, last time I checked."
The memory blazed in her mind along with her face. That was something she didn't want brought up. "I told you I saw a snake! I swear!"
"You are a really bad liar." he sighed, twirling a piece of beef around with his chopstick. "Whatever it was, it must have been one hell of a distraction."
"Yeah." she said quietly, a strange tingling sensation down in the pits of her stomach was hard to ignore. "It was."
Naruto gave her a look of confusion, when the waitress came back over with a fresh pot of tea. Without much thought he reached over and poured them both a fresh cup, his fingers nonchalantly brushing hers innocently. Sakura stared at the steaming cup that was burning her hands and tried her best to ignore everything. It was seriously starting to annoy her, the way she was acting, yet she couldn't help it. She sighed deeply, and took a molten sip. She seriously has to talk to somebody, and that somebody meaning Ino.
"What are you doing after this?"
She looked up from her cup. "I thought I'd just hang around my house, watch a bit of television before taking a shower and going to bed. I'm pretty beat."
"Did you have anything in mind?" she wondered aloud, and he shook his head.
"Nothing really. I'm just not all that ready to go home yet." he admitted, taking a drink. They were both done with their food, and now just sitting and enjoying the tea and each others company.
"Want to go to the park?" she asked finally after a long silence, and he pondered on it.
"Nah, you're probably too tired."
"No! I really don't mind. I probably need to get out and do stuff, otherwise I'll become anti-social, with how much I've been cooped up here lately."
He smiled. "If you insist..."
Naruto called over the waitress and paid the full bill, despite Sakura's many objections against it, and they walked to the park together in comfortable silence, the evening now passed and melted into night. Stars shone lazily in the inky sky, and the chill of night passed through her thin tank top. She instantly wrapped her coat around her midsection, tying it tightly. They soon reached the deserted area, and Sakura went straight for the swings, as she always did whenever they ventured out into the place they occupied so often as children.
She plopped onto the metal swing, pushing herself lightly with her feet. Naruto sat down on the seat next to her, and lazily swung, not really going away from grounds reach. Sakura looked up at the crescent moon, the light barely enough to see where she was going, but not enough to where she could make out the building from across the street. They continued to sit in silence, until Sakura turned her head slowly to look at Naruto, to find him already watching her intently.
Her face flamed, and she was thankful for the poor lighting. "What is it?" she asked a little accusingly.
His serious (and almost sexy, though she would never admit it to him alive) face broke as soon as the words left her lips. "Oh, nothing." he laughed nervously, scratching the back of his head. "I was just thinking about the last time we came here."
"Oh yeah." she smiled fondly, recalling the way it felt when Sasuke had finally joined them once again a few months ago. "It was weird, being here together again after so many years. But, it felt right." she sighed, swinging a tad bit higher. "We need to bring him again soon."
Naruto nodded in agreement. "Yeah."
"I'm really glad everything seems like it's going right for once, you know?" she began, slowing her movements. "I mean, I'm Head Medic, Sasuke's home, you're still able to go for the title of Hokage, the village is almost fully repaired, Tsunade can retire soon, and all in all we're all together again." she giggled. "I really hope I didn't jinx anything."
"No, I think you're good. And I agree. It's nice to take a breather and actually live while enjoying life for once. Everything has been so stressful." he whined dramatically and gave a light roll of his shoulders, in which Sakura watched closely. "I'm glad we all have things going for us. Now we just have to wait for what lies ahead, and I sense really great things." He ended with a giant grin from ear to ear, looking ahead as if he was glancing into the future itself.
Sakura looked at him softly. "Really great things." she echoed.
Naruto glanced over at the pink haired medic and nodded as if once again agreeing. "Absolutely. For all of us."
While looking at the bright, amazingly sincere expression on his face, Sakura's heart thrummed so suddenly that it startled her. She cleared her throat and slowly nodded back at him, picking up the pace of her swinging and avoiding looking at his face. She really needed to get this under control, especially if she wanted to remain being his close friend. She was almost grown dammit! She couldn't be acting like that annoying twelve year old Genin she left behind. She needed to stop what she was feeling before it ruined everything.
But as Naruto walked her home and dropped her off with a big embrace, her head swam. The scent of him washed over her, and she never realized for someone as careless as Naruto, that he smelt so damn good. That night, she found herself guiltily inhaling the reminiscent of him on her coat and cursing at herself for being so silly. With a groan she flung herself dramatically on her couch, closing her eyes and burying her face in her coat, wondering just what the hell she should do with herself and her predicament. It was officially and painfully confirmed as well as obvious now.
Sakura Haruno was indeed attracted to Naruto Uzumaki, and she seriously had not a clue what to do about it.