Sakura isn't ashamed to admit she cries almost constantly in the weeks after Naruto leaves the village with the legendary (pervert) Jiraiya.
But she'll sink a fist into anyone who dares comment on it.
Between mixing up hangover cures and doing her paperwork for her, Sakura forgets that Tsunade is not the 'strongest kunoichi of her generation' for nothing.
Kakashi does something – what, Sakura doesn't know – and she finds him sitting under her desk, long legs folded in and somehow fitting into a space she didn't think a puppet could. He holds up a hand in greeting and bends his head to his book. She stares at him for a moment and then gives him some of her bento because he's got to be hungry and she knows about how much weight he puts on eternal friendship and teamwork and yada yada yada.
She kicks him in the shins when he won't move after three hours.
Tsunade doesn't have as much time to train her as, say, Gai has for Lee, but she does do what she does best.
She unloads much of the basic work on underlings.
She recruits Shizune to pass on skills like fixing broken limbs, the knowledge of how to staunch internal bleeding without having to open someone up, and what are the best factors in healing any life-threatening injuries that Sakura may very well need someday. The reason goes unsaid, but Shizune is as perceptive as Tsunade can be, and she goes through the healing jutsu list in a steady and methodical way. She teaches the difference between a heart filling with blood and a blood-filled heart. Sakura is fairly sure the difference will not matter in the end, but it does in the beginning.
Genma is booted to the front to assist her in fine-tuning her weapon experience. He gives her a few starter points, shoots senbon whenever he sees a slack muscle, and then dumps her on Horie, who is better than him at weapons. But Genma decides that she needs some help with surprise assaults, too. So he pops in and out at random intervals of her days and throws a cup of squid ink at some part of her, usually the hair. Sakura is pretty quick to learn how to duck.
Somehow, Tsunade manages to convince an ANBU team to take her on for a week. Sakura never sees their faces, never knows who they are, but they go off for a week to the border between Sound and Sand and she is kept so busy and in so much constant danger, that she doesn't cry at the fact that she may very well be only a few kilometers from Sasuke. She gets a slap on the back when they come back to Konoha. Sakura feels their silent approval and likes she can tell the difference between chakra trying to hide and hiding chakra.
Whenever Asuma is in town for more than three days at time, Sakura plays a game of chess with him. He smokes incessantly and Sakura realizes, five games in, that not only is she learning strategy, she's also learning how to hold her breath for longer and longer intervals. Maybe she'll have to fight Kisame someday. It makes sense; he's Uchiha Itachi's boyfriend, after all.
Tsunade has Kurenai and Hinata work with Sakura's eyes. She needs to be able to see chakra and nerve points, and they are invaluable in showing her how to maximize the usage of her eyes. Sakura has no Sharingan and she certainly doesn't have the Byakugan, but she does have a fine pair of green eyes that are very sharp. She realizes that this has its downsides when she almost sees through Gai's stretchy green suit.
But the best day is when Tsunade takes her hand and shows her how to channel chakra through her arms and into her knuckles (and by extension, the rest of her body) and how to unleash that power without ever hurting herself. The first time Sakura tries, she fails miserably, breaking every metacarpal in her left hand. She thinks she should heal them straightaway, but Tsunade shakes her head. The pain stays with Sakura for two weeks. And then Tsunade heals the hand, remolding bone and tendon and sinew until everything is lithe and smooth again.
Sakura learns from the agony, and the buffer comes up automatic.
Tsunade smiles where Sakura can't see, and she thinks that, maybe, Sakura can do what she couldn't with Jiraiya and Orochimaru.
Kakashi is busy and he doesn't train her at all. Sakura knows this should bother her, but she's long figured out that as kick-ass Kakashi is on the field, emotionally, he's a total retard.
Sakura has no team.
This creates the perfect reason why she's lent to other groups, becomes a medic to a number of ANBU teams who learn to request her ahead of time, and is handed the opportunity to spend most of her days away at the hospital. She polishes her medic skills at a rapid click because she doesn't have a reason to leave. Her parents are dead, her teammates are gone, nothing keeps her from healing one more cut, saving one more life.
Soon she becomes invaluable. And more than four Jounin owe her their lives.
This gives Sakura pride, and it makes her laugh to think that the only reason this happens is because Sasuke decides she and Naruto were not enough for him.
The first time Sakura destroys the ground around her with one well-placed foot, she celebrates by disintegrating a large tree.
Of course, she has to pay for all the damages later since they're on private property, but still, she knows Konohamaru will never peek at her bathing again. If he does, she'll make him eat his goddamn teeth.
Ino gives Sakura a lecture on her fourteenth birthday. It consists of blah, you need to go out more, blah shalam, you're wasting your youth, mutter mutter rant, don't you think your forehead is going to get enormous if you don't stop thinking, whish blah foosh, are you even listening to me?
Ino looks at her and then shrugs. "Whatever. Let's get Asuma-sensei to get us some drinks."
"Is he going to buy?"
"Duh, why do you think we're going with him?"
"Good. The last time I went to the bar, I ended up paying for all of Kakashi-sensei's drinks. And Genma managed to throw a bowl of squid ink on me."
"Shizune has Genma tied up and I don't think Kakashi is showing up this year..."
"Oh, he is. When he was away on a mission, I stole four of his books."
Being Tsunade's apprentice is both good and bad.
Sakura gets all sorts of perks, like being able to tell Neji to buzz off when he wants to bug the Godaime about how he should be sent on ANBU missions now that he's Jounin status. That's pretty enjoyable, especially since he thinks he can ridicule her while standing in Tsunade's office and he never sees the fist coming at his face. Ha, Byakugan her arse.
She also gets first pick of paperwork, and while this sounds kind of like a stupid perk, most people have never had to deal with shinobi request forms made in triplicate, overly-detailed mission reports about absolutely nothing, and the dreaded comment sheets that shower in every other day. Someday, when she's Hokage, she's going to ban comments. And advice.
On a side note: Sakura likes to think of herself as fairly even-tempered, but when Kakashi doesn't turn in a mission report one too many times, she accidentally-on-purpose has all the latest copies of Icha Icha delivered to the wrong store and Kakashi is left for two days with nothing new in porn to read.
On the bad, she has to spend most Friday nights with Shizune so that they can hide the sake bottles before Tsunade gets more drunk than usual.
And her job, rather unexpectedly, doesn't come with medical and dental.
The first time Sakura saves Kakashi, it's because he's stupid enough to get in the way of a well-thrown chopstick meant for her.
She weaves magic with her hands (though Tsunade would scoff; there's nothing magical with the human body), sorts out his small intestine centimeter by centimeter (she's careful about coiling it neatly back together), stitches up the nice cut on his liver (and pours the bile back in), and then sieves chakra in through a temporary hole in his sternum.
The ANBU team that happens to be around is careful to not disturb her. They're pretty good at it and one offers his chakra (she hears the forest in his voice) as a reserve if she runs out.
Kakashi heals, she writes up her mission report, and when she goes home, she spends the night on her bathroom floor and stares at her toilet.
Sakura tries dating a Chuunin, some random unknown who has an easy smile, easier hands, and she resigns to being lonely and dateless as she shakes off the blood from her gloves. Tenten nods in sympathy, since she witnesses the whole thing, and the two find a surprising amount of things that they have in common.
Like how they were both too involved with emotionally-absent wussies.
They notice that it's a lot easier to be friends when there's no exams around to make them competitive. They make jokes that Chuunin exams should be banned; all for world good, of course.
Temari tells her so often that she's not dating Shikamaru that Sakura pretty much knows they are and she goes to comfort Ino who realizes, all too late, that she might kindasortamaybe like the idiot genius. Sakura doesn't tell her, I told you so but she does bring out the good vodka and the two have a self-pity contest. Of course, Sakura has Sasuke and Naruto; she automatically wins.
That's a bit of a bonus she never considered before.
Sakura thinks she might give this whole 'dating' business one more try. She goes for someone much older and a lot more worldly. Unfortunately, the same thing happens and Sakura discovers that she has a knack for smacking people in the face. So does Kakashi-sensei, if she believes the rumors.
She makes a mental note of this. It'll be something good to do to both Naruto and Sasuke when they come back.
The day Sakura becomes a Chuunin, she celebrates with alcohol and parties, but when she goes to the old Team 7 training grounds, she feels the tug of separation between her and her boys. Naruto won't be back for who-knows-how-long, and Sasuke won't be making Chuunin for a very, very long time, even if he does decide to drop the pseudo evil emotional crisis and come back.
She's the first to make Chuunin and the distance is like a hot bowl of intermingled pride and cruel irony.
Kakashi finds her there and the two avoid looking, both realizing that they don't have much to say to each other without Sasuke and Naruto around. She tries anyways. "Hi, Kakashi-sensei. I made Chuunin."
"Good for you Sakura."
And that's as far as they get. So instead, drunk on alcohol and just the teeniest bit of irritation, Sakura throws a punch that's surprisingly tight and straight and it lands in Kakashi's semi-surprised stomach.
"You are such a retard, Kakashi-sensei," she yells before stalking off.
Creepy men like Danzou should be banned.
Especially when they leer and make insulting comments about Naruto and Sasuke and even Kakashi. (Kakashi totally deserves it, and maybe Sasuke too, and yeah, Naruto did go off without a byword, but hey, insulting them is her territory and never let it be said that Sakura isn't territorial). So she dumps itching powder into the Council room towels, slides a thumbtack onto a marked seat, and is rewarded with a secret bonus from Tsunade and an overly-loud lecture about 'pranks that go too far'.
Her biggest reward is seeing Danzou's face twitch whenever he sees her. That'll teach the asshole.
It takes Naruto two and a half years to come back (but, hey, Sakura reasons, he was training; she's lucky to have him back in one piece, right?) and she rewards him with a loving punch to the right cheek in public and a bone-cracking hug in private. Everything seems just a little bit brighter and the distance isn't quite so palpable. Look, though Naruto's grown, he's loud and brash and he only lets her think for a moment that he's outgrown his pervert tendencies. All in all, he's as dedicated as ever and in his blue eyes, she can see the future spread before her like a beautiful dessert buffet.
After Kakashi utterly fails to remember that the bell test is so two-and-a-half-years ago, she treats Naruto to two or three bowls of his favorite ramen and she asks what he missed the most on his trip.
He appears to give it deep consideration. His wrist flicks and a finger taps his bowl. A wistful smile crosses his face and casts a young, elfin shadow. His head tilts to the side and sharp little teeth come out and chew on the corner of his lips. In a dreamy voice, Naruto says, "Ummmm... Kurenai's legs."
So goddamn typical, Inner Sakura yells as she punches him through the Ichiraku wall.