It was very early in the morning when a figure walked through the gates. The sun was barely poking its rays over the horizon, and the guard on duty had fallen asleep. Pfthhht! Some guard! The person, a woman, walked right by him, smirking to herself. The security here had really gotten lax, and she decided that she was going to have a word with someone about that.
After she’d gone right by the guard, she kept going, heading for one place in particular. There were some things she needed to find out, and there was only one person she wanted to hear it from. After all, if what she’d been told was true, then she really needed to see him, as well. Sighing, Sakura, for that’s who this person was, continued on her way towards the place that she knew Naruto would be.
This early in the morning, she was certain that he would probably still be sleeping, and she headed straight for his home. But then her step faltered for two reasons. One: Did he still live in that ratty little apartment? It had been three years since she’d been here, after all. Maybe he’d moved? Two: Was he going to be happy to see her? They hadn’t exactly parted on amicable terms. They’d both yelled at each other, hurling insults, though Sakura thought that perhaps she was the only one who’d truly meant them at the time.
Shaking herself, she refused to let herself be daunted. Naruto would not reject her, no matter what. So she continued on her way. But she didn’t get very far before she ran into someone else instead.
Hyuuga Neji and Rock Lee were standing there, and Sakura sighed. Oh well, maybe they could confirm Naruto’s whereabouts.
“Hi guys,” she said.
Lee gave her one of his trademark grins and thumbs up. “Sakura-san!” he declared. “It is good that you have come back! Naruto-sama will be glad to see you!”
Naruto-sama!? Why had Lee added the honorific? Neji must have noticed her confusion for he said, “I guess you don’t know... Naruto is Hokage.”
Sakura’s jaw dropped and she stared at them stupidly for a moment before it finally sunk in.
“That’s sooo great!” she cheered. “Just like he always said, he did it!”
Lee grinned. “Your youthful enthusiasm is apparently undaunted!” he exclaimed. “Just you wait, when Naruto sees you, everything will be the way it’s meant to be after all!”
He rushed off to do kami only knew what, and Sakura was left with Neji, who gave her a short bow and said, “It is good that you have returned, Sakura.”
“Thanks,” she replied, grabbing a hold of his arm. “I have missed this place.”
Neji smiled slightly. “A lot of people have missed you,” he said. “I know that Ino will be glad you’ve returned. And Sasuke as well.”
Sakura’s heart missed a beat. “So it’s true, then?” she whispered.
“It’s true,” came the confirmation.
They walked for a little longer, just chatting about random things, comfortable with one another’s company. Which was good, all things considered. Neji was a good friend, having been more than that to her once before. Her thoughts might have gone down a reminiscing track, but there was a sudden yell, her only warning before she was tackled.
Naruto had found her. A small glimpse of green told Sakura that Lee must have gone to get Naruto when he ran off before. While she was glad that he didn’t seem to be holding a grudge (she hadn’t really thought he would anyway), he was kind of pressing a heck of a lot too hard against her ribs.
“Naruto!” she growled. “Let me go!”
Rather reluctantly, Naruto got off of her so that she could get up, and he grinned sheepishly at her as she dusted herself off. “Uh... sorry about that, Sakura-chan,” he said. “I’m just really glad you came back, is all.”
Sakura sighed. “Naruto,” she said. “That’s no excuse for trying to juice me like an orange!”
Anything Naruto was about to say was interrupted by another voice, one Sakura hadn’t heard in years. “Do you really expect the dobe to behave any differently? Really, Sakura, that’s something that will never change.”
Turning around carefully, Sakura finally came face to face with the person that had hurt her more than anyone else in her life. “Sasuke,” she greeted. “I’d heard you were back.”
“Hn,” he replied. “Really? Did you come back because you missed me too?”
Everyone’s gaze swivelled to her, and Sakura knew they were expecting her to blow up, hug him tightly and gush, or something else. But she wasn’t really sure what sort of reaction she should have to seeing him after so long. And it was unexpected, too, him just turning up right behind her like that, no warning at all. Walking rather calmly up to the Uchiha, she stared at him a moment as if contemplating his question.
“Did I come back because I missed you?” she kinda repeated. “Not really, when you think about it. I did miss you, though. After all, you were my team mate.”
Sasuke smirked. “Well in that case,” he said, “welcome back.”
“Likewise, Sasuke. Likewise.”
They all started walking then, Naruto chatting happily to her about everything that had happened in the village while she was away. Apparently his infatuation with Hinata had panned out, and the two of them were married and expecting their first child. Ino had married Chouji, Lee was seeing some girl, Tenten was in a long-distance relationship with Kankurou, and Shino had gotten married to a girl his parents had introduced him to. It was no surprise when he told her that Shikamaru was seeing Temari.
“I was in Suna a little while ago,” Sakura told her friend. “There was a festival at the time, too.”
“Really?” Naruto asked. “That must have been their Festival of Liberation, you know, when they broke free of Earth Country ages ago. Speaking of which, the sand siblings are here in Konoha, right now.”
What!?!?!? That would mean that Gaara... A feeling of panic welled up into Sakura as she allowed the realisation that the red head just might have a few issues with her. Only natural, she supposed. She did leave him alone after their little ‘encounter.’ He might even be pissed that she’d abandoned him. But maybe he didn’t care? After all, it wasn’t as if they’d agreed on anything in particular. Just a night of unbridled passion.
Naruto was talking again, and she shook herself out of her thoughts to listen to him. “...really should go do it. I think it’s a great idea, too. What do you think, Sakura-chan?”
Huh? “Um... Sorry Naruto, I kinda spaced out there. What did you say?”
Naruto sighed. “I said, ‘Do you want to go see Temari and Ino?” he asked. “They should be over at Yamanaka Flowers right now.”
Deciding that it would probably be best to get it all over and done with, Sakura nodded and allowed Naruto to drag her off to see her best friend (other than Naruto).
Once there, Naruto pushed her inside, even though she could have gotten in herself. Immediately she was greeted with the sight of Ino serenely stacking some rather expensive-looking, ceramic flowerpots. The blond turned to see who’d come into the store, a welcoming smile on her face. When she saw Sakura, she nearly dropped the pot she was holding. Calmly she put the pot where it was supposed to go, then turned back to her friend.
“Forehead!” she greeted, a grin spreading across her features as she launched herself at Sakura.
Enveloped in Ino’s welcoming hug, Sakura eagerly hugged back. “Hey Ino-pig!” she greeted. “Does this mean you missed me?”
Ino pulled back and whacked her on the arm. “Of course I did!” she exclaimed. “We all did!”
Sakura turned to see Shikamaru and Chouji standing in the doorway. Chouji was grinning at her and Shikamaru wore his usual bored look, but Sakura saw a smirk hidden in there. Sakura flew at them both, hugging them tightly despite Shikamaru’s protests. Chouji, on the other hand, simply laughed and hugged her back.
“Welcome back, Sakura!” he said.
And then someone else appeared in the doorway, and Sakura held her breath, waiting for what Temari would say. “Sakura,” she greeted coolly.
Shit. Was that a good sign or a bad sign? She didn’t know Temari well enough to know what the sand kunoichi was thinking. But then, she was being cool towards her. Did this mean that she knew about what happened? Had Gaara told her everything?
“Hey, Temari-chan!” Naruto greeted. “Look! Sakura-chan came back!”
“I can see that, Naruto,” the wind mistress said.
There was an uncomfortable silence that it seemed only the knuckle-headed Hokage didn’t get, then Ino chimed in, “Well, I have an idea! Forehead, you and me are going to go to breakfast and you are going to tell me absolutely everything that you did while you were gone.”
She marched forward and grabbed Sakura’s arm, heading straight out the door. “What, now?” Sakura squeaked.
“Don’t worry, dear!” Chouji yelled after them. “I’ll look after the shop!”
Spending time catching up with Ino was great, she had to admit, and as they ate their fancy breakfast in a cafe that Ino said was new, but really good, Sakura realised just how much she’d missed hanging out with her best friend. That is, until she started on about the way Temari had been.
“Honestly!” she huffed. “That woman has always been rude, but the way she spoke to you? I mean, come on! Why on earth would she be like that?”
Sakura shrugged, not really wanting to divulge what had happened in Suna. The more she thought about it, the more she realised that Temari knew what had happened. Whether Gaara had said something or not. She’d been there after all, and could very well have seen the two of them disappear together.
“She probably hates me,” Sakura mumbled, and Ino gave her a funny look.
Inwardly groaning, she wondered why the hell she’d said that out loud. “Why would she hate you?” the blond asked.
“No reason,” Sakura mumbled, and then winced at the look that appeared on her friend’s face.
“Something happened,” Ino deduced. “But what? Hm... Were you in Suna at any point while you were gone?”
Sakura looked away and Ino smirked. “You were!” she said triumphantly. “So, did you do something to upset her? Insult her fans? Her pigtails? Mention Shikamaru? Sexually assault one of her brothers?”
Sakura blushed suddenly and Ino’s eyes lit up. “You did her brother?” she asked. “Was it Kankurou? No, guess not. Oh my god... don’t tell me...!”
This was not good. Ino was too good at getting things out of her without the pinkette even saying anything. Which was how she’d found out about a certain crush that Sakura’d had years ago, and it wasn’t Sasuke.
“Just stop there!” Sakura interrupted Ino before she could say anything.
“Alright, but from the way Temari was, I think you’re in deep shit.”
Geeze! Ino-pig was sooo helpful!
The rest of the day was spent wandering around Konoha, visiting family and old friends. To her delight, she discovered that Kakashi was not dead, though his survival was a miracle that it seemed people were going to talk about for years to come. He’d been left for dead, and nearly had died, but apparently Naruto had found him when he’d gone chasing after Sasuke just after Sakura had left. Sai had died, though, so there was a dead team mate after all.
Finally, their trip ended back at Ino’s shop, and it was then that Sakura realised that she didn’t really have anywhere to stay. She’d told her mother to sell her apartment when she’d left, and was now basically homeless. She groaned. Why hadn’t she thought of this sooner?!
“What’s wrong, Forehead?” Ino asked.
“I just realised that I’m homeless,” Sakura revealed. “I think I’m gonna have to go mooch off of my cousin.”
“NO WAY!!” Ino yelled, startling her. “There’s no way that you’re dragging your sorry ass to Marumi’s! She’ll torture you over there! No, you can stay with Chouji and me.”
There was no arguing with her. When Ino got worked up about something like this, you weren’t getting out of it, no matter what it was.
Chouji was still there when they got back, but Shikamaru had left with Temari, something Sakura was glad for. She really didn’t want to be around a judgemental sand kunoichi. For all she knew, Temari might just take it upon herself to ‘punish’ Sakura for what happened. Even though the pinkette still wasn’t sure how much she knew about that night.
Allowing Ino to drag her inside, Sakura decided that to the best of her ability, she was going to avoid the sand siblings for the duration of their stay.