When Shikamaru and the others told her that they needed to talk, Sakura didn't know what to expect.
They fumbled about, offering apologies, approaching the problem with extreme caution, until finally, Kiba shared the news.
They wanted to take care of Sasuke. He was a missing-nin after all, it was their duty to put him down, they wanted to make sure that they wouldn't have to worry about her doing reckless things, even more, they would appreciate her help in convincing Naruto.
When tears started rolling down her cheeks she didn't know exactly why.
She just heard Shikamaru sigh and Kiba trying to explain further, but she wasn't listening.
Her mind was already taking her back to their time as team 7, simpler and happier times. Their first test, their first mission, all of it seemed so far away now.
Sasuke left, and then it was Naruto's turn to leave and she was all that was left of team 7.
She would still meet up with Kakashi-sensei and he would still be late and he would still come up with ridiculous excuses but sometimes the silence between the two of them would be too much, and so the training sessions were shortened, put off and cancelled during the first month of their absence.
She stayed home most of the time, her parents present but not invading and she felt thankful. She remembered when she begged Sasuke to take her with him and thanked God that he refused, she hadn't thought about them that time, she probably hadn't thought that Sasuke would have been gone for so long. A month had passed and her parents didn't understand why she had become more affectionate with them until she told them everything and she cried, she told them about the chuunin exam and about how Sasuke-kun broke the arms of a sound ninja in front of her and how she was scared, she talked about Naruto and how she was ashamed of what she said to him and they themselves felt ashamed to know that they participated in the isolation of a little child, but they didn't tell her that she would understand later though, she promised them that she wouldn't try to leave again. A month had passed and she was thankful that her parents were helping her get through this.
Ino arrived soon after the first month. She knocked on the door and Sakura didn't think that she'd be this full of energy, she liked Sasuke too didn't she?
But Ino was there with her and joked about her being a hermit, she smugly told her that she was still a cry-baby after all and Sakura blushed because she had cried the night before and it showed and Ino would probably be the last person to contradict that fact. Soon enough they were bickering and joking around and Sakura laughed until her stomach hurt and her face was flushed and Ino was laying down next to her, her short blond hair was held up in a cute bun unlike hers and it was almost as if they were 6 again.
"You know, your forehead is still as big as ever."
After an aggressive pillow fight, Ino stayed the night and they talked for hours before falling asleep. Neither Sasuke's nor Naruto's name were pronounced that day and Sakura fell asleep soundly, Ino loudly breathing next to her. They passed the night playing tug of war with the blanket and both of them mocked the other for looking half dead when the morning came.
The day after she was training with Ino and her team and Asuma-sensei was impressed by Ino's energy and motivation. She beat Sakura and even though they both were exhausted Ino had enough energy to gloat her victory.
The week after Sakura was bothering Kakashi-sensei every day to train her, joining other teams so that she'd have a sparring partner, she fought Ino often.
One day Kakashi-sensei went on a mission and she lost a bet and had to train with Gai-sensei and Lee-san for the whole day and her muscles ached and she couldn't move afterwards but Lee-san and Gai-sensei were supportive and she discovered that when you trained that much it was difficult to think about anything afterwards.
She came back the next day, legs barely supporting her weight because if Naruto was getting intensive training then she would too, and Ino couldn't believe it. At the end of the day, Ino felt too much pity for her to laugh and helped her limp to her home. After a week, Gai-sensei told her to rest even though he understood her youthful determination and that they would accept her back with opened arms as soon as her body would allow her to train again, she thanked him and painfully made her way back. Her mother laughed as she massaged her shoulder that night.
She was woken up the next day too damn early by Ino, already perfectly dressed and beautiful as always.
As usual, she didn't hide her smug smile as she saw the expression on Sakura's face but she blushed as she handed her a bottle of warm liquid. Sakura looked at her, confused.
"It's green tea, I asked my mom, she said it should help your body recover faster." Ino said, embarrassed.
She took the bottle, she could feel a huge smile forming on her face even though her whole body was screaming with pain as she extended her hand.
"Thank you, Ino."
She blushed and stuttered a little "it's nothing" while awkwardly looking away. She then quickly excused herself and Sakura drank the totality of the bottle before going back to sleep with a smile on her face.
Two weeks later she was climbing a mountain with Gai-sensei, Lee-san and Tenten-san, and it was hard and she could still feel the soreness in her muscles but she didn't want to slow them down and the view was beautiful at the top and Gai-sensei made sure to give a heartfelt speech about youth, determination and passion, and maybe she was moved by it a little and maybe she didn't say it.
She did see a couple of beautiful flowers though, and she did think of Ino when she plucked them and she did climb down a little more recklessly than she should have and she did fall down, but she didn't care, she was somehow very excited because of those flowers and she needed to show them to Ino.
She ran as fast as she could to Ino's house and she swore that as she went she could hear Gai-sensei loudly sobbing with Lee-san and some talks about 'knowing when to quit' and a promise of 'putting all of one's emotion into training'.
When she arrived at the door she could barely stand and she was still dirty with sweat and mud, but the flowers were still nearly as pretty as they were before being plucked.
When Ino opened the door she exploded with joy as Sakura saw her face and the wonder on it and she smiled and tried to follow her inside but she took a step and her legs gave out, she was still smiling and laughing but Ino wasn't and she looked at Sakura with so much concern she felt her stomach hurt.
She stopped training with Lee-san and Gai-sensei every day after that and adopted a rhythm more adapted to her physical condition and spent more time with Ino, but her training with Gai-sensei was showing results and the sparring matches they had were a little more intense than usual and maybe they hit harder than they should have and maybe they pushed themselves more than they should have but damn they would not lose to the other.
They were panting and bloody and Asuma-sensei was scratching the back of his head not knowing if he should intervene and Shikamaru was trying to seem uninterested but she knew that he would try to stop them if he thought things were going to go out of hand and Choji was nervously eating, clearly sensing the tension between them. They looked at each other and glared before extending their hands and at this moment there was just Sakura and Ino and the promise that their rivalry would never end.
That day Ino did not help Sakura go back home and Sakura did not help her either and Ino had Shikamaru and Choji and Sakura had no one, and she accepted this as her first defeat.
That day she was laying on the training ground and her body hurt and even though she won she did not smile, instead she looked at the sky until her father found her and she couldn't walk and he picked her up and complained all the way to their house but he did not put her down and she laughed until she fell asleep.
She started training with Gai-sensei and Lee-san every day again, sometimes Neji-san and Tenten-san would join their ridiculous challenges and sometimes they would just judge them from a distance but Neji-san's fists were hard and Tenten-san's weapon sharp and she pushed herself past her limit and Gai-sensei was proud of them all, and she thought about Kakashi-sensei Ino, and how this time she did not look at her with concern.
The next day Ino joined them, she bickered with Sakura the whole time and couldn't finish a single set of push-ups. After that she was bed-ridden and it was Sakura's turn to bring her green tea.
Two days after that Kakashi-sensei came back and she forced him to join her and team 11's early jogging and he was surprised to see that and still tried to stealthily dodge it but Gai-sensei knew his rival and he knew how to be insistent and so he joined them.
It's another two months before Naruto's first letter arrived and she could keep up with Gai-sensei's training more easily and Kakashi-sensei was impressed by her progress and she didn't think she'd be this happy to hear from him again. The message itself was short and badly written and there were smudge marks, but she was happy.
'Still training with Ero-sennin, hope everyone is well, I didn't forget my promise. Say hi to Iruka-sensei, Kakashi-sensei and the others for me, thanks. -Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage.'
And she laughed because Naruto would still be Naruto and she was relieved she asked the little frog messenger if she could reply and it accepted and she had so much to say but the paper stayed blank and in the end she only wrote 'Training with Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei, I am well, hope you are too. When are you coming back?' And she thought about Sasuke-kun too and she stared at the paper and crumbled it and she tried again.
'Training with Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei, I am well, hope you are too, we are all waiting for you to come back.'
She looked at the paper this time, satisfied and she bolted out of her house and ran to find Kakashi-sensei, the little frog messenger not leaving her side, and he was surprised but happy and Sakura was sure that he smiled when he saw Naruto's signature and she just handed him a pen and he wrote encouraging words too.
"Who are you bringing this to next?" he asked softly.
And she smiled and started running again and she found Shikamaru and Choji first and Ino was there as well. They all wrote a little message, and they smiled while doing so. Sakura wanted Naruto to understand that his absence wasn’t unnoticed and that there were people missing him.
She ran into Lee-san, Tenten-san and Neji-san next, and Sakura had to physically stop Gai-sensei from filling the whole page and Lee-san was touched that she would think of him and she convinced them all to write some encouraging words and they did in their own ways and she felt happy, and she tried to find Kiba next and she did and she wasn't listening much to what he was saying, she was already thinking about who to find next and thankfully enough she trusted Hinata enough to leave the rest to her.
"Hinata, bring this letter back to me when you're finished! If there is still some space left try to see if I haven't forgotten anyone! If you can't find me please just let it with Kakashi-sensei! Bye bye!"
She was stopped right in her tracks by Shino's voice.
"I see that you don't think that I am close enough to Naruto to write him some encouraging words, Sakura. Why? Because you didn't mention me even though I was standing right next to Hinata."
"Sorry Shino, I hadn't noticed you! Please write something kind to Naruto I'm sure that it will make him happy!" she said.
She ignored his response and ran towards Ichiraku Ramen and the old chef Teuchi and Ayame-san signed their encouragement with a drop of miso soup and she grinned as she watched them.
She went to Iruka-sensei last and he was surprised and she told him that he was the last one to write and that no one else except Naruto would read his message and he was grateful and she kept her promise.
The two letters where sent and she'd missed her training and it had taken her most of the day but she was happy and that night she stayed up late with Ino and she couldn't stop herself from smiling and there was something weird about the way Ino looked at her but it wasn't bad and they held hands as they fell asleep. The night was still restless as they played tug of war with the blanket.
The next day she managed to get a hit on Lee-san and she was over-joyed and Kakashi-sensei was impressed and Gai-sensei was torn, but she lost her concentration and did not avoid Lee-san's Konoha's Whirlwind and Lee-san was already apologizing and crying and she realised that she still had a long way to go and she was still on the ground and she had difficulties breathing but Hokage-sama saw everything and she took the time to heal her and congratulate her and Lee-san for their hard-work before requesting both Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei to follow her.
Lee-san was still apologizing and Tenten-san was still scolding him for not controlling himself better but she did not say anything as she just couldn't forget the weird sensation of medical ninjutsu and the desire of wanting to know how it worked.
The next day she was sent on a mission with Kakashi-sensei and Team 11 and it was weird to go on a mission again but she was familiar with Lee-san, Tenten-san and Neji-san and it all went smoothly and Tenten-san was funny and she liked to talk about weapons and Sakura remembered Zabuza and Haku, and she asked her if she'd ever heard about the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, and Tenten-san had stars in her eyes.
That night she hid her wound and isolated herself as she tried to recreate the same sensation she felt when Hokage-sama healed her. She concentrated Chakra into her palm and felt the potential energy, she remembered how it was versatile and could transform into elements and she remembered her biology classes and how the body was a machine that used nutriments from the outside to function and she knew that the Chakra's circulatory system was similar to the blood's circulatory system and that it flowed inside her body and she knew that the answer was somewhere but she simply did not have the necessary knowledge to go and further her reasoning but still she pressed her palm against her arm and she felt her Chakra and the road it took and it was overwhelming to be suddenly aware of this flow inside her body and she stopped and bandaged herself before she went to bed.
A week later she was in the Hokage's office and she was intimidated and her voice did quiver but she held herself steadily. She tried to look confident as she asked Hokage-sama to train her in medical ninjutsu and tried not to crumble on herself as the woman stared at her with a pensive expression on her face. Finally she asked her if she had an idea on how medical ninjustu worked and Sakura did not know if Hokage-sama wanted her to respond but she did and sure she forgot the names of some proteins and sure she couldn't really tell the differences between Lymphocyte B, T, and C but she was able to convey what she thought was two different types of medical ninjustu; one for external and internal wounds and one for poisons and deseases and how in the first one the injected Chakra is used to 'plug' or reconstruct blood vessels and skin tissue by apporting an excess in energy to cells and quickly provoquing their multiplication until the 'hole' is plugged, and the second type where Chakra is used to stimulate the immune system and quicken the reaction time of the anti-viral response and Sakura would have loved to go into more details but this was all she could come up with during the week she studied human anatomy and books on Chakra because the local library didn't have anything on medical ninjustu and her parents were impressed and Ino complained about her passing all her free time reading and called her a bookworm but she didn't care.
Once she finished Hokage-sama was staring at her with wide eyes and she smiled and nodded and congratulated her on her deductions and she did point out some inaccuracies but she was impressed and Sakura could feel herself blush and Hokage-sama looked at her sternly before telling her that there are way more types of medical ninjutsu and that she had only scraped the barrel and Sakura felt self-conscious again. But Hokage-sama promised to teach them all to her and she never felt more excited.
"From this day you can call me Shishoo! Your training will start tomorrow morning, Shizune will teach you the basics of anatomy and the different components of cells and their role and how to stimulate and quicken their multiplication with your Chakra!"
"Good! I will give you a list of exercises to improve your Chakra control! You need to repeat them every day until it feels like breathing to you, understand?!"
"Now go! Be there at 8 o'clock sharp! Do not be late!"
She watched as a warm smile spread across her master's face and she beamed at her before bolting out of her office, nearly running into Shizune-san, she bowed deeply and shouted that she would be in her care before joining Kakashi-sensei and Team 11 for training, and Gai-sensei was reprimanding her but she was on cloud nine and she couldn't stop herself from smiling even while she was doing one hundred push-ups and Tenten-san had a smile on her face and she wanted to know what had made her so happy and Lee-san joined her and they were gently pressuring her and she exploded with joy as she told them that Tsunade-sama had accepted to take her as her pupil. There were tears of joy as Lee-san and Gai-sensei loudly congratulated her, even Neji-san offered her some encouraging words and she looked at Kakashi-sensei and he simply nodded in approval and gave her a smile and she was worried that he'd be lonely but she saw Gai-sensei place a comforting hand on his shoulder and she knew that he'd be okay.
When she looked at Tenten-san, she still had a shocked expression on her face and she balled up her fists and her shoulder slightly shook with frustration and she turned away quickly and she heard her sniffling before she turned around, glaring at her. Sakura was perplexed and jumped a little when Tenten-san started talking again.
"Haruno Sakura!" She started.
Sakura tensed and stood straight.
"I will not lose to you! Don't get cocky just because Tsunade-sama is training you now if you're not careful I'm going to steal your seat as Tsunade-sama's pupil!"
And Sakura was shocked and Tenten-san looked at her with determination and she wondered if Sasuke-kun felt the same way she did right now when Neji-san sought him out during the Chuunin exam as she looked at Tenten-san, excitement and something more fierce and intense bubbling in her stomach and her lungs and she could feel her heartbeat pick up and a smile spreading across her face. It made her feel bolder and more confident.
"I will look forward to it! Tenten-san good luck on making Shishoo notice you! I worked hard to get there, I won't lose to you either!"
And she saw the way Tenten-san's expression soured as she heard the term "Shishoo" and she knew she was rubbing salt on the wound and maybe she was being a little bit too cheeky but she was determined and she would definitely not lose her privileged seat to anyone in the village.
Tenten-san gave her one last glare before storming off Neji-san of her heels while Gai-sensei was sobbing and talking about the youthful fire that animated the two young girls and she went towards Kakashi-sensei with her list of exercises on Chakra control and he examined it closely before smiling and they went back to work, Kakashi-sensei explaining in more details what every exercises consisted of, she promised Gai-sensei that they would discuss more about her training schedule as soon as her Master would give her a more precise timetable.
She later rejoined Ino and shared the news with her and she jumped in joy with her and they hugged and held hands as they dashed to Ichiraku Ramen to celebrate the news. Ayame-san and Teuchi-san treated them that day and she couldn't remember the last time she ate that much and she still had to tell the news to her parents but Sakura and Ino took their time as they caught up on the latest gossip and Ino wanted to know more about her meeting with Tsunade-sama and Sakura reenacted the scene for her and Ino had a wistful look in her eyes.
"You know, if you're not careful Ino," she started with a sly grin, "I'm going to leave you behind!"
Ino looked at her sternly for a while and finally, she looked at Sakura with fire in her eyes.
"As if that could happen Forehead Girl!" she grinned as well
"Shut up Ino-Pig!"
Sakura stuck out her tongue as she entered her house and she promised herself that she wouldn't forget to tell the news to Naruto as she ran to find her parents.
The next day she thought she had prepared herself mentally for her new training but she did not expect the number of books Shizune-san brought with her and she kept anticipating for the moment her Master would walk into the room but she did not and she was a bit disappointed and her eyes hurt a little bit after reading so much but Shizune-san was patient and her explanations where clear and easy for her mind to wrap around and she was so interested by the subject that she did not feel the time pass until it was twelve thirty and she needed to eat before joining the others for training.
Her parents were boasting about her to the whole for the entire week.
Naruto's next letter arrived faster than she would have thought, only three weeks after the first one, she was surprised to see that he wrote way more this time and there were also several letters addressed to different people, she shared her letter with Kakashi-sensei, and it seemed that Naruto thought that it was easier to separate the rest by teams, only Iruka-sensei got his own letter and she smiled at that.
She let the little frog messenger rest a little in her room before it hopped on to find the others.
In this letter Naruto was talking a little more about his day and he complained about his mentor and he thanked her for asking the others to write to him too, he explained how he was working on controlling the Kyuubi's Chakra and how it was hard but that he'd do his best to come back as soon as possible so that they could go and find Sasuke-kun and her smile dropped and she thought about him and about how it had been over five month since Naruto went away and even longer since Sasuke-kun left the village, and she realized just how much she hadn't thought about Saskuke-kun and how much the pain she felt when he left the village had long faded away leaving only a hollow feeling in her chest but it wasn't painful.
But she pushed past it and she started to write excitedly as she talked about her training with her Master and she complained about the number of books she had to read and how it was hard to be on time for her physical training and how the Chakra control exercises she needed to do was exhausting but she was happy and she liked training with Gai-sensei and the others.
She told him about her new rivalry with Tenten-san and how she was excited and happy to see that she had acknowledged her strength and she talked about Ino and their constant competitions and how her Shishoo was so cool and impressive and about how it had only been two weeks since she started her training but that her Shishoo was already thinking about having her practice on living organisms and how she was proud of herself. She hesitated before adding
'We should fight when you come back! After all, I'm giving it my all to catch up to you,'
She paused, feeling the same boldness take over her as she wrote.
'maybe I'll even surpass you if you're not careful! So you better not slack off!'
With a smile, she signed the letter.
'- Sakura Haruno, Future best medical ninja and Taijutsu Master'