Adventures in Zine writing….

Last year, I got the chance to write a short fic for a NaruSaku zine. It was fun and surprisingly challenging, squeezing big themes into a very small word count. I tried out several themes, different formats, and finally settled on a story I was happy with. I wrote it…then had to chop it in half. Then half again…. Yeah, so clearly I’m not good at writing in short bursts…. But it was a great story, an awesome zine, and a really cool chance to play around with a fic in a way I usually don’t have to. (When you post something online, no one cares what your word count is!) I kept my trial stories, and versions of my edited ones. Now, I’m dusting off the unused ones, making them more cohesive and will publish all of them. Both the story I didn’t use and the story I did. And I’ll post the three versions of the final story — original length, deeply edited length, and the chopped-to-almost-nothing length story that actually ran in the zine. It was a cool exercise to see what had to stay in the story, and what could be cut out completely without changing the plot.

So….here is a preview of the first three chapters of the zine fic that didn’t make it in. It is as of yet untitled. Oh, and please excuse typos, they creep in no matter how many times I read it!

Chapter 1

Sakura was still alive…but around her, the anbu guards were dropping one by one. It wouldn’t be long for her either. All she could do now as wait, held captive by memories, forced to relive the moments when she might have been faster, sharper. When she might have seen the signs and still been able to save herself. Because now it was far too late. Her fate was sealed into her hand. She was going to die here, and no one would ever find her….

They had traveled days to get to the far-flung territory, and days more chasing down the nervous old diplomat who was too scared to meet them. At every destination was a note, instructing them to a new town, a new safe house. But finally, after dozens of false promises, he was there, coming into the woodland clearing in front of them. The old man moved slowly, carrying a heavy basket and offering profuse apologies. He looked frazzled with this grey hair pushed back into a sloppy ponytail, but he grinned broadly at them. He was explained that they were beset with rogues and thieves and worse. Pockets of rebel fighters who wouldn’t give up. Who were still dedicated to their cause. Who would kill as many Konoha nin as they could get their hands on…. And it just wasn’t safe for a diplomatic envoy from such a prestigious and honorable and benevolent nation as Konoha—

Sakura sighed, cutting him off. “It’s fine We just need to collect the scroll. Then we’ll return home.” She looked around at the ring of trees. They were in the middle of nowhere. “We’re days off track as it is—“

“Oh, but won’t you just have a little refreshment before your journey back? It’s the least I can offer after you’ve come all this way to help us in the rebuilding our nation.” He opened the basket, revealing food and packages and the tops of several bottles of sake, enough for each anbu. The old man winked dramatically. “And I brought a little extra…something to mark the auspicious beginnings of a new alliance with the great village of Konoha, our protector and savior—“

Sakura grimaced. She had no intention of staying. But a nod from the anbu captain changed her mind. And he knew his men better than she. She cut across the old man’s stream of compliments. “Yes! Thank you. They can have some while I sign for the scroll, but then—”

He didn’t listen past her ‘yes.’ He pulled out the basket and began handing out bottles and fabric-wrapped bundles of spring rolls and bean cakes. With each gift, he clasped hands and patted shoulders, telling them how much he appreciated their journey, their service, their time. The travel-weary anbu gladly accepted. He’d saved the best for last. The diplomat produced an ornate tin of fruited candies, cracking open the lid like he was revealing a treasure. A lush jasmine scent filled the air. A dusting of powdery purple sugar coated each man’s fingertips as they passed it around….

The old diplomat suddenly clamped his hand down on Sakura’s shoulder, surprising her, but in turning she saw him bow grandly. He produced the ceremonial scroll from his sleeve with a flourish. It was beautifully decorated, with tassels at each end and deeply carved designs wrapping around a center raised seal. She accepted, and he stepped closer, pushing the cylinder into her open hands, closing his hand over hers in a clasp that was remarkably strong for such an old man.

He didn’t let go.

He smelled of jasmine, so strong it was cloying. He was uncomfortably close, leering up at her as if inspecting her skin. “You have such a lovely face, my dear….” He squeezed harder, not letting Sakura pull back, pushing the soft skin of her palm into the ridges of the carving, watching her closely until she knew something was wrong—

The raised seal suddenly gave way under the pressure, sliding inward and clicking, as if setting a trigger— Then a metal senbon rammed up out of the sunken center of the design and into her hand, shooting a toxin into her blood stream.

The old man still didn’t let go.

He grinned as her blood mingled with a malicious purple syrup and oozed in fat drops off the edge of her hand.

He grinned as she turned her head, seeing the anbu stricken, wide-eyed and frozen, with the same shade of purple in the sugary dust on their fingers, their lips.

He grinned as she looked down at her own hand, at the purple lines snaking up into her veins, and the realization crashing down on her: This was a trap. They were all going to die.

He’d saved the worst for her. This toxin would kill her slowly, vein by vein. And all she could do was watch….

The old man laughed in her face, and as he did, throwing his head back and relishing his victory, his wrinkles dissolved. His face tightened to reveal pink lips and supple skin and fine dark eyes. His frizzy grey pony tail straightened to a long sleek column of hair. In front of her eyes, the old man melted into a much younger, much more beautiful woman.

And she still didn’t let go of Sakura’s hand.

“Do you remember me?” she hissed into Sakura’s face. Sakura tried to pull away, but her body wouldn’t answer. “No? How about this then—“

Her eyes turned watery, her hair turned mousey brown and an alliance headband appeared on her forehead.

“Oh help me Please! Sakura Haruno, the great medic of Konoha, if you don’t save my true love, then he’s going to dieeeee!”

She laughed bitterly. “Stupid weak Konoha nin.”

The headband faded away and her black hair returned, but her eyes were full of hatred.

“You should have killed me then. But you didn’t. Instead you killed him!” Rage suffused her beauty into viciousness. “Did you think I’d let you get away with that?!”

Sakura blinked, remembering. This was the woman who had brought her teammate to her medic tent during the war, grabbed her hand and pleaded up into her face, begging Sakura to heal her one true love. Playing on her sympathies, more like. And Sakura had fallen for it. She nodded at the unknown nins, going against orders, and pulled back the tent flap. But it was a trap. And somehow, Naruto knew it. In a flash of gold light, he was there, obliterating her would-be murderer. But the man’s accomplice, his weeping lover, was long gone. Sakura had survived then…. This time, though, she might not be so lucky.

An anbu toppled over beside her, dead on his feet. His skin was grey from oxygen loss.

Sakura moved her throat and gulping in air as long as she could. She focused inward, trying to force her chakra to the poison to stop its progress. But she discovered this woman had done her homework. In the first touch, the hard shake of a shoulder from the old diplomat as he welcomed them, the rebel nin had set her trap. In that moment, she’d blocked Sakura’s chakra channel in that arm. Her best hope was that she could slow the poison’s steady progress toward her vital organs and air passages. But she knew she couldn’t stop it.

The back of her hand was already starting to look like a shattered vase. Another anbu crashed to the ground.

“You may have wiped out my home, my squad…. Even killed my love…. But my mission still stands. I am to take down as many Leaf nins as I can.” She placed the lid on the tin of candies. The honey sweet scent of jasmine wafted up. She slid it in the basket, where it clanked against other metal tins of candy. Sakura’s eyes went wide. She smiled cruelly. “And until I do, there will be no peace for your people.”

She stepped over the body of one of the anbu and came to stand in front of Sakura where her hand still clutched the scroll in a death grip. She squeezed it hard, forcing Sakura’s hand down farther onto the metal shard. A burst of poison rolled up into her veins, turning her fingertips purple. Tears shined in Sakura’s eyes but she couldn’t move.

“I want you to know, because your death will be the sweetest,” she whispered, coming in close again. “I wish I could stay. I wish I could watch you shatter like a vase.” Her eyes roved over Sakura’s face. She sighed once, then stepped back. “And I wish I could see it when they find you. Frozen like a statue. But I can’t…” She picked up her basket, clanking the contents together, and the wrinkled frazzled old diplomat disguise was back. “I have deliveries to make,” the old man’s face grinned wide, “and we both know they’ll never find you here.”

Now standing tall, the old man laughed and strode purposefully away, stopping to tug an unopened bottle of sake from the dead fingers of an anbu, then she was gone.

Sakura was alone. She was three days from home, at least. And she’d be dead within minutes. Real panic began to set in.

Her fingers were turning deep purple on the ends, the toxin infiltrating all her systems, seeping through blood to color her flesh. A dark spider’s web of veins was crawling up past her elbow, and pale fracture lines were beginning to appear on her neck and jaw.

She closed her eyes for the last time. She didn’t want to see it creep closer. She would deny the enemy nin that one last cruelty in her victory. For that’s surely what this was. She had fulfilled her mission, at least in part. Sakura was going to die here. No one could save her now.

Someone would tell her parents. Tsunade or Kakashi, probably…. And then they would tell Naruto. They would tell him she hadn’t come back. That it had been days since they lost her trail. He probably wouldn’t believe them. He would probably still look for her, trace every wrong turn, every false lead the rebel nin had planted. But it was all part of the plan. He’d never find her.

A tear slid from under her eyelid, tracked down her face. So this was to be her end, just when she thought her story was beginning. They’d overcome so many obstacles and had a few short months of peace. But now it would all be ripped away again. And Naruto didn’t even know it yet. She was just one more thing he’d have to endure. She said his name, feeling the tear fall and trying to move her mouth…. But her lips were already frozen—

Her breath turned suddenly to a wheeze. The toxin had reached her chest and was closing in on her neck. She wanted to cough, clear her throat, drag in one more breath, but she couldn’t. The muscles wouldn’t work. She opened her eyes, straining frantically for anything that might help her. She was drowning in air—
But it was too late. The woods shattered into a thousand pieces. Her heart…stopped—


Miles away, blue eyes opened with a start. He turned, listening hard, looking at the horizon, searching in disbelief for something, someone that wasn’t there…. Then, he was gone, leaving the long black hair of his companion fanning out into the empty spot he’d left.

Chapter 2

Sakura took a breath, suddenly aware of every cell, every fiber of her being. Air, skin, muscles and the faint internal hum of a body at work, just being alive. Maybe…maybe she wasn’t dead.

Instead she was warm. The sheets around her rose and fell with her breath. It was quiet and dark. She blinked, slowly. No, not dark…. Dim…. A light was on, somewhere nearby.

She heard herself breathing, deep and low— It sounded unfamiliar to her own ears though.

But there was a pleasant smell…. Clean and fresh. She knew this smell…. Was this a dream? Did she know this place?

She turned her head to the side, slowly, blinking dry eyes and refocusing a few times.

Lights twinkled in the darkness outside the window. She did know this place. Very well. She was in the Konoha hospital.

She was alive.

Sakura breathed deeply, amazed, but again the ragged sound of drawn breath did not match her own.

She turned her head slowly. Her brain felt fogged. Her mouth was dry as cotton. But she was warm, comfortable. In fact, her hand…her hand was very warm….

Her hand…. A trap…. Memories of her ordeal were coming back in pieces….

Sakura’s gaze slid down the length of the hospital bed. Her hand, the one that was filled with poison, was now buried under the sleeping head of someone…. Someone she knew so very well…. Someone she never thought she’d see again.

Naruto breathed deeply, turned his head, and let go for a moment. She smiled.

It still seemed impossible that she should be alive….

Sakura slowly slid her hand out and turned it over and over, amazed to see it pink and whole and unblemished after she’d watched it turn dark and fracture like a piece of burnt wood.

She reached over to touch the sleeper’s messy head. She pushed her fingers deep into his yellow hair, proving to herself that this was real. He was real.

Naruto sat up suddenly at her touch, catching her hand in his. He stared into her face, as if memorizing it. Tears burned her eyes. She wanted to cry. Or laugh. It still all felt like a dream….


She gave a watery smile and tried to speak, but her throat was dry, her voice cracked. He scooted closer, dragging his chair up the edge of the bed with him, waited for her to clear her throat and try again. He never let go of her hand.

She breathed, trying to find the words. “Did you—“

“Yes,” he said immediately. “Yes, I found you.”

She nodded slowly. “P-poison.”

“It was bad,” he said. His voice was an urgent whisper. “I felt it. You were dying Sakura-chan—“

Her chin crumpled at her use of his nickname. Words she never thought she’d hear again. She brushed her fingertips against his warm skin. He squeezed back, scooting even closer, pulling her hand up between them so that the dim glow of the nightlight lined their hands in soft gold.

“How did you—“

“It’s you.” His voice was soft and low. “I felt you. Like I can sense everyone now. But with you…it’s different.” He pressed the back of her hand to his cheek and closed his eyes. “You’re different. And…I heard you say my name—“ His eyes pooled with tears. “Then I felt you slipping away—“

“I don’t understand—“ A tear spilled down her cheek.

“I don’t either. But…wherever you are, I’ll find you.” He pulled back. His blue eyes were fierce. The fear had been replaced with fire. “I will always find you.”

He turned her hand, opened her fingers and pressed a warm kiss into her palm, where the poison had tried to destroy her.

She closed her eyes. Tears tracked down. She was sure this was a dream. But it felt so real….

He held her hand there, eyes closed, reliving the moment. When he spoke again, his voice was no more than a whisper on her skin, “I just…. I couldn’t live without—“

Footsteps echoed down hallway, growing closer. A line of white light cracked across the floor, widened and slanted across her bed. Sakura blinked slowly into brightness.

Her hand lay upturned on the edge of the bed. The chair was tucked away into the corner.

Whispered voices in the hall rose with delighted surprise. The door opened fully. Spilling in with the light were two nurses, followed by Sasuke, Sai, Kakashi, then Shizune and behind her Hinata.

Sakura smiled wearily, more tears pooling at the corners of her eyes.

Their faces were suffused with warm relief. Her head sagged against the pillow as she looked around at her friends. Kakashi’s expression was soft, as it always was for her. Sai’s smile was awkward but genuine, and Sasuke’s gaze was so heartfelt that it was confusing. It was like looking at someone she’d never known before.

At the end of her bed, Shizune was speaking with the nurses and pointing to the charts. Sasuke pulled out the empty chair and sat down. He was close, though not close enough to touch, but he filled up her view with his attentive smile.

Sakura smiled and exhaled, remembering…. Someone else had been sitting there…. At least she thought so…. But if he was, then she didn’t know when he’d moved….

Beyond Sasuke’s shoulder was Hinata. She smiled brilliantly at Sakura, then looked back at Naruto nodding. Naruto gave his usual thousand-watt grin, smiling so big he was squinting. But the hand that had recently been holding hers was now closed around Hinata’s.

Sakura suddenly felt confused. Was it moments ago? Or hours…? Nothing made sense. And her eyelids felt heavy.

Sasuke came into view, looking into her face and speaking. She refocused. “Hmm?”

He smiled gently, “I said, can I get you something? Do you want some water? Or—”

Shizune’s voice drifted over the group. “We should let her rest. This is enough company for now.” She ushered everyone out of the room in the midst of farewells and backwards glances.

Except Sasuke, who didn’t move, but sat with her, smiling in companionable silence. “I’m so glad you are ok.”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “Me too.”

She eased back into the pillow. Her open hand rested on top of the cool bed sheets. But there was sitll a lingering warmth in her palm. A kiss…she could almost still feel it there…. Even though it must have been just a dream.

She sighed, smiled at Sasuke who smiled gently back, then closed her eyes. But before she drifted away, she curled up her fingers, holding onto that feeling, telling herself not to forget….

Chapter 3

Sakura smiled at the passing young students who waved at her. She had recovered nicely and was back to work at the hospital, juggling teaching young medics from all over the nations and doing some side work for Tsunade.

But she would not be back to work on diplomatic missions outside the Fire country any time soon.

Since her attack and the death of her anbu squad, Tsunade had become keenly aware of the threat still out there. And it was much greater than any of them had anticipated.

In the time since her attack, the postwar feeling of harmony and unity between the nations had begun to unravel. Attacks like Sakura’s had risen, frightening poisonings from unsuspecting or unwitting sources. As well as scores of other incidents, ranging from petty thefts to murders. Some were driven by fringe countries trying to seize power from weaker nations. Others crimes were committed by opportunistic nins, the now nationless men and women who were out to gain for themselves and who made up part of the rebel forces.

Sakura didn’t forget what the rogue kunoichi had said to her. That her mission still stood. For these people, the war never ended. Peace never came. And so, for Konoha, the battle waged on, now only in secret to preserve the illusion that their victory would last forever.

But it was under threat. From pockets of rebellions to completely new threats on the horizon. Tales circulated of ancient powers and new stronger shinobi, desperate to make their mark. Each threat was dangerous in its own right.

So Sakura returned to work very much the way she did before the war. With the one exception of Sasuke….

He was a presence in all their lives like he had never been before. He spent time with his former classmates, reaching out to each in his own quiet way. He was no longer the child he was before he left — he didn’t train till he was bloody or challenge anyone to test his expertise. He trulydidn’t need it now. But he wanted to talk. He wante to open up and investigate what was left behind. And he wanted to determine which direction to go.

For this, he sought out Sakura.

She was flattered. Touched, really. After her attack, during the long, slow recovery, he was especially attentive. He spent days talking to her, learning about her, and talking about his own life. Recounting family stories that he’d never spoken of. Sakura listened, amazed. Sometimes he relived moments for her. Other times, it felt like he was saying them to let them go. She understood that both of them were healing, in their own way.

So it seemed natural that when she was discharged from the hospital their connection would continue. Deepen even.

He was searching for history, background, information on the clan that he was now the sole representative of. And she knew Konoha archive as well as any of the elderly historians. Of course she would help him recover some family history. It was the least she could do. And after their time spent together, she felt that she knew these people as well.

Every free afternoon, after her shift, she’d meet him in the scroll room. They’d pour over notes, cross-reference names, read out historic texts. Some were humorous, others painful. She was deeply aware that these were the puzzle pieces that made up who he was. She never took it for granted that they were once alive, and many of them he’d known, and buried. She spoke of them kindly, asked questions, and marveled anew at how her teammate had survived a brutal childhood and a brutal war, and could still hold onto hope….

So it wasn’t a surprise one day, when she was passing a scroll over to him to read, that he didn’t let go of her hand. Instead he held it there, looking into her face, gaze tender and open.

Her younger self would have been thrilled. It was like a romance novel. The Uchiha heir holding her hand over a library table, a stream of light falling down between in them, illuminating the time-softened old scrolls, apologizing, telling her how much he wanted to change, to start a new life… And how she was a big part of that.

But Sakura was no longer a dreaming child. She had grown to see her old teammate in a different, more pragmatic way.

Sasuke had always reached out to her, in one way or another. Either fiercely protective to fiercely angry, Sasuke, who showed no emotion to anyone, always seemed to save it up for her.

Sasuke’s life had been broken and rebroken several times over. She supposed the healer in her reached out for the broken places in him, and that’s why they connected when he didn’t seem to connect with anyone else.

But right now, she sensed he he was searching for something. And maybe he was searching for it in her.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She’dd spent so much time trying to bring him back — first for herself, then for Naruto — that she felt like she owed it to herself to get to know him. Now. As adults and as shinobis on equal footing.

So she left her hand in his, holding it softly, listening and being grateful for the change in him. But in her lap, her other hand her fingers were tucked under, as if holding something safe inside…a memory…a secret….

She flattened her hand in her lap, stifling the wayward thought. There was no one else. And certainly not some figment from a half-remembered dream. Naruto didn’t feel that way about her. She knew better.

Sasuke looked hopefully into her face. The golden light sparkled between them. And she accepted his offer of sharing. Sharing of a burden, a journey, of their lives at that moment.


If she was surprised in the change in Sasuke after the war, then it was second only to her surprise at Naruto. She had never known him to have feelings for Hinata, never even suspected it. But she couldn’t deceive herself. It was real.

She had witnessed their blossoming affection first hand. Even played a part in it. She had to. There was no other way. Although at the time, it seemed like such an innocent question….

Hinata had been downcast, walking down a Konoha lane deep in thought. Ino and Sakura were just finishing their sodas, standing at the counter of an outside cafe when Ino nudged Sakura. Hinata didn’t even notice them. Sakura shrugged. Ino called her over, chatted for a moment before getting around to uncovering what was wrong. Hinata sweetly demurred, but Ino, never one to give things up, teased her good naturedly, trying out different subjects. Family or friends. Teammates. Goals…. Boys…. Hinata glanced away. Ino was on to something. She asked about a few cute Hyuuga clansmen. Hinata blushed. And Ino smiled slyly and added a few more cute civilians, earning a laugh from both Hinata and Sakura. But then she added Naruto to the list. Hinata stopped laughing. Ino had indeed discovered the problem.

Sakura watched as Ino wheedled the truth out of Hinata. She talked her through the course of her emotions. Clearly, it was a case of an admiration turned to crush, which then blew into fully fledge love during the war. Hinata was deeply embarrassed, her face turning more pink. But she didn’t deny it. Tears welled again. Sakura rattled the ice in her glass, wondering why Ino ever bothered with jutsus when her powers of perception were just as well trained for gossip as they were for mind-reading.

Hinata took a moment to compose herself. While she rubbed the tears from her eyes, Sakura shot Ino a ‘You’re only making things worse’ look. But Ino, feeling bad now, returned a ‘What was I supposed to do?’ shrug.

Ino clapped her on the arm bracingly. “Well…go talk to him about it.” Hinata was aghast. Sakura rolled her eyes. “And why not? And there’s no harm in taking the first step! He’s available, and he was quite supportive of you and all the Hyuugas in the war, right?” Hinata rallied a little, considering it.

Sakura looked at Ino, thinking this was all a stretch. She rattled the ice in her glass, sipped loudly through the straw. She needed to go. And besides, she didn’t want to be part of this conversation anyway. Ino pushing Hinata into something that was only going to get her feelings hurt—

But Hinata repeated some of the things he’d said to her. That he knew how much she had always supported him. And that support helped carry him through the fighting. And that he couldn’t have done it without her.

Sakura drew the straw slowly away from her mouth, forgetting to sip.

Hinata looked hopefully at them both. “He wouldn’t just say those things, would he? That must mean he likes me, right? I mean, more than a…friend, right?”

Ino was giddy. She turned big eyes to Sakura. “W-Wow! He’s never said those things to me. Right Sakura? Has he said anything like that to you?”

Sakura was caught. She set her glass down, wishing she’d left sooner. Even a moment ago. But now she was caught, hearing things she didn’t want to hear, answering questions she didn’t want to answer.

She opened her mouth to speak. But stopped. She realized, painfully, that answer was no. He had never said those things to her either. But she had never thought he gave any more thought to Hinata than anyone else in the village…. She must have been wrong.

She cleared her throat, starting again, but another thought stopped her—

Or…he had been telling the truth when he refused her. But not because of what he thought her feelings for Sasuke. Instead because of his own…for someone else…for Hinata….

Ino was still waiting for her. She drummed her fingers on the counter. Hinata was fidgeting with the edge of her sleeve, beginning to doubt herself.

Sakura closed it all off. Nonsense. She picked up the glass, shook the ice, took a sip of nothing then put it down again.

“No…. He’s never said those things to me either.” Sakura smoothed over any bitterness in her voice with a brittle smile. After all, it didn’t really matter. Did it?

But Hinata’s face was suddenly radiant. “I-I didn’t want to believe it, Sakura-san. But you know him better than anyone, and I always thought that….” She looked down, sweetly overcome for a moment. “Well, if he didn’t say it to you…then he must have meant it.”

Ino’s smile was that of a triumphant matchmaker. Now her strategy turned to landing him. She continued on to coach Hinata about what to say and how to dress and how to act. Neither of them noticed Sakura’s silence, her fingers still wrapped around the glass, condensation pooling at the edges of her hand.

They were wrapping up, Ino giving her last recommendations and Hinata looking a little dazed at Ino’s coaching, when Ino hit on another idea. “You know, you have such a big family. And he has none…why don’t you bring him into the fold? Let him get to know everyone. I’m sure he’d like to see more about Neji’s life….” Hinata’s eyes were soft and misty.

She bit her trembling lip but nodded gratefully. “Thank you Ino-chan. You’re so right. That is what Neji would have wanted. I’ll invite him over for dinner. And see how it goes from there!”

Ino waved her off. She thanked them both deeply, gratefully, and left looking renewed of purpose, greeting everyone she passed. Ino rolled her eyes, and for once, Sakura was glad that Ino was always filling in other people’s words. It saved her from having to speak. “I know what you’re going to say,” Ino said between sips of melted ice,“‘I shouldn’t get involved.’ But that one worked out alright!” She was so satisfied with herself, she didn’t even notice Sakura’s silence. She set her empty glass down, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and smiled out at the street. “Well…see you later!”

Sakura stood there for a moment more, replaying the conversation in her mind. Then she blinked, shook her head, wiped the condensation from her hand and walked away, putting the whole exchange behind her. It meant nothing.

Even if Hinata did work up the nerve to talk to him, and even in Naruto did decide to go have dinner with them…. It didn’t mean anything…. Not to Naruto. Privately, he’d always said he thought their clan was a little weird. Sakura laughed at that thought, and forgot about it.

But within a few weeks Naruto was a regular fixture at the Hyuuga compound. Not that she heard it from him. Ino was triumphant in telling of her success bolstering Hinata. He was welcomed in immediately by their large clan. And Ino wouldn’t be surprised if Naruto gave up his apartment entirely and just let the Hyuugas adopt him.

Sakura just smiled back at Ino, not wanting to diminish her victory. That was Naruto. Friendly to a fault. But still, she didn’t see any differences. He never mentioned his time there, and when he passed her in the street, he always gave her his biggest wave, his thousand-watt smile.

That is, until that day in the hospital, when Hinata threaded her hand into his. And Naruto just kept on smiling.

After her recovery, Sakura accepted that something had happened between them. And that Naruto had loved Hinata. But maybe…maybe he always had. Sakura went over it all again…. Naruto’s angry words. Hinata’s hopeful confession. She couldn’t deny it. The truth was there. She had missed the signs. Now it was too late.

And now, looking back, Sakura discovered that maybe she didn’t know Naruto as well as she thought either. Both of her old teammates had changed.