Sakura's always known how to throw a punch. Set during the time skip (and a little after it too). Spoilers through volume 28. Gen.
Sakura's always known how to throw a punch. (Naruto could tell you that.)
What she learns from Tsunade is how to make one hurt.
Her third attempt to bust through a brick wall fractures two metacarpals in her right hand. Sakura doesn't cry, or even curse at the pain; she simply molds her chakra to mend the breaks--never miss an opportunity for practice--and replaces her bloodied glove with a clean one.
But Tsunade catches her wrist when she draws back her arm to try again.
"That's enough for today. We'll try it again some other time."
"I'm ready now, Shishou."
"Your bones aren't. Let them heal completely before you start abusing them again. There's other training we can do until then."
Sakura looks at her master expectantly.
"You better not complain about a little slime."
Konoha doesn't see much of Kakashi after Team 7's disbanded. He's too valuable not to be kept busy, and no one's allowed to talk about where his S-rank missions have sent him or when he'll come back.
A few months after Naruto leaves with Jiraiya, Sakura runs into her former sensei outside the Hokage's office. As usual, his nose is buried in one of his perverted books.
"Ah, Sakura." He runs a hand through his bristly silver hair, then turns another page. "How is your training going?"
"Well enough," she says, and shows him her freshly bandaged right hand.
"It looks like we match," he answers, holding out his own.
It's a mess, of course; the bandages are stained with . . . something and blood is slowly seeping through the layers of gauze and cotton. Sakura doesn't want to know what he's been doing with it; of course, she's developed an irrational hatred for chidori ever since-
"Those wrappings need to be changed, Sensei. They're not very hygienic. If you can wait until I deliver this, I can take-" She swallows the rest of her sentence when she realizes that Kakashi is no longer there.
Typical. When she enters Tsunade's office, she hands over Shizune's report and says, "Shishou, do you think Kakashi is avoiding me?"
Scrolls and medical manuals are strewn across the Hokage's desk, but she's propped her sandals up on top of them and is staring at the portraits of her predecessors. A cup of tea steams in her hands. "What you have to understand, Sakura, is that Kakashi may be a genius, but he has the emotional maturity of Kohonamaru." She sips her tea thoughtfully before adding, "Of course, that's probably a bit unfair to the little twerp."
Occasionally Sakura accompanies other teams on missions, especially when one of their members is temporarily out of commission or if the task at hand requires a medic-nin. It's always awkward to join Team 10; they work so well together that Sakura feels like a fifth wheel at best, and the spectre of Sasuke looms over every strained conversation she has with Ino. Sometimes the two girls manage a squabble, for old time's sake, but it's never what it used to be.
Team 8's company is even worse, because they're kinder. You wouldn't expect it from brash Kiba or silent Shino, but they can be gentle in their own fumbling adolescent ways. It's Hinata's influence, Sakura thinks; the Hyuuga girl is the heart of that team in a way that no outsider can completely comprehend. When Hinata speaks, her teammates listen; a quiet word from her can drain all the tension from their stances and voices. They protect her, even though she's eventually going to be the strongest among them.
So Sakura enjoys working with Team Gai the most. Partly because Lee admires her so much that there's no pity in his kindness; partly because Tenten is brisk and direct, a bit like Tsunade; partly because Gai hardly ever shuts up; partly because Neji doesn't say much at all. No one mentions Sasuke, but at least he doesn't feel like an empty space that every conversation has to dance around. And Gai and Lee talk about Kakashi and Naruto all the time, as they always have-as friends, as rivals, as unconscionably "hip and modern." Sakura listens with a smile, because it gives her the rare excuse to remember her teammates without missing them.
The first time Sakura calls upon her cross punch during an actual mission, she's patrolling the northern border with Team Gai. Generally the border patrol is a run-of-the-mill affair, more often C-level than B-level, but it's officially categorized as B-level because it occasionally becomes anything but routine in a matter of seconds.
That's exactly what happens when the usual circuit brings Team Gai and Sakura face-to-face with two Rock missing-nins.
For another team, this could have spelled disaster, but Team Gai is up to the challenge. Tenten, Lee, and Sakura are all newly minted chuunins, and Neji's a jounin in everything but name. When one of the Rock nins calls forth a barrier of earth to buy time for an escape, Lee immediately steps forward to smash it.
Sakura pulls on her glove and says, "Please move aside, Lee-san. I can handle this."
She's trained so long that she doesn't even have to think about molding her chakra; she just pulls back her arm and lets go. The barrier crumbles spectacularly, revealing the spooked faces of the two Rock nins. Out of the corner of her eye, Sakura notices that Gai and Lee's jaws are slack with astonishment, and even Neji's expression is blanker than usual. Only Tenten shows no surprise; she winks at Sakura before she fires a fistful of kunai toward their enemies with her usual deadly accuracy.
It takes Tenten and Sakura half an hour to shut down Gai and Lee's effusive praise.
On the way back to Konoha, Tenten tells Sakura, "That was a very impressive display. Godaime-sama's been teaching you a lot more than medical ninjutsu, hasn't she?"
"Medic-nins have to be able to take care of themselves. If they're injured, who will take care of the team?"
"That's true." A pause. "You know, I envy you sometimes, Sakura."
Sakura glances at Gai and Lee, who are excitedly discussing new training regimens, and Neji, who is keeping watch with his usual silent aplomb. "I could say the same thing to you."
Thanks to Lee and Gai, most of Konoha knows about Sakura's new strength before the week is out. It's strange to be the object of gossip, to be eyed with respect for something other than her association with Tsunade. It makes her uncomfortable. It's also not enough.
Sakura finally understands that Naruto doesn't want to be acknowledged by everyone as much as he needs to be acknowledged by his most precious friends.
Lee offers to train with her from time to time. She accepts because she doesn't have the heart to explain that her power doesn't come from her muscles or reflexes, like his does. Anyway, it can't hurt to grow stronger. She was always the weakest member of Team 7 because she hated physical training. The repetition bored her; she couldn't stick to it; her will failed her before her body did.
Now training is an escape, a relief, a way to resist the pull of memory. She counts her kicks and punches like the days Naruto and Sasuke have been gone.
When her muscles start complaining, she pretends the punching bag is her teammates and focuses on how satisfying it will be to smack the morons--or at least shock them--when they finally come home.
Right . . . Above . . . Left . . . Behind . . .
If he's not anywhere . . .
Sakura's fist strikes the ground. The earth shatters beneath her sandals, throwing rubble twenty feet into the sky. She pays no attention to the flying rocks but searches for her teammates. Naruto and Kakashi's stunned faces are even funnier than she had hoped.
One to go.