It was late at night as the village of Konoha was asleep except for two people in particular. Somewhat hidden in the midst of one of the many parks with them tucked away under one of the shadows of the trees as a full moon lit the sky.
"Sakura I really need your opinion on this, and I don't know of anybody else to ask as you know me best…" Naruto paused with a serious look on his face. Although his facial expressions were twitching as if he was almost ready to cry she couldn't help but notice and focus on.
Sakura looked at his eyes as she took note of the lack of the 'chan' suffix. When did he stop saying that, she racked her brain momentarily and realized that she had not seen him in the last couple of weeks. The baka was usually so involved in her life, she realized that the last two weeks were such a blur that she actually had overlooked the fact that they have not hung out as they often did.
She studied him momentarily, his deep blue eyes bored into hers as if trying to determine if he could ask it.
"Okay, what's on your mind Naruto?" she asked.
"I've finally found someone that truly loves me, and I don't know what to do…." Naruto admitted. "She's kind, very timid, always nice to me, and believes in me unwaveringly…. And furthermore she admitted she loved me during the battle with Pein" he lamented.
"She then got cut down by Pein before my very own eyes and I completely lost it, nothing had ever mattered to me more in my life in that split second. Not the title of Hokage, or the village. The fact that a woman would actually love me….and I lost her… I didn't even know that was possible… for me to be loved by someone" tears were streaming down his cheeks as he admitted this.
Sakura was completely shocked and wide eyes at what he just said to her. She felt a pain like she has never felt before right in her heart. She didn't know what to do, she wanted to scream, to run, to hit her baka… her baka….. 'When did I lose my baka' she thought to herself. She was so used to him always being there, her anchor amidst their violent lives as shinobi. Sasuke had abandoned her and tried to kill her before. Her heart had definitely changed and she despised the love struck genin she used to be giving him every benefit of the doubt.
"I'm so scared Sakura…. I don't know what to do, please help me…." He was utterly crying. She could not do anything but stare as she felt tears from her own eyes run down her cheeks. He was so vulnerable; this was the man who single-handedly saved Konoha, her friends, and HER. Yet her he was, seemingly so weak and vulnerable. This titan of a human being from what she witnessed, when the self-appointed 'God' was running away from Naruto and his power… was sitting next to her on his knees, with his head hung low but at an angle she could see his tears easily. His hands digging into his pants for comfort. He was desperate coming to her for comfort, she realized how important this was.
He SHOWED her this side to him, and only HER. He allowed her to see this part of him, and this meant the world to her. Her heart beamed with such pride that he went to her. Yet it was breaking at the same time… when did she lose Naruto? To a woman that confessed her love for him... She thought about the battle and that time when Naruto seemingly lost control and went into a new and unstable form of bijuu mode with more tales than she has ever seen him release.
"Hinata….." she whispered her name, but loud enough for Naruto to hear while an uncontrolled small hiccup came out of her mouth.
Naruto only nodded in confirmation.
"Sakura, I'm so scared, I want to experience love. I'm a demon, I'm supposed to be unloved, alone, just a weapon and tool of Konoha..." that floored Sakura, never had she heard him speak like that before. He was always, carefree, joking, or completely serious and threatening S rank criminals that they would die if they hurt his loved ones. But not this….
"No!" she yelled immediately, causing Naruto to slowly bring his eyes up to her while still sobbing.
"Naruto, you are not a demon!" she said with fierceness in her eyes that he could only recall seeing when she was in the heat of battle facing an enemy with a purpose.
"You are the light of Konoha, the protector of Konoha, you are our hero Naruto, you are not a demon!" she said with utmost authority even though her heart was broken inside her chest.
She felt a wave of emotions, from fury, to guilt, to most of all, an immense feeling of loss. She was losing her Naruto, to Hinata….. 'What have I done, how could I of let myself lose him?' the thought bore into her brain…
"Sakura, I've never had a chance to be loved, I didn't think it was possible" he said looking at her with his blue orbs glistening from the tears. She had told him she loved him in the land of Iron. But at that time that was a lie… She realized now how wrong she was to think of loving him as a lie back then. Her thoughts of him had changed a lot.
'Kami, how did I not ever know he thought of himself so lowly, I only helped this by what I did to him' she started to really cry as Naruto took note.
"Naruto, you deserve so much love! You are so kind, loyal, protective, and you never go back on your word. You are such a rare person, and I have never known a better man" she said to him as her heart opened up honestly. 'Why am I only saying this now, why did it take him confiding in me now to tell him these things?' she was angry with herself. 'I've been too busy in the hospital working to pay attention to him, my teammate. My….' She couldn't bring herself to finish that train of thought as an image of Hinata appeared in her mind.
"Wh-what should I do?" he stuttered.
"….Do…you love her?" she asked. 'I have to know if how he feels about her' she thought.
"I don't know, I don't have any feelings for her like that…..at this time" he said and she certainly didn't like the sound of 'at this time'.
"B-But there is somewhat else I do have feelings for…" he said meekly. She picked up her head hearing this to look into his eyes.
'Can he still love me, and have feelings for me?' she thought as her heart skipped a beat as she was startled out of her line of thought.
"Who is it?" she asked as she made sure she said it softly as she was trying to be there for him, Naruto needed her and she would be there for him after all he has done for her.
He just looked at her with a deep sorrowful gaze and slowly dropped his eyes. 'It's you he thought' to himself.
"Someone I can never have…" 'Her heart belongs to Sasuke' he thought bitterly.
Her brain's thoughts were flying at the speed of light as she analyzed those words. She knows that Naruto loved her with all his endless spewing of it back when she thought he was an utter idiot. But now… he was the strongest ninja in the village. This dead last became literally the strongest ninja. If she wasn't there to witness his ascension to his extreme power, she would of never believed it herself.
He proved everybody wrong. Yet, he was…human. Love has brought this colossus down from dizzying heights, to utter rock bottom.
A saying struck her like a lightning bolt 'Love is the most powerful force, it can shape the world, as well as destroy it'.
"Naruto… do you love me?" 'I…I…I have to know' she had thought, she knew she had to confirm what her brain had already finished processing that previous vague statement.
He shuddered and closed his eyes forcefully and his body tensed. She felt his chakra, waves of sadness waved in it. He just began to sob hard. That was her answer, a 'Yes' spoken in the language of tears, the language of a broken heart all of his own.
"Y-your heart belongs to….S-sasuke" he mumbled slowly.
There was a long pregnant pause that seemed to last an eternity as Sakura sifted through memories.
A part of her heart from her old days that still remained with her as she aged did in fact love Sasuke. But she recalled the moment he tried to end her life with his Kusanagi, he swung at her with the intent to kill. The only thing that saved her was…Naruto. Feelings welled up in her heart at the thought of Naruto.
"No, I can't love someone that tried to kill me. If it was not for you, I would not be here right now…" she said matter of fact after thinking about it.
But her heart still hurt; here Hinata had truly professed her love for Naruto and meant it. The last time Sakura did that it was a lie. She felt hurt that a woman professed their love to Naruto, especially someone Naruto would actually take notice of and not just brush off thinking it was just him being a hero.
But she was torn, torn to tell Naruto no, to not follow Hinata's love and instead profess her own. But how could she? She had lied to him before with her blinding view on Sasuke.
But a part of her wanted to be selfish, wanted him all to herself. She would have to earn his trust in the taboo subject of love between them. She knew she had a lot to make up for, but how would she do it?
"Naruto, I think you should go after someone that you KNOW you love, follow your heart. That is what Tsunade-sama told me quite a few times" she said as she emphasized the 'know'. The 'a few times' part caught Naruto's attention particularly however.
'I wonder why she said that to Sakura, I take it Sakura has a love interest already. If not Sasuke then somebody else must have won her heart; even after all I have done and all we have been through together. And she did not tell me, she must not want to hurt my feelings…' he thought solemnly as his crying was fading.
In his own heart he realized he had to let her go. Sakura deserved to be happy as wonderful of a woman as he thought she was. If someone did come along that he really loved, he would have to go after that person and not have the emotional baggage. 'For Sakura' he thought of her own chance at happiness as he vowed to move on.
"I see…" was all he could muster as his face took on a mix sad and stoic expression which Sakura immediately noticed. 'I wonder what he is thinking about now, he went from absolutely devastated to melancholy' she thought.
She turned her gaze up to the sky looking at the clouds as they passed slowly. 'I can't lose Naruto, he has done so much for me. He's always been by my side watching over me, and trusting me. I can't…I can't lose him' she thought as her heart strings threated to release new tears.
She felt Naruto's hand land on her shoulder and she looked over to him catching his gaze.
"Thank you Sakura" her eyebrows raised in surprise.
"For helping me understand that I do deserve to be loved, that I will know when I need to pursue that person". He added quickly.
And disappeared in the gentle breeze of wind that Sakura felt as she stared where he had just been sitting alongside her.
Her mouth hung open as she tried to process what just happened.
'He left' she felt her heart drop. And he disappeared using a technique she never seen him use nor heard of for that matter. Not like the Shunshin, it was too silent, just as if he was a mirage in the desert that faded away. Just how much has she missed out on concerning him, or how much has he hid from her?