Title: Back As We Were

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Angst, Drama, Humor, and Action

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. The decision of who gets to be with who should better be left in the hands of the creator Kishimoto-sensei. The song "The Scientist" by Coldplay doesn't belong to me.

Author's Note: I had written this as a much darker story than my other Naruto fanfics, and a combination of them all. A songfic like When We Were Small (set to the depressing tone of The Scientist), the themes of Living and Harmonia, the inner narration of To Where It Takes Me and Inner Reflections, a hint of my favorite atonement theme, and more description. As a songfic, it's long and twice the size of Living and Harmonia. Whether or not this story will surpass my other ones, I do not know. Hopefully though.

There are spoilers from chapters 175, 181, and 183. I don't know what will happen at the end of Naruto, but upon writing this story, I have come to a rather perturbing premonition about the lives of Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto.

I will strongly stress that this is a SasukexSakuraxNaruto friendship, albeit a very close one—so you can say that it's SasuNaru (yes there really is some yaoi tendencies in there this time!), SasuSaku (not prominent this time), and NaruSaku (in support of the few NaruSaku stories). There are tidbits of HinataxNaruto and SakuraxLee.


A grown man stood waiting near the white bench, his mantle dancing with the wind and leaves of autumn. There was an aura about him, as if emptiness weighed on his broad shoulders, something that was once there and now lost. His eyes were of dark charcoal, weary and aged. But even then, his face was still as smooth and handsome like un-chipped marble, his dark bangs still softly accenting his features.

It was long since he had been to this certain place—a memory that was buried underneath the ashes and blood in his mind. It was here did everything start—and everything ended. The reason of him being here made no difference in time now, as time had died long ago within him. There was no beginning and no epilogue for this man of years, as his life held onto nothing now.

A small part of him desired to have that anchor back—even if it was the one that was heavy with consequences. If it erased all regret from his conscience, if it consumed him entirely with bleak feelings, it was better than having to see the spaces in his heart that were once filled empty. But the anchor was gone, and he drifted away into the endless sea, a sea that had no island for him to land on. All there was were rocks that he could only grasp for moments before it escaped from his desperate fist.

His fingers seized a floating leaf from the air and he studied it absently before it flew away in the sudden gust of wind. He looked up to find the leaves twirling around the woman he had waited for, her pink hair kissed by the breeze. She stood still at the sight of him, but her stony expression revealed nothing. There was only recognition in her gaze, but that was all—no love, no pain like he had hoped to see in it, even if it was faint.

Come up to meet you

"Sakura." He turned to face her directly.

The breeze settled. "Hello, Sasuke-kun."

He smiled slightly. She still had not gotten over the habit of attaching the honorific to his name, though he was no longer a boy. It reminded him of his younger days, and he felt his heart rise a little at the reminiscences, even when he had taken it for granted back then. Those days with Sakura and Naruto…

"Why are you here?"

Her question cut into him sharply. It was a simple question, really, and something he had expected, but it still hurt. It was like he no longer belonged here, like he had lost all connection with his past. Words he had thought up carefully for many nights were suddenly trapped in his throat and only a strangled noise similar to a grunt came out.

Tell you I'm sorry

She walked over to a tree and leaned on it. A long drawn-out sigh escaped from her lips, her eyes drawing to a close. Here was the man she had once loved so dearly, the extraordinarily strong and handsome twelve-year-old who captured the hearts of many ordinary girls, including her. But now he stood at the age of twenty-four, humbled and withdrawn, with everything lost save for his feeble hope. She was not sure whether to feel satisfaction for his demise or pain.

He watched her rest, and how the strands of her soft hair fell across her face, some brushing her pink lips. Her face had matured into a cultured beauty, like the sakura blossom that had reached its fullest bloom. She had grown intricately beautiful from the little girl she was twelve years ago. He envied how she looked so youthful, untouched by hatred, unlike how he was. She was everything he was not.

You don't know how lovely you are

He had expected her to fill this silence with her words, like she had done years ago, so that he did not have to speak. But she made no movement; instead her arms were folded against herself, as if she was waiting for him to speak. He supposed she had a right to not speak, and felt another painful jab from the thought. It was not she who was to ask for forgiveness.

"I had come here…to speak to you."

I had to find you

"It's been so long since I've last seen this place. I hate to admit it, but I miss it." He smiled sadly. "Even if I didn't belong here in this peaceful village…"

"You still don't, Sasuke-kun," she said harshly, her expression unmoving. "You will never be apart of Konoha again."

When did words become the knives that stabbed your heart? He did not know. It was a cruel awakening to find the person who had loved you with all her pure heart rejected you. He couldn't breathe. He was about to drown into the depths of that lonely sea. Despair flitted across his face and his hands were trembling, trying to hold on to that tiny rock of hope.

Tell you I need you

"I…I have so much to tell you…but I—I don't know what to say," his voice hoarse. He hung his head and a bitter chuckle left him. "I was never like you and Naruto. Hatred—and hatred only was the thing I had. Could you ever understand it?"

"No," she replied truthfully. "I had felt like hating, but I truly never did. I had tried to understand you, but I couldn't." She opened her eyes, revealing emerald depths, unbreakable and translucent like the gem.

"You did fool me though," he turned around to look at the bench. It was slowly eroding away, a testament to their connection. "In believing that I was a part of the team, I did everything to protect you. Maybe, I once thought, that I didn't have to avenge now…that I could forget for just a brief moment…"

"For one of the most intelligent people I had ever known, you are a fool," she remarked contemptuously. Each word she spat at him was a sting. But he stood his punishment—he deserved it and he knew it as well as her. "You were an avenger from the very beginning. Nonetheless, you were a friend. But…" Her voice grew stronger. "You betrayed us. You hurt us…you tried to kill Naruto."

He closed his eyes. "I needed to prove myself that I was strong. Enough to kill, enough to hate…Sakura…"

"And that is why I can't forgive you!" she burst out, her shoulders shaking.

And tell you I set you apart

He was startled, but said nothing.

With a sigh, Sakura calmed down, her face smoothing into a mask. There was no need to resurface these emotions. As a ninja, there was no need for emotions—a rule she had so distinctly remembered and broken many times. Now, at her maturity and level, it was something she followed incessantly.

"At that time, Sasuke, I could've killed you," she said coolly. "For everything that you had caused me, I could've rammed that knife into your heart. I was an avenger, too." She looked at the hands before her, scarred and calloused. "Day by day, I had bled, sweat, cried for myself—swearing that you will never underestimate me again, that I will never cry for you again. But when I stood over you, with that kunai in my hand, I realized there was no better punishment than keeping you alive, stripped of everything."

Tell me your secrets

"You had your revenge, now there is nothing left for you." She dropped her hands and straightened, turning to walk away. "I know why you are here, even when I had asked. But do not ask for my forgiveness. You were and still are our friend despite it all, but I will not forgive you."

"W—wait, Sakura…" He called out. She stopped, but she didn't face him. His voice sounded so meek, so desperate, that there was a tinge of pity for him in her. He slumped down on the bench, his raven bangs obscuring the turbulent emotion in his eyes. "I knew you would say that…but please…at least share with me."

Her voice was cold. "Share what?"

"Memories…of the three of us…something I can leave with. That's why." She pivoted around furiously, ready to scream at him. Why did he want to resurrect old grudges and bitter feelings, to make her feel that pain again?

But to see the pitiful man sit there with shoulders hunched softened her gaze. He wanted old and happy remembrances, of what used to be there. If that was all he desired, then she wouldn't be so cruel as to bereave him of it. Her steps quiet and graceful, she took a seat next to him on the bench.

He let out a breath in relief. His hand grasped the rock back again. He wasn't going to drown for awhile.

"Then where do you want me to start?" she asked softly.

And nurse me your questions

"How about…when you started to like me…" He had always wanted to know why she loved him. It was odd for him to be loved like so, when he had never reciprocated her love during the days of the academy. His lips curled slightly at the tiny flush on her cheeks.

"O-okay…"

Oh let's go back to the start

He liked how her eyes brightened in reminiscence of the old days. "It was more of trend, actually, before we graduated. All the girls liked your superiority, your looks, and the way you excelled at anything. Most of the attraction came from how cold you were, actually. Later, in order to rival Ino, I used this crush to break our friendship. I had wanted to become stronger, and it was only possible if we had a rivalry. And then…"

Running in circles, coming in tails

"We became a team: Naruto, you, and me. It was at this place…" She lifted her head to gesture at the ground, the trees, and the blue sky. "That you told me, 'Loneliness, a far different level than being yelled at your parents." And I said, 'What's wrong with you?'" She bowed her head, laughing at little at her younger self. "You said, 'You're annoying.' It was so ironic that I had said the same thing to Naruto earlier, like bad karma. But I realized the one thing you two had in common that I didn't have…was just that—loneliness."

Heads on a science apart

And so she continued on, delving deeper and deeper into their genin memories: the incident in Wave Country, the Chuunin Exam, Orochimaru, and the confrontation with Gaara. Her expression turned from happy to anger, to fear, and to sadness. Her descriptions were so vivid that he himself was pulled into that moment in the past, along with the feelings, the exhilaration, and pain he had felt in it. It was all coming back to him, rock by rock until it formed a pile. He said nothing at all when she narrated these events, afraid that if he interrupted, it would break the flow of recollections. However, her voice grew quieter and quieter as it neared to the end, as things became more serious than they had never imagined it to be.

Nobody said it was easy

"At this place again…I met you in the night and started to cry. I tried so hard to keep you here, even willing to go with you just so you would come back. …But you left. And I knew nothing could stop you…other than Naruto. For a person like me, who took everything for granted, friends and family, I could never reach you. Only a person who had to live with himself day by day, who had a dream to realize, could bring you back. Your friend and mine…Uzumaki Naruto."

It's such a shame for us to part

Her smile was bittersweet. "And he smiled at me…he said, 'Sakura-chan, you really like Sasuke, huh? I know how much pain you're in because of Sasuke. I can understand.' He promised me that he would bring you back, no matter what. I…I loved him so much. He risked my life to save me, and now he promised to bring back the person I loved, even when he loved me."

It was for Naruto that a tear slid down her cheek finally. But she kept on smiling that pretty and simple smile.

"Behind that grin was a boy who had grown up, faster than any other. He had always helped me, always by my side. How I did not realize it until then…" She chuckled softly. "For him, the person who was my strength, I wanted to become stronger. I was weak back then, but it was Naruto who made who I am today. And Lee…who swore to protect me and never backed away from his words… I didn't know why I loved you, Sasuke-kun. But I knew why I loved Naruto and Lee. They always had a smile for me."

"You came back, but only for awhile. After all Naruto went through to get you back, you simply left the village—this time, with the dead bodies of people I knew. I remembered seeing you with that rage in your eyes when he tried to stop you…that chakra in your hands you were about to use to kill him… Even when he managed to escape death that time, I was so scared of losing him. I hated this helplessness. And I hated how you would go so far as to kill the people you had cherished. I no longer saw Sasuke-kun…it was his brother, Itachi, who was killing his family." Her hands became fists. "I didn't want that to happen again. I didn't want to lose anymore people that I cherished. I needed to become strong, strong enough to protect them."

Nobody said it was easy

"When Naruto defeated you, he was so exhausted that he fell to unconsciousness. But I still had strength to finish you off. Naruto would not have wanted to kill you, but I did." She spoke vehemently. "You who had abandoned us and our village, who killed those I knew—even if it was because of Orochimaru. I wouldn't have hesitated." Her hands relaxed. "But you looked up at me and said my name. And I dropped the kunai."

When she glanced at him, she was startled at the way his body trembled with emotion.

No one ever said it would be this hard

He asked, coarsely, "Why didn't you let me die?"

It was better to die, than to try to gather those tiny rocks—those pieces of his former life. It was utter humiliation for the shinobi who had so much talent, wasting away like this, no longer part of the ninja life. It made him a beggar for a soul.

"You had already lost everything," she answered calmly. "You killed your brother; you had no other reason to live. To settle old matters, you wanted to die by Naruto's hand, or, if it came down to it, my hand." She stood up and rested her hand on his head. He didn't push it away. "Nothing is as easy as that, Sasuke-kun. You will have to live with the rest of your life. It was more honorable to die, but this is your punishment."

She started to leave, but paused to say, "Even if it is hard, keep on living, Sasuke-kun. Because there is something beyond revenge, something good. I hope you will find it, even if you are late."

Oh take me back to the start

"Then…" he whispered brokenly. "Will you help me?"

"Help you?"

The rocks were about to slip away from his hands once more. He was going to drift away…

"Twelve years had passed, Sasuke-kun. Did you realize it?" she gazed off into the distance. The morning had passed, and it was now late afternoon. "Moments, seconds, hours…the day…the night…Had you noticed?"

"No…I don't know anything anymore. I can't even remember, Sakura."

I was just guessing at numbers and figures

"I pity you," she intoned. "You could never find the answer, just like Orochimaru until his death. All you had ever desired was power."

"Please…"

He was drowning, his body feeling light and heavy all at once. His hands were reaching out, stretching towards her…

"I can't look at Naruto in the face, not in the way that I am now. He was my rival, but he's so ahead of me that I can't catch up. You're the only one who can help me now…"

She didn't look at him. Was she a friend to let him sink into those waters? The terrifying waters were closing in on him, his air cut short. There was nothing in the waters, just a vast emptiness that threatened to consume the pieces of a soul he had managed to gather.

Pulling the puzzles apart

"I need to know… Dying while living…I can't take it… Why won't you help me?" He broke down, in the quiet way that was much like his introverted character. He could hold in these fears no longer. Tears streamed down his face as he held himself tightly, silent sobs convulsing his drained body. "Sakura…my friend…"

And he heard no word from her. He gave up.

Until he found her holding him.

Her arms encircled his head tightly as she held him to her chest, her chin on top of his hair. In her wordless comfort, he continued to cry, letting go of all the pain he had bottled in himself for so long. He had found an anchor in this maternal presence. He was so close to losing himself, it scared him. When he stopped sobbing, which was not for very long, she let go and brushed the hair from his eyes, smiling faintly.

"You haven't forgotten everything, Sasuke-kun, at least not how to cry." He laughed at the small joke, feeling like he could float. He could still live. She touched his cheek with her hand, her thumb gently rubbing over his flawless features.

"You know," she said, "Itachi died a man who lost everything. He wouldn't let his little brother follow him in the same way."

"How would you know?" It wasn't a wounding question, and she understood what he meant.

"Because the eyes of a man cannot hide his feelings, even one who is a Sharingan master." She stepped back and held out a hand to him. "Can you stand now?"

He stared at her hand and then up at her, hesitant. "But…will you help me?" She gave him a pondering expression. The tension grew between them as moments passed with no answer.

Questions of science

And then she punched him.

She grinned in satisfaction as he rubbed his check gingerly. He looked at her with shocked hurt in his eyes, but she giggled.

"Oh, don't take it badly, Sasuke-kun. It is surprising that I punched you instead of Naruto, but I've got to say, both of you can be horribly dense. Did you really think that I wouldn't help you after I comforted you?"

"You could've fooled me," he muttered.

"Ah, you haven't lost any of your wry humor," she replied cheerfully. "That's a start."

"Jeez…that hurt. Is this what Naruto experienced all the time?"

"You better believe it." She offered her hand to him again and this time, he took it. When she pulled him up, she noted how tall he was, and blushed slightly. She skipped past him to watch the sun drop behind the buildings. "For your information, Ino has gotten married. Shikamaru is the squad leader of the ANBU. Hinata has become successor to the Hyuga clan. Lee is a sensei and both of his teammates are part of the ANBU. The genin in our year have all become jounin, except you."

"And Naruto?"

Science and progress

A huge grin crossed her face. "Didn't you know? Naruto is the Hokage."

"I wouldn't believe it," he answered, shaking his head incredulously. "The Council must've been insane to let that dead last become Hokage."

"But you know, he went against odds to become the strongest shinobi in Konoha." Grudgingly, he had to nod in agreement. It was much like Naruto to never give up his dream, even when he was close to death.

"And what about you, Sakura?"

She clasped her hands behind her back. "Oh, I've become a sensei." She laughed. "Kakashi-sensei was a great inspiration to me, I suppose."

He smirked. "I hope you don't read a perverted comic book, do you?"

"No, of course not!" she exclaimed angrily, turning deeply red. "I didn't mean it that way!"

He looked down. "So many things changed. Can I really come back if I didn't belong? If I'm not…" He swallowed. "Forgiven?"

Do not speak as loud as my heart

Her expression softened. "It is not I who should forgive you. When I said I will not forgive you, it is because you will not forgive yourself. Only when you had felt the worst, experienced the pain and suffering you had brought on others could you truly understand the meaning of friendship. There's still a long way to go before you can really be part of this village. You once knew, and had forgotten in the desire for power with Orochimaru. Now you have to gain that back."

He gave her a puzzled glance. "When did you become so wise, Sakura? When I had last seen you, you were annoying."

She shot back a look of mock indignation. "What are you talking about!? I was the smartest girl in our graduating class, you dare insult me?" She was amused. "From all those times you've called me annoying, you would think I would at least mature a little."

"Everyone's changed, huh?" he commented. Her laugh was as light as the cool night air.

"But we're still the same, Sasuke-kun—always," she said, smiling. "We will never change. The day I'll see Naruto not smile will be the day when the world has come to an end."

"Then…do you…still love me?"

And tell me you love me

She was quiet. "I love you as much as friend would," she responded finally. "Whether I still have those feelings for you or not, I don't know."

His throat grew heavy. "Then how about Naruto?"

There was the sweet smile on her face. "I love him for all he had done for me. But I let him go, because another girl deserved him better than me. Like Lee…"

There was a tinge of guilt in him. "Because of me, you let Naruto go, isn't it?"

Silence.

He continued. "He went through a lot because you loved me, so when you fell for him, you had regret. You felt you didn't deserve to be with him after everything, so you let him go."

Come back and haunt me

"He loved me, Sasuke-kun, as deeply as a man could. But he has found his heart in someone else's. His love for me is only of the past. And because of this, our friendship has grown closer. It was not your fault." She glanced at him, her eyes twinkling mischievously. "Since when did you worry about others?"

He averted his eyes and said nothing. Sighing, she walked to him and took his face with her hands, bringing his eyes down to her level. He could feel her warm breath on his face.

"You're afraid of your mistakes. It's a long road to walk on, but in order to atone for it you must live out your life, even if you will never receive the retribution."

"I am, Sakura," he murmured. "I'm scared of facing everything, but I know I can't run away anymore…before I lose my own soul."

"But you are not alone," she replied gently. "Not then, not even now. We'll hold you, no matter what, because…that's who we are—friends. We're not old crushes or rivals or former teammates, but people who will stand always beside you."

Oh and I rush to the start

With a smile lightening up her face, she let him go of his cheeks and grabbed his hand instead. He stumbled after her as she ran, his mantle flaring out behind him.

Eyes wide, he asked, "Where are you taking me, Sakura?"

She looked back, giggling. "Where do you think? Naruto's place, of course!"

"Naruto's!? But—I can't—"

At first she coldly ripped his heart to shreds, and now she was pulling his hand along, her bubbly laughter filling his ears. He couldn't understand this young woman. Like there were many things he couldn't understand, things he had to learn.

"You're an idiot, you know that? Naruto loves you. Like he would rub that old rivalry in your face!"

She was right. He hung his head and smiled resignedly. He wanted to see his stupid friend again too.

Running in circles, chasing tails

They came to the watchtower that overlooked the Hokage Monument. He snorted when he saw the faint features of his friend's face on the mountain, following the previous five Hokages. The idiot had always proclaimed to be the next Hokage, but it was odd to picture him in the position. Nonetheless, he was glad Naruto had fulfilled his dream.

She ran on through the tower and with his hand still clutched in hers, they both sprinted up through the flights of stairs to the top. At the dimly lighted platform, he saw a lone figure in the distance, crouched on the edge of the platform with his robes moving along with the wind. He seemed to emit an aura of authority and strength. The enormous chakra that surrounded the Hokage hit Sasuke full force and his mouth slightly gaped open at the power.

"Naruto!" she called out. The figure stepped down from the edge and turned around. It seemed that Naruto had a miraculous growth spurt. He had a lanky stature and broad shoulders, his height rivaling Sasuke's. His face was mellower and now attractive. But his eyes were still the same—they had not lost the liveliness he had since his younger days.

"Sakura-chan!" he smiled, but his eyes swerved to the person beside her. He furrowed his eyebrows at the familiar-looking man, as if trying hard to remember, before he gave up. "Hey, Sakura-chan, who's he?" he demanded finally.

There was a pause. And two face-faults.

Sakura bonked him on the head with flaming eyes. "You don't remember your best friend, idiot!?" Finally, a look of revelation crossed Naruto's face before his eyes bulged out of his sockets.

"WHOA, SHIKAMARU!" he bellowed. "WHEN DID YOU GET THE FACE CHANGE!?"

Another prolonged pause. Then the sound of two people hitting the floor on their heads.

This time, it was Sasuke who bonked him on the head. "YOU TOTAL MORON!"

"OW! Long time no see, Neji! Nice contacts!"

"NO!" the two screamed in frustration.

"…Lee?"

Sasuke glanced at Sakura with twitching eyes. "Have I been gone for so long?"

"No…maybe all that work has gone up to his head…" She laughed nervously.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto was puzzled. "Who is he?"

Sakura: "…"

Sasuke: "…"

After the long bout of silence, Sasuke made a derisive snort. Even after twelve years, Naruto still haven't changed one bit. Oddly enough, the dark man felt comforted with the fact—that at least he still knew someone. If he still knew Naruto, then there was only one way for the idiot to remember who he was. Sasuke lifted his head and locked gazes with the blond-haired ninja with a smirk. Sakura was taken back by the sudden change in the obsidian eyes. It was…almost identical the expression he had in the days when they were Team Seven.

Coming back as we are

"Hey, Naruto, fight me." Sakura made a sharp intake of breath. The Hokage's face was scrunched up in confusion.

"Huh? What are you babbling about?"

Sasuke's eyes turned a blood red, the three dots symbolizing the three jutsus revolving around and around. He shot a glare to spur on the other ninja, his mouth curled in a snarl.

"Shut up and fight me!" Incensed by the fighting aura, Naruto grinned fiercely.

"All right, if you really want to fight the Hokage."

Sakura took a shaky step back, her eyes moving from Sasuke to Naruto, the two men she cared most for, about to fight each other.

Nobody said it was easy

But she sensed no malevolent feeling in the dark-haired shinobi, no imposing and frightening presence similar to Orochimaru's. It was then that it clicked in her mind of what Sasuke was intending to do. She closed her eyes and moved back more to allow the space needed for the fight. No, she wouldn't persuade them to stop this time.

Sasuke clicked his tongue scornfully as they distanced themselves. "You're so full of yourself, Naruto. You wouldn't want to look bad if I kicked your ass, now would you?"

Sakura couldn't help but smile. It was as if meeting Naruto had brought him back the person he once was. Naruto always had this strange power to change people.

"Hah, let's see if you can keep that little smirk on your face when I have you beaten into a bloody pulp," the blond Hokage snickered as he cracked his knuckles.

"Okay, I'll referee," Sakura offered. She watched them silently for a moment, their cloaks swaying to the night breezes, one light and the other dark colored. Then she slowly lifted her hand above her and brought it down swiftly.

"FIGHT!"

They charged at each other, growling. Sasuke made the first move by doing an under sweep. Naruto leapt up to do a high kick, but Sasuke blocked his leg with an arm, and used the other arm to make a counterattack. They exchanged blow after blow in taijutsu, their attacks evenly matched and evaded. After that the former number one rookie slid to the floor, and with a hand supporting his weight, sent a high side kick. Naruto blocked the kick from connecting with his chin, but the force of blow sent him high into the air. An old taijutsu trick, but nevertheless an effective one. Pushing chakra to his feet expertly, Sasuke thrust himself into the air behind the other, performing the Leaf Shadow Dance.

Naruto grinned. "Tch. Try doing it."

"Here it comes!" Sasuke twisted his body to the side as he pushed Naruto with a hand. He started the first kick of the sequence, but as he had expected, Naruto parried it with his arm. Sasuke then swung his other leg around for the second kick, which was a harder blow because of the gravity, but surprisingly, the dead last blocked with two forearms. When Sasuke brought his arm down on the other's chest, Naruto caught his arm with two hands. With a loud grunt, Naruto swung all of Sasuke's body down by the arm, breaking the Lion Combo.

"I know how you fight!" Naruto shouted. "Don't think I didn't learn from it!"

But when the body hit the floor, it popped into a poof of smoke. Naruto landed agilely on his feet, the ends of his robe flying out behind. He straightened up, an eyebrow raised at the smirking opponent who stood feet away.

"I know, too. Kage Bunshin has its uses," Sasuke replied. He performed three quick seals and brought his chakra-forming right hand in front of him, his left holding firmly to his right wrist. "Enough playing. Let's end this fight now."

"Yeah," replied Naruto as chakra swirled into a ball at his palm. He had grown strong enough without the extra two hands of a clone.

Sakura looked on, slightly shaking her head, a faint smile playing on her lips. It was a beautiful battle, their movement graceful and fluid as they fought. It was a genin-like fight for these two talented ninjas, who could've used more powerful techniques. But it was for the sake of old times. This was no fight to determine power; it was to determine friendship. She stepped forward, feeling the two powerful forces of chakra at each opposite end. Her hair was caught by the winds and fanned about her face, but she made no movement to brush away the strands.

A boy desired strength to become Hokage, the other desired power to kill his brother.

One hot-tempered, impulsive blond-haired ninja who was not afraid to stick out, and the other one a calm, calculative raven-haired ninja who stuck out unintentionally.

Like the sun and the moon, the yin and yang.

Between them was the girl who loved them. The sky that held the sun and moon, the line that separated yin and yang.

Battles cries filled the air as the Thousand Birds and Wind Spiral came colliding, both men ready to make it all or nothing in this fight's conclusion.

Oh it's such a shame for us to part

And in between these two powers was Sakura. With a smirk of her own, she caught their wrists just in time, their attacks just inches away from each side of her face. They were frozen in motion before finally Sakura brought their hands down.

"You two," she said softly as she let go of their hands. "Stand down."

The two men straightened from their stances. Naruto slowed the speed of chakra in his hand until he finally curled his fingers around it, dissolving it into the air. Sasuke slowly let his lightning chakra ebb back to its normal state. They glared at each other so intensely that Sakura could feel the lightning cackling between their eyes.

Nobody said it was easy

Then they both broke into smiles. Followed by small chuckles. Finally, they were laughing so hard that they had to bend over to hold their stomachs. Sakura looked at them with bewilderment, before she let out a giggle and smiled, two spots of reds tinting her cheeks.

"Hah," Naruto panted as the laughter settled. "I thought I would…never see you again…Uchiha Sasuke."

Sasuke was shaking his head. "Pft. You're turning senile, forgetting me like that…Uzumaki Naruto."

"Hey, twenty-four isn't old at all! Besides, I thought you would be the one who would forget!"

He looked away, his expression back to that of sadness. "You really think so?"

Naruto was surprised at the sudden transition, but he cocked his head and replied good-naturedly, "Nah, I woulda kicked your ass real good if you'd forgotten about us." He hugged his friend and patted him on the shoulder. "Hey, it's good to see you back, Sasuke."

A grateful smile crossed Sasuke's lips. "Thanks."

Naruto straightened his robes and beamed. "Well, why don't we go get some ramen and talk?"

"Huh? How about Hinata?" Sakura asked as they began to walk away.

"She had some late family business to do, so she told me she would meet me there at the Ichiraku around this time." He looked at the stairs leading down wearily. "Do we have to take the stairs?"

The three of them changed direction and instead stepped up on the ledge of the platform, looking at the village before them. The lights on the streets illuminated the night above, as if the spirit of the village was glowing in the darkness. The feeling of nostalgia didn't hit Sasuke until now as he looked over Konoha, the place of his birth and home. There were many times he had left Konoha without doubt nor hesitation, chasing after power for the revenge of his clan's downfall, but when there was no other place to turn to after, and he had been left to only live, it now seemed a sanctuary to him.

No one ever said it would be so hard

…Naruto…and Sakura…he swore to the night that he would never shatter the friendship he had with them. They were the ones who were keeping him alive now. They weren't there when his family was killed, or when his brother cast that unspeakable illusion on him with his eyes. But they were there to see through and carry his pain…and they would still do that. With them by his side, he could see the tomorrow that awaited him, the future that was still yet to be decided. This time he had found no anchor—it was an island, a place where his soul can finally rest in.

"How about a race to the Ichiraku?" Sakura suggested. "I'm sure you guys aren't that tired to do that. Are you up to it?"

"I can do that!" Naruto grinned.

"Pft."

"And I won't lose to you, Sasuke!"

The pink-haired kunoichi bent forward on the ledge, sweetly asking, "Are you sure you won't lose to me, though?"

With high-skilled chakra control, the jounin instructor leaped into the air and landed gracefully down below the seven-floor tower before taking off. The two men smirked at each other before they too jumped off. As much as they loved Sakura, they weren't going to lose to a woman in a race.

"Sakura-chan!"

"Sakura."

I'm going back to the start


For clarification on the fight, after the Lion Combo was broken, Sasuke did a Kage Bunshin and used the Kawarimi to replace himself with the shadow clone. Sasuke's taijutsu style is interesting in that he utilizes all four limbs to land an attack, disregarding certain rules and stances of taijutsu. That is proven in the scuffle with Kakashi in chapter 7 (ground attack) and the Lion Combo (aerial attack).

If you're wondering why Naruto came later, you must understand that men and women deal with certain issues differently from each other. Naruto cannot give the sort of harshness and womanly comfort that Sakura gives to Sasuke, as Sakura cannot give Sasuke the type of male bonding and manly acceptance Naruto has with him. In order for Sasuke to reinstate his friendship properly with Naruto, he needed to come to issues with himself that only Sakura could help with. Imagine if he had come to Naruto first. Naruto would have been happy to see his friend and ready to accept him back in Konoha, but was Sasuke ready, when he had not yet faced the consequences of betraying his friends and home? My point is, this has nothing to do with romance and pairings. Oh, and the irony at the end between the lyrics and story was intentional.

I hope you enjoyed reading this latest story, though it might not have the sweetness of Harmonia. Consider this as the end of the summer story. Please leave a review if you liked it.