Disclaimer: do not own Naruto.
Comments: Lost all track of this story. I like how it the last chapter could serve as an ending, but figured it deserved an epilogue to make it better. This story makes me sad.


They are saying things.

Everybody says something when seasons become unpredictable, when snow piles on for a month longer than normal, or rains dry up through the year, but these comments are different. They are hushed, reverent, melodramatic. The snow comes too late to Konoha, they say quietly as children go out to play gleefully in the streets. It honors her, their child of spring. It weeps for her loss.

Snow fell gently, as though reluctant, and only when night fell. The sun's warmth no longer cared to grace the earth and chill came silently, breathing into the winds, touching every window and plant and surface of water, gleefully beginning the storm's dance. Clouds hid in the dark sky, heavy and encumbered and lazy, finally bringing winter's blessing to Konoha as they blocked starlight. There were many natural forces that dictated this late snow, but even so the whispers had continued through the village. Few had listened to reason, for all had been subject to the tragedy. That was what they called it, in hushed murmurs in the marketplace, the back alleys, during duty. None were safe from the fear that gripped them, unreasonable fear of a disease that so few people ever had. There was no plague to bring this fear to light. There was no pestilence to drag it to their minds, bring it to thought at every street corner.

But there was a girl - and her story was here, real and recent.

Epilogue

Lightly, lightly, the snow falls, and three men raise their faces to the sky. Kakashi is the first to speak, breaking the silence with a puff of white air. "She would want it this way."

"She likes spring better," Naruto argues heatlessly, bending to place flowers at the foot of the small stone. There is no body beneath the cold earth, and somehow it makes him feel empty. Emptier than the day he had returned, only to be rushed to the hospital and wait anxiously outside two doors, unable to make his presence known.

Sasuke says nothing, which surprises none of them, but neither does he raise his hand from its gentle caress of the marking of their friend. He is surprised at how much he cares, and feels as though he has failed her by never feeling the same way for her as she had for him - even though that part of their story has been over long ago. The stone, carved smooth and nearly unmarked, seems nothing like the girl he knew. He cannot quite see it as her resting place and feels oddly incomplete standing there - and knows he will feel even worse when he finally leaves.

"It gets better over time," Kakashi says gently, and their shoulders stiffen as they have each time he said the words. Forty-three times he has said them, and forty-five days has she been gone. He knows they hate him for his words, but says nothing, for they understand well now how much he needs to hear them too.

He always stands back, letting them stay nearest to her, as though apologizing for the time they never had. They never speak of it, though Naruto has become a too-determined man in this short time, careful with his promises and working too hard to keep them. Naruto says Sasuke has not changed, though Kakashi can see changes in him. They are little things, subtle things, and Naruto has not noticed. But Kakashi has, and though he says nothing, he watches. Friendship has become a vulnerable word to the Uchiha child, and he holds to his friendship with a desperate grip.

Peace, he knows, will someday come. Time will soothe the empty hole in their lives, and no longer will they walk here every day, tearing their wounds open and letting them bleed all across this little spot of land. No longer will they lovingly tend to the grass, pull away dead leaves, brush dirt from the stone that has become the only physical memory of her.

But right now he cannot quite believe it, and he misses their evening talks. He misses how she laughs at his outrageous stories, and how she brightened and strengthened when she learned her friends were coming home. He misses how she looks at him through her lashes, as though trying to memorize everything about him. He misses the pain that twists his heart at her soft smiles, her daydreaming face. He misses the pain of worrying about her.

Now there is nothing left but the pain of remembering different pains. Pains with hope to them.

And the storm finally closes in and lets snow cover the land, but the three of them still stand there, touching that little symbol on a cleared patch of grass, and they think, Winter's here, Sakura. You haven't missed the first snow after all.