Disclaimer: Not mine.
Note: More Nar-Nar love from me. Very sad, pensive Nar-Nar. More what I picture him like as he gets older. And my God, I worship Vienna Teng. Her music is exquisite.
The wind picked up, scattering leaves. They shifted across the weather battered wood of the bridge, making a vague rasping sound that reminded him of the whisper of fabric on skin. Below, the stream drifted away, going places he could never go and touching things he could never touch. Still, he smiled, watching his own reflection waver in the water.
Hands gripping the railing, Uzumaki Naruto felt the wind shift yet again, tugging at his Hokage robes as if wanting to bring him away. But the faint echo of the past held him steady, and he remembered being here, younger, ambitious, and hopelessly naive. He could see her between them, smiling at Sasuke as he looked away, blinded to anything but his brother. And himself, wanting things he could never have and dreaming of things he'd eventually find.
Behind him, somewhere in the distance, he heard the laughter of children and the faint strains of music. The lively atmosphere of the market would pull people in and they would stay hours beyond their original intentions. Money would exchange hands, irate vendors would chase pickpockets, and lovers would meet for lunch, when all they would really do is be consumed by one another.
Konoha. It was a simple village, and his love for it was so all encompassing he'd thought he had none left over for anything else. But he had only been lying to himself, because acting the fool was so much easier than admitting the truth. The child in him scoffed at the idiocy, but the part most prevalent, the adult, knew that what had once seemed so plain was far more difficult than he'd ever understood.
Releasing the wood, he bent over to rest his forearms in place of his hands. There were so many things that needed his attention, but now and again he had to break away and take a moment alone. Sometimes, he stretched himself so thin being everything to everyone in the village, that he forgot to make time for himself. And there was no one for him to ask if that loss of self was common.
He caught her scent before he heard her. She made no sound as she walked to the middle of the bridge and silently joined him in his appreciation. He willed himself not to look at her, but he did anyway. Time had been kind to her; she was tall and slender, with a graceful beauty untouched by her melancholy. And as it couldn't help but be, the need to smooth away her worries left him helplessly flexing his fingers.
Rejection stayed his hand, and the faintly sad cast to her eyes as she turned to him forced him to offer her a smile. She depended on him to be steady for her; a rock she could brace herself against the tide, always there and always dependable. He couldn't disappoint her. Not when she'd had so much shred her dreams. Like him, what she yearned for most was an impossible wish, and she believed in him to convince her otherwise.
"It's getting colder." Her soft observation was made without any real conviction, and she still didn't look at him.
"How's work, Sakura-chan?"
This time she turned, offering him a smile. "That's something I should be asking you."
"Well, as you can see, I'm terribly busy," he teased, pretending, always pretending.
As he wanted, she laughed. "That's why you have time for a walk. Neglecting your duties. What kind of Hokage are you?"
"The best kind," he answered, this pattern between them familiar and somehow painful.
"Hmm," was her noncommittal answer, as she moved closer and threaded her arm through his companionably.
"You seem tired," he noted, his concern genuine, but brotherly, as she would forever see it.
"I haven't been sleeping well lately," she admitted. "Dreams. No, I guess you could call them nightmares."
Playing the part of good friend, he prodded as was expected of him. "Do you need to talk about it?"
"You have enough to worry about," she dismissed, resting her cheek against his arm.
"What kind of Hokage would I be if I didn't care about the people in this village? I'm always here for you." Always, always here.
Faint, impish light filled her expression. "I know. And I appreciate it. But sometimes... I just need to keep things to myself."
Hurt, he lied. "I understand. Sometimes I need to, too."
He saw clearly what he could never be. And sometimes the act was so convincing, that he almost believed himself.
"It's just nice knowing you're here."
"Hey," he answered, further playing the part. "Hokage can't exactly go wherever he wants."
Soft laughter, and then she was shoving gently at him. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, yeah." And I know it can never mean more.
Quiet stole over them, and he couldn't help but wonder what sort of picture they presented. A false one, filled with unspoken things and unfulfilled wishes on both their parts. People would look, and see only what was on the surface. But even that was a lie.
He watched the wind sifting through her hair, capturing strands only to lose them to gravity. She felt like that to him. As if he could reach out, but never quite take hold. There would always be the distance of memories between them, and the regrets of yesterday staining today. And Sasuke's ghost, always standing between them.
Sakura lived everyday with the hope that he might return. He wished he could say he didn't understand that sort of devotion, but he did. He himself had cared for her for years, never giving in to the inevitable even when it was slapping him in the face. Maybe it was the older they got, the more immature they were. How else could he explain this stubborn will to cling to what was so painfully hopeless?
So he went through each day, the anticipation of seeing her foremost on his mind. Even when he knew she only had room in her heart for a man who had betrayed them all, shunned her love, and left with no intention of every coming back. And as he ached inside, he couldn't help but admire her inability to let go and move on.
Of them all, she'd always been the strongest.
"I should go. And let you get back"
As if guilty, she unwound herself and stepped away from him. Bereft of the warmth her nearness provided, he unconsciously rubbed his hands along his own arms.
"I was just passing the bridge to head home when I saw you."
Yes, he understood he was an afterthought. When they'd been younger, he was the one in the way; the annoying, ignorant loudmouth who only served a wedge between them. Or so Sakura had thought.
"I'm glad you stopped."
Smiling, she responded, "Me too."
"You'd better go. I've got paperwork to get back to, and it's about time I stopped ignoring it."
"I'll find you tomorrow, Hokage-sama," she teased.
"You do that." He winked.
Giving a half-wave, she turned her back to him and moved away.
"Sakura," he called. She paused, looking back. He smiled, and felt something tear loose inside and fall away. I love you.