Disclaimer: Usual applied. I don't own the characters.

Warning: They're not OOC, they're just older that's all. I just thought this would be how the characters would be like, older and more mature. (It's an excuse, I'm using it.) This is based on the manga, so I don't know what's going on in the anime and I have no clue on any filler episodes (not even the "unmask Kakashi" one).

Spoilers: If you are not at least up to volume 26 of the manga, that's up to chapter 233, please do not spoil the manga or the anime for yourself by reading this little fic.


It's been two years since Sasuke's disappearance. Now he's finally been tracked by someone from his past that he least expected and a showdown he did not see coming will inevitably make him face some truths he had long been avoiding. (In the end, though, he would not be the only one left untouched.)


Notice Me

by Blue Jeans

Part III - Someday

By the time Haruno Sakura gained consciousness again, they were two days away from the Leaf Village. Nara Shikamaru was arguing over excuses with Yamanaka Ino, excuses that they would need to explain their absence that others surely would have noticed by now. The two were going over an entire story while roasting dinner over the fire, so it was not surprising that the first face Sakura saw hovering over her was Uzumaki Naruto's determined one.

"Naruto...?" She smiled at the face he was making at her. In her opinion, it was not an expression that suited the Naruto she knew.

"Why did you leave?" he asked her instead.

She grinned all the more. "That's a nice, how-are-you to you too."

"If I don't get you to answer me now, I'll never get the answer." Naruto reasoned. "If you were any stronger than now, you'd just out smart me."

"Naruto," Sakura admonished. Her smile disappeared at his words. "What are you saying."

"I'm too simple-minded for your games, and you're too weak to play them effectively with me now." Naruto answered bluntly. Sakura could see how those words affected him, he was very uncomfortable being the person that was facing her now.

"You are not simple-minded," Sakura said after a pause. "I was the one who was too simple-minded back then." Her hand covered his tensed fist. "Naruto," she smiled up at him. "I went because I knew it was time. I went because I knew I would find him now." Naruto looked ready to ask more questions but Sakura shook her head and gently silenced him. "Sasuke, Naruto, I found him."

Naruto's face changed completely then. One moment there was joy and then the next confusion, and finally he settled on anger. "He did this to you?" Naruto nodded at her wounds.

Sakura winced slightly. "Just the bruises," she answered honestly. "The rest are from the Sound Nins that had attacked both of us."

If her hand had not been on his and her condition so severe, Naruto probably would have ran off looking for Sasuke in that moment to fight. "Don't," she stopped him before he could began to react. "I knew this would happen, and I let it happen."

"Sakura...-chan?"

She could not face him in that moment as she looked away. "There was something I had to ask, even if he couldn't give me any satisfying answers. Even if he didn't know it himself... There was something I never had a chance to say those years ago."

Naruto gently closed his hand over hers as he turned his palm to receive her weak fingers. Gently he leaned over and brushed her hair from her eyes. "What did he say?" He asked with genuine curiosity, even though she could see the anger still restrained in his gaze. It had taken such a long time and many pains for Naruto to gain this type of restraint. Years ago, he would have at least yelled or protested loudly, and such silent moments would not have been imaginable. It was something of his that she missed, but then again, Naruto was Naruto, and most of the time he was his loud, cheerful self. At this moment, Sakura could not help but miss how he was like normally, even when during those times she would only wish for him to shut up and settle down.

"He will not veer from the course his brother had set for him," Sakura answered calmly. Naruto swore. "You know how it is, Naruto. You are still chasing after his shadow, like I had been just a few nights ago."

Naruto froze and looked at Sakura's upturned face. He touched the tear she felt sliding from her eyes without knowing why. "I missed you," Sakura whispered. "I missed us, the team, and our innocence then. I missed that time."

"Sakura-chan?" Naruto held her as he knew no other way to deal with a crying girl. "I will never leave you."

She smiled then. "Yeah," Sakura agreed. "That is your ninja way."

"Are you guys finished, yet?" Shikamaru asked impatiently. "We're leaving as soon as you two eat some food."

"Sakura-chan," Ino looked excitedly at her, glad that she had finally wakened. "When you're better, you and I will have a talk." Ino had one of those don't-even-try-to-argue-with-me looks, one that Sakura answered with a weak smile of defeat.

"Alright, alright," Sakura conceded. "I solemnly swear."

Naruto laughed sheepishly while Sakura grinned in embarrassment within his embrace by the time the two finished lecturing them. A gladness spread over Sakura's heart, knowing the truth she spoke when she had said those words to Sasuke. Her companions would always be there for her and when she fought, everyone was rooting for her. Even if Sasuke didn't know it now, one day, Sakura hoped he would understand the village he was born within.

Everything was the way it should be now. Everything was the way they had chosen it to be. Sasuke made his decisions, and Sakura made hers as well. For now, even if she still looked to the sky and wondered about him, there were other people who were just as important to her in her life as he had once been. There were other people that she had build the tattered world he left in his wake around, those who would always come for her when she was in need.

Sakura tightened her grip around Naruto after he made her eat some solid food, though she could not stomach much of it. She was getting sleepy again when they started on the road, her head resting on Naruto's back. "Naruto," she whispered with a warmth in her voice that she did not often let slip.

"Hmm?" he glanced at her from over his shoulder.

"I... will never leave you, either," she smiled into his shoulder. "That is my ninja way." No matter where the road may lead them, they would always be a team. Even if Sasuke did not notice it, Naruto and Sakura would never leave him. Should he be in trouble, they would help him and they would go to him, whether or not he ask it of them.

Someday, Sasuke may understand the way of a truly strong ninja. A path that even the ever powerful Uchiha Itachi could not follow. Because she had faith in Sasuke, Sakura knew that one day they would be reunited, and when that time came, Naruto would no longer chase after shadows and look off into the horizon with a forlorn expression that had never suited him. When that time came, the three of them would laugh together over their own foolishness and continue to smile into the darkness of the night and the shadows they lived within.

When that time comes we will all get what we truly desired for all along. For that most important person in our lives to notice who we are and who we have become. When that time comes, we would smile proudly... having lived a life worth dying - a life worth living every single, suffering moment - for.

"Hey, Naruto," Sakura murmured sleepily against his shoulder. He blinked at her questioningly as she felt her consciousness leave her. "I'll need... a haircut again when we get back home." She said in a slurred, and exhausted tone. Sakura wanted to add more to it by saying that it was time to let go of the past, or something symbolic like that but it was as far as she got before her sleep exhausted mind shut her down. She was asleep before the words could form properly in her mind.

Naruto smiled fondly at her request, relieved by the feel of her breath becoming deep and even. "Yeah," he answered in a soft whisper. "Let's go home."

The End.


Brief note from Author:

No particular pairing in mind, and not much on illuminating anyone's feelings that wasn't already obvious by the manga. Just an idea that struck me as odd... even though Sasuke considered Naruto his closest friend, I thought it was because he was so set on having Sakura at arm's length he unintentionally let Naruto in during his carelessness... but to fight to keep Sakura at such a distance... their interactions intrigued me. Somehow, I had the feeling that Sasuke chose Naruto to fight against for the very reason that Sakura would not be able to survive the encounter that was destined to happen if Sasuke had not been careful. That and Naruto was more powerful an opponent, one Sasuke ended up chasing after as much as Naruto chased after Sasuke.

Anyway, first Naruto fanfic. No clue how it went, probably got off track, and I know it got really corny on me while being slightly (if not a lot) OOC... I could excuse it with a "set in the future" deal... hopefully they retained some old personas...

Yeah, I know, Inner Sakura did not make much of an appearance, but if you read the manga, I.S. makes less and less appearances as things get more and more serious. This fic's based on the manga.

Eh, well, if you enjoyed it, that's all that matters :)

So, hoped you enjoyed it!

blue

P.S. Sorry, no editor and no editing, I wrote this whole thing in one day and two sittings since I had errands to run and people to meet in between. Pretty much, it's like a short story for me... but it came it went, it's a whim. Criticize away. At this moment, I'm finished... WHEW! And as I'm too impatient for unfinished products, I don't think you would want me to slowly post the parts just because I'm an ego-manic (no offense to those who are) and I'm definitely not going to post one chapter at a time just because I want people to review more. If you want to drop a line, feel free to, if you don't, I was once a lazy ass just like you... and then I started writing and reading unfinished fics (which, believe me, makes one review like nothing else)... So sucks for me and it's rather stupid of me too to do this to myself... but whatever...