Yes, this was originally supposed to be a one-shot. However, I changed my mind and decided that it felt unfinished. I left Naruto and Sakura hanging in limbo, without any foundation to their relationship whatsoever.. Just a chapter to a story that was never made. I want this fic to feel concluded at the end, with everything sorted out. I'm not going to kill off hinata to make this easier, but I'm going to attempt to make this as realistic as possible. Forgive me for any mistakes.

Please continue to enjoy.

She wasn't certain exactly how long she'd been sitting on that rock; all Sakura knew was that the sun had bordered on the eastern horizon when she'd first arrived, now it dwindled on the edge of the western. Her green eyes were a somber reflection of the dazzling pinks and purples of the dusk sky, searching the clouds as if expecting an answer from the heavens.

Ino had long since departed, and her companionship had been a great comfort in those few hours.

I love him..

It was that singular thought that resonated through her entire being. Just thinking about him in that way made her body tingle with delight and that awkward uneasiness that being near a newfound love interest brought forth. Her lips were unevenly set in a quirky half-smile, as she reminisced while bathed in the warm summer sunlight.

---

"Sakura.. In all seriousness.. Is Naruto so bad?" Ino queried, she was toying with her hair in that oh-so-annoying manner that irked Sakura every time she did it. She was far too lazy to reprimand her however, and aside from that she was thankful that her old friend and rival was even taking the time to console her.

"I guess not.. It's just.. We've been through alot together, remember how we used to tease him? You know what I mean.. Dead Last.." and she turned on her side so she could better examine the blond ninja's expression. She was a little surprised when her friend started chuckling softly.

"We've all grown up since then.. Alot.. Just look at him, hokage now. He's fulfilled his dream." Ino's eyes glazed over for a moment in thought, before she slowly stood up and brushed the grass off her pants. "But, anyway.. I'm supposed to be meeting Barrel-belly and broom-head for dinner." For a moment they remained in a gentle, peaceful silence. Both pairs of eyes staring off into the distance, where the trees swayed in a warm breeze and birds circled lazily in the distant sky. Ino started, before hestitating. She didn't turn around, but instead said over her shoulder, "Think about all he has done for your love Sakura.. and make sure to tie up some loose ends, yanno? You've still got some quiet competetion for his affection." Sakura could swear she was sticking out her tongue after the last part.

With that Ino departed, one moment she was there and the next she was simply gone, leaving Sakura and her thoughts very much alone.

Quiet competition, eh?

---

It was late in the evening by the time Sakura had gathered the courage to return to the safety of Konoha. Here, the streets that she knew by heart seemed strangely foreign beneath the orange glow of the hanging lanterns overhead. She was searching for someone, to 'tie up loose ends' as Ino had suggested. Time to move on, to help someone else do the same.

Before she could confess the truth to Naruto, the pink haired shinobi needed to confront the only remaining obstacle in her path. It was only out of kindness and concern for an old 'friend' that she sought out to do so, even though it felt almost entirely selfish and cruel in some parts of her mind and heart.

It was just past the ramen stand that Sakura reached the person she sought:

Hinata.

---

Naruto stood protectively over his Sakura-chan, glowing with a deep orange energy. His tails, those of the Kyuubi's chakra lashed angrily through the air; for opposite him stood the man he had once called comrade.. Sasuke Uchiha.

The battle had stretched over minutes, hours, perhaps even a day or two with none gaining ground over the other. Now, Naruto was nearing his limit for the influence of the demon inside of him was getting stronger. One more tail, and his conscience was lost. The sweet, determined boy would become a demon.

Of course he had been protecting Sakura all the while, and she had been working aggressively to heal his wounds in the moments of reprisal where they had a moments rest from Sasuke's onslaught.

"I must kill to become stronger.. Strong enough to overcome any opponent.. To seek revenge.." The Uchiha had said, frigidly, distantly, only a shadow of the boy that had once been loved by a naive young ninja girl with petal pink hair.

He held a sword now, grinning horribly from where he stood opposite of his old friends.

"I'll... I'll never let you take her, Sasuke.." Naruto grated, baring his hooked fangs. The red whorls of his cat-slit eyes burned brightly in the dying light of day. His grip on Sakura's shoulder became agonizing, until her soft mewl of pain snapped him out of his angry reverie. His eyes softened a bit, seeing her shaking and trembling at his side. Gingerly he reached out a clawed hand and stroked her hair, while she whispered softly..

"Please.. Bring him home Naruto.."

It was a promise he would not break. He was her man, the one she could count on. Naruto would slave on endlessly to do whatever she would ask of him.

With an inhuman howl he leapt towards Sasuke, and his opponent returned the gesture in kind. They met each other blow for blow, with each sweep of the Uchiha's sword his blond opponent parried or darted away just in time. Panting, they stood before each other on the blood-soaked ground. Sasuke's left arm was rendered useless after a lucky strike from Naruto's claws, and the vessel of the Kyuubi was lame on his left leg. Otherwise, both were still battle-ready.

They circled one another slowly, like wolves readying to fight for dominance in a pack. Hastily Naruto wiped away a rivulet of blood that trickled from his split lip, readying an offensive jutsu for his next assault.

"Careful.. Naruto.." Sasuke hissed. "One false move, and in the time it takes for you to finish that jutsu I'll be all over her."

It wasn't sweat that limned Naruto's eyes, they were tears.

"What's happened to you Sasuke? All the memories between us.. We were a damned family.. and now.. Now you threaten Sakura-chan.." His voice faltered, taking on a momentarily weepy quality. Sasuke chuckled at the hitch in his opponent's voice.

"I require power Naruto.. I will only advance if I kill the one who is closest to me.."

Revelation. Certainly, Naruto had always been like a brother towards Sasuke.. A very very distant brother and rival.. But Sakura, she had come the closest to breaking that icy wall around the Uchiha's heart.

"She loved you.. Bastard.." Naruto deftly canceled the move he was going to complete. "I don't know how you can waste her affections like that.. When.. When it's all I've ever strived for.. You cast it away as though it's worthless!" He roared, leaping valiantly at Sasuke who burst out in maniacal laughter. They traded another set of blows, Naruto rolling on his side just in time to avoid being decapitated by Sasuke's blade. Running on impulse, he came in low, throwing a kunai into his rival's calf. For a moment there was a grin on Naruto's face, before the Sasuke infront of him disappeared into thin air. "DAMNIT!"

A decoy! He whirled around, in time to see the true Uchiha advancing on Sakura, who cowered powerlessly before him. She was running low on chakra, from all healing she'd been doing over the last few hours. That, and Naruto knew she still held a weakness for him.

The silver blade arched high over Sasuke's head, metal glinting in the daylight. Sakura cried out, raising an arm above her head as if to stave off the fatal blow.

"NOOOOOOO!" Naruto roared, running fox-like on all fours towards them. Just as the blade descended a rasengan split through the air, glowing orange infused with the Kyuubi's chakra. The shot went awry and caught the falling sword, sending it flying to the far end of battle field. Splinters of metal lanced through the air as it shattered from the blow.

Angrily Sasuke turned around, mocking his old friend. "Nice aim, but next time try a little low-" He was cut off, realizing that Naruto was nowhere to be seen.

For a moment only the howling wind filled his ears, then a low growl behind him. Naruto was mostly the fox-demon now, barely able to be called human. The next, and last thing Sasuke saw was Naruto's clawed fist sailing through the air, right into his face.

The Uchiha's body bounced back several feet, before laying motionless in the dust. Growling with rage and hatred and agony at all the faded memories the monster that could hardly be called Naruto turned and roared at the only remaining person alive on the battlefield: Sakura.

She whimpered softly, murmuring his name.. "Naruto.."

---

They had been sitting quietly on a park bench for a few minutes now. The tension between them was almost tangible, hanging in the air and settling heavily on their shoulders. They couldn't really be called friends, in fact they had hardly ever socialized outside of organized battles and missions. Sakura had always admired Hinata's quiet and gentle nature, mainly because the strength inside her person was astounding for such a seemingly docile young woman.

At the very least, they had always shared a mutual respect for one another.

That, and Hinata had always been a little envious of Sakura's close relationship with Naruto.

"Life's kinda funny isn't it?" Sakura said softly, and the peaceful quiet was broken. They each shifted nervously, and when one lifted up her head to gaze at the stars overhead the other followed suit shortly after.

"Yes.." hinata answered in her sweet and softspoken tone. She was smiling faintly, prettily. Already she could guess why the other woman had asked to speak with her. "I've always admired you Sakura-Chan.." and she turned, her expression one of mild amusement. "and it's easy to figure out why you're here, now."

She sighed, fumbling with the hem of the shorts she was wearing.

"Is it?"

A gentle nod, the acceptance of the inevitable. Hinata's milky eyes met the Jade orbs staring intently in her direction. For another moment they both smiled uneasily at one another, and again that awkwardness settled over them both.

"Do you really love him?"

To the point. Sakura was almost thankful for it, she hated dancing around the subject. Her personality rendered her unable to make pointless conversation. But unfortunately, she wasn't used to being in these sort of situations. It felt forced as it was, but in all honesty sakura couldn't reveal how she felt to Naruto if Hinata still pined after him. She had to be honest herself, in order to get it in return.

"I think I've finally come to terms with the fact that I do."

"I'm happy for you both then." Hinata's reply came a little too quickly for Sakura to believe it. But she couldn't really ask for acceptance, that was earned to be earned and not simply given.

"I want you to be happy too Hinata.. I wanted you to know.. That he and I-"

"Stop." There was that awkward silence again, and Sakura winced at seeing Hinata's fists balled tightly on her lap, gripping handfuls of fabric. "I already know. I expected it, really."

"You're a strong person Hinata.."

"I'll be fine, don't worry about me." and she smiled sadly, trying her best not to let the tears brimming in her eyes fall. I knew Naruto loved her a long time ago.. I had always hoped that maybe she would still hate him, that his love would never be returned in kind. It's kind of cruel.. But I wanted him for myself.

"But I do.."

"Then just do one thing for me.. I'll never ask anything else of you."

"I'll do whatever you ask of me Hinata.. I swear it.." Sakura raised her fist over her heart, staring heatedly at the girl sitting opposite of her on that rickety old bench. She almost felt small beneath the canopy of the stars, here in this moment with a shinobi she barely knew.. Trying to convince her to let go of the love she'd had for a man who would never return her affections. She inhaled deeply, steeling herself for whatever impossible request Hinata would ask of her. Whatever it would be, no matter how cruel and hateful, Sakura deserved it for stealing Naruto's love from such a wonderful girl.

Hinata raised her head sharply, weeping softly as she spoke.

"Never take his love for granted.." and the tears came, with those words Hinata jumped up from the bench and ran into the darkness of the night.

Her gentle sobs haunted Sakura where she sat, an icy lump forming in her throat. She choked back her own tears, bowing her head.

"I won't anymore.. I swear it.. For your sake, for the pain I've caused you.. For the pain I've caused him too.. I'll never take him for granted again.."

The silence descended once more.

---

The confrontation between Sakura and Hinata, to resolve what feelings they both have for the same person. Also, a little peek into the battle between Sasuke and Naruto. Bear in mind, not everything is as it seems.

Next chapter is either the second last, or the last. We'll see Sakura facing Naruto, the end result of his battle with Sasuke..

Please leave a review, the more I get the more motivated I am to write the next chapters. Thanks to everyone who has already shared their opinions on this story, your words are greatly appreciated : )