Ten years. It took ten years for this story to be completed. I'd like to thank everyone that favorited/reviewed/ followed this fanfiction and apologize for the overwhelming amount of time it took for me to finish.
That said, things ended a lot differently in Naruto than I would have anticipated. I'm going to keep the storyline heading in the same direction however, after all this time I don't have the heart to change the prior chapters just because NarutoxSakura did not end up being canon.
I'd always had an idea in mind for how it ended, but life got in the way and I never got around to it. At the encouragement of a friend I finally decided to give this story the ending I thought it deserved. I kind of wrote naruto the way I'd envision him as being hokage.. Not what we were given. I thought Minato's hair style was far more fitting, and that 'Naruto' sort of spirit he always had in the beginning.
Once again, thank you. This story was by no means a masterpiece, but I hope you enjoyed it all the same.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, it would have ended with the same spirit with which it began.
Sakura Haruno closed her eyes for a brief moment, enjoying the caress of a warm breeze on her skin. Her fingers tightened with anticipation on the old, splintering wood of the bridge she stood on. Patience was certainly not her forte, but for one small moment she found peace amidst a storm of anxiety and uncertainty.
It had taken her an entire night to figure out the best way to broach the subject of her feelings with Naruto and after years and years of repressing them and keeping them hidden she was finally ready to embrace them. She'd decided it was far too late to have what she'd consider the 'perfect' confession of such things, so instead of something you'd find in a romance novel she had settled with warm and comfortable.
The bridge itself was an artifact from Team 7's past – they'd met up several times here before embarking on missions. Sakura had never really taken the time to explore it further, which she now considered an utter shame. It crossed over a slowly moving creek filled with brightly scaled koi. They'd seen her shadow from peering over the edge and amassed there, a writhing, brilliant rainbow of colours. She rather liked this place, not only for the emotional history but also the sensation of peace and tranquility that emanated from the softly babbling waters.
She'd thought it would be the perfect place to confront him. She also hoped that maybe she could borrow from the serenity of her surroundings, something that utterly clashed with the nervousness and turmoil she felt inside. For the first time in her life, Sakura would admit she was utterly terrified.
If Inner Sakura had been any indication, she'd always been at war with her own emotions and workings. Expressing herself was always something of difficulty, so when it came to the momentous task of telling Naruto how she really felt about him.. Well, she was like a damn child.
Tapping her foot with nervous energy she cupped a hand to her forehead, checking the position of the sun. Ino had dashed off with her message for the new hokage what felt like hours ago, after Sakura telling her what happened with Hinata and her final decision the blonde had been more than happy to relay the note.
How many crumpled pieces of paper it had taken for her to come up with the brilliant words,
We need to talk
she couldn't recall. After what had happened those few days ago she'd foregone something more detailed and just decided to wait until he showed up to lay it all bare.
To anyone other than a ninja the soft rustling of leaves in the trees on the opposite side of the bridge would have gone unnoticed. Sakura's stomach tightened as Naruto leapt down onto the ground mere feet from where she stood. She swallowed the Gamabunta sized lump in her throat.
"Ehh Sakura-Chan!" He greeted, it was surprisingly passive for the generally rambunctious shinobi. He gave a rather pathetic, embarrassed wave.
Maybe he thinks he's in deep trouble for what happened.. She thought. And after all, her note hadn't exactly been an essay on her feelings.
"Naruto." She said his name shortly, resting hands on her hips in her typical annoyed fashion. He approached warily, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. His mouth opened but nothing came out, he looked like one of the damn koi. It took a few moments before he found his words.
"I don't know where to start.. I'm so sorry about everything that happened." He hedged, still too ashamed to meet her eyes. "I acted like an idiot, and I have no idea how to make it up to you!"
Well no shit. Sakura thought with annoyance, she doubted if he wasn't so damn endearing to her he would be able to at all. She sighed dramatically, and as soon as he met her gaze she cleared the distance between them, jabbing an angry finger against his chest.
"Damn right you have to make it up to me!" She snarled, almost recoiling at just how wounded he looked. It was exceptionally difficult to keep herself from laughing and giving up the game. She thrust her finger hard against his chest again, "Doing something like THAT", She jabbed again, "Without even taking a girl out on a date first!" She added another poke for good measure – he'd been backing away during her tirade and he stumbled as he stepped off the bridge and the final push sent him on his ass. She loomed over him, watching as he struggled to put together the pieces of her puzzle.
"You.. You want me to take you on a date?" The confusion on his face made it so damned hard for her to keep from laughing out loud. She glowered angrily at him, leaning over and casting a shadow across his frightened features. "S.. Sakura-chan?" He squeaked. She let him squirm for a few good moments before she broke out into a broad grin, offering him a hand up.
"I feel like that's not enough. You might just owe me several.." He took it with a look of uncertainty, his jaw hanging open. After hesitating he lightly dusted off his pants, speaking cautiously.
"This isn't a joke, is it?" Her brilliant, warm smile shocked him. She turned lightly on her heel, stretching her arms out behind her as she crossed the red painted slats of wood laid across the bridge. He followed her with small, wary steps. When she rested her arms across the handrail he settled in beside her and for a few moments they stood silently together. It felt like there was still a world of distance between them, but there was no awkwardness. The quiet felt warm and familiar.
She turned to look at him – really look at him. He had certainly changed from the brat she'd grown up with, and they certainly had grown up together. In so many different ways. Naruto had matured nicely, even ended up taller than her, looking so much like his father now. When he turned to stare back at her his goofy, good natured and trademark smile slowly curved across his lips and it made something inside her flip in an unsettling but pleasant way. She summoned her courage and slid her hand across the old, dry wood to find his hand. Her fingers slid perfectly against his, as if they had been made to fit together.
He's not the only one that has changed.. Matured. She was definitely stronger than she had been all those years ago, but she was also much changed from the brat SHE had been. Naruto looked like he was going to faint as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
"You're an idiot." She murmured, and flushing a rather dark shade of red Naruto came to realize she had most certainly NOT been joking.
This was not Naruto. The hulking, vicious demon that stood snarling over her was not even a shadow of the boy she'd grown to care for. She glanced hesitantly at sasuke's unmoving body where it lay on the battle field. 'You're going to be next' she told herself. With no chakra left at her disposal she was completely defenseless. She couldn't even summon one of her godly punches to save her life.
Terrified, shaking, and white with fear, she looked up into the monsters red whirlpool eyes. They burned with so much hatred – she hadn't even realized just how much one single being could contain. The heat of the kyuubi's chakra kissed her skin and made it burn.
"Na..Naruto.." She ventured shakily. If there was any recognition of who and what she was to him it never crossed his features. But he hadn't struck her, not yet. There was still SOME hope she could reach him, find her dear friend in all that rage and malice.
"He's not here." The beast whispered, its raspy so un-naruto like voice was like a hard wind raking over dead leaves. It froze her to her very core. It took one slow, predatory step towards her, arching its back and hovering over Sakura's trembling form. Blood, and spit dangled from its lips and spattered against her pale porcelain cheek. "You lying.. Nasty.. Bitch.." It enunciated each word, every one full of spite and anger. She could feel the pain of each wound her decisions had cut into him. Seeing him like this made her sick, made her desperate. It lowered one of its clawed hands, the nails lightly piercing her skin. Droplets of blood welled where his talons pierced, trickling lightly down her chest.
Oh but she had been so young and so stupid then! With that damned promise of a lifetime, with her stupid infatuation with the Uchiha! But she had come to terms with the fact that that's all Sasuke had been to her so long ago. After he had tried to murder her without hesitation, abandoned the family they'd had in team 7, and especially after what had happened in that other dimension. It had woken her up to how she really felt about him. It was a silly, stupid crush, and that lie she had told Naruto hadn't been much of a lie at all. Not that she had realized it at the time.
It had taken her years of playful teasing, growing admiration, and the recognition that her feelings for the blonde had evolved drastically from when he had spared her from all that childhood teasing to come to terms with it.
She had real feelings for him.
Seeing him like this, succumbing to his inner demon, was tearing her apart. In this state she doubted there was anything she COULD do to convince him otherwise.
"I earned that." She said softly. "I"m so sorry Naru-"
The beast cut her words short, backhanding her across the field. Her body tumbled several times before coming to rest in the dirt. Breathing was painful, she struggled to catch her breath. Easing herself up, shakily, onto her elbows she rolled over onto her back. Naruto – or what used to be Naruto – was on her in a flash. It pinned her down, holding her hands over her head.
This is what my end looks like. Sakura told herself, her jade eyes wide with terror. She forced herself to look at Naruto's face, the wickedly fanged teeth, his livid, dead stare.
But he hadn't killed her yet. Perhaps he was just toying with her, gloating over his destruction of Team 7.
"I fulfilled my promise." Naruto hissed, eyes narrowing, "I just didn't bring him back in one piece." He grinned crazily, barking laughter that sent more spittle and blood to wet her skin.
"Stop!" She whimpered, wincing as his claws pierced her wrists. Hot blood dripped into the dirt.
"Poor little dead uchiha, last of his line." The kyuubi growled. "And now sweet, lying Sakura-chan will be next."
"STOP!" Sakura cried, struggling weakly against his arms. The only thing that crossed her mind was that she deserved this. She had wounded him so terribly. She had fed into that hate and anger with her actions, with her words. She had hurt the boy who loved her for who she was, the firecracker and loose cannon most people despised and taunted her for being. She had pushed Naruto away, terrified of the fact that someone actually loved the hot mess she'd always been.
"NO!" With that single word Naruto sent her spiraling away again. This time, she couldn't even sit up. She lay limply on the ground, gasping for air. He was on her again in an instant, leering down at her broken form.
But he hadn't killed her. Not yet.
She forced herself to look into his eyes again, and where she thought she had only seen loathing there was still something pure, innocent. A spark of the Naruto that was trapped inside the beast, fighting for control. His hand hovered over her heart, shaking. He was still in there. There was still hope, even as he poised to end her.
That was the very essence of Naruto – there was always some hope left. His eyes flickered from his trembling, unmoving hand back to her eyes. There was agony there, pain, Naruto was a wounded animal. Weakly, she raised her hand to his cheek. Pressed it gently against the raging red skin and felt his heat scald her. His cat-slit eyes shifted, focusing on the hand that cupped his face tenderly.
"It wasn't a lie Naruto.." She coughed, blood beading down from the corner of her mouth. "I'm just so sorry that it took this long to realize it." Her thumb slid gently over his burning flesh, delicately. For a moment there was only silence, settling eerily over the battlefield. With a howl of rage Naruto flung himself backwards, his hands raking through his spiky blonde hair. He threw himself from side to side, screaming with pain.
"NO! NOO! ANOTHER LIE ANOTHER LIE!" He threw himself to the ground, writhing in agony as Naruto battled for dominance inside himself. The kyuubi won, and he was back on Sakura in a heartbeat. He hovered over her bruished and battered body, fangs bared. "You're a LIAR! Just like BEFORE!"
He didn't strike, however. She still wasn't convinced she could prove to him that she wasn't, after all she had abused his trust all those years ago. What words would show him she truly meant it, that they came from that deep, warm place in her heart he had carved out? She reached up again, this time brushing her finger tips lightly across his forehead. The same thing that had brought them together all those years ago.
"It's not a lie you idiot." She laughed softly – genuinely. "All those years you spent fighting for me – for my love. It wasn't just some stupid rivalry. It was genuine, you loved me for being me when no one else could. You've taken all my beatings, all my unkind words, and you loved me for those too." Emotion filled Naruto's eyes, but whether he believed her she couldn't tell. At least he was fighting. "I'm so sorry it took me this long.. That's my one big regret Naruto.." Sakura coughed, flinching from the pain of a broken rib. "I'm so sorry it took me so long to figure out."
The man looming over her trembled, his head bowing. Was it just her imagination or was that red aura of chakra softening?
"It's.. It's just another lie..." He whimpered. It hurt like hell but Sakura pushed herself up, folding her arms around Naruto's shaking body. She squeezed him as tightly as her wounds would allow.
"It's not.." She said gently, and finally all the emotion she'd left to fester inside burst forth. Tears ran freely from her eyes, hissing as they met Naruto's heated skin. "It's not it's not it's not." She cried. A wail of pain escaped her lips as his hands locked around her wrists, his hateful gaze meeting her again. The kyuubi was back in control. He didn't believe her.
His grip, however, wasn't as strong as it had been. "I swear to you.. It's not. It wasn't, even back then. I was young and stupid Naruto and I'm so sorry. I didn't understand back then, when I'd get nervous being close to you.. That when we were together my heart was beating so hard.. It was because of how much I.. How much.." She swallowed hard, and the beast stopped breathing. It held it's breath as it waited for her to finish. His hold on her arm was slack, all she had to do was pull it slowly away. She rested her hand on his face again, lightly brushing the backs of her fingertips against his skin. Sakura realized at that moment words meant nothing, words had no impact. There was only one way to show him, to bring back HER Naruto.
She leaned forward, the red whorls of energy surrounding his body making her wince. She braved past it, hesitating only a moment before her lips found his. The kiss was soft, tentative. It felt like eons passed before Naruto made any movement.
It was to push her away by grabbing onto her throat.
Sakura choked around his grasp, but didn't struggle. If that single gesture, her first kiss, couldn't reach him nothing could. But he was shaking horribly, and now tears streamed from his eyes. His grip relaxed and Sakura collapsed, wheezing. Naruto yowling rolled on the ground, and after several moments the tails disappeared, his aura fading away into nothingness. He lay motionless, save for the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
'He's breathing, at least.' Sakura thought with a smile.
It was over.
She crawled to him, lightly resting her fingers against his throat. His pulse was steady, strong. He was fine, and more importantly he had won. Her body gave out, she rested weakly on his shoulder. It took several long moments before he came to, starting with the soft, slow twitch of his hands, working its way to his shoulder. He managed to ease himself up, looking around with utter confusion.
"What.. What the hell happened?" Naruto cried, he was quick to look over Sakura's injuries which he didn't have to be a mednin to know were grave. His gaze fell upon Sasuke's motionless body several paces away, his blood ran cold. "Did.. Did I do this?" He asked in complete shock, he gave Sakura a gentle shake, bringing her back briefly into consciousness.
"You.. Had to Naruto." She answered. "The fox took control of you.. But you made it." She couldn't muster the energy to tell him everything he wanted. She was too weak, too spent. So instead he held her in his arms, weeping softly over the broken family of Team 7 and waiting for help to arrive.
He'd had no recollection of what had happened, and even after recovering Sakura hadn't the heart to remind him of everything that had transpired. Since then there had never been a 'right time' to let him know the truth, and now that one night of idiocy had led them here. It would have happened sooner or later, but in typical Naruto fashion it had be the result of absolute ridiculousness.
He looked at her suspiciously, as if waiting for her to punch him good upside the head and reveal it had been a joke all along. Instead, she let go of his hand and embraced him. His body was as tense at first, but after a few moments and the realization that she wasn't going to beat him senseless dawned on him, he relaxed and folded her in his arms. It was something he had yearned for,as long as he could remember and all his imaginings paled in comparison to the actual feat of embracing her.
"I'd really like that Sakura-Chan." He murmured against her sweet smelling hair. She pulled away long enough to eye him sternly, seriously.
"I want us to start fresh. Pretend like what happened.. Didn't." He chuckled nervously, running a hand through his long blonde hair.
"I'd like that too." She took it all in for a moment, the crease of his smile and his usual oafish grin. The sparkle in his pale blue eyes when they finally opened, a damned ocean full of adoration just for her, threatened to swallow her whole. They grinned at each other like fools for several moments before she teasingly pushed him away.
"Well then.. Pick me up at seven.. Sharp!" She winked playfully. "And I get to pick where we eat!" Sakura had already started across the bridge, but stopped at the other side to regard him one last time. The stupid, silly smile he was wearing made her heart swoon. She gave him a thumbs up which he was more than happy to return.
"See you then Sakura-chan!" He grinned toothily as he leapt away, back towards konoha. Making a show of agilely hopping from tree branch to branch.
"AND YOU NARUTO...KUN!" She hollered after him. It startled the hokage enough that he missed his hold on the next branch and sailed unceremoniously into the bushes below. Sakura doubled over laughing, doing so until her sides ached.
Some things never changed.
It only made her laugh harder. They were both idiots, just in different fashions and she'd have it no other way.