A/N: This is my formal apology to all you wonderful folks who were expecting a lemon here. (clears throat) I'm sorry. The end of last chapter is pretty much as graphic as it will get, and the rating was mostly for language. (Can't be too fucking careful these days, you know). As far as sex goes, I'm more of a "vague description and get the hell out!" kind of gal. (Well, you know, as far as writing about sex goes). And you all should be relieved by that too; I have a warped sense of humor about these things.
He is on the brink of waking when it occurs to him that he's done something wrong. It's an abstract notion still, as his mind adjusts to the situation (first the smell of her hair, then the warmth of her skin against his), but it bears some resemblance to the all-around, general guilt he always carries. Though, there is something distinctly different about it in that it's an intellectual sort of guilt; he knows that he's done something wrong, but can't make himself feel that way.
Even so, he thinks, sitting up slowly to avoid disturbing her, this certainly isn't right. He knew it when he kissed her the first time, the second, when he initiated everything by letting her come into his room in the first place.
It's still hard to say why he let her back into his life, and in such a significant way; he's too out of touch with his feelings to actually identify what they mean half the time. Tirelessly and from an early age, repressing everything that wasn't centered in vengeance has made him emotionally inept. Not that he's ever had much use for emotions outside of his anger, anyway.
Regardless of how this happened, or why she's here, he knows this can't be allowed. He really can't go home, the failure that he is. He had one goal in mind when he betrayed them all in the first place, and he wasn't even able to accomplish it. He couldn't avenge his family, will never be able to, and like Sakura can't function without hope, he doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to be without his vendetta.
On the other side, he absolutely can't let her come with him, leaving her life behind. He left his life behind and it worked out really fucking well. She doesn't understand the enormity of removing yourself from the only people in the world who care about you, but the situation should shed some light on it, at least. Look at how desperate he was to grab hold of a piece of his past, and she'd let him take her too, gave willingly.
He knows his absence has hurt her, and he is truly sorry for it. He knows when he leaves again she'll be devastated, but she's never been able to see the big picture the way he does. She'll be okay eventually because like she told him, there is love for her outside of him, and… is there even love inside of him at all? For her? He honestly can't answer that question, avoids it. Because it's a stupid, meaningless question anyway.
He cares for her enough to leave her, that's what matters. He wishes he'd had the self-control to remove himself from the situation before the events of last night, but it's too late to change that now. It will probably make it harder for her to let go of him, but then, maybe she can see it as closure. A proper goodbye, or whatever. She's older now, wiser, he can give her credit for being stronger too. He's noticed.
There is resolve in his movements as he easily slides out of the bed and collects his clothes from where they've been discarded. He doesn't dwell on anything when he's made his mind up, never has, and he only takes the time to methodically redress before he heads for the door.
And then he stops. Involuntarily turns, just for one last look, because… he purses his lips. Because maybe this time he needs to say goodbye too. It's different now, from the last time he left. There is no sense of urgency driving him away, no Itachi waiting in the wings growing stronger while his brother crawls. And he is different because she is something to him now that he wasn't aware of before, blind in his ambitions.
He stares at her as she sleeps, slowly working his way across her delicate features. Hair is scattered about the pillow in a careless manner, soft and feminine, the exact shade of the pretty flush in her cheeks. A full, pink mouth parts slightly, smiling against pale but luminous skin that he can now say expertly is smooth to the touch. He recognizes for perhaps the first coherent time that she really is beautiful. It was easy to ignore and overlook when they were kids, but she's come into it now, without any residual awkwardness.
And she loves him, which even when they were younger was incomprehensible. Well, he could understand it when it was just a crush, a preteen reaction to perceived desirability on a purely shallow level. But love? For a person who does nothing but hurt her, and makes her life miserable? She really is a masochist, he thinks. A stupid, irrational masochist who sees something in him worth clinging to for dear life.
Finally a feeling reaches him that he can understand; regret. He doesn't want to leave even though he knows he should, he has to. But the same outside force that caused his eyes to return to her is now moving his feet in her direction. It wants him to have one last touch too, because looking just isn't enough.
His hand approaches her of its own volition, runs across her cheek, and he sighs. Something strange is happening here, and he doesn't understand it. He just can't shake the idea that… that she's worth staying for.
She really is the only thing he has left in the world; she's given herself to him without hesitation, and there is so much value in that gift. Because she's not just a silly, weak, distracting annoyance; she's a strong, fearless, beautiful girl who loves him selflessly. He knows enough now to realize you can't just casually discard a treasure like that. Just as she's no longer weak, he has learned too. But he can't stay either not when she's... waking up?
Her eyes flutter open while he's frozen in place, and she smiles when she sees him.
"I was watching you sleep last night," her voice is soft and raspy, "you weren't frowning."
"You should have been sleeping yourself," his own voice is reproachful.
"I couldn't," she replies, sitting up, "I thought I'd wake up and find you gone."
He frowns, considers asking her why, but he knows and doesn't need to hear it out loud. Besides, he should be gone right now.
She reads his mind, taking in his appearance with watchful leaf-colored eyes, "Going somewhere?"
He can't answer, but they've been doing this for awhile now, and his silence is its own response. He forces himself not to look away when her face falls because he shouldn't be allowed the easy route, this time. Not that anything about this is easy.
"Could you maybe, before you make the decision to go again," she sighs, "just for once think of me?"
He does. That's the problem, and now he's thinking again about her eyes, her faith in him, her heart in his hands, and the way she feels in his arms and beneath him. He thinks of himself because he's everything to her and she doesn't even try to hide it. And he's trying to see how he must be in her eyes, because when he looks at himself all he can see are the things he hasn't done and can't do.
And maybe he sees her a little bit, because he does miss her, and he had to take a second look. That has to be evidence of something, but the more he thinks it over, the more confusing it becomes.
She reaches for his hand, entwines their fingers, and she's always just reaching for him when he's running away.
"Or don't think of me," she pulls him towards her, "don't think of anything. Just stay. Please don't go."
He doesn't know what he's feeling, but he doesn't want to go. And where the fuck is he going, anyway? He left once, lost it all, didn't gain a damn thing.
Her eyes are quietly determined as she holds onto his hand plaintively, and he can see her in them, past his own reflection. She is worth staying for, he can't deny it, and maybe… damnit, maybe he… he needs her. Because without her, what is there? And with her… there is a chance.
She is so much more than just the crazy girl who loves him, he knows that, and now he knows why. Because she's redemption. She's… his future? He thinks that maybe she can be, and maybe he can find a new goal that doesn't revolve around destruction. Maybe he can pick up the pieces, and bring honor back to the Uchiha clan.
He knows that he is everything to her, but… how can he just now be realizing that in her own way she's everything to him too. She's all that he has, and she's more. She's Sakura; the one person he can't shake, or forget, or even really move on from. She's brightness and warmth in a cold, dark world. She's devotion and loyalty. She's cleansing water and she washes over him, holds him, surrounds him. She waits for him, and she loves him.
The mattress bends slightly under his weight, as he places himself beside her. And he doesn't have to reach for her because she's already here, folding herself against his side, sighing against his shoulder. She's always there and he couldn't leave her even if he tried (which, incidentally, he just did).
He lets the stiffness leave his joints, feels himself relax, feels her hold him, and he is resigned to his fate. For once, he's tired of always fighting.
"I think," the silence is finally shattered, this time by him, "that I love you."
And she laughs at him, even as tears run down her cheeks that are, for once, not there because he hurt her. She places herself full on his lap, holds his face between her hands, and she's smiling such a perfect, beautiful smile he almost has to look away.
"Come home," she says it against his lips and he scowls as he pulls her against him because he knows that she's already perfectly aware that she has him right where she wants him.
"I am home."
A/N: Thanks for reading everybody; I appreciate all the love and feedback, and for those who asked for more, this is it for this story. But I've developed a Sasuke/Sakura addiction, so you really haven't seen the last of me. (And here is where I sheepishly admit that both of my research papers are just not happening today because I'm already working on another S/S fanfic. Academic probation, here I come! Attention Canadian Government: Your student loans have clearly been put to good use with me! Pat yourselves on the back!)