Title: Three Kisses
Pairing: Sasuke x Sakura, implied Shikamaru x Ino and squint-and-you'll-miss-it Naruto x Sakura
Warnings: AU, possible OOC...a surprise ending?
Summary: Three kisses, two scars, one woman. Sakura knows she can never be enough. Sasuke only wishes he could break the chains around them both.

Notes: Hello all! This is my very first foray into the world of Naruto fanfiction. As such I hope you forgive the (no-doubt numerous) errors in this not-so-short one-shot. Constructive criticism is appreciated, but please be gentle. I break easily. (u.u;;) Also, this piece didn't turn out the way I thought it would, but I suppose that's the way the cookie crumbles. I'll probably post more of SasuSaku. They, along with NejiTen, ShikaIno (or is it InoShika? n.n), and NaruHina are my new babies - though you'll all probably think otherwise from reading this. GAH. Anyway, enough of my rambling.

Disclaimer: Naruto is absolutely, positively, not mine.

It happens on a Wednesday.

She is in the park, her straw hat in the sand next to her, and a blue shovel clutched tightly in one, chubby, little fist. The sun is in her eyes and she squints a bit, and uses her hand to shield her face as she concentrates on making a sandcastle. It will be her birthday next week, and Mama says that they are going to the beach. If nothing else, Sakura is a perfectionist. She will practice and practice at building the best sandcastle there is, and no one is about to get in her way.

Suddenly, a shadow falls over her, and she tilts her head up to get a better look at the little boy who is now blocking her light. He looks, in all of her five-year old estimation, like a chicken, with his hair spiked in that odd pattern from behind. The darkness of it contrasts sharply with his pale skin, and the wayward strands keep falling in front of his eyes. He's staring at her shovel and pail with a hopeful look in his eye. Seeing this, she clutches them a little tighter to her chest and gives him a half-hearted glare. He looks back at her, unblinking, before suddenly deciding to speak.

"Hi! What's your name?"

She blinks a bit, and almost stutters out her answer she remembers what Yamanaka Ino said, two days ago, in this very park.

I think that it would be a shame for a bud like you to die on the vine before you even got the chance to bloom.

Right. She can do this. He is just a boy after all. She pastes a smile on her face and hesitantly offers her hand.

"Haruno Sakura. What's yours?"

"Uchiha Sasuke. Can I play with you?"

Her smile could rival the sun. Ino is right, she thinks. Making friends isn't so difficult if they're all like this nice boy.

Later, before they say goodbye, he hands her a rose, a tint of red shining through on his pale face.

She thanks him before taking it, smiles a bit, and leans in to tell him a secret.

I like cosmos better.

And so they begin, a friendship forged in sandcastles, dappled sunlight, and two scraped knees.

She's running.

Her thirteen year-old legs are pumping as fast as they can, arms swinging to gain speed. They're chasing her again, calling her names and making her cry. The girl with the black hair and the dark, hostile eyes, the boy with the spiked-up, dirty-brown hair and the other one with bandages around most of his face…

Normally, Ino-chan would be walking home with her, but the blonde had left school early that day, leaving with a cheery wave and a warning to have someone else walk home with her today. She doesn't like it when people pick on Sakura, and she hates it even more when she isn't around to stop it.

Sasuke-kun would have taken over from where she left off, but he had a family meeting today; one he said, that he could not miss.

She is brought back to the present by a shove that causes her to fall on her face, and hit the ground hard. It was Zaku who'd pushed her, but it is Kin who is now raising her up to her knees by her hair.

"You've got such pretty hair, Sakura-chan," her voice sneering at the honorific. "Though, I don't know why you even bother. You're a nothing."

Zaku and Dosu are laughing, and the latter takes out a switchblade that makes Sakura's heart skip a few beats. In a last ditch effort, she kicks her legs out, flailing for any kind of hit. Her right one makes contact with Dosu's shin causing him to wince in surprise, and drop the knife close enough that Sakura can reach it. Kin laughs mockingly.

"So you've got the knife. I've still got you by the hair, and it's still three-on-one, princess. You wouldn't dare hurt me."

She is so sickeningly smug that Sakura seethes. She'd do anything to wipe that stupid, ugly smirk from across Kin's porcelain face. Suddenly, she stops.

"Who says I'm going to do anything to you?"

She raises the blade, and in one swift motion, cuts her hair so that the pink strands scatter around them both. Nothing pleases her more than to see the two boys gaping, eyes as wide as dinner plates. Above her Kin's hold goes lax, and she immediately stands up. Before she can make another move, someone is behind her, holding her to his chest and glaring at her bullies.

"Sakura. Who put those bruises on your face?"

Sasuke is unlike anything she's ever seen. His face, usually so gentle (at least with her) is fixed into nothing less than a feral snarl and his hands are shaking. She isn't sure she likes this new him.


"Who was it?" He is yelling now, clearly frustrated by her lack of response.

"I did it."

Black eyes travel to Zaku who is standing with a smirk.

Sasuke takes one last look at Sakura's battered state, and lunges.

They are fifteen years old, and though they don't know it, tomorrow is the beginning of their end.

Her pink hair is cut short and there's a bandage on her forehead. She's clumsy, and awkward, and all different sorts of uncomplimentary adjectives but she's his, and that's all that matters.

Sasuke knows he should walk away from her now before it hurts too much later, but for all that the teachers at their high school rave about his quiet intelligence and quick wit, he is selfish. He'll keep her a little while longer, he thinks to himself. Besides, her eyes are on him now—no matter how hard she's trying to hide it—and if he has to say goodbye later, he'd rather do it when she's not watching.

It's easier that way.

Sakura watches him out of the corner of her eye. He's hiding something. She knows this because, instead of the usual blank expression, there are furrows on his brow and tightness around his mouth.

"I'm moving tomorrow."

Shock washes across her face as she turns to look at him.

"Moving…why now? Why so suddenly?"

"My father's gotten a new job, a better one."

She stops at that. Sasuke's family had been struggling during the past year. His father had liquidated their assets on a bad hunch, and the once considerable Uchiha family fortune was in danger of being lost. It was only through Sasuke's older brother, Itachi, that they had managed to keep up appearances.

This is why it had come as such a shock when the famed Uchiha prodigy quietly packed up his belongings, strangled his best friend (presumably as some sort of distraction, the bastard), and ran away to join a radical terrorist group that was, even now, threatening the security of their whole country.

The Uchihas had been disgraced, their once-revered name tarnished by whispers of traitor and failure. His mother had been devastated, bed-ridden for a week. But it was Sasuke's father that had hurt the most. He'd been left a shadow of his former self. As far as Sakura knew, he had never been an overly warm man, even before Itachi had fallen from grace. Now however, there was weariness in him, a bone-deep fatigue that hurt Sasuke deeply. It was as though Itachi's departure had taken away all hope of restoring the clan to its former glory.

So where exactly did that leave Sasuke?

Mentally running through this catalogue of facts, she could see where Sasuke had gotten his determination to prove himself worthy of his name. She knew he wanted nothing more than to prove to his father that the glory of the family had not been lost with that monster.

He is silent, and she wishes for one moment that he would lose his damned control and just cry, dammit. He's leaving her, isn't he? Doesn't that mean anything?

Doesn't she?

"I'll come back, you know."

It's an empty promise and she knows it, even if he doesn't. Sasuke's family will go where they can rebuild and he will do whatever it takes to see that they do. Where he's going, there won't be time for quiet conversations, late-night food runs, and sarcastic exchanges over calculus homework.

It is then that she knows, with chilling certainty, that she has lost him.

Later, he steps into her unlatched window, and watches her sleep. There are tear-tracks on her face, and he knows he caused them. For a moment, he indulges himself, imagines a life without worries of betrayal or traitorous siblings…

Imagines a life with her.

He ignores the tightness in his throat and turns to her sleeping form. He brushes a hand over her smooth skin and gently pushes the wayward strands away from her face.

And then he is gone, haunted by something he knows is already out of reach.

It's difficult at first, but now, seven years later, it's finally all starting to come together. Here in Wind City, the Uchiha name has become respectable again, and discreet sources back in Grass tell Fugaku that soon it will be safe to come back. The whispers have died down, he says.

Now, people only talk about the Uchiha with a vague sort of regret, and a little curiosity. Fugaku and Mikoto are pleased. Though Itachi's defection still hangs heavy over them, they have learned to brush him aside, mentally sweeping him behind lock-and-key like the dirty little secret he is.

The leaders of Wind could not be happier for them. The Uchiha have done much for the city, establishing a security system that was next to impenetrable. As a result, their economy has sky-rocketed. No businesses will set up shop in a place where they don't fear for their safety, to say less of that of their goods.

Things with Sasuke have never been better. He is beautiful in a way very few people are, and everyone has noticed. Tall and lean, his muscles were defined but not exaggerated, and his dark eyes still catch every detail.

He is the subject of many a fantasy, and he knows it.

Strangely, however, he has yet to take advantage of it.

The jealous boys—because men don't gossip like little girls—wonder aloud whether his preferences run an alternate route.

Sasuke smirks when he sees these same boys limping on crutches.

Late one night, his father calls him into his study. As Sasuke waits for the conversation to begin, his eyes wander the room. On the walls, there are various pictures of his father posing with dignitaries, men who want to have the Uchiha design and update their country's security department. He remembers where they stood seven years ago, and he allows a small smile to grace his normally, impassive features. They'd come so far. His gaze moves again, until they stop on a flower arrangement in front of the mirror. No doubt his mother's doing.

Father wouldn't waste time on such sentimental

His thoughts are interrupted by the realization of one very simple fact.

They're cosmos.

Unbidden, images of a girl with pale-pink hair and smiling green eyes rise up in his mind. It's been a while since he's thought of her. Sometimes, during the few moments he has of rest, he thinks about her, wonders what she's doing, if she's happy…

Who she's with.

The last one takes him by surprise, but before he can question it, his father walks in, a small smile playing on his lips. At once, Sasuke is struck by the levity in his step, and as he sits down in the plush, black leather of his chair, he further notices the expectant gleam in his father's eyes.

There's a look of such certainty and faith in his eye, a look that tells Sasuke that his father believes in him, trusts him, to carry put whatever he's about to ask of him.

Sasuke realizes that he would do anything to it keep there.

"Sasuke. Are you ready to do your part for the good of the Uchiha?"

Later, when he walks out of the room, he pushes the image of sandcastle promises, falling leaves, and disappointed green eyes away.

He has a duty.

It is 3:32 on a Thursday afternoon when she reads about the wedding.

The bride is beautiful. Ino, Tenten and Hinata are gushing over the details and Sakura wants nothing more than to wilt away into nothingness. She had known this was coming, had felt it in her gut the day he left. It has been seven years.

Surely, she is over his departure.

"Hey, Sakura! Isn't this Uchiha Sasuke? That total cutie you were best friends with? He moved away a few years ago, didn't he?"

Tenten frowns in concentration, before her eyes take on a glimmer of recognition.

"Uchiha…isn't that the last name of that radical, Itachi, who was captured two summers ago?"

"I think you're right, Tenten-chan. I'd forgotten about that! It's a shame too. He was something of a hunk…"

"Ino-chan," Hinata admonished mildly, "don't let Shikamaru-san hear you say that!"

The blonde waved her hand dismissively, her engagement ring glinting in the sun.

"Please. Like he'd do anything about it!"

As Ino begins to ramble, Sakura holds the newspaper up to shield her face, and stares at the wedding announcement until she can't see the words.

She doesn't notice the tears until later, after Tenten and Hinata have gone home, and Ino wipes them away.

"I'm sorry."

She smiles, painfully bright, and equally artificial.

"Me too."

Surprisingly, the Fates are kind.

Their first meeting does not occur until well after a month has passed since his return to the city. She is walking home from the grocery store with a bag of ingredients for this week's meal, when a blur of dark blue and black attaches itself to her leg. He is adorable, with his gap-toothed grin and his messy black hair. His hands are soft, and she wants nothing more than to unwrap his arms from around her thigh and kiss his cheeks until he squirms.

The boy looks up at her and smiles even wider, revealing a grand total of six milk-teeth.

"Hi, pretty lady!"

She wonders what the consequences are for kidnapping, and whether she really cares about liberty enough to risk them.

"Akito. Come here."

That voice freezes her.

It's the one that haunts her dreams at night.


He's startled by her formality, but he hides it well. After barely a moment of widened eyes, he's all smooth lines and unruffled disposition once more.


There is an awkward silence that even Akito knows not to interrupt. Sakura's eyes are drinking him in, slaking their thirst after being denied for seven years.

She knows she probably won't see him again after this, and decides to indulge herself.

He's taller, but of course she'd expected that. The scar he'd gotten from defending her against Kin and Zaku and Dosu has all but vanished, and the one from falling in the sandbox is nothing but a memory. His hair was still as dark as his eyes and his hands were still possessed of the long, beautiful fingers that she'd twined around her own, so very many nights ago.

He is, she thinks, the impossible standard she's measured her life against. Every challenge was overcome to get closer to him, every burden hers to carry, alone, until she could share it with him. There had been a few offers, a smattering of attempted relationships. But every time any had gotten too serious, she'd broken it off, citing anything from incompatibility to lack of chemistry as the cause. But now, standing here, in front of this man, in front of this impossible Holy Grail, Sakura could feel nothing but the greatest sorrow.

She hadn't been enough to stop him from leaving. And she wouldn't be enough to make him want to stay.

She smiles prettily at Akito one last time, making Sasuke—who'd been giving her his own once-over—gasp (though she doesn't hear it), and walks away.

When she is sure that he can't see her tears anymore, she turns around.

"It was nice to see you again, Uchiha-san." She pauses, smiles faintly, and corrects herself.

"I mean…Sasuke."

Somehow, that "Sasuke" without the "-kun," pains him more than hearing her address him by his family name.

He cons her address out of Ino one day. Surprisingly, she doesn't imply anything, doesn't smile slyly and make a joke. All she does is hand him a slip of paper with Sakura's contact information.

In his haste to leave, he asks for roses. Ino doesn't say anything, but her hands still on the decorative ribbon, as though she's debating whether to say something. He takes the opportunity out of her hands when he pays her and hastily grabs the bouquet.

As he's leaving her flower shop, she stops him with one sentence, a quiet statement laced with an undercurrent of warning.

"Please, Sasuke. Just don't make her cry anymore."

That last word, anymore, bothers him, but he doesn't reply.

Her apartment building is as he expected. It is a three-story building with green shutter-windows, and a garden walkway. He allows himself a smile. Sakura had probably agreed to the lease before even seeing the interior.

She'd always loved flowers.

He knocks on her door, and waits for her to answer.

When she sees who it is, and the bouquet he's giving her, she starts to blush, but that stops quickly.

No doubt, she remembers who she is, who he is, and forces herself to calm down.

"Well, this is a surprise. Please, come in."

He glances around uncertainly, clearly at a disadvantage. In another time, and another place, Sakura thinks that she would be amused, but not now and not here.

He's not yours.

"You're not busy, are you?"

She leads him into the living room, a charming mix of soft, pale ivories and deep forest greens, before shaking her head.

"It's fine. I'll go and make us some tea."

He grabs her hand and regrets it, almost immediately after.

That five-second physical connection had sparked.

" It's fine. I won't be staying long."

Her smile drops for a moment before she remembers herself and forces a grin.

Immediately, an awkward silence hangs over them. Sasuke cannot stand it, the voices that ring in his ears, the ones that tell him all the words he should have said, and all the things he should have done. They are painful to listen to, a fugue of regrets that have been winding their way inside his head ever since that encounter on the street.

For her part, Sakura is torn. Here he is, her unreachable goal, and he is sitting in her living room. He is only inches away, and yet, all she sees is the chasm that separates them; seven years of dreaming, and wishing and hoping for the chance to finally be worthy of him.

"I'm sorry," he says, dark eyes boring intently into her own jade green. Sasuke knows he only has this one chance to make it up to her, this woman-child of seven-thirteen-fifteen, who'd loved him, but he'd turned away. He doesn't understand why she affects him so, and he knows that marrying the daughter of the Wind City leader was the right decision. It strengthened the alliance between the Wind and the Grass, cemented his father's partnership with their government, and mentally erased Itachi's grievous mistake from all their minds.

His bride had been their redemption.

So why was it, that when he'd seen her walking down the street, alone and lost in thought, why had he had the illogical urge to beg for her forgiveness?

Sakura looks at the man across from her, a small, sad smile adorning her face. Even as she'd berated herself for such foolishness, she'd dreamt of this; the day that Sasuke Uchiha would come back to her. After achieving his life goals, after proving himself to his father, he would come home to Grass City, to her, with his arms and his heart finally open.

Well, she thought ruefully, he had come back to Grass City, and his arms had been open…but not to her. His arms were filled with his family: his beautiful, new wife with her soft blue eyes and her beautiful black hair and her sweet smile…and his wonderful little boy.

The kind of son she'd thought she'd have with him someday.

But even with these dreams, Sakura was a smart girl and she knew how the story would end. Sasuke had left all those years ago to help his family recover from a scandal. There had been absolutely no doubt in her mind that he would, and equally no doubt, that along the way, he would find someone else than her to be his partner in life. Sasuke, she thinks, wasn't made for someone like her.

"Sakura? You're quiet."

She smiles softly, sadly, and begins to speak.

"Sasuke…I think I know why you're apologizing; and I'll be the first to tell you, that there's absolutely no reason for it. You're saying sorry, because you think you owe me something, and now you can't give it to me."

When he opens his mouth to interrupt, she raises her hand, makes sure he's going to let her speak, and then continues.

"As I was saying, you think you owe me something, but you don't, Sasuke. You and I both know that we never made each other any promises. For goodness' sake, we were only fifteen when you moved away! Hardly a time for any serious commitments. But…I do want to tell you something…"

When she trails off, Sasuke took the time to look over her. She is thin, he thinks, too thin. She's probably not taking care of herself. It had been the same when they were children. She'd fussed over him, made sure he wasn't hungry anymore before starting on her own food. However, despite the thinness, she is still Sakura. Not beautiful in the way that his wife, or even Ino, are beautiful. Her forehead is too wide, her nose a little too flat, her hair too odd a shade…

But to Sasuke, she's never looked lovelier.

"I love you."

Her declaration, no matter that he'd expected it, still takes his breath away. He barely hears her continue.

"I know it isn't right to tell you Sasuke, not anymore, not now that you're married, but I only wanted you to know. I'm glad, Sasuke, that you're happy. I'm glad you've found someone to be with, someone to hold you and keep you warm…it's all I ever wanted for you, you know? Even if it's not me, and to be honest, I knew it couldn't be."

Here, she chuckles, though it's a broken sort of laugh and his heart breaks a little more with each sound.

"You've always been meant for someone better."

She is smiling now, the tears flowing unchecked, but all Sasuke could hear is her last sentence.


"She makes you happy, Sasuke. Where I...where I…couldn't. She's enough. And I'm glad for that."

The feeling in his chest is unbearable now, the tightness of it making him wonder how his heart is still pumping blood. In front of him, Sakura is still speaking, but he doesn't want to hear it, didn't want to hear that she wasn't good enough. Not now…not when he's realizing what an idiot he'd been for ignoring his gut.

But it's too late now. Too many lives rest on his commitment, and Sasuke only wishes that he could break the chains around them both.

But he's not leaving here with nothing, dammit. He won't make her his mistress, he won't. She's better than that, and she deserves a chance at her own happiness. Maybe, one day, he thinks, she'll fall in love too. Allow herself to forget him so she can start her own family.

He ignores the lump forming in his throat at the thought of someone else loving her.

For now, he'll take what he can get.

Three kisses, for the three stages of this remarkable woman in front of him.

The first one is chaste, and sweet, an innocent brush of lips on skin.

They are seven, and she lets him use her tools to build his dreams.

The second is savage, and fierce.

They are thirteen, and she teaches him what it is to care for something enough to fight for it.

The third is possessive and long, more a marking than anything else.

They are fifteen, and she is his balm, his sanity, his anchor, but most importantly, his.

Then, when they are breathing hard, and she is in his lap, he tilts her chin up so that she's looking at him him, threads his fingers through her hair and kisses her so sweetly that it makes her cry again.

They are twenty-three, and this is for goodbye.

In this kiss, he pours all the love he's stored up inside him, all the love he'll ever have in that lifetime, onto the lips of the only woman who ever inspired those feelings.

It tastes like the lifetime of memories they'll never share, and all the moments that could have been.

It tastes, he thinks ruefully, a little like regret.

As he's leaving, he sees the red roses in her vase—the ones he gave her—and shakes his head.

Just another mark in the book of his offenses against her.

As he's walking out of the elevator, he sees two men arguing as they enter the lobby. One man is dressed in all green and carrying a bouquet of lilies. His hair is gelled into a perfect bowl shape, and he's got the thickest eyebrows Sasuke's ever seen. The other man is dressed in an….eye-catching combination of neon-orange and dark blue. His spiked-blond hair is messy and his bright-blue eyes are shining with fire. He is carrying a bouquet of pink roses. It is this man he addresses as he walks outside.

"Hey. Come over here."

The blond looks at him suspiciously, and Sasuke sizes him up. He's a little loud, but Sakura can handle that. He seems reasonably fit, so he'll be able to protect her. Best of all, if his boundless energy and the excitement in his eyes are any indication, he already loves her.

Yes…he'll do.

"Are those flowers for the lady in Room 253?"

"…yeah. What's it to you?"

The stranger's face is imperceptible, but there is a sadness in his eyes that gives Naruto pause.

"Just a little piece of advice. She prefers cosmos."

Without another word, Sasuke walks away.

I hate me so much. GAH. I need to write something happier for these two.

Meanwhile, reviews are very muchly appreciated.

Thanks for reading!