Author's Notes: A gift!fic I wrote for a friend who requested it. ( ; To be clear, this is a Naruto/Sakura pairing. There is an important character death. Don't read if you don't like either of those and spare me the flames.

It Ends This Way

He had hoped that it would end this way:

Sasuke is smiling one of his rare smiles, cheek bloodied, heart beating so loudly even Sakura's embrace could not drown out the sound.

Or:

They are all walking home, hands joined together. Naruto is humming. Annoying, but they don't bother telling him to be quiet because it feels so good to be happy for once.

Perhaps this way:

Sasuke is dropping to his knees, exhausted and bone-weary. He tells them that he will come back with them; he's tired of this. There is a better way.

However, Naruto sobs into Sakura's arms as it ends this way:

Sasuke is dropping to his knees, smiling one of his rare smiles, cheek bloodied and heart beating faintly.

Their hands are joined together, and everything is so quiet.

And it is when they try to remember what it's like to be happy for once that Sasuke finally leaves them.

There is no better way.

"Sakura-chan?"

He found her on the rooftop, cold and shivering, but her green eyes were still. He wondered if she felt anything at the moment at all.

"Just go away for now, Naruto," she whispered tremulously. The words hurt him more than any blow ever dealt to him by her hands.

"Sakura…"

"I said," she gritted through her teeth, tears slipping from her eyes uncontrollably, "just go away."

Naruto settled down beside her, saying nothing, going nowhere.

The night was hazy, blanketed by clouds and thickened with cold winds. Naruto wondered if the stars had understood, if they had known to silently dim themselves just for this one night. He looked askance at Sakura, who was still staring blankly ahead, lips set in a trembling line as tears ran streaks right down her pale cheeks.

They stayed this way for awhile. She not saying a word and he not daring to say a word.

She didn't know when or how she suddenly felt cold. It seemed like hours had passed by since Sasuke's burial ceremony that Sakura felt anything. She had been pleasantly numb through it all, but she still felt the vague wetness of her eyes and a slight saline flavor brimming her lips.

Maybe it was Naruto's warmth that made her feel how cold she had been before, and how she wasn't when he was with her. He was always doing that. Searching for her, following her around, staying by her side. How annoying.

He hadn't made a single sound during the burial ceremony, but when they touched Sasuke's body, he went crazy. They had to subdue him, talk some sense into him, and all she could do was watch. Frozen. Disbelieving. As if somehow not believing that Sasuke was dead would make it any less true.

Naruto's warmth was killing her. She hadn't wanted to feel anything, at least not now.

But now all the emotions seeped into her, slowly and achingly.

And she felt most strongly, his grief for their friend.

Naruto's eyes widened as Sakura let out a low, heartbroken sob and wrapped her arms around his neck, crying into his chest.

His hand immediately went to her tangled hair.

"Sakura-chan…" He began, but she interrupted him with stricken eyes.

"Don't you dare tell me it's going to be okay," she warned him.

He nodded. "I wanted to tell you not to push me away."

She stared at him, hands gripping at the soft fabric of his shirt.

"Because maybe.. maybe you don't need me," he continued, "but Sakura-chan, I need you."

She buried her face into his neck, wetting it with her tears.

He wrapped both arms around her, and she was proud of how strong they had become.