AN: Last chapter. Hope you guys enjoyed the story, and sorry it took me so long to get around to finishing it! I tried to add a lemon into this chapter to go out with a bang, but it just wasn't happening for me, so maybe one day an epilogue with happy coupling...?

There are times when a ninja is faced with difficult decisions. To protect Konoha, will you be able to stop Sasuke--even if it means killing him?

It's hard to breathe with the way Naruto presses his face into his pillow, choking on the scent of his own unbathed dirtiness, but he can't bring himself to move even after hours and hours, and besides, in this moment he likes the feeling of being suffocated a little. Any distraction from the real root of his pain is welcome. Even the empty pangs in his stomach and the ache of his stiff limbs feel soothing somehow. Like this, a slash across his back would be like a fresh air breeze.

He thinks he'd rather be a bloodied leaf rustling in the wind than a useless friend who can't save anybody or make anyone love him or even make a god damned decision.

He hasn't left his apartment in days. The air is stale from the shut in. It's taken this long to stop his swirling thoughts, and now that his head is finally quiet, he waits for the hurt to ebb away.

People have come to pester him, Sakura and then Sai and even Shikamaru rapping knuckles against his door or the bedroom's window pane.

"Go away," he'd groaned each time.

He's not fit to be a ninja because he's passed the 10-hour mourn frame. He's passed it seven times over and still refuses to emerge from his nest-hole of an apartment.

It needs to be cleaned. Sakura wouldn't be caught dead here anymore, but then that's not really an issue anymore is it?

He wants to forget that he'd forcibly swallowed a part of Itachi and that he missed his teammate yet again and that he was betrayed. He doesn't want to remember or feel these things. He wants... to be punched in the face.

As if in answer, he hears the sound of his front door cracking inward and crashing down. He sits and waits for Sakura to make it to his bedroom. This time she just kicks the door off it's hinges.

Guess, she's over the whole knocking-and-being-ignored thing.

"That was overkill." His face is drawn tight but at the same time is so very vacant, void completely of it's usual expressive emotion.

"It's been four days. You don't answer when I try to talk to you. I asked the neighbors. They said they haven't seen you outside even once. Have you even eaten for Kami's sake?"

It is clear from the wrinkling of her nose that she's realized he hasn't bathed.

Naruto looks her in the face for a moment before answering. She looks concerned or upset or just how Sakura usually does when he makes her remember Sasuke accidentally sometimes. He wants to ask, Did you beg him to take you along? but refrains. The thought of her up and leaving Konoha behind, not just him--he doesn't know if he can handle it. "I can take care of myself Sakura-chan. You don't need to worry about me."

He even fakes a hollow smile for her, the habit is so easy. He rolls over after that, staring at the wall with his back to his teammate and waits for her to leave.

But she doesn't go away. She stands with her hands on hips at his dismissive gesture, knowing full-well she doesn't deserve his forgiveness even for the misunderstanding, but she can't accept his loss--she won't lose another teammate even if he's decided to hate her petulantly, so she snatches him up in her arms like a child, hauling him out of the bedroom and down the hallway.

"H-hey! Sakura-chan!" He yelps with surprise and embarrassment. He wriggles and flails in her unrelenting grip--he feels foolish at the way she man-handles him and ignores his will. But he doesn't want to hurt her to get away. "Cut it out," he snarls, and he's not playing.

"I won't."

Sakura dumps him into the shower, soiled mission clothes and all, and turns the faucet on overhead, icy water pelting him in the face.


He's up on his feet, angry now. His hip is bruised from where she dumped him against the edge of the tub, but that pain doesn't feel good. It just hurts.

He rips the shower curtain out of the way so as not to take his aggression out on her physically.

"Get outta my way."

He tries to shove her aside.

They fumble for a bit, Sakura hissing, again, stubbornly, "I won't." Her voice is hot in his ear, and he doesn't want to hear it.

Sakura knows he might not want her, but he's wrong--even she can tell he needs her. He's been running himself into the ground for reasons she could half-guess and for others he's refused to tell her.

"It's not your choice," she snaps. She pins his arms and shoves him back with the force of her own body falling into him, tripping into the tub in a painful tangle against the tiled bathroom wall, soaked as she holds him in place. "It's not your choice to dump me when I want to be with you."

Naruto's not crying. It's just the shower spray hitting his face... But he's shaking uncontrollably at her words. "You don't!" he exclaims, voice raw with pain. "You don't know what you want."

He wishes she would leave him alone. But then just as quickly he's hit with the resulting pang of fear and he thinks, No, no I don't. He doesn't want her to ever leave him alone, and that's why he'll never be okay again.

"You said I could make the decisions," she countered.

"Then decide something!" Naruto snaps. "Stop stringing me along. I could have been happy giving you to Sasuke, but you went and changed everything."

She wants to say, I didn't start this, but she did. She's the guilty one, the one who's caused him all this pain. "I had decided," she pleads with him. "I've been living with Ino-Pig because I can't go back home again." She punches the wall beside his head and the tile cracks. It wasn't supposed to be like this. When it came to Naruto, she always had the upper hand. He was loyal--he'd always been there. He wasn't supposed to be the one to ditch her, like Sasuke had. "I told Sasuke-kun I couldn't choose him over you anymore. I told him I wouldn't lie. I swear."

And she hadn't. She'd just been beaten to confessing the truth.

All because of a simple misunderstanding, he wanted nothing to do with her? He wouldn't even talk to her anymore? He hadn't spoken a single word to anyone on the trip back to Konoha.

She didn't know what to do to make him be himself again.

Naruto tries to get up, tries to force her out of the way a second time, but she's persistent, snatching and striking at his hands until he ends up accidentally smacking her in the face. His blue eyes are impossibly wide at his misstrike, and he lets her pin him up against the wall once more because of it, but he still frowns as they're both pelted by the cold shower. He can't actually say it: Get out, so instead he whines, "What do you want from me?"

Wasn't the damage she'd done enough? Wasn't he pathetic enough that even now he couldn't withstand her? How much more of himself would he have to lose before they were through?

"Idiot." They're both panting from the exertion. Sakura kisses Naruto's neck, long and attentive and desperate, kisses his wet skin until he shivers against her, until she can wrap her arms around him and trap him that way. "Did you forget?" she asks, and she grabs his slick hand to lift his thumb before his face.

His eyes focus on the chipping, green nail polish there.

"You belong to me."

Naruto shudders and collapses against the front of his teammate, returning her crushing, clinging embrace, his face buried in her dark rosette hair. He believes her, because what else can he do? He's desperate not to be abandoned after they've come so far.

"Please," he croaks, "turn the water off."

"I'm sorry I got you in the face," he says for the thirteenth time.

Sakura doesn't care about accidents. What's a swollen cheek to have her fox-face back? "Promise me, you don't think I'll leave you for Sasuke-kun."

At that he clams up, looks away.


They're back in the bed and she's stripped him naked. His body is dry but his hair is damp and sandy looking. She runs her fingers over his chest, raising goosebumps in his skin, and kisses his nipples. The window is open to air the room, a breeze sifting over the rumpled sheets.


"Promise me you'll never leave me for Sasuke first," he says. He whines it, an arm slung over his eyes. Aren't they just lying to each other at this point? He doesn't know.

It's a sad day that they've come to this. Sakura straddles Naruto's waist and tips his arm aside to get him to look at her. "He's the one who left us. He left you, and he left me."

Naruto's eyes darken, but he understands it's something they have to face eventually. "You think I don't know that?" His heart is flapping about in his chest like a pair of dark feathery wings.

Sakura bends forward at the waist, arcing into his mouth; she bites at his bottom lip as if to say, Listen. When she pulls back, she breathes, "He left you, and he left me. We're never going to give up chasing him. And we're never going to give up on each other."

She can feel his thumb rubbing over her wrist, and he looks up at her with dark, muddy blue-and-blood eyes, and he says, "I know. I know that, okay?"

She thinks, Do you, finally?