-- Disclaimer: I only own my imagination and the tools to show them to others via internet…
Finally Clear To Me
By: Shinobi Kisses
Chapter 1: Never Really Alone
Thunder rolled overhead and the rain poured, drenching anything and everything below. It was dark outside and yet, there were still a few hours before the evening. Clouds floated overhead and the air was chilled, sending an ominous wind through the streets. Many remained in their shops or at home with their families while only a few still roamed the street, doing some last minute shopping or simply not letting the weather control their lives.
Everyone else was on top of the small tower, standing with bowed heads in front of the platform that came to be a sign of bereavement and misery. It wasn't often people went there, while a single podium stood with a delicate black cloth and haunting glass memories. It was always a sorrowful day when the Yamanaka Flower Shop sold dozens after dozens of flowers. They always ended up at a place of mourning, and today was no exception…
Ino had attended the service that day, after she was done with her duties, and her parents came as well. Her eyes narrowed as apologetic tears formed in her teal eyes. She watched as her best friend since childhood stood there, staring into the blank faces of the people whom had raised her. She bowed her head, finding it difficult to watch something like that. She watched her feet instead.
The crowd huddled under the roof of umbrellas, the rain shattering the silence. Nobody dared speak a word and they waited.
Haruno Sakura gazed at the formal picture of her parents. They were standing together, her father's hand resting comfortably on her mother's shoulder and they were smiling. Her clothes were heavy with rain and her hair stuck to her face, but she refused any umbrella offered to her. It wouldn't help. She'd surely drown in her tears later anyways…
The rain made it difficult to see, but she was crying. Tears rolled down her face and dripped from her chin, along with the rain. She stood as tall as she could but the heaviness was getting to her. Her clothes, she could deal with. The pain, she could not…
She sniffed, her lips curling into a heartbreaking frown. A single sob escaped her lips and her hand shot up to stop anymore. Her heart twisted painfully and it was difficult to breath. Fear and dread forced more tears from her aching eyes and she began to shiver. It was cold. Colder than usual. She was freezing, from the inside out. It was difficult to watch and many either bowed their heads or turned away. Few even left, unable to take it anymore. They abandoned her there until only few remained.
Uzumaki Naruto was among them.
His solemn face turned upward to see his former sensei. He frowned at the dreadful look in his lazy eye. He didn't believe he'd ever seen Kakashi look that way before. Certainly the man had seen and experienced horrors beyond his own imagination. The look on his face showed another side to his perverted sensei… He felt the same way he did as they watched their companion endure something that no child should ever have to suffer.
Kakashi had always hoped that at least Sakura would never have to experience the pain of being truly alone, or losing everything you had. It essentially broke his heart to watch her. He debating leaving, but he couldn't do that now. He had always watched over Naruto and Sasuke, because they had nobody else, but he'd never had to watch over her the same way, since she still had her parents. He breathed out, bowing his head slightly. It wasn't his duty, but he had made his decision.
He glanced at Naruto, his heart growing heavier. Naruto had always displayed his affections for Sakura and openly tried to get closer to her. He saw a looked of reluctance in his blue eyes now. His hands were fisted and he looked as though he was having trouble deciding whether to go to her and comfort her or to just stay put. He would probably have no words to say to her anyway. She was suffering something that more related to Sasuke's pain and Naruto had never lost his parents after years of growing up and living with them. He had lost friends along the way, but to lose someone that close to you…
Kakashi broke from his stupor as Naruto stepped forward, cautiously, and then stopped. He waited and walked forward again, continuing this time. The grey haired man gave a long sigh and pocketed his fists. He would wait for them while the others leaved. Sakura was alone now and not used to being alone. She would need help. This wasn't something she'd be preparing for and to be suddenly thrown into the world by such means was truly unfair. All he could do for her now was be there for her and help her.
Naruto stopped a few feet away from Sakura's trembling body, hesitating. His hand rose up but he fisted it and let it drop to his side again. He wanted so badly to be able to help her now, of all times, when she needed someone the most. His heart longed for her to reach out to him and need him. He was at a loss for words, though, and he doubted he could say anything to comfort her.
It was always easy with Sasuke around… He never had to come up with anything to comfort him because he never let the pain show. They would fight and argue and compete with each other and nothing was ever really uncomfortable or unnerving. But that was because Sasuke was a boy with too much pride.
This was Sakura… This was another completely different situation entirely…
He'd never known Sakura well enough, he contemplated. After so many years of being her teammate, of crushing on her and trying his best to do his best, for her. He still didn't know enough, it seemed, and he hated it. He hated the feeling of being so close and yet, being so far away from someone he deeply cared for.
"Sa…Sakura-chan…" His kept his voice low, though loud enough to hear over the rain and her sobs. Her only response was silence as her sobs died down. It sounded too much like she was just trying to hide them.
"I'm sorry…" Naruto made a face of surprise as she turned to him. His heart sank agonizingly low at the sight of her. Her pain was so clearly evident it made him sick. He was reminded of what had surprised him so much in the first place as she repeated herself, looking right at him. "I'm so sorry…"
"Sakura-chan, you have nothing to be sorry for," he said quickly, feeling uncomfortable. He watched as she turned to him, still hugging herself. She bit her lip, holding back another sob before continuing.
"No… I had no idea… it hurt so much… I'm sorry that Sasuke-kun had to… loose his family… And I'm sorry that… I never understood how… painful it is to be…" she paused, coughing slightly. Naruto stepped forward, removing his black coat to place it around her shoulders. He frowned in concern as she looked up at him again. If possible, his heart sank despairingly lower. "To be… so alone…"
Naruto held her gaze for a moment and she bowed her head again, hiding behind her sopping pink tendrils. He frowned, his eyes narrowing in anger as he gripped her shoulders.
"Sakura-chan…" She didn't respond. "Look at me," he commanded softly, leaning forward. She looked up slowly, still partially hiding behind her rosy bangs. His hands left her shoulders and he placed them on her face, parting her bangs further.
And then, he smiled.
"You… You are never alone…" He leaned closer, their noses touching affectionately. "Not while I'm still here…" She searched his eyes and more tears pooled and fell. She sniffed and shut her eyes, feeling his cool forehead touch her own. His thumbs caressed her cheeks softly for a moment before he dropped his hands. Her eyes opened and widened as he hugged her securely. It was the most comfortable she'd felt in days…
She sniffed again and raised her arms, her palms finding his shoulder blades. She gripped his shirt and buried her face against his shoulder. She would've cried and released all of her pent up sorrow, but she found she couldn't. It was too warm and too calming. She could only find the strength to lean against him and let him embrace her.
Kakashi stood at a distance and blinked. His eyes peered upward and he watched as the rain slowed to a light sprinkle here and there. He could see a few rays of sun peek through the clouds, illuminating the prestigious Hokage Monument. A small smile hid, unnoticed, under his mask and he turned to his side. The current Hokage was smiling at the same sight, her assistant at her side. He turned back to the two near the flowered display and his smile widened, feeling more genuine.
Perhaps the future wasn't so uninviting after all…
It didn't take long for exhaustion to finally catch up with her. Naruto carefully lifted Sakura into his arms, making sure not to wake her, and glanced at the monument for a moment before turning to the others. He smiled again and the entire village grew just a little bit brighter. As he approached the small group, Ino stepped forward, her parents right behind her.
"Sakura can stay with us for a while," she offered with a tiny smile. She was still getting over her tears. Naruto made a lopsided smile and turned to Tsunade, whom smiled.
"I think that would be best. Naruto," she called and said boy stood attention. "Take Sakura and go with Ino. It's going to be a rough night…" She spoke from experience. It was Tsunade herself whom had harbored the green eyed kunoichi when she was first informed of her parents… passing. "Kakashi, you'll come with me. We need to take care of few things…"
Naruto didn't question to nervous look in the elder man's eyes and followed as Ino and her parents began the trek home. He turned his attention to the girl in his arms and felt his heart began to rise from its bottom dwelling position. He was going to be there for her and he was going to play a big part in her revitalization. He vowed so and he lived by his vows…
He glanced to his side, feeling eyes on him and sure enough, Ino was watching him, her lips curved into an amused smile. He made a face and looked away, blushing lightly.
"You sure know how to handle her…" she said suddenly. Naruto faltered, turning to her with a reddened face.
"Wh-what are you talking about?" he asked hurriedly, looking guilty of something he was unsure of. Ino giggled and patted his shoulder as they neared her home.
"Calm down, lover boy. I only meant that… Well, I couldn't have done what you just did…"
"…What did I do again?" he asked, grinning. Ino sent an irritated glare his way and he began to sweat.
"…You comforted her, you dingbat. You calmed her down and really helped her out… You probably don't even fully understand what you've done." Naruto looked back at Sakura, wriggling his nose as she moved her face closer to him, under his chin. Ino smiled. "You know… I think you two deserve each other."
"…Nah… Sakura-chan won't even let me go out on a date with her… I'm just… a really good friend…" Ino watched his face fade from proud to solemn all while he continued to smile. That boy was really a mystery to her…
"You're a moron." She made no reaction to Naruto's glare. "You'd have to be blind not to see how much she cares about you." The glare disappeared from Naruto's face, this time, and he looked genuinely taken aback. Ino found herself smiling in spite of herself. "You, Naruto, are probably the only person in the world who would even be considered as her family now," she said, making him slow to a stop, Ino turning to face him.
"But… You, and Tsunade-baachan, and—"
"Yeah, she's got friends… She's got close friends, but if you really think about it… You're probably the only one she can really talk to now." Ino rubbed her arm, looking to the side. "I couldn't possibly understand how she feels now… You, on the other hand grew up…" she hesitated, "Alone. You could help her better than anyone… Including myself…"
Naruto suddenly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, and yet, it wasn't that bad. Never before had he been given such an immense responsibility, and yet, he could bare it. For Sakura's sake, he had to bare it.
"I'm the only one…" he whispered, watching a small beam of sunlight reach Sakura's face. He looked up and Ino smiled, nodding.
"Now, come on. We should get her comfortable…" Naruto nodded back and followed her. Pride had seeped back into his soul and he felt more alive than he had in ages. He would help her, he vowed, and he would earn her love through trust and likeness. He was alone and now she was alone, but with the two of them together, maybe, they wouldn't be alone anymore.
He liked the thought of that… He liked it a lot…
A few weeks had passed, though it felt more like months. It was all the sitting doing nothing that made time pass so slowly…
Sakura stared out the window of Ino's room with heavy eyelids. A yawn forced her lips to part and her eyes watered. She turned away from the window to spot her bleach blond companion on her bed, writing something in a notebook. She sighed and turned back to the window, squinting slightly from the bright rays of the sun.
"Do you… know where Naruto is… right now?" she asked carefully, quietly. Ino looked up then and twirled her pen a few times before getting up.
"I heard he was doing some kind of work for the Hokage, so he might be with her. Do you want to see him?" Ino didn't bother putting on a smug smirk or prod and poke about how in love she was. She knew better.
Sakura had asked for Naruto many times during the past few weeks and often sat with him, just the two of them, sometimes with another somebody, mostly Ino. It was always when she was the most depressed when she'd suddenly ask about Naruto's whereabouts. There were nights where Ino would hear her cry softly and the very next morning she'd ask, quietly, "Do you… know where Naruto is… right now?"
It was always eerily similar and Ino would have no choice but to take the poor girl to see him. Her partner, whom always received her with a curious smile.
"Come on," Ino said, holding out her hand. Sakura took it with a weary smile.
Naruto's eyebrow twitched with frustration as he sat in the Hokage's office, staring out the window. He didn't move when Tsunade came in with bunches of papers in her hands and under her arm. She placed the papers on her cluttered desk and sighed in relief, dusting off her hands. She turned to Naruto then, frowning at his bored expression.
"You know, you could've been helping me instead of moping around like that…" Naruto only sighed, his frown deepening. There was hardly anything she could do when he was like this. She threw up her hands dramatically, giving up, and took a seat at her desk.
"Hm?" she replied, her eyes roaming her various documents. She didn't look up, but he knew she was listening.
"Am I doing a good job…?" Tsunade made a face and looked up at him. Naruto leaned against the sill of the open window, the breeze playing with his lengthened blond locks, his eyes deep and unwavering. She smiled, turning to her papers again.
"What do you think?" Naruto bowed his head, looking uncertain.
"Sakura asks to see you quite often, I hear." She heard him grunt softly. "Do you think she'd do that if she didn't trust you?"
"So, if she's satisfied, what does this tell you?" Naruto whined quietly.
"Why can't you just tell me, instead of making me think for myself…?" Tsunade chuckled.
"You're such an ignorant brat…"
"What'd you say?!" he retorted, shaking his fist threateningly.
"You heard me!"
A knock resounded on the door and a moment after, Shizune entered, a clipboard in hand. She paused for a moment, waiting with a wry smile as the two in the room acknowledged her presence.
"Right, um, Sakura-san is here." Naruto stiffened, catching the Hokage's eye. "She wishes to see Naruto-kun…"
Tsunade stood and turned to the blond with her hands on her hips. She smiled then, waiting patiently as he turned to Shizune, nodding gently. The brunette nodded back and turned, slowing so Naruto would follow her. He walked slowly, but assuredly, knowing his purpose. He left the room without glancing at the elder woman. Her smile dimmed a bit.
Sakura stood, alone, looking over the bridge railing into her reflection. She frowned at her appearance. Her skin was paler than normal and her eyes weren't as bright. She blinked several times, trying to make them shine, but it didn't work. She attentively held a few locks of her hair and frowned. She looked horrible…
It was then that she saw another reflection beside hers and felt a warmth that made her insides melt with comfort. His reflection was smiling, though it was a little difficult to tell since the breeze made small waves, obscuring everything. She turned to him with a tired smile but it faded at the look on his face. He was frowning and he looked almost as tired as she did. Sakura straightened her back, her brow knit with worry. She reached out to him, hesitantly and cautiously touched his shoulder.
"Naruto…?" He didn't look at her and she drew back. Panic began to bubble in her stomach as she bowed her head. She wasn't sure what she did wrong…
"Sakura-chan… Are you… feeling any better?" Sakura blinked, with a curious tilt of the head and played with her fingers nervously when he stood up to face her with one hand on the railing. She made a noise, similar to a whine and glanced up. He gazed at her, awaiting her answer. She thought back to his question and dropped her hands.
"Yes… Yes, I feel… okay… Is something wrong?" He turned away from her, looking out over the water as a short breeze lifted his headband straps and played with her rosy bangs. He breathed in the fresh air and gripped the railing, eyes narrowed.
"I'm… just worried, I guess…" He turned to her and she stepped closer, her eyes never leaving his.
"Worried…?" she asked, looking confused. It was a little ironic really. It was always the other way around…
"Yeah… I… just want to make sure I'm doing my job…" He smiled a bit, gazing down at her. He scratched his head with his free hand and gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry, I'm probably bringing unnecessary negativity, as Obaa-chan calls it," he made a face, "I didn't mean to sound so… dreary."
"…I understand," she said quietly and turned to the water again. She placed both of her hands on the railing and took a deep breath, perfectly comfortable in the silence. That was until Naruto chuckled.
"I'm sorry, you called me here for something and I got us sidetracked. What'd you want to tell me?" He gave her his undivided attention and she was suddenly unsure of what to say. She had felt so horrible earlier and just needed to see him, but now that she was with him, she didn't feel so horrible anymore. After a moment of thought—and another deep breath—she turned to him, chewing her lip timidly.
"…My favorite color is red…"
Never in her life had Sakura experienced Naruto so silent and void of expression…
"…Wh…What…?" he asked finally and Sakura lifted her chin with a little more confidence.
"My favorite color is red, and I hate spicy foods…" Naruto looked so helplessly confused, but she managed a calm smile. "I overheard you complaining sometime ago… I just thought you'd like to know, is all…" She turned to the water again and leaned on her elbows against the railing. She let the breeze cool her face and play with her hair as she waited for him to say something. It was nearly an entire couple of minutes later…
"What kinds of things do you do when I'm not around?" Sakura looked up with slight surprise to see him observing her with a playful seriousness. She felt her smile grow significantly and a small giggle escaped her lips.
"Well, let's see…"
Back and forth they passed hobbies and quirks. It became a game after a round of questions and Naruto had willingly joined in on the fun, answering whatever questions Sakura had directed toward him. A shocked gasp would occasionally pause the game—more due to accusations than surprising information—and sometimes it would erupt into a burst of laughter, leaving them both breathless.
Soon enough, they ended up sharing a secret or two and Sakura had to keep reminding herself just who she was talking to. It was almost like talking with Ino… While Naruto began to elaborate on a particularly awesome prank he once pulled, she took the time to ignore what he was saying and concentrate more on him, instead. It made her feel good inside to see him so lively. It was almost like when they were small and life seemed so carefree and wonderful. It was this feeling that made her seek him out when she was feeling so down and trod upon. Whenever he was around she couldn't possibly think of the cruel world outside of the walls. It was only her and Naruto. Two souls in much need of such a feeling…
"…Of course, I was only sent to my room as punishment, which wasn't much. I mean, I like my room and it's not like they can tell me to go there since it is my house…" Sakura's smile dimmed a bit and Naruto turned to her with a curious glance. "What's up?" Sakura shook her head and peered up at him. She looked somber, her playfulness faded.
"You've… lived there a long time, huh?" Naruto wrinkled his nose in slight confusion.
"Of course…" After saying so he seemed to realize the implication of her words. "You mean… alone…" He didn't ask. He knew what she meant. Sakura turned away and bit her lip in shame.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" She was at a loss for words.
"You get used to it after a while…" A small beam of hope shone through the dull green of her eyes as she slowly turned to see him. Naruto held a calm demeanor and even smiled a bit.
"You do…?" She sounded skeptical and he gave her an impish grin.
"Sure! I mean, think about it! No rules, no worries, you work as hard as you want to. There's no one to punish you and you don't have to share…" Sakura watched his grinning face with a dismal expression. He had sadness in his eyes…
"But then…" She quieted as he looked at her, his smile soft and true. "When you get really lonely and it seems like you've got nothing in this whole wide world… You find someone… Someone who didn't have to look like you or act like you… And they accept you… And suddenly, you're not alone anymore…"
Sakura placed a hand over her heart and gripped her shirt. She turned back to the water, knowing full well that Naruto was watching her. Her heart was beating wildly, but she just couldn't seem to control it. Everything he said he spoke from experience. For once, it was Naruto whom was more knowledgeable and he was only too willing to share it with her, to help her. It made her heart beat faster, but in an unexpectedly good way.
"When… When I was told that my parents were killed in… that fire… I was so afraid because they were the only family I had… I don't have a clan or other relatives…" Naruto said nothing as she struggled not to cry. He listened and placed a callused palm over her whitened knuckles. "But, I'm not alone…" she said firmly, more to herself. She turned to him, suddenly, and searched his oceanic eyes. "…Right?"
Naruto smiled and raised his hand to her cheek, wiping her tears away with his thumb. She leaned into the touch, placing a hand over his, just to keep it there. He leaned forward slightly and nodded, fortitude in his eyes.
There were only black remains. It was completely gone and even pieces that had survived had been moved away. The once proud standing Haruno household was departed, and with it, years of memories. Her red dress fluttered gently in the small breeze. She could no longer smell her mother's cooking or her father's strong scent. She could only smell ashes… and death…
Sakura stepped over the wood fragments careful not to injure herself. She stopped near a few shreds of floral cloth and kneeled, gently picking a piece up. Naruto stood a respectable distance away, allowing Sakura her space. Even though he kept telling himself not to go comfort her he couldn't help but feel a tug on his heart.
"We were supposed to clean the couch…" She gave a hollow laugh. "It's going to be kind of hard to clean it now…" Naruto didn't appreciate the dry humor. He turned to his side to see Kakashi holding a cracked frame encasing a mildly burned picture. From the distance he couldn't see who it was of, but he had a feeling it was of significance.
Sakura cautiously approached her former sensei and nearly flinched when he handed her the picture. Sentiment stirred within her but she maintained control. It was her as a baby… with her parents. She should've seen it coming… A sudden jolt of pain made her draw her hand away, holding the picture in the other one. A thin trail of blood leaked from the small wound on her thumb she'd received from the broken glass. She watched a drop of blood fall to the ground and disappear in the ruins. If she knew her house as well as she thought she did… she was standing just beneath her bedroom…
She looked to the sky as if searching for her living space and left her thumb untouched. Her eyes met with nothing but air. Her thumb throbbed gently and she looked down again, her expression blank.
"Sakura-chan…" Naruto stepped closer and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. He remained silent, even when her shoulders began to shake. Then she turned to him and even though tears were rolling down her cheeks… she was smiling. Naruto blinked at her looking confused and a little worried.
"Mom and dad wouldn't want me to waste me life grieving. Though, I'm going to miss them a lot…" Naruto felt a strange flash of pain in his heart as she spoke. He couldn't explain why he felt such a sensation, but as quickly as it came, it had vanished. He tried not the think of it anymore than he had to. Still… it was a little foreboding… "I'm ready to go now…"
Naruto and Kakashi both nodded and waited patiently as Sakura kissed her fingertips and placed them on the ground. It was her final goodbye, but she knew she would have them in her heart. With that she stood and left the place of her birth for the very last time…