-- Disclaimer: I only own my imagination and the tools to show them to others via internet…

-- Warning: Violence and something my sister said was "Stroke Worthy." Hmm...?

-- Note: SORRY FOR TAKING SO LONG!!!! My Computer is now in the hands of another, but! I have a brand new LAPTOP so I'll be able to write again!!! At long last the chapter I've been waiting to write has come!!! Be prepared to be thrown for a loop!! I'm sorry if the chapter is short. It seemed short to me since I haven't had much time to write it, but I still think you're going to like it!! Also, there may be some gramatical errors, please excuse them, I was in a hurry. Anyways, I hope you can forgive me for taking so long and I hope you like what I did in just a few hours!!!

Thank you and enjoy this next chapter!


Finally Clear To Me

By: Plushie-Sensei

Chapter 6: Just So You Know – Pt. 2

"Sakura…? Sakura-chan…? Are you alright? Can you hear me?

Sakura jumped, her eyes snapping open in fright. Her head hit the pillow again and she breathed, trying to make sense of the world around her. She looked to her side and saw him staring at her with deep concern. She was right about the next morning. Her body absolutely refused to move.

"I'm sorry, Naruto…" she whispered weakly, catching the increasingly worried look on his face, "I must've used too much chakra last night…" Naruto's brow drew together in question.

"How did you manage that?" he asked with a hint of anger. Sakura smiled faintly.

"Your back was hurt… So I healed you… Please don't be mad at me…" Naruto shook his head and narrowed his eyes gently. He sighed and slouched back, running a hand through his disheveled blond locks.

"I'm not mad at you, Sakura-chan, but next time you need to be more careful. It's not wise to exhaust your chakra so early in the mission…" Sakura smiled again pulling an expression of sarcasm.

"Oh…? That's news to me…" She pulled herself up into a sitting position with a little difficulty, but Naruto was there to help her. "I'm sorry about all this. I'll be fine. We really should get going so…" She eased away from Naruto's support and pulled herself to her feet, albeit unsteadily. Naruto stood as well, ready to assist if necessary, but Sakura was in one of her stubborn moods. "Relax, Naruto, I'm fine. You just get ready to go."

Naruto could've chosen to be persistent, but it wasn't wise to act stubbornly against Sakura, especially when she was so tired. He settled on listening instead and getting ready to continue their journey from… wherever the hell they were… He could only hope she had at least a little chakra left to use if absolutely necessary.

Walking wasn't so hard this morning. Naruto wasn't entirely happy with the idea of Sakura wasting her healing chakra on his minor injuries, but he couldn't argue with the results. He'd never been so ready to take on the day and for once he was actually willing to walk halfway across the country. Sakura, however, was not. He glanced back and thankfully she wasn't too far behind this time.

Sakura trekked forward ignoring the cold pain in her chest. It seemed as though with every step she took it was harder and harder to breath, though it was a little late to be having second thoughts about healing Naruto. She continued onward, nonetheless, hoping she hadn't gotten too far behind for Naruto to come try to help her… Again…

"Sakura-chan, do you need a break?" he asked, suddenly at her side and she paused to curse at herself.

"No…" she answered tiredly, and approached a fallen log. She stopped again staring at the log, hoping it would just move and makes things easier. Unfortunately it did not, but luckily Naruto was there. He hopped onto the log and held out his hand. She took it without hesitation. His palm was warm and comforting as he gripped her hand and with one tug he pulled her onto the log beside him.

Their hands remained connected for a little longer than necessary and Sakura peered upward, catching his gaze. It was obvious what was on both their minds at that moment, but she didn't think it so smart to delve into that when they were so close to finding their lost teammate. Even so, it was difficult to shove something like a kiss to the back of her mind. Especially her first kiss… And she hadn't even told him to his face how she really felt. Come to think of it, she really couldn't remember what she'd said the previous night at all

"H-How're you feeling?" Naruto asked suddenly, as if trying to change the subject. A handsome hue of red had spread across the bridge of nose and it made her smile. She peered downward, blushing herself.

"Better than this morning, that's for sure. I think I just need to take it easy, but don't worry about me." Naruto nodded and hopped off the log on the other side, helping Sakura ease off as well. She smiled once again at him and began walking forward while he remained still. Her hand slipped from his and he felt his heart leave with her. He felt a little ridiculous thinking such thoughts, since she was only walking ahead of him, but still…

That kiss had proven to him what he'd suspected—and hoped for—all along…

"Hurry up, Naruto! Now you're the one who's lagging behind," she called with a giggle. He shook his head clear and rushed forward to catch up with her…

"They're still alive… I will not make the same mistake again…"
The area was quiet… A little too quiet…

Naruto peered around as he waited for Sakura to catch up on her own and listened to the soft winds rustling the leaves above him. There were thick beams of light spilling into the small clearing he stood in and occasionally one would disappear for a moment as a large bird passed overhead. Still, he heard nothing. He couldn't even hear the birds…

Come to think of it, he couldn't find any form of animal life anymore…

Sakura stepped beside Naruto frowning in question, though she didn't say anything and peered around as well, waiting for him to reveal to her why he was just standing there.

"There's something wrong…" Naruto said quietly, kneeling to observe the leaves at his feet. Sakura stepped toward the nearest tree and examined the trunk. Finding nothing wrong in the surrounding area either she sighed and placed her hands on her hips. A small breeze blew past her and another bird flew overhead.

"Naruto, I don't see…"

Sakura's voice left her as she turned around to find nothing but an empty clearing…

"Naruto…?" she called, stepping to where he once stood. "Naruto, where are you?" She received no answer. "Naruto, this isn't funny! Knock it off and come out now!" Her voice was beginning to tremble as she rubbed her fingers nervously and she still received no answer. She turned and turned around looking in all directions, including upwards. She looked downwards and saw nothing but his footprints and a few tussled leaves. She was completely alone… "NARUTO!!"

"No need to shout," whispered a voice from behind, but it sounded nothing like Naruto. She spun around and a sharp pain shocked down her left arm. The force of a few kunai sent her to the ground, but she was quick to face her enemy again and stood, yanking one of the kunai out of her shoulder and holding it in her defense.

She saw no one, but she could hear a taunting chuckle.

"Where is Naruto?!" he demanded, finding no use in keeping quiet if the creature knew exactly where she was. It was already a little late to hide. Once again, she received no response and while she waited for him to make his move she took the time to pull the other two kunai from her arm. The wounds weren't that deep to begin with, but it was where they hit that worried her. She could already feel her skin begin to tingle with the loss of feeling…

Her mind was loosing focus as she searched for her enemy. Her labored breathing and quick heart rate were the only things she could hear now and the side of her neck was becoming numb. Even her ear was beginning to tingle.

"It's not like me to leave a job unfinished," whispered that mocking voice again, but she was unable to locate where it was coming from. She could sense something, though. There was a faint feeling around her blind spot, but for some reason she just couldn't find the strength to stand anymore.

Sakura fell to her knees and her shoulders slumped. Her thigh was beginning to hurt again and the numbness had reached the side of her face at this point. All the while, whatever was coming at her was coming fast. If only she had enough energy to—

"SAKURA!!" She opened her eyes. Her vision was cloudy but she didn't need to see anything to be able to recognize that voice. Naruto's presence was clear to her now. She could hear him tell her something, but she couldn't quite understand what. He had urgency in his voice that made her nervous. Her legs were being more stubborn than she'd hoped and she could do no better than crawl toward his voice. He became even more urgent and she was beginning to get scared…

She looked so helpless crawling along the leaves and that mocking voice was quick to take advantage of her tender state. He knew that the blond shinobi was rapidly approaching and secretly wished he'd dragged him further into the ground and further away from the site. There was nothing he could do about it now, though, and he just focused on the easy target before him…

Naruto was light on his feet, rushing so fast it took a while for the wind to catch up to him. He knew something was wrong, but he didn't expect to suddenly be dragged beneath the surface of the earth. He blamed himself for allowing it to happen and now Sakura was in immediate danger.

There wasn't time for thought and there wasn't time for retaliation. It was already a problem that he was too late when her garbled whimper flooded his ears. He didn't even stop running as he scooped up her body and dashed as fast as he could into the trees. He leapt on branch after branch following his ears as the river was not to far away. They'd traveled quite far and with any luck a village would be right through the forest.

Naruto looked downward—wishing he hadn't—and eyed the blood collecting in a small pocket of clothing on Sakura's abdomen. Fearing the worst, he dashed forward a few more yards and then paused to do something about the bleeding. Ignoring the stinging in his own chest he removed his jacket and—ignoring Sakura's protests as well— tore away her upper clothing. He winced visibly at the rip in her side.

"Naru-to…" she choked, swallowing the blood that rose in her throat. There were tears in her eyes and she trembled, swallowing constantly. He shushed her and removed his shirt as well, placing it as padding on the wound before tying his jacket tightly around her. He tried not to think too much about her sounds of protest and carefully gathered her up again. He rushed twice as fast as before, determined to get her to safety. His own chest wound was beginning to bleed down his muscles and Sakura's tremendous grip on his bare shoulder was starting to hurt, but nothing was going to slow him down now.

The sun was beginning to sink into the mountains and many civilians were finishing up their outdoor activities. It just so happened as a last minute delivery was being made and as the road twisted by the forest, a simple man was delivered an unexpected package of his own.

It was quite a startling event to see a young man rush out of the trees carrying a wounded young woman, but nonetheless, the man was kind—and not too startled—enough to give them a quick ride to the nearby village. It probably wasn't the wisest decision to reside so close to a forest they almost died in twice, yet he had little choice if he wanted to save Sakura. In fact, he had no choice if he wanted to save her…

Naturally, a small town that was fairly quiet roused as a commotion was made by the small hospital and many of its few residents were making a small crowd just outside. Sakura was quickly taken to the intensive care and thankfully, Naruto was allowed to stay with her. She gripped his hand, biting her lip so hard it bled as well. He placed a hand on her face and made her look at him and no where else.

Unfortunately for Sakura, this wasn't the most advanced of hospitals…

"We're going to need to close the wound. If you could just…" The doctor trailed off as his assistant brought a small unsharpened pencil and Sakura instantly paled.

"Naruto, what're they going to do? What's going on?" she asked nervously, moving away as the woman tried to put it between her teeth.

"Sakura, please stay still and take the pencil…" he whispered in her ear, but that didn't ease her movements. She complained and tugged at the sheets, hiding her face. Tears streamed down her face and she winced as the doctors pried at her sore skin flaps. They were pinched together and she screamed. Unprepared, she nearly bit the pencil in two as it touched her teeth. She could feel liquid pouring over the wound along with the pinching stings of the needle as it joined her skin together once again.

Naruto buried his face in the pillow, beside her head, and stroked her face, trying his best to comfort her. Her throat was becoming raw now and soon she was only sobbing and breathing hard, tearing the sheets underneath her. He raised his head to kiss her cheek and whisper reassurances in her ear. It was all he could do for her now…

Many hours later, Naruto sat bandaged and exhausted on a chair near the window of the hospital room. Despite his state of fatigue his tired eyes refused to close, so he focused on Sakura, sleeping on the other side of the room. She was finally peaceful after nearly an hour and a half of treating her injures. The hospital was so behind the times Sakura had to be given opium to ease her body to rest. He knew she was probably extremely sore, but at least she was recovering.

She had lost a lot of blood and there was little they could do to replace it. Luckily they knew she wouldn't die of blood loss, but they would have to be patient. She was in a very fragile state and it would be a while until she gained even enough strength to continue with the mission.

Oh… The mission… And Sasuke…

Naruto turned to the window knowing what this meant. He would have to continue the mission alone…

"And he just shoved me aside waving a sword in my face! There was nothing I could do!" Naruto's keen ears perked up at this. It was coming from the hallway just outside the door. He stood, wincing only slightly at the pain and stood by the door, listening intently.

"Wasn't there anything you could do?" asked a woman.

"No!" said the man, "He was much too powerful for me, even though he couldn't have been older than what, seventeen?" Naruto's blue eyes widened further in thought. Surely they couldn't be talking about… He opened the door, ignoring the startled looks on their faces and the woman staring at his bare stomach and collarbone…

"What did he look like?" he asked directly. The man looked confused up until Naruto grabbed his collar and dragged him forward, glaring at him threateningly. "Answer me!"

"H-He had short dark hair and piercing red eyes. They looked kind of funny and he wore white robe with dark pants. I think there was a bow in the back made of rope or something…"

"When did you last see him?"

"Um, I think just a few minutes ago," the man sputtered as Naruto dropped him and stared down the hallway eyes wide, brow knit in anger. He swore and ran back into the hospital room, closing the door behind him, leaving the man and woman with curious stares.

He rummaged through his backpack and quickly pulled on his extra shirt, followed by his trademark jacket. He tied his headband on tightly and stared out the window with a hardened gaze. Sasuke was close, just right under his nose, and it was now or… well, next time, but Naruto was definitely reaching for now. He turned ready to leave when Sakura stirred…

"Where are you going…?" she asked quietly. Even though her throat was raw he could here the hint of accusation in there. She though he was leaving her?

"I have to continue this mission… Sakura-chan… I think Sasuke is close and if I can just find him I can…" Naruto's enthusiasm faded when he saw her looking at him through dark eyelids. It was eerily similar to the state she was in when she'd lost her parents.

"But… You can't just leave me here to go…" she paused to swallow painfully, "To go fight him now. You'll need help, Naruto… Don't go yet." She was already in tears by now and Naruto walked quickly to her bedside. He smiled as best he could and brushed her bangs from her eyes.

"Sakura-chan… You need to stay here and recover…" His eyes rapidly dimmed as he spoke and his smile became increasingly fake. "And I need to go… and bring Sasuke back for you…" Sakura's eyelids opened as wide as they could, without hurting, in utter shock. Taking her silence as the initiative to leave, he did so, making his way toward the door much slower than before.

"No… Wait!" Naruto didn't pause. He continued walking forward loosing expression and gaining the blood thirsty eyes of a cold blooded killer. The Kyuubi was laughing on the inside…

Sakura shook her head and pulled herself up. She bit her lip to keep from hollering from the pain. It hurt, but it would hurt worse if she just let him leave like that.

"Naruto!" she yelled, just as he'd grasped the doorknob.

Her throat was raw and felt like it was bleeding on the inside, but she tossed the worry to the back of her mind and drew in a sharp breath…

"Naruto, stop! It's not Sasuke I love! IT'S YOU!! I LOVE YOU!!"

Time within the room seemed to have stopped all together as Naruto froze mid-turn on the doorknob. He let go and the knob twisted noisily back into place, smashed to a near unusable state. Sakura's chest vibrated raucously as she breathed. He turned to her slowly, eyes full of fear and she sobbed.

"I've always loved you…" she sniffed, wiping her eyes. "I was just so caught up in the thrill of the cute mysterious guy that all the girls liked and… I wasn't thinking and… I'm sorry!" Naruto said nothing, his expression still fearful. She looked up again and gazed into his eyes. "I should've been… I should've seen it before, I know! And I'm sorry I hurt you! Just, please… don't go yet… I don't know what I'd do if I lost you…"

Exhausted she bowed her head and cried. For a moment she forgot to wait for his reaction. She just quietly and heartbreakingly cried.

Naruto's feet wouldn't move for the longest time, but eventually he did manage to break from his stupor and retraced his steps to her bedside. Sakura pulled her head up slightly, acknowledging his presence and he kneeled beside the bed, cupping her face in both palms. He turned her face and caught her gaze again, wiping the tears from under her eyes with his thumbs.

"You… You mean that…?" he whispered, his voice cracking.

…Sakura nodded.

"Every word… Naruto, I beg you, don't go yet," she said, holding his hands over her face.

"Sakura-chan… Sasuke is… here." Sakura gasped, completely caught off guard.

"S-Sasuke… is here…?" Naruto bowed his head.

"Yes… Which is why I have to go. Sakura-chan, if I don't leave soon, I may not find him." He waited patiently for her response.

"I… I understand…" Naruto peered up in slight surprise to her determined tone. "But don't say it's for me. It's for both of us, you understand?" He sighed, smiling on impulse and nodded.

"Sakura-chan… You don't know how much this means to me… How long I've waited to hear that…" She only smiled, since the pain was starting to give her an uncomfortable headache. She winced involuntarily and Naruto was quick to ease her back on the bed, with his face hovering inches above hers.

"I still don't want you to go… but it can't be helped… I just want you to know that whatever happens… you'd better come back, with or without Sasuke…" Naruto nodded and, giving her a cautious look, he leaned downward, gently capturing her soft lips. For the longest moment he memorized the feel of her lips against his and the softness of her skin under the pads of his fingers. Certainly, it would take a while to finish this mission and he wasn't able to take the luxury of Sakura's company with him this time.

He pulled away to look at her face. It wasn't her best moment, but she was still beautiful to him.

"I have to go soon… but I don't want to…" He kissed her again, pressing against her lips securely. "After years of waiting… I finally have you… and now… I have to leave again," he mumbled between kisses. He turned his head to contour to her lips and she opened her mouth allowing his tongue to graze her own. Sakura did her best to ignore the pain and lack of oxygen. The taste of Naruto's mouth against hers was just too sweet to let go of yet.

He pulled away again, letting his lips linger for a moment longer…

"Damn it, Sakura… You're making it difficult for me to leave…" Sakura caressed his face.

"I know how you feel… Sasuke's close, you said… The sooner you get back, the sooner you can reap your rewards…" Naruto nodded and kissed her a final time before reluctantly pulling himself away. He managed to get the door open—looking a little embarrassed about the state of the doorknob—and glanced back at Sakura. She gave him a quiet smile.

"I love you, Naruto…" Naruto felt a painful throb in his heart, but tried not to react to it. It would only make it harder to leave…

"I love you, Sakura-chan," he said, giving her his priceless smile, filled with unwavering determination along with his infamous thumbs up. "But then," he continued, "You already knew that." With a final toothy grin he vanished out the door, leaving the room in a silent and dark state.

Sakura looked to the window, knowing Naruto was most likely out of town by now. She closed her eyes and placed her hands over her heart in silent prayer. Her body began to fade again, forcing her back into that deep slumber. Her side was in much pain, but she ignored it, thinking instead of the moment Naruto would return to her.

She was glad she had told him of her feelings at long last and felt the heavy burden lift from her chest. He felt the same, and he was right, she did already know, but it was still comforting to hear. She was able to sleep with a smile on her face knowing he knew she loved him. Just as long as he knew, she was able to breath deeply for the first time in many a while…

Not a footprint was made as Naruto dashed through the night. Something was tugging at his heart and though he knew Sakura had something to do with it, it felt different. His heart was being pulled in another direction and the faster he ran the less strain he felt.

He was so close now…

He'd raced for a few miles when he'd approached a steep cliff face overlooking a barren wasteland. The whole area felt dead and abandoned, but an eerie feeling of someone's existence lingered in the air. Something resided on this place. Naruto moved briefly to turn around and search another area, but his feet froze in place and his blue eyes focused on something in the distance. Something that looked quite familiar to him…

"Finally… I found you… "

The wind picked up and the eerie existence intensified. Naruto narrowed his eyes and stood his ground as red chakra spilled from his body.