Shadows on the Cherry Blossom

Summary: When Sasuke defeats Naruto and Sakura again, still refusing to come home, Kyuubi sends Sakura back in time to go on the Sasuke Retrieval mission. He thinks that if she will, just maybe she can help them bring him home...and back to his original self. (SasuSaku)

Disclaimer: Wishing at 11:11 won't make you own Naruto, so I still don't, and this is my final update for this fic! Ninja Fox of the Fire's Quest to own Naruto: Fail. I still don't own. (For now…lol)

Authoress's Note: Ok, so this chapter dedication goes to…pirateKitten11893, who was the 50th to reviewer. I chose to dedicate it to her, because she's a new face to my list of reviewers and she seemed to really like this fic. To answer your question, pirateKitten11893, I never really considered making a sequel for this fic, but now that you bring it up, I'd say that it's very LIKELY that I'll somehow incorporate a little of this storyline into a future fic. I'll definitely do more Naruto fics. Ok guys…here it is… the final chapter. Epilogue just sounds cooler and it really is an epilogue anyway since it skips over a little time. Just a little though. So, without further ado…

Epilogue: What I Live For

Sasuke walked over to the bridge. He had just finished helping load merchandise onto a truck. Manual labor had been a big part of his punishment, and he was already sweating from the heat of summer. Tomorrow he was scheduled to help assist with the ninja academy. Ugh… Sasuke didn't have the patience for small children. Well, that was tomorrow. For this afternoon, he would be teaming up with Sakura and Naruto for further training. They were already on the bridge, waiting for Kakashi yet again. Sasuke joined them.

"How late is he today?" Sasuke scoffed.

Naruto replied, "We've been waiting for half an hour now. It's been a lot worse."

"Well yeah, but who knows how much longer we'll be here waiting…" Sakura sighed.

Sasuke got comfortable. It could be a while.

"I wonder what sort of training we'll be doing today," Naruto's eyes gleamed with excitement.

Kakashi appeared behind his students. "Hello! Sasuke, Naruto, Sakura, today I have a special, exciting training exercise in store for you three!"

"What? What?" Naruto jumped up, ready to go.

Kakashi chuckled. "Today…"

"Yeah? Yeah?" Naruto's enthusiasm was building.

"I want you to wander through the Forest of Death and see what happens! I unlocked the gates, although this won't be your chunin exams. Honestly, I just want to see how you three will act in this situation. Be prepared!" And with his eyes sparkling and a smile underneath his mask, Kakashi was gone.

"What the heck?" Naruto was disappointed. He was really expecting a mission. But then again, how often did a genin get to train in the Forest of Death? Probably never, as it was only used for chunin exams.

I wonder how Kakashi pulled off getting permission for letting us into the Forest of Death. He sure did look happy…He's definitely up to something… Sasuke pondered. No matter. Off we go.

"But what the heck are we supposed to do in the Forest of Death? Kakashi wasn't exactly specific! What did he mean, 'see how you three will act in this situation'? What situation? What's our objective?"

"A true ninja doesn't need to be told. They adapt to their surroundings and stay alert. The problem will present itself sooner or later." Sasuke began walking in the right direction. The Forest of Death wasn't far from where they were already. Sakura was behind him. "Sensei sure was acting strange though…Well; I guess we'll find out what's going on soon enough." She decided.

Naruto was a little put out as his feet drug on behind them, but he was quick to perk up, as always. "Well, whatever's going on won't be a problem for us! That's right, Team 7's back together again and better than ever! We can take on anyone!"

Sakura smiled. She was so glad to be with the both of them again. I don't know what I'd do if the retrieval mission failed… I would never be the same on the inside. But that didn't happen. Things are the way they should be. She felt warm inside.

Truly, Sasuke was happy to be back with him too. The distortions in his mind won over after all of the confusing messages from Itachi and Orochimaru, but the truth was somewhat revealed to him now after his last encounter with his brother. He was glad he wasn't tricked into doing as Itachi wished after all. It was a set up all along…and he almost fell for it. No, giving up his life in Konoha was the hardest thing he ever had to do, but the distortions caused his yearning for revenge to be much stronger, and the village seemed like nothing…most of the time. Now that he was back, he was realizing…but no! The revenge was still there. Even if he was being used…what about his mother and father? How would he ever be released from restoring their honor now? No one could do it, and he loved them so much…

"Here it is, the Forest of Death," Sakura elbowed him away from his thoughts and into the forest's depths.

"What's this?" Naruto inquired, pointing to a letter nailed to the first big tree directly in front of the gate.

"Trees like me...one, two, three. Find them all and what will be will be," Sakura read the ominous message.

"Do you think Kakashi-sensei put this here?" Naruto asked.

"I don't know…It's likely I guess…"Sasuke replied. That weirdo…

"So we're supposed to find three other trees…like this one?" Sakura's voice trailed off.

"Great…a needle in a haystack game! Find certain trees in a forest…" Sasuke complained.

"Well, this tree is big… It's actually pretty huge," Naruto observed.

"Big tree in a forest…Well, that narrows it down to about half of them!"

"I guess the only thing we can do is get started," Sakura sighed. This was shaping up to be a boring and tedious mission already.

It was uneventful, a bit to their surprise. It was the forest of death, after all.

"Isn't there supposed to be-oh I don't know-threats here?" Naruto remarked sarcastically. "Where's the challenge in this?"

"I told you, this is just a boring needle in the haystack game…" Sasuke murmured.

"Well, at least we don't have to fight! I mean, after all this walking around in circles, we're already going to be tired out…" Sakura amended.

Finally, after over an hour of searching for what seemed to be aimlessly, Naruto called out, "There it is! The first tree!" It had another note attached to it, covered it strange writing that the genin couldn't understand.

The group hurriedly approached it, hoping that something interesting would finally happen. It looked like a stupid regular tree, after all. In reality it was…but this particular one actually did serve a purpose. When Team 7 got close enough to it, the letters glowed and Kyuubi sensed a strange spiritual calling, and appeared before their eyes.

"So you have succeeded," the fox blew away like dust into the wind and vanished. Quickly, images flashed by, like their lives were on replay, or rather, fast forward. Images of the past flew as well as images of the future. Sasuke was returning home with them. Sasuke was fighting with Itachi, his two comrades standing uneasily behind him. Sasuke stood with them on the bridge that day. The members of the retrieval squad arose in their hospital beds, still alive and miraculously recovering. Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura stood beside one another on many missions to come. The seasons changed in the dim background. These images all passed them by. It was insane! How could this even be happening? It was like a prophecy foretelling the future, and all that the future held was good. Finally, the images rolled to a stop.

"Eh? Do you…think that was all true?" Sakura's voice was shaky. "I mean, some of that stuff has already happened, but…"

Sasuke remained silent. He didn't like having his future foretold. It wasn't true! He was in the power of his own life! He had more choices to make in his life than to either stay in the village or go with Orochimaru. For some reason he couldn't quite identify, it made him very angry to see something that tried to predict his life's story. He wouldn't follow a path that was already set out for him anymore. If he were going to do that, he might as well set out after Itachi again. However, he was relieved that everyone survived that stupid retrieval mission. If that part of it was true anyway…

Naruto opened his mouth. "I don't know some of it"-He was cut off by an ambush of some sort. Blurs of black were flying all around Naruto, undistinguishable. In seconds they were on Sakura and Sasuke as well.

"What are these things?" she cried.

The black blurs circling Sakura all left her after only a few more seconds and all attached themselves to either Sasuke or Naruto, whizzing around the two and battering at them. Sakura was absolutely bewildered. She had never seen such… things before! The two boys were just hitting at them the best they could those first few seconds, but were two slow to make contact. Sasuke then completely focused on one that stood out a little with a few blurry red dots on it. He reached out with his arm as quickly as he possibly could, like lightning, and grasped the thing in his hands. It liquidized in his fist and sloshed to the ground. He was still getting pounded, but he bent down to peer at the black puddle on the ground. As it was lying still, he could make out the red symbol on its back.

It was a mangekyo sharingan. "Sakura, these things are demons," his anguish was hidden behind his calm tone.

They never quit pounding them, although they caused them no physical pain. They were like ghosts running right through Sasuke and Naruto's bodies. They were drawn to the boys' curses. Sakura wasn't near as appealing to them. Lucky her. The creatures entranced the boys, leaving them rooted to the spot. Thinking back to the mangekyo, Sasuke became enraged, breaking free of the trance. "Fireball Jutsu!" The demons liquidized on contact. Sasuke waded through the black puddles, burning every creature in sight. Naruto caught on and released himself as well. Then the two collapsed from shock.

Sasuke and Naruto blacked out. Blacking out isn't like merely fainting. It's a state where you sense what's around you physically, but your mind shuts your body down in order to recover from the shock. They lay there, feeling the cold ground and the oozing black puddles on their bellies. All of the nightmares and horrors of their past and possible ones of their future seeped in through their contact with the demons. It's what they wanted to inflict. They wanted the supreme powers that the boys possessed. The boys could hear Sakura's panicked breathing very close to their bodies. Soon they felt her cold hands on their legs. Their bellies were being pulled across the ground. She was dragging them away from the liquidized demons. Once they were out of the puddles, their minds eased and they fell into a deep sleep.

They were only out for a couple of hours. Sasuke's eyes cracked open first. Sakura jumped. "Sasuke, are you all right?"

No, he didn't feel any physical pain. He nodded his head and grunted out a 'yeah', pulling himself up into a sitting position. Naruto came out of dreamland seconds later. He too was still in a normal physical condition. Even still, what had really happened?

Sakura wanted to know. "What-what did those things do to you?" she asked, wide-eyed with curiosity and still a little shock.

Sasuke and Naruto shot each other a sideways glance. They both knew that they had undergone the same thing. Those things had absolutely tortured them mentally. They feasted on those with ugly pasts, desperately trying to suck out the power contained in those emotions.

Sasuke began to remember the worst part of it all. The creatures brought the image of cherry blossoms blowing through the wind—No. He wouldn't relive it for the third time.

"Sakura, beings like that…I've never seen such creatures before…But it's clear to me that they were trying to use us for something…Trying to torture us first. It's okay now. It's over," Sasuke stood up. "Let's finish this mission."

Sakura's eyes grew a bit wider, absorbing the information. She could tell he was swallowing some emotion there. She tried not to push the matter further, and followed his nearly-silent footsteps.

Naruto had a sudden thought. "Do you think Kakashi-sensei made those creatures a part of this mission?"

Sasuke turned his head to face Naruto, his eyes narrowing. "He wouldn't."

He turned his back, all business. The search for the next tree had begun.

After about another twenty minutes of searching, Naruto heard someone whispering his name. At least, they were whispering at first.

"Naruto…Naruto…pssssst…NARUTO!"

"Huh?" The boy wandered off in the direction of the voice. Sasuke and Sakura closely followed. Surprisingly, they found another free with a note attached to it.

Is this a trap? They all grew more alert. This sure was suspicious.

Naruto was suddenly tripped by something in the bush right next to the tree and drug under.

"Naruto!" His teammates reached for him, but the lettering on the note lit up, and a strong wind blew them back. It was impossible to fight it, and they ended up yards away. Sasuke came to painful stop, slamming his back against another tree. He spread his arms and caught Sakura.

For the slightest second, she blushed, but panic surged back. "We've got to help Naruto!"

He quickly released her and they sprinted a short distance before being thrown back into the trees again. The wind was just as strong as before.

The circled the perimeter for another half hour, searching for either a way in, or the cause of the barrier. They found neither. There was no way in and no one to pound over it.

Sasuke made a decision. "We're wasting our time here. The sooner we get done with this mission, the sooner we can get help from Kakashi or something. Who knows, maybe he had something to do with this too. He sure had a strange gleam in his eyes today anyway. There has to be some point behind this mission. Maybe it's to see if we could leave a comrade in a time of crisis or something…No matter what the case, Naruto is strong. He'll be okay." He gave the boy that much credit. Sakura was reluctant, but she nodded and they went on, in search of the final tree.

Naruto was shocked, and looked up at the face that dragged him under. There wasn't one... It was covered by a mask.

Sakura and Sasuke paused, on full alert. They heard something behind them, whistling through the wind, almost like a ghost. The turned their heads to the side and then started to sprint.

The demons were back.

Madly dashing through the forest, Sakura tripped over a tree root. Sasuke stopped and pulled her to her feet, but he really shouldn't have bothered. They weren't after her.

The demons caught up and Sasuke collapsed.

"You're worthless, little brother."

"You'll never be strong enough."

"Come with me, I-I can give you s-s-s-strength."

"Don't leave me, Sasuke!"

"Aah!" He awoke, and stopped his ridiculous screaming the moment he realized he was doing it. Sakura released his face; she was holding it as he tossed and moaned in the nightmarish state that he was in previously.

He jumped up, still a bit shaken. "One more tree to go…" The sun was still high in the sky, but it was just beginning to set. "Let's make it before nightfall."

She grabbed his arm and looked him in the eyes. "Are you strong enough to finish this right now?"

He stood up to his full height and regained his composure. Of all the years they spent together, why did the one time he truly lost his cool have to be around her? He brushed it off as if it were nothing. "I'm fine."

She knew that would be his answer. Sakura let her lips form into a little smile, but her eyes still held a little concern. Sasuke pushed himself too hard.

Time lapsed. "There it is! There's the last tree, Sasuke!" It could be seen in the distance. This tree had a bigger note attached than the others; it covered most of the tree, making it visible. She began to run to it in glee. Sasuke swept his hand out in front of her. "Wait, we don't know what we could meet this time. Brace yourself."

She obeyed, and they cautiously approached it. They emerged into a small clearing, with the tree in its center. Sakura trees surrounded the tiny perimeter, and the cherry blossoms were gracefully dancing towards the ground, sometimes pirouetting as the wind breezed. Sakura let out a gasp of awe. The sun was reaching the horizon now.

The glimmer of the note's lettering was reflecting in Sasuke's eyes for a final time. No demons had appeared, but…the cherry blossoms…the shadows in his heart…Sakura beside him…When the sun set it would become night…so like that night…He was forced to relive that night when he left her on the bench. It was the night he so longed to forget. He longed to forget it because it was the night he gave into weakness. It was the night he almost turned around. But in the end, through all the other conflicting emotions, it was the night that he almost left her. The sun set, and he grabbed her. She gasped in surprise. This note only caused one thing to happen; fireworks began to go off as darkness fell.

"Sasuke…" her voice trailed off as she met his unreadable eyes. The barriers that blocked the window to his heart faded just enough.

"I've decided…I could never do it over."

He looked at her with a questioning look. Should I…? Um…My parents…uh…could be watching…He was so overtaken by emotions for the first time since he was seven that Sasuke stuttered in his mind. Yes, stuttered!

Sakura looked up at the fireworks in the night sky. Pink and blue reflected in her eyes. Sasuke turned her face back towards him. She's up to Uchiha standards, Mother, Father… [But for Sasuke, who had already felt those bonds, nothing could ever quite replace or compare to the bonds that were formed with his parents. or just maybe they could…]Pink melted with blue, and the shadows in Sasuke's heart were no more. He kissed her.

Time does tell that even if they say so, she'd be the one that would know…

"I don't know why you waited for me all this time. If you hadn't, I'd be long gone. I'd force myself to not look back. But no matter what I'd always know what you really meant to me. I love you, Sakura." The words felt alien in his throat, but he meant them.

"Sasuke, you didn't have to tell me. I always knew."

Happing endings, just what did you do? If you're a dream then come true. Stop pretending that what you mean isn't what you say.

He gave her another confused look.

She laughed. "When we were in real danger, I'm afraid some emotion seeped through."

Nothing's binding me to this village any more…Or forcing me to be here…I want to be here…I want to be with her…It's not a weakness…It's a choice…The "vision" by the first tree only foretold the inevitable…That I would stay with her because I love her. I can love, Itachi just made me forget how. I'm set free. He thought. I've won, Itachi. I've beaten you. I've moved on, and you haven't.

(Song-fic part continues) Hopeful dreaming, of times before the pain, wishing it was still the same.
Loving, leaving…
Round and round and round we go again

He held her close until the end of the firework show, taking in the sweet aroma of her hair and the cherry blossoms falling into it. When it was over, they basked in the moment until it was well past midnight. The night seemed to last a lifetime and only a moment all at once. They would have remained in that meadow so much longer-words unneeded, must to Sasuke's advantage-but then they remembered.

"Naruto!"

The young boy was still with Kakashi and Jiriya. They were the ones who grabbed hold of him. The three had migrated to the trees just on the edge of the clearing, giving themselves a perfect view of Sasuke and Sakura.

"This is going to be the inspiration for my latest Make-Out Paradise!" Jiriya exclaimed, eating it up.

"Oooh! Now that will be one to read!" Kakashi was getting overexcited for the smut as well.

"What the hell? What was all this about anyway? And now you're talking about Make-Out Paradise? What was the whole point of this stupid training exercise anyway?" Naruto was pretty steamed.

"You and Sakura wanted Sasuke to stay didn't you? Well, he would need to things to insure that: the truth about his brother, and something to make him want to stay here. Sakura was the only thing that he ever truly wanted besides revenge," Kakashi revealed his plot. "There's no guarantee that he won't kill Itachi one day, but now he hasn't something more to live for."

"Well yeah…as long as they'll still be here…But why can't Sakura be happy with me?" Naruto pouted.

Kakashi chuckled. "Wasn't it always obvious that it'd end up this way?"

"Don't worry, kid. Someone will come your way. Love's a fun game!" Jiriya flashed him a crooked smile.

Sasuke kicked them all in the back of the head. Inner-Sakura was seeping through. They were pissed. "What in the hell are you all trying to do?" the couple seethed.

Walks a-lone, have often led to thinking. My love for you is sinking to what seems an all time low or high, the limits' never ending, and don't you know I'm sending. There's no venture I won't go
for you. ~Happy endings.

Fin! (French for The End!)

Authoress's Note: So it's finally finished! I LOVED writing this fic and I apologize that it took me so long! I'd also like to apologize that I took a little while to post this final chapter. I have a good reason this time; I've had school essays, school paragraphs, and a letter to the bishop of the Catholic Church to write. As a little side note, I'd like to add that I do think that Sasuke and Sakura will end up together, of course, not this way, but I definitely think he'll come back to Konoha and I think he realizes what she means to him.(I sure hope so!) There are too many hints of it in the series. Way more than NaruSaku in that sense. Go SasuSaku!

Anyway, thanks to all of you guys for reading this until the end! I had such a great time with this! I definitely have a lot of ideas for new fics rolling and they'll be up soon. I'm getting school under control and I really think I might be able to keep on a better schedule for future fics. I KNOW I'll do better! I made it through my first big-time chapter fic, so I've got the experience to plan out future fics better and updates more efficiently. Some future fics include one for Ouran High School Host Club, Harvest Moon, Kingdom Hearts: BBS, Fruits Basket, Tokyo Mew Mew, and very likely a type of spin-off to this fic. Harvest Moon and Ouran High School will probably be up first, as they were promised to a friend and are long overdue. Then either Fruits Basket or Kingdom Hearts, as that's what won the poll.

Reviews for this last chap/epilogue are appreciated! I want to know what you guys think! Sorry if the ending was cheesy! I hate sappy love stories, so I tried to make it more reserved. I hope I didn't totally fail at that! I hope everyone enjoyed this fic as much as I did!

Until next time (which will be very soon!),

-Ninja Fox of the Fire