Disclaimer: I own nothing. Except this laptop. But laptops do not equal Naruto.
A/N: Naruto needs a hug--and voila: this story. If you want to read into it and call it romantic NaruSaku, go ahead. But it's only intended to illustrate how close they've become. Also, this was slightly editted because I posted it rather hastily. So enjoy and review!!
He huddled in the corner, shivering and shaking. Knees drawn to his chest, he wrapped his arms around them tightly, as if they would spring away from his body should he let go. His blue eyes were wide and staring and focused on nothing. Even his pupils seemed to quake.
He had failed them. Oh, God, he had failed all of them. He had promised them, and he had let them down.
He had looked her in those tear-filled green eyes and sworn to bring Sasuke back, even if that meant he had to drag the renegade shinobi by his spiky hair. Whatever it would take to bring the last Uchiha home to Konoha. But all he had brought back was a body.
It had been his best friend and rival's dying wish: Avenge my clan, Naruto. Don't let Itachi get away with it. And…and tell Sakura… Naruto never did learn what he was supposed to tell Sakura, and he never did manage to hunt down Uchiha Itachi. The missing-nin had vanished into the air like smoke, and even after tracking down and interrogating the remainder of Akatsuki, Naruto had come up empty-handed.
Tsunade had appointed him the Rokudaime Hokage three years back, only a few months after he had returned stricken with Sasuke's body. In time, the villagers had grudgingly accepted his authority and even begun to respect him. But he hadn't been able to protect them, not from a threat of that magnitude. His beloved Konoha was trapped in a losing war, and he could do absolutely nothing to save it. He had promised to save it.
He rocked back and forth, whimpering softly. Tears streaked across the whisker-marks on his cheeks, and the wind rustling the leaves outside whispered insidiously in his ears.
Failure, failure, they intoned mockingly.
You were supposed to save Sasuke-kun…
You were supposed to avenge my death, dobe…
You were supposed to protect us all, Uzumaki-sama…
"I tried!" he yelled, his voice hoarse from all the sobs. The sound echoed around his empty office. "God damn it, I tried! Why couldn't that have been good enough!" He pounded the wall with his fist, cracking it. Shoulders shaking, he pleaded in a choked whisper, "Why couldn't I have been good enough?"
The door to his office slid open, and he nearly threw a kunai at whoever had dared to make a spectacle of his weakness. But the light from the hallway caught on her petal-pink hair, and the knife never made it to his hand.
"Naruto?" she asked, hesitating in the doorway.
The Sixth pushed himself to his feet and stalked around his desk, disregarding the fact that no lights were on and that he could not see the scrolls, let alone read them. "Ah, Sakura-chan," he greeted, although his voice cracked from all the emotion. "How're things running at the hospital?"
She stepped in and closed the door behind her. The darkness was complete, only pale moonlight filtering in. "The hospital is fine, Naruto. That's not why I'm here."
He shuffled papers absently, and even though he was not certain she could see, he forced a pale smile. "Then why're you here? Everything's going as smoothly as it could be, considering—"
She cut him off. "You don't have to be strong all the time, Naruto."
He froze for just an instant but then waved his hand dismissively. "What're you talking about, Sakura-chan? I'm the Hokage, after all. I'm the backbone of Konoha, and I support it all the time. I'm as strong as those rocks that have to stand being Tsunade-baa-chan's face." He laughed weakly at his joke.
She walked around his desk; he kept his head bowed towards his shadowed paperwork. Her hand brushed his shoulder. "I heard you scream," she said softly. "I know how much all this is killing you."
"What're you talking about?" he repeated, but this time the quaver entered his voice and made it even less convincing.
"You always pick up the heaviest burdens, and sometimes you make promises you just can't keep through no fault of your own," she said, gentle and comforting. "You might be the Hokage, Naruto, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything alone."
He managed to stay aloof for a long moment when she pulled him into a hug and wrapped her arms around him, but only for a moment. He could count on one hand the times he'd been hugged—and not even use all his fingers—and it was never often enough. He slumped against her, his hands fisting in her familiar red shirt, and buried his face in the crook of her neck. Trembling, he cried against her skin, his tears wetting her hair. Her arms tightened around him securely, and the fingers of one hand sifted soothingly through his blond spikes.
"I failed, Sakura-chan," he wept. "You and Sasuke and everybody…I've just failed everybody…"
"It's my way of a ninja…what kind of ninja am I, then?" he continued sadly. "What kind of ninja can't save his friends or protect his village?"
"Shh," she repeated. "You've always managed to do the impossible, Naruto. I believe in you."
He clung to her fiercely like a child afraid to lose its mother. "But what if there's nothing to believe in?" he whispered despairingly. "What if there's nothing left?"
"I'm here for you," she whispered back, her lips nearly brushing his ear. "To support you. To lighten the load. Always."
He drew a shaky breath. "Always?" he echoed, desperate.
She pressed a soft, reassuring kiss to his temple. "Always, Naruto."
Nothing had changed: Konoha was still at war, and Sasuke was still dead. Somehow, though, being held in her arms lifted his burdens enough so he could stand.
"Arigato, Sakura-chan," he murmured into her hair, and he sank against her, surrendering to her embrace.
She did not let go.