DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or anything remotely associated with the anime and manga. The only thing I can safely say I own is the idea behind this story and the Darkness village and ninja. So please, PLEASE don't badger me about owning 'Naruto' when I have just said I don't. When will the daft lawyers learn, eh?

Authoress' Note: The FINAL chapter is upon us all! I really didn't want to post this, hence the long wait I pull you all through. Plus, I thought for a long time about what I wanted Sasori's letter to say in it. After much deliberation, I settled on the piece of something-or-other that's in this chapter. Parts of it I am unhappy with, but then it hit me! I'm writing this story so to heck with anything that I think might not look right to someone else! It's already written now anyways...

Do leave a review, as this is the last chapter of this story. There will be a sequel, that'll revolve around the Shippuuden plot to begin with, but I want to keep Sasori alive so it'll eventually be a semi-AU. Anywho...READ ON!


Chapter 13

Sakura breathed in the cool air of her hometown, glad to be back in the Leaf village after so many days away from it. The villagers were all bustling about with their daily routines, while the ninja were either on their breaks or busy completing their missions and jobs. Nobody was standing quite as still and peacefully as Sakura was while she waited at the entrance of the village for her companions to catch up.

It was silly really. She had been escorted by Temari and a couple of ninja from the Sand village all the way back to the Leaf. After Gaara and everyone else had found out where Sakura had been for nearly a week, he almost volunteered to make certain that the pink-haired girl got back to her home. He wasn't able to, being the Kazekage, so Temari offered to go in his place with a small team.

Sakura didn't know why they even bothered though. She was not afraid to travel by herself to the Leaf village, even if it was a foolish decision. The fact of the matter was, she had wanted to go by herself on the off-chance that her new friend might show up.

Thinking of Sasori made her take the letter out that he had written to her back when she was still in the hospital. She gazed at the folded piece of paper and then opened it slowly and re-read the neatly printed words to herself.

"Sakura,

If you're reading this it must mean that those pathetic morons in the hospital did not fail in their promise of keeping you alive and well. They must have taken my threats seriously, although I don't know why they wouldn't…

I'm not very good at this…caring…thing. I've had no need to bother with it before I met you. I still don't know if it was wise to let you live, but each time I thought of ending your life I felt…sad. Congratulations, you've proved your point! I'm still human after all.

When you were in danger…I was worried…and afraid. I don't like those feelings, so you had better make sure that you don't ever get into a dangerous situation again!

Don't bother coming to find me though – that would be a very stupid thing to do. I'll probably be around from time to time, as long as nothing happens in the near future to prevent me from doing so. Not likely to happen anyway, nobody can best me or my puppets!

I know you have lots of questions for me, so if and when we cross paths again you can ask me as many as you want to. As I said before, I'll be around.

I…enjoyed…our short time together. It was very different from anything I've had to do in a long time. I hope you won't ever forget those days, even if you ever learn of something…bad…about me.

Now I sound like a stupid, soft, loser! Do you see what you have done to me Sakura?! I don't…hate…you for it though. Even if I…care…about you, I'm still the same person I've always been. Just more in touch with…feelings. I've heard some really strange stories of ruthless men completely changing their lives for a woman though, so I'm lucky I haven't. As if I would ever do something so ridiculous!

I can't remember the reason I wanted to write this letter now! I guess I'll add 'memory loss' to the list of things I can blame you for.

…Now I remember! When I left you in the desert on your own, I was really angry and confused. Looking back I realise that I was being pathetic when I did that. I should not have left you alone so close to that forest. You got hurt because of me…I'm not apologising if that's what you think!!

Sakura, what I'm trying to say is…I want to take you up on your offer of friendship. It's a stupid, insane thing to say. We come from very different worlds, but I am willing to try being friends with you. I think I have gotten somewhat attached to you…

I'll tell you again – don't come looking for me. I'll come to you, when I can. It's easier, and safer, if we do this 'friendship' thing that way. Besides, you don't even know where I am, do you?

You showed me kindness, and fun, so I want to repay you…somehow. This 'being friends' idea seems the only way. That or killing you, but that is no longer an option.

Don't mention my name to anyone. It's better if you keep quiet about me Sakura. You'll understand someday, I'm sure.

Your …friend,

Sasori"

She smiled and folded the letter carefully into her pocket once more. Sakura wasn't entirely sure what he meant about not mentioning him to anyone else, but she knew he had a good reason. It wasn't like she really wanted to tell anyone else about him anyway. He was her little secret and he'd stay that way.

"Hey, Sakura, what's with the smile?"

Sakura turned to Temari, surprised to find the older woman standing right next to her with a raised eyebrow. She laughed nervously and just walked on ahead, not bothering to try and explain herself. She heard the blonde sigh and then heard her footsteps follow behind her with the other Sand ninja.

Sakura was grateful that Temari didn't push for anything and just left it at that; she didn't think she would be able to hide the truth from her if she had to lie. Temari was cunning and she would probably see through any deception that Sakura attempted. Not that she was actually any good at lying either.

"Sakura, we're going on ahead to the Hokage's tower to let her know that your back. I have to give a report as well, so I can kill two birds with one stone." Once again Temari had managed to walk beside Sakura without her noticing. It was a little unnerving that the blonde could do such a thing, but Sakura just chalked it up to her mind wondering too much and distracting her. "Take care now!"

And with that, the small group of Sand ninja jogged towards the stairs leading into the building. It was then that the pink-haired girl noticed how far she'd travelled. She was all the way on the other side of the village now!

With a quick glance around, the young ninja chose the road that would take her to the Ichiraku ramen stand and walked casually towards her destination. She had no idea why she wanted to eat some ramen, but she felt the need to. Her best friend would be back in less than two weeks time, so it wasn't like he was the reason she wanted ramen.

She really missed Naruto, but she had rarely thought about him while she was with Sasori. In fact, Sakura couldn't remember even thinking about Sasuke while she was in the Darkness village! All that had mattered was surviving and Sasori.

She remembered the way he had come back to save her from those evil ninja. His voice was menacing, but he didn't scare her one bit. At first Sakura had not trusted Sasori and had even been afraid of him. Now, however, she could only think good things about him and held no fear in her heart when she thought about him.

"I wonder when I'll see him again…"

She watched the clouds go by as she spoke those words, recalling the few days when she couldn't see any sky or clouds – but she hadn't been terribly unhappy. Because Sasori had been there. And now he wasn't anywhere nearby to make her day seem more interesting.

With a groan she realised she had once again been thinking too much and not paying enough attention to where her feet were going. She'd successfully gotten to the ramen stand and she'd been standing around for a good ten minutes looking like a total idiot.

Sakura sat down heavily into one of the seats and sighed as she ordered a plain bowl of ramen. She had never been one for the more exotic flavours; she left that up to Naruto to enjoy.

With a wistful glance at the seats to her left and right, she thought of what her friend would look like now. No doubt Naruto would have grown taller, but what would have changed about him? Would he still be the same annoying loud-mouth that she remembered? What if he had taken on some of Jiraiya's less favourable qualities? If that was the case, she'd kill the old man. Tsunade probably would too.

When her ramen was served, Sakura ate it slowly and let her thoughts flow gently through her mind.

When Naruto got back, they could go and rescue Sasuke from Orochimaru. Then they'd be a team again and things could return to the way they had been. Except, Sakura no longer felt the same way about Sasuke and she had a feeling that they would never be as close as they all used to be. Naruto had probably changed from how he was when he was a kid and Sakura had little doubt that Sasuke was completely different from what he used to be. Sakura herself had changed and now she was more mature in her thinking and less…annoying.

Sakura would admit that when she was younger she had been quite annoying and very foolish. But those days were gone and she was a much better person.

She also had more strength and determination than when she was twelve. If she didn't have those traits, she had little doubt that she would have even been in the situation at the Darkness village. If Sakura had been her old self then she would have surely done as Gaara had ordered and stayed in the Sand village. In stead, she had nearly gotten herself killed and met a very interesting person in the process. It was a fair trade in many ways; enter a life threatening situation and make a new friend.

"I must be crazy. Nobody thinks that nearly dying is a good enough way of getting a friend."

With a defeated sigh, Sakura slumped further into her seat on the stool and kept her eyes solely on the bowl of ramen in front of her. Once again a person had managed to sneak up on the young teenager, their body now sat next to her on another stool. The person didn't order anything and Sakura got the distinct impression that she was being stared at.

She looked up and nearly fell off her stool in shock.

"Hello again, Sakura."

After regaining her balance, Sakura gulped nervously at how close he was sitting. The 'he' was actually Sasori although he was wearing a completely black robe rather then one with red clouds adorning it as well. He also had a funny straw hat on his head that nearly covered his face if he wasn't tipping it slightly to look at her. In his eyes there was a small glimmer of amusement, clearly because he found her reaction funny in some way.

"Are you done with your food?"

His words came out so easily, whereas Sakura couldn't seem to find her voice. So she settled for a quick nod to answer his question, not entirely sure she could even form a simple 'yes'.

Sasori smirked at how nervous Sakura was being and then tugged on her arm to get her to follow him. The pink-haired girl left some money on the counter to pay for her food and then allowed the red-haired man to lead her somewhere less crowded and much quieter. Obviously he wanted to talk without being heard.

They eventually reached a small clearing near the route to the training fields, and Sasori finally let go of Sakura's arm as he turned to face her. Before he could speak, Sakura sat down on the grass and waited for the puppet master to do the same. It was with great reluctance that the red-head sat on the floor, not used to doing what someone else wanted and not comfortable with sitting down in somewhere he considered enemy territory.

When silence settled heavily on the two, the Leaf ninja decided to break it before she went crazy, "So…how've you been Sasori?"

His eyes drifted to meet her own green ones and he replied evenly, "Fine."

More silence.

"How does this 'friendship' thing work then?" Sasori asked the girl when he had fully decided on what he wished to say first.

She smiled at him and he narrowed his eyes slightly when she didn't answer his question.

"Sakura, I asked you a question, so answer it already."

At this the girl giggled and Sasori wondered just what was so amusing, "Would you quit laughing and just talk!"

"I'm sorry; it's just that you look so silly with that hat on your head. Can you take it off?"

He did so and then asked her his question again.

Sakura placed a single finger on her chin and thought about his question. To her it seemed like something silly to ask, but it wasn't as though Sasori had ever had any practice at being a friend before. So she had to try and work out how to explain such a basic concept to him. How did one explain friendship?

"I guess…being a friend means hanging out, sharing secrets, having fun and looking out for each other. I don't know how else to explain it really, since it's a normal thing for me to do."

A dark look crossed Sasori's face, "Right…'normal', which is why I would never understand it."

Sakura looked sadly at Sasori and then tried to think of another way to explain 'friendship' to him, "I suppose the simplest way of being someone else's friend is to just be yourself. It'll come naturally to you if you do that. That's how everyone learns to be someone else's friend."

The dark look faded and Sasori smirked once again, "I can do that."

"Good." She smiled at him and then looked at his robe, confused. He noticed her look. "Why are you wearing a different robe today? Or is this normal for you to change what you wear like everyone else?"

"Do you think I don't want to change my appearance every now and then? Besides, it's safer if I don't wear that thing around here."

This answer just confused Sakura even more, but she tucked the knowledge away safely into her mind as one the 'questions-to-ask-Sasori-at-a-later-date'.

"So, what made you want to visit so soon after I got back? I've only just been in the village for about an hour at the most. Did you miss me already?"

Sasori was reluctant to tell her what he was thinking, but after a look at her smiling face he gave in, "I've been following you since you left the Sand village, if you must know."

"You have? Then why didn't you just tell me you were there? I spent three whole days wondering what you were doing!" Her inner side began to surface, something that rarely ever happened anymore.

"I couldn't exactly reveal myself when you were being escorted by some Sand ninja. I don't want to have any unnecessary fights on my hands."

Once again, Sakura was confused by his words. From the things he was saying, she could easily assume that Sasori was not part of a village that was on friendly terms with the Leaf or the Sand. However, he didn't have any head band, so she couldn't tell what village it was. Add to all that she knew, she realised that the strange red-cloud coat he wore before probably indicated just what he was a part of. So…Sasori was…a…dangerous person then?

This knowledge disturbed Sakura, but she had to admit that it made a great deal of sense. From the way that he enjoyed to hurt other ninja, to his anger and attempt to kill her, Sakura realised that Sasori was probably the absolute worst person she could have wanted to befriend. Yet, she had done so.

Rather than continue to talk, they both just sat and watched the sky turn darker as evening gradually set in. When the insects and crickets started to come out, Sasori stood up and offered Sakura his hand to take. She did so and once more noticed how dead he felt compared with anyone else.

"I'm glad you came to see me today Sasori. Even though we didn't do much, it was still nice. Maybe some other time I could show you a better example of what friends do?"

He looked around cautiously and then turned his gaze to meet her eyes, "Yes, some other time. It won't be soon though, I'm afraid. I have…something important to do. Hopefully, we won't see each other while I'm doing this task."

She raised an elegant, pink eyebrow at him in question, but he didn't elaborate any further.

"Don't do anything stupid to get hurt while I'm gone, otherwise I might just have to hurt you further to make sure you never do it again." He nearly smiled, with just the barest twitches of the corner of his mouth and Sakura realised he was only joking. So she laughed softly at his attempt to be humorous.

Sasori carefully reached out with one of his hands and slightly touched Sakura's smiling face, but he withdrew his hand quickly before she even registered his touch. Then, with a small gesture that Sakura assumed was a wave, he disappeared into the darkening evening.

"That was…different."

Honestly, Sakura didn't know what to think of Sasori's actions, but she knew that he was still trying at being a friend to her. She sighed at how muddled her mind was and turned swiftly back towards the rest of the village. She stopped moving when she saw that Sasori had left his hat, so she picked it up and gently held it in her hands, marvelling at how something so simple could make Sasori look funny to her.

Taking great care not to damage the hat, Sakura made her way towards her home, looking forward to the future for so many different reasons, but at the forefront of her mind was seeing Sasori again - her new, confusing friend.

fin