A/N: This was produced a few months ago, but I couldn't get the perfection right. I hope it's enough really. Dedicated to Diaph Annie--unless her name changes again --'' I apologize for the lateness. But happy belated birthday!

This: Maybe it will make you cry, maybe it will make you gleeful, maybe it will make you say, "meh." But I hope you enjoy; I enjoyed writing this.

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No one can live by regretting, and yet, no one can live without regretting. A true ninja must sacrifice their emotions and at the same time, their apathy, in order to become who they are now. And look where it's gotten them...

She wishes she had never set her heart on taking the opposite pathway. It hurts too much to tell herself to change, and she's definitely not going to tell anybody else what's going on in her mind. She wishes she doesn't have to care so much, but as always, opposite follows her, a shadow, a curse, an appellation that haunts her so at night, she can't sleep anymore. She wishes she doesn't have to be, she knows she shouldn't be, a kunoichi, but in the end, she does wake up at five in the morning to train and train on until late midnight, stars are not shining and the moon is half covered by storm clouds. She learns how to be stronger, and tries to endure this. This is what I've worked for my entire life, she tells herself. Or at least tries.

In the end, she left the Fire Country, when it was all at the wrong time at the wrong moment at the wrong season at the wrong decision at the wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

In the end, it was summer when she left.

In the end, it was winter when she was found.

They found her note tacked on a brilliant white door, pure and clean, a sign of innocence and her forgotten ways.

They found the key glimmering under the forest light, lying beneath a red bridge and stream. It had washed away with the rest of her belongings.

They found her footprints, a firm imprint on the pathway's sand. They led far far away, until it was another two years.

She had walked all the way, walked all the way without resting her soul, her feet stopping sometimes, a fire lit and smoke still lingering, some hairs still scattered, falling out, and food scraps in leftover cans.

In the end, they found her when they weren't looking for her. They found her in a bookshop, her new favorite flowers, orchids, and her new favorite beverage, jasmine tea. She had a pair of reading spectacles, the gold glinting off, giving her a dreamy, distant appearance on her façade. She was taking care of a customer when they came in. A few strands of hair whorl about the glass frames, and one of the visitors, is itching to tuck it behind her seashell ear. A cat curls around one of the visitor's leg and settles, looking satisfied, with its frumpy mashed-in plum face. He fingers the burgundy leather name tag and reads the name silently in surprise.

When she's done tending to her customer, she has turned around, and she has a smile on her face. It catches the breaths of her visitors, and they are shocked at how much she has changed and how much she has not changed. But it is all for the better, because as she drags them off into an indoor porch terrace, with green pinstriped chairs and white patio tables, tea cups and the fragrance of roses and sprigs of yellow dandelions blooming wild, she tells them she is finally, finally happy.

"Are you really?"

Her eyes soften but she remains hard. "I will miss you. Really miss you. But yes, I'm staying." She tucks one of her teammate's hands into her palm and curls into his warmth. "I'm happy here."

"Sakura. I—"

The cat from before meows and paws for attention. She breaks the hold and settles the cat around her shoulders, fingering its tag. It burrows deeper into her hair and purrs with satisfaction. The one standing before her is wishing he can trade his one life for those nine lives of the plum faced animal.

There's a tense silence before she looks up and speaks again. "Don't. Don't make this harder than it is for you, Sasuke." And me.

"Hey! The teme—"

"Naruto," she looks over to him and smiles. His heart leaps to his throat. That was the old Sakura smile. Familiarity and a sense of nostalgia overwhelm him.

"We've been searching nonstop for you. You've covered your tracks well." His umber toned voice makes her nearly reach back for his warmth. She looks away from his intent look and her eyes travel around the small coffee-and-bookshop. The sight of tea, musky books, and familiar faces of the customers makes her twist for the first time in these past couple of months. She wrenches her gaze away and returns it to her first love.

"I've always loved you. You know that."

He says nothing, but she can see his eyes brighten a little, his stare more smoldering than ever.

"But I—" she bursts out laughing, "I don't want to choose... but I have to." She closes her eyes for a moment and then says deliberately, "I'm staying."

His brightness dims, falters even. "What can I—" he corrects himself, "What can we do to make you come back?"

She looks at Naruto, Kakashi, and then back at Sasuke. She sighs a bit sadly and gives his cheek a fleeting touch with her hand. He grabs onto her wrist before she can take it back. "You can still visit. I'm not going anywhere. I think," she muses thoughtfully, "...you'll understand. You will. I'm sure of that because I know I fell in love with a boy ages ago who never gave up. A risker. I'm taking my chance. And I'm sticking with it."

His hold on her is desperate. "Will I?" he breathes. He tries to move his head closer to her lips. She stops him. "Don't make it harder for yourself."

He wavers for a second and relinquishes her.

"I love you," he simply says. It breaks her heart to see him looking at her with that unfamiliar but tender fire in his eyes.

She waits, saying nothing. "I'll come back. And when I do..."

She starts grinning. "I'll be ready."

He tucks that whorl behind her ear and smirks.

Naruto and Kakashi are waiting outside the entrance. She gives them all a beaming smile and ladles their arms with packets of teabags. As she waves, she yells to them, "Tell Tsunade to take these instead of drinking sake! She's a doctor. She should take care of herself!"

They wave back, and she could see their lingering smiles and eye crinkles. When they reach the tip of the road where they'd disappear from her view, she turns around and closes the door behind her.

She lets them go.

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A/N: Yeah, yeah, you know the author loves to hear her own voice. xP It would break Team 7's hearts if you didn't tell them what you thought about this. Pass a review by, and they will glomphugglesmooch you.