Dedication: Annie, who picks up the pieces that break me and glue them back together. Who is there when I need her, and whom I am more thankful for than any words can say.
Also, a huge thank you to Anne, who read this when I was halfway through and pointed me in the right direction.
Notes: So this is a little bit disjointed and just a tad confusing. My apologies. It's a little weird, too, and I'm sure there are things I could brush up on but please don't tell me, because my perfectionist side will emerge and then I'll have to fix it. Just, uh...enjoy? Also, this is just a TAD AU. Kinda-ish. And DAMN but is this thing long. Sorry, I tend to ramble. This is basically just word vomit and may or may not make much sense. Also, I'm pretty sure I change tenses a few (hundred) times.
Spoilers: For the recent Naruto manga chapters. Ye be warned.
And then there were two.
After Sasuke left, Kiba had never been so thankful to have two teammates; after all, all Sakura and Naruto had were each other, and possibly Kakashi, but not always.
Kiba himself knows all about failure; it happened during the Sasuke Retrieval Mission; he's seen it: seen it on Naruto's face, seen it on Sakura's, seen it, even, on Kakashi's. But mostly, he's seen it on Sakura's, watching as Kakashi walks away from her, as she trains alone, because Naruto is gone and Sasuke is gone and Sakura is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered team.
He thinks that no one should be alone, so he walks up to her. Her eyes are far away, memories leading her back to happier times when it was still them and not just her, and he almost hates to bring her from it.
"Do you want help?" Wonders if she understands the double-edged meaning to his words, and her eyes focus on his, surprise (and disappointment, though she tries to hide it--I'm sorry my hair and eyes aren't dark enough for you, that my hair's not spiked in the right way. I'm sorry my hair isn't the color of sunlight and my eyes aren't the color of the sky. I might even be sorry that my hair isn't gray and I don't wear a mask) flashing across her face.
And so he draws out a kunai, multiple shuriken, and teaches her to protect herself.
Whenever they run into each other in the day, she greets him, a tiny smile twitching at her lips. He knows that it's not much but it's something and it counts. After all, her eyes don't look sad when she passes by the Ichiraku and sees no cheerful blonde sitting at the barstool and calling for his seventh bowl of ramen and aww, old man, I'm out of money so just add it to my tab, will you? She still flinches whenever she passes the Uchiha Compound--she is going out of her way, but he does not know if she's conscious that she's doing so. After all, Sasuke had been everything to her, and once he left she had nothing, and her world shattered into even more pieces once Naruto left to go train underneath the one of the Legendary Sannin, Jiraiya. And Kakashi…well, Sakura had been the most normal of her team, so their sensei had paid more attention to the boys. Kiba wonders if Sakura realizes this and, if she does, what she feels.
He doesn't believe that Sakura can hold a grudge--he may not know her as well as many (think they do), but she simply doesn't seem like the sort of person who would be able to. Of course, she does have a temper there--it is muted beneath the pain of loss, beneath the heartache of losing two of the people whom she thought would be there for her--so he could be wrong.
Sometimes, his mind wanders to her, wondering what she's doing, whether she's okay, right at this moment. He knows that he is not the only one to worry about her--Ino will invite her around the shop and take her out to lunch, and even Hinata sometimes pitches in. At first she refuses everything, insisting that she is fine (although those blank, empty viridian eyes say what words could not: why wasn't I enough for you to stay?
He wonders who she's talking about, when her eyes look like that, so disturbingly hollow, and decides that perhaps it's best not to wonder, because it could be everyone and no one at the same time, the same self-guilt brought upon her as much as the gossip that follows through town, about that Uchiha traitor, because she loves her boys and isn't complete without them, isn't complete without her team, which no longer exists) but then, she begins to accept the lunch invitations, and occasionally she'll come to Team Eight's training ground--sometimes on business, sometimes as a friend.
He sees her in the sun a lot more often now and can feel an invisible weight lifting from his shoulders. Naruto, the protector, is gone, and it is Kiba's job to take over the position.
Just as Sakura is a medic-nin, she is slowly--but surely, he thinks with satisfaction--healing herself, and he couldn't be prouder.
They train, sometimes, when she is not busy saving lives (but no longer her own, because although her teammates are gone she will continue on, and get stronger, since she no longer has loud support or quiet confidence by her side) and he is not busy on missions. Occasionally after they train they'll eat (but not at Ichiraku, because Kiba will not do that to her, no matter how okay she may seem--it is not his place to take her there) and chat easily, sticking to neutral topics.
He glances at her from the corner of his eye, watching as she picks up a piece of pork and places it in her mouth, chewing slowly to savor the taste, and her lips quirk, finding the food to her liking.
Kiba smiles. She will be okay, he just knows it.
Naruto returns and Sakura's smile is brighter than ever. The blonde can't know that but everyone else can see it, everyone else who watched her fumble around and try to discover who she was without her two teammates there.
He watches them as they walk around Konoha, Naruto gesturing wildly with his hands and Sakura watching him, nodding, smiling. He watches them and is happy for her, because at least now one of them has come back to her.
He tries not to feel bitter about the fact that she no longer comes to their training grounds, because she has Naruto now, and he knows that he was merely a stand-in until one of two came home.
He trains alone, late into the night, not stopping until he hears a twig snap. He pauses and feels out the chakra, shoulders slumping. She appears at the edge of the trees, an almost-apology in her eyes and on her lips. Instead, she holds up a brown bag and says, "I brought dinner. Have you eaten?"
"No." He replies, and sits down, Akamaru plopping down beside him. Sakura sits down next to its human master, pulling out some food and chopsticks, along with water bottles, which Kiba chugs down gratefully. Sakura watches him with a smile before shaking her head and deciding not to ask.
"How was training?" Is what comes out of her mouth instead, and Kiba shrugs.
"Fine. It's training, it's not supposed to be fun."
She nods. "I know. I didn't ask if it was fun, though." His eyebrows furrow (and the action is so Sasuke-esque, that little motion he used to make when he was irritated, that Sakura had to turn her head, trying to draw breath back into her lungs and felt the wounds that he inflicted begin to pulse achingly) and he glances down at the food in his hands.
"Why are you here?" He asks, and Sakura raises an eyebrow, a flash of hurt crossing her face.
"Would you prefer it if I left?"
"No." He says too quickly, and she gives him a tiny, amused smile, as if she knows something he does not. "I just meant--why are you out so late?"
"I was at the hospital; I just got off my shift." She is still grinning at him, and he has a flashback of the day after Sasuke left, tears pouring from Sakura's eyes with arms wrapped around herself, trying to keep the pieces that he broke from falling apart, trying to keep herself together; Sakura's tears, Naruto's smile, Naruto's promise. He had his reservations about that the minute the blonde jinchuuriki said it; he wasn't sure Sakura could take it if that promise was broken, which is why he asked Naruto if it was okay to say something like that.
"Hmmm?" She took a swig of her water.
"What will you do if Sasuke comes back?" Her shoulders still, eyes widening, and she put down her water. She sighed, running a tongue across her suddenly-dry lips, and looked at Kiba. Her eyes were calm though her fingers were trembling.
"When Sasuke comes home," he didn't miss the difference between what they said. Sakura was confident he would, Kiba knew he wouldn't, not now, not for a long time. "we will be a team again."
"And then?" Kiba urged. Would things go back the way they were, with Sasuke vicious and angry and uncaring about whom he hurt, including those who he meant the world to? Sakura's eyes bored into his own, moonlight filtered through the trees dancing upon her roseate locks.
I think you're beautiful.
"And then we see where it goes from there." Sakura answered with a shrug, and he knew that she wasn't sure of the answer to his question, either.
There was silence on both of their parts for a while as they ate. Finally, Kiba put his chopsticks down and glanced over at his companion whose eyes were directed to the sky, gazing up at the stars, container of food forgotten in her lap. "Aren't you tired?"
Sakura shrugged and, stretching languidly, said, "Kind of. I had a long shift. But still," she smiled, "it's fun, here with you."
Kiba's heart thumped painfully in his chest and he swallowed around the lump in his throat. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "You like being with me?" He asked, and Sakura laughed.
"Of course," she told him, grinning. "You're easy to be around, and you've been there for me, when…" she inhaled sharply and her lips twitched downward a little, though her gallivant effort to keep the smile on her face was impressive, "when Naruto was gone." She glanced over at him, eyes soft. "I never did get to thank you for that, you know."
He shrugged and smiled weakly. "What are friends for?"
She grinned at him, uncrossing her legs from the Indian-style position they had been in. "But you are right, about earlier. I'm tired, and I have to wake up early." She smiled down at him, soft hair framing her face, the mix of shadows and moonlight distorting the color in her eyes. "I'll see you soon, okay?"
Kiba nodded. "Yeah. See you soon." She gave him one last smile before departing for her house, leaving behind her half-full container of food and mostly-full water bottle for Akamaru.
Come next morning, she was gone.
Only Sasuke, Kiba thinks with vehemence, could put that hurt back in Sakura's eyes.
She, Naruto, Sai, and Yamato all return back to Konoha after their Sasuke Retrieval mission, and the disappointment was so tangible on both Naruto's and Sakura's faces that Kiba feels his heart ache. After he sees them, the broken remains of Team-Seven-turned-Team-Kakashi, he spars with his team and then later on takes them out to lunch, trying to convey what words cannot, how much he appreciates them and everything they've done for him, and for simply being there. Kiba wonders how many other teams feel the way he does when Team Kakashi walks down the street with the pseudo-Sasuke striding next to them, look at Naruto's grimace and Sakura's pained eyes, see the hurt in both of them because the boy they had grown up with had deserted them for smoke and mirrors.
Kiba and her train more often, but now Sakura does it with an anger (to whom? He wonders. Who is your ire for, Sakura? To Sasuke? To yourself? For no one ever being good enough for anyone?) that is almost frightening. He likes it, though; likes it when her eyes are a fierce green, when she punches the ground so hard that everything beneath their feet become uprooted, when there's sweat dripping down her face, muscles tensed from the exertion of training.
Today is one of such days, where it's just the two (three, if you count Akamaru, though the day was hot so he had gone to lie beneath the shade of a tree, flopped down, panting) of them, training.
"Why don't we take a break?" Kiba suggests and Sakura nods, both of them heading to where Akamaru is laying. Beside the giant dog is a cooler bag filled with water bottles, which each of them take, open, and guzzle the water gratefully.
Sakura sighs and lies back in the grass, her face tilted to the clear sky but clouded in thought. Kiba watches her, and she turns her head to look at him, a question forming in her eyes, feeling his gaze on her form.
"What are you thinking about?" He asks softly.
"Sasuke." She replies, and he flinches.
"What are you thinking about?" He persists, and her eyes bore into his before she lets out a breath and straightens her head again, closing her eyes.
"Do you know that saying, the worst way to miss someone is when they're sitting right beside you and you know you can't have them?"
Because her eyes aren't on him Kiba allows a bitter, fragile smile to cross his face. More than you know. "Yes. Is that how you feel about him?" At her nod he swallows. "Are you in love with him?"
Her shoulders seem to stiffen and sag all at the same time, and tired viridian eyes open to stare at the unforgiving sky. "I don't know." She answers honestly, and Kiba hates himself for the relief that flows through his body. "It's like…I love him, but I hate him at the same time. I want to save him because he's my friend and I care about him, but…" She frowns and blinks harshly at the tears that begin to line her eyes. Exhaling, she sighs. "at the same time, I don't think he wants to be saved."
Kiba scoots closer to her, not knowing what to do, how to comfort her.
"Does Naruto know about this?" Sakura shook her head with a bitter laugh.
"Of course not; he's still hell-bent on bringing Sasuke-kun home, but…well, the look in his eyes." Sakura swallowed painfully. Kiba could see how much this was hurting her, how much he was hurting her, and his hatred for Uchiha Sasuke grew. "I knew that he wouldn't hesitate to kill us. He was going to, too. So ready to kill us." Her lips were trembling and, desperately, Kiba moved himself forward to place his hand over hers.
"I'm sorry." He whispers, and she looks at him, tears brimming in her eyes. She smiles.
Just what she is sorry for he doesn't know but doesn't bother to ask because she is squeezing his hand back and though she closes her eyes she shifts closer to him, her shoulder touching his leg. Her hand is still encased in his own and he places his other hand near her shoulder, fingers barely brushing her skin, and her lips twitch.
He puts his hand there to let her know that, no matter what, he will be there for her.
Her fingers touch the cold glass, watching rain slide down it, and she wonders if she should go out and train; after all, a little rain never hurt anyone.
She sighs, turning away from the window pane as the kettle on the stove begins to whistle.
Walking into her kitchen, Sakura passes a hand through her hair and then pours her tea, her thoughts muddled and occupied.
The problem, she knows, lies not within the fact that she wants to train but that she wants to train with a certain brunette.
Sakura closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. She knows what this feeling is ("Sasuke-kun, will you train with me?" "Sasuke-kun, want to go grab some lunch together?" "Sasuke-kun, will you walk me home?" "Sasuke-kun." "Sasuke-kun." "Sasuke-kun."
"No, you're annoying." "No, you're annoying." "No, you're annoying. Get away from me.") and isn't willing to get her heart broken again, like someone else had done so long ago.
But Kiba, she knows, is her savior, in almost every sense of the word. He had been there when most had not, and for him she is thankful; he is there when she needs him, and she doesn't remember feeling so secure in so incredibly long.
If anything, she knows that he won't desert her, like so many males before him had done, and hates the feeling this knowledge arises in her. She doesn't want to hope because she knows that things were made to be broken, and her heart certainly seems to be no exception.
It is too late, though; she has already started to care about him. Just a little, but it's still there, and knowing that is almost frightening.
Three weeks without her. Three weeks without Sakura and he misses her.
Purposely, when he and Akamaru are training, he hurts himself, and goes to the hospital, requesting whether or not she had been working. The nurse working behind the desk gives him an amused smile but leads him to a room all the same and, moments after she leaves, Sakura walks in, raising an eyebrow in surprise. "Kiba?" His shoulders relax and he gives her a sheepish grin.
"Ah, Sakura. I sort of got hurt during training." He grimaces at the blood seeping through the wound in his side--one that he created but she needn't know that--and she immediately springs into medic-mode, cleaning his wound and putting chakra into it, then bandaging it up, all the while talking about how her day has gone.
"Thanks, Sakura." He tells her and she grins at him in response, wagging a finger at him.
"Don't forget to keep that wound clean, you hear me? I don't want to have you back in here again just because it got infected." He chuckles and she laughs.
"What time do you go on your lunch break?" He asks her, almost abruptly, and the girl--woman, he reminds himself. Woman. She doesn't really warrant the title girl anymore--raises an eyebrow.
"At 12:30, but I have patients to check up on."
"Aww, c'mon Sakura, skipping lunch is not healthy; you're a medic-nin, you should be taking better care of your body."
She laughs. "Alright, alright." She relents. "You've got another hour until I get out, now go do something productive." She gives him a joking push out the door and he gives her a mock glare, feigning hurt.
"Oh, I see how it is, Sakura. You can't wait to get rid of me, can you?"
She rolls her eyes, lips twitching. "Oh, how ever did you find out my master plan?"
Kiba pretends to preen. "I'm just that good, I guess."
Sakura laughs, giving him another push. "Go. I'll see you in an hour."
Her smile--brilliant, lighting up her face and stretches from ear-to-ear in apparent mirth-- is the last thing he sees before he leaves.
It is Sakura's only day off this month and she decides to spend it with Naruto, who is just returning home from a week-long mission.
"There is absolutely nothing," Naruto tells her seriously, breaking a pair of chopsticks in half, "that can compare to Ichiraku ramen. Nothing."
Sakura laughs. "Whatever you say, Naruto." She is indulging him and he knows it, so he pouts, and that same noise erupts from her lips, eyes closed and a smile splitting her face. Naruto watches her, revels in the sound and the sight, because he thinks it's been too long since he's heard her laugh like this, since he's seen her shoulders so relaxed, posture at ease.
You haven't been like this since before the teme left.
He wants to sigh and smile at the same time, and doesn't know which action to give in to. On one hand, he misses his best friend, and he knows Sakura does too; however, she is better off without him (this, he can see, and it makes him smile) and he doesn't even want to think about what will happen if (when, he thinks to himself stubbornly) Sasuke returns home. He hopes more fiercely than he has ever hoped before that she will not break and shatter into pieces that no one can glue together.
No one, he reminds himself, a small smile making its way onto his face, but Kiba.
"Ne, Naruto." Sakura tilts her eyes, eyes wide and confused. "What's that look on your face for?" Naruto laughs and tells her it's nothing, shoves ramen into his mouth to prevent himself from giving her a reply. Sakura eyeballs him in that I-don't-believe-you-are-you-lying-to-me-again? kind of way that makes a knot of guilt form in his stomach, even if he hasn't done anything. (Those moments, however, when he actually is innocent, are few and far between.)
"Hey, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks suddenly, and the girl turns to him, an eyebrow raised. "Are you happy?"
She smiles softly, reaching out and placing a hand on Naruto's head. Her eyes are gentle, but he is not surprised by this, because it's Sakura. "Of course I am, silly. I'm sitting here, with my best friend in the whole entire world, eating the best ramen in the whole entire world--"
"Are you mocking me, Sakura-chan?!"
"--and the day is beautiful and it's bright and it's spring and today," she grins, "is my day off. So yes, Naruto, I'm happy." Her smile falters at the serious expression on his face, because Naruto is goofy and happy and always filled with light, with a brightness and a faith and determination she didn't understand but wished she could. "Naruto?" She uttered, face crumpled in confusion.
"Do you think…do you think Sasuke's forgotten about us?" He whispered softly, and Sakura's hand suddenly tensed up, still placed atop his head.
"I don't know." She murmurs back, and closes her eyes, pain and bitterness sweeping through her like a storm. Truth hurts. "I don't think so. I don't think he could ever forget us, and our memories and what we meant to him, however small we did so."
Naruto is a ninja and is Naruto, so he reads between the lines. However small a part she meant to him.
"He doesn't know you, Sakura-chan." He tells her. "He doesn't know how much you've grown up, how amazing you are now, how beautiful and incredible you are, and how proud we all are of you."
Sakura swallows against the sudden emotion choking her throat and trying to force its way out of her tear ducts. "Thank you, Naruto." She is finally able to rasp, and he grins, though the seriousness does not fade from those azure eyes.
"But you know who has seen all of those things?"
For one heart-stopping moment, Sakura thinks that Naruto is going to utter his own name; she loves him, yes, would die and kill for him, but Naruto is like a brother to her, and she will not hurt him by leading him onto false roads paved filled with empty lies that leads to nothing but a dead end.
Sakura freezes at the name Naruto drags up and almost laughs, except--
She knows it's true.
Naruto watches the display of emotion play across her face before it ends in a demure smile, hues of red spreading across her cheeks as she looks down at her ramen. She eats some, just to buy herself some time, but Naruto is still staring at her patiently, waiting for an answer to the question that doesn't really require one.
"Maybe." Is all she says, and Naruto nods, knows that he cannot push her, and they both return back to their food.
"Hey." Sakura says suddenly, and the blonde turns to her. "You know who else has grown up and is amazing and incredible and a whole bunch of other adjectives?" This time it is Naruto's turn to quirk an eyebrow. "Hinata."
Naruto stares at her, aghast, because he remembers Hinata, shy, fumbling, stuttering Hinata, who had stumbled her way around when she was twelve.
Then again, he reminds himself, so had Sakura.
"Maybe." He answers, a parry to her former words, and they both smile.
"Y'know," Ino tells her, sipping at her water while Sakura shoves some ramen into her mouth, "you and Kiba would make a great couple."
Sakura promptly chokes, then glares at her other blonde best friend--she had bad judgment in friends, if they all thought (knew) that she and Kiba belonged together.
"What?! No, Pig, Kiba and I are just friends!" Sakura defended herself, glaring at the other girl.
"He likes you, and I know you like him." Ino says, voice quiet, and Sakura glances down at the countertop, wishing for it to simply swallow her whole. "It's okay to let go of Sasuke, you know."
Sakura's head snaps up and she stares at Ino, who is staring back, all walls down and only the truth laid out before her. "No one would be mad, because let's face it, Sakura. Itachi's dead, and if he wanted to come home then Sasuke would've by now."
Ino watches sadly as Sakura swallows hard, blinks even harder. "He wants to come home." She whispered. "I know it. I know it."
"Forehead, you're a bad liar."
Sakura chuckles weakly. "Yeah, I know."
Ino says no more for a little while, allows Sakura to mend together again, though she is infinitely glad that, this time, there aren't so many broken pieces, and she knows Kiba had a hand in that.
"He's not going to break your heart, you know." Sakura turns her head and stares at Ino, wondering when she had gotten so serious and when she had missed this apocalypse. "Kiba, I mean. He's not like Sasuke." Ino takes a bite of her own food, aquamarine eyes still on her best friend, the girl who she has known since they were little. "He won't leave you alone with nothing but empty words that mean nothing, in the long run." She gestures to the girl.
Sakura nods, though there is a tiny smile pulling at the edges of her lips. "Yeah, I know."
Ino smiles and hopes.
Kiba is there when Sakura and Naruto learn that Sasuke is dead.
The only two remaining members of Team Seven--Kakashi is there in spirit, because after he learned the news he asked to be sent on a mission--stare at their Hokage in shock, then stumble home.
On the way to Sakura's (because once again he finds himself thinking--knowing--that only Sasuke could put that hurt back in Sakura's eyes, though this time he knows it is for an entirely different reason, and he has never felt so much gratitude towards the defective Uchiha, who had stopped Uchiha Madara from attacking the village and, in the fight, lost his life, though he took the Akatsuki member down with him. It is almost comical, since they all believed Sasuke would die in a fight like that, just with a very different Akatsuki member) Kiba runs into Hinata and quietly suggests that in an hour she goes to Naruto's apartment. He doesn't tell her why, just explains that it's important. Hinata was smart enough, and she had grown enough of a spine to be alone with Naruto for periods of a time without passing out. (The blushing he couldn't really control, though her stuttering had come down a few notches. But he would work on this with time.)
He's not really sneaking into Sakura's house, because she knows he is here, doesn't stop him when he opens her window and jumps onto the floor beside her bed, where she is spread out on her stomach, mouth open and face half-buried in her pillow, tears pouring from her eyes.
Cautiously he sits down next to her, and when she makes no move to push him away, he rests his hand on her hair, then hesitantly strokes it. She makes a choked sound in the back of her throat, a maybe-whimper, and pushes her head into his palm.
"I'm sorry." He whispers, and has never meant it more in his life. She sniffles and pulls her legs towards her body and inwards, closing her eyes and making more of those choking noises. He moves closer to her and she shifts over, more towards him.
"I'm here, you know." He says suddenly, and she glances up, eyes bright and full of tears.
"Yeah." She rasps, then clears her throat but can only choke on more tears, so she settles for nodding. And then--
Her head is on his leg, tears soaking into his pants, her body curled up against his. He sighs heavily and continues to stroke her hair, the only comforting thing he can do for her right now.
Eventually she cries herself out, though she is still awake, still trembling at his side. His fingers are still running themselves through her hair, because he is still here.
The thought eases a broken piece of her, though not by much, because Sasuke is still dead and not even Kiba can fix that. She inhales deeply, coughs, and a few more tears make their way down her cheeks. He whispers something unintelligible, and Sakura doesn't know what it is but she still finds comfort in his voice, because the words don't matter to either of them, just that he has stayed.
She falls asleep.
Tsunade has given Sakura two weeks off from work, and for a week Kiba never leaves Sakura's side, apart from whenever his teammates call him for training, and even then he is back as soon as it is done, making sure that she is still okay, that she's at least taken a shower and has tried to eat something.
The first time she wouldn't--couldn't--eat, he put a tomato in front of her and was frightened when she burst out into tears. After that he threw away all of the tomatoes and gave her a salad with none of the red vegetable (or was it a fruit…?) in it.
After the sixth day has passed, he wakes up from where he has taken residence on her couch to sleep--she has nightmares, now, ones that cause her to wake up screaming, and he doesn't want her to be alone when she is jolted out of the world that causes her to react with such fear--and hears the shower running.
He smiles, because this time he has not had to remind her that hygiene is necessary, as are sleeping, eating, and going outside. She has not done the latter, yet, but that's okay, because he's patient and will give her time and knows that her grieving is something he cannot prevent. He doesn't want to risk rushing it, in any case. She is broken enough. He is trying to change that (he's been doing a good job, he thinks, a little smug) but there is only so much he can do.
The water turns off, and distantly he can hear her walking around her room. Not slouching, not dragging her feet, but walking. He's also willing to bet (hoping, more like) that she's picking out clean clothes to wear, instead of just grabbing a pair of pajama pants and a tank top and sulking around the house. Not that he blames her, he does want her to be okay, but he is also worried for her, and it calms him to know that she is making an attempt.
He smiles and goes back to sleep.
After a week and a half, Sakura finally sees the sun again.
She is taking baby steps to the pathway of healing, and it makes him want to hug her and never let go, because he is so proud of her.
On the thirteenth day, Kiba stays home and cleans--he feels like a freaking housewife whenever he does this, but doesn't mind, shoves his pride aside because he knows she needs it and also because she offered (she offered!) to go pick up some groceries--while Sakura goes to the store.
On her way there she sees Naruto, who has some really tragic bags beneath his eyes and those sparkling blue irises have dimmed, but he still gives her a smile when she comes up to him. Granted it's nothing how it normally is, but Naruto needs his baby steps to healing, too.
"Hey, Sakura-chan." Sakura winces at how hoarse his voice is and thinks that maybe this is the first time Naruto's left his house, too.
People around them glance at the pair as they pass, giving them furtive little looks and whisper to each other as soon as they believe they're out of earshot; both Sakura and Naruto ignore them.
"You okay?" Sakura asks, and Naruto sighs, shoulders slumping, corners of his mouth pulled downward in defeat, and it makes Sakura's heart ache, because he is Naruto and her best friend wasn't made for sadness. Not anymore.
"No," he tells her, and looks up at her, sad and lonely and lost. "I'm sorry, Sakura-chan. I couldn't keep my promise." His tone screams disappointment and all Sakura can think of doing is erasing it.
"Oh, Naruto…" she cups his face in her hands, eyes searching his own. "That doesn't matter to me. You still tried, and for that I am so incredibly grateful." He doesn't look satisfied and she sighs. "Sasuke still cared about us." Naruto's jaw clenches beneath her hands. "No, he did. Remember when Tsunade-shishou told us, on…" she can't say it. "on that day? Sasuke died saving the village. Sasuke died saving us."
Sakura took a deep breath. "Kiba talked to Tsunade-shishou, and apparently, not only had Madara wanted to crush Konoha but…he also wanted to kidnap you." Naruto's head snaps up and he is staring at her, eyes wide in disbelief. "But Sasuke prevented it. Wouldn't let Madara kill us, or take you."
She can feel tears stinging behind her eyes and makes no move to stop them; similarly, she can see that Naruto's eyes are glassy. "That must count for something, right? Up until the very end, Sasuke still cared about us."
Naruto leaned forward, pressing his forehead into her shoulder--he had to lean down so far it hurt his spine, but that was okay, because he's dealt with worse pain--and his eyelashes were wet with tears, but that was okay, too. Everything would be okay. Maybe not now, maybe not for a while, but Team Seven would learn to mend itself back together without Sasuke. They had done it before, this time wouldn't be so bad. After all, Sasuke had cared. Sasuke had loved them. Maybe he never had said so, but they were a team, even when he was so far away.
Maybe he had thought about them more than he let on. Maybe he missed them more than he let on. Maybe even right now, wherever he was, he missed them. They would never know, but Naruto was positive that Sasuke knew that they were missing him, had been missing him for so many years now that the ache was almost second-nature.
But now, Sasuke gave back to them, gave them something to remember them by. It was, Naruto thinks, almost choking on his tears as Sakura runs her fingers through his hair, Sasuke's apology. For not being there, for not being good enough. It hurts, hurts deeply, but they will move on, because the only thing you can do is move forward.
They will be okay, someday.
Five months after Sasuke's death, there is a memorial engraved in his name, for everything he has done to the village. It is placed between a sakura tree and Ichiraku, and Sakura almost laughs at the placement, even though she knows it is intentional.
After the first three weeks she goes there, every night, and stares at it. On the last night, it is a Tuesday and the air is warm. It is spring again, and the tree next to his sort-of grave is blooming.
"Hey, Sasuke." She had dropped the suffix to his name quite some time ago, though she knows that no one except maybe her children will ever have it. "I miss you all the time, you know. So does Naruto. Kakashi-sensei does, too, though he still spends more time with Obito and Rin at their own graves." She does not fear anyone hearing her because it is so late when she is done with her shift at the hospital. "And…I just want you to know that a piece of me will always belong to you, belong with you," she bites her lip and a tear makes its way down her cheek. She hates crying but knows that she won't be for long concerning Sasuke. "but now I need to say goodbye. A part of me will always love you, but I need to give my heart to someone else, okay?" She traces the words of his name etched in stone, another tear slipping out of her eye.
She can finally do this.
Two months after her last visit (at night, anyway; sometimes she comes with Naruto to put flowers there) she finally kisses Kiba, and nothing has ever felt so right in her entire life.
Kiba, Sakura thinks fondly, tracing his face as he sleeps beside her, is not perfect. He snores, and he eats like a pig; he leaves his clothes all over the floor(s) and is possessive, though deep down she doesn't really mind these things. (Well, except for him eating like a starving man, because he sprays food everywhere and it is seriously gross.) He is not perfect, but he is enough.
He was there when she had been broken and jaded for the first time, when she had been so incredibly weak, in every single sense of the word. He had been there when she began to get stronger, had been there when she celebrated and slowly began to move on. Had been there when she went from genin to chuunin to jounin, had gone from a little girl to a brilliant woman who was sturdy on her own two feet, though he was always there to lend a shoulder for her when she needed it.
He was there when she had been broken for the second--and last--time, had dragged her into a cold shower with her clothes on when she wouldn't get out of bed to take one, had force-fed her when she stared blankly at her plate. He had been there.
He was there, and he will stay, and the thought, the knowledge, gives her a funny feeling in her heart. It is not whole, there are cracks, but Kiba is the reason she has a heart in the first place, and now, it belongs to him.
He is not perfect, but in the end he is everything that she wants, and that is enough.
A/N--Holy cow, this entire, finished thing is over 7,000 words. Guys, that is INSANE, especially around finals time. (Three more to go and then I am HOME FREE. OH YEAH, BABY.) Also, don't kill me for the ending, okay? Feedback would be wonderful, since this is the first time I've ever written KibaSaku, and also because it is four in the morning and I am so tired it almost hurts to keep my eyes open.