Hey everyone! This is a really late gift fic for Agent Kell's birthday. Happy super belated birthday!

Just a note about the context, this is set after the grand battle with Uchiha Madara, Pein and Akatsuki. Naruto and Sasuke teamed up for the final fight and (naturally lol) won. Here is the immediate aftermath as I would like it to play out. So without further ado, read on folks!

Disclaimer: EVERYBODY knows that Naruto belongs to the genius that is Masashi Kishimoto! XD

A New Dawn

By AngeLhearteD

Sakura jogged through the battle-scarred plain, frantically searching for familiar faces.

The enemy was defeated. Finally, at last, after so many sacrifices along the dark and distressing road, they had reached the very end.

Her eyes, burning from dust irritation, scanned the ruined grassy banks before her. Smoke rose from flickering fires as Konoha shinobi and kunoichi slowly picked themselves up, allowing comrades to aid them. Medic ninja rushed around, assisting the injured where they could.

Bodies lay strewn on the battle-field, some belonging to Konoha ninja and to Konoha's allies from other neighbouring countries, and some belonging to Akatsuki members and their accomplices.

To her right, she spotted a silver-haired, sharp toothed young man, sitting upon the motionless, fallen body of the Akatsuki member Kisame. She recognised Suigetsu, who was gripping the hilt of Kisame's legendary sword with an immensely satisfied toothy grin plastered on his face. Next to him was the bright red-haired kunoichi Karin, her long, slender legs sprawled out before her. She, like many around Sakura, looked dazed.

'What's so great about that stupid sword anyway?!' The snappy redhead demanded, straightening her spectacles and trying in vain to resettle her dishevelled, uneven tresses. 'There's no way you'll be able to carry it! You risked your life for that lump of junk?! You're such an idiot!'

Suigetsu's grin merely widened and he allowed his team-mate's remark to sail right over his head.

Sakura turned her attention away from them, continuing along her way. She passed the juggernaut Juugo, who sat with his hands in his lap, staring silently at the small insect he held delicately in his palms. As she carried on, she caught sight of Shikamaru, who was being attended to by Ino.

'Sakura!' Ino called out, raising an arm to wave her friend over.

'Ino!' Sakura raised her hand in turn. 'Shikamaru! Are you both alright?'

'Tch,' Shikamaru winced, as Ino continued to work on healing an injury to his shoulder, 'These injuries are troublesome, but I'll survive.'

'I'll make sure of that – now hold still!' Ino stated then nodded at Sakura.

'Have you found Naruto?' Her big blue eyes were anxious as she began to add, 'Or Sa-?'

The pink-haired kunoichi cut her friend off before she could finish. 'I'm going to look for them now. Ino! When you finish with Shikamaru, make your way back; there are a lot of wounded people who will need your help!'

'Hai!' Ino nodded, and as Sakura took off again, called after her, 'Be careful!'

Sakura hurried on, passing many more familiar faces.

'Sakura!' Tenten called out, gesturing for assistance. Sakura made her way over and her eyes widened at the person who was supported on the ground by both Neji and the brown-haired girl. Lee was bleeding heavily, and his odd round eyes were near slits from exhaustion. His breathing was alarmingly shallow and irregular.

'What happened?' Sakura asked breathlessly, face full of worry.

'We took out Zetsu.' Neji explained, pale lavender eyes meeting Sakura's evenly. The cuts on his dirt-smudged chiselled cheek-bones were shallow in comparison to Lee's grievous wounds.

'We managed to avoid Zetsu's final attack but Lee was caught...' Tenten's voice trailed off, and then she looked desperately to Tsunade's apprentice.

'Please, Sakura! Help him!'

Sakura nodded, jaw gritting in determination.

'Lay him down.' She instructed.

Carefully, both Neji and Tenten lowered their team-mate onto his back on the grassy ground. Then they moved back to allow Sakura to work.

The pink-haired kunoichi checked his pulse and then examined his injuries with trained eyes. The most grievous was to his stomach. She took a deep breath and concentrated her chakra. She had been careful to use only regulated amounts up until that point, and she still had other important people to treat. She placed her hands over the worst of Lee's wounds and began to mend.

Tenten clasped her hands tightly together as she watched the healing chakra glow from Sakura's hands. Neji noticed her fine trembling, and placed a hand lightly on her right shoulder; a silent gesture of support. She sent him a grateful glance before turning her eyes back to Lee.

After a few more minutes, Sakura cut off the supply of healing energy and placed a slender hand on Lee's left shoulder.

'Lee-san!' She called out to him, gently.

Both Neji and Tenten watched on with baited breaths.

After a few moments, he released a groan of pain and his heavy eyelids flickered open. He blinked a few times, eyes briefly widening as he recognised the face of the girl who watched over him.

'S...Sakura-san...'

She smiled, relieved.

'You're going to be alright.' She assured him, before looking up at his team-mates, who stepped forward, peering down at their friend.

'I'll leave it to you two to take him back to the hospital where he can fully recuperate.' Sakura told them. They nodded.

As she moved to get back to her feet, Lee's right hand reached out and weakly caught hold of her left wrist.

'S...Sakura-san...' He said, throat dry and sore. But he hoped she could see the heartfelt gratitude in his eyes. 'I...th...thank you...for...' He broke off, coughing.

She placed her right hand lightly over his, indicating that no gratitude was necessary. She gently detached his fingers and stood, nodding at his team-mates again. As Tenten knelt down by her friend, Neji addressed Sakura.

'Naruto...he went ahead.'

Sakura thanked him for his direction and turned away, hurrying on. She hadn't gotten much further when a sudden, violent explosion erupted overhead. Sakura stopped, dead in her tracks, heart leaping in horror as her eyes took in the sight in the horizon ahead of her.

Flame, merged with both soaring wind and crackling lightning energy lit up the pale sky. She stood, rooted to the spot, as alarmed cries and concerned whispers sounded behind her.

She scarcely noticed as Shino, Hinata and Kiba with Akamaru drew up beside her.

For a few moments, there was silence between them as they took in the scene.

It was Shino who broke it.

'This is the end.' He stated gravely.

She glanced at him, green-orbs wide. She had thought that the battle had already been won. But that explosion...a mixture of both Naruto and Sasuke's elements...had they...? Were they...?

'How do I know this?' Shino was continuing, and paused for dramatic effect, before finishing,

'Because I can sense it.'

Kiba sweat-dropped, giving the strange young man a 'you're weird' expression. Then he turned his attention back to Sakura.

'Hey, Sakura, if you're going to find Kakashi, Naruto and Sai, you shouldn't go alone.'

Sasuke...what about Sasuke...? Why did nobody mention him, as if he hadn't been on the battle-field at all...?

She looked away, swallowing, tears once again stinging at her eyes. She willed them back; no, she would not cry. She had to be strong. She would be strong. Her friends needed her.

'We'll come with you.' Kiba offered, but Sakura shook her head.

'Thank you, but no. Shino says that this is the end, so I'll be fine.'

Shino was satisfied that someone had listened to his words. As Sakura moved to take off again, Hinata called to her.

'Umm...Sakura...?'

When Sakura glanced back at the Hyuuga girl, the heiress shifted on her feet nervously, hands raised shyly to her chest, cheeks blushing a deep crimson.

'A...ah...umm...I...can I...?'

Sakura's features softened. She instinctively knew what the girl was trying to say, and smiled, nodding in understanding. Hinata's Byuukagan would be useful for scanning ahead, and she knew how anxious the heiress was.

'Let's go find Naruto, Hinata!'

'...H...hai!' The purple-haired girl bowed gratefully, and then hurried after Sakura.

'Be careful!' Kiba called after them, and Akamaru echoed his master's sentiment by barking loudly.

As they ran forward, Sakura instantly requested Hinata's assistance.

'Hinata, tell me what you can see in the smoke cloud up ahead at 2 o'clock!'

'Right!' The girl focused in said direction. After a few moments, she let out a small gasp.

'I...I can see two people there!'

Sakura's heart skipped a beat.

Please, she silently prayed, as she ran alongside Hinata. Please be alright...all of you.

When they finally reached the smoke cloud, they came across the two figures. Sakura nearly sagged with relief as her vision adjusted and her eyes came to rest on the familiar forms of Sai and Kakashi. Both her team-leader and the pale boy were badly injured, their clothes torn and their skin smudged with dirt and ash stains.

Sakura hurried to Kakashi's side as he was the more seriously injured of the two.

'Kakashi-sensei!' She addressed her teacher, who was slouched on the ground, leaning heavily on a badly damaged rock. She examined his wounds and immediately set about healing the most threatening on his left side.

'Ah...Sakura...' He said, voice as light as ever, but with a hint of strain. 'How're things back in the field?'

'We managed to take out the remaining Akatsuki members.' Sakura informed him as she continued to work. 'But...we lost a lot of people too...'

Kakashi let out a pained sigh as he felt some of his aches subside slightly. Such was the way that war was. After a few more minutes, Sakura had finished closing up his most grievous injuries and she turned her attention to Sai, who offered her his usual blank, but clearly pained, smile.

'Sakura-san,' he greeted politely.

She analysed his injuries; a badly fractured right arm and a deep cut to his left shoulder. She called upon her chakra again, but realised that she was approaching below mid level in terms of her reserves. She could no longer afford to be generous with the amount she used.

'Are you alright?' She asked him.

In response, Sai tilted his head slightly.

'Is that what they call...concern...?' The dark haired boy enquired at her expression. She sighed in response, as she sealed up his deepest wound and only half-mended his fractured arm.

'Sorry Sai, I have to preserve my chakra.' She explained as he looked at her questioningly. 'You'll be fine to make it to the hospital.'

He nodded in understanding, slowly getting to his feet. Hinata watched, face full of worry, as Kakashi called Sakura over again.

'Won't you help an old man up?' The silver-haired copy ninja asked. She nodded, allowing him to place his right arm over her shoulder and supporting him as he got to his feet.

'Are you alright, sensei?' She asked, looking up at him in concern.

'Hai, hai, I'll be fine. Don't worry.' He replied, but he suddenly looked very tired, his body slouched even more than usual. Sakura bit her lower lip, the tears once again stinging her smoke-irritated eyes. As he removed his arm from her shoulder, he noticed the look on her face and sighed again.

'It's up to you now, Sakura. Find Naruto. Find Sasuke. Lead them both back home.'

At the emotional look that passed across her face, his lone eye crinkled shut in amusement, and he patted her head affectionately.

'You always were the one who held our team together. It's time to be complete again, hey?'

She swallowed, his words inspiring hope in her heart. 'Hai!'

And then, after thanking her first teacher, she and Hinata had taken off again. After running for what seemed like an eternity, Hinata finally let out a gasp as they approached a clearing in the smoke. A gentle breeze was blowing, and flames that were nearly extinguished glowed like tiny embers.

'N...Naruto-kun!' The Hyuuga girl squeaked, and both she and Sakura hurried toward the familiar form of Uzumaki Naruto. Hinata stopped before reaching him, hands clasped tightly as she allowed Sakura to address her team-mate first.

Relief flooded through Sakura's legs and turned them to jelly as she fell by the blond boy's side. Naruto was sprawled on the grass, arms and legs spread out almost lazily, his blue eyes heavy lidded. But he had a small, contented smile on his face, and as Sakura examined his injuries, she found that the kyuubi's chakra had already healed the majority of them. Only a deep cut to his abdomen remained, as well as various scratches and scrapes across his face, neck and arms.

'Naruto!' She gripped her team-mates left arm with a gloved hand, and his eyes shifted to focus on her. After blinking lazily at her, he spoke.

'We did it, Sakura-chan...' The smile widened slowly. 'We beat that bastard Madara...together.'

The tears now blurred her vision, and she let out a laugh. It was shaky and it was breathless, but it was genuine. Naruto was alright. And that meant that Sasuke had to be alright too, even if he wasn't here.

'I knew you could do it!'

'Eheh heh...I'll be Hokage now for sure, dattebayo!' He chuckled, and then winced, clutching his deep wound.

Sakura's eyes widened as she was snapped back to her responsibilities. 'Hold still! It looks like you overdid it again...' She sighed, and set about closing his injury. She worked for a full five minutes as Naruto recounted the battle to her.

'It was awesome! When Sasuke and I combined our final attack, you should've seen it Sakura-chan! That Teme, he's gotten almost as strong as I have! He was trying to show off and take all the credit, but nothing beats the ultimate form of my Rasengan technique...'

Sakura wished she had seen it. Once again she had been left behind, but she comforted herself with the knowledge that she had helped in her own way, through her support, encouragement and ability to heal.

Naruto continued to chatter on, before his voice suddenly trailed off and he stared silently at the pale sky.

Hinata watched him with tear-shimmering eyes, heart pounding, not daring to move from her position.

When Naruto next spoke, his voice was quiet and a wistful look crossed his face, as he gazed at the heavens high above with watery eyes.

'...Ero-sennin...would've been proud.'

He raised his right hand to the sky, outstretched fingers reaching up to something invisible.

'I will be Hokage...' He said, again, sounding terribly tired. '...just like...my father.'

Sakura had finished her task with the confident knowledge that Naruto could be left to make a full recovery at the hospital. Now she sat silently by his side, her slender, pale hands folded neatly in her lap. She was sorry for Naruto; sorry for all the pain and loneliness he had suffered in his life, sorry for being so mean and inconsiderate to him when she was younger and so much more foolish. Now she recognised his worth, saw what a heart of gold lay within that goofy exterior.

She was suddenly overwhelmed with a great sense of pride and acknowledgment; Naruto, who had come such a long way since their far-off Genin days, would fulfil his dream of becoming the next Hokage. And Sakura was proud to be his team-mate and friend, no matter how much she scolded and threatened to punch him senseless.

She smiled, eyes closing, willing the tears not to spill.

'You did well, Naruto!'

Naruto blinked, surprised at her uncharacteristically supportive words. He lowered his hand and his eyes shifted to the pink-haired kunoichi by his side.

A slow grin began to grace his lips.

'Hey hey, Sakura-chan, does this mean you'll treat me to some free ramen at-?'

Before he could complete his sentence, Sakura was shaking her fist threateningly.

'Baka! Don't make me beat you when I've just healed you! You're speaking to a lady! A lady never pays!'

'Eheh heh, I was joking, I was joking!' The blond defended, wincing slightly at his sore joints as he slowly gathered himself and sat up. His eyes suddenly widened as he remembered the remainder of their team.

'Sakura-chan! Kakashi-sensei and Sai...?' Naruto began to enquire.

'Everybody's fine.' She assured him, and his shoulders relaxed in relief.

'Ah...that's good.' He murmured.

Sakura blinked and then glanced at Hinata. She looked back at her team-mate and smiled slightly.

'I wouldn't have been able to find you if it weren't for Hinata!'

The Hyuuga girl blushed as Naruto's big blue eyes turned to her. He hadn't noticed her standing timidly to the side.

'Hey! Hinata! Your team are all OK too, aren't they?' He asked, seeking confirmation.

'...H...hai!' Hinata managed to squeak out.

He flashed a disarming grin at her. 'I'm glad!'

The blush on her cheeks turned an impossibly deeper shade of scarlet as she bowed.

'Th...thank you Naruto-kun!'

Naruto regarded her for a moment, before shifting to stand. But he wobbled unsteadily on his feet. Hinata gasped and stepped forward, reaching out hesitantly.

'Give me a hand, Hinata!' Sakura told her. The dark-haired girl swallowed and drew a deep breath, before hurrying forward to Naruto's left side. She almost fainted when he draped a tired arm around her shoulders, the other around Sakura's.

Sakura bit her lip, hesitating to utter the question that had been haunting her from the moment that she had found the blond alone.

'Naruto...' She averted her green-eyes at Naruto's glance. '...Sasuke-kun...?'

Naruto's eyes lowered and he was uncharacteristically silent for a moment. At length, he spoke up quietly.

'In Madara's last moments, he performed one final jutsu. It was directed at both of us. I...tried to get Sasuke out the way...but he...' His voice trailed off before he continued, 'I wouldn't let go, Sakura-chan. I told him I could take it. But he wouldn't listen. He just said that I was still the same idiot. He had to injure me to make me let go of him. That wound you just healed...'

The medic nin's eyes widened in understanding.

Naruto swallowed, before a pained grin plastered across his face again. '...That teme...he always has to play the hero. Just like old times eh?'

Tears stung at Sakura's eyes. It was just like the Sasuke they had always known; to sacrifice himself for his team-mates. Despite all his claims that his bonds had been severed, despite all his nonchalance toward them; at the end, he had still chosen to protect Naruto.

Just as he had countless other times, the first of which had been against Haku back when they were Genin.

'When I came around again...he was gone.' Naruto finished.

Sakura's heart was pounding. Wherever Sasuke was, he had to be seriously wounded. He couldn't have gotten far.

Naruto seemed to know what she was thinking as she shifted anxiously on her feet. It only seemed right that she and her team-mate searched for Sasuke together. But Naruto in his current state could barely walk.

'Sakura-chan.'

Her head snapped up at the uncharacteristically gentle way he uttered her name. She looked at him, meeting sincere blue eyes directly. He offered her a genuine smile; a smile similar to the one he had given Sasuke long ago, before the raven-haired Uchiha had left the village, way back when Sakura had embraced him in the hospital; a smile of acceptance.

'Go and find him. I'll be waiting right here.'

Sakura's throat was thick with emotion. He was letting her get Sasuke. Naruto, who had always been called dense, was now displaying an astonishing maturity and sensitivity.

'But...Naruto...' She began, in a near-whisper.

'I'll be fine.' He assured her, giving her that same, familiar grin. 'I've got Hinata right here.'

Sakura glanced at Hinata. The blushing Hyuuga nodded, though she clutched at her heart, as if she were terrified of being left alone with the object of her affections.

She engaged her clan's eye technique, and after a few moments of scanning, she let out another small gasp, and pointed ahead of them, guiding Sakura in the right direction.

'I...I see the outline of someone...on a raised hill! But I...I can't make out if it's him!'

The pink-haired kunoichi decided to take her chances. She nodded at the girl, and smiled determinedly at Naruto.

'I'll find Sasuke-kun.' She assured her team-mate. And then Naruto had pulled his arm away and let her go, and Sakura was flying forward, with no plan of what she would do if she found him; no plan but what resided in her heart.


Pain assaulted him as he collapsed against the boulder, clutching at the deep wound just below his chest. He could also feel a terrible stinging sensation on his back; the white shirt with the Uchiha emblem was torn and stained with blood, dirt and grass. All along his arms were scratches and cuts, some deeper than others.

He knew that Naruto was faring better than he was; after all, Sasuke had once again arrived at the inexplicable conclusion that the blond boy's safety was more important than his own. Had taking most of the brunt of Madara's attack really been worth it? A grim, faint ghost of a smirk formed on his lips.

Old habits were hard to break, and seemingly impossible to kill.

The final battle had been desperate, dangerous and the most difficult he had ever encountered. It had also been the most exhilarating, and the very best; he had witnessed first-hand just how much Naruto's skill had grown and had silently been impressed. They had worked together brilliantly, backing each other up with an almost reckless abandon at times, yet both determinedly vying to outdo the other.

Just like old times.

Sasuke had found that fighting alongside Naruto again after so many years had awoken a realisation within him. He had actually enjoyed the battle, throwing himself into the thrill of the fight, smirking and insulting the blond, taunting him whenever he had made mistakes. He hadn't felt that way in a battle in a very long time. The raven-haired Uchiha had realised at that moment just how much he had missed the empty exchanging of trash-talk with the loud-mouthed shinobi.

Feelings of companionship had come flooding back, shocking him with their familiarity. He had pushed them aside, locked them up, for so long. That they came resurfacing so easily against his will during the fight had troubled him greatly. Which was why he had taken off the moment he had known that Naruto was safe, with no plan of where he was going to go. He hadn't wanted to stick around until Naruto regained consciousness. He didn't want to be found right away by Kakashi or another village elder. He didn't want to be questioned. He needed space, and time, to think, even if he knew that he could only buy a little before he was discovered.

It had been a struggle to get as far as he had; far from all the other Konoha ninja, and far from team Hawk. Thoughts of what lay ahead of him now plagued his mind. He hadn't been able to entertain the idea of returning to Konoha after Itachi's death. But Sasuke was now truly the only remaining Uchiha alive. Was he ready? Did he really want to return?

But could he keep running all his life?

Exhaustion, both mental and physical, overwhelmed him. He wondered if his grievous injuries would finish him. It seemed a fitting end, one he deserved.

He vaguely wondered who would find him first.


Sakura was sure that the raised hill that Hinata had directed her to was just ahead of her. But she didn't have Hinata's keen eyes and she struggled to see beyond the smoke-filled air. The sense of urgency was increasing by the second and the muscles in her legs were starting to ache and cramp. She couldn't afford to spare any chakra and so had resolved to travel along as fast as she could without relying on her reserve.

A gust of wind sent her pink locks flying back, and the air cleared as she continued on. The sun was almost rising. Her apple-green eyes scanned the scene before her; sure enough there was a high hill, but she couldn't see anything or anyone on it.

Dread filled her; what if the figure had already moved on? What if Hinata had mistaken some tree for a person? But Sakura could see no tree, and instinct told her to trust her friend. She forced herself onwards, reaching the hill and beginning the painful struggle of climbing up to its peak.


In his anguished state, he fleetingly thought that he detected someone's chakra nearby. But it was impossible to focus enough to attempt to identify it. Gritting his teeth, he realised his time to contemplate was up. He had to face Konoha and the Hokage; the time had finally come to accept the consequences of his own actions.

All he wanted was to be taken back proudly, despite the dishonourable nature of his leaving. And yet, even the prospect of standing up seemed too difficult. He summoned all the self-control and discipline he could and pushed himself away from the boulder. Pain seared through his nerves, sending every fibre screaming in agony. Just breathing was laborious. He was losing too much blood. His vision was blurry and his head felt groggy.

He thought he heard the rustling of grass beneath light footsteps. But in his state, he realised there was a possibility that it was just the figment of his overtaxed mind.


She was near breathless by the time she reached the hill-top, but she scarcely had time to fill her lungs with oxygen again when she caught her breath sharply. She stood, frozen to the spot, staring with wide eyes at the figure that stood a short distance ahead of her.

For a terrible moment, all time seemed to stand still. Only the gentle breeze and Sakura's racing heart seemed to escape the end of time's flow.

His white shirt was torn and stained red. She could tell from his posture that he was in extreme pain and discomfort. The harsh reminder of Madara's power was undeniable.

But why...? Why had he punished himself by coming here, so far away from any help...so far away from his friends?

'S...' She had great trouble articulating his name. 'Sa...'

With a great effort he turned, and she saw the full horror of his injuries. That he was still standing was a miracle, a tribute to his stamina and his stubborn refusal to give up.

His unfocused eyes were bottomless pools of black; dazed eyes; familiar eyes; Sasuke-kun's eyes. Not his clan's eyes; only his own.

He looked exhausted. The sight of him so pained and tired made her eyes well up all over again.

He had suffered so much and for so long. Denying the terrible urge to break down into sobs had never been so difficult for her.

Sasuke knew there was now someone on the hill with him. But his vision was so blurry and he felt so nauseous and disorientated that focusing on the figure was impossible. Red merged with the green of the grass and the pale colours of the sky. He shifted on his feet, and instantly regretted it as his legs finally betrayed him and he toppled forward, in a sign of weakness that silently infuriated him.

All pride went out the window. He would fall right in front of whoever it was that had found him. He closed his eyes, resigning himself to whatever fate lay in wait for him.

A startled cry escaped Sakura's rosy lips and she forgot her own aching limbs, darting forward with outstretched arms. She ran to him faster than she had ever moved in her life, catching him in the nick of time. But he was heavier than she remembered and his unexpected weight made her tired legs give way in turn.

Sasuke was on the edge of consciousness. He had collided into a warm, slender body; a female body. In his dizzy state, he still had trouble discerning whom it was that had broken what would have otherwise been an agonisingly painful fall.

The raven-haired shinobi's head somehow came to rest against a small, fragile shoulder, his chiselled cheek pressing against a warm sleeve of clothing. Sasuke's immediate thought was to use any remaining remnants of strength to pull away from the awkward and thoroughly improper situation, but arms closed around him firmly and a gentle, familiar voice made him reconsider.

'S...Sasuke-kun...'

The identity of the person was now unmistakable.

With great effort he managed to marginally lift his heavy lids, blinking tiredly and seeing nothing but bleary colours, before closing his eyes once again. An odd sensation akin to relief mingled with the pain assaulting his battered and bruised body.

Sa...

Sakura...

Her name, which he had forbidden to enter his mind for so long, now registered. With it came recollections of her Genin self, all outrageous pink hair, bright green eyes, and, depending on the memory, a happy face full of cheer, or a tear-stricken face full of anxiety and desperation.

Strangely, his head suddenly felt too heavy to lift. All tenseness left his body as he rested against her.

He could feel her fine trembling, but had no strength to voice any words. They had scarcely spoken a word to each other ever since his defection from Konoha years earlier. Unlike with Naruto, where it had been easy to exchange familiar insults and taunts, Sakura's situation was much more delicate. His anger at appearing weak had disappeared into oblivion on realising that it was his old team-mate who had found him. Sakura had seen him weak many times before. That she was the one to find him now seemed appropriate. It made the disgrace a little more bearable. And Sasuke was far too exhausted to be alarmed by the fact that his body found her familiar physical presence almost comforting. It was almost as if his aches and pains were dulling.

He did not open his eyes, and so he did not see the pale green light that glowed softly from her healing hands. He had neither the strength nor the inclination to lift his heavy eyelids again. She poured her chakra into him, ignoring her own exhaustion. She hadn't held him in so many years, and old feelings that seemed so much deeper than she remembered came flooding back into her. They were smothering, causing her throat to choke up, rendering her unable to offer any soothing words. And yet speaking suddenly seemed meaningless and unnecessary.

Memories of their days as Genin, as children, flashed through her mind, like an old yet vivid film strip. All the silent looks, all the times their eyes had met and silence had reigned between them; all the times they had stood beside each other, with no words exchanged as they watched Kakashi deal with Naruto's endless ranting and whinging – all those moments suddenly made sense. Sakura knew that she didn't need to say anything to Sasuke. Just to hold him, and to heal him; just to be beside him; it was enough.

Now that he was in her arms again she didn't want to let go. Now that he was in her arms, real and breathing and alive, she could feel again. Tears that she had held back for so long poured down her cheeks and she didn't care if he knew she was crying.

And he did know. Over the few brief times they had spent in each other's company, Sasuke had perceived that she had appeared to be very changed from their days as Genin team-mates; more emotionally mature, more silent and more resolute. But it seemed that she was just as sensitive as she had been before; only better at keeping those feelings in check behind a stable and composed exterior.

One corner of his dry, chapped lips twitching into a ghost of a smirk that he knew she wouldn't detect.

She was still annoying. Just as Naruto was still a dobe. Some things never changed, no matter how much time passed.

Maybe he was ready to go back. With his old team-mates and sensei still their selves, still stubbornly insisting to be there for him even after everything he had put them through, maybe it was the time.

Through her tear-blurred eyes, Sakura glimpsed the gentle colours of the sky as the sun began to rise. It was a breathtaking view, and witnessing it with Sasuke in her arms overwhelmed her with emotion, and a strong sense of optimism.

Her apple-green orbs came to rest on the top of the last remaining Uchiha's head. He had been a victim for so many long years. He needed time to adjust to a life free from binding chains; a lot of time and a lot of patience.

Sakura had waited for years.

Now was the time to lay inner demons to rest. Now was the time for healing.

And she knew, from the fact that Sasuke wasn't struggling to pull away from her, that now, at last, he was ready to return home and face up to a new beginning; one that he could command, free from the influence and manipulative scheming of others.

Sakura's heart was full of hope. It was a new day and a new dawn. Perhaps now, after all the trials and tribulations, they could finally all begin looking toward the future; as Konoha ninja; as Team 7, as friends.

Together.

Author's Note

Whoa so that was really long for a oneshot. Typical of me lol. Oh and guys a oneshot means I won't be adding ANY MORE CHAPTERS, so please don't add this story to your alert lists, people! It won't be updated again. This is all there is to it! But I hope you all liked it, and especially Keely! I'm so sorry it's so late again; it got lost on the road of life, just like Kakashi! Must be a sensei thing neh? XD; Anyways, please leave me a review and let me know what you thought of this!

Thanks for reading folks. Toodles for now! :)