A/N: Well, here's the last chapter in this little short story. At least, I think so. I don't know if I'm going to have this story continue for a little while or not, so if you think I should, let me know! It'll probably take me some time, though, to think of something else to put. Thanks for reading it so far, and I hoped you enjoyed it!
Naruto didn't know how long Sakura held him. All he knew were the tears for the family that he had never known. He had never known the Fourth Hokage, nor had he known his mother. But for just a brief moment, he had been able to see what they had been like, and it wasn't fair that they were gone.
But Naruto knew how much he had always wanted a family. And he could have had one. He had seen how so many of his fellow peers at the academy had laughed and played with their families. He had always been alone. No matter what he had done, the parents had always kept the other kids away from him. He knew why now, of course, but that didn't change the fact that people still looked at him as if he were a monster.
Why had such a good person have to die? Why did his parents have to die? Naruto thought of Sasuke. He hadn't been the only person without parents. Sasuke had lost his parents, too, but Naruto didn't know which was worse: never knowing a mother or father, or knowing them before they died. Either way, Naruto knew that was why he had wanted to befriend Sasuke. Because they were the same. But Sasuke was gone now.
Minato… Kushina… The names rolled around in Naruto's mind. They had… someone had loved him. They had loved him so much—Naruto didn't need any more memories than the ones he had seen to know that his parents had truly loved him. But he couldn't seem to put into words why he felt so alone and empty at the moment, even though he now knew something about his parents.
He pulled away from Sakura, knowing that if he stayed there much longer, she was bound to hit him. He felt a wry smile cross his face, but the thought made him realize how much Sakura still loved Sasuke. There was no way that she would ever love him. He knew that she liked him like she did Sai, and that they were a good team when they worked together.
"Naruto…" Sakura whispered. Naruto's eyes flashed up to her face, and he started with surprise. Tears were running down her cheeks as well. Why was she crying? It wasn't her memory, nor was it her family. But he knew that these kinds of things still made her cry.
Sakura glanced away from Naruto, quickly wiping the tears away from her face. She couldn't explain the strange feeling that had ached her heart when Naruto had pulled away from her. She wanted to stop his crying, to help him, to try to take some of the pain away. She set her eyes on the wall of memories so that she wouldn't have to look Naruto in the eyes.
They were more bad memories, different ones from different times all meshing together to form one huge hole of despair. Sakura gasped. "Naruto," she said urgently, turning back to him. He quickly wiped his face on his sleeve, waiting for her to continue. "Naruto, do you always remember the bad things?"
Sakura bit her lip, but stood to her feet as an idea formed in her head. "Naruto, can you remember anything good? Anything at all?"
"I've tried, but it… it doesn't work."
"Try!" Sakura urged. Naruto hesitated, and Sakura narrowed her eyes. "Come on, Naruto! You still have a promise to keep to me! How are you going to keep it if you're locked up inside of your head?"
Naruto gasped, staring wide-eyed at Sakura for a moment. Then, he stood to his feet and faced the wall, his eyebrows furrowing as he concentrated on good memories. They fuzzed on the wall, but the right feelings didn't come. The despair lifted a little, but it definitely wasn't enough.
Sakura lowered her eyes to the floor, disgusted with herself. She knew he had promised to find Sasuke for her, but what had she ever done for him? He had protected her, was always nice to her. He had never tried to hurt her, no matter how many times she punched him. Naruto had always been there for her. Naruto had always been her teammate. Naruto had never left her. Naruto, Naruto, Naruto…
His name was everywhere she looked. He was in all of the good memories, or most of them at least. Sakura lifted her eyes, watching Naruto as he concentrated on remembering something good. She could tell that the atmosphere of the room, and all of the despair it caused had taken its toll on Naruto. But a new determination had come into Naruto's eyes, and Sakura knew that Naruto would die trying. He never gave up, and she knew that he wouldn't now, either.
It's not the size of what you do that matters, Sakura. It's your feelings for Naruto that really matter. Sakura gasped. Did… Did she really feel the way Captain Yamato had suggested? One of Naruto's memories popped up on the wall. Naruto asked her on a date, but he hadn't been able to pay, so she hadn't gone with him… Naruto collapsed from the Kyuubi's chakra, and Sakura lifted him from the ground, holding him and trying to protect him… Naruto was rushing after Sakura as she plummeted to the ground, but he couldn't catch her; Yamato had saved her… Naruto watched Sakura as she tried to heal herself… Yamato stepped close to Naruto, whispering something in ear. Naruto gasped, his eyes widening in horror.
A small smile tugged at the corners of Sakura's mouth. That was probably when Yamato had told Naruto he had hurt her, but all the same, it seemed as if almost all of Naruto's good memories were about her. Sakura felt tears prick her eyes. Could feelings really change? Could she possibly want to find Sasuke just because he was her friend? No, Sasuke was a very good friend, one that needed help. But Naruto…
A memory caught Sakura's attention. Naruto was remembering the fight between him and Sasuke, the first fight before Sasuke had gone to Orochimaru. She saw Naruto lying on the rocks, his breathing alarmingly shallow. His eyes were closed, and he was dirty, cut, and bleeding slightly. Sakura felt her throat hitch. What if Naruto had died? What if he had died that day that Sasuke had left? Sakura shook her head. She couldn't imagine Naruto gone. She couldn't imagine what it would be like without Naruto. He was always smiling, always encouraging, always helping people out… always protecting her. There would have been no one to train with, no one to make mistakes only to surprise everyone by defying the odds.
Suddenly, Sakura knew why Sasuke was just a friend. She still wanted him back in Konoha, but if Naruto had gone… He had never left her, had always tried to protect her. She knew now that what Yamato had about her was true. She did like Naruto. She didn't want to admit it, but she realized that she did want to be more than friends. She wanted… she wanted to tell him how she felt. It seemed as if she had been holding all of it in, and she would burst if she didn't let it out.
Naruto backed up against the wall, sliding down to the floor. He was breathing heavily. "Sakura-chan… I—I can't… I can't do it. I'm sorry. Sasuke was right. I am weak. I can't… save him for you. I can't do anything."
"Naruto," Sakura whispered, bending down and sitting next to him. Her eyes stared at the wall, but the images went unseen. Naruto had definitely been inside of his head too long. The atmosphere was taking a hold of him, because this wasn't the Naruto that she knew. "Naruto, I don't want you go save Sasuke if you're going to do it alone." She looked into his confused blue eyes. "We have to do it together. Remember? We were going to get stronger together so that we can save Sasuke together."
"S—Sakura-chan," Naruto whispered. His eyes wandered to the floor. "I'll get him back. I—I know how much Sasuke means to you."
"Things can change, Naruto," Sakura said quickly. He still wasn't getting it. "Naruto, you… you mean a lot to me, too," she whispered hesitantly. How could she say this? She had always denied Naruto's not-so-subtle attempts at a date, but… it was just so hard to actually say that she liked Naruto. She had always told him that she was not interested and that she never would be. What could she do? She hated admitting that she was wrong, or that Yamato had been right. And what would Naruto think? He was still completely clueless when it came to women, and she knew that he would brag about it later. That was just Naruto.
However, no matter how Sakura hated to realize that she had been wrong, she felt like her emotions were suffocating her if she didn't get them out. She had to say something; Naruto was looking at her as if something was wrong with her. Sakura was about to speak when Naruto cast his eyes to the floor.
"It's all right, Sakura-chan. You don't have to try to make me feel better about my promise. I'm still—"
"No, no, no, Naruto! It's just that…" Sakura's eyes widened and a gasp escaped her lips. That was it! Though Naruto hadn't been successful in remembering something happy, the mood of the room had definitely weakened. The feeling of despair was lessening the more they talked—Sakura knew it. That had to be the way to stop Mitani's jutsu. So all Naruto had to do was remember something good… Or to be overwhelmed by a new, powerful memory.
"Naruto, I wasn't just trying to make you feel better," Sakura said quietly, a small smile tugging at her mouth. It was slightly embarrassing—saying these kinds of things to Naruto. But the embarrassment soon faded. They were inside of Naruto's head. How more private could they be?
Sakura tilted her head towards Naruto. "I really meant what I said Naruto. I… I can't imagine Konoha without you!" She quickly looked at the floor, the sudden force of her emotions sending tears to her eyes. She felt frustration rise quickly in her throat. Why was she always crying? She cried at everything, but she couldn't shake this strange feeling welling inside of her chest. It was almost painful, but wonderful at the same time. No length of time around Sasuke had ever made her feel this way, and just one small sentence had caused her pulse to race and her heart to pound.
Two hands placed themselves on Sakura's shoulders, and she looked up with a gasp. Naruto was closer than she thought, his sparkling blue eyes wide and confused, yet earnest. She found it strange that his eyes were sparkling… Suddenly, she noticed that there were tears in his eyes. Why was he crying?
Naruto smiled slightly. "Do you really mean that, Sakura-chan?"
Sakura's dignity stuck in her throat. She could only manage a nod, but that seemed to be enough for Naruto.
"You know," Naruto's smiled widened, "I always liked you because I thought you were pretty. But now I know why I like you so much." His eyes were slightly mystified, and for a moment, his eyes left hers. "That day on the bench… That was me, pretending to be Sasuke. I wanted to know what you thought of me."
"That—that was you?" Sakura asked incredulously.
"Why—why you—" Sakura couldn't think of anything to say. Naruto had moved an inch closer to her, and her heart was thumping even louder. She hoped that Naruto couldn't hear, but she bet even the walls could hear it.
"It really means a lot to me, Sakura-chan. Thank you," Naruto said earnestly, no hint of a smile on his face now. He was completely serious. Sakura stared into his eyes. She felt her own produce more tears. Sometimes, Naruto truly could understand, and he was sometimes the only person that could understand.
Sakura felt a smile part her lips. "Naruto, I know how to stop the genjutsu. I know how you can get out of this." Sakura saw Naruto's eyes light up. His eyes said it all; there was no need for him to ask a question. "Trying to conjure up happy memories seems to be working, but you've got to be overwhelmed with either a really good memory, or… I guess you have to create a good memory right now."
Naruto looked at his lap, his hand on his chin as he thought. He could think of a few good memories, but he had tried all those. They had worked the best, but they still hadn't worked. He needed something better, but all the good memories had just slipped into the bad ones. He didn't have a best memory. Some were better than others, but none were good enough to break the genjutsu.
"Naruto," Sakura whispered. Her skin felt hot, and her heart was pounding even more viciously. Her pulse was racing like fire. She couldn't believe what she was about to do, but an ironic thought played in Sakura's head as she stared at Naruto's confused eyes. Naruto, I was so mad at you because I was supposed to have Sasuke's first kiss, but… you beat all the girls to it. Funny, isn't it? How you will steal my first kiss, too? "Would this be a good memory?" Sakura placed her palm on Naruto's face. It felt cool underneath her skin, a relief. She leaned in slowly, her lips finally touching his.
"Nn!" Naruto gasped, his body going rigid as he felt Sakura's lips touch his. Her lips were soft and warm, and he could taste the salt of her previous tears. But he was too stunned to really think about any of that. Sakura had kissed him. He had always liked Sakura, but something different, something strange was starting to burn in his chest. He couldn't figure out what it was, but he could feel his muscles relaxing. This was the strangest sensation he had ever felt, but he was too happy to put it into words, or to even speak at all.
Everything was blurring. Naruto closed his eyes, leaning hesitantly towards Sakura, his reflexes still apprehensive. He didn't know whether to think that this was a dream or reality, but he hoped that it was real. This had to be the happiest moment of his life, outshining every other memory. Naruto wasn't exactly sure what he was feeling, but he didn't want it to leave. He had never felt this happy before, and he wanted that happiness to last. He had been trapped inside of his own despair and loneliness long enough, and he wanted it to be gone forever.
But there was really no need anymore. Everything was brighter. The sounds were clearer; he could feel someone's touch as if they were right there; a huge weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. He opened his eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the light. He could only register a large white room and the fact that he was lying on his back. But despite the fact that he had wanted to wake slowly, he was immediately distracted by something else.
Sakura was bent over him, one of her hands on the table and the other on his face. Her face was closer to him than it had ever been before, and he felt a strange warmth on his lips. All of things that had happened to him inside of his mind came rushing back in an onslaught of memories. Sakura's eyes suddenly snapped open, and the two stared at each other until Sakura stumbled back from the table, her cheeks flushing bright red. Naruto sat up, his eyes wide and unbelieving.
"Sakura-chan!" he said quietly, his voice thick with astonishment. Sakura glanced around herself for a moment, then jumped forward, throwing her arms around Naruto's shoulders. Tears poured from her eyes, but she didn't care. She had saved him. She had saved Naruto from the genjutsu. Some part of her mind knew that she had kissed Naruto to save him, but it had been… strangely pleasant. But right now, she was just glad he was safe, that she had him back again.
"Well, I'm glad to see you're better."
Naruto whipped his head around, and Sakura jerked away from Naruto, quickly wiping her eyes of all traces of tears. Kakashi, Sai, and Tsunade all stood in the doorway. Naruto and Sakura had no idea how long the three of them had been there, and both of their faces reddened.
Sai walked forward and looked at Naruto and Sakura. "I didn't know that mouth to mouth resuscitation was all he needed to get better. If that had been the case, then I could have done it for you, Naruto."
Sakura's eyebrows twitched. Naruto almost fell off of the table. Kakashi chuckled, then held up one of his hands. "Well, I'd better get to my next mission. Sakura. Naruto. Unless the Fifth needs you, you two rest for a little while. I might need you two for backup, so I need you to be well-rested."
The two nodded, and Naruto quickly excused himself, Sakura following after him. She sincerely hoped that Kakashi and Tsunade hadn't seen her kissing Naruto, but she knew that Sai had seen them. Thankfully, he was completely and utterly clueless when it came to things other than logic and a mission.
Naruto stopped once he was outside the hospital. He was still in his black shirt and orange pants, and he had forgotten his headband in the hospital room, causing his tousled hair to fall over his eyes. Sakura stopped next to him, looking at him curiously. He was staring up at a few of the hills that surrounded Konoha. The sun was glancing off the tops, casting a warm, golden light across the entire city.
"It's beautiful," Sakura whispered.
"It is," Naruto murmured. Sakura turned to look at him, only to find that he was looking right at her. His eyes looked amazed, but confused. "Sakura-chan, why did you… kiss me?" he asked slowly.
"You mean a lot to me, Naruto," Sakura whispered, then shrugged. "It just took me a while to realize it for myself."
A smile spread across Naruto's face. He turned away from the pole he had been leaning on, his hands hanging loosely by his side. He leaned in slowly, his eyes checking Sakura's, unconsciously looking at her fist. Sakura smiled, then tilted her head up, closing the last two inches between her and Naruto. The setting sun felt warm, but once her skin touched Naruto's, her whole body felt like it was on fire. Unconsciously, one hand wrapped itself in his hair while the other cradled his face.
Naruto let his arms reach around Sakura's waist, holding her closer to him. For once, Sakura felt as if she couldn't get close enough to Naruto. And for the first time, she didn't care if anybody saw them together like this. In fact, she was quite happy about it.
Well, what'd you guys think? If you'd like to let me know what you thought, just go ahead and click that little button that says 'review!!!'. Again, thanks to all my readers and reviewers for doing just that and letting me know how I'm doing in portraying the Naruto world!!
- wolf's paradise