Sakura's Point of View

I could still feel the excitement coursing through my veins as I stirred the melted chocolate with a wooden spoon, the big, goofy grin I had on my face probably making me look even more ridiculous than I felt.

I didn't care. I still couldn't believe Naruto was there.

I'd known I missed him. I missed everything about him, from his infectious smile, to his love for ramen—and in particularly harsh moments, even his stupidity.

Ino was my best friend, the one I could tell everything without fear of judgment, the one whose opinion I valued above many others'. I could talk to her about boys, about the hospital, about seduction missions, about shopping and beauty and I wouldn't change her for the world.

But Naruto was the brother I never had. He was more than a friend; he was someone that had been there for me in every hard time of my life. We laughed together, we cried together, we fought together, we killed, lost and won together. No bond was stronger than that.

And I'd never realized, not until the moment I had him standing in front of me, how much I'd truly mourned his absence since I'd been in Otogakure.

"Hey, Sakura-chan!" he greeted, being just as loud as I remembered, as he entered the kitchen and made a beeline for the fresh chocolate biscuits I had laid out on a plate.

I slapped his hand away. "Don't eat those, idiot! They're hot!" I chided. "Plus, you're supposed to eat real food first!"

"Sure," he agreed easily, munching on the handful that he had managed to steal. "Can we eat ramen?"

"No," I answered, shaking my head fondly as I turned off the stove. I didn't need to turn my head to see his disappointed expression, and I grinned as I amended, "But… we can eat something extremely unhealthy."

"Yes!" he yelled, pumping his fist in the air in a sign of victory. "Thank you, Sakura-chan! Unhealthy food is the best!"

"Sure it is," I answered with a laugh. "Just go change and I'll take you to a nice place."

"'Kay!" he proclaimed, and with a short hug meant clearly to distract me while he stole more cookies, he disappeared into the hallway.

I'd had no idea Naruto planned on visiting during the holidays, even though Sasuke clearly had. I wanted to believe that the reason why he hadn't shared the information with me was because he wanted it to be a surprise, and not because he'd hoped with all his might Naruto would change his mind.

I was well aware of the degree of impossible that reached, though, so instead of fooling myself, I tried not to give the issue a tremendous amount of attention.

Looking at the big picture, it barely mattered at all. Naruto was there and, according to him, 'old man' Kakashi who 'wasn't as fast', would soon be joining us. It had surprised me to hear that Tsunade had sent both of them, considering how powerful and important they were for the village, but there was no denying the fact that it warmed my heart to know that my mentor had thought of me and my emotional well-being.

I was fine and I was sure I could have gone another couple of months without seeing my friends or returning home, but that was really only because I was so busy. Sometimes, lying down in bed, late at night, unable to sleep because I had somehow managed to drag myself home earlier than usual, my mind would be filled with them—with Naruto and Kakashi and Tsunade and the girls and my staff at the hospital and even my patients. I missed my apartment and my considerably smaller closet. I missed the café I entered almost every morning for the hot cup of caffeine that would wake me up. I missed my favorite shop. I even missed the local cuisine, the fruits and spices I was unable to find here. It seemed as though I had never fully appreciated all that Konoha had to offer until I lost access to them.

But that would change, I resolved. When I returned home, I would be a different, better person—and that, not necessarily because I had slept with Uchiha Sasuke.

No, that would definitely not make me a better person.

Walking into the living room, not even bothering with cleaning up after myself, considering not only the fact that I wasn't done, but also that I was practically the only one who ever entered the kitchen, I sat down on the couch to pull my high-heeled boots on. Even though it was nearly the middle of December outside, it had yet to snow once, but if the man from the weather forecast was right—and I tended to trust that man, at least in Konoha—then it would happen, soon and often. I might as well wear my high heels while I still could.

Slipping on the faux fur vest I had purchased on my last shopping trip—a couple of days before, when I decided I was far too stressed and needed a release—I stepped out of living room and met Naruto outside the house. His grin was contagious and I wrapped my arm around his waist as he slung his over my shoulder.

I greeted one or two people as we made our way down the street, with me in the lead, intending to take him to one of my favourite restaurants in the area—which was saying quite a lot, considering I barely ever had time to cook, so I tried out every single place, one by one.

After the third hello that was forced out of my mouth, I heard him laugh. With a frown, I looked up at him, expecting an explanation.

"It's like Konoha reloaded," he said, and I allowed a small smile to grace my features as I snapped his chest lightly.

"Shut up," I grunted.

It was true that, back home, there were very rare occasions on which I could walk five feet without being stopped by someone who wanted to greet me or to know what I had been up to since they'd last seen me, and Naruto used to complain about it every single time we walked somewhere together. I had to admit, it was true it usually took us twice as long to reach our destination than it did when we jumped on the roofs... But it wasn't my fault people knew and cared about me, and I couldn't exactly pretend not to see them just so I didn't have to stop to chat with them. Besides, I actually enjoyed chatting with them. They were usually patients, ex-patients, people that I had saved, families of people that I had saved, students that I had taught, medics alongside whom I had worked, fellow ninjas alongside whom I had fought. They were pleasant, informal discussions that, a lot of times, brightened up my days.

Of course Naruto wouldn't understand that, though, because he didn't wait for opportunities of discussion to come to him—he came to them, repeatedly.

"Seriously, Sakura-chan…" he continued to laugh, shaking his head.

"Shut up," I repeated, jabbing his chest with my finger hard enough to make him wince. "I work in a hospital, Naruto, what do you expect?"

He grinned. "Oh, nothing, Sakura-chan! I understand. You like it here, don't you?"

"I do," I admitted, without hesitation.

I missed my hometown, but Otogakure had surprised me in a manner than was more than simply pleasant, and one would have to be blind not to notice that it truly had its own type of magic. The nature, the architecture, the colorful buildings, the small, cobbled streets, the lush, green forests, the rolling hills, the diversity of flowers that all seemed to bloom at the same time… the people, even. How they were open and hopeful even after everything they had been through. How they seemed to appreciate life—and everything in it—to a level I wasn't quite familiar with. How they were friendly and warm and everything I had not expected. Everything about the way my mission had been unfolding so far had managed to surprise me in one way or another.

Even the Otokage himself had moments in which he had me questioning whether my preconceptions about him had been truly been spot-on or not. Thankfully, those moments were few and far in between.

Him visiting me in my office earlier in the week had been one of them, though, and I had blown up at him for it. In my defense, I had been angry, upset, and nearly depressed altogether, and it seemed to me he had only shown up to add confusion in the mix, as well, by acting with kindness that, I knew for sure, was not really there, inside him. No, Sasuke wasn't capable of kindness, and I wasn't about to stand there and fall for a lie as if I was still the same thirteen-year-old girl he had left behind on a bench exactly because of that—because she had been stupid enough to allow it, foolish enough to believe that, somewhere deep inside him, somewhere beneath that cold façade of his, there was something worth saving.

I was not that girl anymore, and I hated every waking moment of my life when I gave him any reason to believe otherwise—including that moment when I'd had to stand in front of him and tell him I'd failed at the job I'd promised to do perfectly. Including that moment when I'd wanted to escape him and ended up falling unconscious in his arms. Including, and especially, that moment when, instead of treating him with the cold indifference he deserved, I'd broken down in front of him, hissing and shouting, telling him nothing but the truth—a truth, however, that he didn't deserve from me.

Come to think about it, Sasuke didn't deserve much of anything from me, especially such a powerful, emotional reaction. He didn't deserve to be the cause of any event whatsoever, be that happy or sad, and if he was, regardless, then he didn't deserve to have me acknowledge it. He didn't deserve to have me in his life, and he didn't deserve to be in mine.

It was a complete contradiction, that, even after all of that, I ended up seeking him out rather than distancing myself from him, but I had a feeling it had a very simple explanation. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see that I could continue to stand my ground against him—and I wanted him to see that, as well. I wanted him to see exactly how little he affected me. I wanted him to see that I could have an argument with him one day, and want to sleep with him the other. I wanted him to see that nothing he did or said could affect me the way it used to in the past.

And if it did and I was lying both to him and to myself, that was my own problem—a problem that would be solved the minute I was out of Otogakure.

Besides, the truth was that sex with Sasuke dealt with more than just the tension that seemed to blanket us, wherever we happened to be, the very moment our eyes met. It was more than just a manner in which we could express our anger, get each other of out of our systems, and perhaps, on the better days, have a proper conversation and reach an agreement. It was more than simple convenience, as well.

A hidden purpose that even I had failed to see until what I had come to reference to as 'the incident'—it tended to my own insecurities. Insecurities that had been buried deep inside me for years and years, and that had only resurfaced when he had glided smoothly back into my life. Insecurities that, as much as I would want to deny, had everything and anything to do with him. Insecurities about not being good enough, about losing my head, about being, once again, overcome by my feelings, about being, simply put, weak. Insecurities about pain, about a broken heart and a shattered spirit.

I hated both thinking and speaking about what him leaving—along with the rest of his selfish, reckless actions over the years—had done to me, but I accepted it as part of my past and part of who I was because, in the end, not coming to terms with it was the worst thing I could do to myself and the best thing I could do to Sasuke. Not coming to terms with it would mean leaving a door open for him to step through and manipulate me—and I was never having that again.

Still, while I had accepted the influence he'd had over my life, Sasuke remained the only factor of my past that I hadn't confronted and hadn't defeated in my uphill battle for improvement, for strength, for survival. He was the one unresolved issue that I had pushed to the back of my mind. I'd proved myself to everybody but him—and, however much I hated to admit it, he was the hardest of them all to deal with.

As it was, though, I was managing well, and sex helped a great deal. It helped to know that I could let myself loose, be as close to humanly possible to him, and then be able to stand up and walk away as a whole person—not a shell, not a woman without a heart, not a kunoichi whom a man had managed to break more easily and more thoroughly than years on the battlefield had. Having sex with Sasuke gave me the secure knowledge that, at the end of my mission, when the time finally came for me to pack up my stuff and return to my life, I was leaving behind not only memories, a job well done, and a couple of acquaintances—I was leaving behind Uchiha Sasuke, as well; once and for always, I was pushing him out of my life and walking away knowing that our story was finished. That there was nothing more I was interested in taking from him, and there was nothing more he could possibly take from me. That there would be no more questions, no what-ifs, no thought processes that started or ended with him.

Every time we had sex, it was to get him out of my system and out from under my skin. And, with each and every time I did that, I was getting him out of my life, for good.

"So, where are you taking me?" Naruto's voice snapped me out of my thoughts, forcing me back to reality—to the sweet reality that he was there, with me; that I could see his grin, hear his voice, and have his arm slung over my shoulder for the first time in months. Between missions, my hospital, and his training, our meetings weren't as frequent as one would believe, but the simple fact that I could cross the city center and knock on his door whenever I wanted seemed to have spoiled me.

I became determined to never allow that to happen again.

I smiled. "I'm taking you to my favorite restaurant so we can eat unhealthy chips and drink even more unhealthy soda," I announced. "After which we can go back to the house and eat the unhealthy chocolate cookies I just made. How does my plan sound?"

"Hell yeah, I love your plan, Sakura-chan!" he laughed, and I couldn't help but laugh with him.

This was what I was missing—this happiness and comfort that only came with a sense of security, of belonging.

Otogakure was beautiful and it had offered me an opportunity that perhaps I wouldn't have realized I needed otherwise—the opportunity to close the door to my past in respects to Sasuke.

But it wasn't home, and it never would be.

A/N: It seems redundant to apologise for the long wait, because I always do, but I will, anyway! Sorry! Life has been quite hectic and my inspiration has come in patches (of plots). This chapter turned out heavier with angst than I initially planned, but I think it's fitting!

I will try to update Heartbeat as soon as possible, and expect a lot of one-shots, as well! I can't make any promises other than that.

Please review! :)