Well, here is my latest work. This is a Naruto one shot. The premise of the story is pretty simple. Thanks to Naruto's efforts the Fourth Great Ninja war has ended and Sasuke has willingly returned to the village. Team Seven can finally heal. But now a greater internal struggle between them is taking place. This story is about these characters having to let go of certain preconceived notions of what thier life is going to be like now that peace has returned to thier lives. I hope you enjoy this one shot and as always I do not own Naruto. Please remember to leave a little review at the end.

Ramen Studios Proudly Presents...

Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke Uchiha, Sakura Haruno

Letting Go

"What do you mean Naruto's on a mission," Sakura asked surprisingly. "He just got back yesterday! He should be resting!"

Tsunade remained seated behind her desk and looked at Sakura calmly. Standing to her right was Shizune, holding Tonton. Tsunade shrugged and said, "I know. I told him to rest when got back. But Naruto insisted that he was fine and wanted the next A rank mission we had. And quite frankly, we're low on man power and still recovering from the war. I really couldn't afford to turn him down."

"B-But this would be the fourth A or S ranked mission in three weeks," Sakura said. "Not even Naruto can keep up at this pace. He needs to rest."

"Maybe Naruto-kun just feels like he wants to pick up the slack for everyone," Shizune said. "It's only been about two months since the end of the Fourth Great Ninja War. Naruto is just doing all he can. What else can we expect from the next Hokage in training!"

"Still," Sakura said as she looked down. It had been two months since the end of the war. And Naruto had done what she and many thought was impossible. He was able to defeat Akatsuki and Madara. The resulting celebration was bigger than she'd ever seen before. Every Ninja Village celebrated with each other as though they were one.

And at that time, they were one. There was no Mist, Leaf, Stone, Sand or Lightning. There was only the Alliance. And for that week everyone partied together. And it was also decided that Naruto would be the next Hokage once Tsunade was ready to retire. But Sakura could see a growing change in Naruto. He smiled less often, and most times when he did smile at her it seemed…forced. Something was changing. But she couldn't put her finger on it. "Sakura," Tsunade said, jogging Sakura out of her deep thoughts.

"Y-Yes Master," she said.

"I asked you how is Sasuke," Tsunade asked.

Sakura smiled and said, "Sasuke-kun is getting better. Slowly but surely. He's walking a bit more now and his vision is about fifty percent returned." Saving the world from Madara wasn't the only thing Naruto accomplished. He had also, against all odds, convinced Sasuke of his mistakes and brought him back home. He had kept his promise.

"That's good," Tsunade said. "I wasn't sure if it was a good decision to let him stay with you and your family to recuperate but now I know it was the right decision. Anyway, you should head to the hospital to do your rounds."

"Right," Sakura said as she saluted and turned and left the office. Leaving the two women alone.

"Lady Tsunade," Shizune said once she was certain they were alone. "Maybe you should have told her the truth about Naruto. If Sakura knew the truth maybe she could help him."

Tsunade took a deep breath and sighed. "Naruto can't be helped until he admits his problem. Besides…Sakura can't help Naruto. Not when she's the one that's the problem. The only thing we can do, is stand aside and hope they figure it out."

"I understand Lady Tsunade," Shizune said. "But Sakura was right. Not even Naruto can maintain the pace he's going at. If he keeps this up something bad is going to happen to him."

Tsunade placed her left hand to her head and sighed.

Sakura stepped out of the Hokage mansion into the warm mid morning sun. She shaded her eyes as she looked around at all the people walking about and some of the young children playing tag. Sakura then began leisurely walking towards the hospital in the distance. Naruto, she thought as she walked. What's going on with you? You would think you'd be happy to have Sasuke home. But ever since then he's hardly come to see him. And you and I….we barely talk. You seem so….distant.

Sakura was drawn from her thoughts when she her someone call her name. "Sakura!"

She turned to see it was Ino walking up. "Hey," Ino said. "On your way to the hospital too, huh?"

"Yes," Sakura said as Ino walked with her.

For a long while the two girls walked in silence when Ino decided to break the silence. "Well," she said. "You must be happy."

"What," Sakura said.

"Well you won," Ino said sadly. "I guess I have no choice to admit it now. Sasuke is back and staying at your house. I'm sure you two are getting along."

"I guess," Sakura said dispassionately. Ino looked at her friend and was surprised to see how little excitement Sakura showed. After all these years Sasuke was finally back home and what's more, it seemed that they would be together. And yet she stilled seemed unhappy.

"And I'm sure Naruto's happy as well to have Team Seven back together again," Ino said. "Where is he anyway? I've only seen him once or twice since we came back to Konoha."

"Naruto's…..away on a mission," Sakura said sadly.

"Again," Ino yelled in amazement. "Wow, he's always on missions lately. I've never seen anyone push themselves like that. He does know that the elders have already voted him the next Hokage right? It's not like he has to impress anyone." Ino laughed but quickly noticed she was the only one. Sakura continued to walk with a depressed looking face.

"Ok Forehead, what's wrong," Ino asked. "You're really bringing me down."

"I-It's Naruto," Sakura said. "He's been so…..distant. He never comes to see me. He's never home. He barely ever comes to see Sasuke either. And when he does, he only comes by when I'm not there. He just goes on one mission after the next. It's as if…."

"As if what," Ino asked.

"As if he was just avoiding me," Sakura said.

"Oh Sakura," Ino said. "You're just imagining things. Naruto just wants to help secure the village. I'm sure it's nothing more than that."

Sakura sighed and said, "Shizune said the same thing."

"And we're probably right," Ino said with a smile. She threw her arm around Sakura's shoulder and smiled. "You'll see. Naruto hasn't changed at all!"

Sakura and Ino arrived at the hospital and spent most of the day taking care of one patient after another until the sun was slowly beginning to set.

"Whew," Sakura said as she wiped the sweat from her brow. "What a day," she said as she washed her hands and walked out of the room into the hallway. Sakura's body ached and her feet were killing her. She just had a vision of a warm bath and hot food waiting for her when she got home and she had to also check in on Sasuke and inspect his injuries.

"Sakura," Ino said as she ran up and walked besides Sakura. "What a day huh! I can't wait to get home and rest."

"Me too," Sakura said with a smile.

"The way you healed that patient that got caught in that explosion earlier was amazing Sakura," Ino said. "You really have become an amazing Medical Ninja."

"Thanks," Sakura said. "You're pretty great too."

"Yeah, but I'm not as good as you," Ino said as the two stepped outside. "You may be just as good Lady Tsunade now."

"I'm still years from that I think," Sakura said. "Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow, Ino." Sakura and Ino went their separate ways and Sakura made her way home.

"I'm home," Sakura said as she opened the door. She was greeted by the delicious smell of her mother's cooking.

"Hello Sakura," Sakura's mom said with a smile. "How was you're day?"

"Great," Sakura answered. "But I'm beat. Is dinner ready?"

"It will be in ten minutes," Sakura's mother said.

Sakura kissed her forehead and said, "Thanks mom. Where's dad?"

"Your father had to work late tonight," her mom said. "He'll be home a little later."

"Ok," Sakura said as she left the room and walked to the back of the house where the extra bedroom was and knocked.

"Come in," Sasuke said and Sakura opened the door.

"Hello Sasuke," she said as she saw Sasuke sitting in his bed. Sasuke sat looking out of the large bay window at the night sky. The room was mostly bare with a desk and bed.

Sasuke looked at Sakura and with a small smile he said, "Hello Sakura."

Sakura took a deep breath and walked over to where he was and sat next to him. "How are you feeling Sasuke-kun," she asked. "Were you able to move around today?"

"Yes, a little," he said. "Your mother was a big help. I was able to move about for a decent amount of time."

"And your vision," she asked.

"Getting better," Sasuke said. "Things aren't just a big blur anymore."

"Great," she said with a big smile. Sasuke smiled and looked out the window. Sakura then went on to inspect Sasuke's wounds as the two remained silent.

After a long while Sakura was finishing up when she said, "Did you know the festival will be in a few days? Maybe you and I can go together. You should be well enough by then."

"I guess so," Sasuke said as he stared out the window. Sakura took a deep breath and smiled as she remained seated next to Sasuke in silence. "Maybe Naruto would like to join us," Sasuke asked.

"I-I haven't seen Naruto around lately," Sakura said. "I would like to invite him," she said sadly. "Maybe he'll come anyway. Naruto's never missed the festival when he's been in the village. Anyway, are you hungry? My mother should be finished with dinner by now. I'll bring you some, okay?'

"Sure," Sasuke said.

Sakura got to her feet and went to the door. She looked back at Sasuke who continued to look out the window in silence. She then closed the door and left.

Later that night Sakura was lying awake in bed. Despite her exhaustion she couldn't get to sleep. Her mind was racing with thoughts. She recalled the first time she saw Naruto after the end of the war. He had spent a few days in the hospital but as always, Naruto recovered quickly and was soon released. Almost from the moment Naruto left the hospital the elders swept him away for meeting after meeting. Though the elders had all agreed that Naruto would be the next Hokage, he still required training in the political side of things.

It was midday and Sakura was walking down the street. It had been nearly two weeks since the official end to the war. The celebrations were finally winding down and there was a bit of normalcy returning to the village. People were busy making repairs to the village and going to work or running their errands. Children were once again playing in the streets and soon the academy would be repaired enough that school would begin. Sakura smiled as life seemed to be returning to the village.

Just then she heard one or the kids yell, "Look, there he is!" Everyone turned and began making their way out into the middle of the street. There was a large crowd forming. Sakura could hear the happiness in the people's voices as they greeted whoever was at the center of the crowd. Excusing herself as she passed through the crowd Sakura smiled when she saw that it was Naruto in the center. He was slowly walking up the path, the large crowd around him was following him as he made his way. Women and children asked him for his autograph which he happily signed as he continued to walk. Men kept coming up to shake his hand and thank him for all his hard work. Sakura even heard a few of the girls mention how cute he was and talked about asking for a date. To which arguments broke out as to who should ask first.

"Naruto," Sakura yelled over the crowd as she pushed her way up to him. "Hey, Naruto!"

"Oh," Naruto said with a smile. "Hey Sakura-chan. Funny meeting you here."

"I'm on my way to the hospital," Sakura said. "Were you just coming from there?"

Naruto nodded and said, "I was visiting Sasuke."

The crowd continued to follow them as they found it harder and harder to speak over the noise. Sakura then heard two of the girls over the crowd. "Who's the pink haired chick," one of the girls asked the other. "What makes her think someone like her can talk to our Naruto-kun!"

"Yeah," the other girl said. "As if someone as beautiful and amazing as our Naruto-kun would ever be interested in an ugly girl like that anyway."

"Shhh," another girl said. "Shut up you idiots! That girl is Haruno Sakura. She's Naruto-kun's teammate and she's known for having a terrible temper."

But it was too late. Sakura's body was tense as she gritted her teeth. Naruto could see a large throbbing vein on her forehead as Sakura turned to look at the girls who all stared in fear. "What…..did…….two cows just say," she screamed as she rolled up her sleeves ready to fight.

"Oh boy," Naruto said as he moved so fast no one even noticed he made a move. Suddenly Sakura felt herself being picked up and whisked away at such a speed that everything around was a blur of colors. Moments later Sakura found herself standing with Naruto in a small ally behind Ichiraku Ramen shop. She was amazed at his effortless strength and speed as Naruto had carried her several blocks in seconds and had likely moved so fast that the crowd must have been left thinking they had both simply vanished before their eyes.

"Sorry about that," Naruto said as he put Sakura down. "Things were getting a bit out of hand back there."

"I-It's ok Naruto," Sakura said as she looked around. "What are we doing behind Ichiraku's?"

"Lunch," Naruto said as he walked to the back door and knocked lightly. A moment later the door burst open and Teuchi burst out with a small table and chair in his hand. "Hey Naruto," he said happily. "You're a bit early!"

"Yeah," Naruto said as he placed his hands behind his head and smiled. "It seems I had to rush over faster than I expected."

"Oh, hello Sakura," Teuchi said as he put the table and chair down. "I didn't know you'd be joining Naruto for lunch."

"Actually Sakura…," Naruto said.

"I'd love to," Sakura said much to Naruto's surprise. "I was kinda hungry anyway. That is…if you don't mind the company Naruto."

"S-Sure," Naruto said happily. "Do you mind putting another seat for us Teuchi-san?"

"No problem Naruto," he laughed. "It's the least I could do for the hero of Konoha! And I'll tell you what, both of you eat on the house today!"

"All right," Naruto yelled happily as he pumped his fist. Sakura couldn't help but smile. Despite all of the acclaim he'd received and how much he'd grown, Naruto was still the big kid he always was, getting excited for ramen like a child on Christmas.

A moment later Teuchi came out with an extra chair and behind him was his daughter Ayame with two large piping hot bowls of ramen and placed it down in front of them. "Here you go, you two," Ayame said. "Enjoy!"

"Thank you Ayame-chan," both Naruto and Sakura said. They then picked up their chopsticks and simultaneously said, "Itadakimasu!" Both of them began to eat happily.

Ayame smiled as the two ate and her expression suddenly turned devious. She then turned to leave but then stopped at the door and with a wry smile looked back and said. "Ok, I'll leave you two alone. Enjoy your date, you two love birds."

Naruto choked on his noodles and began coughing violently and banging his fist on the table as Sakura's eyes opened wide as she dropped her chop sticks into her bowl with a splash. "Huh," she said. "T-This isn't a date! We're just eating together! Nothing more!"

Ayame rolled her eyes and folded her arms and said, "Hmm. A guy and a girl having a private lunch together in a romantic area? Sounds like a date to me."

Ayame closed the door behind her as Sakura yelled, "Romantic! We're in a grungy back alley! What's romantic about that!" Sakura looked around. Despite being a back ally the place was immaculately clean. There was a small tree behind them that shaded them from the sun. Just enough sunlight trickled through to give the place a peaceful and serene look. Oh my god, Sakura thought to herself as she blushed and turned to hide her face from Naruto. This place is kinda romantic!

"Sakura-chan, are you alright," Naruto asked.

Sakura took a deep breath and turned back around. "Fine," she said. "I felt a little sick but I'm fine.

"Oh," Naruto said as he looked at her sadly.

Realizing her mistake Sakura began waving her hands frantically and began to sweat. "Not that the idea of being on a date with you would make me sick," she yelled. "T-That's not what I meant at all. I mean being on a date with you is nice!"

"Uhh," Naruto said as he smiled.

Even more nervous Sakura said, "B-But it's not like this is a date or anything! T-This is just two friends eating lunch together! S-So what I meant was, I think I've been pushing myself too hard!"

"Right," Naruto said with a smile. "I feel like I've been pushing myself really hard as well lately."

"Yeah," Sakura said as she finally calmed down. "How is all that political training going along anyway?"

Naruto sighed heavily and said, "All that stuff is so hard! Man, I can't believe a Hokage has to be concerned with all the ass kissing and negotiations with the Fire Daimyo. It's so annoying. It's like I have to negotiate just to wipe my own butt."

The two laughed before continuing their meal. About a minute later Naruto looked up at Sakura and merely stared at her before saying, "So, Sasuke seems to be coming along nicely."

"Yes," Sakura said. "The progress is still slow going but steady. Sasuke may be able to walk in a few days. His vision will take a bit longer to return though."

"Hmm," Naruto said as he ate more ramen. "He told me that Tsunade has given him permission to continue his recovery under your care at your home."

Sakura was about to put more food in her mouth when her hand stopped in mid air. Looking up at Naruto she could see him looking at her like he always did. It was as if his icy blue eyes could peer straight through to her soul. "Yes," she said. "Tsunade-sensei said it would probably be best for him. The people haven't really embraced Sasuke-kun like we hoped. They are having a hard time forgiving him for his role with Akatsuki despite all that he did to stop them in the end. His presence at the hospital has caused a few issues so Tsunade-sensei thought it best he be moved."

Naruto gave a little smile and asked, "Is that the only reason you did it? For Sasuke's protection?'

"Of course," Sakura yelled. "Why else would I do it!"

"Hmm," Naruto said as he ate some more food. "I'm happy for you two. I know how hard you have been fighting to get Sasuke back."

Sakura merely stared at Naruto as he sat spinning the last bit of ramen in the bowl with his chop sticks. "Now," he said. "You two…can be together…happy together…just like you…always wanted."

For some reason Sakura felt an ache in her heart as she heard those words. For many years she had longed to hear them. The idea of being with Sasuke is what often pushed her to work harder and harder. But to hear Naruto say them now, it was like he had stuck a knife in her stomach. Why, she thought. I know I still feel something for Sasuke. But why…do I feel like this now? Isn't this what I've always wanted. To live under the same roof with Sasuke. To be with Sasuke.

"Naruto," Sakura said. She noticed her voice was low, almost at a whisper. "Bringing Sasuke home was not about me and him. It was about all three of us. And Kakashi and Sai too. This was about making Team Seven whole again. That's what this is about, Team Seven."

"Team Seven," Naruto whispered as he stared at his meal. "Right."

Sakura sat in silence and stared at Naruto who continued to look at his bowl. After a moment she began to eat again. The two of them remained silent for a long time when Naruto looked up with a look of determination on his face. "Sakura," he said.

"Yes, Naruto," she answered.

"There's something I need to tell you," he said. She could see that he looked as though he was blushing. "I need to say this while I still have the courage!"

"What is it," she asked.

"I…I…I just wanted to say," Naruto said as he swallowed hard. "I…I just wanted to say…that…I…well…I…I'm just…happy that…things are working out between you two." Naruto exhaled deeply and looked down sadly at his empty bowl.

"T-Thank you," Sakura said as she and Naruto again fell into an awkward silence. "Naruto,' she said finally. "Are you sure that's what you wanted to say to me?"

Naruto looked up at Sakura nervously. He broke out into a sweat as he scratched the back of his head. He had a big, forced smile plastered on his face. "O-Of course Sakura-chan," he said.

"Well, it just seems like you wanted to say something…else to me," Sakura asked.

"Uh, no, of course not," Naruto said as he was now drenched in sweat. Naruto suddenly jumped to his feet. "Well, this was fun but I really should get going!"

"Going," Sakura asked as she got to her feet. "But we haven't really spent any time together. I was hoping we could talk some more."

"I-I wish we could, but I have duties I have to get to," Naruto said as he turned to walk away. "The job of a hero is never done."

"Naruto," Sakura said causing Naruto to stop in his tracks. He didn't turn to look back. "Sasuke is home now. And the war is finally over. Akatsuki is gone and you're safe. Everything is going to be great with us."

"Yeah," Naruto said. "Great." Naruto suddenly vanished before her eyes leaving Sakura alone with nothing but the sound of chirping birds in the distance.

Seconds later the back door to the ramen shop opened and Ayame stepped out with a plate of cake. "Hey guys," she said happily. "My father wanted to offer you two a piece of cake for dessert!" Ayame saw Sakura standing by her seat looking towards Naruto's empty chair. "What happened," Ayame said as her expression turned from happiness to concern. "Usually Naruto has at least three bowls. Where is he?"

"He…he left," Sakura said blankly.

"Oh," Ayame said as she looked at the plate of cake. "What a shame." Ayame looked at Sakura who continued to simply stand there looking down at the table. "I guess your date didn't go so well."

"It…it wasn't a date," she said sadly. "But…but I…"

Ayame walked over and put her hand on Sakura's shoulder. "Are you ok Sakura," she asked.

Sakura wiped the tears that were welling out her eyes and smiled. 'Of course I am," she said. "Naruto just had to go. I-I was just happy to see him that's all. No need to worry about me Ayame-chan." Sakura bowed and said, 'Thank you so much for the meal Ayame-chan. Please thank your father for me as well." Sakura then turned and walked out of the ally back into the main road and headed towards the hospital. What am I so worried about, she thought. This is Naruto I'm talking about. We'll work things out. We always do.

Sakura sighed deeply as she lay in her bed as the last of that memory faded away. We'll work things out, she thought. Yeah right. The very next day Naruto volunteered for an A rank mission. From what Shizune told her, Tsunade and the Elders refused to let him go. He was to be the next Hokage. They couldn't have him risking his life on dangerous missions. But Naruto is one of the most persuasive men on the planet. It also didn't hurt that Tsunade was short handed of experienced ninja. She really didn't have the luxury of turning able bodied ninjas down. It didn't take long to convince them to let him go. And ever since that day he would volunteer for every mission he could.

Often Sakura would stop by his apartment or Ichiraku's and he wouldn't be there. She would look for Shikamaru and Choji or Kakashi, Sai or Tsunade, looking for Naruto and the response would always be the same. He was on a mission. He was going on missions at a breakneck pace and it seemed that he rarely spent more than a day in the village before he'd leave again. And with every new mission Sakura's anxiety rose. No one, not even Naruto, could keep up this pace for long. She could feel that something bad was going to happen and there was nothing she could do about it. She felt as though she was on a runaway train hurtling towards a cliff.

Sakura looked out the window at the half moon. Somewhere out there Naruto was under that moon. Was he fighting, was he sleeping? Was he hurt? At that moment she could recall Sai's words to her several months ago. Naruto had just recently defeated Pain. The Village had been all but destroyed and she sat attending to her comatose sensei, Tsunade.

"I only recently became part of your team when I replaced Sasuke," Sai said. "So I don't understand everything that's going on. I really don't understand people either. And I don't know what is this promise that he made to you. But even I can tell that he's in love with you! Naruto has shouldered the burden of that promise for a long time. I think he means to shoulder it for the rest of his life. I don't know what you said to him, but whatever it is has become just what happened to me. That promise, has become his curse."

Sakura could feel the tears welling in her eyes as she thought of those words and that day. She then recalled what happened when she found Naruto a day later. She was standing in a small, snow covered village in the Land of Iron. She was staring at Naruto and surrounded by her friends and teachers. Naruto had a dumbstruck look on his face. "What…did you…just say…Sakura-chan," Naruto asked. "I think I may have…heard you wrong. Can you say it again please?"

"I said, that I love you Naruto," Sakura said as she blushed. Sakura thought of that conversation. She had thought that if she had let Naruto free from the promise she could help him. She could protect him from the harm he was doing to himself. But one thing she wasn't prepared for. One thing she didn't realize was how easy it was for her to say those words on that day. And how much it hurt that Naruto didn't believer her.

She had failed. Once again she really couldn't do anything but add to his burden. And now it seemed that perhaps he'd had enough and was avoiding her altogether. Sakura began to cry and she couldn't stop. She covered her face as though she didn't want the stars themselves to see her tears. After what seemed like forever her tears finally stopped. I have a find a way to get through to him, she thought. I need to make him understand. For a long time Sakura stayed up trying to figure out a way to reach Naruto but eventually she fell asleep.

Some time passed as Sakura slept soundly when her mother burst into the room. "Sakura, Sakura, Sakura wake up," she yelled frantically.

"Hmm," Sakura said as she slowly began to get up. Sakura was rubbing her eyes when she said, "Mom, what is it, what's wrong? Is something wrong with you or dad?" Sakura then gasped and said, "Is it Sasuke-kun!" Sakura quickly began to get out of bed when her mother stopped her.

"No, it not that, we're all fine," she said. "Lady Hokage just sent one the medical staff here to get you. Apparently Naruto was badly hurt during his last mission!"

"What," Sakura yelled as she leapt to her feet. She quickly began to change as her mother continued talking.

"He was just brought back to the village by Kakashi Hatake. He needs emergency care and the Hokage has sent for you."

As Sakura finished getting dressed Sasuke limped into the doorway. "What's going on," he asked. Sakura ran right past him without answering and sprinted down the hallway leaving a confused Sasuke behind.

Sakura sprinted out her front door way to meet the medic who was waiting. "Sakura-taicho," the medic said. "Has your mother….!"

"Yes," Sakura interrupted. "Tell me everything on the way. Let's hurry!"

"Yes taicho," the medic said as the two leapt off.

"So what happened," Sakura asked as the two leapt from rooftop to rooftop.

"As you know Naruto-san, Kakashi and Sai were on a mission to find former Akatsuki allies rumored to be hiding near a village on the outskirts of the Land of Fire," the medic said. "It seems he fell into a trap and was caught in an explosion. He's badly hurt."

Naruto, she thought as the two raced through the quiet streets towards the hospital.

A few minutes later Sakura and the medic arrived and ran through the halls. As Sakura made her way around a corner she saw Kakashi standing by the door to the operation room. Sai was sitting on a nearby bench. "Sakura-chan,' Sai said as he got to his feet.

"Sai, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura said. "What happened?"

"We were closing in on the enemy hideout, when Naruto-kun accidentally tripped a wire," Sai said. "There was an explosive tag trap. Naruto-kun got caught in the blast."

"You should head in Sakura, I'm sure Lady Hokage needs you," Kakashi said.

"Right," Sakura said as she ran into the room. As soon as she entered she saw several doctors, with full surgical gear and masks on, leaning over an operating table.

One of them looked up and yelled, "Sakura!" The person removed their mask and Sakura saw it was Tsunade.

"Sensei," Sakura said as she quickly put on her scrubs and walked over.

"I'm glad you're here," Tsunade said. "We need you right away. Naruto's in critical condition!"

Sakura came around and saw Naruto lying on the table asleep. She saw the massive burns that covered his left chest, shoulder and arm. "Oh no," Sakura whispered.

"The burns are bad but that's not the main threat," Tsunade said. "Right now it appears the enemy covered the tags in some sort of shrapnel charged with their chakra. It's lodged in his arm, chest and near his heart. We're having the damnedest time removing them and we think it may be poisoning him. We've been doing everything we can just to keep him alive but we need to get that stuff out of him. Right now I need you and Shizune to work on extraction while focus on keeping him stable."

Sakura stared at Naruto. She neither moved nor spoke. She could barely even breathe. "Sakura, did you hear me," Tsunade yelled. "Sakura!" Tsunade grabbed Sakura by her shoulders and shook her violently forcing Sakura to look at her. "Sakura," she yelled. " I know you're scared but I need you to focus! If we don't start the procedure now or Naruto will be dead in minutes!"

"R-Right," Sakura whispered. "Right! I'm sorry sensei." Sakura put on a pair of gloves and looked at Shizune. The two girls nodded to each other and immediately got to work.

For hours, Kakashi and Sai remained outside as they worked on Naruto. Shikamaru, Choji and Ino came by. They all had looks of concern on their faces. "We heard what happened," Shikamaru said. "Is there any word on his condition?"

Sai shook his head. "They're still working on him," Kakashi said. "It's been almost six hours now."

"Poor Naruto," Choji said sadly. "I always thought nothing could stop that guy. He always seemed…invincible. Now for this to happen."

"Shut up Choji," Ino yelled. She looked like she was on the verge of tears. "You're talking like Naruto already dead! Nothing can kill Naruto! He defeated Pain, Akatsuki and brought Sasuke back! I'm just upset that I was on some mission instead of being here to help with the surgery. No explosive tag can kill Naruto! Right?"

Ino looked around at the sad faces as if looking for someone to reassure her. "Right," Shikamaru said. "Naruto is a man of his word. And he said he'd never die until he became Hokage. He's not Hokage yet. So he won't die." Everyone nodded and smiled in nervous optimism and they all sat about waiting to hear something.

It would be another two hours, after the sun had long since risen when Sakura, Tsunade and Shizune finally came out of the room. "Well," Tsunade said as she sat down exhausted. "It looks like we were able to stabilize him. That shrapnel was tricky. Some of it had gotten into his blood stream and was traveling around his body. But we got it."

"Thanks to Sakura," Shizune said. "We were stumped but Sakura figured out a way, using a magnetized chakra scalpel, to find and remove the pieces. Without her, who knows what would have happened."

"Way to go Sakura," Shikamaru said.

"Alright," Choji said as he gave her a thumbs up.

Ino exhaled deeply and said, "Thank goodness."

"It's alright Shizune," Sakura said. "I'm just happy I could help."

"Don't be so modest Sakura," Tsunade said. "You did a fabulous job and Naruto might not be alive if not for you." Sakura smiled and bowed. In fact, Tsunade thought. I think it's safe to acknowledge that you've finally surpassed me Sakura.

"I should get cleaned up," Sakura said as she got to her feet and left.

"I'll come with you," Ino said.

"Come on Choji," Shikamaru said. "We should let everyone know Naruto is going to be fine."

"Right," Choji said as the two boys turned and walked away.

After everyone was gone Kakashi said, "Lady Hokage, about this incident. The explosion that caught Naruto, shouldn't have been able to."

Tsunade and Shizune sat up and they and Sai listened. "Rather, Naruto should never have been caught in such a trap. It was itself rather standard. And Naruto has the speed to dodge an explosion of that magnitude."

"So how did he get caught," Tsunade asked.

"Sai and I have both noticed it," Kakashi said. "Over the past few weeks Naruto has become increasingly distracted. We've tried to talk to him about it but he refused to acknowledge it. This isn't the first time that he's been careless in a situation and he was almost killed. Several times, Naruto has made mistakes simply because he seems unfocused. I was going to bring it to your attention but I guess I was hoping Naruto would work it out himself. But now…" Kakashi exhaled deeply and said, "I should have said something earlier."

"I see," Tsunade said. "Well, he won't be going on missions for a long while. And after that we'll have a talk with him."

Naruto's eyes opened slowly as his vision adjusted to the bright light in the room. He moaned as he felt the dull pain in his body. He heard someone call his name. "Naruto-kun, Naruto-kun."

"Ahhh," Naruto said as his vision cleared and he saw a familiar face standing nearby. "Oh, hello Hinata. Where am I?"

"Naruto-kun," Hinata said. "You're awake. Thank God. You're in Konoha hospital. You were badly hurt on your last mission. You've been asleep for nearly three days."

"Oh," Naruto said as he looked up at the white ceiling. The memory of that night came back to him. His mind at the time was wandering. As always his thoughts were dominated by Sakura…..and Sasuke. Together. It was all he could think about. He knew he should be happy that his two friends were together. It was what he fought for all this time. But…

"Naruto-kun," Hinata said. "I brought you an orange in case you were hungry when you woke up."

"Thank you Hinata," Naruto said.

"It's no problem," Hinata said as she sat next his bed and began to peel it.

Down the hall, Sakura was walking towards the room. She had an apple and a knife and bowl in her hands. Naruto should be waking up soon, she thought. He'll probably be hungry and he loves apples. As Sakura got to the door she was about to open it when she heard talking coming from inside. Who could that be, she thought as she put her ear to the door. Is that Hinata?

Sakura opened the door just enough to peek inside and saw Hinata sitting next to Naruto peeling and orange. They were smiling and laughing together. Sakura stepped back and could feel a knot in her stomach. What is this feeling, she thought. Why is Hinata…? Oh….right….she loves Naruto. Sakura took a deep breath and turned to walk away when she paused. She knew she should leave them alone. But for her the thought of them being alone together made her feel….uncomfortable. So, despite what her head was telling her, she turned and opened the door to Naruto's room.

Sakura entered the room with a big smile on her face and said, "Hello Naruto, Hinata. So how's my patient today?"

Hinata got up and her face turned red. "Oh, Hello Sakura-chan," she said. "I'm sorry for disturbing Naruto but I just wanted to make sure he was okay!"

"I know Hinata," Sakura said. "But perhaps you should let Naruto rest. I'll let you know when you can visit."

"Oh," Hinata said. "Okay."

"Actually, it's fine if you stay Hinata," Naruto said.

"Sorry, but doctors' orders," Sakura said sternly. "Hinata….."

"R-Right," Hinata said as she bowed. "Naruto, I'll see you later."

Hinata walked to the door and opened it as Sakura watched her leave. Hinata looked back sadly before closing the door. Instantly Sakura felt bad. Damn, why did I just do that, Sakura thought.

"Why did you do that Sakura-chan," Naruto asked as he looked at Sakura.

"W-What do you mean," Sakura asked defensively. "It's just as I said. You need your rest. You shouldn't have visitors as soon as wake up."

"That's never been an issue before," Naruto said.

"Anyway," Sakura said as she cleared away the bowl and orange Hinata had left. "I thought you'd be hungry and I brought you an apple. I know how much you love them."

Sakura sat next to Naruto who stared out the window as if he was forcing himself not to look at her. "So how are you feeling Naruto," she asked as she continued to peal the apple.

"I'm fine Sakura-chan," Naruto said with a half hearted smile. "You know me. I don't always pay attention. Same old stupid Naruto."

"I don't," Sakura said. "I don''re not...stupid. Not at all. When I say that…I'm just...poking fun. But…I don't mean it. Not really. So you should never say it. You're not dumb at all."

Naruto and Sakura looked at each other for a while and Sakura could again feel that knot in her stomach. Naruto looked away and again stared out the window. "So what happened," Sakura asked. "What could have caused you not to pay attention to the mission?"

"It's...nothing important," Naruto said.

"You should be more careful," Sakura said. "You're a hero to everyone in the village you know. You can't go dying on a mission like that. Besides, after the elders voted that you would be the next Hokage Lady Tsunade had to fight them to allow you to go on missions. They would prefer you remain in the village until you take over at the end of the year. Tsunade won't be able to convince them to let you go out if you keep coming back near death."

Naruto remained silent as he stared out the window. Sakura looked at him and he seemed unwilling to meet her gaze. For a moment she wasn't sure if she wanted to scream, or cry. She just had a sudden urge to reach out and hold him. But for some reason she felt as though that may make him feel worse.

Forcing a smile Sakura said, "Did you hear, Shikamaru recently asked Temari to marry him. It was a terrible proposal according to Ino. She was sneaking around and saw the whole thing. He just asked with that same old boring way he talks. It was completely unromantic. He didn't get on one knee or anything. Ino said Shikamaru seemed to have little passion in his voice. He might as well have been asking about the weather. So unromantic. But the real surprise was Temari just accepted. Though according to Ino, Temari's answer was just to say, 'Sure, whatever.' I swear those two are made for each other!"

"Good for them," Naruto said with a half smile. "It's always a good thing when two people can find happiness together."

"Yeah," Sakura said sadly. "Anyway, the annual festival will be in four days! Maybe if you follow your doctor's orders you can come out and take part, right! Sasuke will be going and…"

"Sasuke," Naruto said. "So you'll be going with him?"

"I…um…yeah….I guess," Sakura said. "But it's…not like it's a….."

"So how is he," Naruto asked. "How is his recovery?"

"He's doing better," she answered. "He's up and about now. And he can see almost perfectly again. But who knows how long it'll be before he can use his Sharingan. It could be months."

"Good," Naruto said with another weak smile.

Sakura could feel the tears beginning to well up and she fought to keep them from coming out. Don't you do it, she told herself.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto said. "Maybe you should take that apple to Sasuke. I'm sure he would really appreciate it."

"What," Sakura asked. "Nonsense, Sasuke's fine. Besides…"

"I'm not hungry Sakura-chan," Naruto said. "Thank you but I'm not in the mood to eat just yet. Maybe you should take that to Sasuke. It would be shame to let it go to waste."

"O-Ok," Sakura said as she sat the bowl aside. "Well, how about we just talk for a bit? I hardly get to see you anymore, anyway."

"Actually, I'm a bit tired," Naruto said as he covered himself and looked up at the ceiling. "Maybe you should go. We can talk later." Again he smiled and said, "Maybe you should go see Sasuke. I'm sure he misses you."

Sakura just stared at Naruto for a moment before getting up. "Okay Naruto," she said. "You, get some rest. I'll….come back another time."

Naruto closed his eyes as Sakura took the peeled apple and walked towards the door. She looked back at Naruto one more time before closing the door behind her. As soon as the door was closed Sakura leaned her back against it and finally her tears began to fall like a dam had finally burst. She made sure to remain silent so Naruto couldn't hear and after a few minutes she wiped her tears dropped the apple on the floor and walked away.

Several days passed and before Sakura knew it, it was the day of Konoha's Annual Festival. Sakura and Sasuke were walking down the busy streets. On both sides there were people with booths and stalls erected. They were selling all types of food, sweets, and drinks as well as clothes, ornate statues, toys and anything else you could imagine. There were carnival games and rides. Hundreds of happy, laughing, people clogged the streets as kids ran about.

"This is real fun, huh Sasuke-kun," Sakura said.

"Yeah," Sasuke said with a smile as he looked about. Sakura couldn't help but notice how uncomfortable he seemed.

Just then Sasuke and another guy bumped into each other. "Watch where you're going man," the guy said.

"Sorry," Sasuke said as he continued to walk only for the guy to pull him back by the shoulder.

"Hey, I know you don't I," the guy asked.

"I doubt it," Sasuke said as he tried to leave when the guy pulled him back around.

"Yeah, I'm sure I know you," the guy said.

"Hey," another guy, most likely his friend, said. "That's that Uchiha guy. The Konoha Ninja who betrayed us and turned Akatsuki."

Suddenly a small crowd began to form. "Yeah," another man said. "That's him!"

"What's he doing here," another person yelled.

"How dare he show his face," another yelled.

"Please," Sasuke said as he raised his hands. "I am no longer Akatsuki. I made some mistakes. But I have rejoined Konoha. I am sorry."

"Tell that to my father," a girl in the crowd yelled.

"Or my brother," another man yelled.

"You think you're apologies will bring back our loved ones," another person yelled.

'Hey," Sakura yelled as she stood in front of Sasuke. "Look I know Sasuke made some mistakes! But when it came down to it, he fought along side us and was instrumental in defeating the enemy. If not for him, none of us would be here! So lay off!"

"Who the hell are you lady," one person yelled as he stepped closer.

"I'm the girl who's going to heal you in the hospital," Sakura said. "After I put you in there if you take another step."

The man backed away and slowly the people began to disperse. "Sorry about that Sasuke-kun," Sakura said.

"It's fine, thanks," Sasuke said.

Just then they heard someone call their names. "Sakura! Sasuke-kuuun!"

They turned to see Ino, Shizune and Tsunade walking up. "Oh hello Ino, Shizune, Sensei," Sakura said.

"Hello," Sasuke said.

"I see you guys are enjoying the festival," Ino said. "There's this really great game I want you to check out."

"Actually can it wait," Sakura asked. "We're on our way to the hospital to pick up Naruto."

Ino, Shizune and Tsunade looked at each other and then Shizune said, "Naruto checked himself out of the hospital this morning."

"Oh wow," Sakura said happily. "He really heals fast. I guess we'll go to his place. Or he's probably at Ichiraku's," She said as she snapped her fingers. "He loves to go there first thing after getting out of the hospital."

"Actually," Tsunade said. "He's leaving to go on a mission."

"What," Sakura yelled.

"Now, now, calm down Sakura," Tsunade said. "It's a just a D rank mission. It's all he's cleared for."

"He shouldn't be on any missions," Sakura yelled. "He's only less than a week removed from almost dying. I don't care how fast he heals!"

"He insisted Sakura," Tsunade said. "He wanted a mission immediately and I'm just not in the position to refuse a willing and able bodied ninja right now."

"What's the mission," Sakura asked.

"A farmer a few miles out has been having trouble with some crows that are eating his crops," Shizune said. "Those crops are important to the prosperity of the village. Naruto's headed there to help deal with the crows."

"That's the job he'd rather do than spend time with me," Sakura asked. "I-I mean us!"

"He said he just wanted to get out of the village for a while," Shizune said and both Ino and Tsunade gave her a death stare. Shizune put her hands over her mouth and said, "Oops!"

Sakura suddenly sprinted past them and off into the crowd. "Hey," Sasuke said as he watched her disappear.

Tsunade looked at Shizune and said, "You know damned well that's what Naruto said. And you know he made us promise not to say anything!"

"Sorry, it just slipped," Shizune said.

"Just slipped, huh," Tsunade said as she turned her back to Shizune and smiled. If she turned around at that moment she'd see that Shizune and a little smile as well.

With the streets packed, Sakura took to the roof tops and quickly arrived in front of Naruto's apartment door. Naruto was inside packing when he heard a knock. "Who is it," he asked. He was shocked when Sakura kicked the door in, almost knocking it off its hinges and sprinted towards him with her fist clenched.

Sakura threw a punch at Naruto and he quickly caught it with his left hand. The two of them remained in that position silently for a long while. Without looking up at him Sakura asked, "Why, why are you doing this Naruto?"

"Doing what," Naruto asked as he continued to hold her fist.

"Why are trying to stay away from us," Sakura yelled. "Why are you staying away from me!"

"It's not…like that," Naruto said. "They'll be plenty of time for all of us to hang out. But…you and Sasuke….you need time…."

"We need time to what," Sakura yelled. "What we need is Team Seven to be together! And you…you…"

Sakura's fist unclenched and it seemed all strength left her arm as it slumped to her side. "I-I don't know what I did," she said. "I wish I knew, so I could fix it. But whatever it is. I'm sorry." Sakura looked up and Naruto could see that she was crying. "Just, don't hate me anymore Naruto," Sakura yelled. "I don't want you to hate me!"

Naruto looked at her; he looked as though his heart was breaking. "I don't hate you Sakura-chan," he said. "I could never hate you."

"Then what is it then," Sakura asked. "Why are you doing everything you can to avoid me?"

Naruto opened his mouth to say something and then stopped himself and remained quiet. Sakura nodded and the said, "Right." Sakura wiped her eyes and looked at Naruto with a stern look. "If you don't want to tell me then that's fine. But know this; I don't give a damn if Lady Tsunade authorized this mission. And I don't give a damn about some fucking crops! If you step one foot…just one foot….out of this village, I will personally hunt you down and drag your ass home! And if you try to leave again, then I'll hunt you down again. No matter how many times I have to do it."

Sakura turned and stormed out of the room leaving Naruto alone. Naruto stared at the empty doorway for a long while before slumping back onto his bed. Lying back on his bed he stared at the ceiling and sighed.

Several hours later Sakura, Sasuke, Ino, Hinata, Shino, Choji, Shikamaru, Kiba, Lee, TenTen, Neji and Sai were all having dinner at Yakiniku Q. "Hey, look who's here," Shikamaru yelled. Everyone looked up to see Naruto walking up.

Everyone yelled and said hello as Naruto walked up. "Hey guys," he said.

"What are you doing here Naruto," Kiba asked. "I thought you had a mission?"

"I told Granny Tsunade that I wasn't feeling too well," Naruto said as he smiled and scratched the back of his head. "I just wasn't ready to go back out there."

"I bet he wasn't," Ino whispered as she flashed a knowing, sly smile Sakura's way. Sakura quickly turned red and looked away.

"Great," Lee yelled. "We really haven't a proper chance to hang out since the end of the war!"

"Naruto-kun," Hinata said. "T-There's an open space next to me. Y-You can sit here if you like."

Sakura looked to see Naruto smiling at Hinata. "Sure," he said as he sat next to her.

That feeling again, she thought as she touched her stomach. She could feel that knot in her stomach.

"Hey Naruto you should grab a bite before Choji finishes it all," TenTen said while laughing.

"Don't mind if I do," Naruto said as he reached over to get a plate.

"Oh," Hinata said. "Let me get that for you Naruto-kun!"

"Okay, thank you Hinata," Naruto said as she got food for him.

Sakura looked at her food and suddenly didn't feel very much like eating. She looked up to see Hinata getting him food and she frowned. Just then Naruto glanced at her and they looked at each other sadly before looking away. It was a brief glance that no one seemed to see. Except for Sasuke and Ino.

Another two hours went by before everyone finished and were saying their goodbyes. Sakura looked around for Naruto and saw him and Hinata standing a bit off to the side. She couldn't hear what they were talking about but after a moment or two Hinata ran off, "See you later Naruto-kun," she said happily as she ran to catch up with Neji. Sakura watched her and, more importantly, the smile on her face as she ran by. She then looked to Naruto who looked at her before turning and leaving.

"Hey Sakura," Sasuke said. "Do you mind heading back to your mothers' alone? I need to tell Naruto something."

"S-Sure," Sakura said. She gave one last look at Naruto who was slowly walking away and she said, "I'll see you later, Sasuke-kun."

"Hey Naruto," Sasuke said as he ran up to meet Naruto.

"Hey Sasuke, what's up," Naruto said with a smile.

"That was great back there," Sasuke said. "It was like old times."

"Yep," Naruto said with a big smile. "It was!"

Sasuke paused and took a deep breath. "Look Naruto," he said. "There is something I need to tell you. There's no easy way to do this I guess. So, I'm just going to come out and say it."

Sakura was slowly walking down the street when she heard Naruto's voice. "What!" She turned and could see their darkened forms in the distance. Naruto was pacing and was swinging his arms about wildly. Whatever they were talking about, he didn't like it. Part of her wanted to walk back and see what was going on. But it was obvious Sasuke wanted to speak to Naruto alone. So Sakura turned and went home.

The next morning Sakura woke up and washed off before heading down to get something to eat. "Hello Sakura," Sakura's mom said as she laid out the food.

"Hey mom," Sakura said.

As Sakura and her mother ate Sakura's mother looked over and asked, "So do you have any plans for today?"

"Well, now that Sasuke-kun is nearing one hundred percent, I was going to help him find his own place today," Sakura answered.

"Oh," her mother said, "I see."

Sakura knew her mother well enough to know when she said, 'I see', that she had something on her mind. "What is it mom," Sakura asked.

"Well," her mother said. "Does that mean you'll be moving in with him then?"

Sakura nearly choked as she began coughing up her meal. "Mom," she yelled. "Where'd you get that sorta thing from!"

"Please Sakura," her mother said. "All you could ever talk about was that guy when you were a little girl and then you and Naruto-kun did nothing but go on and on about how you had to save him. And now he just so happens to be staying in our house to recuperate? I just thought you two were….you know….going to get married."

Sakura sat staring into her plate. "I-I don't think that's going to happen," she said. "I mean….it's just…..complicated."

"Hmmm," her mom said. "This wouldn't happen to be about Naruto is it?" Sakura looked up in shock as her mother continued to eat, not even looking at her. "Sakura, whatever you decide I'll always support you. But you should just make a choice, and soon. Those two boys are only now trying to repair their friendship after all these years. Don't be the person who turns them against each other."

"What," Sakura said. "Mom, Sasuke would never….and Naruto wouldn't even think….."

"Think," her mom asked and then laughed. "Sweetheart when it comes to boys and love they don't think all that much. It's up to you to be the brains of the operation. Follow your heart and make a choice. Or don't. But if you don't then you need to let them go. Because all you'll do if you don't is cause more pain."

Sakura nodded and stared at her food. "By the way," her mom said as she reached over to the counter and pulled out a folded note. "That Sasuke got up early and left. He wanted me to give you this."

Sakura took the note and read it. "Ok," she said as she placed it down and finished her meal.

It was just before noon when Naruto was sitting up on the roof staring at the passing clouds. He heard the footsteps coming up the stairs behind him and already knew who it was. "Hey," Sasuke said as he climbed the last of the stairs.

"Hey Sasuke," Naruto said with a smile. "What's up? Why did you want to meet me here?"

"Well," Sasuke said. "I wanted to know what you think of my plan now that you've had time to think it over," Sasuke asked.

"I think it sucks," Naruto said. "That's what I think!"

******Meanwhile – The Hokage Mansion******

"What," Shizune said to Tsunade. "When did Sasuke decide to do this?"

Tsunade sat behind her desk and looked calmly at Shizune. "He came to me yesterday morning and informed me of his decision."

Shizune was clearly concerned. "So Sasuke has asked permission to leave Konoha," she said. "And you gave him permission? I'm sorry Lady Tsunade but do think that's wise? I mean Sasuke may have rejoined Konoha but shouldn't we at least watch him a little longer?"

Tsunade shook her head and said, "I considered that too. But Sasuke's Sharingan has been irreparably damaged at this point. We don't even know for sure if he'll ever be able to use it again. But we do know it'll never be as powerful as it once was. Plus I truly believe Sasuke is remorseful for his actions."

"If he's remorseful then he should remain here and work to gain the peoples' trust," Shizune said. "How will running away make a difference?"

Again Tsunade shook her head. "I agree that it has been hard so far for him to regain the peoples' trust," she said. "But that's not the real reason he wants to leave."


Sakura ran through the busy midday streets. In her hand she held the note Sasuke had left for her. In it was a request from Sasuke to meet him on a nearby roof top. He apparently wanted to speak to her about something in private.

Sakura reached the stairwell and began making her way up. As she made the last turn towards the roof she heard voices coming from the top. She instantly recognized them to be Sasuke and Naruto. Just as she was about head up she heard Naruto yell out, "Did you tell Sakura this!" Sakura paused and decided to listen in.

"Not yet," Sasuke said. "But I plan to soon."

"I just don't understand why you feel like you have to leave Konoha so soon after coming back," Naruto said. "Look, I know some of the others haven't been very welcoming to you. But give it some time and I'm sure…"

Sasuke waived Naruto off. "It's not that," he said. "I can deal with that. I know it will take time to gain the confidence of everyone. The reason I'm leaving is because…" Sasuke paused and looked up at the clouds. Out of the corner of his eye he looked towards the stairwell but said nothing. "I've hurt a lot of people while I was away Naruto," he said. "Not just people from Konoha but people from many other places. Every night I can see their faces. Every night I'm haunted by them. I don't owe something just to the people of Konoha. I need to go out and do what I can to pay those people back too. How can I sit here I try to find peace for myself knowing that so many are still suffering because of my actions?"

Naruto took a deep breath and looked up at the passing clouds. No matter how simple he hoped life would be it never seemed to get that way. Even after everything that happened. There always seemed to be something else right around the corner. He wanted to tell his friend to stay. To tell him that he needed to be here. But in his heart Naruto knew Sasuke was right. And he had no right to impose his selfish desires onto him.

"Alright," Naruto said. "Then I'll go with you."

"Oh," Sasuke said. His question seemed as though it was a surprise but Naruto could see the smirk on his face. It was obvious Sasuke knew Naruto would make the offer. "So you'd want to come with me huh?"

"Hey, I still have about four months before I'm supposed to become Hokage," Naruto said.

"This will take much longer than four months Naruto," Sauske said. "I could be gone for years."

Naruto shrugged. "You're my friend Sasuke," he said. "I'm not going to let you do this alone."

Sasuke shook his head and said, "You're needed here Naruto. You have training to do. And more importantly, you're a source of inspiration for the people. Seeing you gives the people a sense of hope and security for them. You are their future."

"So are you," Naruto said. "You're a precious part of the future of Konoha too, Sasuke."

Sasuke smiled. "I hope you're right," he said. "But they need you more now than they need me."

"So you're saying that I should sacrifice you for Konoha," Naruto asked. "To let you do this alone?"

"I'm saying you need to act as a Hokage would act," Sasuke said. "I'm asking you to stay for the good of the many and not leave for the good of the few. Besides, I won't be alone. I…plan to ask Sakura to come with me."

Naruto eyes widened in shock as he found himself speechless. Despite herself, Sakura gasped as she heard what Sasuke said. But she remained hidden.

"So…you do love her," Naruto asked.

"Love," Sasuke wondered. "I wouldn't go that far. She's a great girl. And I think, given time I could learn to love her. But…it's clear she cares about me and I'm not yet fully recovered. I really could use a medical ninja by my side."

******Meanwhile – The Hokage Mansion******

"What," Shizune yelled. "He wants to take Sakura with him! Does she know?"

"Not yet," Tsunade answered. "He plans to ask her today."

"And if she says yes," Shizune asked.

"If she wants to go I have no right to stop them," Tsunade said. "It will be her choice."

"But, what about Naruto," Shizune asked.

"This will be hard on him I know," Tsunade said. "But maybe this is just what he needs. Naruto is genuinely happy to have Sasuke back. But despite that, his feelings for Sakura and seeing them together is killing him. If they, at least weren't around, he'd have time to heal. He can finally have the time he needs to move on."


Naruto and Sasuke stood in silence for a long time with only the sound of the wind between them. "Well," Naruto said with a smile. "If you have to go I guess I can't be upset if you at least take Sakura with you."

Sasuke stared at Naruto and said, "Is that what you really think Naruto?"

"Of course," Naruto said with a smile.

"Why aren't you being honest with yourself," Sasuke asked.

"W-what are you…," Naruto stuttered.

"It was as obvious to me then as it is now," Sasuke said. "You're in love with Sakura still. Aren't you?"

The smile slowly faded from Naruto's face and Naruto took a deep breathe before falling back and slumping into the bench. "Well," Sasuke asked. 'Do you still lover her?"

"Y-Yes," Naruto said. "I do."

"And it's ok with you that the woman you love leaves to travel with another man," Sasuke asked.

"Of course not," Naruto yelled. "But…Sakura…she's loved you ever since she was a little girl. She's been destined to be with you."

"Destiny," Sasuke asked. "Hmm, you know, I once thought destiny was this inescapable force. It was a road that once you were on there was no deviation from. But thanks to you I've learned that destiny is often what you make it."

Naruto gave a subdued almost mocking laugh. "Its not always that simple Sasuke," he said.

"It was for you," Sasuke answered. "Do you know that she once offered to come with me?"

Naruto looked up with a shocked expression but remained silent.

"The night I left to find Orochimaru, she said she'd come with me," Sasuke said. "She said that if I left that she'd be alone. But even then I knew that wasn't true. She didn't see it then. But she had you. She's always had you. Are you really willing to give that up?"

"It's not about what she has Sasuke," Naruto said. "It's about what she wants. And that has always been you. So there's nothing for me to really give up." Naruto got to his feet and took a deep breath. "I really should get going," he said. "I have another training session with Iruka-sensei. These political training sessions are a real pain. See you later Sasuke."

Naruto turned to leave when Sasuke said, "Naruto, you've always been good at fighting for the happiness of others. But, there's nothing wrong with fighting for your own happiness too." Naruto didn't reply. He just leapt off.

Once he was gone, Sasuke heard movement behind him. He turned around to see that Sakura had come out of hiding and was now on the roof. Her face was streaked with tears and her shoulders were slumped as though she barely had the strength to even hold herself up. "I take it you heard it all," Sasuke asked.

Sakura simply nodded her confirmation. She seemed incapable of even speaking at the moment. "So," Sasuke said. "I'm leaving tomorrow night. I need to know your answer. I know how you feel about me. And you know how I feel. What are you going to do?"

******Two days later******

Sakura stood in her room finishing up as she packed the last of her things into her large backpack. She latched the final straps and lifted it up to test the weight. Satisfied, she placed the bag on the floor next to her bed and sat down and looked around her room. She was contemplating how much her life was changing when she heard a knock at the door. "Come in," she said.

Sakura's mother and father came in. "Are you ready," her mom said. Sakura got to her feet and nodded.

They came up and the three of them hugged. "Are you sure about this," her father asked.

"Yeah dad," she said. "I should have did this a long time ago."

"Ok," her mom said. "We'll support you honey."

"I know mom," Sakura said. "Thanks." Sakura turned and picked up the backpack and walked out of the house. It was the middle of the night and the entire village was quiet. She walked through the busy streets looking at all of the buildings and smiled sadly.

Finally she came to a low hill and walked around where she saw Naruto sitting on a park bench under a street light overlooking part of the village. "Hey Sakura," Naruto said as he got to his feet.

"Hi Naruto," Sakura said. "W-where's Sasuke? I thought he was going to meet you here?"

"He did," Naruto said. "We spoke and he said his goodbyes. It was tough, but I understand why he has to do his."

For a long while the two remained quiet as they both struggled at what to say next. Unbeknownst to each other they had both rehearsed what they would say to each other over and over. Yet, now in the moment, they found themselves unable to speak. "Naruto, I want to tell you something," Sakura said. "I…"

"Actually Sakura," Naruto interrupted. "There's something I need to say to you. I just want to say that…I'm…really happy to see you achieve everything that you fought so hard for. And…that…it's…reassuring…that Sasuke will have you by his side. Of course I'll…miss you. I mean I'll miss you both! But…at least you two will be happy."

Sakura merely stared at Naruto as if her heart were slowly breaking. "Is that really all you have to say to me," she asked.

"O-Of course Sakura-chan," NAruto said. "I…I guess I also wanted to say…that I hope your really enjoy the experience. Because to be able to travel the world is a once in a lifetime experience. Especially when you can do it with someone you love."

"Cherish the things you see," Naruto continued. "I'm not talking about buildings or locations, but moments. Cherish every moment you can because those can never be replaced. Keep them in your heart. Because they…they last forever. At least…that's how I see it."

Sakura leaned in and hugged Naruto tight to her which threw Naruto off. For a moment he stood ridged but slowly the tension faded and he hugged her. After a short while the two separated and to Naruto's surprise, Sakura kissed him on the cheek.

Sakura smiled and picked up her bag and began to walk away leaving Naruto standing there. Naruto tried to force a smile and found it impossible and just watched as she walked away. Sakura looked back at Naruto and waived before running off.

"Goodbye Sakura-chan," Naruto whispered before he slumped down into the bench and stared down at the ground.

Sakura ran as fast as she could until she saw the large main entrance to Konoha coming up. In the distance she could see Sasuke waiting for her. Sasuke smiled when he saw her running up. When Sakura arrived she leaned over and gasped for air. "Are you ready to go," Sasuke asked.

Sakura stood up straight and without a word walked up to Sasuke and handed him the back pack which surprised him. "Here," she said. "I packed you as much as I think you can carry. There are a bunch of herbs and medicines in there as well. I labeled everything as well put an explanation as far as their medicinal benefits. There are also some sewing materials in case you need to repair your clothes as well as all of my savings in case you need extra money."

Sasuke smiled as he looked at the backpack. "You're not coming with me, are you," he asked.

Sakura shook her head as tears welled in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "For years being with you is all I could think about. I thought that hearing you say that you wanted to be with me would be the greatest moment of my life. But, when you told me you wanted me to come with you, all I could think about was Naruto."

"I-I can't leave him," Sakura said as she cried. "He's annoying, he doesn't think through situations, he says stupid things. But he has a big heart, he's loyal, he makes me laugh and…and…I love him."

Sasuke laughed and without warning kissed Sakura on the forehead. "Are you okay with this," she asked.

"I'll be fine," Sasuke said as he through the back pack on.

"But maybe you shouldn't go alone," Sakura said.

"Don't worry about me," Sasuke said. "I'm not going to be as alone as you think. Speak to the Hokage tomorrow. She'll explain everything."

Sasuke turned and began to walk away. "Hey Sakura," he said. "Take care of that moron okay! He'll need you to keep him in line."

"You got it," Sakura said as she waived. "Don't be a stranger Sasuke!"

Sakura waited until Sasuke disappeared from sight before turning and running off. She ran as fast as she could back up the hill where she saw Naruto. He got up and was about to walk off when he heard Sakura yelling his name. "Sakura-chan," he said as he ran up to her. "Sakura-chan, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be leaving with Sasuke?"

Sakura shook her head. "I was never going with Sasuke, Naruto," she said. "When he asked me I told him I would have to think about it. But…the truth is…there was nothing to really think about."

Sakura took a step closer so that she was now less then an arms length away from him. "No more games," she said. "No more dancing around what we feel. I realize now that I…don't love Sasuke. I'm here because I love you. I said it to you before Naruto. And I'm saying it again. Now, I need you to tell me how you feel."

Naruto looked at the ground and then up at the stars in the clear night sky. "You really can't say it can you Naruto," Sakura asked sadly. "Naruto I need you to…"

Naruto suddenly grabbed Sakura and kissed her and the two quickly melted into each others' loving embrace.

Shizune smiled as she looked at them while she remained hidden in a nearby tree. She quickly turned and leapt away and swiftly made her way back to the Hokage's mansion where Tsunade was pouring over paper work. "Well," Tsunade asked when she saw Shizune enter.

"It went better than you'd hoped," Shizune said with a smile. "I don't think we'll need to worry about those two anymore. But how did you know this would happen? How did you come up with this plan?"

Tsunade laughed and knocked her hand happily on the table. She then sprang to her feet and walked over to the window and looked at the village below. Everything was quiet. Everything was peaceful. "I didn't know it would work," she said. "In fact this plan wasn't mine at all."

"What," Shizune said. "Then who?"

"It was Sasuke," Tsunade said.

"Sasuke," Shizune asked.

"He came to me in secret a few days ago," Tsunade said. "He told me that he was planning to leave the village in order to travel and help those he'd hurt. He also told me that he could see the trouble that Sakura and Naruto were having over his return. He could see that his very presence stood in the way of those two getting together. He said Naruto had done so much for him that Naruto had to be the first person he helped on his path of redemption. He knew that if he took a more aggressive stance with Sakura it would force those two to finally confront their feelings for each other."

"A more aggressive stance," Shizune asked.

"Yes," Tsunade answered. "And what's more aggressive than giving a deadline? He said that he knew for a long time that those two were destined to be together."

"So he was able to persuade you to help him," Shizune asked. "But now Sasuke is forced to travel alone. And he's not fully recovered."

Tsunade shook her head and said, "Actually Sasuke isn't traveling alone. We got someone who was eager to go with him."

"What," Shizune sain. "Who?"


Sasuke walked down the road slowly. The village was now a small point in the distance. He stopped and leaned on a nearby tree and took a deep pained breath. He then heard a voice from behind the tree. "So how did it go?"

"Just as planned," Sasuke said. "Which is surprising."

"So those two are finally together huh," the person asked.

"Looks like it," Sasuke answered. Just then, Ino stepped out and onto the road. "Thank god," she said happily. "I was getting so sick of all that will they or won't they crap. It really gets kind of stupid after a while! It's like bad writing if it goes on too long." Ino then looked at Sasuke and said, "So are you ready to go Sasuke-kun!"

Sasuke looked back at Konoha and then to Ino and smiled. "Yeah," he said. "Let's go." The two began to walk when Sasuke asked, "So what made you decide to come with me?"

"Well," Ino said. "I've always liked you too, you know Sasuke. Besides now I can rub it in Sakura's face that I won the bet."

"What bet," Sasuke asked.

"Weeeell," Ino said playfully. "Let's just say that Sakura isn't the only gal who got their guy tonight!"

Sasuke groaned. "Something tells me this going to be a long trip."


"Wow," Shizune said. "He had it all worked out didn't he? That Sasuke is really something."

Sitting on the ledge just outside, was Kakashi staring up at the stars. He smiled to himself at the good news and got to his feet and leapt away.

Tsunade smiled. "Yes," she said. "I agreed to go along with his plan because of the one thing he said to me. Sasuke said…."


Sakura and Naruto sat holding each other on a bench on a hill overlooking the village. The moon and stars twinkled brightly in the night sky. "So what do we do now," Naruto asked.

"We look forward to the future," Sakura said as she snuggled up to him. "A future together."

"Sasuke said…

…that Naruto and Sakura are destined to be together. But sometimes destiny needs a little push."