A/N: Merry Christmas, everybody! Here is one of the stories I promised. The others are, of course, not finished, but I plan on posting them over the duration of my winter vacation as really late Christmas Fics. The next chapter of Incomplete will also fall in that category, unfortunately.

Anyway, so as usual, you can find pictures on my profile.

Warning: This story contains—well, I wouldn't call it drama, but there is a lot of dwelling on painful matters and sinking into the characters' thoughts, particularly Sasuke's. My recommendation is that you read this in the evening, snuggled up in a cozy blanket and with a cup of hot chocolate by your side! It sets the mood, believe me. And the light better be dim! Make that the light from the Christmas tree. Yeah!

Also, you might want to give "Don't You Wanna Stay" by Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean a try. Not necessarily while reading the story, but it's a great song, and it fits.

You all know, by now, that Naruto is not mine, so enjoy, and don't forget to review!



Don't You Wanna Stay?



A quiet sigh escaped Uchiha Sasuke's lips as he continued to trudge lightly through the heavy snow that covered most of Konoha's streets, hands buried deep into the pockets of his coat, head huddled in the soft material of his scarf, basking in the relative warmth it offered.

Under normal circumstances, one would never have the privilege to spot him outside on such gloomy weather. People thought and said a lot of things about him, rumors about how long, cold winters such as these seemed to match his personality perfectly having already traveled around the entirety of the Fire Country and beyond.

Uchiha Sasuke was truly an enigma waiting to be solved, and people who jumped at the opportunity were not few.

But even with his ever-increasing popularity, Sasuke was most likely the only person on Earth who knew just how much he hated this time of the year. Winter nights were cold, long, and exceptionally boring; snow always put a damper on his usual training routine, and winter holidays were just… lonely.

There had been a time, long ago, when he used to look forward to them—used to look forward to helping his mother in the kitchen, to receiving gifts, and to having a nice, peaceful meal in the family, with his father and big brother, who were almost never home. But he had been merely a child back then, not quite introduced to the harshness of the world, to all the pain and suffering that was out there, outside of the protective walls of his cozy home. And unfortunately, that child had long since ceased to exist within him.

Kicking a small boulder of frozen snow out of his way, he continued down the unfamiliar path, his steps heavy as he recalled the exact events that had driven him headfirst into this annoying situation.

To say that he had never meant for this to happen would be an understatement. It was supposed to be a simple mission; A-ranked, solo, with its main goal being that of retrieving a scroll that Konoha had lost to some nondescript rouge-nin. Everything went as smoothly as possible—and as easily as one would expect when it came to the famous Sharingan user.

That, until he was ambushed. Until he found himself in the Hokage's office, with a drunk Tsunade who could barely do as much as point him in the direction of the hospital. And until he found out that said hospital was empty, save for a few unknowing nurses, and that, if he dreaded the idea of going to sleep with his wound still bleeding, he would have to seek the head of the medical department at home.

Which in itself had not been a problem until he found out who exactly the person in question was.

None other than Haruno Sakura, his ex-teammate.

It was a while since Sasuke had last seen her, much less shared a word with her. Now that Team Seven had ceased to exist, their paths didn't cross often—hence the reason why he hadn't been aware of her achievements in the medical field—and on the rare occasions that they did, it was only for them to exchange brief 'hello's. But those small encounters had been all that Sasuke had needed in order to realize that the pinkette was nothing like her old, thirteen-year-old self. Out of all the members of the Rookie Nine, she was probably the one who had changed the most.

Had he somehow been forced by the circumstances to spend more time with her, it was likely that he would have been grateful for the chance. Given the current conditions, though, he was more indifferent than anything else towards this matter.

That didn't mean that having to 'visit' her at her apartment, at this time of the day, and on Christmas, nonetheless, sat very well with him, because it didn't. After all, they were not friends. They were not even comrades. And the simple fact that it was her duty as a medic to see to her patients' needs at any given time did not give him the right to bother her at home on holidays such as this one; had she been so entirely devoted to her profession, he would have found her at the hospital, for sure.

But it was either that, or going to sleep with a sore body and a still unhealed wound, and if there was anything in the world that Sasuke craved after a long, strenuous mission, that was a good rest. So he shoved that part of him that screamed in protest at his upcoming actions at the back of his mind and continued on his way towards what the nurse had told him to be Sakura's apartment, trying to ignore the faint tug his heart gave whenever he noticed the light of a Christmas tree spilling from a nearby window.

He arrived at his ex-teammate's home a bit sooner than he would have liked, apprehension pooling in the pit of his stomach as he raised his hand to knock on the door. Sasuke was a person that liked keeping to himself; communicating—and with strangers, no less—was definitely not his forte. Taking a deep breath, he lowered his hand and knocked twice, before allowing it to retreat inside his pocket.

Having sensed her chakra, he knew she was inside, just like he knew she was alone. Not having to deal with more people at once would usually be considered an advantage, but the mere thought of being alone with her made him re-think that.

Sasuke and Sakura were not on bad terms, even though that would have been understandable, considering everything he had done to her. The problem was, they were really not on any kind of terms. There was absolutely nothing between them, not even a reminiscence of that old sense of comradery that had once existed between the members of Team Seven. It was as though they didn't even know each other, and as if that wasn't enough, Sasuke had a feeling that he would much rather stand a chance to create a bond with a stranger than with the pinkette.

It was understandable, though.

He had always believed that she had never quite managed to forgive him for all the mistakes he had made. Naruto had. Kakashi had. The entire village had. But Sakura had never shown any signs that she had at least tried to do the same. And although he would like to somehow make their occasional meetings less awkward, Sasuke was not about to go looking for them. Things were the way they were, and instead of trying to change them and risk damaging them even further, the Uchiha preferred to let them be. He had long since understood that he could not have control over everything.

The door opened and he suddenly wished he had. He wished he had control over all the events that led up to this point, so that he could turn back in time and stop them from happening—stop himself from falling into their trap, turn around in the right moment and defend himself properly.

Maybe it was stupid of him, but he felt like he would give anything not to be standing in front of her right now. He would never admit it to anybody, but Sakura intimidated him. She reminded him of the past, of all the mistakes he had made, of everything he had left behind, everything that could not be recovered—ever.

Sometimes, it pained him to look at her in the eye.

"Sasuke," she greeted in a soft voice, hurriedly ushering him inside. "Yuki called to tell me you might come over. I was starting to think you chose not to bother."

"Hn," he grunted, his emotionless façade intact at the sight of her, even though, beneath the surface, various emotions began to boil.

She was dressed in a simple pair of pink pajamas that peaked out from underneath her fluffy, comfortable-looking robe. Her long, pink hair was pulled up in a messy bun, her face clean of any cosmetic product that he knew she sometimes used. Her green eyes shone as brightly as ever, illuminating her pale features.

Although she didn't hold a candle to some of the women he had met on his various travels, Sasuke could not deny that she had grown into a beautiful woman.

"Sit," she ordered, obviously in full medic mode, as she moved to close the door behind him.

Sasuke obeyed and took a seat on the overstuffed couch that sat in the middle of her living room, slowly starting to take his coat off, careful not to cause himself more pain by moving around too much. His wound was already painful enough.

"Let me see," the pinkette said, a quiet sigh escaping her lips as she sat down next to him, a bit too close for his taste. Regardless, he told himself that this was not the time to be childish and lifted his shirt for her to see the rather deep gash that adorned his abdomen. Reaching out, she gently removed the blood-tainted bandage that he had hastily wrapped around himself, hoping it would at least serve to stop the bleeding. It seemed to have worked quite well in that regard.

"Wait here," she said, standing up, before quickly disappearing down the hallway; she returned a minute later, carrying a nondescript bottle with a colorless liquid inside and a set of sterile gauze bandages. "This is probably going to sting a little," she warned as she spilled a bit of the bottle's contents on a black cloth, her green eyes rising to meet his for a brief moment.

Against his better judgment, a low hiss escaped his lips as soon as the cold cloth made contact with the tender skin of his wound. But Sakura did not seem to acknowledge him, and the incident did not have a repeat. She continued to quietly clean his wound, the only sounds around them being those of the television playing softly in the background; her movements, although gentle, were precise and methodical, and for some reason or another, they made Sasuke's heart clench painfully in his chest.

This was not the way Sakura used to touch him…

Folding the cloth, she carelessly threw it on the coffee table in front of them, her hand glowing green as it returned to his abdomen. It was the first time in a long time that Sasuke was being healed by the pinkette, and he was surprised by how familiar her touch felt. He had not realized it until now, but he could vividly remember every last detail about the process—the way her eyebrows furrowed in concentration, the cool, soothing sensation of her chakra crawling beneath his skin, the intense feeling of relaxation that followed soon after her touch disappeared.

With other medics, he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible; with Sakura, the healing process never seemed to last enough. This time was no exception. Her hand retreated, the green glow disappeared from around it, and he looked down; the only thing left from the once nasty, bloody gash was a pink mark that would undoubtedly disappear in a few days.

Reaching towards the bandages she had set on the table earlier, she grabbed one of the roles and unwrapped a good portion of it, softly ordering him to straighten his back so that she could wrap it around his abdomen. When she was done, she secured it with a skilful knot and stood back.

"You should be alright now," she said. "Leave the bandage on at least until you get home and take a shower; it's really important to prevent any infections—but you already know all this," she cut herself off, offering him a soft smile.

Sasuke grunted—whether in appreciation or annoyance, not even he knew—and stood up, shrugging his coat back on. He had already opened the front door when her soft voice reached his ears.

"I could make some hot chocolate," she said, making him stop dead in his track. "If you're willing to spend half an hour more with me. And that, of course, if you don't have somebody waiting for you," she immediately added.

Sasuke did not know what it was about her words that made him halt, his hand freezing on the door-knob. His body tense, coiled like that of a dragon's preparing to attack, he waited as her words sunk into his mind; truth to be told, it surprised him that he was even considering them. Under normal circumstances, such offers would be declined on the spot, without as much as a second's hesitation, or a moment wasted on pondering his options; he was not one for socialization, especially when it was deemed useless from the very start.

These were supposed to be normal circumstances—he was supposed to arrive at her place, get his wound healed, and then go home. He would take a shower and climb under the warm covers of his bed, finally achieving the only discernable goal he had set for himself the moment he completed his mission—that of having a good night of sleep, a fitful rest that he considered himself to be deserving of.

Even as he stood there now, the mere thought of placing his head on a pillow seemed almost too pleasant, too inviting—both on such a degree that he seriously began to wonder what on earth he was still doing in the doorway of his ex-teammate's apartment. He did not know. What he did know, however—and he wished he knew how—was what the pinkette was. She was expecting something from him, a reaction of some sort—and that reaction was rejection.

The offer, despite the appearances, had not been made voluntarily; the hesitant, almost scared tone of her voice had clued him in on that. The question had pushed its way past her lips before she could get a hold of herself. It had only complicated the situation, and Sasuke highly doubted that a 'yes' would solve anything, but in that moment, he felt that he at least had to try. Voluntarily or not, she had done her part—she had made him an offer. Whether he actually accepted it—that was his choice.

For a moment, he felt compelled to simply go—to will his body to move and get out on that door, to leave the pink-haired woman that had once formed a part of his life behind, in the past, where she should have remained from the very beginning. Things were okay the way they were now—they were not perfect, but Sasuke did not need them to be perfect. The last thing he wanted was to mess everything up, to destroy the equilibrium he had fought so hard to achieve.

But then he realized that this—what he had with Sakura—was indeed a problem, and that maybe if they were given the chance, they could find its solution. Otherwise, it would weigh on them for another long period of time—if not forever. And if there was one thing that Sasuke had learned from his mistakes, a lesson life had taught him, was that one should never allow the past to haunt them—it was just too painful, and the young Uchiha had once sworn not to consciously put himself through such a torture again.

With that thought in mind, he allowed his hand to go slack, his grip on the door-knob lessening. A small shove was all that was needed for the door to close soundlessly before him.

Then he turned to Sakura, and the brilliant smile that lit up her features made him realize that, without a doubt, he had made the right choice. Those were usually the easiest to recognize, as well as the most rewarding, he had learned. And in time, he had grown quite fond of them. There was nothing that could bring him true happiness again—he had come to terms with that. But little life pleasures, like having someone genuinely smile at him, or say 'thank you' and mean it with every fiber of their beings, were things that he indulged himself.

He retook his seat on the couch as she wandered out of the living room into what he assumed to be the kitchen. His onyx eyes scanned his unknown surroundings.

There was a piece of Sakura in every corner, every decoration, every thoughtful arrangement, he noted with a slight hint of discomfort. The room was fairly large—not nearly as large as his own living room, back at the Uchiha Mansion, but at least it was homey. The walls were painted a deep chocolate, the furniture was sleek, modern, and black, and the decorations fit the scenery perfectly. The couch he was currently seated on was of a light beige color, soft, comfortable, and with many throw pillows whose colors ranged from dark brown to deep red and fiery orange.

In front of the couch was a sleek coffee table, currently free from clutter, aside from the bottle of antiseptic she had used to clean his wound and what seemed to be a notebook in a far corner. Pushed up against the wall before him was a full television set, currently playing a movie unknown to him. On the opposite wall, behind him, hung a set of framed photographs, and to his left, there was a large window.

Perhaps the most important aspect, though, was the small Christmas tree assembled in the far corner of the living room, near the entrance to the kitchen. The decorations she had used were simple, but striking; she had chosen two colors, golden and red. Sasuke had not only seen, but had, Christmas trees that were much bigger and much more grandiose, but merely imagining the thought and effort she must have put into decorating this one made everything else seem awfully insignificant.

There was a sweet scent lingering in the air, a scent that bespoke of baked cookies and cinnamon. Sasuke could hardly remember the last time he sensed such an aroma, but it was familiar enough to crawl underneath his skin and make him lower his guard, little by little. Relaxing, his body sunk further into the couch, the tension leaving his muscles; his head fell back, and his eyes involuntarily closed.

The alluring scent, coupled with the Christmas lights playing colorful shadows behind his closed lids, the sound of the television droning rhythmically in the background, along with that of Sakura working quietly in the kitchen made him slightly drowsy. His surroundings oozed comfort. He felt safe, he felt cozy, and for the first time in so long, he felt that if he fell asleep, his night would not be troubled by nightmares.

He was jolted awake when Sakura shuffled back into the room. Her light footsteps and graceful movements barely made a sound, but Sasuke was a shinobi, and there had been so many nights he had not slept because monsters—of the past, of the present—haunted him, so as soon as his keen senses detected her presence, his eyes snapped open. Pushing himself back up into a proper position, he watched as she crossed the room to reach him, two steaming mugs in her hands, one of which she handed to him. There was a slight moment of hesitation from his part before he took it. Their fingers touched around the hot ceramic, and a small current, like a jolt of electricity, passed through his hand and traveled down his spine—a current that he was sure had nothing to do with anything but her. He chose to ignore that, though. Inexplicable things had always happened around Sakura, and after so many years of knowing her, of thinking about her, and of even having her by his side, Sasuke had grown to accept this.

The sweet smell of chocolate reached him before he was even able to peer in the contents of the cup.

The plush the couch was stuffed with dipped slightly as Sakura fluidly curled up at the other end, and the Uchiha couldn't resist turning his head to survey her. Bringing her legs beneath her, she rested the cup of hot chocolate nestled between her hands on top of her knee. Her robe parted with the movement, revealing a smooth, toned thigh that she did not bother to hide. Strands of rosy hair escaped the messy ponytail holding them together and framed her heart-shaped face, bringing out her high cheekbones and glittering emerald green eyes.

Gazing out at the Christmas tree, she looked so relaxed, so completely at ease in his presence, that for a moment, he wondered whether she had simply forgotten everything that had transpired between them. For a moment, he dared to hope that she had. He dared to hope that she had forgotten when he knocked her out after hearing her confession and left her on a cold bench with a simple 'thank you'. He dared to hope that she had forgotten when, time after time, he sent Naruto—and other of her comrades—home for her to heal. He dared to hope that she had forgotten when his hands wrapped around her throat, killing intent shining in his crazed, red eyes. But he was Sasuke, and Sasuke hoped for a lot of things; rarely did any of them come true.

Finally averting his gaze away from her profile, Sasuke turned his attention back to the cup slowly cooling in his hands. Gazing down at the colored liquid, he slowly brought the mug to his lips.

It had been a long time since he had last drunk hot chocolate, since he had tasted anything sweet. Unlike other people, the Uchiha did not indulge in such things, because they reminded him of his family—they reminded him of home. And the harsh truth was that Sasuke did not have any of those anymore. So, why torment himself? Why pretend he was living an entirely different life by enjoying a sweet treat? Why not take everything as sour and bitter as reality was? That sure as hell was less painful than a brutal awakening.

But Sakura… He could—and would—not refuse Sakura, no matter how many painful memories her actions brought upon him.

Closing his eyes, he touched the warm ceramic to his lips and took a sip of the sweet beverage, only to find out, with stupor, that is was not nearly as sweet as he had expected it to be when he associated it with his old teammate. It was not too fragrant, and it had that tinge of hot liquid that burned down his throat and settled in his stomach. It smelled good, and perhaps tasted even better. It was exactly what he would find waiting for him on the table when he came home on one of these cold winter days.

A fresh wave of memories washed over him, making him close his eyes.

His mother. The only person who had ever openly showed her affection to him. As the wife of the clan leader, she had been a busy person. But somehow, she had always found time for him; she had always listened whenever he had something to say, had always had an answer to the stupidest, most inane questions his younger self had to ask. Granted, time had passed. His memories of her—the memories of a child—had faded. But Sasuke knew, even now, without a shadow of doubt, that his mother was—had been, and would forever be the most amazing woman the world had ever seen. He was not interested in dirty undersides. He was not interested in the powerful kunoichi she had been before marrying his father. He was not interested in anything other than the love she had showed him. For him, she had been a mother—and as a mother, she had been perfect.

Perhaps it was his brother's betrayal that had forged his revengeful spirit. Perhaps it was his actions that had taken control of his life, that had seemed to have the worst impact on him. But deep inside, it was his mother's loss that had hurt him most. He had been a rebel child, he remembered, and over the last month they had spent together, he had been busy—constantly preoccupied with gaining his father's approval. He hardly had time to sit at the table with his mother, to help her in the kitchen. He refused to allow her to tuck him in at night. Simple 'practice' turned sharply into 'training'. He was not a child anymore—he was a ninja, and that took most of his time.

It wasn't until she was gone that Sasuke realized just how much he actually needed her presence. It wasn't until he found out the truth about the Uchiha massacre, until all the hate, the anger, the rage and the fury had left his system, until he was finally home that he realized just how achingly painful her absence was. And it wasn't until he was here, with Sakura by his side, with a Christmas tree in the room and a cup of hot chocolate in his hands, that he realized just how much he missed her—just how much he would give to have her back.

Because Sasuke wasn't an avenger—not anymore. In many aspects, he wasn't even a man yet; deep inside, he was still a child. A child that had lost so much and had made so many mistakes, that he would do anything to go back in time and do everything differently. But that… that was impossible.

"You know," her soft voice reached his ears, wrapping around his spirit in a vise-like grip and pulling it back from the torrent of torturous thoughts that threatened to engulf him whole. His eyes snapping open, he turned his head to look at her—to see her still staring at the Christmas tree, the green mug cradled in her hands. "It feels nice—having someone to spend Christmas with, I mean, even for a few moments."

His brows furrowed when he heard her words, and his thoughts swam in confusion until he remembered what Naruto had told him a few months prior. The two of them had been at Ichiraku's, on one of the blond's many attempts to reunite Team Seven. Sakura had been, of course, nowhere to be seen, and, blatantly ignoring his foul mood (since the Uchiha was perceptive enough to realize just how much the situation affected his friend, and smart enough to know that he was its main cause), Naruto had deemed it his mission to make up for her absence.

Through bits and pieces of how life had been like after he had left, he had mentioned her parents' death. Her father, a skilled Jounin, had died on a mission—a complication in their plans, an unexpected ambush. None of his team members had returned. Her mother had died a few months afterwards, from what cause, Naruto had failed to mention.

"Kakashi is always away on missions, even on holidays," she continued, oblivious to his train of thought, "and Naruto… well, he spends them with Hinata now."

This woman… this woman knew how it felt to lose a loved one. She knew how it felt to have everything, and then, without warning, to have it ripped from her grasp. She knew how it felt to suffer, to mourn the loss of those held dear to her. But she had managed to survive. She was here now, smiling and laughing and enjoying life, enjoying the little things, like she had always done.

Sure, the circumstances were different; her parents' death had been nowhere near as tragic as his own, and their personalities bore no resemblance whatsoever. But the fact remained—she knew. She understood. And perhaps, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered, perhaps she had always done so.

"Those two are inseparable, I swear," she gushed. A genuine smile played on her lips as she spoke so fondly of their old teammate. "He loves her so much… I'm so glad they're together. Naruto deserves to be happy." She turned to look at him then, eyes glittering as red lights reflected in them, lips stretched into a genuine smile—a smile that he had only ever seen her wear when he was nearby; a smile that was, dare he say, his. "We all do."

Forcing himself to snap out of his thoughts took effort, but was necessary. "Shallow," he grunted, turning his gaze back to the cup held in his hands. "It's all shallow. You cannot be happy in a world of killers."

"However shallow," she responded with a hum, the mug held to her lips as she looked at him sideways, a gentle look in her eyes. "We deserve to be happy."

The Uchiha remained silent, choosing instead to take another sip of the sweet beverage. The hot liquid traveled down his throat, warming his insides and clouding his mind, making him feel fuzzy and strangely comfortable. Her words, although unbeknownst to her, soothed old wounds, easing him slowly into a sense of familiarity, of safety and security that he had, without realizing, missed terribly.

Maybe it was his exhaustion, or maybe it was her presence. Maybe it was the silent joy he felt because he was finally able to have a conversation with her. Maybe it was because he was there, in her living room, because they were comfortable around each other once again. Maybe it was the vulnerability he had showed her by letting his guard tumble down.

But here, with his judgment clouded by her presence, Sasuke believed her. Of course, in the back of his mind, questions still lingered. Was she truly right? Sakura was smart, but she was idealistic and naïve. After everything he had done, how could he still have the right to be happy? But for the first time, Sasuke let those questions drown. Because if he didn't deserve to be happy, then what was the warmth that coursed through his veins right now?

"I mean… I am happy. That you are here with me now. A week ago, I was drenched in blood."

Yes, he decided, closing his eyes. That was happiness—or at the very least contentment.

"You… don't you feel the same?"

There was something inside him that broke when he heard those words. Sasuke didn't know what, and he didn't know why. She was pushing, prodding gently, like she had always done, but she had gone too far—so far that, in a rare moment of weakness, he had uncovered his emotions. But just because he had admitted to himself that they existed didn't mean that he was ready to reveal them to somebody else. He was too much of a coward for that.

Sasuke could face the deadliest enemies in battles. He could act recklessly and impulsively and never once regret it afterwards. He could not only face deadly situations, but he could dive headfirst into them. This, however, admitting his feelings, scared the hell out of him. Because there was always a part of him, a large, domineering part, that screamed at him that there was no point in making that effort, in the first place. He didn't deserve happiness. He didn't deserve to release the emotions that had bottled up inside of him. What he deserved was loneliness and torture—torture to death by his inability to express himself.

"I'm leaving," he announced, and swiftly stood up, slamming the half-empty mug on the wooden coffee table.

He was halfway to the door when her voice rang out again.

"Sasuke," she called, and he stopped dead in his track, like he always did when it came to her. "Be honest with yourself," she encouraged softly. The rustle of fabric that accompanied her words told Sasuke that she had sat up. "Don't you wanna stay?"

He was insane, he believed. Insane for stopping to consider her words, for not running out of the room without ever looking back, for allowing her to change his mind once more. Perhaps he would regret that in the future.

Regardless of the circumstances, his head turned sideways—not quite looking at her, but not quite facing forwards—as thoughts raced through his mind and her words rang in his ears over and over.

Changing the past was impossible. But the present was there… What was stopping him from changing the future? What was stopping him from making a difference? What was stopping him from taking a chance, for doing what felt right? What was stopping him from listening to his heart?

Turning around, his gaze was immediately drawn to hers. Her green eyes were pleading with him, looking up at him in such a manner that it was physically impossible for him to break the connection. They were shining with doubt, with uncertainty, but also with determination—and he realized with stupor that she did not regret what she had said.

This woman—this woman, who had been hurt so many times—was willing to give him another chance.

And in the end, who was he to reject her?

In a movement so quick that she missed it entirely when she blinked, he stalked towards her and roughly cupped her face into his hands, thumping her gently against him. She gasped, surprise flickering to life in her eyes; but it was short-lived, quickly replaced by understanding. A gentle fire began to slowly burn in them—and he realized, his breath catching in his throat, that it was love.

She still loved him.

Bending his head, he doubted no more as he touched his lips to hers—first softly, experimentally, then more roughly, with a hidden passion that had been secretly mounting inside of him for years and years. His fingers twisted in her hair, his much larger form towering over hers in a both protective and possessive manner. Sakura responded with equal fervor, rising on her tiptoes, tipping her head up, wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders, and Sasuke finally remembered why he had missed her presence so much.

Because, being with her… It was like coming home—to a full house, to laughter, to baked cookies and hot chocolate, and someone there to kiss him goodnight.