Stand by Me
"I am nothing without pretend,
I know my faults – can't live with them."
Day after day Sakura worked in the hospital. Days turned into weeks and weeks eventually, turned into a year after the war. After he had died. And Sakura just couldn't look at anything the same again. Konoha just wasn't the same anymore - it wasn't home. But she stayed, for whatever reason. Maybe for Naruto, Kakashi-sensei, Sai and all of her friends. Maybe because this had always been her home, and his. Even if he didn't want it. Life without him, really without him, had been hard. Even Naruto had changed, very subtly. He had become a bit more serious, more as Sakura had found the Fourth Hokage to be. He and his father had both suffered through loss.
Konoha had returned to normal, or at least a normal that everyone could accept. But Sakura couldn't and it had taken her this long to realize that.
She found herself in Tsunade's office, the Hokage's brown eyes on her and to her luck - Naruto wasn't there.
"Tsunade-sama, I would like permission to leave Konoha and to hand in my resignation as a Shinobi of the Fire Country."
"I know you would come, eventually." And she had. After the death of Nawaki, she had Dan, and when she'd lost him – Tsunade had felt like she'd truly and utterly lost everything, and staying in Konoha – the place where both Dan and Nawaki's dreams had been so alive…it nearly drove her crazy.
Sakura said nothing. She awaited Tsunade's answer.
"I was the same, Sakura. After Dan died." The Hokage paused. "Very well. I will grant you leave, but I refuse your resignation. You remain one of the best medical-ninja that I have seen, and for that reason I cannot allow you to resign."
Sakura licked her lips nervously. "What will this mean for me as a shinobi going forward?"
"Well, if the Fire Country ever goes to war again, you'll be expected to fight. Other than that, if Konoha needs your help, we can ask and you will be free to say no."
"You seem...ok with my leaving, Tsunade-sama."
Tsunade gave a rueful smile. "You need time to heal and to let go, and I know you can't do that here."
Sakura looked away. "Thank you. For everything. I don't have the exact words...but-"
"Sakura, you don't have to thank me. I'm so proud of what you've accomplished."
There was a moment of silence. "There's a small town, near the beach at the border. They've sent word that they're in need of medics. I was going to send you on a six month mission. If you would like, I can reply for something permanent?"
"That would be great, thank you, shishou." Sakura turned and headed for the door.
"Have you told Naruto?" came Tsunade's voice.
Two weeks later, Sakura left Konoha. She didn't have the nerve to tell Naruto that she'd decided to leave. Instead, she'd told him it was an extended mission. He believed her. But Sakura couldn't find it in her to feel guilty. She walked away from the place she grew up, the place that she'd once called home. Sakura stepped out of Konoha's gates, out of the protective barrier and finally out of Konoha's borders – and finally, finally – she felt free. The weight of Konoha, of Sasuke's death seemed lighter the moment she was away from it all, but Sakura stopped. She turned back, her eyes looking over her old land, and in the distance – the Kage Mountain. And with one last deep breath, she turned away, and left.
Sakura had bought a small apartment about two blocks away from the hospital where she would be working. It wasn't as big as the hospital in Konoha, but that was to be expected. Slowly, Sakura got into the habit of things. She worked shifts at the hospital, and even made friends with her co-workers. She still had nightmares and sleepless nights, but they didn't bother her nearly as much as they did before. They didn't stop her life from going on.
Six months came sooner than she'd thought it would. And the time came to tell her friends that she wouldn't be coming home. She wrote to Ino, and Kakashi and Sai and eventually she had to do it, she wrote the letter to Naruto. It had taken her three tries before she felt that maybe, just maybe – he might understand. And she sent the letters before she could regret it. For days after, she expected Naruto's visit. Demanding she return to Konoha – or at least to talk, but he didn't come. But she did receive a letter in return. He'd told her that Kakashi and Tsunade had stopped him from coming, and that he respected her decision to leave. He'd only wished she'd felt like she could talk to him first. He'd said that he would miss her – and that he would visit. His letter left her in tears and soon, he did visit. She showed him around, gone to the beach with him and they'd eventually said their goodbyes. Before he left, Naruto told her that the date for his induction to Hokage had been set, and formally invited her, and Sakura couldn't refuse. She'd returned to Konoha on the day and left the next. The next time she'd gone back was about two years later – for the Hokage's wedding to the Hyuuga Heiress, and as he'd promised, the Hyuuga clan ways were changed. This time, Sakura had stayed three days before she left. She didn't see Konoha as home anymore – just a place that held the people she loved.
For years, Naruto had visited, bringing Hinata along, and then their children, but soon the visits became less and less as Naruto got busier as the Hokage. He'd started off writing exciting letters, but they, too, became less and less until it was Hinata writing them, apologizing every time for Naruto's schedule. Ino wrote too, talking on and on about her five unexpected children. Kakashi never wrote, he checked in a lot before or after missions. Sai was the same. And soon, her six month "mission" turned into six years. A total of eight years after his death. Sakura decided it was time to let go…of him. She would wake up and think that if Gaara showed up on her doorstep and asked her…but she could never finish the thought. And eventually gave up on it. Because he never would. And she didn't want him to, and sooner or later – it happened. A patient asked her out. Yes, she'd been asked out before – but this was the first time that Sakura had said yes. Her coworker, Kotoko, had insisted Sakura take it. He seemed like a good man, floppy brown hair, dark green eyes and not bad looking. Sakura had given in after his third attempt to ask her out. He'd taken her out to dinner. The food was good and Sakura had made the night without comparing him to Sasuke. Partly because there was nothing to compare – but she wouldn't admit that to herself.
She'd been prepared to say goodbye outside her apartment building, but just as she was about to say goodnight, he'd pushed open the door and ushered her inside. On the way up the stairs, his hand had been on her back, dangerously low but still high enough for it to be safe. From Sakura's wrath.
It was the moment he'd leaned in for a kiss that Sakura froze. She'd become as still as a statue as his lips moved over her's, Sakura had pushed him off a second later. "I don't think this is going to work out." She told him, her voice tight and then she'd entered her apartment and closed the door behind her. Sakura didn't see him again.
The following Friday, Kotoko decided to drag Sakura out with her to a local bar. The girl, Sakura had noticed that night – had a drinking problem. Which wasn't uncommon in their profession. Their shift had ended close to midnight and Sakura had two drinks before she decided to call it a night. Kotoko had waved her off, happily on her fifth drink and Sakura stepped out of the bar and into the cool night air. And stood right in front of a shinobi she thought she'd never see again.
He was grinning, sharp teeth proudly on display. Sakura stilled, her eyes moving over him, his hand over his shoulder on the hilt of his sword in a casual pose.
"Yo," he greeted with a nod. Sakura bit the inside of her cheek and it took her a long moment to greet him back. "Hi." She said stiffly.
It streets were quiet now, only the music from the bar faintly hearable through the doors.
"What are you doing here, Suigetsu?"
"Just passing through." He said, a bit sarcastically and pulled a water bottle from his belt and took a slurp.
"Cut the crap."
He laughed. "I knew I liked you for a reason."
"Suigetsu." She snapped impatiently.
Slowly, he grinned. "Just checking up on you for an old friend."
"What? Karin finally decided that we're best girlfriends and wanted to see how I was doing?"
He said nothing, he just had that same smile on his face.
Sakura swallowed. She'd never imagined that she would ever see him again. Or any of Sasuke's Team Taka. But here he was, Sakura was sure she would have been as shocked if it had been Juugo or Karin. Because Sakura and those three only had one friend in common, and he was dead.
"Sasuke asked you to check up on me before he died." She said it, not really expecting an answer.
"Well, something like that." He said, tilting his head to the side. For a moment, they simply watched each other before he turned.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"Leaving." He told her, looking over his shoulder. "My task is done." And then he walked down the street to where three dark figures were waiting. One was most definitely Karin, the other Juugo, and then there was a third one. Tall and hooded and Sakura felt dead hope rise up inside of her. An impossible, dreaded, killer of a hope that she knew would break her. She took a shaky step forward and the hood moved towards her and she froze. Sakura would swear over and over again that she saw a flash of red before they disappeared. One second they were there – and the next, they were gone. Sakura took a step to where they were, and then another, before she stopped herself.
"Stop it," she said out loud. "Do not do this to yourself." Sakura took a step back and then she turned away. "You saw his body. He's dead." And then she ran, as fast as she could, rushing through the small village all the way back to her building. She exploded into her apartment, slamming the door shut behind her and fall back against it, breathing heavily. When she opened her eyes something seemed to click together for her. It was 3AM. Which was impossible. She'd arrived at the bar close to midnight. She couldn't have stayed there for more than thirty minutes, and her talk with Suigetsu hadn't even been for ten minutes. So, how? How had she possibly lost all that time? Sakura didn't want to think of it – but only one thing seemed optional. The flash of red. Sakura slid down against the door, leaning her face into her hands.
"He'd dead." She whispered heavily. "Don't. Don't do this to yourself."
But she did. Sakura stood, wiping her tears before going into her bedroom and pulling on her travelling clothes. Shizune had come to them in the forest that day – at the Valley of the End. And Shizune connected to Tsunade. It wasn't much to go on, but right now, for Sakura, it was enough. She left within the hour and set out back to Konoha.
Sakura had told herself to turn back many times, but she never did. She walked in through Konoha's gates right before nightfall, with the Hokage waiting for her at the gates.
"Sakura-chan! This is a surprise."
Sakura smiled tightly and nodded. "I had to see Tsunade-sama."
Naruto nodded. "Medical stuff, huh?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"I'll walk you to the hospital."
"An escort by the busy Hokage himself?" Sakura joked, nudging him with her elbow and Naruto flinched but laughed good naturedly.
They caught up on the way there, and Sakura tried to ignore the anxious knotting in her stomach. Naruto, it turned out, was a wonderful father – he adored his children. One didn't have the Byakugan and was the spitting image of her father, but both his sons had gotten their mother's jutsu. When they arrived at the hospital, Naruto insisted Sakura spend the night at the Hokage mansion – if only to see Hinata and the kids and she accepted before he went off.
Sakura took a deep breath before entered the Konoha hospital. Now, its size shocked her after being used to smaller spaces. The nurse at the front desk greeted her and told her where she could find the head medic.
Sakura headed up the stairs to the administrative floor, where Tsunade's office had always been. The door was closed and from beneath the door, Sakura could see that the lights were off. She knocked twice, loudly and listened. Something moved inside and she heard Tsunade grumble. The light flipped on and then the door was ripped open so hard it nearly came clean of its hinges. The fifth, who had been ready for some kind of angry snap, stilled. Her face going from anger to shock.
"Shishou. May I come in?"
Tsunade smiled slowly, before pushing the door open and going back to her desk as Sakura followed, closing the door behind her.
"So, to what do I owe this surprise visit?" Tsunade asked, folding her arms together on her messy desk.
"Is there a possibility that Sasuke-kun is still alive?" Sakura said, her eyes steady on Tsunade's face that seemed to smooth out immediately and stay blatantly emotionless.
"You saw his body, Sakura." There was a hint of impatience in her tone.
"I did. But it's possible, isn't it? It's in his character. It's something he would do." Sakura insisted, her eyes pleading desperately with her shishou.
Tsunade held her eyes for a moment before looking away. "Yes," she said finally, "It is possible and entirely in his character to fake his death." And then Tsunade's eyes moved back to Sakura's. They were hard – clearly stating the subject was closed.
Sakura nodded slowly, letting the information seep in. "I see. Thank you shishou." And then she turned for the door.
"Even if it's possible, Sakura. You can't spend your life looking for someone who wants to be invisible."
"I know," Sakura said softly, and then she left, closing the door behind her. But she didn't leave – she leaned on the wall next to the door and closed her eyes.
That was as much of an admission as she was ever going to get, and if it meant anything – it meant that Sasuke was alive. The thought was almost unbearable.
Tsunade cursed loudly from inside the office and Sakura heard something shatter against the wall. Soon, she left the hospital.
Sakura returned home the next day with a strong resolve. If Uchiha Sasuke was alive – and he loved her – he would have found her years ago. But he didn't. And life went on. She had assumed life would be easier, knowing that he was alive. It wasn't. In fact, it was harder. It had been easier for her to accept he was dead, than for he to accept that even after everything that happened – Sasuke had chosen to forget about her. Suigetsu's visit stayed at the back of her mind for a very long time and nearly another year passed and Sasuke didn't come, and Sakura nearly gave up that he ever would. Until that night.
"Sakura-san! Come on, just one drink." Kotoko complained on another Friday night late shift.
"Not tonight, Kotoko-chan." Sakura told her as she was gathering her things.
"But next week for sure?"
"We'll see." Sakura laughed and Kotoko huffed and complained that Sakura was no fun. "I'll see you on Monday, Kotoko-chan."
"Hai, hai." Kotoko said in mock anger and waved Sakura off.
The walk to her apartment was short, and the full moon lit up the streets. Sakura walked up the steps and to her apartment door on the third floor. It was unlocked. Sakura's hand hesitated on the doorknob before she threw the door open.
The apartment was dark and she couldn't see a thing. The curtains were closed in the main room. Sakura tried the light switch. Nothing happened. She stepped inside, throwing her bag in the corner and closing the door behind her. She knew her way around well enough not to bump into furniture. Sakura stayed deathly quiet, listening – but there was no sound. Softly, she padded over the carpet. Feeling her way forward, until her hands hit something solid – not a wall – a chest.
Hands gripped her wrists and yanked her closer. Sakura fought, lashing out, but she was restrained easily – pinned to the wall.
"Sakura." He breathed into her ear and Sakura sagged, her legs giving in, but he spun her around. His mouth slanting over her's. His hands moving over her, pulling her closer, into him.
Sakura was crying as she shoved him away and through her bedroom door. Moonlight shone in from the window and finally she saw him. He was older, in a very noticeable way. And fuck, still so, so beautiful.
"Sasuke-kun…" the words didn't leave her mouth, but her lips shaped his name. He stepped towards her again and Sakura held out her hand, tears slipping from her eyes.
"You…You let me believe you were dead!" she cried, swinging a punch out at him. Sasuke dodged and pulled her into his arms. Sakura thrashed wildly but he held on and eventually she stilled. Crying silently into his chest for a long time. He said nothing, he kept her in his arms.
"Leave," she said hoarsely.
"Because when I wake up you'll be gone."
"Not if you come with me."
Sakura pulled away from his chest. "What are you talking about?"
"I've come for you, Sakura."
"You let me believe you were dead."
Sasuke dragged his lips up her neck. "Come with me."
"Why? Because the great Uchiha Sasuke demands it?"
"Yes." He murmured, kissing her jaw. Sakura felt herself shaking. "There's no one else I want – but you. Will you come, Sakura?"
Sakura stared at him. She'd hated herself for the doubt she felt about him, blamed herself even. Could she take the risk now?
She took his face in her hands, "Yes," she whispered, before she kissed him, and Sakura felt him smile against her lips before pulling her into him. And Sasuke took her to bed. Reminding her of everything she'd lost and everything she was getting back. And Kami, how much she loved him. They moved together, as if they were never apart. But what she felt was new, completely new. This time it was different. With her, now, Sasuke was raw. His emotion fueling his every move.
"Did you miss me?" she whispered after.
"Do you love me?"
Sasuke didn't hesitate this time. "Yes, Sakura."
Sai walked into the Hokage's office and Naruto, taking one look at Sai's posture, told everyone else to leave.
"What is it?" Naruto asked, getting up from his desk.
"You were right, he came for her." Sai said from beneath his ANBU mask.
"When?" Naruto demanded, coming around the desk to face his friend.
"What happened?" Naruto's heart dropped, knowing what was coming.
"They left before sunrise. I couldn't find any way to track them."
Naruto swallowed heavily. "That will be all, thank you Sai. Take a break."
Sai hesitated, patting Naruto's shoulder before he turned and left.
The Hokage returned to his desk, sitting down and taking his face into his hands.
A while later the door opened, but Naruto didn't need to look to know who it was. His wife pushed his desk away from the table and sat down on his lap.
"What is it, Naruto-kun?"
Naruto leaned his head on her chest and Hinata smoothed back his hair. "Sakura-chan is gone. He came to get her."
"He?" Hinata asked, shocked and Naruto nodded.
"She'll be happy, Naruto-kun, with him."
Naruto looked up at her and Hinata cupped his cheek. "He'll protect her."
Naruto kissed her then. "Thank you, Hina-chan. I love you."
"I love you too. We'll have Ramen for dinner. Come on."
"I knew there was a reason I married you."
Hinata gave a hum, slapping his shoulder gently before following him out.
Years later, a woman stood on the beach, a shinobi, and now – a mother and a wife. Her long pink hair blew in the summer breeze. A small, dark haired boy, running through the sand on her left and a girl, also dark-haired but with her mother's apple eyes was building a sand castle.
Hands, warm and large wound around the woman's waist then.
"I was wondering where you went." He said lowly to her and she turned her head to smile up at him.
"The kids wanted to play outside."
"Really? The kids or you?"
"Me?" she scoffed, "Who would I play with outside?"
He lifted an eyebrow before throwing her over his shoulder easily.
"Sasuke-kun!" she squealed and he carried her into the water and promptly threw her into it.
She regained her balance and glared at him. It wasn't very effective.
But she was happy. She didn't miss her old home, the village hidden in the leaves. At times, she missed her friends, but he was enough for her. Sasuke-kun had always been enough.
Then Uchiha symbol on the dress she wore, Uchiha Mikoto's dress, stuck to her back as she threw water at her husband angrily, but still managed not to get any water on him. And he too, for the first time in a long forever, would admit that he was happy. With her.
That's it. The end of Stand by Me.
I just wanted to thank everyone who stuck by me through this story. Everyone who reviewed. I can't express how thankful I am.
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Hope you guys will give some of my new fics a try too!