Author's Note:

Giving the NaruSaku route another try…

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(Sakura's POV)

I spent so much time focusing on Sasuke that I never noticed all of the hardships that Naruto had to endure. It wasn't until he went away for his training with Jiraiya that I realized how much he had become a part of my life. I was so happy to have him back, but I had made a promise to myself that I would be the one to protect him from now on—starting with Akatsuki.

I spent those years becoming stronger with Tsunade; I endured a lot, but each time that Shishou would knock me down, I would find the strength to continue; because Naruto had never quit. My hardships were nothing compared to the life that Naruto had led; all his life he had sought the approval of the citizens of Konoha. An orphan with no bonds, that is, not until Team 7. The loss of Sasuke hurt him deeply and his determination to save Sasuke was not only for himself but to see me happy again. I feel guilty when I think about that…all the times Naruto has been hurt, trying to fulfill that promise. The promise of a lifetime, that's what he called it.

I've spent a great deal of time with Tsunade and I realized when Jiraiya died that her relationship with him mirrors my own with Naruto at times. She thought that no one could hear her sobs, but always working late gave me a front row seat to her sorrow. I don't want to live my life with that regret; my feelings for Naruto should be known, I owe him that much.

I've made so many mistakes, confessing my false love to Naruto for the wrong reasons and hurting him. So much time has elapsed since then, but the way he looked at me when he answered me, was heartbreaking. He looked at me as though I were the biggest liar and he; he was the biggest fool for ever thinking that I would love him.

So I want to be able to tell him that I respect him; I'm thankful for knowing him and that my life wouldn't be the same without him. He doesn't have to be alone anymore…

My gaze shifts to him; he's leaning against a tree, the glow from the fire's light casting shadows over his sleeping face. We're alone on a mission for Tsunade Shishou; the night air is cool and I don't seem to be able to sleep. Maybe it's because of our current mission or because when I can't sleep my mind wanders.

I pull my knees close to my chest, wrap my arms around my knees and rest my chin. I'll never let anything happen to you, Naruto. You don't need to watch out for me anymore, let me share some of the burden. I was cruel to you all those years ago and I know that I can never fully atone for being so childish, but I would like to think that I could someday make it up to you.

I can be content with that I realize, smiling to myself as I watch you so still and quiet for a change. But this is a side of you that I enjoy. You look at peace and the weight of the world is off your shoulders; you have no burdens, there's no Akatsuki, no Jinchuriki, it's just you and me, under the stars and in this place.

I'm not sure how long it's been since I was lost in thought but Naruto's movement catches my attention.

"Sakura-chan?" He questions me leaning forward with a smile on his face, his blue eyes dancing in the firelight.

I smile contently, "Hm?"

"Aren't you tired? You should have woken me," He lets out a yawn and stretches briefly.

"No, I was just thinking," I admit, "I was thinking of all the times we've spent together. We've been through a lot, you and me."

"You're right, we have," He agrees, "It seems like yesterday we were Team 7, doing Kakashi's bell test while he read his dirty book."

I laugh quietly, "Those were good times. I miss them."

"Ah, but Sakura-chan, we have had some good times since then too," he informs me, with a look of remembrance on his face, "We both got trained by two of the three legendary sannin. We beat Kakashi sensei by teaming up and became his equals. We even met that bastard Sai, who turned out to be an ally."

"You've also learned a lot about yourself, especially where you came from," my eyes soften, I'm glad that Naruto knows that he was loved.

"It's the best knowing who my parents were. Being the fourth's son only makes me want to be Hokage more to make him proud," he looks so determined.

"I know you can do it, Naruto," I encourage him whole heartedly, before adding with a teasing voice, "After all, if you don't then our team will look bad."

"Can't have Kakashi Sensei looking bad," he agrees with a chuckle.

"He can do that on his own by reading those dirty novels."

With both share a laugh and I realize that it would be so easy to be with Naruto. I wouldn't have to change for him; he's always accepted me as I am, even when I didn't deserve him.

"Naruto, promise me something."

"Anything Sakura-chan," he responds to my request without any hesitation—I could be asking him to jump off a cliff and he'd be ready to comply.

I sigh, "When you become Hokage, be happy…find the perfect girl and be selfish every now and again because you really do deserve it."

He contemplates me words for a moment and then laughs, not just a small laugh, but he carries on and I'm afraid that he's going to give away our location to any potential enemies. I quickly move and place my hand over his mouth.

"Baka!" I exclaim, trying to keep my voice low, my face flushing, "What's so funny?"

He gently takes hold of my wrist and lowers my hand before apologizing, although there's no sincerity in his voice, "Sorry Sakura-chan, you were just so serious that it made me laugh. That whole bit about me finding the right girl and settling down was just too much."

I lean back, crossing my arms over my chest and looking away, rather embarrassed by his response, "And why is that so funny?"

When he answers, his tone is serious and when I look his way I sense embarrassment in his actions, "Because honestly, Sakura-chan, who am I going to settle for?"

I turn my head to face him and I notice unease in his blue eyes, he sits crossed legged, his shoulders forward and focusing on the fire before him.

"Baka, when you're Hokage you don't have to settle for anyone," I inform him rather sharply because I'm still a little angry about his earlier response.

"That's not what I mean," his voice trails off and when it returns it sounds smaller than before, with less conviction, " I want to be with someone that I know, not just any girl."

I take the bait, "How about Hinata?"

He laughs but it sounds hollow, "Hinata-chan is nice...and I'm not surprised you would think of her."

There's a but that settles between us.

"You know…" I begin, now I'm the one who is unsure, "it's only because Hinata has always been true to her feelings. She even was brave enough to admit to you that she loved you."

He accepts the prompt, "That's true, but you can't force feelings," he nervously rubs the back of his head, "What I mean to say is, Hinata's great and all—

I hesitate but I take a deep breath and then take hold of his hand, "I understand. It's like me with Sasuke-kun. What I wanted was never meant to be. I know that now because…"

"Teme was always crazy not to realize how lucky he was," interjects Naruto as I feel my eyes widen at what I'm about to do next, even if it goes badly, I can just knock him out and then deny the entire thing later.

"And I never realized how lucky I was to have you," there I've admitted it. He pauses for a long time and I'm not sure how he's going to react or if I'm going to have to follow through with knocking him out, but then he surprises me.

"Sakura-chan…when I met my father, he told me that he always knew that my mother was the one for him. He couldn't shut those feelings off, just like I haven't been able to for all of these—

I catch him off guard, I've caught myself off guard too, unable to control my emotions, I embrace him. I hear his breath hitch as he questions my actions.

"I don't deserve you," I murmur, "I'm wrong for you for so many reasons, but I can't stop feeling like I want to always be there for you and more than just a friend."

"Wr-Wrong for me?" He's completely taken back, I can tell it in the tone of his voice and I feel him apprehensively putting his arms around me as if I were something untouchable, "Sakura-chan, you've always been the one. I-I just…can't believe this is happening."

I can't believe it either. He's been through so much emotionally in his life, and even if this were a mistake, I could never break his heart. I'm just sorry that it took me so long to tell him.

We stay in silence until I feel his hands on my shoulders, and he gently pushes me back holding me at arm's length, before leaning forward and kissing my forehead. I sit quietly at the kindness of his gesture but then I feel a nagging at my brain and try to push the scowl from appearing on my face, as a memory of Naruto impersonating Sasuke when we were younger pops into my mind. He told me then that he would like to kiss my forehead. Luckily for both of us the memory puts me in a good mood because I realize that this must be something that he has always wanted to do…without the risk of ending up in the hospital.

He sighs for a moment and rests his forehead against mine, "I could do that forever."

And because I wouldn't be me without a smart ass remark, "And you can, as long as it's not in public; or I'll kill you before your dream can become a reality."

Public displays of affection will not be tolerated.

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