A/N: I am back after almost a whole year of absence. I have nothing to say for myself, no excuses to give, but I really want to thank you all for the lovely reviews you left me. I received some criticism, so I made some slight changes to this story (barely noticeable, but still significant), I hope for the better. I think I like it better now than how it was written before. I hope you will, too! Though, I doubt that you will remember the previous version. After all, a whole year is a lot of time.

Because this epilogue is my present for you, it's filled with lovey-dovey scenes, so I hope you will forgive me for Sasuke's OOC-ness. :P

Okay, I will now stop rambling and let you read this story's closure.

This chapter was not revised by a beta reader. Please, forgive me for any mistakes you might encounter!

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto!

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Claimed Innocence

Epilogue

Ino was restlessly pacing in the living room of her apartment. She couldn't forgive herself for being so rash in her decisions, but most of all she berated herself for having such confidence with her own assumptions.

Her mind was in disarray because of what happened in the course of the last week. The fact that Sakura was nowhere to be found and the Uchiha was closed off in his own apartment was definitely a bad sign.

Gilt was eating her up on the inside for days. She desperately wanted to set things right between them both and take full responsibility for her own actions, but she couldn't think of anything.

At the very beginning, Ino saw her idea as the perfect way for bringing Sasuke and Sakura together. Yet, now, it became obvious to her that she never had the kind of control she thought she had over her own plan.

After hours of incessant worry, she finally thought of something. It might've been a small step in her mind, but at least it was better than drilling a hole in the living room with her pacing.

She instantly ran out of her apartment, but once she reached the front of the Hokage tower, a hopeful feeling enveloped her whole.

She swiftly ascended the steps toward the main office and knocked loudly on the door.

"Come in!" came a loud holler from inside the office.

Upon hearing the commanding voice that belonged to Tsunade, she did not hesitate to enter. "Tsunade-sama, may I have a word with you?" she inquired, strong resolve latched to her tone.

"Shoot!" the woman urged by waving her hand in an encouraging way. However, she did not lift her eyes to look at her.

"Did you send Sakura on a mission?" the girl instantly asked, not wanting to delay the problem any longer.

Ino had her attention then. She was silent for a long moment, before answering in a nonchalant way, "I did. Why do you ask?" Her inquiry was meant to fuel the lie she and her apprentice planned. After all, she already knew of what happened in the past weeks, but was unwilling to interfere until Sakura came to her with the request.

"I wish to talk to her," Ino said, feeling slightly defeated. '...desperately.' With that thought she looked at the ground.

Tsunade regarded her with small amount of sympathy. However, she couldn't help but think that this might teach the blonde girl a valuable lesson. With that thought in mind, she decided to proceed with the deceit. "Well, then you'll have to wait. She won't be back for another month," she spoke softly.

"What!? Did you say a month?" Ino's eyes rounded in shock, but once she was past that faze, she began to panic on the inside.

"Sakura asked for an elongated mission and I granted her wish," the busty woman explained.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed, her thoughts running a mile. She didn't have to think long to be able to fully grasp the meaning behind Sakura's rash decision. The worry she felt before was nothing in comparison to how she felt at the moment. It was obvious that her best friend was really hurt and she couldn't help but blame herself for it.

Tsunade noticed the discomfort in her expression, so she asked, "What's the matter, Yamanaka?"

"Nothing, Tsunade-sama," she answered, her tone hesitant. 'Just that I did a very big mistake.' As that thought flashed through her mind, she was already out of the office.

A small affectionate smile lifted the corners of Tsunade's lips. She strongly supported Sakura's decision to deceive her best friend as a punishment for what she did. But, she sincerely hoped that the outcome would be much greater ― that it would benefit both girls and that their friendship would become even stronger than before.

In the meantime, Ino was in a rush to reach Sasuke's place.

Once in front of his door, she knocked on it, hoping that she would find him at home. She waited in vain, for there was no answer.

"Sasuke Uchiha!" she yelled, while at the same time strongly rapping her fist on the door. "I know you're in there."

Still, no answer came from the inside.

She decided to be persistent, by hollering strongly, "Sasuke!" There was no sign of any kind of movement, but she yelled one more time out of desperation. "You better open this door right this second or I'll make you regret it!"

She waited a couple of minutes, before admitting defeat. "Damn," she muttered. 'Nothing seems to be working.'

Nevertheless, a new form of resolution came to her mind, so she decided to try it out.

"I guess desperate times call for desperate measures," she said to herself, as she decided to visit their best friend. She realised that he was most probably the only person that could help her solve the mess she created.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*

Sakura was heaving a very pleasant morning. Waking up right next to Sasuke was definitely even better than she imagined. The dark sheets tangled around their naked bodies were proof enough that she was indeed laying in his bed, something she thought impossible just a couple of weeks ago. Deciding to enjoy every moment of it, she snuggled closer to his chest.

She was stirred from her lovely daydream when he adjusted his hand on her waist, strengthening his grip. He surprised her yet again by speaking warmly, "Good morning," letting her know that he was aware that she was already awake.

"Good morning, Sasuke-kun," she greeted back, a small smile grazing her lips.

She turned to look at him and she was greeted with his thoughtful stare directed at her.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked shyly.

"Hm..." he murmured, but not a moment later dismissed her question, "No reason." He averted his eyes, but his expression did not change.

"Don't lie to me, Sasuke," she urged him to be honest with her. "You seem thoughtful, like something's bothering you."

He couldn't resist, so he decided to share his thoughts, "No, I'm not bothered. It's just that... I don't know how to say it."

"What is it?" she urged him further. "You know you can tell me anything."

He turned to look at her with his deep onyx eyes. "Sakura, I was thinking about us," he spoke truthfully, after a whole minute of silent observation. "You already know that I'm in love with you."

"And, I in you," she said through a smile.

The look in his eyes suddenly became serious. "There is something I want to ask you, but first I'd like to know what you truly want." He took a calming breath before silently encouraging himself to finally ask what was on his mind. "Are you happy with me by your side?"

"Of course I am, Sasuke," she admitted honestly. But, with the profound look in his dark eyes he urged her to continue. "I am beyond happy at the moment, so I could never ask for more."

"Sakura, I... I actually want more," upon seeing the questioning look in her eyes, he felt the need to explain himself, so he continued, "...more than this."

"Sasuke-kun, are you saying that...?" she began, but he interrupted her by satisfying her curiosity.

"I want to be by your side forever. I want to keep you safe, to love you and care for you," as those words left him, he looked at her in a way that made her heart flutter. "I want us to be a family."

Her heart melted on the spot upon hearing his sweet confession. "Sasuke-kun..." she lovingly smiled at him.

"Will you marry me, Sakura?" he finally asked, his eyes never leaving hers.

"Yes!" she exclaimed, flashing him with a bright smile. "Yes, yes, yes!" She showered him with kisses, making him smile in return.

"I love you," he whispered in her ear. He felt the need to say it at least one more time. Ever since his first confession he told himself that he had to say it at least once more.

"I love you, too, Sasuke-kun," the response flew from her mouth as warmly as a summer's breeze.

He kissed her and they were instantly entangled in a passionate embrace.

However, not long after, they were interrupted by a strong knock on the front door.

Sakura pulled away from him with the intention of getting up, but the grip he had on her waist stopped her from moving away from him.

"Ignore it," he said simply, trying to kiss her again.

Despite her wishes, she put a finger to his lips and complained, "It might be something important."

"Sasuke Uchiha!" Ino hollered from outside his apartment. "I know you're in there."

"Hn," he grunted in response, dismissing her previous statement. "Obviously not." He leaned in to kiss her, yet again.

His actions made her giggle.

But, her best friend seemed persistent. "Sasuke!" Her yell was louder this time and quite desperate.

"Urgh... I can't continue like this," the pink-haired girl growled in frustration, trying to pull away from Sasuke.

"Just forget about it," he tried convincing her otherwise, his lips already working their magic on her.

They heard a row of consecutive bangs on the door. "You better open this door right this second or I'll make you regret it!"

Sakura managed to detach from him, exclaiming, "Sasuke-kun... please!" Even if it was not her intention to open the door, she still couldn't ignore her best friend's desperate attempts at setting things right. She felt a bit sorry for making her feel guilty.

"Fine," he said in defeat. "I don't like her at all, even if she's your best friend," he added, sounding utterly annoyed.

Salura could only smile in return, but admitted, "Well, she has her quirks, but I love her nonetheless."

"I'm still mad at her for what she did," he said seriously. He then asked, his eyes holding disbelief, "And, you... how could you do it?"

"Did you see the whole thing?" she bashfully asked, blushing in embarrassment.

"Hn," he grunted, sounding a bit displeased, but for an entirely different reason than she initially thought.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke. I promise that I'll never do such a thing again," she promised.

A smirk grazed his lips. "If it's for me, you might as well do it." He lifted an eyebrow in a suggestive manner. "But, you better make sure you won't do it in front of others."

A strong blush dusted her cheeks. "I can't believe that you are actually jealous," she teased playfully.

"I'm not jealous," he blatantly denied, averting his eyes, not wanting to give away his true feelings.

"You obviously are," she persisted, her green eyes glinting mischievously.

"There's nothing to be jealous of," he outright confessed. "I made sure that none of those men watched you dance."

His words shocked her. "What?" She looked at him suspiciously. "What did you do, Sasuke-kun?"

"Nothing much..." he tried evading her question, but it was proven to be a futile attempt.

She was not very pleased to see him try to find an escape route. "Sasuke!" she pointedly pushed for him to speak.

He shifted uncomfortably under her strong gaze. "I put them under a genjutsu," he admitted, sounding almost inaudible.

"You did what?" she practically screeched accusingly.

"It was Kakashi's idea," he defended quickly, but on the inside he was grateful for the help.

"That's completely irrelevant!" she said seriously. "Have you any idea what you sacrificed?" She was beyond irritated at his foolish decision.

"Of course I know, Sakura," he coolly replied, placing his hand around her shoulders.

She looked at him with disbelief in her eyes. "How can you be so nonchalant? You could have lost everything... your shinobi status above all else."

"I said... I know!" he pointed out, before looking at her with a firm look in his eyes. "Sakura, at that moment I did not care about anything else. I realized that you are more important to me than my shinobi status."

"Oh, Sasuke-kun," she breathed in exasperation. "I never thought that you were this foolish."

"Don't be annoying, Sakura," he spoke irritably.

She was ready to retort back, but he never let her, for he planted his lips on hers.

"Mhm..." she moaned in response.

He then rolled over her, his thoughts drifting in the obvious direction with having her naked body beneath him.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*

Ino had to knock three times on the door of Naruto's apartment, before he finally decided to open it.

"Ino!" he exclaimed upon seeing her standing at his front door. "What are you doing here?"

She moved past him by inviting herself in, "Let me come in first." However, she was welcomed by a ghastly sight that took her completely by surprise.

Naruto rolled his eyes in exasperation at the way her eyes scanned every corner of his living room. "Did you come to make an inventory of my stuff or did you need something else?"

"More like inventory of your trash," she admonished, giving him a reproaching look.

He was not offended, because his living habits were part of who he was. Not having parents to take care of him had a strong impact over his whole life.

"You know, Naruto... if you don't start cleaning up your place, even Hinata will give up on you," she added, knowingly.

"For your information, Hinata-chan and I are already dating," he said, rather smugly, a huge smile brightening his face.

To say the least, Ino was beyond surprised. Of course, she knew that they both had a thing for each other, but she didn't think that things would progress this fast.

Naruto, upon seeing her eyes rounded in shock, decided to grant her with a bit more information on the subject. "We had our first date last week."

"Congratulations, I guess," she congratulated, but her tone was not as cheerful as was usual for her. She had an important matter that needed her utmost attention, so she decided to finally talk to him about it. "But, back to the reason why I'm here."

"Finally," he admonished. He really wanted her to leave him alone, so he can return to his much needed sleep.

"I want to know if you had the chance to talk to Sasuke," she spoke, her tone filled with guilt.

"No. He refuses to talk to me," he lied expertly, not even a hint of an expression on his face. He decided it was not enough, so he poked further, "Why are you so worried? Is your conscience starting to clear up after all this time?"

Her eyes turned stern. "Naruto, I'm serious."

"So am I, Ino!" he said honestly. "You really should have found a better approach if you wanted to bring them together."

"I have no idea what went wrong," she spoke truthfully. All this time she wanted to find someone else to blame, but deep down she knew that it was her fault. "I messed everything up."

"It's good that you finally admit it," Naruto said, suddenly feeling a bit sorry for her. At that moment he decided to later tell Sakura that it was time to stop with this act and tell Ino the truth. After all, it seemed that they proved their point; a whole month would be an exaggeration.

"What am I going to do?" Ino desperately asked. "My plan obviously backfired. Sakura is out of the village for a month, Sasuke refuses to come out of his house. All I did was mess things up." Her expression turned sad.

"My suggestion is to think seriously about what you did. Then, you can explain everything and apologize," he stated simply, his advice sincere.

She nodded and agreed wholeheartedly, "I guess that's the only thing I could possibly do."

"It is," he said. "Now, leave. I'm getting hungry and besides... you ruined my sleep."

"Fine, it's not like I want to stay here," she admonished. "It's like a junk yard."

Naruto paid little attention to her words, for he was smiling in mere satisfaction. He really thought that she deserved to be punished a bit, because matchmakers weren't supposed to be so darn cruel.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*

Sakura was at the training grounds, watching a spar between her fiancée and Naruto. She wanted to take a break today, so she decided to enjoy herself as a mere spectator of their brawl. Sai was on a mission and Kakashi was late per usual, both circumstances adding to her convenience.

However, she didn't have to wait long for Kakashi to finally make an appearance and bring some flavour to the lovely morning with his part of the story about Sasuke's genjutsu tactics during her dance act.

"So, you gave him the idea?" she conclusively asked.

"I just gave him an advice," Kakashi corrected, amusement colouring his tone. "It was Ino's idea. And, all Sasuke needed was a little nudge in the right direction."

She loved how he seemed completely satisfied with the result it had. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei," she spoke honestly, feeling appreciative that she had him to rely on. "You're the best." She realised, his role as her sensei would last forever, which was something that would always make her feel grateful.

"If it wasn't for him, I would have done it myself. But, since he had the motive, I just enjoyed the show." His last words were spoken in a teasing manner.

"Kakahsi-sensei!" she whined in reproach.

He put his hand upon his chest, and spoke honestly, "Don't worry, Sakura-chan. I saw nothing."

As she smiled in return, he ruffled her hair just as he did many times while she was still a Genin. It brought nostalgic thoughts to the forefront of her mind.

Their fond exchange was interrupted by Ino's loud call, "FOREHEAD!"

Upon turning to look in the direction from where the yell came, she spotted her blonde friend angrily stomping towards their resting place. She hollered accusingly, "I heard all about your little lie."

Sakura exchanged a knowing look with Kakashi and said in an almost tired way, "Oh, no. Here it goes," preparing herself for the onslaught of anger.

"Good luck," he said in return, his eyes crinkling affectionately.

When Ino finally stood above her, staring her down with narrowed eyes, Sakura greeted her cheerfully, "Hey, Ino!"

"Don't you 'Hey, Ino' to me." She pointed her finger at the pink-haired kunoichi. "Do you really think I deserved you to treat me like that?" she asked with disbelief.

Sakura lifted her shoulders as in stating the obvious and said honestly, "I think you deserved a small punishment for your wickedness."

"But, it obviously helped you get Sasuke," Ino defended heatedly.

Sakura stood up, the look in her eyes turning serious. "Yes, and I am very thankful for it." She hugged Ino warmly in thanks, with it mellowing Ino's anger. Once she backed up, her expression changed into one of mischief. "But, my punishment was for the sake of the good-old fun you so vivaciously enjoy."

"Fun, huh?" Ino asked sarcastically, all of it directed at herself. She berated herself for being enough of a fool to fall victim to her own plans. However, she was at least decent enough to admit that she deserved it.

"Okay, fine, I admit it. My approach was wrong. I should have thought of a less drastic plan," she acknowledged. "But, for the record… I do not regret it one bit."

"Ino!" Sakura jokingly disapproved of her friend's words.

Then, Ino simply continued her previous statement, "…because it brought Sasuke and you together," a fond smile forming on her lips. "And, that's good enough for me."

Sakura gave her yet another hug, and confessed, "For the record, you really are my best friend and I wouldn't change you for anything in the world."

"Me, too," the blonde returned the affectionate hug. She loved how everything turned out so well in the end. Her plan was flawed, but only slightly, so it gave her immense satisfaction that it still gave great results.

"So, for the sake of our ever-lasting friendship… are you up for one last bet?" Sakura suggested.

"Nothing like the good-old fun, huh?" Ino asked teasingly.

"That's right," she answered through a smile.

"So… what are we betting on?" Ino finally asked, her whole body exuding excitement.

"Well…" Sakura started.

Let's say that as of that moment their betting games received their epic finale.

And, Ino finally learned a valuable lesson ― that cloud-watching in the company of a certain lazy bum was on another level of fun.

Or, maybe she was taught more than one lesson, because in the end she also learned that lazy did not always mean incapable of satisfying a woman in need.

But, that's a story that must be told at a different time, because it doesn't belong in this one.

As far as this story is concerned... it already had its happy ending.

THE END


A/N: Thank you for reading, lovely readers! :) And, thank you for sticking until the end of this short story! It means a lot to me that you at least gave it a chance. However, I am most thankful that most of you enjoyed it despite the many flaws it had.