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Sai watched the scene unfold before him with an artist's eye. Sakura looked very pretty as she sat across from the ever stoic Uchiha, her outfit an obvious attempt to impress him. They'd been sitting at the restaurant for a while and he'd spotted them from his window seat across the street within the library. He was just finishing up his drawing of the kunoichi and the Uchiha when he saw Naruto walking down the street. The blonde stopped dead in his tracks when he saw them having dinner together.

He flipped the page quickly and sketched Naruto, trying to capture the lines of strain around his ink blue eyes. It was an expression he'd worn for a while now; whenever he spotted Sakura and Sasuke together, whenever he was with Hinata, whenever he saw the color pink.

He didn't like drawing Naruto like this. He didn't like drawing Sakura with her current anxious expression, either.

"The library is closing." The elderly woman informed him softly, gesturing to the door.

Sai stood and nodded, finishing his sketch carefully.

"Thank you." He exited the library.

No, he didn't like drawing his friends like this at all. He really needed some new material. It was only for artistic purposes, he told himself, as he set his impromptu plan in motion.

As a child who'd grown up without a family or friends, a child spurned by his entire village, Naruto had had a lot of time—and reason—to fantasize about softer things. He wondered about how it might have felt to have a father ruffle his hair and show him amazing jutsu. He wondered how it might have felt to have a mother lift him up and smother him with kisses just because.

He fantasized about the kind of love his parents had had between them.

He'd wondered if he could have anyone love him.

He'd wondered if anyone could ever fall in love with him.

He watched Sakura sit at the table with Sasuke from across the street, the cold night making his jagged breaths fog. She looked beautiful—but she always did—and nervous. She was wearing her best outfit, something soft and frilly and silky and scarlet. The color clashed starkly with the bottle green of her pretty eyes, but brought out the blush in her cheeks. Her pretty pink hair was tied up in something really elegant and complicated and she had pulled out all of the stops and he wondered if Sasuke saw how hard she was trying.

Her outfit fit the fanciness of the restaurant, as did Sasuke's. He allowed himself a pained, rueful smile. He'd never be able to dress fancily, much less pull off a fancy outfit in a fancy restaurant with fancy food and china. Sasuke could, though, without even really trying.

He inhaled deeply again, shutting his eyes. How long had he loved Sakura?

Since he'd first laid his eyes on her as a boy, enchanted by her candy colored hair and leaf green eyes? Since he'd seen the way the other children had made fun of her forehead? Or the first time he'd seen her cry her little heart out and it had cut up his insides?

It was a bit cruel, he knew, that when a girl had managed to fall in love with him—something he'd dreamt of for years—he hadn't been able to feel a thing. Why? Why? Hinata was beautiful, and gentle, and kind and brave and yet when they'd gone for walks and held hands he'd only felt terribly out of place. What was he supposed to say? He needed to dress nicer, he knew, maybe take her to better places then just ichiraku. Of course she never said so, never demanded more of him then what he was, or looked down at him the way the Hyuga clan mostly did. It was odd, the way he could do anything (pick fights, show konohamaru his newly advanced sexy jutsu) without being scolded yet felt as if he couldn't do anything because he felt so unsure around her. Could he make jokes without making her feel awkward? It always took her a bit too long to laugh, and it always sounded forced. He monopolized the entire conversation because she was so quiet and their silences were heavy and thick and smothering.

And she was beautiful and kind and gentle—

And he felt nothing.

It was as if Sakura had burned him all up and now he was left grasping cold ashes.

Sakura's eyes sparkled as she told Sasuke something, throwing her head back and laughing at her own humor.

Sasuke only continued to eat silently.

He saw her face crumple for a split second before she blinked it away, fiddling with her chopsticks.

He stepped forward involuntarily, then clenched his jaw and locked himself in place. He'd had a very thorough talk with Sasuke after his imprisonment. He'd said everything and anything he'd had bottled up inside of him since he'd left. Yelled at him, punched him, cried and pretended that he wasn't. Sasuke had been oddly accepting of his unleashed fury.

When he'd calmed down and finally sat across from Sasuke, he'd asked him for two things and two things only.

Promise me you won't ever betray the village again Sasuke. And…promise me you'll make her happy.

Sasuke had nodded.

And it had both torn him apart and relieved him.

He wanted her to be happy more than anything else. He wanted her dreams to come true. It didn't matter if it screwed him up in a thousand different ways every time he looked at her; because she'd be smiling, right?

But she wasn't smiling right now. He wasn't keeping his promise.

And he was gonna kick his ass the next time they were alone.

They both stood and left the restaurant swiftly, bundling into their jackets as they walked down the street. He noticed Sakura still held a chopstick between her fingers. She did that often, Naruto thought affectionately; twirled a chopstick or ink brush between her fingers when she was nervous or started talking his ear off about her medical cases and research topics, her gaze turning inwards. He'd never minded of course—it gave him a chance to really look at her without her becoming flustered or shaking her fist at him and calling him a pervert.

It was her rough handed way of expressing her shyness. And he found it unbearably adorable.

They shrank as they drifted into the distance.

Sai walked out of the library two buildings down.

Ignoring the sharp ache in his lungs and throat, Naruto ran towards him. "Hey, Sai!"

Sai looked at him with a smile, snapping the sketch book in his hand shut. "Naruto."

It was freezing, and night time, and out of the blue but he didn't care; needed the distraction desperately.

"You wanna spar?"

Sai frowned a little. "Now?"

Naruto nodded and grabbed his sleeve, dragging him down the alley. "Now."

They left the small restaurant quickly, huddled into their scarves and sweaters as they walked beneath the pale moonlight. She tucked her hands into her pockets, her breath huffing out in a foggy cloud. She smiled a little and spoke through her nervousness.

"Have you ever smoked, Sasuke-kun?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Neither have I. When it was really cold sometimes Naruto and I would get chopsticks and press them to our mouths and blow out our breaths like this—"she blushed a little as she pressed her stolen chopstick to her lips and blew, producing a smoke like effect "—and we'd pretend we were smoking. We felt very grown up." She giggled to herself, watching Sasuke's face expectantly.

He frowned at her a little.

She bit her lip in consternation, feeling a bit stupid now. When she looked back up at him she saw the way his dark eyes had latched onto her mouth. His gaze darkened as he focused on the way she chewed her lip, the intensity a bit frightening. Her pulse skipped and she looked away, releasing her lip quickly. She wrung her hands together.

Why was she so blasted uptight? They boy of her dreams was walking her home. He'd taken her to eat. He'd stared at her mouth. She should be squealing with delight.

So why did she want nothing more than for the night to end?

Why did everything feel so very wrong?

They'd reached her door and she fumbled a little. "Thank you for dinner and for walking me home, Sasuke-kun." She opened it—gasped a little when he gripped her elbow. She looked up at him helplessly.

He scowled a little at her reaction, releasing her as if she'd burned him. "It's cold." He muttered.

She felt her knees shake. Sasuke wasn't very eloquent. Or, rather, he was, but he never talked much and when he did you had to strain to understand what he really meant.

And now, he meant he wanted her to invite him in. She had before of course, had been pleasantly happy when he'd accepted.

But it was late and she felt jumpy and confused and she really wanted to be alone.

He watched her astutely. "I'll go."

"No!" She opened the door wider. Why was she acting so ridiculous? "Come in, Sasuke-kun. You can warm up a little before you head home."

He hesitated but stepped in nonetheless. She shut the door behind them and shrugged off her sweater. He tossed his jacket on the back of a chair, his black long sleeve emblazoned with the Uchiha symbol. He sat on her couch—right smack in the middle of it.

Oh dear.

"Would you like some tea, Sasuke-kun?"

He shook his head.

She swallowed. He was watching her expectantly. Since he was sitting in the very center and she only had one couch she had to sit on it. She really had no other choice but to sit beside him. Sasuke did everything deliberately, every move discreet and calculated. He'd done this a few times before and at times it had felt very intimate and stifling. Once she'd almost been sure he was trying to kiss her and she had had the same reaction she was having now.

She panicked.

"Let me make myself some tea." She walked into her kitchen and took several deep breaths. As she filled the kettle with water she spotted the tiny ink mouse hiding between the salt and pepper.


He'd done this before—she'd screamed once or twice when she'd seen something small and black scurrying across her floorboards. She knew he was lonely sometimes and so she'd indulged him. It was his very odd, awkward and endearing way of keeping an eye on her and Naruto and Kakashi. She had, however, punched him once when she'd found a mouse in her shower.

Artistic purposes.

She huffed a little as she grabbed the small mouse and turned her back to Sasuke, and very discreetly, scratched a small message into its belly. She'd had the sneaking suspicion Naruto might have given Sai the shower idea, but he'd given her that puppy dog look of innocence and she'd drowned in those blue eyes.


They'd been more than a little strained since Sasuke's return. Shouldn't they have been happy? Shouldn't they have all been together?

But she'd seen the torn up way he'd looked at her and Sasuke when he thought she wasn't looking. She'd felt the pain echo within herself, and it had taken everything she'd had to stop herself from reaching out to him. Sasuke had lingered around her more than usual, to her complete surprise—along with everyone else's—and it seemed that every time Naruto spotted them together he had somewhere to go, something to do.

He'd tried some times, to stay and simply talk and laugh with them. It had been easy at first but as the days had passed the look in his eyes had gotten heavier.

And then she'd seen him eating ramen with Hinata.

And her world had crashed down around her.

The kettle began to screech and she started, finishing her message. She put the mouse back down quickly.

She looked behind her quickly to make sure Sasuke hadn't seen. He still sat with his elbows propped on his thighs, his hands folded beneath his nose. She smiled at the familiar pose and turned back to the kettle.

"Are you sure you don't want some tea, Sasuke-kun?"


She whirled when his voice came from right behind her—would have dropped the kettle if he hadn't caught it, his other hand catching her wrist. He lifted her curled fist as he placed the kettle down, gently uncurling her fingers.

The tip of her index finger was coated in thick black ink.

She held her breath and waited for his response.

He grabbed a small shuriken from his pocket and reached out slowly, piercing the small mouse a bit cruelly.


"What's going on, Sakura?" He held her wrist still, refusing to let her tug away. "You've been distracted."

And that was all it took. She felt the tears spring into her eyes and clenched her jaw a little helplessly, bowing her head in shame. She was tired of holding herself together when she kept falling to pieces, tired of pretending everything was okay when everything felt so awfully twisted. She'd wanted this, hadn't she? She'd wanted Sasuke. He hadn't stated it but it was clear in the way he kept taking her to eat and the way he always walked her home, the way he made it a point to make conversation with her.

He was trying to be with her. Romantically.

This was what she'd wanted.

Wasn't it?


She shuddered again. "I don't know." He was holding both her wrists gently now. "I've loved you for so long, Sasuke-kun but now that…now that it's happening I feel…"

It took her several moments to gather her voice and he shifted back imperceptibly. Of course he'd noticed her awkwardness. She'd kept using pretexts for them to hang out with other people, kept inviting Sai over when Sasuke was in her apartment, had even once clung to Lee. He hadn't said a word but Sasuke wasn't a fool. He must have seen the way she'd looked at Naruto, hadn't he? How could anyone miss the pain that tore at her when he was so close but so distant?

"You love him."

She shook her head fiercely as the tears came. "I don't know. I just know I miss him. I just know seeing him with someone else feels like I swallowed poison, makes my insides feel like ice. I'm happy if he's happy, I'm happy we're still friends but…"

He looked down at her grimly. "But you love him."

She nodded now. "Yes. I'm in love with him." She tried to tug her wrists free. "I feel so screwed up, Sasuke-kun. I miss him. I want him to smile at me the way he used to. He always made me feel so happy. He always understood me and made me feel so much lighter. We used to be around each other all the time and now…"

Very slowly, Sasuke released her wrists. "Aa." He stepped away and pulled on his jacket stiffly. "Good night, Sakura."


He shut the door quietly behind him.

She sat at her kitchen table and curled her arms over her head.

Sai blocked a fierce kick from Naruto, skidding back in a crouch. He was about to retaliate when his small ink bird flew over his head. It was about time. Naruto had been wearing him down with his endless energy. He held up a pale hand to ward off Naruto's incoming punch.

"Look." He pointed up at his bird.

Naruto squinted up at the night sky with a grumble, not seeing the bird at all. "You want to look at the stars?" He shrugged and scratched the back of his head. "They're kind of pretty."

Sai held up his arm as his bird landed gracefully. He read the words that appeared on the back of its wings quickly.

Sasuke is here again. Please hurry.

He'd known it was only a matter of time before she'd sent him a message. He'd seen them walking to her home. She'd been doing that a bit often of late. She'd tried to explain that she simply needed someone to help diffuse the awkwardness but if he'd learned anything of social etiquette, it was that usually he added to awkward situations. He'd always felt a bit nervous showing up at her doorstep, sitting with Sakura and Sasuke in stifling silence. Sakura would give him discreet, thankful, relieved looks while the Uchiha would mostly scowl at him.

Hadn't Sakura claimed to love him? If he'd read correctly most newly formed couples wanted to be alone together most of the time.

So why was she constantly searching for people to put between them?

"Sakura always looked up at the sky a lot." Naruto suddenly murmured, his large blue eyes still locked onto the glittering stars above them. "I never really understood why. Sometimes she'd smile, sometimes she'd look really sad." His throat worked. Sai made a mental to note to draw him like this later. "But I guess I never got why she looked up so much because instead of looking up with her I'd just look at her."

Sai dismissed the bird with a tiny frown creasing his brows. No, he didn't like their expressions of late at all. "I need to leave."

Naruto began to whine. "But we just got started."

Sai nodded. "You can come with me, if you'd like? Sakura seems to need my assistance again."

Naruto straightened with sudden, knife-like intensity. Sai watched him inscrutably. "Is Sakura-chan in trouble?"

Sai watched him for a moment. Naruto was sunlight incarnate. He was bright and open and friendly, if a little rough around the edges. He always drew him with bold strokes and bright colors.

Just like Sakura.

But lately that brightness had grown a bit dim within Naruto. It always flared up, however, whenever Sakura was mentioned or she appeared. If he were to draw Naruto and Sakura together, he would blur everything around them, and draw them with sharp, stark lines, their energy focused intensely between them.

When he'd drawn Sakura and Sasuke together, it was only Sakura who'd been burning bright, while the brooding and close mouthed Uchiha had sort of been blurred in with the surroundings.

Naruto had burned bright as he'd watched her.

"Sai," Naruto prodded, his voice roughening. "What's wrong with Sakura-chan?"

Sakura had asked him not to tell anyone of their little agreement. But he'd also learned that keeping secrets from your friends was considered a betrayal.

Naruto was also her friend, wasn't he? So it should be okay to tell him. He knew it was necessary to execute his self-imposed mission.

He watched Naruto carefully as he spoke his next words. "Sasuke is over at her place again."

He saw the flicker of pain contort the corners of his bright blue eyes, saw the way their brightness instantly dulled. "Oh." He looked away quickly. "Why does she want to see you then?"

Sai shrugged, feigning indifference. "I've yet to truly understand that. I simply know she doesn't like being alone with him and uses me to keep a distance from him." He'd sort of liked feeling useful. He liked that she depended him not as a shinobi or tool, but as a friend. He even liked how she fussed over him.

He supposed he understood why Naruto loved her.

"She doesn't like being alone with Sasuke?" Naruto repeated the words slowly, as if they were in a foreign tongue.

Sai shook his head as he packed his things. "Perhaps she still believes he'll betray the village?"

Naruto shook his head instantly. "No. That…doesn't make sense."

Sai silently agreed. The Uchiha had complied with every restriction and shackle placed upon him without a qualm. It couldn't be more obvious that he was trying to make amends. Particularly with Sakura. "I've done this quite often for her." He straightened. "Sometimes she cries when he leaves. I don't really know how to calm her." It had bothered him, seeing her so distraught. He'd often wished he could be a better friend. But he knew who could brighten her up again.

Naruto's fists clenched. "Is he being mean to her?"

Sai wondered. He didn't think so but perhaps Naruto needed a bit of a push. "Not to my knowledge."

Naruto nodded grimly. "Let's go see Sakura-chan."

They'd just about gotten there when they came face to face with Sasuke. The Uchiha's black eyes observed them both impassively. They lingered on him for a moment too long, and Sai cocked his head in curiosity. Sasuke had never given him a second glance before.

Naruto spoke quietly. "Hey, Sai, you go check on Sakura-chan. I want to talk to Sasuke for a second."

Sai hesitated for a moment, looking between the two astutely. "Are you sure?"

Naruto nodded. "We're not going to fight."

This might work to his advantage if he acted quickly enough. He nodded and left around the corner, then quickly performed the hand seals to transport himself to Sakura's kitchen.

She was still wallowing in her misery when there was a sudden puff of smoke, several of her kitchen chairs toppling over simultaneously. She was on her feet instantly, lacing her clenched fist with chakra.


"Shannaro!" She swung her fist—realized a split second too late it was Sai's face she was about to crush—pulled back her chakra as quickly and barely skimmed his chin.

He flew into her dining room anyway and slid across the floor. But it could have been worse—much worse—and she was thankful she'd pulled her punch.

She ran over to him and cupped his face between her hands, healing his broken jaw immediately. "Sai—what the hell were you thinking? Suddenly transporting yourself into a shinobi's apartment is asking to get killed!"

He eyed her tear streaked face inscrutably. She blinked, suddenly very aware of how pathetic she probably looked. She finished healing him and scrubbed her eyes. "I'm sorry."

He stood. "I'll keep to knocking on your door from now on."

She laughed a little to herself—gasped when Sai pulled her towards him, tossing his sketchbook onto the floor, a few loose sheets fluttering about them.

"Sai—what are—why are you—?"

"Hold on." He wrapped his arms around her back and performed the hand seals once again, transporting them both back around the corner of the alley.

This was a lot of trouble for his artistic purposes, he mused.

He hoped they made it in time.

"Sasuke…what's wrong with you and Sakura?" The words felt like glass on his tongue but he forced them out nonetheless. "You were supposed to make her happy."

Sasuke looked away stoically, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his shoulders hunched in a little. "I've been trying." He shrugged carelessly.

He felt his temper rise. "Yeah, well, try harder." He clenched his hands into fists, hiding them in his pockets. "She's loved you for a long time, Sasuke. You've made her cry enough."

Sasuke looked at him with an unreadable expression. "She loved me."

Naruto nodded stiffly. "Yeah. So go back to her right now. Fix it. Make her happy."

"I can't." Sasuke tried to walk past him.

Naruto grabbed the back of his jacket and hauled him back bodily. His throat was aching and he felt more than a little shaky but he managed to speak calmly. "I asked you to make her happy, teme." He shut his eyes. "You said you would."

Sasuke was silent for a few moments. "Well I can't. Now get off me."

Naruto only tightened his grip, gritting his teeth when his voice broke. "Please, Sasuke."

Sasuke went still in surprise.

"Please go make Sakura-chan happy." He was begging, he knew, but it was worth it if it worked. She was worth it and more. "She's loved you for so long."

Sasuke shoved Naruto away. "She loved me, Naruto."

"I know."

"She doesn't anymore."

Naruto blinked at him owlishly. "What?"

Sasuke stuffed his pale hands back into the pockets of his dark jacket. "She doesn't love me anymore. That's why I can't make her happy. She's in love with someone else."

He felt a little more than blank. "Sakura-chan is…in love with someone else?"

Sasuke nodded. "Aa." He looked away again. "She's in love with Sai."



They both turned at the sound of Sakura's voice. Sakura and Sai stood next to each other, Sakura looking flushed and weepy. She was still wearing her decadent red dress, the elegant up do she'd worn straggling a bit. Her bottle green eyes were comically huge in her pretty face, her shock making her soft pink mouth part.

She didn't have a sweater on. He could see the chills raking across her bare arms. Sometimes he forgot how beautiful she could look, how it knocked the wind out of him. It was obvious that she'd been crying, though.

He focused back on the conversation they were all having and couldn't keep the whiny tone out of his voice. He'd tried so hard to help Sasuke and Sakura and for—"You're in love with Sai?"

Sakura blinked rapidly. "I—I'm in love with—" She looked at Sasuke now. "You think I'm in love with Sai?"

Sasuke frowned but before he could speak Sai did.

He cocked his head at Sakura. "I always thought this might happen. I've been told I'm very pretty and mysterious."

She glared at him dangerously. Even Naruto felt himself sweat a little at that familiar, thunderous expression. "Not now, Sai."

Sai nodded. "Very well. I thought love came after one agreed to date." He cocked his head again. "Is that what we've been doing?"

Sakura blushed vividly, her fist clenching. "I will punch you again, Sai, and this time I'll leave your jaw broken."

Sai held up his hands in surrender.

"You're in love with Naruto." Sasuke said suddenly, softly.

Everyone became dead silent.

Naruto laughed a little awkwardly, scratching the back of his head as the pain ripped through him. "Shut up, teme." He looked at Sakura, felt himself being pulled into those glittering green eyes. He forced himself to smile at her. "You love Sasuke right, Sakura-chan?"

He saw fresh tears spring into her eyes and it felt like a knife in his gut. "Sakura-chan..?"

"Sai," Sasuke suddenly called. "Come with me."

Sai paused for a moment, grasping Sakura's shoulder. "Would you like me to leave you?"

She scrubbed her face miserably, nodding.

He walked towards Sasuke. "I'll come." He scanned Sasuke critically. "How did you come to the conclusion that Sakura loved me?"

Sasuke only gave Naruto an impassive look then turned away.

Sai followed behind him curiously. "Has anyone ever drawn you?"

Sasuke didn't answer as they walked away and left them alone.

Sakura was shaking for a multitude of reasons. She was cold for one, her thin dress completely inappropriate for this time of the year. She'd been crying over her disaster of a night with Sasuke and over the realization that she really was in love with Naruto and then had been violently rattled when Sai had decided to swiftly appear in the middle of her kitchen.

He hadn't even given her a warning—or a chance to grab her sweater—before he'd transported them to the alley around the corner of her home.

And then he'd clamped his hand over her mouth and gestured for her to listen.

And she had.

And it had broken her into a million pieces all over again.

Naruto had asked Sasuke to make her happy? He must have done it when Sasuke's life was no longer in danger—must have done it because he'd seen how worried she'd been.

Please, Naruto's voice had cracked with emotion as he begged Sasuke. Go make Sakura-chan happy. She's loved you for so long.

And Sasuke had muttered something but there had been a ringing in her ears and she hadn't really shifted back into her body until she'd heard Sasuke tell Naruto that she loved someone else.

Oh no.

She tried to move but Sai restrained her—and she'd been about to smack him away when Naruto had asked Sasuke…

And then she'd held her breath. He was going to tell Naruto that she was in love with him. This was bad—very bad. How would he react? He hadn't reacted very well when she'd confessed the last time but he'd known it had been forced. How would he take it now, coming from Sasuke himself?

Would he be happy? Would he say he didn't feel the same anymore?

She's in love with Sai.

She went blank.


"Sai?" She'd shoved Sai off and stepped into the alley, looking at two boys in utter shock.

They looked at her in surprise. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was a little proud that she'd been able to sneak up on an Uchiha and future hokage—but she realized that they'd essentially caught her eavesdropping and she'd blown her cover.

And the way Naruto was looking at her in her dress was making her feel breathless. Did anyone else ever look at her like that?

Naruto had asked her again—but she'd only looked straight at Sasuke, trying to understand how someone so intelligent could be so very mistaken. "You think I'm in love with Sai?"

His eyes had narrowed at her and she could almost see his sharp mind work quickly. She understood how he'd come to the conclusion because Sai had been the buffer she'd used the most. She had refused to use Naruto as a buffer, Lee was too much to handle, Ino would ask too many questions and most likely embarrass her, and Kakashi might as well have been invisible behind his lecherous books.

He'd seen Sai's ink mice scurrying around her apartment on more than one occasion, had sometimes raised a pretty brow at them.

He'd never stated a name. You love him.

She'd thought he'd meant Naruto.

He thought it was Sai.

But now that he'd seen his mistake, he quickly pieced everything together.

"You love Naruto." He'd said quietly and she'd felt the blood drain from her face.

And Naruto had laughed incredulously, looking baffled and tortured.

And now they were alone. She wrapped her arms around herself and shut her eyes.

"It's okay, Sakura-chan." Naruto unzipped his sweater and walked towards her. He pulled it around her shoulders snugly. She sniffled a little, shivering as she was enveloped in his familiar warmth and scent. "I know Sasuke was lying."

She gripped the edges of his sweater tightly. How many dangers had they faced together? How many times had they almost died? How many years had they grown together?

Why was this moment so much more terrifying than anything she'd faced on a mission?

"He wasn't."

Naruto's arms dropped away from her. "You really do love Sai?"

Her anger helped stem her tears as she glared up at him. "I love you!" Panic gripped her but she forced the words out. "I'm in love with you, Naruto. I don't know when it happened but I've realized it because I've been panicking every time me and Sasuke-kun are alone and I miss you and you've always made me feel so happy and I want to make you happy, I want to make sure you eat right and clean up after yourself and I want to take care of you but I saw you with Hinata and I understand—how could I compare with how long she's loved you, with what she's done for you, and she's beautiful and kind and gentle and elegant soft spoken and everything I'm not and I know that it's too late and I'm okay with it but I just—" She inhaled shakily. "I just want you to be happy. You deserve happiness. I know she'll make you happy. I just wanted you to know that I fell in love with you. I'm sorry."

She couldn't breathe, couldn't look at him—only felt his silence like it was wrapping around her heart and squeezing. She refused to cry again, biting her bottom lip until the pain dried her damp eyes.

She still remembered that day in the snow, how she'd forced a confession she'd thought wasn't real—how much it had hurt when he'd denied it. It made her feel every dark insecurity that had ever gripped her and she knew, knew, he was going to deny it again.

"I'm sorry." She breathed again. She tugged the sweater off her shoulders and shoved it into his chest. "Here."

She left around the corner without looking back.

Unknowingly, Naruto's thought process had uncannily followed Sakura's. All they'd needed was a little snow and an audience and it would have been almost the same.

No, Naruto thought. This was unmistakably different.

She didn't have a reason to lie now, did she? Sasuke had returned to the village. He'd been giving Sakura attention, asked her to have dinner with him—which he knew was Sasuke's icy way of asking for a date. She had Sasuke in the palm of her hand. She could claim his heart.

And she was in love with him?

Naruto blinked rapidly as she removed his sweater from her shoulders and shoved it at him. She'd looked like a child, sniffling in his too big jacket, her small hands clutching it. He'd liked it—seeing her in his clothing, he realized. He could almost pretend that it marked her as his.

But she'd taken it off and now she was walking away from him. He tried to say her name but his voice wasn't working—his brain was hardly working.

The girl he'd loved since he could remember loved him. She'd confessed to him and she'd meant it. It had been just them and she didn't love Sasuke—or Sai—or anyone else. She loved him.

Sakura loved him.

Her words kept ringing in his cold ears.

I'm in love with you, Naruto.

I don't know when it happened

You've always made me feel so happy

And I want to make you happy

I want to take care of you

How could I compare

She's beautiful and kind and gentle and elegant soft spoken and everything I'm not

I know that it's too late

I just wanted you to know that I fell in love with you

I'm sorry.

His feet finally moved and he ran after her with the sound of his thrashing heart deafening him—but she was already gone.

If there was one thing she'd always been complimented on it had been her bookish intelligence. Looks like the impressive size of your forehead holds an impressive brain, Ino had jibed more than once. She pushed her window open and stepped into her kitchen, eyeing the mess. Her chairs were tipped over—one was broken. Numbly, she lifted them right side up and propped the broken one up against the wall. She shuffled into her paper littered living room.

Yes, she'd been called intelligent.

But she felt so humiliatingly stupid.

She sank to her knees and scrabbled clumsily over her floorboards with icy fingers, examining Sai's drawings as she gathered them.

She remembered this one.

She and Naruto and Sasuke had challenged Kakashi for the bells for old time's sake. Sai had sustained an injury to his left leg so he'd sat it out and sketched them. She hadn't really paid attention to what he'd been drawing—he was always drawing. It was like watching Kakashi read.

He'd drawn them after they'd gotten the bells, captured the warmth and happiness of the memory. Kakashi's eye was crinkled up and he had his hand affectionately atop Sasuke's head, Sasuke's self-indulgent smirk perfectly drawn and balancing out his glower. Naruto had his head thrown back in laughter and she had as well, but their eyes had connected, the look intimate and sincere.

She shuffled through several more drawings.

He drew them all eating at ichiraku, her medical book sprawled out over the counter, her finger touching her chin as she spoke thoughtfully. She had probably been rambling about a case and boring them to death—but Sai had paid extra attention to drawing Naruto's expression. He was watching her ramble with a peculiar expression; his eyes were wide, almost awe-struck, his tiny smile reverent and proud and loving.

The next two sheets were freshly drawn—the ink rubbing off on her fingertips. They fit together like a puzzle, oddly, and she splayed them on the floor before her. He'd drawn her and Sasuke at the restaurant, caught the way she'd fiddled with her chopsticks and napkin. He'd drawn her surroundings curiously blurry, their lines light and smudged. He drew her sharply, crisply, her nervousness piercing through the drawing.

She aligned the next sheet beside it, saw that it expanded out from her and Sasuke to across the street—where Naruto was standing, fists clenched, as he watched them both with a heavy, tortured gaze. Sai had drawn Naruto in a similar fashion—blurring the buildings, the benches, the trees and street—while Naruto's lines had been drawn darkly, harshly, his frustration and pain palpable.

He'd been watching them?

She shut her eyes and shuddered, clutching the drawings to her chest.

Yes, she'd been called intelligent.

But she was really a fool.

"I've always thought you were pretty smart, Sakura-chan." She stiffened, turning to find Naruto standing behind her. She dug her fingers deeper into the drawings, trying to hide them from his gaze—but there were so many more, scattered everywhere. He stepped towards her then slowly sank to his haunches, his blue eyes shimmering curiously. "But even being pretty smart…" He wrapped his sweater around her shoulders. "Sometimes you can be really, really wrong."

She laughed waterily, blinking to get the blinding tears out of her eyes. He clasped her face in his rough warm hands, thumbing away her tears. She looked up at those sea blue eyes. He was sunlight and warmth and fierce protectiveness and klutzy and perverted and adorable and infuriating. He was loyal and unpredictable and unbreakable. Of course she'd fallen in love with him. "I love you."

His smile was slow and huge and beautiful. "I've always loved you, Sakura-chan." He inched closer. "I want to take care of you, too." His lashes lowered as his mouth hovered over hers temptingly, his cheeks flushing. "You're always beautiful."

His lips touched hers—she inhaled sharply, shutting her eyes, her fingers dropping the drawings to curl into his thick blonde hair. He angled his head over hers, his arms encircling her waist as he tugged her towards him, lowering onto his knees before her.

The kiss deepened slowly, tentatively, both of them unsure but willing, heat flaring up her belly with every shy sweep of his tongue. She mimicked him, letting her tongue tap his bottom lip—and pulled away when he made a soft sound low in his throat.

He clutched her to him reflexively. She peeked up at him through her lashes. "Did I do it wrong?"

He shook his head instantly, lifting a hand to touch a few straggling strands of pink hair. "No, Sakura-chan, it was…" He seemed to struggle with his words, tilting up her face instead. His kiss was firm now, sure, one hand clutching the back of her hair as his other lifted her up against him as he stood. She tip toed, lifting her leg to hook it over his hip—and suddenly he had her against the wall, his hips pinning hers tightly.

She breathed his name, her heart hammering in her throat as his mouth moved down her neck. His hands smoothed up her legs, skimming the up the sides of her thighs, clutching the scarlet fabric and bunching it at her hips.

She tilted her head back, wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. He nuzzled the strap of her dress off her shoulder, his hot breath singeing her cold skin. He pressed his lips to her collarbone, hesitating.


She knew what he was asking. She tightened her grip in his hair. "Yes."

He looked up at her, almost startled. "Yes?"

She blushed and averted her gaze, her words a muffled growl. "I said yes—"

He kissed her into silence, pulling her away from the wall. She kept her arms and legs wrapped around him.

"Naruto, what are you—?"

"Your bed." He pushed her bedroom door open with his foot, kicking off his shoes. He dropped them onto its surface clumsily, crouching over her. He smiled down at her. "I usually pictured this in my bed." His gaze turned inwards as he thought. "But now that I think about it your bed is much better. Mine probably has a bunch of crap on it." He looked around her room observantly. "Your room is much cleaner than mine re—"

She smacked him upside his head. "Get off!" She shoved at his chest, embarrassed and terribly shy. "Here I am getting all worked up and flustered and you're calm and cool enough to talk about cleanliness?"

He pinned her wrists against the bed, his smile much softer, alluring. He kissed her softly. "I'm getting you all worked up, Sakura-chan?"

Her blush intensified as she looked away, watching the way his large hands imprisoned her small wrists. "I'm not if you aren't."

He gave a rough chuckle, his mouth trailing over her delicate collarbones. "I can always tell when you're lying, you know." He nuzzled the fabric over her chest down insistently, and she shuddered beneath him. "I'm worked up as hell." He released her wrists, his fingers hooking into the front of her dress. He tugged it down, his breath roughening. "I can't really think straight." He kept pulling it lower. "I can't stop shaking." He gathered the red fabric at her waist, the material tightening stubbornly as he tried to tug it down her hips. His blue eyes were riveted on her bare chest and she reflexively crossed her arms.

The sound of cloth tearing cut into the air, and with another hard jerk the dress slipped away from her body. She squeezed her eyes shut, keeping her arms tightly wrapped around herself. She couldn't see him—but she could feel his gaze on her body like a touch.

His hot hands grasped her bare hips and she shivered. His lips touched the backs of her hands, dragged over her arms. "Let me see you, Sakura-chan." His teeth caught at her pinky gently. "Move your arms."

Slowly, shakily, she did, lifting her hands. He nuzzled her palm—foxlike—and slid his hands up her hips to grasp the sides of her ribs.

"You really are beautiful, Sakura-chan."

She peeked up at him tentatively.

He was looking at her as if she was made of gold. His bright blue eyes caressed her body lovingly, his expression rapt and captivated.

Still, she couldn't stop her nervous trembling. He pulled off his shirt swiftly, tossing it aside without breaking his gaze. He lowered his head and took her breast into his mouth roughly, suckling firmly. She whimpered a little, the sensation making her fingers curl into the sheets beneath them. His hands slipped beneath her waist, arching her body up for his mouth.

She clung to his hair, holding him to her—making a soft sound of protest when his mouth slid away and down her stomach.

"Naruto," She whined, clenching her thighs shut reflexively when his tongue dipped into her belly button.

"Just hold on a little, Sakura-chan." He kissed her hip, then moved lower, smiling at the way she jerked away. He ran his fingers through the seam of her shut thighs coaxingly. "Let me." He breathed again.

Shakily, she parted her thighs. She loved him. She trusted him. His mouth breathed against her intimately.

She looked at his head buried between her thighs, his blue eyes sparkling mischievously. His hands hooked beneath her knees, sliding her legs over his broad shoulders. "You can get mad at me later." It was the only warning she received before his mouth pressed against her and the white hot pleasure made her mind go blank.

It wasn't long before she was half-mad, muffling her sharp cries beneath her damp palm. Still, he drove her up brutally, until she was on the very edge. He pulled away then, kissing back up her stomach, latching onto her breasts soothingly. She could feel him struggle to remove the rest of his clothing, his haste making him clumsy.

She parted her thighs as he slid his hips between them, felt his length press against her. His eyes locked onto hers, his hand clutching her now loosened hair, the other holding her leg spread apart. Slowly, gently, he pushed into her.

She gave a breathless cry as he filled her, his mouth muffling the sound between them. Her nails dug into his muscled back, the sharp ache between her legs taking her by surprise.

"I'm sorry." He mumbled against her mouth. "I'll hold still."

She shook violently beneath him, tried to relax her body. He kept giving her mouth, face and shoulder soft soothing kisses, murmuring for her to relax, that he'd take care of her, and eventually the pain subsided. That and well, her amazing chakra control did help.

She clenched her muscles around him tentatively—and he gave a soft groan, shutting his eyes. He hunkered down over her, his large hands gripping the sheets beside her head in his fists.

She shifted beneath him and he muttered a soft curse. "Sakura-chan…wait…I'm trying not to hurt you." He was trembling now, and she rather enjoyed having him under her thumb.

"It's okay." She nipped his bottom lip. "It feels good." She shifted again to emphasize her point, and he broke.

He moved against her slowly at first, but his thrusts deepened and quickened, his face buried in her throat. Every stroke pushed the air out of her lungs, and she was trying to be quiet but his mouth parted her lips insistently, his tongue sweeping into her mouth.

"Don't," He growled. "I want to hear you." His hand crept between her thighs, his fingers circling her roughly as he quickened his thrusts.

She couldn't quite bite back her cry, his inky blue eyes watching her raptly. He slowed the harsh caress of his fingers, rubbing slowly.

Her heart thundered in her ears. She arched her neck as the pleasure gripped her, felt a little panicked at the intensity. "Wait…"

He smiled at her—why was he smiling?—and twisted his fingers into her, making her moan his name.

"Relax, Sakura-chan…I told you didn't I?" He angled his hips and suddenly the pleasure broke through her. "I'll take care of you."

He muffled her breathless sobs against his mouth as the sensations washed over her, her nails raking down his back, his own orgasm tearing through him. He groaned and bucked against her, his hands gripping her hips hard enough to bruise.

"I love you." He bit out against her throat, shivering, and she held him tightly, murmured her own love words against his ear as his heartbeat slowed. "I've always loved you." He whispered quietly, kissing her nose.

She smiled shakily, letting him pull her onto his chest as he flipped them over. She pressed her cheek against his sweaty chest, and it was several minutes before they could catch their breath.

She was already feeling sleepy.

"Good night, Naruto."

He ran his fingers through her pink hair tenderly. "Good night, Sakura-chan."

As much as Naruto had grown, emotionally and mentally, one thing that hadn't changed was the unnatural amounts of energy he possessed. He'd tried to fall asleep and let Sakura sleep on his chest—she had a little snore, and her cute little mouth was hanging open, and he was sure he could watch her forever—but he was a young man, and young men needed to eat.

He shifted beneath her restlessly, trying to get out from underneath her. He'd been thinking about producing a clone but that would be much too noisy.

He shifted her to her side—and she woke instantly, looking adorably confused and muddled. "Wha—?"

He kissed her helplessly, felt his heart soar at the thought that he could kiss her whenever he liked now.

He may or may not rub that in a little with Sasuke.

"Naruto." She whispered, her smile small and a little unsure.

"Sorry." He touched the seal on her forehead with a fingertip. "I got hungry."

She rolled her pretty green eyes, looking sexily flushed as she stretched. He watched her arch her back, cat-like, felt the heat stir in his blood again. She saw the look he gave her and suddenly her hands reached up to grab at his cheeks.

"Sakura-chan—what are you—?"

"I've always wanted to touch your whiskers." She confessed with a mischievous grin. She released him. "Ever since I first saw you."

He looked at her a little timidly, wondering if he should. "I've always wanted to do this."

He moved over her, gently brushing his lips over the seal on her forehead.

She smiled up at him, her cheeks burning with a blush. "You've always wanted to kiss my forehead?"

He grinned down at her as he repeated the same words he'd told her all those years ago. "Your forehead is so wide and charming." He brushed another kiss over her skin. "It makes me want to kiss it."

Her sparking green eyes went saucer wide, and she blinked up at him owlishly. "You—it was—?"

He pulled away from the bed and tugged on his boxers. "I'm gonna make us some ramen."

He left her flustered and stuttering and blushing, his grin nearly splitting his face in two.

Sakura mulled over this newly revealed information a little blankly.

Of course it had been him.

A large bird fluttered by the window, blocking out the moonlight.

An ink bird.


Frowning, she stood, pulling the sheet around her as she pushed the window open.

She'd almost forgotten Sai had left with Sasuke. The bird lifted its talon, holding a large curled up sheet of paper. She took it and unrolled it as the bird flew away.

Another drawing?

Oh no.

He must have had another ink mouse here somewhere, because he'd drawn her and Naruto in bed. It wasn't anything lewd, really, but it was still terribly intimate. She really didn't know how long she'd stayed asleep on his chest but it had been long enough for Sai to draw them in that position. He'd captured her peaceful—and open-mouthed—expression, as well as the loving way Naruto caressed her hair, his smile content and elated and blissful as he watched her sleep.

It was a lovely drawing. It was one she'd cherish for the rest of her days.

Of course that wouldn't prevent her from smacking him and telling him her bedroom was off limits—and asking Sai why the hell he'd been spying on them, but she already knew the answer he'd give her, could even picture his happy smile as he spoke.

Artistic purposes, of course.