There she stood at the front gates of Konoha, it reminded her so much of that first time Naruto had gone after Sasuke, but the first time he had help, this time he was going by himself without help. It made Sakura feel scared on the inside knowing that he could end up coming home like he did the last time or even worse, not at all.
At the moment Sakura was clutching her arm which had been severely injured on a previous mission thanks to a rogue nin, but thankfully Naruto was able to rescue her before he could cause her anymore damage, but she didn't care about how she was at the moment, right now she was concerned for the safety of her teammate.
"Please Naruto! Don't do this! Think of what would happen if you go by yourself!"
Sakura pleaded to him not to go, it also reminded her of how she spilled her guts out to Sasuke exclaiming her love for him, but in the end all she received from him was a whispered thank you before he knocked her unconscious, leaving her on a bench. Naruto on the other hand could hear her plead for him to stay, but his mind was already made up.
"I know of the risks Sakura-chan, but I'm willing to take those risks so I can bring Sasuke back for you. I've told you before, it's my way of shinobi, I'll never go back on it!"
As always Naruto flashed her his trademark grin and thumbs up, but still it didn't help to lighten the mood. She didn't want him to go, she wanted him to stay here with her, she wanted to tell him to forget his stupid promise of a lifetime because she was already happy enough with him, but still Naruto was too stubborn to give up on his quest to bring Sasuke back.
At that moment something inside of Sakura snapped and without thinking she launched herself at Naruto squeezing him into a hug as she let out some tears, she had never cried like this before, she knew exactly why, but she was too proud to admit it at this time.
"You baka… you better comeback to me alive… because… if you don't… I'll never forgive you… because I'm nothing…"
Before Sakura had a chance to finish her sentence Naruto did something he would have never thought about doing either or at least not when he wasn't in a henge. He bend down and gently caressed Sakura's hair while giving her a kiss on the forehead, but what shocked her was what he said.
"Don't worry Sakura-chan, I promise… I'll comeback to you safely and when I do, you'll be happy because teme will be back… by the way have I ever told you what a large and charming forehead you have? I felt like kissing it."
Without another word Naruto gently let go of Sakura out of their embrace. He gave her one last smile as he started walking out of the gates leaving her rather stunned by his action. For a moment it made her think back to all those years ago when Sasuke had supposedly said those same exact words to her.
He was about to kiss her on the lips when he seemed to freak out and ran away, but only to reappear a few minutes later dawning his usual emotionless look. Sakura watched as he passed right by her without as much as a word. He didn't give off that warm feeling he had before he left. It was at that moment that Sakura realized what really happened. Naruto had been the one to say those words to her, it shocked her quite a bit, but at the same time she let a smile escape her lips as she would confront Naruto about it when he came home.
As he disappeared into the distance there was a sinking feeling in Sakura's gut that she tried to ignore, but it wouldn't go away. Could it be that Naruto was walking to his death thanks to him keeping his promise to her or was it that Sakura's guilt of always belittling and beating up Naruto for no apparent reason were finally catching up to her? No, it couldn't be or so she told herself and could it be that she was actually falling for her blonde haired teammate?
She would have a talk with Ino about it in the morning. The next morning came fast for Sakura as her feeling of guilt had yet to leave her, but something much worse was boiling in the pit of her stomach.
Thankfully she had the day off and decided to go have a conversation with Ino to see if she could help her sort out her feelings. Like usual it wasn't very hard to find Ino as she was nearby at her parents flower shop. Ino noticed Sakura walking towards her and gave her a smile.
"Forehead! What brings you to my neck of the woods this early in the morning?"
"Ino… I just need someone to talk to that's all…"
Ino could see the look of worry on Sakura's face and knew right away it was about Naruto's solo mission to retrieve Sasuke since most of the others had heard about it.
"Let me guess forehead? You're feeling guilty about Naruto going out on this mission by himself and you're confused by your feelings for both of them right?"
"Wow Ino... you know me too well."
"Well, come on forehead, we've been friends for years now, besides I can read it just from your face."
"That's why I came to you Ino, do you think that I'm actually falling for Naruto instead of Sasuke?"
Ino could only smirk as she sat closer to Sakura.
"It's practically written all over your face forehead! You've definitely got a crush on Naruto or did you not notice how you didn't add the kun to Sasuke's name?"
Sakura gasped as she realized for the first time in her life, she had not called Sasuke by his affection name, but instead just addressed him by his name.
"Oh my gosh you're right Ino! I didn't!"
"Before you say anything else forehead consider this, Naruto has done so many things for you and never expected anything in return, now that's what I call a selfless person. You know forehead, people like that are hard to find nowadays. If I were you I'd confront these feelings you have for Naruto once he gets back, but what if he succeeds in bringing Sasuke back? What will you do then? Will you return to the fan girl you once were?"
Sakura was at a loss for words from what Ino was saying, sure she had never been the smartest one in class, but from the way she was carrying on right now, she seemed like the smart one. Ino did bring up a lot of good points. Would she just ignore Naruto again like she did and obsess over Sasuke once again?
"Honestly Ino, I don't know at this point…"
Sakura was on the verge of tears once again remembering what she had done to Naruto in their youth, like most kids her age she didn't understand Naruto that well and made fun of him because it was the supposed cool thing to do. It wasn't until the rescue mission to save Gaara that she had found out the truth about Naruto and what dark secret he held.
After thanking Ino for talking to her, Sakura decided to head home and think about what she had talked about today. The weeks wore on and still there was no sign of Naruto, it began to make Sakura worry. What if her biggest fears had come true, what if Naruto was dead lying in a field somewhere or captured by Akatsuki and had his tailed beast removed, the possibilities of what happened to him were great, but still Sakura held onto a small hope that he was still alive.
After another week went by Sakura started to get rather jumpy lashing out at her friends and even her family, all because Naruto had not shown up yet. Was Naruto truly that important to Sakura that she was nothing without him? No, she was just worried that he might be hurt badly along with Sasuke hopefully, but unfortunately her worst fears were confirmed when Tsunade sent out some ANBU members to go and look for Naruto.
Sakura was the first one to be called into the Hokage's office early in the morning. Sakura's heart was racing as she knocked on the door opening it to reveal a rather dismal looking Tsunade. Right away Sakura knew something was up as she spoke.
"Shishou! Please don't tell me… is Naruto…"
Tsunade didn't answer her back as she held out her hand to reveal something Naruto was never seen without, his headband. The usually clean and well kept hitae-ate was now a mess as the fabric was torn, the metal buckled and scratched up, but what caught Sakura's attention the most was the fact that it looked burnt, like someone had used a fire based justu on it. All of Sakura's feelings at this point began to well up in her as she denied it at first.
"No, no this can't be… Naruto promised me he would comeback safely… this has to be some sort of sick joke right shishou?"
Tsunade didn't answer Sakura as she could tell the Hokage was crying and she was a tough woman herself, it took a lot to make her cry.
Eventually it was all too much for Sakura as she finally broke down and began to cry slumping on the floor as she did.
"No! No! This can't be happening! Naruto was supposed to comeback in one piece! He always does!"
Sakura kept on crying as she soon found herself being hugged by Tsunade who gave her the comfort she needed right now, she continued to let the tears flow as she tried talking, but it came out choked.
"Shishou… I never… got to tell him… how much he meant to me… I never realized it until he left. Why didn't I admit it sooner?"
Tsunade could only hug her apprentice hoping that somehow she would move on from this, but unfortunately for the both of them right now it was going to be hard. Naruto pretty much kept the balance of things in Konoha and made life more interesting, but without him things seemed rather dull now.
"It's okay Sakura… you can let it out… I'll miss him too, hell all of the village will, but it's what comes with being a shinobi… he knew of the risks involved. I can only hope that he's found peace elsewhere…"
It all made perfect sense to Sakura now, she did indeed have feelings for her blonde haired teammate and all this time she thought it was just something she should have ignored, but the ache she was feeling in her heart was the emptiness she had felt when Sasuke left and Naruto had been there to pick up the pieces.
Naruto was like a part of her that was now missing and it could never be filled in. It had taken Naruto's death to finally make Sakura realize her feelings for him, but now he wasn't around to share those feelings with her and she had a certain avenger to thank for taking away part of her happiness once again.
The next few weeks were harsh on Sakura, dealing with the loss of a loved one and the fact that most of the villagers celebrated his demise. A ceremony for Naruto's death was held in private for all the rookie eleven. Everyone had a look of sadness as Naruto's name was added to the long list of people that had died in battle. Sakura had stayed behind the longest as she looked at his name now engraved in the stone. She allowed her fingers to glide across the smooth and cold surface of the stone as she cried.
"Naruto… why did you have to die? You weren't meant too… not like this…"
Sakura continued to sob as she fell to her knees not being able to hold it in any longer.
"Naruto… if you can hear me… I've always wanted to tell you this, but I was to stubborn to admit it, and it took your death to make me realize it… I love you Naruto Uzumaki! I always will, and nothing will ever change that! I just wish you could be here with me…"
As soon as Sakura was done she slowly got back up to her feet, allowing her hand to linger for a moment on his name and in her moment of grief she did not realize there was someone calling out to her, she thought it was her imagination playing tricks on her as she heard Naruto's voice, but she was to prefixed on the memorial statue to realize a hand touched her gently on her shoulder. She turned her head sightly to see who it was and nearly had a heart attack at who she saw.
In front of her stood the person she thought was dead, his bright blue eyes shined in the daylight, his blonde unruly hair was dirty, caked in blood, his clothes had rips and tears in it, but the best thing of all was when he gave Sakura his trademark smile and thumbs up despite his condition after which he fell to one knee barely able to keep himself up.
Without a word Sakura bend down and helped Naruto to his feet and to his surprise she embraced him in a hug while crying her eyes out, Naruto could hear her crying and thought she was upset that he was unable to once again deliver on his promise to her, he tried to speak up, but Sakura silenced him with her finger instead being the one to talk.
"Don't say anything about that silly promise, I don't care if you couldn't keep it. All that matters right now is that you're standing here before me..."
Naruto himself was quite embarrassed by Sakura's sudden actions, but he didn't seem to mind being embraced by his childhood crush and only smiled as he returned the hug while Sakura continued to cry, pounding him on the chest, calling him a baka. Although he had once again failed on his promise to her, Sakura didn't care. At this moment all she needed was him, because she just wasn't the same without him.