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CHAPTER TEN

"be of love (a little) more careful

than of everything"

- e.e. cummings -

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It's been a week since she and Sasuke made love in the meadow, and Sakura doesn't know what to do. She worries she could be pregnant, despite the great unlikelihood of this; all kunoichi are given birth control shots every three months, unless they specifically request otherwise. She fears that her mother will somehow know, just by looking at her, that she gave up her virginity. And most of all, she's afraid that Masami will find out about her betrayal.

Sasuke won't even look at her. When Naruto calls them together for lunch at Ichiraku, he skips their meeting without explanation, and whenever Sakura tries to talk to him, he brushes her off, saying he has to be somewhere.

Perhaps this should hurt more, but mostly she finds it frustrating. Sakura knows him. Sasuke isn't avoiding her because he regrets what they did together. He's avoiding her because he's afraid that if he doesn't keep away, it will happen again.

She carries on with her life. Sakura takes missions and trains and passes messages for the rebellion, trying to think of anything besides Uchiha Sasuke and the mistake they made. Her period comes and goes, and with it any fear of pregnancy.

Sasuke stops avoiding her as spring approaches, but he still doesn't talk about what happened between them in the meadow. She's too tired of this game of hot-and-cold to try to guide him toward a choice. Sakura can already guess how things will go, anyway: Sasuke will resist her until he breaks, and they'll end up trading touches in some illicit place. Then guilt will drive them apart—his guilt or hers, who knows?—and they'll end up dancing around one another all over again.

Team 7 celebrates their sixteenth birthdays in a quick succession of small parties: Sakura's in the spring, Sasuke's in the summer, Naruto's in the autumn. Sasuke even dances with her at the latter. And although they only share a brief, perfectly friendly embrace, she can feel his hands trembling on her waist, can see in his dark eyes that he's thinking of that day in the woods. The pleasure he found when she was tangled up beneath him, half naked and completely his.

She wonders if making love to her gave Sasuke a taste for more intimate things. His future bride would be only too happy to indulge him, she imagines.

Sakura excuses herself from the party and goes outside to get some fresh air. The garden behind Naruto's house has become a mess of weeds and untended flowers in the wake of Kushina's death. She takes a seat against the stone wall, pulls a pale purple blossom from its unruly bush, and plucks the petals from the stem with ruthless nonchalance.

"Why are you hiding out here?" Sasuke asks.

He doesn't sit beside her on the ground—no, he's too weak to test himself like that when they're alone. Instead, he stands before her, hands in his pockets.

When she's finished stripping the first unfortunate flower, she steals another from the bush and starts the process all over again.

"You're one to talk about hiding."

"Ah." He says it like he understands her all of a sudden. "You want to fight."

She tosses the ruined blossom to the ground and looks up at him, head tilted to the side. "How many months has it been since we had sex, Sasuke?"

He looks over his shoulder, because of course he wouldn't dare have this conversation where anyone might overhear.

"This isn't the place," he whispers.

She stands up, closing the space between their bodies until what's left of it is charged with heat and the force of her anger. "Are you fucking Masami now?"

Sasuke scowls at her and says, "No."

Sakura shrugs, as if it doesn't matter to her one way or another. "Maybe you save that sort of thing for me. She's probably too good to be used and thrown away like trash."

He pushes her against the wall and says, "Dammit, Sakura. Don't."

She's being mean, but she can't seem to stop baiting him. Her voice breaks when she says, "I bet you'll be gentler with Masami. Might even take the time to make her come. I guess I wasn't worth the effort." She swallows her hurt and adds, voice steadier, "Or maybe you just didn't know what you were doing."

She knows she's hurt him—and his pride besides—and still she can't make herself sorry for it.

Sasuke looks at her with such anguish that she almost regrets her cruelty, but then he's kissing her, his lips on hers for the first time in months, and Sakura has missed the taste of him. Any of their friends could walk outside, could catch them like this, but Sasuke doesn't seem to care, and that only makes her want him more.

He slips a hand under her skirt, then pulls her shorts and underwear down around her knees. Sakura rips her mouth away from his, gasping for breath, meaning to ask what he's doing, but she can't find the words.

Sasuke kisses her neck, and when he thrusts two fingers inside of her, he whispers a taunt in her ear: "Maybe I don't know what to do, but I don't think I have to. You want me so bad it won't take any work at all to make you come."

She wishes he was wrong, but everything Sasuke is saying and doing is making her shamefully wet. The slick sound of his fingers pumping in and out of her proves it. She looks up at the night sky, at the bright stars looking down on this display, the possession of her body by a boy who seems so determined to take everything from her. When he curls his fingers inside her she shudders and moans so violently that he has to cover her mouth with his free hand. Sakura whimpers, so close she can barely stand it—

The back door opens, and Naruto leans outside, saying, "Hey, when are you two gonna—" He stops dead, eyes wide, mouth gaping.

"Go away, Naruto!" Sasuke hisses over his shoulder.

The door closes as quickly as it opened.

Sakura expects Sasuke to pull away from her, but he only thrusts his fingers into her harder and faster, a punishing rhythm that pushes her over the edge in a matter of moments. She's overwhelmed by bliss, body taut and trembling, crying out into the hollow of his palm as the pleasure takes her.

When she comes down from it, Sasuke is quick to separate from her. Because she's too slow and sluggish in the process of dressing herself properly, he tugs her panties and shorts up around her hips again, straightens her skirt over her legs, and fusses with her mussed hair until he deems it presentable.

"Go back inside, quickly, before anybody else misses you," Sasuke orders. "I'll follow in a few minutes."

Sakura nods and returns to the party on shaky legs. She's terrified that someone will notice what a mess she is, but the chunin are all too busy drinking ill-gotten sake to much care about her. Except for Naruto, of course, who strides over to her, takes her by the arm, and pulls her to the empty guest bedroom.

Once the door is closed behind them, he says, "What the hell was that?"

Her body is still humming with the aftershocks of her climax, and her mind is muddled from pleasure. Still, she finds the wherewithal to say, "You can't tell anybody, Naruto. Please."

"Are you—are you and Sasuke together?" he asks. "I thought he and Masami—"

"He's marrying Masami," Sakura says, and it takes all of her self-control to keep her voice even. "What you saw… it's just a little fun for us, before then."

Naruto frowns, disapproval and disappointment coloring his beautiful blue eyes. "You deserve better than that. And so does Masami."

She tucks her hair behind her ear, unable to look at him. "I know. But I don't think the cheating is the worst of it. Do you?"

Naruto understands as well as she does that Minato set her the task of spying on Sasuke.

Her best friend sighs heavily. "I guess not," he agrees. "You're in some kind of mess, you know that, right?"

"Oh I do." Sakura laughs, even though she's never found anything less funny. "Trust me, Naruto. I know."

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Naruto tries to forget what he saw in the garden behind his house. Sasuke with one hand under Sakura's skirt, the other clamped over her mouth while she shivered with pleasure. He isn't sure what he hates most about this: that it was Sasuke who got to touch her this way, instead of him, or that the memory of seeing Sakura with her shorts around her knees makes him uncomfortably flushed anyway.

She doesn't want him. Not like she wants Sasuke. It would be best if he set aside his feelings for Sakura. He isn't the boy she chooses, so he needs to accept that and move on.

Besides, there are important things to focus on. As the autumn wanes, he trains with Jiraiya and his father more often and leads increasingly difficult missions on his own. The Hokage seems to be testing him, gauging his loyalty by sending him on the kinds of assignments most chunin would balk at. But if he expects his jinchuriki to protest, then Fugaku has another thing coming.

On his next mission to the Water Country, Naruto takes a detour to the small town of Kyosha, where he meets a masked messenger of the Mizukage's. The nameless, faceless shinobi speaks with a sweet tone of voice that could be feminine, saying, "Terumi remains unhappy with the terms proposed by your father. If Kiri risks open warfare with the Uchiha, she wants the promise of the new Konoha's protection down the line."

"You have it," Naruto whispers. They're in the back of a rundown tea shop, ignoring the steaming cups they bought for the sake of appearances. "What makes the Mizukage think we'd go back on our word?"

"Somehow Iwa knows that we're in talks with Konoha's resistance," says the masked kunoichi. "The Tsuchikage has been looking for a reason to invade Kiri for years, and you must know that he and Uchiha Fugaku are thick as thieves. We may find ourselves in our own war before we have a chance to support you in yours."

Naruto sees what she's getting at, that Kiri might need help from Konoha's rebellion before the Mist can assist the Leaf. Dad hasn't given him express permission to negotiate terms; he's supposed to be an emissary only. But Naruto is practiced enough when it comes to matters of warfare to know what his father's answer would be.

"There's no way we can field people to fight against Iwa. Not yet. Not until we've taken care of matters at home."

The Mizukage's messenger shrugs. "Then consider the Mist's aid withdrawn."

Naruto frowns. "You don't even know if Iwa means to make a move yet. If they don't, none of this matters anyway—"

"It matters if our allies are too weak to be worth our support. Terumi does not bet on losing dogfights." The kunoichi stands, bows, and says, "I had great respect for your mother. I hope you prove to be a worthy successor to her, Namikaze Naruto."

"Uzumaki," he corrects. "I took her name after the Hokage had her executed."

Not a choice Dad supported—it was too obvious a slap in Fugaku's face—but his father understood his reasoning. Mom was one of the last of her clan, and now Naruto carries that legacy.

Two days later, after he's returned home and delivered the news to his father that the Mizukage is retracting Kiri's support, he meets Team 7 at one of their genin haunts: the roof of the bakery. Sakura brings a blanket and a picnic basket full of bento that she made herself.

It's strange, doing something together like old times, with so much hurt and so many lies tangled up between them. Besides, whenever Sasuke and Sakura look at each other for a moment too long for propriety, Naruto can't help but think of what he saw on his birthday. He tries to push that memory away and eat his bento in peace.

After lunch, Sasuke says he's being considered for a promotion to jounin. Naruto doesn't doubt he'll get it. The examining board that determines these things is comprised entirely of Uchiha, and they're notorious for promoting the least skilled of their clan. Of course, even if the board was fair and balanced Sasuke would probably make jounin. He's the kind of boy who demands the attention and obedience of the people who work with him, his skills and raw power are undeniable, and he seems to have an innate understanding of military tactics that Naruto sometimes envies.

"Tsunade wants to recommend me too," Sakura admits shyly. "I probably won't be promoted though."

Kunoichi, medics, and shinobi without old clan names to back them up are all discriminated against when it comes to promotions, Naruto knows, so he understands her concerns.

Still, he says, "No way! You're the best medic at the hospital, after Tsunade, not to mention you can crush enemy nin with your pinky finger. They'd be idiots not to promote you."

"He's right," Sasuke says. "If you want, I can put in a word with my cousin Saiyuri. She's on the examining board this year."

Sakura frowns and shakes her head. "I don't want special treatment."

Sasuke looks at her like she's dense (which Naruto thinks is pretty unfair, because it's no secret that Sakura is the smartest member of Team 7).

"It's not special treatment," Sasuke says. "You're at a disadvantage. I just want to help level the playing field."

Sakura sighs, but she stays patient. "I understand that, but this isn't something you'd do for anybody else, is it?"

"So?" he asks.

Naruto snorts. "You really don't get what 'special treatment' means, do you?"

"I guess it's a side effect of growing up the Hokage's son," Sakura says.

Her tone is light-hearted, but Naruto can see right away that Sasuke has taken it badly.

Maybe Sakura catches this too, because her pretty smile dims and she says, "I'll catch up with you guys later. I promised I'd help Mom clean tonight."

She kisses him on the cheek, hesitates before doing the same to Sasuke—although Naruto notices that her lips linger on Sasuke's skin a little longer than necessary.

Once she's gone, Naruto glances at his best friend and says, "So. You and Sakura, huh?"

Sasuke shakes his head. "There is no me and Sakura. You've got it wrong."

Naruto pulls a kunai from his tool pouch and plays with it. "That's not what it looked like at my party."

"Forget what you saw at your party," Sasuke says. "Besides, it isn't any of your business."

Naruto laughs. "Then maybe you shouldn't have been doing it in my backyard."

A faint blush colors Sasuke's cheeks. "I don't want to talk about this," he mutters. "There's nothing to talk about anyway. We're not together."

Naruto shrugs. "Sakura said something like that too. Wanna know what I think?"

"Not really, but I'm sure you're going to tell me anyway."

"I think the two of you are full of shit."

Naruto's smiles fades as he thinks about the things his friend doesn't know. Sakura has been working against Sasuke's family for years, spying on him for the rebellion, and he's in the dark about all of it.

"Maybe you should—I dunno—reconsider what you're doing," Naruto says, as gently as he can. "It's not fair to Sakura or Masami."

"You think I don't know that?" Sasuke asks, looking at him sharply. "Just stay out things that don't concern you, Naruto."

He smiles sadly and bites his tongue, afraid he'll say more than he should if he keeps talking.

Naruto wonders how much time they have left as a real team. Because when Sasuke finds out the truth, it will spell the ruin of their entire squad.

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Sasuke sees Sakura when Team 7 gets together to spar or share meals, but he avoids spending time with her alone. But no amount of distance will help him forget what happened at the meadow, then again in the garden at Naruto's house. The taste of her mouth, the feel of her body under his hands. How sweet it felt to finally touch her the way he'd been imagining for so long.

Stop, he tells himself. Stop thinking about that. It would be best if he forgot about their indiscretions.

So when Masami kisses him, he kisses back. He takes her on dates to Konoha's nicest restaurants, and he allows her to hold his hand under the table. She is, he thinks, not for the first time, a kind and beautiful girl. Someday she'll make a fine wife, will be a good mother to his children. But she's not Sakura.

Tonight, he and Masami go to Himura's. They order a three-course meal, but for all that Sasuke can taste it, the luxurious food might as well be ashes in his mouth.

"What's wrong?" Masami asks, and she looks at him with such concern that he shifts in his seat, feeling guilty.

"Nothing," Sasuke lies.

She makes a skeptical noise. "You've barely eaten a bite."

"I'm tired."

At the end of the night, Sasuke walks Masami back to her house and gives her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. She seems disappointed, but he can't make himself kiss her properly. Not when his mind is full of Sakura.

When he gets home, Sasuke finds her in his room, sitting on his bed, one slender leg crossed over the other, as if he'd summoned her by thought alone. Sakura looks quite at home, barefoot and relaxed.

He locks the door and says, "You shouldn't sneak into my house. It's dangerous."

"So what?" she says simply, as if it's perfectly acceptable to break into his room without permission.

"Well you need to go," Sasuke says. "If my parents catch you in here—"

"They'll what?" Sakura asks, and now her expression is stubborn. "Think the worst? Assume we're fucking? Oh, wait, we are."

"We did," Sasuke corrects. "It can't happen again."

"We both know you don't mean that," she whispers.

Sasuke has tried to regret fucking her, to regret making her come, but the plain truth is that he can't. It felt too good, and he'd wanted it, wanted her, so badly. So now, when Sakura stands and walks toward him, he knows he should tell her to leave him in peace. But he can't, won't. She approaches him slowly, intently, and when they're finally close enough to kiss, Sakura gets on her knees before him. Her nimble hands unbutton and unzip his pants. She looks up at him, never takes her eyes off of his as she pushes his boxers down. Sakura stops, waits for him to let her know whether he wants this.

Sasuke is half hard already as he whispers, "Please."

She takes hold of his cock, and just the feel of her hand unravels his discipline. Then she leans forward, kisses the blunt tip, and the softness of her lips has him biting back a groan. His parents are downstairs, so he can't make too much noise, but when Sakura takes him into her mouth he gasps. Sasuke puts his hands in her hair, cradling her head as she sucks on him, and it takes all of his willpower not to just thrust, but he's sure she's never done this before and he doesn't want to hurt her. She grows more confident, takes him deeper, and it feels so good. He can't keep control much longer, not with her swallowing him like this, and he closes his eyes against the pleasure.

"I'm gonna—" he warns, expecting her to pull away, but Sakura only sucks on him faster, more fiercely, until he's coming and moaning quietly.

His legs nearly give out, but somehow Sasuke manages to keep standing. He looks down at Sakura, still on her knees, pink hair a mess from where he gripped it. Her lips are red, wet, and swollen, and just the sight of her inviting mouth makes him want to do it again.

She stands and smooths her love-rumpled hair, cheeks flushed. "I should—I should probably go."

"Yeah," Sasuke says.

Sakura sneaks out of his window, leaving the same way she came in. After she's gone, he changes into night clothes, turns off the light, gets in bed, and buries himself beneath the covers. Sasuke closes his eyes, but he can't stop thinking about Sakura, about what he let her do to him, and sleep doesn't come.

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AN: So, a smutty chapter with a dash of political intrigue! Many thanks to the people who have followed this story, reviewed it, or added it to their favorites. Every show of support is so meaningful to me.