As Long As It Takes

by Landlady of the Universe

Summary: Sakura.  Naruto.  And ramen.  Side fic for Between.

Genre: General

Spoilers: Not really

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Landlady and stinking rich/famous manga-ka do not go together.  At all.  I tried too, but apparently he's taken.  Hff.  Found pictures.  Turns out he's cute too.  Double hff.

A/N: Popped into my head and I really liked it, but I couldn't really fit it into Between, but here it is anyway.  Takes place some time before Between.

Sakura sank into the bath with a tired sigh.  Baths were always nice after a day of hard training.  Granted, they were even better after a long mission.  Actually, baths were just nice period.  Sometimes it seemed like her life had been one non-stop roller costar ride after she had become a Jounin.  The only time where she actually had a moment to sit back and relax was in the bath.

The front door opened suddenly, breaking the still that had settled over the small house.  It shut.  A dull thump heralded her housemate dumping his things wherever he happened to be standing.  And, a few seconds later, the door to the bathroom opened without so much as a knock.

Sakura barely glanced over to see her housemate stumble in.  She had given up yelling at him ages ago.  They lived together.  By default, he was bound to see her nude eventually, so she had just given in and gotten used to it.

He was dead tired; she could see it in every move he made.  Not that she had expected any less.  His latest mission had lasted several weeks, and during the rainy season to boot.  So naturally, he was absolutely covered in mud.  Sakura winced slightly looking at him and imagining her nice clean floors, promising herself to make him fix it later.  But that could wait, now he needed to eat and get some rest.  Not to mention a bath.

"I'll be out in a second, Naruto," she assured him.  She lay back and closed her eyes in an effort to gather the strength to get out of the tub.

Cloth rustled and slid to the floor.  Sakura peeked at a very unclothed Naruto, who was washing his face and hands at the sink.  Other than that, he was damp, but not really dirty.  A few shallow cuts, scrapes and bruises that were just starting to come in decorated his skin, but nothing to serious.  "Don't worry about it," he replied.  "Could you just … sit up for a minute?"

Confused, Sakura did as asked.  Naruto stepped over the edge of the bathtub and slid into the water behind her.  The woman blinked a few times, shrugged, and lie down again, making herself comfortable on Naruto's chest.  "Thanks," he murmured, folding his arms across her stomach, just below her breasts.

"You aren't hitting on me, are you?" Sakura asked suspiciously.

"Too tired to hit on you," he yawned.  "Maybe later."

Sakura smiled and relaxed.  Naruto took her hair out of the clip it was in and tossed the clip across the bathroom.  "Hey!"

"Sorry," he mumbled into her hair, "Was poking me."

"I can get out, you know."

His arms tightened around her stomach.  "No.  You have to stay and make sure that I don't drown if I fall asleep."

"Fine."  The woman nibbled on her lower lip absently.  She wasn't bothered by the fact that she lay in a bathtub completely nude with her best friend and housemate.  But Naruto's behavior was worrying her.  After a while, she decided to let it go.  If Naruto wanted to talk, he would talk.  If he didn't, he wouldn't.  At the moment, she was doing all she could by just being there for him.

She lay in the bath for another twenty minutes before deciding that she really wanted to get out.  Naruto was asleep; she could hear his even breathing in her ear.  Carefully, she disentangled herself from the blonde ninja's grasp, making sure that he wouldn't slide down and wake up.

Despite her efforts, Naruto woke the second she set a foot outside the tub.  "Where…?" he asked sleepily.

"I'm getting pruny," she informed him dryly.  Before he could protest, she set a finger against his lips, "I'll just be in the next room.  If you start to drown, make some loud 'glubbing' noises and I'll come save you."

Naruto grinned lopsidedly and waved her away as he settled back down.  Sakura grabbed a towel and began to dry herself off, fighting the lazy wobble of her extremely relaxed leg muscles.

"You really are very pretty you know."

The woman looked up.  Naruto was watching her from barely open eyes.  "Glad you approve," she replied, returning to the business of getting dry.  She sincerely hoped that he wasn't hitting on her.  It wasn't like she didn't like Naruto.  It wasn't that she didn't think that they could have a long and fulfilling relationship.  It was just … she didn't feel comfortable at the thought of having a romantic relationship with her best friend.  Their friendship was just … perfect.  And she didn't want to risk ruining it.  Not for anything.

But Naruto's next words dashed away all her worries.  They were the words of a friend, not a potential lover.  "So why'd you turn Lee down?"  He ran a hand through his hair uncomfortably at her stare.  "Hell, you could have any guy in the village that you wanted.  But you keep systematically pushing them away.  Why?"

She shrugged, wrapping the towel around herself.  "They're just not for me.  Glub if you need anything," she said, flicking off the bathroom light and closing the door behind her as she left.

"Hey!  Sakura!  You turned the lights off!"

"Oops," she called back in mock innocence, "Must be out of habit."

"Come back here and turn them back on!  I don't wanna get up!"

"Sorry, Naruto, can't hear you!"  Sakura grinned wickedly to herself as Naruto grumbled loudly from the bathroom.

Not much later, Naruto appeared in the doorway to her room, with only a towel around his waist and his dirty clothes in one hand.  Sakura was sitting on her bed in only underwear and a tank top, brushing her hair.  Her housemate looked infinitely better, although he still seemed very tired and … sorrowful for some reason.

"Don't bring those clothes in here," she warned him.

He waggled his eyebrows at her.  "Why Sakura…" he began.

"And that towel better damn well stay on," she snapped.  It was antics like this that had started the rumors that she and Naruto were together, which, in turn, had driven away most of her potential suitors, as not too many people wanted to mess with Naruto.  Which was fine with her really; she didn't want to date someone who was afraid of her best friend anyway.

Naruto tossed his clothes into his room next door before coming in and crawling up onto her bed – after making sure his towel was secure – at her invitation.  "What's wrong?" he asked, brow furrowed with worry, "You're more testy than usual."

Sakura flopped onto her back with a sigh.  "I don't know.  Just tired I guess.  Saw Lee today too.  He was … upset."

A pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist as Naruto rested his head on her stomach.  "Oh," he said, his voice muffled slightly by the fabric of her shirt.

Silence reigned for a while as they lay there, taking comfort in one another.  They often ended up like this after missions, on one or the other's bed, or the couch.  Sakura ran her fingers absently through Naruto's hair.  It was damp at the nape of his neck.  He needed a trim too.  He buried his face into the fabric of her shirt, clutching her tighter, in response.

"Wanna talk about it?" she asked softly.

"Not really."

"Want some ramen?"

A pause.  "Can it wait?" came the small, hopeful reply.

Sakura pushed back a wince, never creasing combing his hair steadily.  "It'll be there when you're ready," she assured him.  "It'll be there.  No matter how long it takes."