AUTHOR'S NOTES: Uber-cuteness alert still in effect. No sugar this time so I have no excuse. It's just me, being me during one of my unavoidable 'cute' phases. That being said - two down, two more to go!
oOoOoOoChapter 2: Spring's Blossoming
Spring was the next in the seasonal string.
And the melting of snow led to the showers of spring.
As the green of spring began to grow, so did the boy called Neji and the girl called Sakura continue to grow together. Konoha was a small village, after all, and the space they had to grow in was limited so they really had no choice but to grow together. Though it wasn't always a comfortable growing, for their outlooks on life and the seasons within them were very different, somehow they managed.
There were, however, some days that were better than others.
Sakura loved the spring and everything that spring brought. But spring brought rain and rain was cold and Neji hated the cold so Neji didn't like spring either. And it was on one such rainy and cold spring day that –
Neji and Sakura fought.
With fists, with words, they fought.
"That was weak. I thought you said you were improving." Caustic words spoken in cold bland tones. "So far, you haven't shown me anything new."
"Maybe I would if someone," caustic words spoken in caustic voice, "would stop running away."
"It's not running. It's called dodging. And a good ninja should be able to make contact with an opponent even when being dodged." A smirk. "Or maybe you need to brush up a little more on your ninja skills."
Teeth gritted and green eyes flashed at hearing the familiar echoes of the past that had been thrown back at her more than once since. But Sakura tried to control her temper because letting it go would be bad. Letting it get the better of her mouth as it had before months ago amongst the snow was what had led her to her current predicament.
Who knew he would actually accept her offer?
And keep on accepting it.
Which was why Sakura was currently where she was now for, though she didn't particularly like Neji, she didn't particularly dislike him either. And even if her recent training had already made Sakura strong, she still wanted to be stronger than she was. To do that, she needed to train and she couldn't do it alone. And because she needed to train and couldn't do it alone, she needed help. So, even though she didn't particularly like or dislike Neji, she had to admit that he was already strong and, because a strong ninja as an opponent helped make another strong ninja, she had wanted his help to train.
Now Sakura had Neji's help to train.
She had used the same argument she had that cold day in the snow, appealing to his pride and his goal. She knew Neji wanted to be stronger than he was and, to do that, he needed to train. And because he needed to train and she knew he preferred to do it alone, as with most other things, she argued again and again that a strong ninja as an opponent helped make more strong ninja and that he could train alone as much as he wanted, but a moving target and opponent would get him to his goal much faster than a stationary one he'd have on his own.
And so it was that Neji agreed.
It was fortunate that Sakura was persistent and that, though she loved the spring, she also didn't mind the cold for there were many times when Neji was as cold as the snow that he hated. Though Neji had been resistant at first, Sakura had kept up the argument that she knew that he wanted to be stronger than he was and, to do that, he needed to train. And as the best way of training was to do it with a strong opponent to become stronger himself, Sakura had offered herself as that opponent to help him reach his goal. Since his goal to be stronger was more important than his dislike of the cold and his preference to do things alone, Sakura had eventually gotten him to agree while winter's snow slowly melted into spring.
Now there they were once more as they had been other times before on a cold spring day in the rain, a perfect match. The best ninja among their peers at seeing the ways of chakra and the best ninja among their peers at controlling chakra. One strong opponent against the other, each had the other's weak point and in training together was able to work on those points better.
There were, however, some days that were better than others.
"Hey, Sakura. How much longer are you going to keep me waiting?" Caustic words in cold bland voice once more. "I don't have all day to waste my time."
"Patience," caustic words spoken once more in caustic voice, "is something a good ninja should be skilled at. Obviously you still need more work on yours."
"And a good ninja has the skill to make quick decisions in little time during a fight. Obviously you still need more work on yours."
Teeth gritted around caustic words. "I'm getting to it."
"Sometime within this century, I hope."
The temper Sakura tried to control because letting it go would be bad was something she couldn't control any longer. Her control snapped and she responded to Neji's taunt though her response was not in the return of words.
The earth shook beneath their feet.
"Missed. Sakura, are you getting worse at this?"
The earth shook again beneath their feet.
"Missed again. Looks like you need more practice with your aim."
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The earth shook and trembled and quaked.
"You dragged me out into the rain for this? Hardly worth my time."
"I agree. My turn next. I'll take you down."
"Yeah, right! As if you could – I'd like to see you try!"
"Fine. Then here I go."
"Hey, Sakura? Say something."
"Very funny. I'm not falling for it. So just give it up and say something already."
"Sakura! Hey, get up!"
"You aren't – ? Sakura!"
The rapid sounds of squelching steps traveled over the mud while the rain continued to fall on the cold spring day. And when the sound of steps stopped, Neji knelt beside the unmoving form of Sakura in the mud while rain continued to fall upon them on the cold spring day. In an instant, he reached out towards her –
only to find himself suddenly on his back and a heavy weight pinning him down!
For a second, Neji lay unmoving in the mud while rain fell upon them on the cold spring day. But, as the vision of her grinning down at him triumphantly gradually penetrated his momentary shock, fury was quick to take its place and silver eyes narrowed in an ominous way.
"Sakura, you - !"
"Now, Neji-san," was the sweetly said words. "A good ninja should know when the enemy's faking unconsciousness." A smirk. "Or maybe you need to brush up a little more on your ninja skills."
Fury didn't even begin to cover what he felt.
"Uh, Neji-san…don't look at me like that. It's rainy and I slipped and then, once I was on the ground, it just seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. And, even if I messed up a little, it's still training and anything goes out on the battlefield, right?"
"And just how often do you think I'd rush to the enemy's aid on the battlefield, Sakura?"
"Ah, well…you never know. You could be…you could be trying to help a friend only to have that friend unexpectedly turn traitor on you while your guard was down. I was just….um, trying to keep you on your toes."
"Well, I'm not on my toes right now. Am I?"
"Eheh. Yeah, about that…if I let you up…will you promise not to hurt me?"
"I could. But I try hard not to make promises I won't be able to keep."
"Ah, that's not good. We're probably going to be like this for a while then. Er, hope that mud's not too uncomfortable. But, you know, I'm just as caked in the stuff as you, if that makes you feel any better."
Awkward silence fell.
Time leaked away and, with it, some of Neji's anger. After all, it was rainy and cold and since Neji hated both, concern for his comfort became more important than retaliation at one would-be medic-nin whose weight upon his was making things even less comfortable for him. And so the mighty Neji conceded.
"Alright, if you let me up, I won't hurt you."
Sakura started to smile.
And then the smile started to wilt.
"-in compensation, you'll have to do it again."
"You heard me."
"Yes, I did. But…do what again?"
"What you did earlier."
"Are you really this dense?"
"Are you really trying to tick me off?" Green-eyed glare clashed with silver. "Because you're doing a really good job of it."
Silver glare clashed with green. "Your chakra."
"What about it?"
"When I thought you were knocked out, I was still using Byakugan. Your chakra pathways…they read like those of someone that was really unconscious." Caustic words in cold bland voice again. "I didn't know you were strong enough to do that."
"You know," caustic words spoken in caustic voice, "if that wasn't a partial compliment, I'd be a lot more upset right now. But since I was trying to keep it under wraps while I perfected it until I found a time to spring it on you in surprise, I think I pretty much accomplished what I wanted." A smirk. "You should have seen the expression on your face! I don't think I'll ever forget it for as long as live."
"Which might not be for very long," caustic words in cold bland voice again held a sour tinge, "if you don't stop gloating about it."
"Oh, come on! Do you know how often I'm able to actually get the drop on you? Frankly, I need all the advantage I can get."
"As long as you realize that."
"Hey, Mr. Ego. Better be nice to the person who still has you pinned down."
"Yes, that's true. And you know what?"
The word had barely escaped her mouth when she found the world whirling around her in rainy gloom and blurred colors of forest. When her vision was set to rights again, her back was pressed flat on mud as rain streamed into her eyes while a heavy weight immobilized any potential struggles.
Silver eyes seemed to smirk down at her. "I'm not pinned down anymore."
"You, I don't believe, have any right to say that."
"Consider this equal payback."
"Fine. You've paid me back. Now let me up."
"I don't think so. Letting you up is another matter entirely."
"Neji-san, if you don't let me up…I'm going to have to think you're just as big a pervert as Jiraiya-sama."
"Do you think it's really wise to insult the person who has the advantage in this situation?"
"Probably not. But you're a bigger person than that…aren't you?"
"Not big enough to just let you go without getting something in return. If you want me to let you up…"
He leaned alarmingly closer in a way that Sakura couldn't ignore. There was no way to avoid it. Silver eyes loomed close, boring into her as his weight shifted on hers and mired her deeper into the mud. The heat emanating from his body was a stark contrast to coolness of wet mud against her back and the cold rain streaming from above to slick her skin. But that was almost nothing compared to the distraction of the warm puffs of breath that skimmed across her cheeks with his every low-spoken word.
"…you're going to have to pay the price."
Eyes wide and heartbeat unsteady, she gulped. "What do you want?"
"What do you think I want?"
"Uh, Neji-san? I don't think you realize…how you're saying what you're saying."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, boy." Her cheeks flamed as she struggled for the right words to get the point across without being too explicit. In the end, she settled for, "Didn't anyone ever tell you about the birds and the bees?"
She knew the exact moment that he finally understood. His expression didn't change upon that understanding, but there was suddenly a sense of frozen stiffness that seemed to seize him. And, suddenly, she was free – his weight was off and she could breathe easily again. Grateful, she closed her eyes and lay prone in the wet cold of the mud and inhaled a welcome breath that exhaled a sigh of relief.
Gradually, in the ensuing silence that held only the sound of rain, she became aware of something hovering over her. Knowing she couldn't ignore it, she reluctantly opened her eyes to register a familiar sight leaning over her, wordless and hand extended.
It made her smile.
But only a tiny bit.
She'd come to know some of his habits fairly well in the past months and, though there was no telltale blush of embarrassment as might be displayed by another male in the same situation, the stiff way he held himself and the manner in which his gaze was carefully trained sideways and away from direct contact with hers practically screamed his discomfort. Although she wasn't completely comfortable with the situation herself, his put her more at ease though she was careful to keep any hint of her amusement mostly hidden, knowing it would probably make the air between them even more uncomfortable than it already was.
But despite the trouble she had caused him, still he stood with hand extended. It said something, though she wasn't completely certain what that something was. Still, for someone like Neji to make such an offer…it wasn't one she could refuse. And so, she grasped the proffered hand in hers and for a moment there was only the sounds of squelching mud and rain hitting the earth as she righted herself with his help and couldn't help but think that –
Neji was sweet.
And because she had come to know him fairly well as the seasons changed, she knew that if she were ever to tell him or anyone that aloud –
He would kill her.
So that was one thing Sakura couldn't tell.
The sound she made to break the silence caught his attention. Finding herself suddenly held within a silver stare, she couldn't think of what else she was about to say. But then that silver stare dropped and, with it, hers did too. And then her eyes widened as she came to the same realization that he probably just had.
They were still holding hands!
And they immediately scrambled away.
Awkward silence fell.
Time stretched as they stood in the rain and mud on that cold spring day and quiet seemed to reign. But they were ninja who wanted to be stronger than they were and strong ninja did not let the situation win over them. So Sakura opened her mouth to speak –
But Neji spoke first.
"Let's do this again. I'm going to find a way to break through whatever it is that you're doing with your chakra."
Back on familiar ground, Sakura grinned. "Really bugged you, huh?"
A silver-eyed glare was answer enough.
"Heh. Sure, we can go as many rounds as you want. But I doubt you're going to get it today. You still haven't even figured a way around the invisibility trick yet."
"Don't sound so smug."
"You slipped up before. You'll do it again."
"And how do you figure that, Mr. Ego?"
"Proof: You're covered in mud."
"So are you."
"By default. You cheated."
"There's only one way to end this. And if you can't do what you say you can, it's my win."
"No chance. A couple more times and I'll find it's weak point. I will."
"Don't think so. It'll take more than a couple."
"I guess so."
And so, glares exchanged, the fight resumed.
It resumed on that rainy and cold spring day in which the green continued to grow and what had happened before was forgotten or, at the very least, mentioned no more. Mud squelched, rain fell, and the sounds of fighting filled the air. And so it continued until –
Showers disappeared and the air began to heat.