Posted: 20/03/2006

A/N: This is one of those fics you call spontaneous; a spur of a moment thingy. I will admit there was a plot, but I added a few twists into the story, and the stuff I had thought of isn't so applicable anymore.

In anycase, this story is M-rated. Or actually, MA-rated. That scene has been cut off, courtesy of the rules around here. I imagine that particular part will look a little abrupt, since I literally cut off the scene. But...there's nothing I can do about it. If you want to read it, though, you will have to go to the NaruSaku forums, or H+E library that is founded by the forums, more specifically, where the link could be found in my bio. I'm afraid you will have to register, as well, to read M and MA stories. Other stories are free game, though.

I hope you enjoy this fic. Reviews, critiques and the sort is always appreciated. And do note that I don't have a beta for this, if you spot anything off in the story.

She took in a deep breath.

"You are the only one now, Sakura."

Her eyes closed.

"...I'm sorry."

She couldn't think. She did not know what to think. She was numb.

"Now wait a goddamn minute! What - what do you mean she's the only one?" He all but snarled, hands slamming on the table.

"Exactly what I said. You know as well as I do where the other kunoichi are right now."

"In - "

"Ino," Tsunade said quietly, "Is severely injured. Four days ago, she came back from her mission - alone - with injuries all over her. She almost lost her ability to become a full-fledged ninja, Naruto. She almost lost her ability to even walk."

"H -"

"The rest of the kunoichi," The blonde woman interrupted, eyes blazing at him, "Are all somewhere, handling missions - dangerous missions. The ones who actually underwent training for this type of missions are either not available or unsuitable! We can't use someone too old or too young!"

She felt the words stab at her. Use. Use. Of course, she - a ninja - was a tool, after all.

"But - but..."

"Listen!" The hokage grabbed the front of his vest, roughly pulling him close, inching her face near to him.

"We are at the verge of a war, Naruto! WAR!" Tsunade shook him hard and fast, "Do you know what a war is! Do you know the situation Konoha is in right now!"

"But she's - !"

"That's enough."

The words were so soft, so soft, that she wondered if they had even heard her.

Silence descended.

"Sakura-chan..."

She felt his eyes on her. But she ignored him in favor of the old woman in front of her.

"When do I leave, Tsunade-sama?" Her tone was calm. Too calm for even her own liking.

"Five days. Five days from now."

Another deep breath.

"I understand. With your permission, may we...?"

A sigh from her mentor reached her ears.

"Yes. You may leave now."

She wondered if she imagined the slight quivering in that voice.

"Hai."

"Now wait a second!" Protested Naruto.

She turned, and took his hand into hers.

He stiffened in surprise, and her gaze locked onto his blue eyes for the briefest instant.

Without a word, she dragged him out of the room, a warning glance telling him to be quiet.

"Sakura!" Called Tsunade.

She paused, door half-way shut.

"I'm sorry. "

There was regret in that tone.

"Clearance level four will be given. I will send someone to notify the ANBU guarding that place. If you think you will need...that, you can find it in the fifth room, shelf 33-C2."

She was a smart kunoichi, and it did not take her any effort to understand those words.

"...I understand."

The door shut.

Tarnished

Act 1:
The End of a Beginning

"Promise me."

"But - "

"Naruto. Please."

His shoulders slumped.

"I promise I won't do anything to compromise the mission."

"And?"

They slumped further.

"I won't try to convince that old hag to change the person in charge of the mission."

For the first time that evening, she smiled.

"Thank you," murmured the medic jounin - and as if on impulse, she wrapped an arm around his waist, giving him an awkward hug.

If Sakura had felt him stiffen, she didn't say anything. The pink-haired kunoichi turned away as quickly, and started walking.

"I'm going to see Ino," she called out.

It was an invitation for him to join her.

Something must have been wrong with him that day, because he declined.

"Tell her to get well soon!" He told her back, before moving in the opposite direction.

She paused and looked back. He had disappeared from the road.

That was awfully fast, even for Naruto. Though she made him promise not to do anything that would compromise the mission, she couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking of this time.

Uzumaki Naruto, after all, was the number one surprising ninja.

But, on the other hand...

She bit her lip.

No. Not now. She wouldn't think of it right now.

Turning once more, fingers curling into a tight fist, she headed towards the hospital.

Midway, she halted, and as if hesitating, she glanced at the Hokage Tower.

"...Shelf 33-C2..."

Sakura turned, and walked back to the tower with slow steps.

When she went in, she was greeted by the sight of Yamanaka Ino leaning against two fluffy pillows and the wall on her bed, a magazine on her lap.

Blue eyes glanced up at her.

The patient smirked.

"So. What's up, forehead girl?"

Sakura stared at the blonde. It must have been for more than a few seconds, because the smirk faltered. Turning, she picked up the medical documents hanging on the wall, and flipped through them.

"How are you feeling?"

If the injured kunoichi noticed something peculiar about Sakura, she didn't comment.

"Oh, dandy. Just dandy."

The medic jounin rolled her eyes.

"If you can be sarcastic, that means you will be just fine."

A snort.

"As if this will kill me."

Sakura arched an eyebrow.

"Well, according to these papers, that's not quite a far-fetched idea. Burned chakra pathways, which means no chakra usage - for at least two weeks - fourth degree burns on your left arm, multiple slashes and stabs, one of them almost cutting your artery, your backbone was almost shattered, three fractured ribs, one broken," she eyed her best friend, "Which, I should say, literally punctured your lungs. The only place that isn't bandaged like a mummy, Ino, is your head and right arm."

She heard the blonde grumbling something about doctors, medic ninja and their tendency to exaggerate, and pointedly ignored it.

"Shall I continue?" She waved the papers at the patient. "There's one whole list here."

Ino sighed. "Okay, fine. So I may have almost died. But - "

"Damn right you did!" Sakura's voice was sharp.

Blue eyes blinked at her.

It was the blonde's turn to stare, and the pink haired woman turned away fast, eyes fixed on the papers in hand. She hung them back on the wall.

Ino's expression softened.

"Come here," she called gently, flipping shut the magazine and placing it on the table next to the bed.

Sakura turned again, giving the other a suspicious look.

"What for?"

"Come on, Sakura. Just come here." Ino patted the empty space next to her on the bed.

The expression on her best friend's face was undecipherable; but if they were anything at all, her eyes were sober, and no humor lay in there.

Still wary, she complied.

Meanwhile, Ino straightened, pushing herself up from the pillows, and porcelain face twisted with pain.

"What are you doing?" Sakura's eyes went wide. Ino's posture wavered and shook, and she immediately moved to steady the blonde, hands grasping her waist and back.

"Aw, crap," muttered the longhaired woman, making a half chuckle, half wince.

"Ino, you shouldn't even be sitting up!" Leaning over, she pushed Ino back to the bed gently, and did quick adjustments to the pillows underneath. Engrossed in her task, she didn't notice as the one uninjured arm shot out, and tugged her close.

"I-Ino...?"

Her head was resting on the crook of the blonde's neck, and slender fingers were stroking her pink hair gently. Position nothing but awkward, body pressing slightly on her wounded friend, she tried to push herself up, half in fear of injuring Ino further.

The blonde didn't allow it, and all but nudged her closer. Instinctively, mostly out of concern for Ino's injuries, she placed an elbow and a hand on the bed so she wouldn't agitate her condition.

"Ino - "

"I heard from Tsunade-sama when she came by," Ino said quietly.

Sakura's mouth snapped shut.

"Apparently, you were here for the first two days I came back." That tone was deceptively calm. "You didn't go back and sleep, or even rest."

Sakura stilled, saying nothing.

But Ino wasn't done.

"You only went home after I woke up, which was yesterday," The blonde paused. Her voice was steadily growing softer. "And even that is something that wouldn't have happened, if Tsunade-sama didn't force you to."

Still she was quiet.

"I want to call you an idiot, Sakura." The blonde murmured. "A big, foolish idiot."

She didn't even retort.

Ino let out a small sigh.

"Sakura - "

"I thought you were going to die."

Her words came suddenly. They were soft and child-like.

The blonde paused.

Sakura's fingers grasped the bed sheet tightly.

"I never imagined I did ever see you like that," she whispered. Her voice was wavering. "You were so cold." She was rambling, she knew. Her voice had dropped so low that Ino barely heard her. "And blood. There was - there was so much blood..."

"I'm sorry," the blonde murmured.

That gesture alone felt so reassuring.

Fingers laced through her pink hair, stroking.

"You were worried, weren't you?" Ino said quietly.

Sakura didn't respond. She couldn't. She was shaking.

"I'm here. I'm alive." The blonde pulled her closer.

Her best friend smelled of jasmine. She could feel the warmth radiating from her.

"I'm alive," repeated Ino firmly.

She broke.

And cried.

Lithe fingers wiped tear-streaked cheeks.

"Better now?" Ino smiled slightly. It wasn't the condescending smile she often used around her, it was a real smile - gentle, sincere...soft.

A smile tugged at the corner of Sakura's lips, and she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. "Yeah," she sniffed a little.

"Good." Ino nodded, half to herself. "So...ready to tell me what happened?"

Sakura blinked at her. "What?"

She smirked, and poked a finger at her forehead. "You. What happened to you?"

"What about me?" The pink-haired woman asked warily, backing a little from the prodding finger.

Usually, Ino would have waited for Sakura to speak it out herself - but she knew her best friend well enough that, while she was injured, Sakura wouldn't speak of anything that would worry her. And her best friend, if left alone to brood, would only get paranoid.

"Forehead girl, something is bothering you." Ino said pointedly. "And it's not just me and my near death situation. What is it?"

The other hesitated. "It's...about the next mission I will be going for soon. It's a solo mission."

"Go on..."

"And Naruto...I..." She was mumbling.

Ino arched an eyebrow. What does that mission have to do with Naruto?

"What's this mission about?" The blonde interrupted.

"Infiltration," Sakura said automatically. "To collect information, and depending on what I find, assassination. A-class mission. Possibly S-class."

Well. That sounds normal. Though killing was not one of Sakura's favorite past time, she had learned to deal with it long ago. So why was the mission bothering her?

"Possibly?" Echoed Ino.

"Possibly," muttered Sakura distractedly. "It was originally a mission for you, but - "

She slapped a hand to her mouth, eyes suddenly going wide.

Ino stared at her blankly. It was originally a mission for her? Then...

"No, no. Ino, it's not what you are thinking! It's - "

"What type of infiltration?" She cut her off again, this time with steel in her voice.

"Ino, it's not - "

"What type of infiltration is it, Sakura?" Demanded Ino, almost shouting. She grasped Sakura's hand tightly.

The pink-haired woman winced. "Ino!"

She didn't let go. "Tell me, Sakura." Her tone was calm.

Her hold loosened just a little.

"Ino - "

"Please." She whispered. She needed to know. She needed to. If it was that kind of infiltration, and originally her mission...

"But I - I don't..." Sakura felt a lump on her throat. She couldn't complete her sentence. I don't want you to think it's your fault.

"Sakura. Please."

"I...it's...Ino, I - "

A knock on the door interrupted her.

The pink-haired woman grew silent.

Ino stared hard into her green eyes for a few long moments.

"Come in," the blonde called out, calmly, breaking eye contact. Whatever edge that was in her voice had vanished.

"Pardon my intrusion," murmured a female voice as she peeked in. "Haruno-san?"

Sakura turned. "Yes?"

"I found the things you need," the young nurse said as she cautiously entered, as if sensing the tension in the air. "I will leave these things..." She laid the small basket filled with various items on the table opposite Ino's bed. "...Here?"

The pink-haired woman nodded. "Yes, that will do. Thank you, Sakaku-san."

The nurse gave the medic-jounin a slightly strange look that Ino did not miss.

Apparently, neither did Sakura. "What's the matter?"

Sakaku jumped a little. "Ah..." Her face flushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry, it's just...what are you planning to do with these...materials, Haruno-san? I don't think I have ever come across such a strange mix of...ingredients."

Ino's eyes narrowed.

"Oh, just a special concoction for my upcoming mission," answered Sakura. Vaguely.

Sakaku nodded, "Then...I will take my leave now."

The medic jounin gave the nurse a bright smile that did not reach her eyes. Only Ino noticed. Sakura was becoming a very good actor. How long more would it be before it reach the point where she couldn't sense it?

"Yes. Thank you for the help, Sakaku-san."

"No problem." The door shut.

And silence reigned.

Ino's hold on Sakura was loose by then. The pink haired jounin shrugged off her hand, reaching for the basket.

She placed it on the bed, where Ino could see the contents clearly.

For a long time, Ino did not speak.

"These items," Sakura said softly, finally, green eyes dull but determined, gazed down on Ino. "You should recognize."

Ino didn't reply.

"And this...answers your question, as well."

She raised her fist, and rapped at the door twice.

"Coming!" Came the muffled reply.

She heard the shuffling of...papers?

Shove. Push. Curse.

Her eyebrow rose. What was he doing?

Click.

The door opened.

Blue eyes blinked at her.

"May I come in?" She cocked her head to a side.

He blinked again.

And again.

She sighed. "Naruto..."

"Oh! Yes, yes, of course..."

"Thanks."

"Sure."

Silence.

Shaking her head, she rolled her eyes, and pushed him away from the door, inviting herself in.

Her eyes widened despite herself, and an eyebrow shot up. "What in the name of Konoha were you doing?"

Papers, books, articles and scrolls were all over the floor, even draped over the chairs and tables. The jounin vest, she spotted, was flung carelessly to the couch.

"Uh..."

She gave him a flat stare.

"I was looking for clone jutsus," he said lamely.

"Clone?" Her second eyebrow joined the first.

"Whatever for, Naruto? You already know kage bunshin, and you even created a variation to multiply it to hundreds among others."

"But that's it! I was thinking maybe I could create another type! Maybe something that could, uh, stay even when it got hit..." He trailed off, scratching the back of his head.

"That's something no one has ever done before," she noted. "And I doubt it's even possible."

The reply was indignant. "How would you know without trying?"

"At most, it will need a lot of chakra, and it will need to be able to produce its own chakra," she retorted.

"First one, fine. I know you got a lot of chakra in there, big boy," she continued before he opened his mouth, "But there's no way you can do the second!"

His face scrunched, and she knew he was trying to think of a proper comeback.

She decided it was wiser to beat him to the punch.

"The only thing capable of producing chakra is living things, Naruto. Living things. And there's no way in hell you can create something that lives out of the blue!"

It was possible, she admitted to herself, just not in the way he was thinking. Nor was it going to be clones. It was something that can be done only by coupling, and she wasn't going to tell him that.

His shoulders slumped.

She sighed, lightly pushing a scroll out of her way with a foot as she picked her way in carefully.

"Why are you so keen on...trying that, anyway?"

He mumbled unintelligently.

"Pardon?"

"...clone...replacement..."

Replacement? What in the world was he talking about?

"What?" She made her way to the kitchen, and opened the cupboard. It wasn't the first time she came over to her best friend's place, and it was common knowledge that she came over often. As it was, she wasn't even looking into the cupboard when her hand grabbed the can of tea leaves.

"Clone to replace you in your mission."

She froze, pausing from taking out the can, and stared at him.

He had shoved his hands into his pocket, looking down at the floor.

Silence.

And silence.

"Oh." She said finally, forcing the words out as she resumed her work of making tea.

It was quiet again, the sound of hot water poured into cups being the only thing that disturbed the silence.

She stared at the tea, the gentle ripples that expanded radially in the water, and hesitated.

Should she...?

Haruno Sakura was never a dumb girl. She had known, for a long time now, that there was one blond boy who had loved her - and possibly since years ago.

But she hadn't been ready. She was uncertain. She didn't want to play with his feelings, and so she never gave him an answer.

She knew he was waiting. Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting...

And today...today she will be using those emotions to her gain. She has her own methods to make sure he won't hold back, and today would be the first time she utilizes that. She never imagined she would use it ever, in her whole life.

Her chest tightened involuntarily.

It wasn't right. She has no right to play with his feelings. She had no right to use him for her own selfish thoughts.

He was her best friend! He was...he was...

He was her team mate. He was someone who risked his life for her. He was like a brother to her. He was someone who loved her. And he was -

"Sakura-chan?"

Her head snapped up to him, and her hand jerked in surprise.

-Plop-

She felt a momentary dread, mingled with nervousness, at the back of her mind.

No more turning back, Sakura. It's too late.

He was giving her a confused look. "Is something the matter?"

"Ah. No. Nothing," she said hastily, picking up the tea cups and moving towards the table - which was in the process of being cleared by Naruto, who unceremoniously pushed the scrolls and papers to the corner.

"Here you go," She set the cups on the table, sliding the one on the right to him.

"Thanks."

He took a big gulp out of it.

"That's hot, you know," she remarked.

The response was almost instantaneous.

"Mphlggrhh!" spluttered the blond, splurting out tea - and she yelped, ducking out of the way to avoid pebbles of tea.

"Naruto!"

"Sorry, sorry!"

"Next time, drink more slowly," muttered the girl, looking aversely at the table with spilled tea, and moved to grab the dish wash cloth - which she unceremoniously threw at his face from where she stood at the kitchen sink.

His voice, muffled by the cloth that smacked right on his face, was indignant.

"Hey!"

She chortled, teasing, "For a ninja, you sure have slow reflexes."

He didn't reply, decidedly wiping the table with a gloomy expression.

She blinked. He hadn't retaliated.

Which was odd.

"...Naruto?"

He said nothing, merely throwing the cloth back at her lightly - which she caught in mid-air and placed it on the sink.

A slight frown formed on her face, and she walked back to the table; he had pushed the chair out, and sat on it sideways, so that it was facing the kitchen - facing her, whilst sipping his tea.

She tried not to think of what would happen much later.

"What's wrong?" She took the seat next to him on the square table, tilting her head a little to look at his face, which was looking down.

He looked up slightly, catching her eyes.

Surprised, she almost blinked.

Naruto was angry.

It barely showed on his face, but he was angry. Blue eyes, usually so carefree and bright with humor, was serious...and guarded. She had known him for years, and it was a given she knew him almost as well as herself.

"Wh - " She begun warily, only to be interrupted.

"Why did you accept the mission?"

Ah. So that was it.

"There is no one else available, and you know as well as I do how important this mission can be."

"Can be."

"That's beside the the point. And if the rumors were true, the war will end before it even begin. I have to go, Naruto." She kept her tone carefully measured. He didn't need to know that she was reluctant to go for that mission; he would make her stay even if it kills him.

"It didn't have to be you. This isn't your specialty, and - "

She sighed. "Naruto, I don't like this anymore than you do, but first and foremost, I'm still a kunoichi, and I still need to carry out...jobs." Jobs that had a variety of definitions, she did not say.

"You have never done this before," he deadpanned, taking a gulp from his tea again, before putting it on the table. The cup was empty.

"I didn't," she admitted. "But I do have some...knowledge of it. We girls did learn it in class." She took a deep breath. "It will be my first time...and there's no telling if I will have to do a second time."

His eyes shot up at her.

"We can't predict the future, Naruto," she said quietly.

He gazed at her, almost sadly. Their eyes met, for one brief moment, before he asked.

"But are you ready for it?"

Sakura looked away, and didn't respond.

And then it was silent, again, save for the ticking clock.

He fingered his collar, tugging at it slightly.

That was her cue.

"Which," she whispered, her voice so soft that she wondered if he even heard her. He did, apparently, when his distant eyes focused onto her. "Brings me to why I'm here, tonight."

Her fingers tightened around her warm cup, and watched the ripples of the now lukewarm tea.

Blue eyes blinked at her. "Huh?"

She could feel his gaze on her, but she did not dare meet them. But from the corner of her eyes, she saw him tugging at his collar again.

"Isn't it getting a little hot in here?" He muttered distractedly.

No, it wasn't. But she was not about to tell him that. She picked up his empty cup, stood, and walked to the sink.

She took in a deep breath, trying to muster all strength she could to prepare for this. It was Naruto. Naruto. Her best friend. Her team mate.

Her eyes closed as she placed the two cups in the sink. It was alright, she tried to assure herself. It. Was. Alright. She knew, from the depths of her soul, that Naruto longed for this for...for ages, but never did do anything. He thought he had hid it pretty well, but she had known better.

Guilt was biting her, and her hand curled into a tight fist. He was not a toy. He was someone she sworn to stand by at all times. He was someone whom she had vowed to protect! He was -

Standing right behind her.

Whirling around, eyes wide with surprise, she felt herself back instinctively, only to find herself touching the cold sink - his hands on either side of her.

Her hands rose to create what little distance between them by reflex.

"Na - "

His mouth descended onto hers hard, not giving her a chance to speak - and found his way into her depths immediately. Her hands tightened on his shirt, making small fists against his chest as if she was about to struggle and push him away. But when his arm came around her, bringing her closer, her eyes that had went completely rounded closed, and her hands moved downward to rest on his waist.

He tasted like ramen and tea.

She tried, with all her might, to respond with equal fervor and passion he was showering her.

The he broke it, suddenly and quickly - eyes, blue eyes that turned dark, stared into her own; a tight knot formed deep in her stomach, when she saw just how much need was in there, when she realized that she was hardly ready for this, and when she knew she was anticipating this as well.

He lowered his head towards her again.

"I - Sakura - I can't stop...can't seem to stop..." he whispered hoarsely, haggardly, warm breath against her nose.

From him, she knew, it was both a warning and advice, she would need to pull away now, maybe even punch him and run - and he meant now, or he may not be able to stop.

"Then don't," she murmured, almost without thinking. I'm sorry.

Those two words was all that sealed their fate that night, and their friendship - the strong, unbreakable bond they had, forged over years of comradeship - shattered into pieces.

It was almost overwhelming; the intensity of his kisses, and it was hardly anything she had imagined before. Whatever thoughts she had, whatever logic and common sense she always kept, was fast leaving her mind.

One hand tangled in her hair, the other finding it's way into her clothes, featherlike touch on her back, skin; his mouth had left hers, moving towards her jaw, neck...sending jolts - both reassuring and uncomfortable - down her spine, and despite herself, she shivered in his touch.

"Not here," she managed to gasp out. "Bedroom," she whispered, the words barely leaving her mouth.

The blond must have heard her - and still have enough of understanding in his clouded, lust-induced mind - because the next thing she knew, in between kisses and touches that made her forget her surroundings, her back was touching soft quilt, and the thing beneath her sank when he hovered over her - both hands on each side of her head, bringing them to eye-level.

His summer blue eyes looked even darker in the dim light of the room, and she felt herself shaking again, slightly.

He bent forward, kissing her forehead first, and then her eyes - which she instinctively closed - cheeks, before capturing her lips with his. His movement was gentle, this time, softly passionate; but possessive, dominating. Hazily, she heard a zipping sound, and was vaguely aware that he had just unzipped her maroon sleeveless shirt.

When she felt his warm hand on her stomach, nudging away fabric as he caressed her skin, she gasped into his mouth - trying not to think of it, resolving to just let go - and tangled her hands into blond hair.

It was almost addictive as it was frightening, wonderful and terrible all the same, and perhaps, just perhaps...Naruto had been more than just a best friend to her. He may have been more than just a brother to her.

They parted for air, intense blue locking onto flushed green for a moment, before he moved to nibble on her ear, then to her throat, neck - his lips not once leaving her skin that seem to burn with his every touch...

Later, much later, she managed a tired smile, head resting against his shoulder as his arm draped loosely around her waist.

His breathing was slowing, growing deep and steady.

"Naruto?"

She looked up into his face.

He was sleeping. There was a peaceful look on his face, innocent and almost child-like...

Guilt stabbed at her again, and her smile faded.

She was glad that he couldn't see her face now, deep in slumber.

Because she knew that, at the moment, her mask had cracked.

It was the effects of the drug that caused him to sleep almost immediately after the...numerous...coupling.

Either he has a very good instinct, or he has extremely well reflexes - because when she pushed herself away from his light hold, she heard him made a grunt, and his arms tightened around her, leaning over slightly - and nudged her back to the bed.

Their positions right now would not allow her to leave the bed, unless she risk waking him up. The drug made him sleep, but it was a side-effect that fades almost instantly. Though she was fairly certain he was sleeping like the dead right now, risking it was not something she did rather do right now. At least, not yet.

Or so she told herself.

She bit her lip, and looked away from him.

No, her traitorous mind answered. That isn't the reason why you aren't leaving yet.

Shut up.

He's more than a brother and a best friend to you.

No.

Denial is nothing. The fact you accepted him so easily proves something.

No. She had a mission to perform. And that mission...that mission...

Excuses.

It's not an excuse.

You love him.

No.

You do.

No. She doesn't. She couldn't.

Her eyes shut tightly.

But you already do.

A tear trickled down her cheek.

Despite herself, her lips curled again.

...And had he been awake, he would have been stumped by how sad that little smile was...

A wince graced her face.

The skin at her collarbone felt like it was bitten by an ant. She lifted a finger to it, touching it gently - and pain flared, just for a moment. She glanced at her finger - and in the dim light, she saw hints of red.

Blood, she thought, rubbing her finger gently to feel the texture. Dried blood.

Face slightly warmer now, she remembered that he had bit her, just before he had...moved, in her, the first time.

It wasn't the only place he had bit, but it certainly was the only place - to her memory - that nicked blood.

She channeled chakra to the tips of her finger. It was only a little bite, so there was no doubt it would heal easily.

...With her intervention, however...

A little mark would remain, just like how she would want it.

To show that, just that night, she had been his.

Yes, she admitted bitterly Her eyes closed once more.

I love him.

But she would never tell him.

Because, by the time she returns from the mission,

Filth. Dirt.

She would be unworthy of him.

Later, much later, Naruto would wake up in an empty bed, clothed, and wonder why were there droplets of water on his cheek.

He would wonder how he got on the bed, when he only remembered talking to Sakura. He would, later that morning, rush into Ino's room at the hospital, searching for Sakura. He would ask thousands of question to the one patient there, where Ino could only shake her head and close her eyes in reply, looking strangely serious, if not saddened.

Then later, much later, he would realize she had left for her mission - four days earlier than intended, and was already too far away for him to catch up with her. Of course, he could easily catch up with her, prior to his never-give-up motto.

But, somehow, he didn't think there was anything urgent - well, there was, but Sakura was as stubborn as himself; if she wanted no help, that would mean no help should be provided at all - so they could always talk when she returns and he could ask her how he fell dead asleep in the midst of chatting that night.

That, of course, was provided if he even remembers to ask.

Because, by then, a war would have broken out.

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