Reluctant Hero

By: firefly

Note: requested by lazynin at LJ, where the pairing was KibaxSakura and I had to include the word "autumn." Enjoy, and reviews would be love. This takes place after the manga timejump. (Oh, and I finally finished my first year at University, so expect me to update my other humour fics soon.)

Reluctant Hero

Oh God, please let me find, please let me find it, please let me find it…

Wide, green eyes scoured the carpet of red and yellow leaves. Tucking a strand of pink hair behind her ear, she knelt near a birch tree, sweeping away the leaves and swallowing hard when she found the area empty.

Looking up, she glanced around at her surroundings.

There was no one in sight. Leaves rustled on the ground, tumbling and careening into the air as a crisp breeze swept the park. The sharp, bittersweet tang of decaying leaves doused her senses, tainting the cold wind that whipped through her hair.

Sakura fought back tears.

She should have known she'd lose it one day—the friendship bracelet Ino had made her shortly after Sasuke's departure.

For the three years following the Uchiha's disappearance, there wasn't a day spent without that flimsy, slightly-too-big, pale blue bracelet tied around her wrist.

It ached to think back on the day she'd returned the bow Ino had given her, and ached profoundly so to remember that, after Sasuke left, it was Ino who'd put aside the rivalry and took her lamenting and tears in stride.

For three years, during her training with Tsunade, as she slept, when she visited Ino, the bracelet remained secure around her right wrist.

That is, until yesterday, when she and Ino took a stroll through the park and decided to have lunch beneath the naked birch tree. Sakura distinctly remembered rolling back the sleeves on her sweater and feeling the knot of bound string around her wrist.

That same night, it wasn't until she prepared for bed that she noticed its absence.

"Please let me find it, please…" she breathed, crawling through the leaves, irritably brushing her hair out of her eyes. A sharp gust of wind made her squint and cover her eyes as leaves spiraled around her, filling the air with dead fragments.

She kneeled back onto her haunches, hands loose in her lap as she glanced around in dismay. The park wasn't huge, but finding a flimsy, thin bracelet amongst the thousands of orange, red, and yellow leaves was like—

Brow furrowing, Sakura shoved the analogy to the back of her mind and continued to crawl through the leaves, narrowed eyes scoping the dead grass beneath them.

Once she'd made her way to another tree, she raised her eyes and spotted a pile of leaves a few feet from where she crouched.

Biting her lower lip, she crawled over to it, starting from the edge of the pile and working inwards towards the bulge.

Grabbing armfuls of the leaves, she dumped them behind her and worked her way forward. Nothing but bare, dead grass met her eyes, until she brushed away a lump of leaves to the left of her.

Sakura froze, wide eyes focusing on the limp, outstretched arm beneath the leaves.

A concealed dead body?

The fingers twitched and she gasped, falling backwards and heavily onto her behind as the person beneath the pile of leaves sat up.

He shook his head and the leaves in his hair went spiraling towards the ground.

"You…what the hell were you doing under there?" Sakura finally managed to stammer when the cheek markings became visible.

Inuzuka Kiba gave her a blank look, reaching up to pluck a stray leaf from his hair.

"What the hell were you doing, digging around like a gopher?" he retorted, giving her an annoyed look.

"I was…looking for something," Sakura faltered before narrowing her eyes. "You scared me. I thought I found a dead body or an arm or something."

At that remark, his face broke into a wide grin, eyeteeth sharp and glinting.

"Heh."

Sakura watched him brush and kick off the leaves that were burying him from the waist down, unable to control her curiousity.

"What were you doing under there?"

"I like the smell," he said simply, brushing a few flakes off his sleeve. When he didn't elaborate, she quirked an eyebrow.

"You like the smell, so you bury yourself under a pile of dead leaves? What if someone stepped on you?"

"I wasn't counting on anyone coming over here," he replied, scowling at her. "It's to clear my senses."

Sakura blinked curiously and he sighed.

"My nose gets clogged after a while with different smells. After a few months of that, my nose becomes as useless as yours."

Sakura didn't know whether to be offended or not.

"…so you bury yourself?"

His scowl deepened.

"It's to clear my nose. I have to expose myself to one smell and only one smell. I can't have the smell of other things or other people mix in," he emphasized by making a face at her.

"Oh," Sakura paused. "Did I ruin your cleansing ritual?"

"Don't call it that," he muttered, scratching his nose. "I'm not a monk. And no, you didn't ruin it. I was done hours ago."

"So why were you still"—

"I said I like the smell," he said heatedly, face flushing. "I like autumn. Does that bother you?"

"No," Sakura smiled despite herself, making him grimace.

It was then she realized that something was wrong with the picture of Kiba sitting there in the leaves. Something was missing.

"Where's Akamaru?"

"With my sister. Can't have him with me when I do this."

"Oh…"

There was a moment of silence.

Sakura tucked strands of hair behind her ear as he sniffed experimentally a few times, looking fixedly at his hands in his lap.

"So…"

She glanced up.

"What were you looking for?" he asked indifferently. "I could smell you when you came."

Sakura shifted, moving so she could cross her legs. The thought that she had a distinct smell in the first place and the fact that he could detect it was disconcerting.

"I don't smell bad, do I?" she found herself asking.

He grinned again, drawing her gaze once more to those sharp white teeth.

"I lost…something really important to me," Sakura mumbled, face flushing. "It was something Ino gave to me."

"That Yamanaka chick?"

Sakura scowled.

Looking sheepish, he returned his gaze to the ground.

"What was it?" he asked quickly, plucking idly at the dead grass.

"A friendship bracelet…."

She tried not to blush when he shot her a mildly surprised look. Her answer would have sounded more appropriate coming from an eight-year-old instead of a fifteen-year-old.

"What's it made out of? String?"

For a moment, she thought he was ridiculing her, but the expression on his face was of faint curiousity.

"Yeah. It's light blue with dark blue criss-crossing through it."

"You wear it all the time?"

Sakura blinked at the strange question, answering only because he maintained that serious expression.

"I used to…until I lost it yesterday. I wore it for three years," she said the last part softly, fingers tracing the tan line on her right wrist.

He sat there, staring at her for a moment before brushing the remainder of the leaves off his legs. When he stood abruptly, Sakura scrambled to her feet as well.

A sharp gust of wind made her shiver and she squinted into the wind before turning to look at him. Instantly, she grew self-conscious when she saw him dwarfing her by nearly five inches.

Grimacing, she stood up straighter, wondering why she'd been cursed with a retarded growth spurt.

She glanced at him again, noting the high-necked black sweater he wore with casual black trousers, his brown hair just as unruly as ever. The red markings on his face seemed higher than she remembered. His face, although familiar, no longer held the roundness of his younger years.

Green eyes blinked and lowered to the ground after she found herself appreciatively eyeing his prominent cheekbones and the dimple in his right cheek.

When her eyes rose again, she found him staring at her expressionlessly.

"What?" she said, louder than intended.

He opened his mouth, said nothing, then closed it again, grimacing as he did. Reaching up, he scratched the back of his head and lowered his eyes to her side.

Sakura shifted uncomfortably on the spot, wondering why he was staring at her side like that.

Oh God, I don't have a hole in my pants, do I?

She was startled out of her thoughts when she heard the crunch of leaves, finding him standing closer to her. His shoulders were hunched against the chill, hands stuffed in the pockets of his trousers, animal-like irises focused on her right.

"What"—

"Your"—

They stopped, staring at each other in exasperation.

"You first," Sakura said politely, eye twitching.

He scowled again.

"Look, it's cold. You're crazy if you stay out here looking for a piece of string in nothing but a sweater."

Sakura bristled and was about to accuse him of doing the same until he took another step closer, looking awkward.

"Gimme your arm."

"Huh?"

"The bracelet…it's made out of string, right? And you wore it for three years?"

"Yeah, but why…?"

"Just—here," he blurted, reaching forward and grabbing her right wrist.

Sakura would have considered punching his lights out if he hadn't shot her that furtive, awkward, and slightly uncomfortable look.

"What are you doing?" Sakura demanded as he raised her arm, fingers wrapped firmly around the overly long sleeve.

"It should smell like you," he said, voice quiet enough to get lost amongst the rustle of wind-blown leaves.

Sakura watched in silence, finding it difficult to swallow when he held up her arm, the thumb of his other hand hooking beneath the end of her sweater sleeve.

He didn't look at her once as he pushed her sleeve up, the feeling of his thumb trailing against the back of her hand and arm eliciting a shiver.

Deftly, he folded the sleeve till it remained a few inches behind her wrist, leaving the rest of the flesh exposed to the crisp, cold air. Now his fingers clutched her bare hand, and she bowed her head further in agonized embarrassment when goosebumps rose against his fingertips.

Somewhat appreciative of the fact that he was at least pretending not to notice, Sakura watched him curiously as he stared intently at her wrist.

Then suddenly, he raised her arm and lowered his face towards it.

Something burned within her chest, distracting her from the way her heart pounded when the tip of his nose nudged the tan line on her wrist, his breath warm against the cold skin.

Her inner self went insane at the intimacy of what he was doing. Half of her was enthralled and the other half was shocked and feeling somewhat violated.

Inuzuka Kiba is smelling me.

His grip tightened slightly as he gently tugged her arm higher, his nose nudging the underside of her wrist.

Wide green eyes watched his chest rise and fall with deep breaths, feeling the warm moistness of his exhalations on her warming flesh.

His eyes were lowered and focused on her wrist the entire time, looking as though they were closed. Brow furrowed, he lingered on the skin above her pulse, silent and unmoving before finally relinquishing his grip.

Her arm drifted back to her side as he straightened, turning around without once looking at her.

For a moment he just stood there, and just as she was about to ask what the hell that had been about, he moved off in a different direction, walking over to the single drinking fountain.

Intrigued, she hesitantly followed.

He spoke to her without turning around when she came into hearing distance.

"Don't move from this spot."

Just as she was about to ask why, he took off walking again. Leisurely, he stepped into a clearing, standing still momentarily before taking a few steps towards the left. He paused, took a few more steps, then suddenly kneeled and began tossing the leaves in front of him.

Anyone watching this besides Sakura would have sadly remarked that the Inuzuka boy had lost his mind.

Sakura felt tempted to speak when he stopped and stood up again, taking a few steps to the right. But she fell silent when he kneeled and began digging through the dead foliage again.

She watched him, watched the way the churned-up bits of leaves clung to his clothing, watched him look side to side before moving more to the right to sweep at the leaves there.

A moment later he stood up and turned around, jogging back over to her.

A wide, endearing grin had plastered itself on his face and Sakura felt her heart leap when he raised his open palm.

"Haha, not bad for a human, eh?" he said, dropping his arm when she took the slightly dirtied, blue bracelet from his hand.

"Akamaru would have found it right away, though. But still, it must mean my nose is getting sharper"—

He stopped in mid-sentence, smile fading slightly when she looked at him, eyes wide and teeth digging into her trembling lower lip.

"What? What's wrong? That is the right one isn't—oof!" he stumbled back when she threw her arms around his middle with more zeal than intended, sending them both tumbling into a pile of leaves.

Dazed by the sudden fall, Kiba blinked, staring in bewilderment at the grey sky.

"Thank you."

Raising his head, he looked down to see Sakura smiling up at him, so boundlessly that he was momentarily distracted from the way her elbow was digging into his gut.

He was red in the face when she removed her arms and sat back on her haunches. Putting his hands to his sides, he slowly sat up, brushing off his clothes before glancing at her.

She stared down at the bracelet, now back on her right wrist, with a fondness reminiscent to him of a mother watching her pup.

"Thank you so much," she repeated, looking sideways at him. "You have no idea how much this means to me."

"Sure…no problem," he mumbled, pleased and yet irritated as his face burned.

What the hell was she thinking throwing herself at me like that? Oh God, my ribs hurt…

"Oh, I didn't injure you, did I?" Sakura suddenly sounded anxious, and he realized that he was clutching his side and grimacing.

"Nah. I'm good."

He slowly got to his feet with her following suit. There was a moment of silence, and just as he was about to say something, she spoke.

"Want me to walk you home?"

Kiba stared at her, looking appalled.

"Isn't that my line?"

She grinned, then tapped him in the side, the slight poke eliciting a wince.

"I'll check that out for you," she said apologetically. "Tsunade-sama taught me rejuvenation techniques, so I'll make it up to you. You'll feel better than new."

Wordlessly, he found himself nodding.

The leaves crunched beneath her feet as she followed him out of the park, chatting amiably as they walked.

And when she reached up at one point, laughing and plucking a stray, golden leaf from his hair, his senses were once against graced with the scent emanating from her.

I don't smell bad, do I?

He could only grin when she'd asked him, because there wasn't really an answer.

She didn't smell like cherry blossoms.

She didn't smell like anything.

She just smelled right.