A/N: So I should probably confess that I don't exactly ship NaruSaku. I think they have the potential to become very, very close friends with a good relationship, but I don't see a romance happening there. HOWEVER, the magnificent Crystaltear prompted me with them using the theme Christmas stocking, so I said why not?

Dedicated to CT.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan story.

Sock Puppet Surprise

By Nessie

Haruno Sakura was entirely used to Uzumaki Naruto's strange habits. Almost everything he did was enough to annoy her but she could never truly be surprised by it. In fact, she had finally become so accustomed to the boy's antics that she agreed to go out with him when they were twenty. And that had surprised Naruto.

The relationship lasted for three months. They had enjoyed each other, gone to dinner (usually Ichiraku Ramen) almost every weekend. Naruto had put up with Sakura's odd hours at the hospital with minimal whining, and Sakura had in turn accepted Naruto's insistence on training and going on missions even when they could have spent time together. They were comfortable around each other at that time. But that was the problem.

They understood, in their own different ways, that romance wasn't supposed to be comfortable all of the time. Of course, Naruto had his bursts of insecurity and Sakura had her shyness. The physical side to their relationship never went further than a few deep kisses and some uncertain gropes that usually retreated quickly. And in the end, when they got comfortable even with that, it was a mutual agreement to call it off.

"We have fun," Sakura had said.

"Yeah, yeah," had agreed Naruto with a vigorous nod. "But…"

"But…?"

"Well!" He had chuckled, his bright blue eyes twinkling. "I guess that's it, huh, Sakura-chan? Fun!"

Even though they weren't a couple anymore, they were still partners. Tsunade often assigned her and Naruto to the same team, and Sakura was grateful for that. Naruto was one of the few people she had been close to since her Genin days, and she wanted nothing more than to keep that strong.

And since she had known Naruto that long, she was hardly shocked when he began using silly, frivolous items to tease her with.

Such as a sock puppet.

It started when she lost a patient. A Chuunin had returned to the village with several internal injuries and too many bone fractures, and despite Sakura nearly using up all of her chakra to try and save him, the shinobi had died before dawn. It was the one thing the pink-haired girl had never quite mastered; detaching herself from the life of her patient.

Although Tsunade had tried to break her of it, every time it happened Sakura tended to go into post-loss depression. Once, while they were dating and a young girl had died from illness before Sakura could figure out a proper curing method, she had told Naruto that she became depressed because she was weak and got too involved.

Naruto had only set a hand on her shoulder and told her differently. "It's because you get involved that you can help them at all, Sakura-chan. You're not weak, you just have a lot of kindness in your heart. That means you've got strength." When she had looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, he had grinned and laughed. "I've got the bruises to prove it!"

This time, three days later, Sakura was in the park working on some reports for the hospital record-keepers. Naruto crept up behind the bench was sitting on and introduced her to Shiny, the big red sock puppet that would make her happy.

"Happy?" repeated Sakura with a blink. She looked closely at the face on the puppet Naruto had on his hand. It had a yellow string mouth that had been crookedly glued on. Two little button eyes stared at her above a beaded nose. "There's nothing shiny about this puppet…hey!" she exclaimed, eyes narrowing. "This is…" She peered closer at the bottom of the sock, noted the white cotton lining with the familiar kanji sewn into it.

Naruto's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed.

Sakura glared as she jumped to her feet. "That's the Christmas stocking I made for Kakashi-sensei when we were seventeen!"

"Ehehehehe…" Sweat visibly shone on the orange-clad ninja's guiltily-grinning face. "Yeah, ah…Kakashi-sensei said I could use it—"

"WHAT!"

"Here, Sakura-chan!" He slipped his hand out of the stocking, holding on tightly to the "foot" part at the top. "Why don't you try it on? It really will make you happy!"

Sakura had already gathered her things and began to aggressively walk away. "I don't want to be happy right now, Naruto! I'm going to go yell at Kakashi-sensei for giving away something I worked so hard to make for him!"

And when she saw Kakashi's hidden-but-still-completely-amusedly-apologetic face later that day, she never thought to notice Naruto's disappointed one.

---

He kept it up for two weeks. Naruto continued trying to get Sakura to try on the hand puppet. He went to her apartment, he caught her on the way to and from work. He even went to watch while she trained and held it in front of her even while she was throwing kunai. Sakura kept finding reasons for not doing touching the old stocking. ("I'm a medic now, Naruto, and I know that that puppet isn't sanitary anymore as bad as your hygiene habits are.")

But Naruto was one shinobi who was known to be completely determined in whatever goal he tried to achieve. That was, as usual, no surprise to Sakura. But she admitted that he did unsettle her just a little when he went as far to interrupt a lecture she was giving at the Academy for aspiring medical ninjas.

The children giggled and laughed at the "funny-looking man with the funny puppet" when he walked into the classroom with Shiny bouncing happily on his arm. Sakura gave him a very bland look and a raised eyebrow.

"Naruto," she began, "what do you think you're—"

"Two minutes, Sakura-san," he begged, using the formal term so that he wouldn't make it seem that she shouldn't be taken seriously in front of her class. (He had learned over the years.) "Shikamaru said he'd keep an eye on things."

Irritated, she ground out a terse reply. "Two. Minutes."

When Shikamaru dragged himself in to watch the students, Naruto led her outside into the hallway. He held up Shiny with a pointedly forceful hand wave. "Just try him on, Sakura-chan!" He accentuated his plea with a stomp. "It will make you sooooooooo happy!"

She practically growled with impatience. "Sheesh, Naruto!"

"Sheesh, Sakura-chan!" he echoed teasingly.

"You've been stalking me with that thing for weeks now!"

Naruto puffed out his chest with pride. "And I'm gonna keep stalking you with it until you either kill me or try it on." He grinned broadly. "And I know that you aren't gonna kill me."

She threw up her hands. Sakura badly wanted to knock him unconscious (and knew she could with a well-aimed kick), but she also could predict easily enough that a brief lights-out wasn't going to put Naruto down. So she did what she hand to do.

She thrust out her thin arm so he slip the puppet on her. "Just do it," she muttered.

He glowed so brightly she didn't notice that it was partly because he was perspiring. "You won't regret it, Sakura-chan," he promised as he transferred Shiny from his hand to hers. "It'll—"

"Make me happy," she interposed sharply. "I know." When he had finished fitting the stocking on her arm, she lifted the limb at a vertical angle and waited. "Naruto. You're absolutely insane. Not that I didn't know that, because you've always…" She paused. "Something just scratched me. Hey, what's in here?"

She looked down and pulled off the stocking. There were little red fuzzies clinging to her arm but that wasn't the thing that Sakura noticed right away. What she noticed was the small, golden circle in her palm. The circle was topped by a pale, fairly plain diamond.

"It's a…" She found she couldn't say it.

Naruto's voice caught as he spoke for her. "A ring." He swallowed and carefully watched her face, which had already started to tint. "Does it make you happy?" he whispered. It was possibly the quietest Sakura had ever heard him be without talking.

Sakura looked up from the ring in her hand to his face. The green in her eyes shimmered, and a slow smile spread on her face. "Yes." She let the stupid puppet drop to the floor and reached for him. He caught her and put the ring on her left finger, then angled his gaze down to look at her.

"I wasn't sure, you know." His smile wasn't silly this time. It was relieved. "I thought we only had fun, Sakura-chan."

"Yeah, but…" Sakura rose on her toes. "You surprised me."

And when she kissed him, the new feeling she got from it surprised her, too.

The End