Name by Ivy Adrena
The first time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was edged caution with undertones of surprise.
(Sakura/? to start, because the pairing shouldn't decide a story's popularity. Concrit welcomed and encouraged.)
The first time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was edged caution with undertones of surprise. Mission details had said nothing about Akatsuki interference; what was he doing here?
"But he isn't exactly interfering, is he?"
That was true-- he was just standing there in the lengthening shadows, watching her with those strange eyes.
The thought was cut off as she hastily ducked the naginata her target swiped at her head, dropping into a foot sweep as she ducked under his guard. Her blade flashed across the vulnerable skin of the man's neck, releasing a stream of vibrant blood. When she glanced back at the tree line where he'd been standing, blood flecked across her cheek and eyes wary, he was gone.
The second time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was slightly weary, questioning.
He didn't reply, just stood there, staring at the diagonal slash across her stomach where her latest opponent had tried to gut her. She glanced at the body in her peripheral vision as she sent chakra into her hands, beginning to heal the deep wound. The man's head hung at an odd angle, half severed; Sakura wasn't proficient with kusarigama, so the curved blade had lodged in the cervical vertebrae instead of cutting straight through.
"Careless," was all she said, and when she looked back, he was gone.
The third time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was with an edge of steel. She could hear Kakashi-sensei (for he would always be "sensei" to her, even if she matched his jounin status now) fighting his partner, even though Samehada had stolen a significant chunk of his chakra reserves in a single swipe; he'd barely managed to dodge a blow that would have severed his legs at the knee. Naruto lay unconscious at her feet, and she crouched over him protectively, metal rasping as her fingers tightened on the kusarigama's chain. She'd learned how to handle the weapon quickly, teaching herself the flow and swing of the blade until it was an extension of her body.
She refused to remain ignorant.
Eyes glinting, Sakura engaged him.
When she thought about it later, she acquainted it with a dance. Flashing steel and clashing blades; feint and parry, jumping a foot sweep only to catch a chakra-laden punch in the gut when she closed with him. Blood seeped from a rough slash on her shoulder; a matching wound, almost bone-deep, made his sword-arm nearly useless. Baring his teeth ferally, he switched hands and came at her again.
Sakura almost lost her footing when she heard Kakashi-sensei's sharp cry. She didn't realize until she sat down to write her report that he had pulled his hit, merely knocking her out instead of killing her.
When she woke up with her team around her, he was gone.
The fourth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was accompanied by an honorific and a small bow. She'd expected him this time, having been sent on a diplomatic mission to feel out the possibility of a cease-fire or - even better - a trade alliance between Konoha and Akatsuki.
He replied with a clipped nod and a gruff, "Kunoichi."
Sakura grit her teeth, determined.
Numerous pots of tea, yelled arguments, debates, and not a few name-calling matches later, they emerged with a rough draft of a treaty for their respective leaders to review.
Six months and ten extended meetings to hash out details later, the treaty was signed.
When she looked up from the scroll and realized that he hadn't left, she smiled brilliantly.
The fifth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was a sharp warning as a faceless opponent sent a massive katon jutsu at his unprotected back. He spun just in time, fingers dancing through handseals as he called up a suikoudan no jutsu to block, then decimate the unlucky ninja.
Sakura had already thrown herself back into the battle, doubt of his reaction time having not entered her mind for a second.
When the fight was over and the combined Konoha ANBU/Akatsuki four-man team sorted through the bodies, Sakura looked at his unmarked back and smiled.
Instead of heading off to report to his Leader, he stayed, watching her examine and heal the other's injuries before tending her own.
The sixth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was accompanied by a teasing tone and an elbow to his ribs.
He returned to camp that night with a small bottle and proceeded to paint her nails purple as she laughed.
Had she looked, she would have seen his lips curve slightly upwards. His hand felt warm against hers.
The seventh time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was in a startled squeak as she hurriedly turned her back, poisoned senbon dropping from her grasp as she reached for a towel slung over a low-hanging branch. Wrapping the rough cloth around her, she stilled when she felt his fingers trace the jagged scar on her shoulder. Questioning. It was the wound he'd inflicted, the scar she hadn't bothered to regenerate into smooth skin.
She turned, skimmed her fingers over his shoulder where she knew he'd kept the matching scar. "I wanted the reminder."
His hand shifted, cupped the curve of her bare shoulder. Leaned closer until she could feel his warm breath whispering across her skin as her eyes slid closed. Time seemed to stop for a moment, lingering, and then he abruptly let go.
When Sakura opened her eyes, he was gone.
The eighth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was on a sigh as she gazed blindly out the window, a Mission Report abandoned in front of her.
She hadn't seen him for months; he was avoiding her.
The ninth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was in exasperation as she surveyed his wounds. Shaking her head and muttering about stupid macho men that didn't know when to quit, she pushed chakra into him, meticulously removing poison and shrapnel alike before reconnecting tendons and reconstructing damaged muscle. When she was done, she collapsed boneless against his side, eyes sliding over his chest, proud of her work.
"Strength alone doesn't make a person invincible," she murmured, before dropping into a deep, rejuvenating sleep.
He stayed, guarding her.
The tenth time Haruno Sakura said his name, it was on a breathy moan, then a scream as she convulsed around him, sharp teeth grazing her neck. Nails dug furrows down his back as her legs tightened around his waist, clutching him close.
When she awoke in the morning, he was wrapped around her, one hand cupped possessively over her left breast. She could feel his steady heartbeat against her back; it matched the rhythm of hers.
Years later, Haruno Sakura still said his name frequently. It wasn't in acknowledgement of his strength or power or political ties, but in simple reassurance that he hadn't left, hadn't abandoned her, hadn't died.
As she stood on a hill somewhere at the edge of Fire Country, watching the sun rise on a new day with his arms wrapped around her, Sakura smiled and whispered his name, just because she could.