XII: Silken Whispers
They sat in the shade, leaning against the broad, strong trunk of the old oak tree at the edge of the clearing at the beginning of the forest. In the valley below, they watched children play, screaming and laughing; they watched couples like themselves walk hand-in-hand or enjoy a picnic bento in the sunlight; they watched the wind tickle the leaves of the trees, rustling silken whispers and promises down to the depths of the earth.
Sakura laid between his legs, his knees creating a barrier for her so she wouldn't fall in her weakened state. She leaned on the broad expanse of his chest, her arms up and playing with his hair, a liberty he had recently started to allow. Not that she would ever admit he had better hair than she, but the way it caressed her fingers as she combed it, twirled it, even braided it-- it sent shivers down her spine, the touch of his fingers was so like that…
Neji gently pulled her hands from his hair and held them in his own, gazing at her with a small smile on his face. "How are you feeling?"
The green-eyed girl sighed. "You've asked me that five times today, Neji," she said with a slightly nervous giggle. "I'm fine. It only hurts when I run or spar or something. Shizune did a marvelous job."
"So did you, starting the Creation: Rebirth jutsu before you blacked out." He tilted his head to touch his lips to her forehead. "You're fairly brilliant, Haruno."
"Not really," she protested with a blush. "Shizune will kill me for coming out here after only two hours of being awake."
"Screw Shizune," he said calmly, and she laughed. But he seemed more serious when he spoke again. "Sakura… I'd like you to meet my uncle."
"The scary one?"
He hid a smile. "Yes, the scary one."
"Well, if I'm in love with you and going to marry you someday, you might as well get a head start on defending yourself to him." He spoke slowly but with determination, as if he wanted to get the words out quickly before he could take them back. As if he was scared.
He was scared… and so was Sakura.
She giggled anxiously once again and tilted her face to him. "You're… Neji, if you're joking I'm going to throw you into that group of kids like a bowling ball."
"I rarely joke, Sakura."
No shit. Sakura's eyes opened wide, and the sharp intake of breath she took caused her wound to slice her body with white-hot pain. She breathed more evenly and blinked. "You're serious. You're serious?" she asked in awe.
He gently let go of her hands and turned her body so she could see his lavender-white eyes, illuminated by the sun, piercing through her body and soul like the sweetest of knives. He nodded. "I'm serious."
"Well, I'll be damned, Neji, so you're a romantic after all!"
The two shinobi under the tree turned their heads sharply to see Naruto grinning, his hands on his hips, Sai behind him with a satisfied smile. "Hyuuga," the ink-artist began, "we have a few rules to lay down if you're going to start dating Ugly over here."
Ugly? Neji glanced at Sakura in amusement, and she silenced the oncoming question with a sharp glare that she soon turned to her two teammates. "You're not going to interrogate him again, are you? Because he told me about the first time, and you did the same thing when I went out with Kiba!"
"You went out with Kiba?" Neji repeated, a tinge of anger in his voice.
"Not for long," Naruto said with a self-satisfied grin. Neji couldn't help but inwardly thank him.
Sakura scowled, but leaned against Neji's chest again, and gestured for her two brothers to get on with it.
Sai smiled his usual fake smile. "Rule Number One. Do not touch her in any way we think is inappropriate."
"--at least not for the first couple of dates," Naruto said hastily when Neji raised an eyebrow. "And you have to have her permission, otherwise we disembowel you. Rule Number Two: You must treat her as an equal. And this isn't just for you to be courteous, it's because last time I said I could beat her in a spar she kicked my ass."
Sakura smirked slightly as Sai continued with the third rule. "You cannot kiss her while we're watching until you're married. If you do, we might not be able to restrain ourselves from, ah…"
"Killing you," Naruto finished firmly.
"Yes, that," Sai agreed.
Neji sighed. "Is that all?"
"Um, well… yes," Naruto said lamely, with a small shrug. "We didn't have much time to make more rules. But just keep in mind that she's injured still, so don't go doing anything… er…" He'd just caught sight of Sakura's flashing green eyes and clenched fist, and his voice trailed off.
"Not to worry," Neji said loudly, putting a hand on Sakura's shoulder. "I think I can comply with all those rules. Except, maybe, the third one. But I'm quite sure I can outrun you two."
Naruto made an ugly face. "Watch yourself, Hyuuga. It isn't too late for me to revoke my blessing."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Come on, Naruto, leave us alone."
Naruto's face softened, and he bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "Feel better, Sakura-chan. We're glad you're still here."
She smiled at him. "Me, too." Sai and Naruto were silent for a minute, looking at Sakura expectantly, and then Sakura sighed. "Fine, I'll make dinner when I get home from the hospital. Ramen."
Naruto cheered raucously, and Sai smiled his special smile. "Thank you, Sakura-chan!" and "Thanks, Hag" peppered the air as the two finally backed away, turning ever so often to smile at Sakura or glare at Neji.
The Hyuuga prodigy chuckled in his low baritone. "They're annoying."
"They are that," Sakura agreed. She smiled at him for a moment, and then, suddenly, kissed him on the cheek, her smile widening. "I can't believe you, you romantic! Prodigy boy with a thing for me!"
"Ah, well," he answered quietly, "it was your fault, anyway."
"My fault? Explain that."
"If you weren't so damned strong, and you didn't have those green eyes, and you weren't so proud of having your heart on your sleeve…" he trailed off slightly and stared at her until she looked down, a blush coloring her face the color of the red T-shirt Naruto had brought her when she'd woken up. Gently, he lifted her chin so that she was forced to look at him. "If you weren't so eminently Sakura, so crazily desirable, so annoyingly everything I love, I wouldn't have become such a 'romantic' in the first place."
She cheekily stuck her tongue out at him. "You should thank me."
"Maybe I will," he said with a roguish grin that was very un-Hyuuga-like, leaning his head towards hers to steal a kiss. His uncle was most likely having a fit of inexplicable twitches right now.
Neji sighed in frustration at having his kiss interrupted two times in a row, and Sakura laughed as they turned towards this next disruption.
Lee stood in front of the couple with shining eyes and wind-ruffled hair and nice-guy pose intact, perfectly fit, with only a few scars to show that he had ever been injured. "Oh, my cherry blossom friend, I come to thank you for healing me, and I find you in the arms of my rival! Congratulations to both of you, for you are finally in the full spring of youth!"
Neji rolled his eyes with a groan, but Sakura grinned at Lee. "Thanks," she said, "but you might want to say the same thing to your girlfriend, she's coming up the hill."
TenTen ran to them. "Hey, Lee," she said lovingly, and then turned to Sakura. "Shizune's on the warpath and on the way here, you better leave!"
Sakura turned to Neji, who looked extremely angered, and smirked. She turned his face to hers with her hand and wrapped her other arm around his neck.
As they kissed, everything else disappeared-- Lee's shouts of 'youth!' 'glory!' and 'love!'; the children laughing and playing; TenTen's sweet and drawn-out 'awwwww'… there was only the wind rushing in their ears and the thrum of their heartbeats and the rush of the earth turning beneath them… only the delicious feeling of their bodies joined together, safe and dangerous and the wrong fit and wonderful all at the same time.
In those seconds, they found out things that would last a lifetime-- Neji found he rather liked it when she let out a sort of purr when he ran his tongue over her lower lip, and that he never seemed to get enough of touching her face, her hair, her lower back… Sakura found that Neji truly loved the way she ran her thumbs down the line of his shoulder blades, and that the heady and feather-light heat that was rising in her chest wasn't in the least uncomfortable.
And when they separated, with Shizune rounding the crest of the hill spitting curses and threats and Lee and TenTen replicating what they had been doing five seconds ago-- when they separated and looked at each other with blushes staining their cheeks and sparkling eyes and quickened breaths, they found what they'd been searching for, living for… fighting for.
And suddenly, to Sakura, the prospect of facing Neji's uncle wasn't that bad, after all.
Nascence is everything beautiful and real and new…
Author's Note: Well, yes, that was a rather short ending, definitely not my best, but I think I'm pretty happy with it. It had its fair share of fluff and humor, which I think was the right thing to tie up this rather dark story… Not to worry, guys, I will most DEFINITELY be doing another NejiSaku, be it a oneshot or a twoshot or another whole fic, but I'm going to get some oneshot drabbles out of my way first.
I'm really glad you guys liked Nascence. This has been my longest, most reviewed, most favorite-and-alert-ed story ever. I hope to continue to grow in my writing style, but it's been a good ride with you guys in this story. Thanks for all your compliments and support, and I'll see you next time!