Naruto remembers his first attempted kill. A boy pretty enough to make him blush who had begged for a mercy he called death. He had hesitated and argued but that wasn't what made it almost. Only after he had relented, given in to the idea of the slaying, did the boy change his mind.

"Sorry, Naruto-kun, there's still something I have to do."

And then he disappeared faster than Naruto's eyes could follow, to throw his life away at another's more experienced hand.

But this isn't almost.

The blood on his neck is hot where he wipes the slick palm of his hand and gasp-chokes for air. That was close—much too close. Sakura's eyes are wide and unseeing. She's bent on hands and knees, twitching like some kind of sickly dog, and he can see the lines around her throat that he's sure will bruise by the morning. Her hair is a darker pink in places, tainted with what he hopes to god isn't her own blood.

"Sakura-chan. Sakura-chan."

His heart is throbbing like a wounded thing in his chest; the beat swells in his ears, quickening, deafening.


She's not responding, and suddenly he has the irrepressible urge to grab her, crush his lips against hers and taste her. Anything to know she's real—alive. But it wasn't her that he thought about when he could no longer breathe. The guilt is stifling and for a moment he's back struggling against the ninja's deadly grasp, feeling the woodiness of the vines through his shirt as they constrict around his chest. Dead things intended to kill.

They crunch under his boots when he shuffles forward and drops to his knees beside her, a numbness just starting to set into his fingertips. "Sakura-chan, it's okay. He's dead."

I put a hole through his chest. I mean, my hand went clean through.

He doesn't have to look at the body to know that the back has blown clear off, exploded outward in a shower of red-stained flesh and bone under the force of his Rasengan. He couldn't control it in his desperation, couldn't stop the kill in his fear, and he feels weak for feeling even a little sick about it. He reaches one hand out to touch Sakura's shoulder but drops it midway, unwilling to dirty her with his bloodshed. He clenches his fist to keep from shaking. The numbness tingles up his arm and barely touches his elbow. He wonders if Sasuke feels this same soullessness all over when the tingling spreads to his chest.

"We're okay."

Will he be able to stop it? The pain has traveled up his neck and finally reached his lips like a thousand pin pricks, and he has to stop himself from touching them just to know they are still there. Instead he presses them into Sakura's damp hair just above her ear and lets himself tremble with her. It's only this close that he can hear her whisper, "The bone is shattered in my right thigh."

He's surprised at her words, her seriousness, and pulls back. Her eyes are dull when she finally looks up to him. She studies him for a moment, reaching up to wipe the tears from his cheeks that he didn't know he was leaking. "It'll take me some time to heal, our first priority should be getting out of here."

He nods dumbly and doesn't have to say I'll carry you. She's already wrapped her arms around his neck in anticipation. He cradles her carefully in his arms, and when he runs she bites the black fabric over his shoulder to keep from screaming. She clings to him, pressing herself into his chest, one palm trembling against the back of his neck, and he wants to promise her that the pain will be over soon, but he's too scared about the permanence of his own hurt and the dull ache in his chest that echoes of hollowness.

When he can't run anymore, he finally picks a spot to hide, and while panting from lack of breath, goes about preparing traps. She mends the bone in her leg, never having said a word. The vegetation is dark and lush above them, so that even when he lights a small fire, he feels trapped in the void. He stares at his wrists and the purple bruises that now circle them, ones he's certain spiral up his arms.

"You're dead aren't you? You're dead and no one told me."

The suddenness of her words startle him, and he looks at her with sad eyes.

She's crying now for the first time, sobbing and covering her face, and he realizes finally the source of her own fear. It's true, after all, that this isn't her first kill. No, she had experienced that months ago and handled it better than he was now. Again, he feels weak but doesn't know what to tell her to prove that he's alive. The blood is crusted on his hand and flakes as he slips his fingers through hers and pulls her hand to press over the hardness of his chest. He pushes her palm flat over his pounding heart and waits until she feels the heat of it under her skin. She looks to him with green eyes shimmering with doubt, and as he tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear with his free hand says, "I didn't die."

Her tears have stopped as abruptly as they came, and she's pushing his jacket down over his shoulders, ripping his shirt off over his head. A small sound catches in the back of his throat in disbelieve, but he ducks to assist her, feeling the shirt slide off his outstretched arms and fall to the ground. He's cold in the night air, shadows from the fire dancing across the front of him, but he doesn't have time to respond before she's wrapped her arms around his waist, pressed her face against his bare chest, and she listens, really listens, for the sound of his heartbeat. She stays like that for a few minutes, ear pressed against his skin; he smooths her hair gently, silently, relaxing some against her, and she whispers as explanation, "I can't lose another one."

It's somehow disappointing, but he understands. He plasters on his over-sized smile even though she can't see it, wearing it out of habit as he fake laughs, "Saaakura-chan, you were worried about me."

His eyes crinkle.

She pulls away with a roll of her eyes, finally looking less pale and more like herself and huffs, "Of course I was, dumbass. Though I swear I don't know why."

She falls quiet and for a second; he can see in her eyes how truly important he is to her. His smile fades to a more genuine one, and without thinking he pulls her into his arms. He's crushing her against his chest in need, but she doesn't try to pull away. Instead he feels the tips of her fingers feather across the small of his back hesitantly before she again wraps her arms around him.

He buries his face against her neck and breathes in the scent of her with shuddering gasps. It feels weird to him, knowing there are people who would actually give a damn if he died. It's not something he had the luxury of until just a few years ago. Even now there are people who would rejoice, celebrate the death of the Nine-Tails along with him, but he knows Sakura's concern is sincere. He's thankful that she cares for him even if he can never have her love. If it had to be that way, he's glad it's because another man stole her heart first and not because of his cursed fate. He likes to pretend he doesn't believe in all that—fate or destiny—that's he's going to be the Hokage regardless, but he's not blind to the treatment he receives even still, and he didn't fail to overhear the protests from Sakura's parents upon learning who exactly was on their daughter's team.

"He shouldn't even be a ninja. They're putting our daughter in danger along with the entire village."

That was from her mother to Ino's just outside the florist shop during Team Seven's first week together. He had never gone back to buy Sakura flowers again. It was probably better that way because Sakura had tossed them without a thought into the river, not realizing he had spent his dinner money on them. He didn't blame her though. Her heart was already set on someone else, and he had been enough of a bother in his enthusiasm over her. He had matured over the years though, learned which pestering was welcome and which would only result in a face punch and was happy enough being one of her close friends.

He stills suddenly when he feels her warm tongue brush the skin of his neck.


His eyes are wide, uncomprehending, but he can't make himself pull away as her arms tighten around him and she leaves a trail of kisses down his throat to his collarbone.

He forces another laugh as he tries to pull back, but it comes out softer than he intends, and his voice is shakier than he wants when he jokes, "I know you're worried about me, but I'm fine, really. I've lived through worse."

"Naruto," she breathes, sliding one arm higher up his back to trap him in place. "Shut up."

He swallows hard as she rises up, now just inches from his lips, and feels a deep stirring in his chest, but it isn't entirely painful. He wants it, god he wants it, but should he let her use him—could he take it in the morning when things went back to normal and he was left alone?

She leans in, rubbing her closed lips lightly back and forth over his, the softest of caresses, eliciting a defeated whine from his throat before she presses her mouth to his and parts her lips ever so slightly. His eyes close and he lets himself kiss her like he has always wanted to, like he has dreamed about when he was alone in his room, trying desperately to relieve the tension between his thighs. His hand finds her jaw, thumb stroking over her cheek, needing to touch her, feel her, as his other hand slips into her hair and fists desperately. Mine.

It was going to kill him when they had to separate. He pulls back from her lips, panting, and she actually tries to follow, but he stops her. "Sa-ah-I can't. I can't."

He thinks he might cry again, and he doesn't want to look weak in front of her, so he doesn't open his eyes as he drops his hands away. He takes a few moments to catch his breath, let his chest stop heaving and is just about recovered when he feels her arms slide around his neck and her bare breasts press against the front of him.

He jerks—chokes, and opens his eyes to look at her, but the side of his face is pressed against her hair and all he can see is into the darkness of the forest behind her or down the pale, softness of her backside.

"Please," she whispers into his ear, "do this for me. I need to feel something."

He swallows hard and even knowing that it will break him, quietly relents. "Okay, Sakura-chan. Okay."