The Melody of the Fox

Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.

Chapter 35

A week passed since their confrontation at his door. If he had to describe his time away from Tayuya, it was basically fucking horrible. Some days he didn't even feel like getting out of bed, and if he did, it was only after Kankurou, Gaara or Jiraiya dragged him out for training. It sounded overdramatic, but it literally felt like his soul was dead. Even his impending birthday wasn't enough to cheer him up. Then again, it'd never cheered him up what with it being the anniversary of the biggest calamity to ever hit Konoha and all.

He'd never realized what her companionship meant to him before. They really were attached at the hip for most of the day, and it wasn't like he could rely on any of the Sand siblings to fill the void. Gaara was busy all the time, Kankurou's idea of fun (picking up chicks and drinking) wasn't very fun, and Temari seemed to be spending all of her time with Tayuya. Which was weird considering how often they'd been at each others' throats––literally, as he'd found out––since they met.

On the bright side, he'd learned a lot about his wind element by training with Baki at Gaara's insistence. Even though he was stoic and a bit cold, the man knew his stuff. He'd taught him how to make a damn near unblockable blade out of wind, how to use a burst of wind to launch himself dozens of meters in any direction, and how to shoot a powerful ball of air from his mouth. He hadn't yet mastered any of the techniques, but at this point, it was all about practice.

Since he and Tayuya were barely speaking, he had all the time in the world to get better, and so did she. He'd spied on her a couple of times when she was busy practicing the earth ninjutsu she'd learned from her family's scrolls, and she was doing some pretty devastating stuff. Stuff he wouldn't want aimed in his direction and was worried that she'd eventually use on him for being so cold towards her lately. He certainly wouldn't blame her.

He lie on his back in the sun, amazed at how quickly he'd gotten used to the heat. It was still hot, and he was still sweating like a pig, but it didn't bother him as much as it did when they'd first arrived in the desert. It was even a little comforting, almost like a warm hug. Not that he'd had all that many hugs in his lifetime. Actually, he could count them all on two hands, and most of the recent ones he could remember were from Anko whenever she felt like rubbing her chest up against him. God, she freaked him out.

A sudden shadow appeared over him, and he squinted up to see Gaara staring down at him. "Hey, Gaara, what're you doing here? Don't you have Kazekage duties?"

It sort of looked like the boy frowned, but it was hard to tell when he wore such a constantly bored and neutral expression. "I took the afternoon off. I wanted to spar with you."

Naruto pushed himself up into a sitting position, grinning excitedly. "A spar? Awesome! We haven't fought since..."

"Since I tried to turn Konoha into a desert."

"Yeah, since then," the blond laughed. It always surprised him how funny Gaara was. It was very dry humor, which only seemed appropriate considering his origin and primary skillset. He fully stood up and brushed off his pants. "What kind of spar are we talkin' about here? Taijutsu?"

"Everything." Naruto raised his eyebrows and Gaara's lips twitched upwards. "Except for the obvious."

The blond laughed again, stretching his limbs and flexing his muscles to show off a bit. He didn't consider himself narcissistic, but he'd have to be blind not to realize how ripped he was. At the very least, it served as good intimidation for would-be opponents. "I dunno, Gaara, I'm pretty strong now. I have some really big attacks."

"The Kazekage isn't just a title. I have some big attacks of my own."

"Okay, if you're sure," Naruto shrugged. He pulled out a kunai and flipped it around in his hand. "When this hits the ground, we go. Fine with you?"

Gaara nodded his head and walked a few meters away. "Whenever you're ready."

Naruto tossed the weapon as hard as he could in the air and watched it fly, a bit worried that he'd put too much strength into the throw. After a few seconds it finally began to descend, and as it did, he began to gather chakra into his body.

Not even a millisecond after the weapon hit the ground did a wave of sand rush towards him, but he was ready. Using the new technique he'd learned from Baki, he blasted himself into the air and formed ten kage bunshin to surround him a second before dozens of sand bullets pierced their bodies. He made a final kage bunshin to throw him down to the ground faster, flipping himself out of the way of a few sand spikes that came up from the ground.

He had to hand it to Gaara; he knew how to keep him on his feet. He barely had enough time to think let alone attack, but that was about to change. "Kage Bunshin no jutsu!" he yelled, forming thirty clones. They split up and made a beeline for the Kazekage, moving at full speed. Well, as fast as they could run with their weights on.

Naruto knew Gaara's weakness. The sand was only so fast even if it was an automatic defense, and with thirty different fists coming at him from thirty different angles, it'd be easy to take him down unless he decided to wrap himself up in his shell. But that'd be no fun, so he decided to leave the weights on for the time being.

He left one clone behind and ran along with the others, mentally coordinating with them to form a plan of attack. It was a neat little trick he'd picked up while in Kumo. Since they were all him and they all had the exact same brain pattern, he found that he could control them to a certain extent if he concentrated hard enough. They could still choose not to listen, of course, but he could plant subtle suggestions without them noticing so that they'd usually do what he said.

They got within two feet of Gaara, but unfortunately, the sand around the boy suddenly sunk, dropping them all into a pit and closing it over them shortly afterwards. He and a few clones just barely managed to slip out, and when they did, they were right upon him.

The original Naruto tried to sweep his feet out from under him, but the leg simply collapsed into sand. Of course, a Suna bunshin. It was always a Suna bunshin. He was starting to understand how the people he fought felt whenever he used his shadow clones.

On instinct he created another clone to his left, and milliseconds later, it exploded, the momentum from Gaara's unseen attack sending him flying again. Gaara when he wasn't half possessed by a demon was much, much harder to fight. He was smarter and more elusive with an arsenal of at least a hundred jutsus at his disposal instead of the mindless beast he'd dealt with last time. He found himself wishing that the Ichibi would take over–at least long enough for him to get his bearings.

Naruto smirked. Looks like he'd have to be even smarter. "Kage bunshin no jutsu!" he yelled in midair, forming a clone next to him. The clone grabbed his leg and swung him back towards Gaara before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

On the other side of the sandy clearing, Gaara frowned. He couldn't hide his disappointment at Naruto's obvious tactics and reliance on the kage bunshin. Kankurou had spoken highly of how much Naruto had improved, but he wasn't seeing any of it. Why was Naruto coming at him head on? Didn't he know that was suicide? Sighing, he raised his hand and sent a huge wave of sand forward to capture the blond, deciding to end this before he could be disappointed anymore.

To his surprise only around a quarter of his sand moved, and it wasn't until he looked down that he noticed that the sand in his immediate vicinity had been crystallized––most likely by some sort of fire jutsu. Which was odd since, as far as he knew, Naruto didn't know any of those.

"When did–"

"You really need to keep track of the clones I make," Naruto smirked from behind him. Gaara's sand just barely stopped the blade of wind that had been heading straight for the back of his neck while destroying the clone at the same time.

"Clever, but it's easy enough to break the sand down again."

"True. Why don't you try?"

Gaara narrowed his eyes. Was he bluffing? Or was there a trap? There couldn't be. There was no way. He sent some of his own personal sand into the ground to speed up the process as he sent sand bullets at Naruto to keep him at bay.

"Oi, Gaara!" a voice yelled from behind him.

He turned to see another Naruto forming a huge ball of glowing chakra in his hands. It looked like the rasengan, but three times as big. Shit.

"Odama rasengan!" Naruto yelled, running full speed towards him.

Thinking quickly, Gaara covered himself in a dome of sand, layering and hardening it so that it'd be inpenetrable. Even a burrowing technique like the rasengan couldn't get through this.

Just as he started to form an eye of sand to look around, he heard the sound of multiple kunai hitting his sand dome from different sides. A second later, he felt himself being blown out of the dome. He winced at the burn on his arm where his sand armor had been blasted away, gripping the wound with his free hand as he flew. Thankfully, Naruto caught him in midair before he could hit the ground.

"I win," Naruto said, a wide, foxy grin on his face as he set his friend down.

The Kazekage rubbed at his forehead. He had a major headache, and not from the Ichibi this time. "How?" Gaara groaned.

"That sand you broke down? There was some gunpowder mixed in, so when I set fire to your dome...boom!"

"I can't believe you won."

"Eh, it was a spar and you were holding back."

Gaara grabbed Naruto's wrist, pointedly nodding towards the weights he wore. "So were you."

Naruto shrugged slightly, wide grin still on his face. That spar had been just what he needed to take his mind off of his problems with Tayuya. "I'm hungry! Wanna get food? My treat!"

"No, I lost, I'll pay."

The blond shrugged again. "Well, if you say so." He normally felt slightly guilty whenever anyone his own age offered to buy him food, but with Gaara, he didn't feel bad about it at all. He was the Kazekage, so he was probably loaded. He let his friend lead the way into town. Since he was buying, he was choosing the restaurant.

The streets were relatively empty since it was around midday, and personally, he was thankful for it. Crowds didn't usually bother him, but when he was hungry, all he could see was a group of obstacles keeping him from his food.

So he was visibly surprised when two girls came up to them, both of them smiling shyly. They looked similar in that they both had short brown hair and large green eyes, and the only real difference that Naruto could see was in their height. One stood at around his height, and the other was almost comically short––shorter than even Tayuya who was an even five feet tall on a good day.

He felt a small smile slip onto his face as he thought about his spitfire teammate. He constantly forgot that she was so petite since she carried herself as if she were a giant. While he'd grown around six inches over the years, she'd grown maybe an inch at best. Vertically, at least. She'd definitely grown a lot in other areas.

"Um, Kazekage-sama, can we have a picture with you?" the shorter girl asked, nervously biting her lip.

Gaara tried to move around her to no avail as she again stepped in front of him to block his path. "We're in a hurry."

The girls' faces fell, so Naruto nudged his friend in the side. Amusingly his sand defense blocked most of the blow, even though his intentions weren't to harm him. "Come on, Gaara, they're your fans! We can put off lunch for a few minutes!" he said, ignoring the angry protests from his stomach.

Unable to take the pleading stares of both the girls and Naruto, Gaara dropped his shoulders in defeat. "Alright."

The girls excitedly jumped up and down before thrusting a small camera in Naruto's direction. Naruto started to take the camera from them, but he was stopped by Gaara's hand. "If I'm taking a picture, you're going to be in it, too. It's not often you'll get two kages together, after all."

"You're a kage?" the taller girl asked. She stepped uncomfortably close to Naruto, narrowing her eyes to scrutinize him.

Gaara nodded, shooting his friend a small smirk. "He will be." He motioned for a civilian–who looked surprised to see the Kazekage out in training gear and with two girls, no less–to take their picture. The man of course obliged, taking a few snaps of the four teenagers before handing it back to the girls.

"Thanks so much! We'll treasure this forever!" The girls glanced at each other before pouncing on both boys, hugging them tightly. A second later they giggled and ran off.

"See? That wasn't so bad."

"One of them squeezed my butt."

"Yours too, huh?" Naruto laughed, and Gaara smirked. He loved having Naruto in Suna with him. New, fun things always seemed to happen whenever he was around, and he was forced to step out of comfort zone on a near constant basis. If he could, he'd keep him here permanently. Not only would his best friend be around all the time, but Suna's firepower would nearly double. Konoha didn't know how they good they had it.

They continued on towards the market district until they reached a small, private soba stand. Since Naruto had never tried it before, Gaara took it upon himself to order for the both of them. The cook rushed to get their food to them, and it was mere minutes before a bowl of strange noodles were placed in front of the teens.

Naruto grabbed his chopsticks and raised his hand over the bowl, gulping a little with trepidation. He didn't know why he was so nervous about trying something new, so with a quiet itadakimasu, he dipped the utensils into the soup and shoved a mouthful of noodles into his mouth to find that the dish actually tasted pretty good. It wasn't ramen–not even close–but it was still tasty. He could get used to soba.

The boys were just finishing their second bowl of noodles when Gaara decided to speak up. "So, Temari tells me you're in love with Tayuya."

Naruto choked on his noodles at the sudden statement, and Gaara had to pat him on the back a few times to dislodge them from his esophagus. "I'm not! I just...I'm just confused."

"So you're going to cut her out of your life until you figure it out? That's absurd."

The blond shook his head. "You don't get it. I don't want to do it, but it'll be better for the both of us to have some space to think."

"What do you need to think about? You share a bed, Naruto. Normal friends don't do that."

He idly wondered what Gaara would know about normal friends considering his past, but he had to admit that he had a point. He hadn't really questioned it since he figured Tayuya would've said something about it if it was weird, but now that he thought about it, she probably wouldn't know much about normal friendship, either.

And maybe that's why she was the best friend he'd ever had. She didn't have many past experiences to effect how she treated him, and vice versa. She was used to being mostly on her own and relying only on herself just like was. Yeah, she'd had the Sound Five, but if her stories were to be believed they were more like asshole coworkers than comrades. They worked together to avoid pissing off Orochimaru–nothing more, nothing less.

Tayuya fully trusted him, fully believed in him, and he was treating her like shit. He felt like an idiot for even considering listening to Kankurou's advice–though it had made him realize how much she meant to him, so maybe it'd worked after all.

If he was being honest with himself, he'd realized it the moment she appeared at his door a week ago. That feeling of happiness and relief he felt at just seeing her face...there was no way that was normal. It was only his stubbornness that had kept them apart for this long, and all it'd taken was a few words from Gaara to help him see how stupid he was being.

"How can I fix this?" he mumbled, staring down into his bowl of noodles.

"Invite her out dancing. Temari, Kankurou and I will go to make it seem like it's just a group outing, but we'll give you your space so that you reconcile," Gaara pushed, sensing his change of heart.

Naruto sighed, suddenly not very hungry. It did sound like a good idea, and he did miss her something fierce. Besides, he'd never been dancing before and it seemed like fun. "What if she says no? To dancing, I mean."

"She won't. If you tell her we're going on your birthday, she can't refuse you."

Naruto gave him an incredulous stare. "You really think so?"

Gaara nodded slowly, taking a sip of the iced tea he'd ordered. "It was Temari's idea, and she knows people very well. Especially Tayuya."

"Well, okay. Thanks. You're a good friend." He punched the redhead lightly on the shoulder as he said this, and was once again amused by the small amount of sand that appeared to absorb the blow.

On the way home, Naruto was lost in his thoughts. Gaara had insisted that he ask her immediately after their return before he lost his nerve, so he was currently running through ways he could bring it up. They hadn't even exchanged a word since their fight, so it'd be awkward at best and a bloody massacre at worst. He could only hope that she was in a decent enough mood to not rip his head off. Literally.

When they made it back to the house, Gaara motioned for him to go up to her room and even followed him halfway up so that he couldn't chicken out. He stopped in front of their–her–room and paused with his hand in midair, suddenly getting cold feet. He started to turn around, but Gaara crossed his arms from the staircase, frowning by the smallest amount. Seeing that he had no way out this time, Naruto sighed and knocked on the door, hoping she wasn't even in there. No such luck.

The door opened to reveal a sleepy looking Tayuya, but when she saw his face, it turned into what looked like a mix between annoyance and nervousness. "What?" she asked, voice coming out less angry than she'd wanted it to.

Naruto too was put off by the lack of heat in her tone. He'd been expecting a lot more anger considering how upset she'd been after their last conversation, but she just seemed...tired. Lethargic, even. "Do you, uh, I dunno...wanna go dancing tomorrow?"

She didn't even try to hide the surprise on her face. "Dancing? Us?"

"At a club or something. Kankurou knows a place, so I was thinking it might be fun if all of us went out. Together." She still looked unsure, and he chose that moment to play the card Gaara had told him to use. "You know, since it's my birthday and all."

A small sigh slipped past her lips. He looked so hopeful, and she hadn't done anything fun in days, so why the hell not? "Oh, well, sounds cool."

"Great! We're going tomorrow night at 10."

"Cool."

"Cool." He stood awkwardly for another second before stiffly turning around and walking down the stairs, trying not to smile as widely as he wanted to.

As she closed the door behind him, she felt the corners of her lips twitch upwards. She didn't want to smile or feel happy, but it was like trying to stop herself from swearing. She was still pissed at him–and would be until he apologized and begged for her forgiveness–but she was also glad to see his face. To see his eyes staring into hers. To smell his unique, earthy scent again.

Her eyes widened slightly as she realized something important; she didn't have anything to wear. She rushed to talk to Temari, certain that she'd have an outfit for her to borrow.

The next day passed by in a blur for Naruto. He vaguely remembered getting a few birthday gifts, and he sort of remembered training with Temari and Baki, but his mind was focused primarily on going clubbing with Tayuya. Unfortunately his only good outfit was still in her pack since she was convinced he'd ruin it otherwise, and groaning softly, he went to go get it from her. He softly knocked on her door and held his breath.

"Tayuya opened the door quickly, mouth forming a thin line when she saw who it was. "Yeah?"

"I, uh, need my good shirt and pants. They're still in your pack, I think."

She scowled up at him, apparently gaining back some of her anger towards him since the last time they'd talked. "Stay here."

He watched her walk over to her bag in the corner, but when she bent over to open it, he was forced to avert his gaze. The last thing he needed was for her to turn around and see him staring at her ass.

"Here," she said, practically throwing the items at him.

Reacting quickly, Naruto just barely caught the clothing before they hit him in the face. "Thanks." He started to leave, but the feel of her hand on his sleeve stopped him cold. He slowly turned to look down at her, eyebrows raised. She refused to meet his eyes, instead focusing her gaze on his shoulder.

"Wait! I, um. I baked you a cake." She walked out of the room and jogged down the staircase, ignoring the shocked look on his face as she passed him. "Well? Come on," she said from the foyer, motioning for him to follow her.

Naruto, finally snapping out of his surprise induced daze, did as she asked and descended the stairs.

Just as he reached the kitchen, Tayuya pulled a round, ten-inch cake out of the fridge and set it down in front of him on the counter top. It had white frosting with tons of orange and black sprinkles, and suddenly he realized why she'd asked him about his favorite ice cream a couple of weeks ago. 'Happy 16th, Jackass!' was written in perfect cursive on the top of it, and he couldn't help but laugh. That was just like Tayuya, alright.

"Happy birthday, jackass," she grinned cutely, looking distinctly proud of herself.

He wanted to match her grin, but all he could do was frown. "I don't deserve this."

"It's your birthday, of course you do. You can have anything you want on your birthday. That's what Anko says, anyway."

Before she could react he hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair. It didn't matter if she liked him or not. It didn't matter if she decided she wanted to kiss some other guy. She was still the best thing that had ever happened to him, and even if he was destined to just be her friend, so what? Her friendship was the best gift he could ever have.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, voice barely audible.

She wrapped her arms around him with confusion, finally returning the hug. She didn't know what he was sorry about exactly. Was he sorry for ignoring her or sorry for possibly liking her? Whichever it was he seemed sincere about it, so she grudgingly let go of her anger. It was annoying how easily she forgave him, but she couldn't stay mad at Naruto. It was impossible. "It's okay?"

He shook his head, gripping her tighter. "It's not okay. I was stupid."

"What else is new?" she joked, feeling oddly at ease being in his arms. "But it's really okay. You get a pass on your birthday. I'm still kicking your ass tomorrow, though." She reluctantly pulled away and walked over to the cabinet. She grabbed a knife, two forks, and two plates, setting them down in front of her. She then cut two large pieces for each of them before putting the cake back into the fridge.

He took a large bite and sighed, practically rolling his eyes at the taste. "This is awesome," he said.

"You like it that much?"

He nodded. "This is the first birthday cake I've ever gotten."

She smirked and took a bite for herself, a little surprised at how good it was. "Well, it's the first birthday cake I've ever made. Shit, I'm amazing."

Naruto lifted his eyes to look into hers. "You are."

Tayuya stared back, fork halfway to her open mouth. she felt her face heating up and quickly looked away from him. She wasn't ready to deal with the feeling that was spreading across her chest. Not yet.

They ate in silence, the only sounds in the room being their forks scraping against the plates. Even after they finished they stood there for another few minutes, neither of them knowing what to say or do next.

"I'm gonna go take a nap," Tayuya mumbled, grabbing both of their dishes and placing them in the sink.

"Yeah, I should do the same. Dancing tonight, right?"

"Right." She smiled slightly and nearly ran towards the doorway leading back to the stairs.

"Thanks for the cake," he called to her retreating back. He frowned slightly when she didn't answer, but shrugged it off. He couldn't expect her to forgive him so easily, birthday or not. It was more than enough that she was even willing to speak to him.


Waiting for the girls to descend the staircase was one of the most nervewracking things he'd ever experienced. He'd barely gotten any sleep while trying to take a nap, his mind racing with possibilities and what he'd say and what he'd do and how he'd do it and––

"Calm down," Gaara said from his right.

Naruto blinked. "Huh?"

"Your knee. It's bouncing."

He glanced down to see that it was doing more than simply bouncing. It was more like a jackhammer, and he wouldn't be surprised if the floor beneath him suddenly crumbled.

"What's taking them so long?" he asked, eyes flickering up to the staircase.

Kankurou shrugged. "They're girls. It happens."

Right after he said that, the sound of a door opening reached his ears. All three boys turned their gazes to the top of the stairs, and all three of them widened their eyes.

Temari came out first, so Naruto took the chance to take in her appearance. She wore a tight, short, sleeveless dark green dress, and her blond hair was down and hanging around her shoulders. Her heels were at least four or five inches, something that did amazing things to her legs, and she clutched a tiny black purse in her hand. All in all, she looked great. And then his eyes slid to Tayuya.

She wasn't just beautiful, she was...hot. Her long red hair had been straightened so that it fell to just past her shoulder blades, and the short, tiny blue dress she wore clung to every curve. He'd honestly never noticed how amazing her ass was as it curved into her smooth, muscled thighs, and he couldn't stop his eyes from running hungrily up and down her body.

She'd taken her weights off, so the skin on her wrists and ankles was slightly lighter. The only make up she wore was lip gloss and a bit of eyeliner that made her reddish brown eyes pop more than they usually did, and the effect was amazing. He couldn't look away.

Naruto awkwardly cleared his throat and stuck his tongue out to moisten his suddenly dry lips. "Can we leave already? It's 10:30," he said, still staring up at Tayuya. He was thankful that she was too busy talking to Temari to notice his gaze, otherwise she might have jumped over the banister and kicked his ass.

Kankurou jabbed him on the shoulder with his fist to get his attention. "Don't sweat it, bro, the real party doesn't start until midnight anyway."

The girls descended the staircase slowly, taking their time so as not to fall on their faces. She was wearing low heels unlike Temari's five inch ones, so it was much easier for her to stride up to him. He got a good whiff of her perfume. It smelled fresh, like strawberries and grass.

"You look...wow," Naruto mumbled, nervously scratching the back of his head for the first time in weeks.

Tayuya scowled while trying to fight back her nervousness. It amused her that her appearance was causing him to regress into his old habits, but it was also extremely embarrassing. "Remember what I said about compliments?"

"That you'd punch me in the nuts if I gave them to you?"

"Yup. I'll let it slide for tonight, though, since I do look pretty fuckin' amazing." She threw her fists into the air, doing all kinds of wonderful things to her breasts. "Shower me with your praises!"

Naruto laughed out loud. Even if she was different on the outside, she was still just as brash and cocky as usual. To be honest, it relieved him. He was just starting to become intimidated by her, and it was a grim reminder that she could have her pick of guys if she wanted them. No one in their right mind would turn her down.

They arrived at the club ten minutes later, and unsurprisingly, there was a line wrapped halfway around the building.

Seeing Naruto's worried expression, Kankurou slung an arm over his shoulder and led him to the front of the line. "Don't sweat it, man, you're with us." Just as he'd said, they were instantly allowed to enter amidst the screams of girls yelling Gaara's name and guys whistling in appreciation of Temari and Tayuya.

The club was packed with kids eighteen and older, and Naruto couldn't help but feel out of place amidst the young adults. "Am I even allowed to be here?" Naruto yelled over the loud, thumping music. It was taking him awhile to adjust to the bright, colorful lights coming from the ceiling, and it was really starting to give him a headache.

Kankurou waved his question off with a flick of his hand. "Don't worry about it! Just have fun!" With that, the jounin disappeared into the crowd. He noticed that Temari and Tayuya had also slunk off somewhere, leaving just him and Gaara alone at the bar.

"I didn't think this was your scene," Naruto joked, leaning against the counter next to Gaara.

The boy frowned. "It's not."

"Why'd you come, then?"

A strange expression flashed across the redhead's face, though it was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared. "To help you with Tayuya, and...to have fun with my precious people."

Naruto stared at the shorter boy, amazed that he'd actually admitted it. He really had come a long way from the psychopath he used to be. "Then what're we standing around for? Let's dance!" He grabbed Gaara's arm and pulled him into the mass of writhing bodies.

He wasn't really sure what he was doing, so he simply decided to copy the way everyone else was moving. He was stiff at first since his body wasn't used to moving in such a strange way, but after a couple of songs (and some sort of alcohol that Kankurou had thrust into his hands before disappearing again), he'd finally gotten the hang of it; especially after finding the similarities between dancing and fighting. It was all about rhythm and timing, something he had in spades after training with Bee, the Hachibi's jinchuuriki.

He got some strange looks for dancing with a guy––and the Kazekage, no less––but he didn't care. It was his birthday and he'd do whatever the hell he wanted. Shockingly, Gaara was keeping up well. His moves were more subdued, but the fact that he was trying at all both impressed and honored him more than words could say. He really did have amazing friends.

After awhile, it become like second nature to him. He jumped up and down with the rest of the crowd, closing his eyes and letting his long blond hair fly every which way without a care in the world. His arms and legs seemed to know exactly what to do, and it wasn't until someone tapped him on the shoulder that he slowed down and opened his eyes again.

"You're a good dancer!" someone yelled into his ear. He turned to see a young, bright eyed girl looking up at him with a wide smile on her face. She wore an extremely short, light blue dress, and her dark brown hair hung loosely around her shoulders. She expertly twirled and moved her hips to the beat, mesmerizing him with her movements. It was almost like she was a snakecharmer, attempting to lure him into her trap. A grin breaking out on his face, Naruto leaned down to answer.

"Thanks, you too!"

Taking that as an invitation, the girl moved from his side to his front, pressing herself closer to him.

Naruto froze, and because she was making every effort to rub body against his, he had trouble putting any sort of distance between them. Just as quickly as she'd started, though, she was forced to stop as Tayuya shoved her out of the way and took her place. She didn't look up at him for his reaction, instead just closing her eyes and moving to the music along with him.

She was good. Really good. She wasn't doing the same things the other girl was doing–practically trying to have sex with him on the dance floor–but her moves were just as fun and much more energetic.

A grin spreading across his face, he leaned down to talk into her ear. "How'd you learn to dance like that?"

"Anko!" Tayuya shrugged her shoulders at his confused look and smiled. "It was a long year without you!"

Naruto wasn't sure what to do with his hands now that she was so close, so he placed them on her hips. She glanced up at him strangely but didn't move them, instead leaning a little closer to his body. It was odd. He felt something. It was an animalistic feeling, and the more they danced, the more powerful it became. The bass boomed powerfully throughout their bodies, and it wasn't long before he forgot he was surrounded by dozens of other people. In his mind, they were alone.

All too soon, the song stopped. As people began to clap for them, Tayuya pushed herself away from him. He wasn't sure if it was the light, but her eyes seemed to be...glowing. Just as quickly, they returned to normal, leaving him wondering if he'd even seen it at all.

Before he could ask her if she was alright, Kankurou appeared out of nowhere, Gaara being pulled along with him. Instantly, loud shouts of 'Kazekage-sama!' began to appear from the crowd. "You guys were amazing! There's no way this is your first time at a club!" Kankurou exclaimed, looping an around around both of their shoulders.

"I guess we're just naturals, right Tayuya-chan?"

She just stared at him with a frustratingly blank look, but after a few seconds, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Yeah, right. I need a drink." She pushed her way through the crowd, ignoring the advances of the guys and girls who'd seen her dance.

"Give me a water," she told the bartender, slipping herself onto one of the stools. The young man, who didn't even try to hide his leering, gave her what she wanted. Luckily for him her mind was miles away or else she might've shoved the glass down his throat.

"That was some performance," Temari said, taking the stool next to her. She held up a finger and the bartender placed what looked like a glass of beer in front of her, shooting her a wink as he did so. Unsurprisingly, the blonde ignored the gesture in favor of badgering Tayuya. "Does that mean you decided what to do about Naruto?"

"I'm just here to dance and have fun, nothing more, nothing less."

Temari shook her head. "Wow."

"What?"

"I didn't know you were such a coward is all."

"I am not a fucking coward," Tayuya seethed.

The blonde pushed her drink in front of Tayuya. "Prove it. Drink this."

She grabbed the glass and took a big gulp without a moment's hesitation, only to instantly cough and sputter as the liquid burned her throat. "That's not beer!"

Temari laughed at the pained expression on her face and easily downed the rest of the beverage. "I never said it was."

At that moment, a dark haired guy strode up to the two of them, inserting himself into the conversation. "Either of you ladies want to dance?"

Both girls looked him over. He didn't seem as disgusting as most of the guys that had been bugging them all night, and he was attractive enough, so the blonde shrugged. "Fine," Temari sighed, taking the man's hand as if she were doing him the greatest favor in the world. "But touch anything and my brothers will know." The man noticeably paled, suddenly realizing who she was. Tayuya laughed at the poor sap. He didn't know what he'd gotten himself into.

On the other side of the room, the guys were having a similar conversation.

"She wants you, man. Don't you think she wants him, Gaara?" Kankurou exclaimed, waving his beer around.

Gaara dipped his head slightly in a half nod. "She was not adverse to you touching her."

"Right?! Even he can see it."

Naruto sighed. This was the third time in ten minutes that Kankurou had brought this up, and it was really starting to get on his nerves. "It was just dancing."

"Dude, do you even have a penis? Okay, fine, if you're not gonna go for Tayuya, hook up with her," he said, pointing his beer at the girl that had been dancing with him before Tayuya intervened. "She's definitely into you. Look, she's licking her lips and doing the hair flip and everything! Plus you're not even from around here, so you don't have to worry about her trying to dig her claws into you later."

"I don't want to hook up with anyone," Naruto snapped. Which was the truth. He could objectively say that the girl was attractive, but she wasn't beautiful. She wasn't hot. She couldn't make his heart jump with only a grin or glance.

Kankurou smirked. "Unless it's Tayuya, right?"

The blond threw his hands up in the air. "Why do you want me together with her so much?"

"I don't really care who you're with, I just want you to not be such a loser. You're Gaara's best friend, so you're my little brother now. We're family. And let's face it, bro, you need to get laid."

Even though he tried to fight it, Naruto couldn't stop a small smile from appearing on his face. The fact that Kankurou considered him family made him a lot happier than it should've. It was the first time anyone had ever said something like that to him, even if he was not so subtly calling him a loser. "I just turned 16!"

"So? I lost my virginity at 14."

"To a cow," Gaara mumbled into his drink, causing Naruto to laugh.

"Says virgin number two."

"I'd rather wait for someone that doesn't moo."

Kankurou frowned, obviously not pleased with the direction the conversation had gone. "Whatever, I'm getting some tonight. Watch the master." He handed Naruto his drink and made a beeline for the dark-haired girl that had tried to dance with him earlier. She looked over at Naruto and pouted but grabbed Kankurou's arm anyway, walking with him to the dance floor.

"I think it's admirable that you want to save yourself for someone you love," Gaara said after his brother was out of sight.

Naruto smiled. "Thanks, Gaara."

"But you're stupid for not considering Tayuya to be that someone."

"I take my thanks back." Naruto drained Kankurou's bottle. He didn't like beer very much since it took far too much of it to get him drunk and it tasted terrible, but he was thirsty and it was free. "C'mon, let's dance some more."

––––

Tayuya slumped in her seat at the bar, nursing a drink she'd ordered over ten minutes ago. She'd danced with Temari, Kankurou, Gaara, and Naruto for almost three straight hours, and she was exhausted. Without a doubt her feet would be sore tomorrow, and she was grateful that she hadn't worn the four-inch heels Temari had tried to force on her. She might have had to amputate her feet otherwise.

"Fancy a dance? I couldn't help but notice your bright, red hair from across the room," a smooth voice said, catching her attention.

Tayuya groaned and turned to look at him. Besides the fact that she was far too tired to even think about doing anymore dancing, the guy was skinny, dumb looking, and had possibly the sleaziest smile she'd ever seen on a person that wasn't Orochimaru. In other words, the complete opposite of her type. "Fuck off, dickless wonder."

Of course, he didn't catch the hint. They never did. "I see your hair matches your personality. I like that. Can I buy you a drink?"

She was just about to slam her fist into his nose when Naruto appeared from her left. He was smiling, but she could easily see the hostility in his eyes as he stared at the stranger. Somehow, it made her heart flutter a little.

"Hey, sorry, she's with me," the genin said, struggling to keep up his grin.

Apparently not believing him, the man narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Yeah? What's her name?"

Tayuya scowled. "My name is 'Leave before I shove my heel up your ass, faggot.'"

He looked surprised and angered by her language, but it made him walk away, shooting them both dirty looks as he disappeared into the crowd.

"Ouch, did you have to be so mean?" Naruto joked, reaching over and taking a swig from her drink.

"It's been happening all night. I'm just sick of it." She noticed him frown at this, an unreadable expression passing across his face.

He drained the rest of her glass and slammed it down on the bar. "Wanna get some air, then?"

The relief that poured into her face instantly gave him her answer, so he grabbed her hand and led her through the crowd towards the door.

"It always weirds me out how cold it gets at night in the desert," Tayuya said, rubbing her bare upper arms once they stepped outside. It was cold enough for her to see her breath, and the light sheen of sweat on her skin meant that she was only going to get colder. She almost gasped when Naruto wrapped his arms around her from behind, and she snapped her head up to look at him, alarm evident in her features. "What're you doing?"

"I don't have a jacket, and you're cold, so..."

As much as she wanted to push him away, she really did feel a lot warmer. She didn't know what it was about him, but his body was practically a furnace. She almost wanted to say that it was because of the Kyuubi sealed in his stomach. "Oh. Thanks." Her mind struggled for something else to say, and it wasn't until she glanced down at the arms encircling her that she thought of something amusing. "Did I tell you how great you looked tonight?"

Naruto raised an eyebrow but grinned. "Nope."

"Well, you look pretty hot. Like a side of beef."

His grin widened. "Coming from the hottest girl in the club, that means a lot." They shared a laugh at their exchange, both finding the whole thing ridiculous. It also helped to dissipate any awkwardness that came with the compliments. If they took each other seriously, well...neither was quite ready to think about that possibility.

As she stood there in the cool, night air wrapped in his arms, she felt herself becoming hyper aware of everything around her. The loud, thumping music inside, the fog made by their warm breath, and especially the knowing smirks and stares of the people surrounding them. After she thought about it some more she realized that they probably looked like a couple, and strangely, that thought didn't bother her in the slightest. Why would it?

He made her laugh. He made her angry. He made her sad. He made her happy. He made her feel more than she ever had until she met him.

And that was it. In that moment, she realized it. That feeling that'd been there since their first conversation in the hospital, and the feeling that she thought was impossible for someone like her to have.

She maybe, kind of, sort of, loved him.

She hadn't thought much about love since she was a child and drooling over Misumi, but she always thought she'd realize it in this huge romantic moment where the guy would hand her flowers and chocolates and then whisk her away on a white stallion––not while he was holding her in front of a noisy club.

Her legs felt weaker beneath her, and suddenly she found herself leaning more heavily on Naruto just to hold herself up. Temari's words from the week before echoed in her head, telling her what to do even though she'd made up her mind the second she came to terms with feelings.

She turned around in his arms until she was facing him, tilting her head back to look up at him. She was sure her face was the color of a tomato, but it didn't matter. Not right now. "Naruto."

Naruto curiously cocked his head, eyes bright even in the darkness. "Yeah?"

Tayuya leaned up on her toes, grabbed the front of his shirt, and pressed her lips against his. She kissed him for a full ten seconds, closing her eyes so that she wouldn't have to see his expression just yet. She eventually broke away and stood back, smiling awkwardly at his wide eyes and slightly open mouth.

"Happy birthday."

AN: I don't know why, but I've always thought of Kankurou as somewhat of a fistpumping bro. That guy you know is kind of an asshole but he's so fun and (mostly) friendly that you can't really hate him too much. Also props to Iathan Rellan; I almost died at 'Kankubro.' I just. I can't.

So there it is, finally. Now here's the tough part. I'm going to do whatever I feel fits the story, but your opinion will help me decide how hardcore things get. Should I just bump the story up to M or keep things PG-13? If you're worried about how well I can write citrus, I've gotten better since Illegitimate Love. Really. I went to college and learned stuff and everything. I also have no problems glossing over that stuff if everyone's going to be all wimpy about it. :P