AN: Yeah. I know. I should be working on other stuff. I wrote this in hopes of getting the creative juices flowing again. Full AN at the bottom.
Oh, and in case you wonder, ataraxia is a "state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility." Taken from dictionary dot com.
Disclaimer: I disclaim.
It was a bright night. The cloudless sky beheld twinkling stars and a nearly full moon that illuminated her surroundings. Her skin seemed to glow, glistening with a thin layer of perspiration from her workout.
Sakura had not been able to sleep. Restless, she sought to work out some of the excess energy and tension that seemed to be clinging to her. Her movements were practiced, solid. She moved with grace, though the well-trained eye could pick up on the power lurking just beneath.
Many things were on her mind, and even as she went through her forms she sought to sort through the thoughts that plagued her. Naruto's new jutsu and the damage he'd sustained from it... The sudden increase in activity of the Akatsuki... Sasuke-kun's whereabouts and the 'death' of Orochimaru by his hand... The time they had left that was slowly dwindling away...
It was enough to easily keep her unsettled, plus many more. On nights like these when her concerns were all bombarding her at once, her own insecurities would bubble to the surface, working against her. She didn't want to be a bother to her team this time. She made a promise to save her teammates. She wanted to hold true to that.
But could she do it? She wondered that, herself. She knew she had improved, but was it truly enough given who her opponents and her allies were?
Exhaling softly, she paused to wipe the sweat from her brow before continuing her steady pace.
He walked through the woods in silence. It was another sleepless night, though he did not mind. It was warm and the slight breeze that drifted through the trees was pleasant. His hair was unbound, and his hitai-ate absent, a sign that he had tried to sleep earlier. He had at least the mind to don some clothes that were appropriate to wear out, in case he did run into anyone, but given his current path, he didn't find it likely. But it was better to be prepared...
He was not surprised to find that he'd walked down toward the training grounds. Where else would he go? Most of Konoha was dead to the world, save the graveyard shift, and he wasn't actually intent on finding someone to converse with.
Though it seemed as he approached the clearing that was the training grounds that he was not alone in his sleeplessness. Keen eyes observed the figure moving in the distance, and it took him a few seconds to realize he had started mentally critiquing her form.
The protégée of the Godaime, Haruno Sakura.
He knew more about her through others than he did through herself. They'd only worked together on a couple of missions, and had not really spoken much outside of work. Of course, rarely did he have casual conversations to begin with.
He continued to watch her, study her. The excellent twist of her hips as she moved, the slight bend in her arm after she punched, the fluid shift of her weight as she shifted stances.
He was almost impressed.
Of course, beyond exceptional eyesight allowed him to also see the tension in her form. Combined with the fact that she was out at this hour, he knew very well something troubled her.
He was not one for comforting others, and rarely did he have good advice to give. However still, he found himself stepping out from the shadows to make his presence known.
When the Hyuuga stepped into view, Sakura stopped in her movements, lifting her gaze to look at him behind limp pink bangs. The only surprise in her expression was the slight lift of her brows as she realized who had stepped onto the field. She fell out of stance and straightened up, turning to him.
"You do not need to stop because of me. Finish your set."
His voice was soft, but carried well in the quiet night and she tilted her head. "You say this though you stepped out to make your presence known. Doesn't that mean you have something to say or ask?"
He canted his head to the side ever so slightly. "Are you suggesting I should have stayed hidden?"
Sakura opened her mouth to reply then shut it as her expression became apologetic. "No, I apologize."
"There is no need. I was out for a walk and happened upon you. I felt it best to make my presence known rather than sneak around."
Her lips curved upward slightly. "Then you are passing through?"
"I have no destination in mind."
The more she spoke to him, the more she realized the man was not one for conversation. His tone was almost dismissive at points, and some of his words almost made Sakura feel as if he were challenging her intelligence. She knew that wasn't the case, but it was hard to not get riled up. Instead, she wiped at her brow. "Then might I ask just why you are not asleep at this hour?"
"I could ask the same of you."
"I believe it's obvious," Sakura replied. "I'm training."
"Then is it not obvious that I am walking?"
The soft sound that escaped Sakura's lips hinted at a mild exasperation. "It wouldn't kill you to give me a straight answer for once, you know."
The genius gave a small sigh, stepping deeper into the clearing. He really wasn't sure why he was giving her such a hard time, and thus he cut her some slack. "I could not sleep. I decided a walk might clear my thoughts."
He watched at her small, pink lips pulled into a tiny, but genuine smile. "Thank you."
He nodded, moving along the edge of the clearing to sit down on a large rock. The pink-haired medic hesitated for a moment before following after him, pulling off her gloves as she went. Joining him, she sat on the other end of the rock, placing her gloves in her lap. She hesitated to speak, instead staring down at her hands. Neji seemed to be comfortable with the silence, but Sakura was not. With nothing to concentrate on, her earlier troubles were back full-force, and shifted uncomfortably on the rock.
Catching her movements in his peripheral vision, Neji inquired, "What is it?" He knew very well he was breaking the ice and quite possibly getting himself into more than he wanted, but he asked anyway.
The chuunin frowned, glancing over at him momentarily before looking back down at her hands. She wasn't entirely comfortable opening up to someone she didn't know very well, but he seemed to be offering, and perhaps it would do better to talk to someone like Neji. "I... am worried about... things."
Well, Neji was certain he could have deduced that much on his own, but he wasn't here to rush her. He stayed quiet, staring out at the barren grounds and waited for her to continue.
"...I... I'm worried about Naruto. His new jutsu is so powerful, but the damage he takes from it is so great..." Sakura murmured, continuing to look down at her hands. "I can't keep repairing the damage done. And it hurts to see that happen to him. But he laughs it off. He laughs off everything. I don't know how he does it. And Sasuke-kun... he killed Orochimaru, but he hasn't come back. We have to find the Akatsuki to find him, and even then how will we bring him back? And the Akatsuki are so strong, and they're after Naruto..."
It was like the breaking of a dam. Slow, at first, until more cracks appeared and more water escaped until the entire thing broke down and nothing was in the way of her spilling out everything that was burdening her heart. "And I want to protect him but I don't know if I'll be able to, and I worry that my training will all be for nothing, and I'll be useless, and they'll die because I can't help them or save them, and I--" She stopped, finally looking up from her hands to Neji, who had, at some point, turned his face to her. Wide green eyes stared up at him, brimming with tears that she most certainly didn't want to fall in front of him. Quietly, she whispered, "And I'm just so scared."
The Hyuuga's brows rose slightly. "I see."
He was actually surprised such insecurities about her own talent still existed when she had become so successful in her field. And while he didn't know all the details of the situation, like why exactly the Akatsuki wanted Naruto, he knew very well that they were all valid reasons for her to be concerned. Quietly, he replied, "I believe you will do much better if you instead put faith in yourself and in Naruto. I cannot say for Uchiha Sasuke, but I do not believe there is any way Naruto would lose. And you are the Godaime's prized pupil. If that isn't enough, Lee has bragged countless times about how you're able to heal all his injuries easily."
Despite being on the verge of tears, Sakura couldn't help but laugh a little at that.
Neji continued, "You have faced the Akatsuki. You know their power. You have seen Naruto after he performed that jutsu. You know the damage it can cause, to others and himself. You know Uchiha Sasuke, and I expect you know what his motives are and what he intends to do. You, of all people, should be scared." He paused, tone indicating that he was not finished. Sakura said nothing, wide green eyes watching him and waiting. "And that is why you must be strong. If those fears take control, they will become reality."
Sakura bit her lip, looking away. "I just don't know if it will all work out."
Neji glanced up at the night sky. "No one does. But Naruto believes it will. And I believe it will, too. So shouldn't you?"
She smiled a little, glancing back up at him. "Yes… You're right."
And so Neji felt his job was done, not that it was really his job in the first place. He stood and turned to Sakura. "How do you feel now?"
She took a moment to answer, but when she did, she was smiling. "Better. Thank you, Neji-san."
He nodded. "It is late. We should return to our homes."
"Yes. I think I can sleep now." She stood, tucking her gloves into the pouch at her hip. "I hope you can as well."
He nodded again. "Do you wish me to walk you back?"
Her smile widened slightly. "No, no thank you. I can make it back myself. However, I would like to talk to you again. An actual conversation, rather than you comforting me. I think it would be pleasant."
He looked at her for a moment, and Sakura could have sworn she saw the hints of a smile there. "I would like that. Good night, Sakura."
"Good night, Neji-san."
The weight on her shoulders considerably lighter, the young kunoichi turned and began to walk in the direction of her home, while Neji departed for his. She would never have expected him to be one to give her advice or comfort her in any form or fashion, but reflecting on it, she was glad it had been him.
And Neji never expected to be one to give advice; much less to someone he didn't know well. All that he knew was that when he finally retired to his room for the night, sleep came easily.
AN: Wow. I have totally lost my ability to write fanfiction. Completely and utterly, it took me forever to finish this one-shot. Plus I'm fairly certain I butchered the characters. And don't get me started on the dialogue and Neji's words of encouragement. Gah…
But there you have it folks. Not very romantic, but my first fanfic (technically) centered on Neji and Sakura. I started it on March 12, 2007 and just now finished it.
And as some of you may find interest in this—the latest chapter in "Child of the Earth" is being written. Slowly. Very slowly. And very badly, but as I said, I've lost my knack.
This is unbeta'd and unproof'd so I apologize for any errors that you may find. Thanks to those who read through till here. (: