The Author Says: This is the second chapter I've uploaded today. Read Chapter 22 if you haven't done so yet! ;-)
U/L: 23rd September 2009.
I Think I
Chapter 23 - Suna Nights
"Where have you been, Naruto-sensei?" Eriko pointed at the blonde jounin sensei when she materialized beside Team Seven.
"Yes, where have you been, sensei? We were starting to get worried," Nichiro added. Ichiro nodded. The three genin folded their arms and stared accusingly at Naruto.
She held up her hands in defense. "Whoa! I'm sorry! I honestly forgot to let you guys know," she said, "I'm staying with my former kenjutsu sensei."
"I assume your relative will be staying there as well? I did not see him in the Konoha quarters," Ichiro said, and Naruto nodded.
"Yeah, Sasuke's staying with me." In the same room. In the same bed.
Naruto shook her head a little to get those thoughts out her head and grinned at her team. "So how're you all feeling?"
Eriko deflated a little. "A little nervous," she admitted, and scuffed her foot into the rather sandy floor of the large hall they were in. All the other chuunin hopefuls from all the participating hidden villages were gathered in the same hall, eyeing their competition. "I'm not very strong, and I don't have a kekkei genkai like Ichiro and Nichiro."
Naruto opened her mouth to talk, but before she could say anything, Ichiro cut in. "Nonsense. You are strong, and having a kekkei genkai does not guarantee power."
"Yeah. Just look at Naruto-sensei! She does not have a kekkei genkai, but she is strong! And we've been a team long enough for Ichiro and I to know that you are strong. We wouldn't want to take the chuunin exams with anyone else," Nichiro said heatedly.
The blonde closed her mouth and smiled as she saw how Eriko's face lit up.
"Thanks, guys," she said quietly. Ichiro nodded with a smile. "You're welcome, Eriko," Nichiro said.
"That's my team!" Naruto told them proudly. She sensed Gaara's chakra appearing in the hall, and looked to the front where there was a raised platform. A swirl of sand was quickly solidifying into a man's shape, and soon the Kazekage appeared. The hall grew silent, and Gaara's eyes roamed the crowds until he caught sight of the blonde. Naruto waved at him with a grin, and received a tiny nod in return.
The Kazekage welcomed the participants and their jounin sensei, informed them of some rules and regulations, and told the genin where to meet the next day, and at what time. Then he wished them good luck, and disappeared in a swirl of sand.
Naruto turned back to her team and grinned. "Right! All the best tomorrow!" she told them. "Just do your best and I'll be proud of you, whatever the outcome."
"Un!" Eriko nodded. Naruto gave them another grin and ruffled the boys' hair, then patted Eriko on the head fondly.
"Have a good night's rest, guys. I'll see you at the end of the second exam, and I'll take you all out for ramen!"
Ichiro smirked. "We'll hold you to that, Keimei-sensei."
Naruto grinned widely at them, bid them goodnight, and left the hall. As she entered the street to Kujira-sensei's house, she wasn't surprised to see Gaara waiting for her with his arms folded across his chest.
"Konbanwa, Gaara!" she greeted him with a smile.
"Konbanwa, Keimei," he replied, and fell in step beside her. "I trust Kujira-dono has provided ample accommodations for you and Uchiha-Uzumaki?"
Naruto sighed, and her shoulders slumped as she was reminded of the sleeping arrangements. "Well, yeah, but… the room has only one bed."
At her distressed tone, Gaara turned to her in concern. "Is that a problem, Keimei?"
Naruto rubbed the back of her neck as she hesitantly explained her dilemma to her best friend. Gaara, true to form, just nodded thoughtfully every now and then without interrupting.
"I'm not making much sense, am I?" the blonde sighed. Gaara shook his head.
"You are. It's just that it is not a situation I have been in, so I am rather at a lost as to how I should advise you."
Naruto sighed again as she stopped in front of the main gates to Kujira-sensei's house. Gaara looked at her. "Should I speak to Kujira-dono about this?"
She shook her head vehemently. "No! He doesn't know the real situation, and I don't want to have to explain it to him," she said, and sighed. "Don't worry, Gaara. I'll figure something out." She gave him a tired smile and waved goodbye. "Oyasuminasai."
Sasuke awoke in the middle of the night to find the space beside him empty. He frowned; he could feel her chakra – where was she, then? He got up and flung aside the curtains of one of the windows, and zeroed in on her chakra. By the dim light of the moon, he could see her huddled in one of the two chairs.
She cut a pathetic figure; all curled up with her feet on the chair and her head leaning sideways on her knees. She was frowning in her sleep, and shivering a little every now and then. Sasuke regarded her silently for a few moments, and then his hand strayed to her face. It hovered over her hair for a while before brushing her bangs out of her eyes. The dobe twitched but did not wake up. He let his fingers stay carded in her hair as he continued to stare at her.
Her hair was silky, he noted absently. He wanted her beside him. Heck, he knew he really wanted more than that – he wanted to hold her and feel her warm skin. He wanted those feelings of security and comfort that he got when she was beside him. He gritted his teeth and stared outside through the window. The moon was partially hidden behind some clouds.
What was it about the nighttime that made him lose the tight control he had over his emotions and his wants?
He felt so undecided. He had been constantly giving into his feelings now, instead of repressing them. Itachi would have scorned him for this. How would he be able to hate enough to kill that man?
The dobe shivered a little and Sasuke's attention turned back to her. He let his fingers run through her hair again, and made up his mind. As gently as possible, so as not to wake her, he carefully carried her in his arms to the bed and laid her down. Then he got into bed next to her and drew the blanket over them both.
He had left the curtain open, so he watched her in the pale moonlight. Her brows were a little furrowed, so he gave in to the desire to gently massage away the lines. He was so close he was practically spooning her side. His heart was racing as he let his fingers trace her jawline and the whisker marks on her cheek.
A thought suddenly struck him – maybe it wouldn't be too bad for her to be the mother of his children. Genetically speaking, she had admirable traits a shinobi should have that would be passed down to her next generation. He recalled the way she had dealt with the two kids during dinner, and the way she interacted with her genin team, and was pretty much certain that he wouldn't mind using her to resurrect his clan. A certain body part down south gave an interested twitch when he remembered that she had been wearing her usual t-shirt and boxers, and nothing else. He had had to force himself to keep his eyes on her face without letting his gaze drift downwards when he had been carrying her earlier, so that he wouldn't give in to the urge to see whether the cold desert night's effects could be seen through her t-shirt.
He squeezed his eyes shut as he let his fingers remain on her face. She was making him feel things he didn't want to feel; at least not until that man was good and dead. It was slowly driving him mad – having to choose between fulfilling his duty to the clan and getting close to the dobe. The more time he spent with her, the more he thought of her and the less he thought of that man, although he trained every day to defeat him. Everything seemed to be contradicting everything else, and he wished he have both. But he knew that no matter what, his duty to avenge the clan came before everything else. That was the only way he would have it, and he couldn't and wouldn't allow anything to get in the way of killing Itachi.
Sasuke fell asleep with his hand still on the dobe's face.
Naruto woke up the next morning feeling more comfortable than she knew she should have been. With her eyes still closed and still feeling drowsy, she turned on her side and leaned into the nice, soft yet firm back of the chair she slept in last night.
Strange. The chair was warm, and there was something on her face that was warm, too. It didn't match what she remembered of the cold Suna nights. And there was that familiar scent, only it was stronger than what she remembered. Feeling a little alarmed, she opened her eyes and quickly jerked her head back in surprise as her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.
She had just had her head buried in Sasuke's chest. That warmth, that soft firmness, that scent – it was all Sasuke. Sasuke's bare chest.
Red-faced and panicky, she got off the bed in a hurry, blindly grabbed her towel and literally ran to the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and leaned heavily against it.
Had she crawled into bed with him in her sleep? I practically rubbed my face in his chest! Naruto screeched mentally, and massaged her temples in confusion and embarrassment. Aargh!
She hoped Sasuke wouldn't realize what she had just done. It had felt nice – really nice, her mind added, and a pleasant shiver ran up her spine – but she was sure Sasuke would hate her even more for it. Her heart ached at the thought. Feeling mentally tired, she went through her morning routine quickly and went back to their room to change.
Sasuke was awake, and was calmly taking his towel and clothes. He didn't look at her as she came in. A good sign! she thought, feeling a little relieved. Now, act normal!
"Ohayou, Sasuke," she greeted him cheerfully, and plopped down in the chair she had slept in last night. She held her towel to her chest in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner but was really to cover herself, since she had forgotten to take a change of clothes with her earlier and was now not wearing a bra. She saw his eyes flicker towards her for a second before returning to what he was doing.
"Hn," was his only audible response, and he walked out of the room.
Naruto went limp and let out a relieved sigh. He probably had still been asleep when she buried her face in his chest. Phew!
She quickly changed and went down to the dining room, where she bumped into Kujira-sensei, who was just leaving.
The elderly man turned to her with a smile. "Ohayou, gaki. What are your plans for today, and for the rest of your stay here?" he asked.
Naruto grinned at him. "I was hoping I could train with you! If you are free, that is."
The man chuckled pleasantly, seemingly pleased that Naruto wanted to train with him. "I'm sure I could spare you a few hours to train. Have you been using Sasayaki much?"
A sheepish expression crossed the blonde's face. "Not really," she admitted in an ashamed tone, and rubbed the back of her head in a familiar gesture. "I didn't really get much chance to use it, coz I've been training my team. I use it once in a while when I spar with Sasuke…" And I can remember using it only once or twice against him, she thought, and repressed a wince.
Kujira-sensei frowned at her. "The only way you'll improve at kenjutsu is if you train, Keimei."
"I know," she muttered, and rubbed one foot against the other. "The genin really did take up practically all of my time."
Kujira-sensei made a noise in his throat. "Well. Let's just hope those months of idling hasn't made you rusty. I noticed your husband carries a chokuto. Have him join us during training if he's free."
"Sure, sensei. I'll show you I can kick his ass!" she replied with a big grin. Kujira-sensei reached out and ruffled her hair.
"I hope you're not all talk, gaki. I'll see you later."
An hour later, Naruto was gripping Sasayaki tightly as she tried to read Kujira-sensei's movements. The man may be past his prime, but he certainly wasn't one to be taken lightly. A faint, familiar chakra presence registered on her senses, but she ignored it, and feinted right before ducking down and delivering a low slash at Kujira-sensei's calves. The skin at the back of her neck prickled, and instantly, she spun on her foot with her katana raised to block the downswing of Sasuke's Kusanagi.
A faint smirk tugged at his lips, she noticed. Behind her, Kujira-sensei chuckled. "A free-for-all, eh? Let's see what you've got, Sasuke-san!"
The three of them whirled and twisted around each other, parrying offensive thrusts and slicing whenever the opportunity made itself clear. Naruto was enjoying herself as they moved like dancers in a furiously fast routine. The concentration and energy needed was helping her forget her heartaches and emotional confusion, and an almost feral grin stretched her lips as adrenaline flowed through her veins, making her feel more alive than when she trained with her genin. She could tell Kujira-sensei was getting tired quickly, but he was also grinning. Sasuke seemed to be enjoying himself too. She could see past his expressionless face to the gleam in his eye and the enthusiasm in his movements to know that he wasn't holding back.
"Keimei-neechan!" a little voice squealed, and Naruto ducked under the swing of Kujira-sensei's katana and twisted out of the range of Sasuke's blade to turn to the owner of the voice. Kujira-sensei's grandson, Mi-chan, waved at her enthusiastically from the open dojo door. He ran to her and jumped, fully expecting her to catch him. Naruto grinned and caught him with her left arm, carefully keeping her blade away.
"I'm back from school!" he informed her, and she nodded. "And it's lunch time! Let's go for lunch! I wanna sit with Keimei-neechan again!"
Naruto laughed a little. "It's a bit early for lunch, Mi-chan. And your ojiisan and I are in the middle of training."
The boy pouted. "But I'm hungry! Let's eat now so that I can fight Keimei-neechan later!"
Naruto gave him a lopsided smile and turned to her sparring partners. Sasuke looked faintly irritated, she noticed. Kujira-sensei, however, sheathed his katana.
"Let's get you washed up, Mi-chan. I've a feeling your mother doesn't know you're home yet." Kujira-sensei strode to his grandson and took him away from Naruto's side, where he was clinging. "You two go ahead," he said over his shoulder as he left the dojo. "Lunch is in an hour's time."
Naruto waved at the pouting boy, then swiftly raised her katana to block Sasuke's blade aimed for her throat. Though his face was blank, his eyes glinted. She narrowed her eyes at him, then grinned suddenly as she disappeared in a puff of smoke, and Sasuke felt the cold metal of her blade against his throat. Without removing her blade, she slowly walked around to face him and grinned at him challengingly. He narrowed his eyes at her, then smirked. Naruto jumped back in disgust as his form dissolved into a couple of large, entwined snakes.
They continued sparring for almost an hour, using jutsu that would not destroy the dojo. It was more difficult for Naruto, since most of her jutsu were destructive on a large scale. Finally, she panted a little as she sheathed Sasayaki.
"Yoshi!" she exclaimed, relishing the workout her muscles had received. She pointed at Sasuke, who calmly sheathed his chokuto. She was pleased to notice he was also breathing a little heavily, although she was annoyed that he hadn't used his Sharingan. "The next time we spar, we're gonna do it in a wide open area where I can kick your ass without having to worry about Kujira-sensei kicking my ass for damaging his property."
Sasuke strode past her. His shoulder brushed hers a little, and she tensed. But he merely walked to the door, where he looked over his shoulder, smirked an infuriatingly smug smirk, and left.
Naruto growled angrily at the obvious 'in your dreams' gesture before her features softened. He had acted more like the Sasuke she remembered years ago today than he ever had in the past months. Her lips curled into a small, fond smile. Maybe that Sasuke wasn't lost for good just yet.
The next day, she woke up with her right arm and right leg curled around Sasuke's torso and leg, respectively, and Sasuke's arm was draped over her shoulder. And her face was buried in his chest again.
Her heart pounded as she hurriedly moved her hand and leg away, then carefully lifted Sasuke's arm as she slipped out of bed, so as not to wake him. Like the morning before, she quickly grabbed her towel and fled to the bathroom, where she sagged to the floor and tugged at her hair disconsolately.
How did she end up in bed again? She was very, very sure that she had gone to sleep in the same chair she was supposed to have occupied the night before. Had she really somehow sleep-crawled into bed with Sasuke? It seemed the only plausible reason, since she couldn't conceive of Sasuke carrying her to bed. Her face flushed at the thought.
The memory of having her arm and leg around him and his arm around her made her feel warm inside, and she closed her eyes and relived the memory. Her skin tingled where his arm had been, and as she inhaled, she imagined she could still smell his scent. Her heart ached. He would be pissed if he found out she was hugging him in her sleep. She loved being with him in bed. She loved the feel of his warm body next to hers, especially when the morning still held traces of Suna's cold nights. But the knowledge that the comfort she felt was artificial hurt. Sasuke would never even think of putting an arm around her. She may love him, but he didn't even like her. She couldn't guess what drove him to continue hopping into her bed and allowing her into his bed when they had been in Konoha, but she knew whatever motivated him certainly couldn't be affection for her.
Her heart felt heavy at the thought.
Sasuke scowled at the dobe from where he sat up in bed.
Sparring with her and the old man, then sparring with her alone had been good. The old man was obviously a kenjutsu master, and Sasuke had learned a few things from their spars. He enjoyed sparring with the dobe, too. They were more or less equals in terms of strength, and the dobe's unpredictability kept him on his feet and his mind sharp. It was a challenge to face her, one that he enjoyed. Of course, watching the way she moved was an added bonus.
He flung the blanket aside in irritation. This was the third night he had to carry her from that blasted chair into bed. Didn't she get it yet? He knew she wasn't the sharpest kunai in the pouch, but surely waking up in bed when she had gone to sleep in the chair would obviously tell her something? Or did she think she sleepwalked to bed?
He got to his feet, ignoring the cold that seeped in from the floors to his soles. He stood in front of her and exhaled heavily, and bent to pick her up. He put her in her usual spot in bed, then climbed in and pulled the blanket over the both of them, and this time, he pulled her closer to him and kept his arm firmly around her waist. It was more than he had ever touched her before, he knew. Feeling her against him sent a jolt of pleasure up his spine and down south, and he gave in to the temptation to nuzzle her cheek and neck. He closed his eyes.
If this wasn't obvious enough that he didn't mind her willingly sleeping in the same bed, he felt he had better reconsider her as the mother of his children. Stupidity was probably hereditary.
Naruto woke up feeling more comfortable than she had been the past few weeks. Kujira-sensei and Sasuke had put up a good fight yesterday, and she had gone to sleep pleasantly tired and worn out. She breathed in deeply and snuggled closer to the warm body she was hugging, and felt a pair of arms tighten around her back.
She blinked a few times before starting to panic. Not again! How had she ended up in bed with her arms around Sasuke again? Last night she had been very tired, so she was pretty sure she hadn't sleepwalked to bed, but was it possible that Sasuke carried her to the bed?
Slowly, cautiously, she opened her eyes, and found herself staring into his black eyes. Startled, she reflexively jerked back and started to pull away, but Sasuke tightened his arms around her and pulled her flush against him. Her ears grew warm and her heart started racing as she stared into his unblinking eyes that were unmistakably staring back into her own. The sensation of his breath on her face gave her tingles. She could feel the warmth and the contours of his body against her own skin through the thin material of her t-shirt and boxers. She knew her nipples were contracting, and her cheeks tinged pink when she realized he would probably feel it through her t-shirt as well, since he slept topless. She averted her eyes in embarrassment. Not quite sure where to put her face, she instinctively buried it in his neck, and felt him rest his cheek against her head.
Her heart was beating so fast and hard that she was pretty sure he could feel it against his own chest. She felt exhilarated and excited and warm and incredibly happy at the same time – Sasuke had carried her to bed, and Sasuke hadn't kicked her off for hugging him, and best of all, Sasuke had his arms tight around her! She couldn't stop a silly smile from forming on her face, and pushed her head deeper into the space between his shoulders and neck.
She felt so content, just lying there quietly in his arms, feeling his warmth and hearing his heartbeat and inhaling his scent. The fact that she loved him made it all the more wonderful, because it seemed that he was actually beginning to thaw.
Be reasonable, she told herself. He had never cared, he always had an ulterior motive for doing something, and killing Itachi was all that mattered to him. As much as she wanted to believe that he could very well be starting to fall in love with her, she had to stay realistic. This was Sasuke she was dealing with.
But even all that logic couldn't stop her heart from almost bursting with love and hope.
Glossary: - Kenjutsu : Swordplay, to put it simply.
Kekkei genkai : Bloodline limit. The special physical enhancements conferred genetically, for instance – Sharingan, Byakugan, etc.
Oyasuminasai : Good night
Ohayou : Good morning. The full phrase is actually ohayou gozaimasu.
Ojiisan : Grandfather. Not to be confused with ojisan, which means uncle. Ojisan is also used to address men of the generation above the speaker.
The Author has More to Say: Nihihihi! Hope you guys liked that. I cannot promise when the next update will be. In fact, I remember warning in the first chapter that I'm a sporadic updater. Not so much by choice, though. Don't forget to look up my profile for a notification!
Also, Shameless Self-Plugging! Read my new oneshot fic, Of Balls and Brides! XD
Reviews and constructive criticism much appreciated!