-1The Five Times She Said It

Author's Note: A friend of mine asked if I'd do a version of The Five Times She Said It (my Bleach IchiRuki oneshot) with Naruto and Sakura. I love NaruSaku so I said yes, obviously. I don't get to write any romance in An Alternative Path, well except the squint to find it kind, so I was ecstatic to be given an excuse to write some. No spoilers, takes place whenever. Sort of disconnected from the current arcs.

Disclaim: I own nothing but my own brilliance.

The first time Sakura told him she loved him, she hadn't really meant it. But he was laying broken and bloody on that hard ground. He was so tired and exhausted and scared. She was scared too. Sakura couldn't heal him on her own and he just wouldn't stop bleeding.

When he reached out a hand she gripped it blindly even as she applied pressure over his heart.

"It's going to be okay." She head herself saying. Naruto smiled at her. They both knew it might not. 'Where is Tsunade-shishou?" Sakura thought swinging her head around wildly, as though Tsunade might appear from the air.

"Sakura…" Naruto said her name softly and her gaze lowered back to him. "Sakura, will you tell me just once?"

"Tell you what?" She asked, stalling. She knew. Of course she knew. He wanted her to tell him she loved him.

"Please…" Naruto knew she knew too.

Sakura frowned, torn. He was her best friend, she loved him for that. But she didn't love him the way he wanted or needed her too. Finally she opened her mouth.

"I love you Naruto." She said firmly, he smiled and closed his eyes.

---

The second time Sakura told him she loved him she still hadn't really meant it. It had been a month, an entire month, with him, he looked like he was sleeping (he wasn't, she knew that, she couldn't face it), in a coma.

Everyday she was there. At first her own hospital bed was next to his. Later she would pull up a chair and sit, leaving only when Tsunade or Shizune or someone else (they were unimportant) came to drag her away.

She hardly slept. She hardly ate. She just sat there staring at him.

Around her she heard the whispers and she saw it their eyes.

"It's sweet how much she loves him. She's going to make herself sick. She needs to be resting. She must really love him. How awful for her. She must be suffering. Their love is sweet." The same sentiments over and over and over again. They were what made her sick.

Still, she was there every day.

And she was there when he opened his eyes.

"Naruto!" She shouted flinging herself at him. She was crying. Joy and relief. She didn't know what she would do if she'd lost him too. "Thank god you're okay. Please don't scare me like that." She was deliriously happy. "I love you too much for you to die!"

---

The third time Sakura told him she loved him she maybe meant it a little, not that she'd admit it. It had been two more months and Naruto had been completely better by the third week, even with Tsunade's standards which were always ridiculously high when it came to him.

Now Naruto was walking her home after a day spent training. He always walked her home. It always pissed her off. Did he think she couldn't take care of herself? (Okay, maybe it was kinda sweet, but no one was allowed to know that.)

They were walking in silence. Each thinking separate thoughts. Each content in the others presence, so used to each other that they didn't need words.

When they made it to her apartment Naruto turned to her and said; "Night Sakura-chan. I love you." He gave her a hug. He'd been doing the exact same thing for so long (was it six months or seven, she couldn't remember), it was never as annoying though as it was tonight.

"Yeah, yeah." She murmured to his shoulder, pressed as she was against it, irritated and oddly hurt. "Love you too."

---

The forth time Sakura told him she loved him she was greatly confused, did she mean it or not? She couldn't even tell.

The past two weeks she'd spent avoiding. Avoiding the subject (love). Avoiding the subject of the subject (Naruto). Avoiding anything to do with the subject (which incidentally was very hard as it was just about everything in Konoha). Sakura was avoiding and hiding (at the hospital, the one place Naruto wouldn't come after her due to his intense dislike of it).

Apparently Naruto's love and concern for her was greater than his hatred of the hospital because one day he'd cornered her in the room of a patient (training accident, broken leg, would be out of there in a week).

He asked her if she was okay, was something wrong, did he do something wrong, he'd fix it if she'd just tell him, he was very sorry, he wouldn't do whatever it was again, would she please just say something?

Sakura had been getting angrier and angrier as he talked. She wasn't okay, she didn't know what was wrong, it was still entirely his fault (it just had to be), she didn't know how he could fix it, she wasn't entirely sure she wanted it fix, and she wasn't quite sure but she thought maybe she wanted him to do it again, whatever it was. Not that she said a word.

Eventually she snapped. She was trying to work and Naruto wouldn't shut up.

"NARUTO! Shut up. I love you but I swear to god if you keep talking I'm going to hurt you!" Her voice was ugly as she snarled at him and she was sure her face matched her voice but Naruto just smiled lightly at her and slunk away, leaving her with confusing feelings and too many questions.

---

The fifth time Sakura told him that she loved him was the first time she actually wanted to.

She spent the rest of the day at the hospital in a fog. Drifting from room to room, from patient to patient with a distracted air that did not comfort the injured she was tending to. Eventually Shizune told her to take the rest of the day off in a gentle, soothing tone that did absolutely nothing to soothe Sakura's frazzled feelings.

Being summarily told to leave and not come back until she could actually work without the chance of maiming someone in her distraction (not in so many words but the general drift was the same) Sakura headed off to Training Ground Seven.

No one was there when she arrived and she wasn't sure if she was relieved or disappointed. She walked to the cluster of vertical logs, remembering with fondness and bitterness the first lunch she'd ever spent with her team. She dropped into an ungraceful position in front of the middle one and stared blanking across the field.

'What am I doing here?' She thought to herself. She dug up a small handful of dirt and watched it slip from her palm to make a tiny pile in front of her.

'What am I doing?' She thought, unsure if she was referring to playing with dirt or just her life in general. She picked up another handful of dirt and made the pile bigger.

'What do I want to be doing?' Another thought where she didn't quite know what she was referring to. Another handful of dirt, a slightly larger pile.

"Well I certainly don't want to be doing this." She said suddenly as she began to gather a fourth fist of dirt.

"Then why are you?" An amused voice said from the left.

Sakura whirled around, jumping up and releasing the dirt to be flung onto the unfortunate interloper.

"Naruto! Don't scare me like--" She cut off as she noticed the dirt she'd thrown at him, hitting him square in the chest and face. "Oh, sorry, but you shouldn't have scared me."

"Don't worry about it Sakura-chan." Naruto wiped his hand down his face, muffling the last words. "It's just dirt." They stared at each other silently. "What are you doing here?" He finally asked.

"I was thinking." Sakura said pensively. "And it's all your fault." She accused.

"I'm… sorry?" Naruto said confused.

"You should be! You're so irritating. It's annoying. I can't stop thinking about you and about everything, and it's annoying, and irritating, and frustrating, and, and, and it's all your fault." She pointed a finger at him.

"Um, I'm really sorry?" Naruto tried again, still confused but now planning an escaped route just in case.

"Good! Not good! I don't even know anymore!" She reached to tug at her hair and crouched to the ground. Oh god, was she crying? She was! She couldn't believe it, how humiliating.

"Sakura?" Naruto crouched down next to her and put a large, comforting palm onto her back. "Sakura? Are you okay?"

She looked up at him and frowned. "No. I love you Naruto and I don't know what to do about it." She said defiantly, finally admitting it to herself and the world, even though she really knew it months and months ago.

Naruto looked confused, then happy, and he smiled at her brightly.

"Don't worry. I'm sure we'll figure it out." He held out a hand to her and she took it, pushing herself up off the ground with his support.

"We better, but really, it's still your fault." She told him.

He laughed at her, she hit him, he walked her home.

Very little had changed but Sakura was much happier this way.

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