title: chasing pavement
summary: A word, her name, and she closed her eyes against the familiar tremors. He was still her weakness.
pairing: SasuSaku

for: Annie, who is amazing, and celebrated her birthday not too very long ago. I'm sorry for my lateness. To make up for it, you're getting another one. And a chapter of cherry apple wine as soon as writer's block stops kicking my butt.

notes: consider me back.

also, I'd really appreciate feedback. I hope my writing hasn't gotten worse with my absence. Let me know, won't you?

disclaimer: Naruto and all elements associated with that work of fiction do not belong to me.

She took in everything about him, absorbed the line of his mouth, the set of his shoulders, the hollow of his throat—every little bit of minutia like so much ink on pristine paper. He was a study in eurhythmy, his every movement fluid and graceful in a way she'd given up ever hoping to match. His eyes, the same fathomless dark pools she'd have willingly drowned in given half the chance, were trained on her now, and the sensation of the fact left her just barely shivering, even after all these years.


A word, her name, and she closed her eyes against the familiar tremors. He was still her weakness. A moment later, she released the breath caught in her throat, and nodded.

"Let's start."

He lunged with no further notice, whipping three kunai at her and following that initial attack with a stream of fire. She sighed, parrying the weapons with ease and running her fingers through a series of handseals to produce a shield. They went that way, trading techniques, and killing trees, fighting for what seemed like hours. Sasuke belonged in battle, she thought, so it was unsurprising that he'd be beautiful even with his black hair mussed, even with sweat running down the sharp angles of his cheek—and she couldn't say she wasn't proud of herself for that feat—even dirtied and dim, dust clouds forming in his wake.

Even panting—great gulping gasps for air—with the exertion of battle.

I sound moonstruck, she thought mournfully. Maybe I haven't changed. Maybe I can't. Maybe it's him. She'd always had trouble reconciling her growth with her reaction to him. By all accounts, she was stronger—well on her way to surpassing her master if whispers were to be believed. She had shattered boulders with fists smaller than most stones, had saved lives with her body's own energy, had flicked Naruto away with ease whenever he got too annoying to deal with, which was often. She'd overcome her less attractive inner qualities—had resolved to listen more to Inner Sakura, had patched things up with Ino, had given Lee a chance.

It seemed, though, that with Sasuke, she might as well have been twelve all over again. Yes, she'd stopped her more obvious advances, had seen that her dignity would live to die another day. But there was something deeper now, some sort of awareness she could not banish. She did not have to turn her head to know when he had entered the room. Her skin burned in the brief moments his eyes fell on her, and once, she'd blushed so hard that Naruto had wondered aloud whether she'd been coming down with a fever. Morosely, she even acknowledged that she knew him by the sound of his footsteps, by the way he moved his arms when he walked.

Sometimes, she didn't know which one was worse—the immature infatuation, or the constant aching hope for Something More.

She rubbed her temples, suddenly feeling the beginnings of an old ache. If the passage of time, if his near-death, if her near-death, hadn't cured her of this affliction, she feared nothing would.

She was so tired, she thought, and what was worse, she had no idea how to make it go away.

She worried even more that she didn't want it to.

A sudden thump nearby broke her reverie and she cursed softly under her breath, as she moved into a defensive position. By then, it was too late. That moment's distraction was all Sasuke needed to tackle her, flip her over and on her back, his long fingers instantly closing the gap around her wrists. Quickly, his long, leanly muscled legs moved over her own, pinning her down to the forest floor without any outward reaction, as though it were business as usual. It both maddened and amused her that he could be so casual about their interaction, when she was currently nothing more than a bundle of tight, tense knots. Suddenly, there was a sharp, cutting pain, and she gasped, shifting her eyes from the lines of his face to search for the source of her discomfort.


From Sasuke's muttered exhalation, she guessed that he'd found it first. A stray kunai had fallen out of his hastily applied pouch, and nicked the skin of her upper arm. Even now, she watched as a drop after drop of her own blood slowly trickled out, before it turned into a slow steady stream. Sasuke released her wrists, stood up, and held out a hand to help her up. Ignoring it, she instead focused all of her attention on the pain to avoid looking into his eyes. The strain of their spar coupled with the weight of her thoughts was getting to her, and the last thing she needed was to fall apart in front of him for no apparent reason. After all, he couldn't possibly know what she'd been thinking about, and expecting sensitivity on his part was nothing short of absurd. Almost mechanically, she summoned the necessary amount of chakra to her fingertips, and then brushed them over the wound lightly, as though she was wiping away a spare dust mite. The wound pulsed green for a moment with the heat of her chakra, and then slowly faded, leaving only the dried rivulets of blood on her upper arm. Slanting a look at the shinobi standing only steps away, she was unsurprised to find only the vaguest hint of concern in the tight line of his lips. Even his eyes had flashed back to their default apathy—if they'd even changed to begin with.

"All right, now," he asked, a reflex, she supposed, from long ago—from those days when she'd still expected him to rescue her from demons. Briefly, she remembered how much she'd relished it, the feeling of being protected, never once stopping to think that he'd been saving her for humanity's sake. For duty's sake.

Slowly, she brushed herself off, green eyes never leaving him, as though she were drinking him in. The spar was over, even if he didn't know it yet, and she would take the time to go home and lick her wounds. Tomorrow, Naruto would be back from his solo mission, and as was their custom, the three of them would celebrate. She sighed, resigned, and when she spoke, her words were soft but clear.

"You cut me open."

Sasuke opened his mouth to tell her that she was being ridiculous—annoying—fussing over something so small, and anyway, she'd healed it all right, and she'd been through worse, so why was she complaining about a stray kunai?

But there was something different in her eyes today, a bone-deep weariness that gave him pause. For the first time in a while, he felt an unease that had nothing to do with death, or lifelong ambitions, but could probably hurt him just the same. Before he could ask her again whether she was feeling all right, it was too late.

As she walked away, he was left with the distinct impression that she hadn't been referring to the dried stream of blood still adorning her arm.

Happy (Belated) Birthday to you again, Annie. Expect something happier soon. :D

I heard a song that gave me a burst of inspiration. Cookies to those who can guess it.

To readers of pocket full of sixpence, The Dating Game and cherry apple wine, please don't be upset with me, and don't worry. Updates are coming. I'm back, and I don't intend to go away anytime soon.

Please review.