Naruto's back hits the mattress hard enough that she worries he'll rip his stitches again. "Honestly," she gripes, but he's too busy smothering his face with her pillow and wriggling around on her sheets like he's in the process of making some deformed, bedtime snow-angel. Any moment now he'll be swimming the butterfly under her comforter.

"Mrmph hnn."

His words are completely inaudible behind the padding of her pillow, but she can imagine what he wants, knows that for all his pretending and distracting that he's actually inhaling and languishing in the scent of her as it surrounds him. His chest rises with a deep intake of air, confirming her suspicions and he sighs it out slowly, rolling sidelong to huggle the pillow against his chest as he grins up at her, the image of perfect and utter relaxation.

"I'm really okay to walk home now," he says and it breaks the illusion because she can see now that he's fingering the edge of the pale pink pillowcase with a subtle nervousness.

She lowers herself to the edge of the bed, leaning in close enough to ruffle his hair before setting her digital alarm for 6 a.m. As appealing as the idea of sleeping the day away with Naruto sounds, cocooned in a warmth of body heat and downy sheets, she's got a training regime to uphold on her days off from hospital duty. And before that she'll need to report to Tsunade about the on goings of the previous night's shift.

During that time, she'll also probably need to explain what she knows about Naruto's situation. She's certain Naruto wouldn't be here with her if there was any chance of a security threat (which then leads her to the cold realization that the men who attacked him are undoubtedly deceased and disposed of), but the Hokage will need to be debriefed regardless and she knows from experience that her Shishou is easier to handle if someone has already broken her in, given her time to digest the unsavory news. She's used to the old woman's volatile mood swings, so she doesn't mind being the messenger, taking the brunt of her anger so Naruto doesn't have to.

"Don't even think about it," she mock threats, once more turning her attention to the boy pretending to be at home in her bed. "You're a patient under my strict watch and care until I say otherwise. Got it?"

"If you say so'tteba," he sighs, deep and dramatic as if just the notion is putting him out, but he buries his face against her pillow to hide a lopsided grin. "Geff el haff ta stick huhround for ew ta check mm out."

He actually snickers, and she has to resist the urge to clobber him on the back of the head.

"I can't even understand the words that are coming out of your mouth, doofus."

It's obvious he's in one of his goofier moods, but she doesn't really mind it. Seeing him happy and smiling is hardly wearying to her. It's a much appreciated improvement from the state she discovered him in earlier that evening, anyway.

She tries to pry the pillow away from him and has to result to pinching his left nipple in order to get him to relent.

"Ow, Sakura-chan, you're so abusive. No man'll let you near his bits if you keep that up." He's teasing but he's also sulking and she has a hard time figuring out just how much of each is genuine. She'd argue that he'd already let her man-handle his, but just the recollection is enough to enflame the apples of her cheeks and it's not exactly clear if the whole debacle had been wholly willing on his behalf.

It's weird, this isn't the first time that they've slept together, and yet he seems both nervous and enthralled at the thought of sharing her bed, hiding behind childish antics which would normally result in getting him kicked out completely, ruining his opportunity. She thinks she kind of understands it, the defense mechanism he's taken to with her over the years—if he sabotages himself he'll have an excuse to deal with the ache of rejection. And maybe it attests to her own growth in maturity that she's only just recently become more patient with him. (Sometimes Naruto is goofy just to be goofy, and sometimes Naruto is goofy to protect himself. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which, but she's gotten more practice in than most.)

Over the past six months they've somehow taken to sharing a sleeping bag over the course of their missions together. It had seemed only natural at the time, a subconscious effort as with each night they both separately inched closer to the other. Maybe it was the pressure of seeking Sasuke-kun, the compounded ache of each subsequent failure, or maybe the outside abrasion of struggling to deal with new teammates had pushed them to seek each other: a familiarity. Whatever the reason, she can remember the strong feelings of that first night where she nuzzled against the crook of his chest and let the scent of his skin wash over her.

She likes being encompassed in Naruto.

Of course, a lot of things happen on missions under a don't ask, don't tell operational basis. There's no lack of rumors between four-man formations. But those things seldom worm their way into every day, personal life.

So she understands his self-defense mechanism. In a way, this is new territory between them, and there's no guarantee that she'll accept him under these more personal, private circumstances.

Two years—no, even one year ago—she'd have made him sleep on the couch. Six months ago she'd have given him the comfort of the bed but refused to join him. And now? She rubs a hand over the stitches in his skin, taking the time to explore the taut area with her fingers and thumb before gliding over the rest of his flat stomach. She can feel the bunching of his abs just below his skin, and her fingers stray to dance across his ribs.

"It kinda hurts."

"Your tummy?"


Her hand has strayed back to the stitches in question, but she can tell that's not why he winces and looks away. He's averting his gaze, damn near boring a hole into the ceiling as he fights to keep all expression from his face, but she can see his fingers stroking against her pillow, and she knows it's all an effort to keep himself restrained. She's being unfair, touching him in this way when they both know she won't allow him the freedom to return it, but he hasn't asked her to stop.

After a couple more minutes of her petting his tummy, he moves a hand to rest on her hip, thumb stroking across the front and jut of her bone, back and forth in place. He's watching her now with eyes fiercely blue in the darkness of the room. It must be tough for him, she thinks, always so desperate for her attention but never being satisfied, never getting enough—he's never gotten what he really wants from her.

"Hey, babe?"

He blushes pleasantly every time she calls him that not because of any intimate implication from the pet-name itself but because he's noticed that she only uses it when no one else is around. So in a way, it's like their little secret. (Or so he'd rather look at it than assume it's because she's ashamed of him.)

He scratches at a cheek with his index finger, pretends that such a silly gesture doesn't actually underly his sheepishness. "Hm?"

"You really scared me tonight."

He frowns. "I already apologized."

This is true, but it had felt more like a distraction for his sake after she'd insisted on toweling him dry, uttered as she stooped to rub the towel in between each thigh.

"That's not what I mean," she sighs, and her fingers dip down in a dangerous moment of teasing behind the elastic waistband of his borrowed sweats. (They're a light gray but have pink stripes running down the sides and sit too short for him, baring sculpted ankles.)

For a moment Naruto doesn't breathe, too tense and terrified to move lest she accidentally touch that, the thing which had been building while she stroked the sensitive areas of his chest and stomach and hips, that thing which he had been trying to prevent because it would undoubtedly get him kicked out of the bed and likely with a concussion and a nice shiner to boot. But also a part of him wants her to brush it, the anticipation coiling in his chest.

"I've been thinking—not just tonight—that I don't want to end up like Shishou. I don't want to be old and alone, regretting what should have been with the person I never gave a chance." She flushes a lovely shade to match her hair, surprised that she's admitted the words aloud because it's the first time she's even admitted them to herself. "I don't want to let you slip through my fingers."

Naruto can't really process what she means, it's too sudden and can't possibly be true—he never expected it to be true, and now he doesn't know what to do with himself, how to react, except that she isn't waiting for his response or permission; she's taken it upon herself to ease her hand fully down into his pants, exploring gently, caressing and squeezing until he chokes and moans and squirms, unable to hold still.

"Sakura-chan...?" He can't believe it.

But, God, it feels so very good.

He wants out of the damn sweats (now!) because he wants to see her holding him, confirm with his own two eyes that it's real. He's kicked the covers aside in a clamber, hands shooting to the lip of the pants where they ride low on his hips, but as always, Sakura has other ideas and he finds himself pushed back from his crunched position to lie flat on the mattress, her free hand pressing down on his shoulder as she practically climbs on top of him to get to his lips. He mm-s as soon as their mouths connect, and he thinks, Now why didn't I think of this? His hands abandon their task to dance across her back and hips, jerking her down on top of him in order to press skin to skin. A hand skims higher, fingers tracing the band of her black sports bra, but he hesitates, unsure of the boundaries. Not 'just how much can he get away with' like he might be wondering with another girl but 'how much is he allowed'? Because with Sakura-chan the thought of ruining it is almost as terrifying to him as never getting a chance with her at all.

Sakura gasps as her tummy grazes against Naruto's, the line of stitches a scratchy and unexpected texture against her skin. She wriggles against the feel of it, stroking their bodies together as she attempts to simultaneously savor and digest the sensation, each responding arch of his hips causing a pleasant thrumming to build in the pit of her belly. Their kissing has fallen into an accompanying rhythm (less frenzied on his behalf compared to the start), but as she becomes more enthralled she bites on his tongue, trapping it in place and eliciting a whine from her eager partner. She uses the teasing gesture to halt the kiss before taking it in a new, slower direction. Finally, she separates from his lips completely, her own hovering a couple inches above as she gives him a good firm jerk where he's been pulsing and growing in her hand, resulting in the shuddered response she was looking for.

She almost laughs because she can see it in his face, the pleasepleasepleaseplease, but she's too busy continuing what she wants to do which is tracing the tip of her tongue across his bottom lip. She kisses the edge of his mouth and breathes, "I don't know what I would do without you."

When she licks her way down his throat she can feel the vibration of his words like a sweet pulsing on her tongue.

"Sakura-chan, this is too much for me."

Surprised at his reaction, she sits back and can see the change in his demeanor. He looks confused and trapped and like he might be close to tears, but for the life of her she can't understand why.

"Hey," she tries, poking him in the ribs playfully. "What's with you? What's the matter?"

He lets out a puff of breath like if he's not careful all the words will spill out too soon and in a jumble. "Look," he says, but he's not actually looking at her while he says it. "You don't have to say things to try to make me feel better or something. You don't need an excuse. I'll do anything you want me to, just don't—"

"I'm not lying to you, retard." She pokes him some more, only harder. He tries to roll away from her intrusion, but she follows fluidly, refuses to relent. "What's the matter with you saying something like that? You don't think I care about you? You don't think I cherish you? Why then—" Poke, poke. "Do you think I nearly lost it—completely forgot my training—when I saw what had happened to you tonight? I was like a chicken with my head cut off because of you. A mockery to medical kunoichi." Poke. "Why do you think I cried?"

The last part comes out more somber than she meant it to, and it isn't even referring to what's happened that night—he probably didn't even know about that time, the way she'd bawled her eyes out and (again) stupidly reacted to his situation, putting herself in danger in the need to save him. She'd walked away with three claw gashes in the arm because of that mistake. But she doesn't know if there's a way she could have reacted better, she isn't sure there's anything she actually can do to help him. It scares her every time she thinks about it, and it frustrates her, because it forces her to consider how utterly useless she really is. What can she ever do for Naruto except stupid, little things?

She lets out a half-laugh, half-sob and shakes her head, trying to lighten the mood. "Why do you think I put up with your stupid antics and your burps and farts and perverted techniques. I pack an extra bento for you every time we go on a mission, and I eat with you on all my lunch breaks even though you want ramen every time, and I don't even snap your bones anymore when we argue."

It's true. He can't remember the last time she'd actually cracked his ribs, but he liked to think it was because over the years he'd learned better how not to antagonize her. So much for that theory. "Wow, Sakura-chan, you must like me a lot. You must wanna marry me and have my babies."

He's poking fun at her idea of tender loving care, but it actually means a lot to him that she's confirmed his hopes and desires (finally?). Mostly he'd thought he was just projecting his longing onto her actions, letting it color his interpretation. Even now, after all that's happened, it doesn't seem like it could be true.

Glancing to the side he mutters, one eye-brow raised, "Maybe I should get beat up more often," to which Sakura smacks him.

"Stop making fun," she sighs, settling into the crook of his body in defeat. She plies her fingers across the dip in his chest and imagines she can feel his heart pulsing beneath them. After a few drawn out moments of silence, she pipes mischievously, the corners of her lips upturned against his skin, "So. Sex now, or cuddle now and sex later?"

"Sakura-chan, I have a hole in my stomach!" he squawks, as if they hadn't just been dry humping, as if she hadn't just fumblingly fondled his bits (for the second time that evening!) Then after a pause, a cheeky grin. "Sex now."