Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I just like to fawn over my favorite couples.

Title: And the Oars Dipped

Summary Notes: Well, between my senior year, I've been struggling on the bigger stories...even writing at all. This I wrote while I was sick last week (no thanks to being overworked at school) and is a deviation from my normal JirTsu-ness. Never fear though, I love AsuKure as much as anyone who reads - and hopefully enjoys - this; I just hope this isn't too weird. I've never written them before and posted it up with my own interpretations of their character, but I've always liked this poem And the Oars Dipped since I saw it on a LotR site, and thought it fitted them in a way. And yes, I do know a fair bit about Tanabata, but I did my extra research to make sure I had it all right, never fear. So enjoy, and I'd love comments.

***

The oars dipped, the wood going deep, as if to drown themselves before rising to the surface, drops of salt water falling gently back to sea.

He remembered the first time he'd seen her.

He had been sitting up the back of the classroom with Gai and Kakashi, as usual, happily seeing how long they would have to kick the back of their desks for before Haruno-sensei completely lost her cool and threw them outside. Or rather, he was; Kakashi was too much of a stickler for the rules to cause any actual mayhem, and Gai was just...Gai. It depended on his mood.

The teacher appeared somewhat distracted though, and he sighed, blowing the long strands of hair out of his face as he dropped his chin onto his folded arms. The boy sighed with boredom and closed his eyes. Perhaps if he dozed off now, while Haruno-sensei was distracted, he could catch a few minutes...

"Sarutobi!"

He jumped a foot off his chair, causing his classmates to titter. Haruno-sensei was glaring up at him, but her mouth twitched with amusement even as she gently ushered a small girl from the doorway.

"Here, Yuuhi-san, there's a chair in front of Sarutobi. Yes, the one that just jumped out of his skin. Why don't you take a seat?"

Clearing her throat, Haruno-sensei straightened, fixing the class with a stern eye.

"This is Yuuhi Kurenai; she's been moved up a class due to her talent in genjutsu. I hope, no, I expect you all to make her feel welcome. Yes, that includes you, Hatake, so don't give me that look."

Asuma propped his face on his arms again, affecting a bored look even as his eyes followed the girl, followed the way her dark hair shifted with every movement. It reminded him forcibly of a dark night sky peeking through the clouds on a stormy night, and as she sat down, she glanced back at him. She was clearly nervous, but covered it with a small smile. The movement caused the shifting tresses to caress her blush-tinted cheeks, and Asuma was struck by the sudden urge to bury his face in the strands tickling her cheek.

He played it cool though and turned away with a quiet hmph. He was inwardly shocked by his unfamiliar thoughts though, and more unfamiliar, the sudden weakness in his knees at said thoughts.

Kurenai...

And the oars dipped.

Despite trying to ignore it (and attempting to remind his growing body and brain of the horrors of cooties), he found out, much to his chagrin, just how easily he could lose himself in those eyes. One look into them and it was like he was in a dream – his vision became fuzzy along the edges, his heart beat both slow and fast, his breathing became rather short.

It didn't help that she'd often accept Gai and Suzume's offers to sit with them for lunch, or tag along with them during group activities. Pretty quickly, she became a fixture in their group, and he had to put up with watching those crimson eyes flit about with bright curiousity and gentle amusement as she spoke to their comrades. Always though, when there was a lull in conversation, she would turn her gaze to him, and those eyes would lighten up in a soft smile that warmed him even as it sent chills down his spine. How easy it would be to drown in them, to be swept away in those alluring crimson pools...

He realised then that he was falling for her, scrawny frame, crimson eyes and all. Or, as they said at that age, he was crushing on her. Briefly, he entertained the notion of asking her out, but his natural shyness kicked in and he looked away, his courage failing and his worth untried.

And the oars rolled, the water trickling down.

He'd whooped and cheered with the others as he watched her completely and utterly annihilate her exam opponent with a hell-load of intelligence on her part and a well placed trump card in the form of one of her infamous (to their class anyway) genjutsus. Panting and trembling, she looked up at them (him, he told himself), and smiled sheepishly, even as she winced when the grin stretched her cut and bleeding lip. There was no doubt she'd passed, and the euphoria was enough to grant him the courage to run down the dark corridors of the arena building and meet her halfway.

His courage had faltered upon seeing her up close though, sweating and tired and looking completely surprised – and delighted, maybe? – at his appearance. Leaning against the wall, Asuma scuffed his foot on the ground, ducking his head in an attempt to hide his sudden bashfulness, and more importantly, the fact that he'd been ogling the large rip across her abdomen. It had ripped through cloth and mesh shirt, leaving a thin trail of blood visible and, more prominently, the torturous sight of bare skin. It made him feel like more of an idiotic teenage boy than he already was, and he only made it worse, in his opinion, when he stumbled and stuttered his way through his words.

So much for cool and collected.

She laughed softly at his bashfulness, and he'd been startled to feel her lips, soft and warm, against his cheek. How easy it would have been, to turn his face just so and...

But he was a coward – or an idiotic teenage boy – and the moment had passed. She pulled back, and he nearly caved at the laughter and warmth in her startling eyes. Did she know? Was she laughing at him? Oh god...

He never got the chance to ask, for with one of her heartbreakingly gentle smiles, she softly thanked him for cheering her on before ducking under his arm and disappearing down the corridor. All he could do was stand there, wide-eyed and helpless as he touched his cheek.

And the oars dipped.

He'd never had any real problem with joining the guys on one of their peeking escapades. Why would he? It was a bit of harmless fun (unless they were caught) and they were typical young males with a general obsession for female flesh on the brain. Yes, even Gai.

So it was only natural for him to be absolutely mesmerised at the sight of Kurenai in the baths, right? Granted, she was with Anko, Suzume and Shizune, but he paid about as much attention to them as he would the steam swirling around the bathhouse. She certainly wasn't the best looking of the lot at present (still a bit of filling out to do, as was normal in adolescence), but it didn't stop him from trying to memorise every dip and curve as she chatted and splashed and played with the other kunoichi, or from wanting to reach out and trace the patterns of water that criss-crossed her fair skin...

It was all perfectly normal. He was a young male, no matter how cool he acted, and there was nothing to be ashamed of.

So why did he feel so bad later then, so unable to meet her eyes when he saw her afterwards?

And the oars rolled...

"So you've decided to come back?"

Asuma shrugged in response. His father didn't need him to respond; he would have been perfectly aware of what had happened during Asuma's time as a Fire Guardian. He was Hokage, after all. And though the old man had a way of irritating him like no other, Asuma found some comfort in the warm smile.

"I'll just get your file out then..." Sandaime broke off at the crash outside the window, and Asuma barely had time to blink before he was literally crash-tackled by a skinny form as it hurtled through aforementioned window, chattering loudly and intelligibly.

"Holy crap! Asuma-baby, you've grown so BIG!"

He had to smile at Anko's antics. She hadn't changed a bit, right down to the skinny, lanky figure. By the state of her clothing, she must have just returned from a mission, and his suspicions were confirmed when Sandaime resumed his position behind his desk, one eyebrow arching as he said,

"The mission was successful, Anko-san?"

"Everything went according to plan, Hokage-sama." Asuma blinked at the second voice, turning his head to see a second woman walking through the doorway. No, not walking, sauntering. One hand (the one that wasn't bound up in a sling) lifted to flick the woman's wild tresses out of her face. It took a moment for his mind to register beyond the makeup and the very attractive body, but when the woman's startling crimson eyes turned to look at him, Asuma was hard pressed to keep his jaw from dropping.

Kurenai.

Damn. If Anko hadn't changed at all; Kurenai had done the exact opposite. He quickly realised one thing hadn't changed though; her face lit up in the same gentle smile, and when she spoke his name in surprise, it was as if the years away had never happened, and he was once again that tongue-tied teenage boy with a pining crush on that scrawny little girl sitting across from him at lunch time. Only, she wasn't scrawny anymore, but he was as smitten as ever.

Yet still, he was too chicken to say anything to her.

And the oars dipped.

The evening was warm and balmy, the sky clear – perfect for the Tanabata, or the Festival of the Weaver Star. It was a night of lights and dancing, of fun and celebration, for the clear night meant that Hikoboshi and Orihime would be allowed to meet one another before they were separated again. It was a time for lovers, both lost and found, and Asuma found himself happily following Kurenai through the crowd, content to watch as she looked here and moved there, looking utterly breathtaking in her festival outfit as her crimson eyes took in the sights with the eagerness of a child. It made him smile, though that could have been more the fact that they were here, at the festival, together.

After all, it had only taken him a year and five months to ask her out that first time. If he discounted prior years, of course.

Later, in a moment of boldness, he had kissed her. He had intended it as nothing more than a light touch, a wordless thank you for coming with him to the festival. What he hadn't counted on, was the reaction it would elicit from both of them. She had stared up at him, eyes wide and lips parted in surprise, and realising his mistake, he lost his nerve.

"Sorry, I wasn't thinking," he mumbled, ducking his face away from her to hide the red staining his cheeks.

"The bamboo leaves rustle, rustle,

shaking away in the eaves.

The stars go twinkle, twinkle;

Gold and silver grains of sand."

As the soft notes of the Tanabata poem faded away, he chanced a glance back at her, and was startled to see the soft smile on her features. Her hand touched his cheek, turning his face back to her.

"Is that all?" she murmured, and standing on her tiptoes, she pulled his lips down to meet hers. It took him a moment to comprehend, but when he did, it was all he could do to not whoop and pump his fist in the air like an idiot genin on his first successful mission. He did an admirable job of restraining himself though, and instead wove his arms around her waist, kissing her as deeply as he dared in public.

Not that he gave a damn what anyone else thought at the moment.

And the oars dipped yet again...

It was a wonder they'd made it back to her apartment without crashing into anyone. Such thoughts vanished to the recesses of his mind though once the door was closed behind them, and Kurenai was wasting no time, her hands fumbling with the clips on his Jounin jacket. He stilled her hands, gripping them gently and looking her full in the face.

"You're sure about this?"

Those crimson eyes gazed back steadily, dark with desire and a guileless surrender.

"I'm yours."

Her tone was husky, and with a soft growl he captured her lips again in a deep, mind-dizzying kiss. His arms wrapped possessively around her waist, lifting her, nudging her gently towards her bedroom. His hands touched every inch of skin he could find, delighting in the soft warmth. No longer was he the shy teenage boy, the uncertain comrade, the bashful, pining friend.

Nothing but her mattered at that moment.

Him.

Her.

One.

Nothing else.

And the oars rolled, the dark murky waters of man turning slowly to a bright turquoise blue... closer... closer...

Later, when they lay tangled in the sheets and each other, something suddenly occurred to him.

"When did you know?" he murmured, one hand running through a wayward lock of her hair. She smiled slightly, giggling softly when he nuzzled into the hair resting on her cheek. Propping herself on one arm, she tilted her head curiously.

"When did I know what?"

"You told me you were mine. Like you knew how much I'd always wanted you. When did you know?"

Her cheeks reddened, but her smile brightened as she seemed to consider his words, before leaning over and kissing him. Pulling back, her words were barely a breath.

"The first time you pretended to ignore me when I smiled at you."

"Always the observant one, aren't you?" he drawled in response, but he was smiling when he tackled her, giggling, back onto the bed.

And the oars dipped.

Time passed and they went on with their lives. Their genin teams grew stronger under them; it was a proud day for him when his students all moved on to become Chuunin. Kurenai's team followed them in short succession – even shy Hinata. And finally, once all was said and done and he was sure they'd be okay, he finally took the next leap.

It was with nervous shifting, sweaty hands and a lot of ribbing from Kakashi that he finally asked her to marry him, and was more than a little relieved – and a lot overjoyed – when she nearly tackled him off his feet in response, laughing and covering his face with kisses and chanting yes more times than he could count.

It was all as near to perfect as it could be for him, for them in their profession. But all too often did perfect things fade away, and as he lay there, the rain mingling with his life-blood, he thought of all he'd seen and said and done, of the child he'd never have the chance to hold, of the last time he'd kissed and held the woman he'd loved for so many years, and with his last breath he whispered to his old student,

"Take care of Kurenai and the baby...I love her..."

And the oars rolled, bright, crisp waters, clean, fresh...

Time was endless in this place. There was no beginning and no end. No boundaries. There was nothing but peace. Yet he was not peaceful. Something was missing from him, something important. He didn't know what, but in this strange, quiet place, he felt its absence acutely.

Time went on, or did it? He didn't know. What he did know though, was that he was waiting for something. Or someone. And finally, it came. It came in the form of crimson eyes and a gentle smile that struck his memory like the blow of a kunai, yet much, much gentler. And when her hand slipped in his and she looked up at him with that same gentle smile, he remembered.

"Kurenai..."

"I knew one day the waters would bring you back to me, Asuma."

And the oars stopped.