just a brief break from writing in my usual area. This is one of those 'might be/might have been' stories. I'm only a dabbler in Naruto so take it all with a pinch of salt.


by TamLin

Ever since he'd known her there were two immutable rules.

One: he was not allowed to touch Sakura. Ever.

and Two: she was allowed to touch him any time she wanted.

She'd put those rules in place and even though most of her touching of him was inclined toward the painful kind - for such a slender girl she'd always been able to really punch! - he went along with them. One - because for such a slender girl she could really punch! and two - because it meant he got to be around her. And ever since he'd first seen her, he'd thought it was very important to be able to be around her. He didn't mind if that meant he had to follow her rules. They weren't exactly bad rules to start with and it did mean that she touched him a lot. Sure, it was mostly punching but even he knew - maybe, sometimes, on the rare occasion - he deserved it and she sure touched him - if you included the punching - a lot more than any other boy. That made him special - in a weird sort of way - and maybe, sometimes, on rare occasion - he actually went out of his way to annoy her. Just because that meant she paid attention to him.

He wasn't sure when the rules had started to change.

He wasn't sure when she started bumping his shoulder or reaching out to tap him to get his attention. He wasn't sure when they got so comfortable with each other that reaching out for the other one became normal. He thought it probably had something to do with the fact that they were always getting hurt around each other and that they were a team – no, they were partners. So it was only natural for the one of them to be there when the other one got hurt and it was only natural to hold them while they were in pain. They were each other's support and that meant physically too. He guessed that made sense and explained how they'd gotten so comfortable being in each other's arms.

He wasn't stupid. He also knew that they were familiar to each other when so much was changing. He knew that seeing her made all the other stuff a little bit less scary, made him believe just a little bit stronger that everything was going to turn out okay. Seeing her made it easier to be brave.

He was doing too much thinking about it. He only got in trouble when he thought too hard about things. He messed them up and over did them simply because he'd put too much worry into them before hand. But… he couldn't get to sleep. Sakura was still out on patrol and the moon was too bright even in the hollow in the tree he'd found and she should have been back by now…

They were supposed to be a three man cell. And they were… kind of. It was just – hard to keep a third member. It was always him and Sakura and… someone else. The third member was always transitory these days. As if even they knew they were just holding a place while the other two waited for…

Waited for a promise…

Waited for a brother…

Waited for the final piece that would change everything…

He'd promised Sakura he'd bring Sasuke back. He would have promised her anything. He would promise her anything. But he wasn't just bringing Sasuke back for her. He was bringing him back for himself. Because… because somebody had to and it had to be him. He couldn't explain it, probably especially not even to himself but when he looked at Sasuke, he thought, sometimes, he caught a glimpse of his own soul looking back through the dead eyes.

He shifted and tucked his arm under his head. Wondering what was taking Sakura so long. It was tempting to go looking for her but they weren't kids anymore and she was suddenly a capable, dangerous ninja in her own right.

A pretty amazing capable, dangerous ninja with the best hands in the whole wide world…

When had the fists changed to fingers? Why couldn't he remember the first time she'd stroked his hair in affection instead of rubbing her knuckles over it? It should have been a monumental moment for him, except… it had just seemed so right, so natural, he hadn't noticed when it had started.

He remembered the first time she'd sat down at a campsite once the nightly chores were done and patted her lap for him to rest his head on it. He'd been… so tired and all beaten up and beaten down from their mission. He hadn't yelled his surprise at her gesture or even really glorified in it the way he should have. He'd just… collapsed on the ground next to her and put his head in her lap – more because she'd told him to than because he realized what he was doing - and he'd fallen asleep while she combed her fingers through his matted hair.

He'd gotten to like falling asleep with his head in her lap and her fingers in his hair.

But even more than that he liked –

The kitsune inside him stirred and he turned his head. Seconds later, she was a pale shadow, all whisper colors as she crawled into his small hiding place. He whispered her name and she gave him a tired smile and yawned before she shifted over to curl up inside the curve of his own body. She was asleep within seconds and he felt himself finally relax.

He remembered the first time they'd slept against each other. Another long mission finally over, a cold night. He'd fallen asleep and woken up in the middle of the night to find her back pressed against his. It had been comforting, it had been warm and after about the third day of waking up like that, she's stopped hitting him and calling him a pervert. Which was nice… because he knew for a fact that he wasn't the one that moved while they were sleeping. It was his bedroll they always both ended up on after all.

It was so comforting and warm and… normal after that that it had just made sense, half asleep and not really thinking, when he'd rolled over in the night and curled up around her. That was his fault and he was still pretty proud of himself, even if he hadn't been thinking when he'd done it. But it had felt so good to have her back pressed into his chest and her legs tucked up inside his.

Surprisingly, she hadn't hit him for that when they'd both woken up the next morning. Even if she had been strangely quiet and awkward around him.

The next night he'd tried it again – when she was awake that time because it seemed wrong somehow to do it when she wasn't – and she'd let him. She hadn't moved to help… but she hadn't made him stop either. That had been… really nice.

These days, she curled up against him automatically whenever they were both trying to sleep while out on a mission. He wrapped his arms a little bit closer around her and she responded in her sleep by wiggling backward into him.

Every time he got to hold her this way he thought he had been wrong on what being happy really was until he'd discovered the way this felt.

He still had a big mouth. He still said whatever came into his head. He knew he still had no real grasp of what tact was.

But he never teased about this. He never even talked about it. It was too… it was too special. Too important.

He got to fall asleep with the most beautiful girl in the world in his arms. He got to do that. Nobody else. She didn't let anyone else hold her. She didn't stroke anyone else's hair, or giggle when she wiped the food from the corner of anyone else's mouth. She didn't touch anyone else the way she touched him – beyond the punches. She still punched other people that weren't just him. And when she dreamed…

When she dreamed she didn't say anyone else's name but his.

It wasn't always happy, the way she said his name. Sometimes it was sad and sometimes it was scared and sometimes… sometimes it was panicked and lost. But sometimes it was whispers like heated sake and sometimes it was sighs of amusement and sometimes it was just content.

He thought it was funny she never said Sasuke's name in her sleep.

He was glad though. As he tucked her a little bit closer and rested his cheek against hers and shut his eyes… he was glad.

He was glad because – he was finally going to be able to keep his promise. By the end of this mission he was either going to have brought Sasuke back… or he was going to be dead. She didn't know it, not yet. She hadn't overheard the Hokage talking. But he had and he knew and he was glad.

After that… after that it either wouldn't matter or… or he didn't know. He pretended he thought all three of them could be a team again but, sometimes…

Sometimes he wasn't so sure.

He wasn't so sure because he wouldn't be able to sleep with Sakura-chan in his arms anymore when Sasuke was with them. He wasn't sure because he didn't know if they'd want him around when they'd have each other. He wasn't sure –

He wasn't sure because the kitsune inside him had, somewhere, without his permission, decided Sakura belonged to them…

It… talked to her now. It recognized her. It… whispered for her in the shadows of his mind.

It was harder to control when she was hurt and it was easier to seal away when her voice was there.

It was going to cause problems when he let her go.

In her sleep, she made a soft sound and shifted. Sakura was a light sleeper but she didn't usually move. He let his arms around her relax, just a little, so she could get more comfortable and settle again. She refused to settle though and she turned in his arms. He suddenly found her facing him, eyes still closed in her sleep and he froze, sure she was going to wake up at any second and accuse him of trying to take advantage of her and nail him good for it. Her arms moved –

But they only moved to lift and wind around him. She settled then, tucking her face into his throat and snuggling close again, legs tangling with his. It made his heart, which had frozen when she moved, start beating again but it couldn't seem to catch its rhythm right and it made his chest hurt. It was a good hurt.

It was a wonderful hurt.

His own arms tightened around her again and he shifted so they were both more comfortable. Her name slipped out of him and, even mostly asleep, she whispered his in response.

No one else ever got to hold her this way.

She never whispered anyone else's name.

Tomorrow, he'd face Sasuke and they'd finally have an end to things. Tomorrow, no matter what happened, everything would change. Tomorrow…

Tomorrow was tomorrow.

Tonight was tonight.

And tonight he held the girl he'd always loved in his arms and felt her breath against his skin. He lowered his face into her hair and it was enough.

It was everything.