The Author Says: Hey Hope you guys enjoy this oneshot. Took me quite some time to finish it. I actually finished the bulk of it quite quickly, but something came up and I wasn't able to write the ending until recently. I kinda forgot how I wanted it to end – I remembered just the gist and not the exact wording I wanted. Sigh. I hope it turned out well enough. Anyways. Please refer to my profile for an announcement! ^.^ For now, enjoy! (I hope :-p)
Warnings: SasuNaruSasu, Fem!Naru, probable OOC-ness, though I try my best to keep 'em in character, WAFF, quite a dash of fluff, and a pinch of angst. Oh, and mentions of Sasuke's …stuff. Hahaha XD
Disclaimer: Kishimoto-sensei is doing a superb job with Naruto. I couldn't have possibly come up with all his cool characters, wonderful conspiracies and kick-ass fights.
U/L: 23rd September 2009.
Of Balls and Brides
She couldn't stand it anymore. She had to do something about it, even if it would break her heart doing it. But things would – should – be better in the long run. So she steeled herself and began her self-appointed mission.
A kunai sliced a fine, shallow line through the caramel skin.
Sasuke smirked in satisfaction. He was going to win this spar, he just knew it. It hadn't been easy, but he could see that something was distracting the blonde, and as much as he liked to see her smile when she won, he also liked the satisfaction of winning and the bragging rights. Especially since the idiot had been stupid enough to bet that she'd win. Just remembering the terms of the bet made him grin inwardly – the loser would do anything the winner asked. Anything. He knew the blonde was probably thinking of dragging him to Ichiraku after this spar (the last time they were there he'd flatly refused to pay for her meal after she'd insulted the tomatoes in his ramen. Insult tomatoes? No one dissed tomatoes in front of Uchiha Sasuke!) and the thought of that was probably distracting her now, giving him an easy win.
She glared at him even as the cut sizzled quietly and sealed itself off in a space of ten seconds, as he'd known it would. He'd never harm a fellow Konoha-nin, after all – unless it was that loud, irritating Inuzuka, or that uptight, condescending Hyuuga, or that clueless, annoying Sai, or – whoa! He barely twisted out of her reach, and could feel the churning of the wind as her hand and the low-powered Rasengan flashed across his face.
He quickly jumped up into the nearest tree, and when she jumped to a branch of another tree, he kicked off, flipping and twisting gracefully in the air because he knew she was watching, and he knew that for some reason it annoyed her. He watched her as he landed easily on his feet, facing her, and sure enough, she gave him a flip of her own – the one-fingered kind, to which he replied with a smug smirk that he knew really got under her skin. True enough, she bared her teeth at him, causing her cheeks to bunch up and her eyes to squint cute— …causing her eyes to squint.
Her long blonde hair that she'd tied in a low ponytail sailed behind her like some strange foxtail as she leapt off the branch towards him, hurling shuriken, flashing through handseals and shouting, "Shihouhappou Shuriken no jutsu!"
The shuriken multiplied into a thousand projectiles, all rushing to him at insane speed. He gave her a 'that is pathetic look' and disappeared, sinking into the ground with ease just before the shuriken hit. He waited for her to land and look wildly around before surfacing behind her with a kunai in each hand. Instantly he wrapped his arms around her, relishi— he wrapped his arms around her, one around her neck and the other around her waist, with the edges of the two kunai digging lightly into her skin and jacket respectively. The wind blew in their direction, sending the scent of her into his nostrils and giving him a bit of a heady rush. She froze, and when he leaned forward so his mouth was near her ear – he was already pressed against her and could feel her curves despite the turtleneck, vest and the red coat with black flames she wore – she turned absolutely rigid.
"I win, Na-ru-to," he said huskily, giving her name special emphasis, and enjoyed the tremor that ran through her.
Carefully, she turned around in his embr— his restraining hold, he meant, with a blank face and hooded eyes. He could feel more of her curves pressed so nicely against him – down, boy! – and engaged in some quick, subconscious meditation that he came up with on the spot to keep himself relaxed – I said down, boy! Thaaat's it.
Then she looked up, and all of a sudden mischief entered her eyes and her lips stretched in a sucker! grin and he knew he was in trouble. Her next words proved it.
"Oiroke no jut—"
His eyes widened and his Sharingan spun wildly when he realized what was about to happen was she really gonna flashhimandwhoa!hewasgonnaseehergoodsIsaidDOWN,boy! Quick as a flash – a distant part of his mind bet the Yondaime's Hiraishin wouldn't have been able to beat his speed – he dropped his hands and whirled around, squeezing his eyes shut. He felt warm liquid trickle down his nose onto his lips, and, alarmed, he quickly and discreetly wiped his nose and began that subconscious meditation again.
"I win, bastard!" she shouted happily at him and laughed uproariously while slapping her thigh. "Sucker! I can't believe you fell for that! Do you really think I'd lose to you so easily? Hah!"
It was then he realized that he hadn't felt the tell-tale spike of chakra that would indicate she'd actually done the jutsu. Which meant that it had merely been a feint, which in turn meant that he'd lost the spar and consequently lost their bet.
Damn. He hoped she wasn't feeling sadistic today. The last time he'd lost to her, he'd ended up taking over her slew of stinking D-ranks Kakashi had assigned her because she'd vehemently disagreed with him and defaced the Hokage monument to show her disapproval. Sasuke hadn't been able to wash the smell of wet nin-dog out of his white shirt for almost a week, and Naruto had avoided him like the plague because of her superior sense of smell.
He gave her the evil eye, watching as she grinned happily at him with her hands on her hips. Then her brow furrowed and she leaned closer.
"What's that on your face?" she asked curiously, and reached out towards the spot. "Right under your nose. It looks like blood or mud or something."
His eyes nearly widened in alarm, but thanks to his training and years of poker-face experience he managed to keep his usual expressionless face while he hastily wiped the leftover blood with his sleeve. "Hn."
Naruto's eyes narrowed at him suspiciously. "Were you nosebleeding because I was gonna use Oiroke? Seriously? Eeww! Sasuke, you pervert! Of all people! I'm surrounded by perverts! Arrgghh!!" she shrieked at him, her hands flapping like a strange octopus in her indignation.
Not good. Time for distraction. "So what's it going to be?" he asked in an unaffected voice. It worked like a charm, as he'd known it would. He smothered as smirk as her hands settled by her side and she tilted her head cute— tilted her head at him.
"You won, usuratonkachi. The bet, remember? So what's it going to be this time?"
Her eyes widened slowly in comprehension. "That's right! The bet! I forgot!" And her grin turned downright evil. Sasuke could have slapped himself. Stupid!
"Nihihihihi!" she laughed evilly, rubbing her hands with evil glee. Sasuke scowled.
"No more D-ranks!" he said firmly, but uselessly, since he knew the terms of their bet: anything. Darn.
To his surprise, she shook her head. "Nope, no D-ranks!" she agreed in an all-too chipper tone that set his hairs on end. Her grin stretched her lips until nearly all her teeth showed.
"We're gonna find you a wife!"
Sasuke stood stock still for five seconds, watching Naruto cackle like some demented witch. Then he heard, really heard, what she had said.
"What? What?! No!"
Naruto just smiled widely.
Sasuke scowled. "Did you hear me? I said no! N-O, NO!"
"Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much," she said, her lips hardly moving due to their stretched state. It was a wonder she could actually speak with that grin plastered on her face.
"Of course I'm protesting! A wife? Are you crazy?" he growled at her.
"What's so crazy about that? You're twenty-four years old, and as far as I can tell you're still a virgin – why are you choking? Did an insect fly into your open mouth? No? You sure you're okay? – and anyways, if we waited for you to actually start looking then Kami-sama knows how long that would take, and by that time your balls would have dried up and you'd be shooting blanks and there wouldn't be any little Uchiha running around anymore and—"
Whoa! What the---?! "My balls? Why are you even thinking about my balls?!" Sasuke asked in a strained tone. Was it his imagination or was there a slight pink tint to her cheeks? Her face shifted and the colour disappeared, so he blamed it on the light.
"Well, your balls are pretty important if you wanna continue the Uchiha line and all, which is why you should pay more attention to them—"
"They get the attention they're due – you don't have to worry about them," he said dryly. Naruto just shook her head.
"Whatever. So, we're finding you a wife—"
"I said NO!"
"Well, too bad! Anything, remember?" she retorted, looking satisfied with herself. Sasuke couldn't even begin to imagine what brought this on.
"Why the heck are you so keen on finding me a wife? I don't want to find me a wife!"
She looked at him like he was a moron. "Didn't you hear me? I'm your friend, and I care about you and all that. If we wait for you to start looking, your balls are gonna be shriveled and useless by the time you actually need to use them, and who knows, you might not even be able to get it up—"
Sasuke's face nearly went up in flames. "My balls are none of your business! As is the issue of me getting it up!"
Naruto's face fell. Oh no. Sasuke could guess what was coming next.
"But I was just trying to help you," she said in a wobbly voice. Her lower lip jutted out and her eyes grew larger. "And you lost our bet, remember? The terms were anything at all. And at least I'm trying to do something nice for you, when I could be really mean to you and tell Kakashi-sensei that you love his dogs so much…"
Sasuke's eyebrows slammed together and a vein in his temple twitched at the effort of resisting her puppy-dog eyes. Must… resist!
Her shoulders drooped. "You suck. I'm just trying to help. See if I ever bet with you again. Hmph." Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, and the battle was lost. Sasuke cursed and cursed and cursed inwardly.
"What… what are you planning on doing? I'm not agreeing to anything outrageous," he gritted out, fists clenched. She looked up with hope shining bright in her beau— in her blue eyes.
"Dates, of course!" she said cheerfully, all traces of sadness flung to the wind like autumn leaves. "You're going to describe the woman of your dreams to me, and I'm going to set up with lotsa dates until we find you Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke!"
Sasuke didn't bother hiding a cringe at 'Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke'. Urgh.
"So tell me, tellme, tellmetellme! What're your criteria for the woman who's going to be Mrs Uchiha Sasuke?" she asked excitedly, almost bouncing on the spot. Sometimes Sasuke just couldn't believe that this woman was the daughter of the Yondaime Hokage, the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, the student of Hatake Kakashi, the apprentice of the Jiraiya of the Sennin, the favoured of the Godaime, the Toad Sage, and the Saviour of Konoha. It was almost ridiculous how strong he knew she was compared to how childishly she acted sometimes… and he smirked.
"She has to be strong," he announced firmly. Any girl he would even think of considering would definitely not be a weakling.
Naruto nodded happily and pumped one fist in the air. "Yoshi! One strong woman coming right up!"
Sasuke knew better than to ignore the foreboding pricking at his mind, but it was too late. He'd just made a deal with his beautiful, blue-eyed blonde devil.
"Please! Pleasepleasepleaseplease puh-lease!" Naruto begged with tears shining in her eyes, clasping her hands to her chest pathetically.
Sakura put down her teacup and growled at her. "NO."
"Aw, Sakura-chan!" the blonde whined. "Pretty please?"
Sakura turned away from the onslaught of Naruto's Puppy-dog Eyes TechniqueTM. She sighed. "Why are you so adamant about this? You know I got over Sasuke-kun a long time ago, and I'm happy with Neji now."
"I know, Sakura-chan! But I'm just trying to get a feel of what kind of woman Sasuke goes for! He says she has to be strong, and you're the strongest woman I know!"
Sakura stared at her in a mixture of disbelief and bemusement when she realized that the blonde actually meant what she said. "Naruto, you…" she sighed again. "Why are you even trying to match-make Sasuke-kun? I can't believe he agreed to this."
Naruto cackled. "Oh, he agreed, alright," she grinned. "He lost our latest spar and our latest bet," she explained. "The terms were anything, so I decided to help him!"
"But what on earth made you think that he needs or even wants help finding a woman?"
"Oh, 'cause he's the most frigid bastard around, so by the time he actually gets around to finding a woman he's going to realize that his balls would have all shriveled up and he probably won't be able to get it up anymore—"
"Naruto!" Sakura shrieked. If she had been drinking the cup of tea she had just put down, she'd have spat it out and set a new record for distance spitting. "Urgh! Bad mental images!"
Naruto pouted. "Hey, you asked."
"I know, and I know you two are bosom buddies and all that, but to the point of thinking of the future of his sex life? And his balls?"
"What can I say? I'm a caring person." Naruto smiled proudly. Sakura's face scrunched up in disgust.
"Even if I were to agree to your crazy idea, I don't think Neji will be happy to hear about it," she said, steering the conversation away from Sasuke's… stuff.
The blonde waved that concern away. "Don't worry! I'll convince Neji! No problem!"
Sakura knew it wouldn't be a problem for Naruto – not many were able to withstand Naruto's Puppy-dog Eye TechniqueTM, and Neji was one of the unfortunate few who crumbled relatively easily. The only people she knew who could resist that deadly technique were Temari (the woman had next to no sympathy for things like that), Shikamaru (who couldn't be arsed to do anything even if he crumbled), Sai (who never did understand what was going on) and Kakashi (who knew porn books were the ultimate Puppy-dog Eye Technique TM shield?).
The medic nin watched as the blonde ambled off to look for Neji. She knew that Naruto would probably find a quiet place to begin sage mode meditation, latch onto Neji's chakra signature and drive him to the ground, then wear him out with her whining and that infamous technique.
She watched the shock of yellow hair recede until it was a single point on the horizon, and then disappear. Her emerald eyes narrowed. She'd known for some time now that Naruto wasn't the idiot she sometimes portrayed herself to be. The blonde could be unbelievably childish and dense at times, but there were times where she could be unbelievably sneaky as well – like the time she'd pushed Sakura and Neji towards each other when they'd not dared to act on their mutual attraction.
The blonde was up to something, that was for sure, but Sakura couldn't fathom what was going through her mind. She frowned. She'd thought, based on observations that have lasted for quite a few months, that Sasuke…
Hmm… she couldn't have been wrong about that, could she? She picked up her teacup and sipped the cooling tea, trying to ponder the complex mind of Namikaze Naruto.
But seriously? Sasuke's balls? Urgh! Bad images!
Sasuke stepped off the last stair to the top of the Hokage Monument. He could have just chakra-climbed to the top, he knew, but he'd preferred to take the long way, so he could have enough time to scowl and brood.
He had no idea who Naruto had set him up with. If it wasn't for that stupid bet, and that stupid Oiroke feint of hers, there was no way she'd get him to agree to this. He scowled, remembering the note that annoying little toad had delivered to him using its tongue. He'd glared at the toad when it dared ask him for candy; the idiot spoilt her summons way too much. All the note said was for him to dress nicely and be on top of the Hokage Monument at 1900 hours, and that she'd arranged everything for him, winking smiley winking smiley.
He muttered something unflattering under his breath, mounted the last step and started to look around. In front of him, about ten metres from the edge of the Sandaime's stone embodiment were a table, two chairs and a familiar woman waiting in one of the chairs. He almost turned on his heel to go home, but Sakura had noticed him, and was pinning him with a come and sit down or else look. He cursed under his breath as he made his way to her.
"Sasuke-kun," Sakura greeted with a smile.
"Sakura," he acknowledged, and slid into his seat. He realized the table was set for dinner. The tablecloth was a nice navy blue and the decorations were limited to a small bunch of yellow, orange and red flowers of some kind sitting in a vase in between two candlesticks. The only light came from the lit candles and the setting sun. On his plate were four slightly out-of-shape onigiri and slices of fresh tomato. On a smaller plate beside one of the candlesticks were a few sticks of dango.
"She got you your favourite," Sakura observed. Sasuke grunted assent and raised an inquiring eyebrow at her. She laughed lightly. "Of course I know your favourite food. I stalked you for years, remember?"
Sasuke frowned. "Hn."
Sakura, too used to his grumpiness, merely said, "Itadakimasu," and bit into her onigiri. Her eyes widened slightly. "Not bad."
Sasuke muttered his thanks for the food and bit in. He already knew they'd be good despite their less-than-perfect shape – Naruto had made them for him before.
"Can you tell me why Naruto's so concerned about your balls?" Sakura asked nonchalantly between bites, and giggled at the way he nearly choked.
The medic nin sipped her tea before answering. "That's what she told me. She, being such a good friend, is concerned about your lack of sex life and so has appointed herself rescuer of your balls."
Sasuke glared at her. "My… balls… do not need rescuing. We are not talking about them… that."
Sakura wiggled her eyebrows in a so answer me fashion. Sasuke shrugged.
"We sparred. I lost. End of story."
"Loquacious as always, I see," Sakura muttered disparagingly, and Sasuke glared at her. "What I meant was," she continued in an exasperated tone, "why is Naruto set on finding you a girlfriend?"
Her answer was a how am I supposed to know shrug. Sakura hmmned. "Interesting. Especially since you allowed her to do this, considering that you're attracted to her."
That got his attention. Sakura watched with concealed glee as Sasuke scrambled to recover his previous lack of expression. "What makes you think I'm attracted to the usuratonkachi?" he growled. Sakura grinned.
"You just confirmed it!" she crowed. His frown degenerated into a scowl.
"I did no such thing!"
"You didn't deny it. Coming from you, that's as good as a confirmation!" she told him triumphantly. And when he opened his mouth to protest, she asked him more quietly, "Is it that bad a thing? To be attracted to Naruto?" Her expression told him that this was one of those loaded questions females sometimes asked. He proceeded with caution.
"You haven't answered my question," he countered.
Sakura recognized his stalling tactics but decided to humour him. She grinned wolfishly, but Sasuke gave no indication of the chill that slithered down his spine. "What makes me think you're attracted to her. Hmmm," she paused mockingly. "Could it be the fact that she's the only one you actually spend time with? Or the fact that she's the only one you'd spar one-on-one with? Or the fact that she's the only one you actually talk to? Or that she's the only one you treat to meals? Or that you never hang out with us unless she's there? Or that she's the only one who can barge into your house and personal space without getting fried? Or the fact that – and yes, this is a fact, I've seen it myself and had it verified by independent sources – that you have been observed staring at her with an almost moony expression on your face?"
Sasuke's face was steadily becoming a satisfying shade of red. Sakura bared her teeth in an approximation of Naruto's foxy, mischievous grin.
"I do not stare at her," he finally managed to blurt out, scowling. The effect was nicely ruined by the pink still evident on his cheeks, and Sakura savoured it.
"Yes, you do. You're very discreet most of the time, but like I said – I've had independent sources verify that. So, back to the main question, Uchiha Sasuke." You thought you could weasel out of it, didn't you? Shannaro! "Why did you allow Naruto to do this match-making thing when you're attracted to her?"
He drew himself up and sat straight in his chair. "I am not attracted to her." If he'd been the type, he'd have done air-quotes around the word 'attracted'. He took a deep breath. "I like her."
It took a couple of beats for Sakura to realize that he hadn't denied her accusation, and had actually done more than just confirm it. When the correct neurons finally sparked, her eyes widened and she clasped her hands together, squealing.
He scowled at her, recoiling in his seat. "Sakura, you're 24 years old for crying out loud! Stop squealing!"
"I can't help it!" Sakura squealed, one hand on her cheek and the other flapping in front of her like she'd burnt it. "It's so cute! So romantic!"
Sasuke tuned her out and picked up the onigiri he'd been trying to eat, and actually managed to finish it and another one before Sakura came down from her female hormone-induced high.
"Have you regained your sanity?" he sneered, and took a bite of the third onigiri.
Sakura couldn't stop grinning, before she thought of something and frowned. "If you like her, then why on earth did you agree to this?" she asked, her hand gesturing to the table and the candlesticks. Sasuke took a rather vicious bite of his onigiri and chewed and swallowed before answering her.
"Well, the fact that she could even think of me with another woman shows crystal-clearly that she isn't interested in me," he said grouchily. "I agreed because I had no choice – I'd lost our bet." He sighed and continued in a near whisper, "It seemed like it made her happy."
Awww…! Inner Sakura melted from the wangst. Sakura's eyes glittered. Sasuke happened to glance at the pink-haired medic nin and shuddered inwardly. "What?!"
"That's so sweet!" she proclaimed.
Sasuke recognized the look and quickly interjected, "If you squeal again, Sakura – I'm leaving."
"That's so sweet!" she repeated. Sasuke moodily chewed onigiri. "I'd never thought you had it in you, Sasuke-kun!" She sobered a little. "Naruto must have been able to see it, or she would never have even wanted to chase after you and rescue you in the first place. I mean, I did, too, but my initial reasons were because I'd convinced myself I was in love with you. Naruto, on the other hand… she must have seen from the very beginning that you were someone worth saving."
Sasuke's ears turned a faint pink that was easily missed in the semi-darkness. "Whatever."
"Don't worry, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said kindly while reaching for the dango. When had she finished her share of the onigiri? "I am sure Naruto will realize who the strong woman of your dreams really is… hopefully sometime in the foreseeable future."
If Sasuke had been anyone else, he might have released his hold on the towel around his waist from surprise. But since he was Uchiha Sasuke, shinobi extraordinaire, he merely tightened his grip on the fabric and scowled at her shrieking.
"Put on some clothes, bastard! My eyes!" the blonde shrieked, shielding her eyes with her fingers.
Sasuke noticed something and smirked. "You might try not peeking through your fingers, usuratonkachi." He closed the door of his bathroom and padded nonchalantly into his bedroom to get dressed, ignoring her indignant protests that she was NOT peeking, you smug, so-full-of-yourself smug bastard!
"You said 'smug' twice," he pointed out, and heard her yell at him through the door of his bedroom. He grinned to himself in the privacy of his bedroom. He zipped up his white, high-collared t-shirt two-thirds of the way, as was his custom, and flung open his bedroom door. Naruto had been leaning on the door, and, caught by surprise when her support disappeared, fell onto her back on the wooden floors with a 'Oof' that was more surprise than pain. Sasuke stared with faked disinterest at the blonde head between his feet. Down, boy!
"Why are you here so early?" he queried, and stepped over her to walk to his kitchen without waiting for an answer.
"Oi, at least help me up, bastard! What kind of gentleman are you, anyway?" Naruto grumbled.
"I'm a shinobi, not a gentleman," Sasuke pointed out, but turned around anyway to extend his hand to her. She grabbed it and he pulled her up, holding onto her hand for two seconds longer than necessary, but the blonde didn't seem to notice. Sasuke held in his sigh and continued on to the kitchen. He pulled out his usual chair and sat down, noting that Naruto had already set out the milk, cereal, bowls and spoons. How had she known that he had been thinking of cereal for breakfast this morning?
A word that Sakura had used last night came back to him. Sweet. It was sweet of her to get him breakfast like this. A sliver of a warm feeling enveloped his heart. He spared her a discreet glance and saw that she was busy pouring cereal into her bowl with a look of concentration on her face. A small, rather sad smile flitted across his face.
Would she ever realize that she was the one in Sasuke's heart? Damn, that sounded so sappy. Then he asked himself a more pertinent question – when would he gather enough courage to even think of approaching her?
"What? Do I have a milk moustache?" Naruto asked, and wiped her thumb across the top of her lip. Sasuke flushed lightly, embarrassed at being caught staring at her. Had he done it often? The answer seemed to be yes, since Sakura and her 'independent sources' had seen him at it.
He quickly reached for the milk near her hand to hide the pale pink tinge on his face. "Hn."
Naruto scowled at him as best as she could with a mouth full of cereal. Sasuke just smirked and scooped cereal to his mouth. The sounds of crunching cereal filled the kitchen for a few moments. Naruto swallowed and turned to him.
"You have any missions, bastard? You didn't mention any yesterday."
Sasuke shook his head. "No, but I have one tomorrow. Those moronic civilian bandits we chased out of that small village two months ago have holed up in the mountains and are attacking civilian traders using the pass into Iwa. Iwa insists we clean up because the bandits are of Konoha extraction."
Naruto nodded, her mouth again full. She swallowed. "Yeah, I remember them. You'd better kick their asses good, and give their ass of a leader an extra zap to the head from me," she said, her eyes glinting. The corner of Sasuke's lip curled up in agreement. Naruto put her spoon into her bowl, pushed her chair back and carried her bowl to the sink. "I'm done."
Sasuke's eyebrow went up. "Just one bowl? Are you on a diet?"
Naruto snorted to indicate what she thought of his question. "I've a mission with Neji's team. It's a clean, in-and-out mission, and we should be back in three days' time, if not tomorrow night." She pushed her chair back under her table, knowing how anal he could be about stuff like that, then leaned over the chair with her arms resting on the chair's back. It did interesting things to her cleavage – not that Sasuke was actually able to see it, since she always wore her jounin uniform and her Konoha vest under that dark red cloak. But it did bring to light the shape of her hidden treasures that were usually almost unnoticeable under all her gear. Sasuke's mouth went dry and his eyes zoomed straight to that sight, barely keeping his Sharingan from manifesting.
"So I won't be able to arrange a date for you tonight. I wanted to ask you how last night with Sakura-chan went, too," she said, sounding disappointed.
"You'll live," Sasuke replied mindlessly, watching how the shape of his… he meant hers; Naruto's – they in no way belonged to him. More's the pity – treasures shifted when she did.
"Ass," she scolded without much bite, too used to his sarcastic comments. "I'm getting the whole story out of you when we get back, you hear me, bastard? This is all part what I want out of the bet, so you can't say no. I'm sorry I can't set up a date for you tonight, though – I need your feedback before I plan. So, in short… what other characteristic should this dream woman of yours have? I mean, surely you wouldn't want a woman who's just strong… bastard?"
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, his hand mechanically feeding his mouth cereal while his eyes were glued to her chest. It was especially interesting to observe the way her breasts squished against each other when she squirmed. If only he could rip away all that cloth, he lamented inwardly, then snapped to attention, tense and ready to act, when he realized there was a hand flapping in front of his face, intermittently blocking his line of sight.
"Sasuke? Are you alright?" Naruto asked in concern, and snapped her fingers. "Oi, Sasuke?"
"Stop that," he said, pushing her hand away while hiding his confusion. Naruto's eyes had narrowed a little.
"Why are you spacing out? You're not mooning after Sakura-chan, are you? 'cause I had to promise Neji that you had no interest whatsoever in Sakura-chan before he allowed me to set you up with her last night."
"I am not thinking of her," he replied in disgust, and continued before taking another bite of his now-soggy cereal, "If you were so sure I had no interest in Sakura, why did you even set me up with her?"
His preliminary answer was an are you dense? look. He glared back. "Because you said your dream woman had to be strong, and Sakura-chan's the strongest girl in Konoha," she relied. The unheard Duh! at the end of her sentence was clear.
He stared at her. "Sometimes I wonder how you even survive, usuratonkachi," he muttered. She misunderstood him and flared up.
"I may not be able to punch a hole in your thick skull with my bare fist but I can still kick your butt good, bastard!" she said loudly and angrily. "And I've done more than survive, and I'm going to be the next Hokage, so-"
"You misunderstand me, idiot," Sasuke sighed. He covered the threatening fist in front of his face with his hand and pulled it down. She resisted at first, but seemed mollified by his lack of sarcastic reply, which would have been the norm if he'd been picking a fight. He pushed until her fist was resting on the table, but didn't let go immediately. "I just meant that sometimes you can be so dense."
The fist under his hand tried to rise, but he exerted some force and kept it down, and unconsciously started rubbing her skin gently with his thumb. "Yeah, yeah. I know I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, or the sharpest kunai in the pouch, or the-"
There was a faint tinge of hurt in her tone that Sasuke could detect. He offered her a small, rare smile. "But that's what makes you Naruto." And I like you for who you are.
She stared at him silently for a long moment, then suddenly she hastily withdrew her hand from under his and stuffed it into her pocket. "Okay, as I was saying before you spaced out," she started, abruptly changing the topic, "what else do you see in your dream woman?"
Sasuke closed the hand that had been over hers into a fist and dropped it off the table to his side. He hoped she hadn't felt weird about him holding her hand like that. He would hate for things to become awkward between them. Quietly, he picked up his spoon with the other hand and fed himself soggy cereal while giving serious thought to her question.
"Well?" she demanded impatiently.
"I'm thinking, usuratonkachi," he snapped absently, and dug his spoon back into the cereal while looking down at the brownish-yellow bits floating around in the milk. A corner of his mouth lifted almost imperceptibly, remembering that Naruto often broke into his house – because he was absolutely sure he had never given her the keys or the permission – in the mornings and usually had breakfast ready for him.
"Sweet," he finally answered, not realizing that he was smiling softly as he stared at the cereal. "She's sweet." And because he was staring at the cereal, lost in thought, he missed the look that crossed Naruto's face.
"Sweet. Gotcha," she said. Sasuke looked up. "I'll find a sweet girl before you come back, dattebayo. See you in a few days!" And she shunshin-ed out of his house, leaving him alone with his soggy cereal.
Foliage flew past at abnormal speed as Naruto's team headed back to Konoha at their usual ninja pace. Naruto had avoided thinking about Sasuke's situation until the mission was over, not wanting to jeopardize it with flying thoughts and disrupted concentration.
Sweet… where was she going to find a sweet woman? What did he even mean by 'sweet' in the first place? Naruto herself wasn't too sure what constituted a sweet person.
"Yoshi! We have arrived back safely after successfully completing our mission! Hooray for the Flames and Strength of Youth!" Lee exclaimed as he landed in front of the gates, followed by Neji, who wore his usual disgruntled expression reserved specifically for when Geji-mayo or Gai-sensei spouted Youthful stuff. Naruto landed next, and gave the chuunin at the gate a grin. Tenten hit the ground silently behind her.
"I will hand in the report, but I'm afraid I will not be joining you for dinner, as I have already made plans," Neji said, dismissing them. "Good job, as usual."
"Going to see Sakura-chan, are ya?" Naruto grinned mischievously, and gently elbowed Neji in the side when pink tinged his cheeks. Then her grin melted into a smile. "Thanks, Neji."
Neji looked at her and understood that she was thanking him for lending her Sakura-chan a few nights ago. "You're welcome. Good night, team."
The Green Beast of Konoha had tears streaming from his eyes. "Oooh! Our Youthful Neji is frolicking in the Springtime of Love!" he cried passionately. "Gambatte, Neji! We support your youthful endeavours to woo the beautiful Sakura-chan! Such youthful energy and spirit can never fail!"
Naruto suppressed a laugh when she saw Neji cringe a little as everyone in the vicinity turned to stare at them. He quickly spun on his heel, his dark brown hair flying behind him, and set off into the village.
"Lee…" Tenten sighed with a tolerant smile. Geji-mayo turned to her energetically.
"My sweet Tenten! Will you do me the honour of having di-"
Sweet? Was Tenten considered a sweet person? It was as if a light bulb had gone off in her head. Yoshi! Naruto grabbed the other girl's hand and ran off into the village. "Sorry, Lee! I need to borrow Tenten for a while!" she shouted over her shoulder, dragging the bewildered jounin along and leaving the Green Beast standing forlornly at the gate.
The night was dark, and a stiff breeze ruffled his hair when Sasuke arrived at the top of the Hokage Monument. He could smell the scent of rain in the wind, though it wouldn't fall for a few hours yet. He stood still for a while, enjoying the bracing feel of the wind on his face. He took a deep breath and then turned to where he could sense the only other chakra signature on the mountain.
Thirty steps or so brought him around a large tree to where a table had been set up like that night, but this time with a few more candles burning on the table. And at the table sat Tenten. He sighed quietly and walked up to the table.
"Tenten," he greeted. The woman had been polishing a wicked-looking naginata. She looked up, gave him a cheerful smile and sealed her weapon away with a few handseals.
"Good evening, Sasuke," she replied. "It's a really nice night, isn't it? I love the wind."
Naruto loved the wind, too, but she preferred clear, starry nights. Sasuke didn't really have any preference, so he just nodded neutrally and sat down. Naruto had provided onigiri for him again – five pieces and two whole tomatoes this time. His stomach rumbled at the sight – he had arrived in Konoha late this morning from his bandit-disposal mission, headed straight home to sleep for a few hours, awoke in the evening to find a note pinned to his blanket at chest level telling him he had a date with a sweet girl at the same time, same place.
Tenten picked up a piece of onigiri and took a bite. "Good stuff," she said, and made short work of the rice ball. "So, what exactly are we doing here?"
Sasuke's lip curled in amusement. "We are here because I lost a bet to Naruto," he answered, as if that explained everything.
"Oh," Tenten said, picking up another onigiri. "That explains a bit of it. Naruto was saying something about finding you a wife and that I somehow fit the category. You know how fast she talks sometimes, right? I didn't quite get what she was saying, but apparently I agreed, and here I am." She bit into the onigiri. "The food's worth it, though."
Sasuke ate an onigiri before answering. "She has it in her head that I need to find a wife, and that she has to do something about it. You're her latest victim."
Tenten chuckled. "Naruto cares that much for you, huh. She's a really sweet girl."
A really sweet girl. She certainly is, Sasuke wanted to say.
"And no offence, Sasuke, but I'm just doing this because I somehow promised Naruto I'd do it – I'm not into you. I mean, you're an okay guy, but I'm just not romantically interested in you, you know?"
Sasuke held up his hand. "No need to apologize, Tenten. I understand perfectly. And to clarify things, I'm here because of Naruto as well. In fact, I did not know who I would be meeting tonight."
The wind leaves blew threw the leaves overhead, but the table was shielded from the worst of the wind. The candles barely flickered. Sasuke worked his way through his share of onigiri – he was hungry – and started munching contentedly on the first tomato. Tenten wasn't the type of person who needed constant conversation.
"Tell me something, Sasuke," the kunoichi said, "why are you looking for a wife when you already have Naruto?"
Jet black eyes narrowed. "Excuse me?"
Honest curiousity sparked in Tenten's eyes. "I meant that you obviously care for Naruto, and Naruto obviously cares for you. I can't imagine you or her ending up with anyone else. So why this whole wife-hunt?"
"That, you'll have to ask Naruto. Like I said, I lost a bet." He paused and stared rather piercingly at her. "And what do you mean by saying that Naruto cares for me?"
Tenten shrugged. "I didn't mean anything by it – it's just that the only person you really care about is Naruto. And it's easy to see that you're a very important person to her, too. I just thought that things would automatically develop in a certain direction, you know? It was almost a given."
"Then it's obvious that Naruto does not think of me in that way," Sasuke replied, and bit into his second tomato. Tenten shrugged again.
"I still think something's going on with the both of you." She tilted her head and regarded him thoughtfully and smirked. "Chalk it up to women's intuition, but I think I'm right. And I'd bet a whole C-rank mission pay that this wife-hunt of yours is going to end with a blue-eyed blonde bride."
Tenten's words were stuck in his head. Naruto obviously cares for you. He glanced at Naruto out of the corners of his eyes while flicking a kunai at a group of Oto nin, watching the way her eyes gleamed as she and her opponent went against each other with taijutsu. She wasn't what one would consider elegant or graceful, but Naruto in her element like this was definitely something to watch. She exuded life.
Sasuke watched as Naruto jumped back from the Oto nin and made a slashing gesture at the man's hands. Immediately, the man's wrists spewed geysers of blood though Naruto hadn't touched him at all. Sasuke knew she had used her wind chakra to slice at the man's wrists, and he also knew that she had aimed for the man's nerves, so as to disable the hand. The man would now only be able to use his hand for the simplest of tasks – his days as a shinobi were over. Sasuke knew Naruto would never deal a death blow or even excessive damage unless it was absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately for him, his Naruto-watching had left him momentarily distracted, and his opponent didn't hesitate to take advantage of that opening. The Oto nin quickly bent down, grabbed a handful of earth that elongated into a small but sharp spear in his fist, and thrust the business end of the spear at Sasuke. Sasuke's Sharingan caught the movement but he couldn't turn in time to totally avoid the attack, and ended up with a cut that stretched from his hip to under his sternum. Naruto is going to be really angry, was his first thought.
Finally annoyed enough to take proper notice of his enemy, he decided to make quick work of the bastard. Usually he didn't kill his enemies because Naruto disliked it, but his wound hurt like heck. Naruto would just have to deal, he decided. She was going to be angry with him for getting hurt anyways.
The Oto nin was no green genin, so Sasuke had to think quickly. He whipped his Kusanagi straight at the man, who only narrowly avoided the blade. He began an intense flurry of thrusts at the ninja, who, being armed only with his chakra and kunai, had to rapidly back step to avoided being spitted on the long blade. Sasuke avoided the kunai and occasional earth jutsu hurled at him and followed the ninja with ease, even when the man shunshin-ed short distances away. The enemy was obviously tiring. Sasuke smirked inwardly, but was careful not to show his satisfaction on his face.
Sasuke swung his chokuto at the man's left, aiming for the heart, and just as he'd anticipated, the enemy nin jumped backward, only to look down in horror at the blade of pure electric chakra protruding from his chest, right at where his heart was. The Oto nin's eyes followed the blade back to its source – Sasuke's left palm. Sasuke's thrust with his chokuto had merely been a feint to get the man to jump right into the trajectory of his modified chidori. The disgusting smell of burning flesh filled the air, and once he was sure the man had expired, he disengaged his jutsu. Sasuke glanced disdainfully at the dead Oto nin before turning around to look for his teammate.
The blonde had finished with her opponent and had dispelled the kage bunshin that had been guarding their clients. She was now talking to the two merchants, probably explaining that they'd eliminated the threat. The two men nodded and asked how long more to Konoha. Sasuke walked over, hiding the pain that each step caused his wound.
"We're quite close to the village and should be arriving in three hours. Those Oto nin were either very brave or very dumb to have attacked you while under our protection this close to Konoha," Naruto said. "I'm thinking more along the lines of very dumb." She laughed, and the merchants laughed with her, their earlier fearful looks vanishing.
"Hn," Sasuke contributed. Naruto whirled around to look at him.
"There you are, bastard. What took you? And why are you leaking blood?!" she ended up shrieking. She grabbed his ruined shirt and lifted it, and her eyes widened at the sight of his wound. Sasuke noticed the merchants quickly looking the other way, and saw that one of them looked rather green. It isn't that bad a wound. Is it?
"It's nothing," he grumbled, and tried to bat her hands away. She growled angrily at him.
"Lie down, you stupid bastard! I can't believe you managed to get cut! Lie down, I said!"
Sasuke glared stubbornly at her, and she glared stubbornly back until a fresh spike of pain caused him to wince. Then her glare hardened and she pointed at the ground. "Down! Now!"
He would have protested, but she formed a series of handseals. "Kanashibari no jutsu!" she said, and he immediately stiffened against his will. She wordlessly formed a kage bunshin, and the two of them gently lowered him to the ground. Naruto was muttering angrily to herself the whole time. She took the wet washcloth that her kage bunshin had handed her out of her pack and wiped away the blood.
Sasuke might not have been able to talk or move, but the jutsu did not stop him from feeling her fingers running over the skin of his abdomen, igniting little tingles everywhere they touched. He could see real concern in her eyes despite the irritated look on her face, and noticed when the irritability gave way to relief.
"It's not too deep a cut," she told him, while running through some handseals. Her right hand glowed a pale green. "I'll seal it up for you, but you had better let a medic nin patch you up when we get back. Stupid bastard. How on earth did you end up with such a big cut? You lame-ass shinobi," she muttered. Sasuke would have sniped something back at her, but he'd been effectively restrained, and could only shoot ineffective daggers out of his eyes.
He watched as her blue eyes narrowed in concentration. He could feel the telltale warmth of the medic jutsu against his wound, and could feel the innermost flesh start to fuse together. After a minute or so Naruto ended the jutsu and took some gauze and surgical tape from her kage bunshin. With what seemed to Sasuke to be unusually gentle hands, she layered the gauze over the angry red line that remained of the cut, and then tore off sections of tape and pressed them firmly but tenderly against his skin to hold the gauze in place. Sasuke was immensely grateful that he couldn't even twitch from the shiver that ran over his skin and down his spine from the soft touches of her hands.
"Done," Naruto proclaimed, and sat back on her haunches. She looked over her handiwork and gave a satisfied nod. "Good enough to last you to the hospital, you incompetent jounin." Sasuke grimaced inwardly, knowing he was going to have to put up with her ragging for a few days, at least. She stood up and snapped her fingers, and immediately Sasuke felt the jutsu dissolve. He glared at her while lifting a hand into the air.
She sneered back at him as she grasped his hand and pulled him up gently, so as not to jar his wound. "Lousy ass," she muttered at him. He scowled at her. If he didn't know better, he'd have thought that she was covering her worry for him with all these caustic comments. He shook his head to discard those thoughts and focused on the mission at hand. They had yet to reach Konoha, so he just nodded when Naruto signaled that they were continuing to move. He kept to the back of the merchants while Naruto took point.
There wasn't much conversation until they reached Konoha and deposited their clients at the Hokage Tower. The merchants profusely thanked them and apologized about causing Sasuke's injury. He just grunted, shook his head to indicate it wasn't their fault, and waved them off. Then he set off for home. He only managed to take ten steps before a hand firmly caught his upper arm. He turned around to look into a set of narrowed blue eyes.
"What?" he grunted, even though he knew what she wanted. Her eyes narrowed even further.
"I know you're Mr Super Shinobi himself," she said sarcastically, "but since you were stupid enough to get cut, you're going to the hospital. That emergency field treatment I gave you wasn't enough."
"I'm fine," he argued, and tried to pull his arm away from her hand, but she held on more tightly.
"You're going to the hospital, bastard, even if I have to knock you out and carry you there myself." The steely glint in her eyes told him she wasn't kidding, and Sasuke for one knew that she would do exactly that, and take pleasure in his humiliation while she was at it. He gave her his best glare.
"Fine," he ground out, and turned to head in the direction of the hospital. Unfortunately, Naruto knew him too well, and kept her hand on his arm until he'd signed in and had to enter the procedure room at the hospital. It was only when she let go off him did he realize that her grip had softened into a more casual hold, like how a wife or girlfriend would hold onto the arm of her man. He whipped around to stare at her at that revelation, but she'd already turned around and was heading away. His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, and Tenten's words came back to him.
Naruto obviously cares for you.
"Where'd you go, bastard?"
Sasuke stopped and turned around when he heard the screech. The street was deserted except for Naruto, who was running full tilt at him, and it looked like she wouldn't be able to stop in time. With a sigh, he held out an arm, and predictably, she slid to a halt and crashed into his outstretched arm. Her momentum forced him back a few steps, and his arm automatically curled back to him, Naruto and all. Her scent and her warmth and her solid body filled his senses and sent a tingle over his skin. Without realizing it, he tightened his arm around her waist for a few moments until she pulled away from him.
"Where'd you go, bastard? I went to say hi to Sakura-chan and by the time I went back to the procedure room you'd disappeared, ninja-like!" she said, poking a finger at his chest. She only looked annoyed at him; there was no evidence that she'd felt anything from their close contact a moment ago. Sasuke shelved his disappointment and arched and eyebrow at her.
"I'm on my way home, idiot. How was I to know you were waiting for me?" he said, and turned to continue walking home. Naruto made an indignant sound and bounded to his side.
"Ass. As if I'd just leave you there," she scolded him, then gently poked at his stomach. "How's the cut?"
Sasuke flinched a little from a combination of mild pain and ticklishness. "Patched up." For some reason, she poked him again, though this time not in the vicinity of his cut. It was ticklish, so he flinched a little and moved a step away from her. "What are you doing?" he growled.
Her eyes and grin were wide and mischievous. "You're ticklish?" she asked, sounding like a kid who'd been given a new toy. Quick as a flash she had her fingers all over his sides, tickling him mercilessly. Sasuke's eyes bulged and he tried to evade her.
"Naruto!" he huffed, trying not to laugh or wince. "Stop that, usuratonkachi!" He batted her hands away, but it was like she had sprouted a dozen more. They moved in an awkward dance along the street, with Naruto attacking and Sasuke stepping backward to avoid her. Naruto was laughing and Sasuke wheezing from her tickling attempts. Before long, Naruto had managed to pry a short laugh out of him.
"Ha!" she crowed triumphantly, and finally stopped her tickle attacks. Her hands were still at his sides, and his arms were outstretched, holding her upper arms from his attempts to push her away. They were both panting, and Sasuke realized that she had maneuvered him so that his back was against the wall of one of the houses that lined both sides of the streets. She was sagging a little against him, and didn't seem to be aware that with their proximity and the tangle of their arms, it was almost as if they were hugging each other. Against his will, his heartbeat began to accelerate.
She laughed a little and raised her head. "You should laugh more often, bastard. In fact, I think this is the only time I've ever heard you laugh," she said, and stiffened for a fraction of a second. Or at least, Sasuke thought she did, but then she casually disentangled herself, still laughing quietly. "That was fun."
Sasuke just grunted, feeling a bit put-off by the fact that she hadn't felt anything by that episode of closeness. Were his feelings really unrequited? This incident seemed to prove it. Suddenly, Naruto whirled around with a guilty look on her face.
"Sasuke! I forgot about your cut! It didn't bleed again or anything, did it?" she asked, and bent down and lifted his shirt in one movement. Sasuke's ears grew red and he pushed her hands away.
"I'm fine, idiot. Stop lifting my shirt like that," he grumbled, and started walking home. Naruto jogged a little and caught up to him, and poked him in the side.
"Aww, is little Sasuke shy?" she teased. "It's not like I haven't seen you shirtless before, bastard." He scowled at her and quickened his footsteps, but she kept up with him effortlessly. "Anyways, Sasuke," she continued in a more serious tone, " how'd your date with Tenten go?"
A grunt was her reply, but somehow she managed to understand what he meant. She nodded thoughtfully.
"Hmm. So I guess the search for Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke is still on, then," she concluded. Sasuke's cringe at 'Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke' was an automatic response. Naruto batted him in the arm. "Stop that, bastard. Any girl would die for the chance to birth your babies."
Goosebumps popped up all over his arms. "Don't say that," he told her, disgusted. Then he turned to her and smirked. "How about you?" he asked slyly. She looked at him, innocently puzzled. He continued in the same teasing tone, "Would you die for the chance to birth my babies?"
A full blush exploded on her face, and Sasuke could easily imagine steam pouring from her ears. "What the--?" she shrieked, slapping his arm and taking a step away from him. "Bastard! Don't say weird stuff like that!"
Sasuke scowled. "What's so weird about it? You said any girl, so I assumed you included yourself in that category." Was she blushing because it really was something so disgusting to her that she'd never considered it, or was it because…?
She made a disgusted face at him, but her blush had yet to fade. "You're my best friend, bastard. Best friend. Do I need to spell it out for you?" she said, and shivered. "Okay, back to the topic. So your date with Tenten was a no-go. What's next?"
They had reached his apartment complex, and were climbing the stairs to his floor. Climbing each step caused a flare of pain, and he was wincing every few steps by the time he reached his apartment. Naruto had noticed, and her face clouded.
"Stupid bastard," she'd muttered, and slipped his arm over her shoulder. It made walking easier. At the door of his apartment, she slipped her hand into the hidden pocket of his pants, not seeming to realize how close she got to the very stuff of his she'd been so concerned about. Sasuke nearly jumped and his ears burned in embarrassment, but it was lost on the blonde. She twisted the key in the lock, threw open the door and led him to his bedroom. Sasuke sat himself on the bed and glared at her.
"What?" she asked, folding her arms under her chest, allowing Sasuke to admire the shape of her breasts. He growled at her.
"Privacy, usuratonkachi," he said, tugging at his shirt. She snorted, came over to him and easily ripped apart his shirt. Then she had the audacity to step back, cock her head to the side and smirk.
"Not bad, Sasuke-kun," she cooed.
Pink tinged Sasuke's cheeks, but he managed to smirk at her. "Glad to know that you like what you see. Is that why you're always trying to rip my shirts when we spar?"
Red blossomed on her face again, and Sasuke's smirk became more smug. "Wh-wh-what! No! You narcissistic bastard! Urgh!" she stammered, sounding flustered. Sasuke's hopes rose a tiny inch. Knowing Naruto as well as he did, he knew that she could lie through her teeth when she didn't want people to worry about her, but sometimes her skills failed her and she'd flounder… exactly like what was happening now.
"You're delusional, bastard. It must be an infection from the wound. I'll go get a kitchen from the warm compress," she said, and fled the room, not realizing that she wasn't making the least sense. Sasuke's smirk threatened to split his face. He got up, wincing a little, and sauntered to the kitchen where he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe. There was a kettle on the stove. And there was Naruto banging her head against the wall, muttering, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
"No need to state the obvious, usuratonkachi," Sasuke said, making his voice low and a little husky on purpose. Naruto squeaked and jumped, and turned around.
"What are you doing here, bastard? You should be in bed!" she clucked, coming towards him. Her face registered concern, but her ears were red. Sasuke's smirk reappeared, and she frowned. "What?"
"Your ears are red," he pointed out.
She clutched at them immediately. "So? They probably got hot from me standing so near the stove," she said, and turned around, heading to the stove.
A black eyebrow went up. "Shall I point out the indents your hard head made a minute ago, and need I mention that they are nowhere near the stove?"
She pretended not to hear him, and pulled a cloth from her rear weapons pouch. The water hadn't boiled yet, but she turned off the stove and took the kettle to the sink, where she poured the steaming water out into a bowl. Then she set the kettle down and dipped the cloth into the hot water. "Go lie down, bastard. I'll be there in a sec."
Sasuke ignored the order, content to stare at her behi—he meant, he was content to stare at her from behind. She scowled when she turned around and saw he was still standing there, and marched up to him, hand on a hip. "I said lie down, bastard."
"What is it about you and me lying down?" Sasuke muttered down at her. "That's the third time today you've ordered me to lie down."
Her eyes shot kunai at him. A thin finger poked him in the arm. "That's because you're too stubborn for your own good!"
"That's rich, coming from you," he retorted teasingly. He saw confusion flit across her face momentarily. "Well, I'll lie down when I go to sleep tonight."
Her eyes narrowed. "Lie. Down. Now."
He leaned down so that he could feel her breath fan across his face, and smirked. "Only if you join me."
As soon as those words left his mouth, he knew he'd overstepped. Naruto stumbled backward looking confused and a little scared. "Sasuke?" she asked shakily. "What's gotten into you? You're acting all weird… The blade that cut you didn't have poison on it, did it? That would explain why you're being so strange! I can't believe the hospital didn't check to see if there was poison on the blade! Come on, bastard! We've got to get you back to the hospital!"
Strength drained out of Sasuke's shoulders, and he dropped his arms. All teasing and huskiness gone from his voice, he sighed. "No, there was no poison. I'm fine."
"But how would you know if—"
"I'm fine," he reiterated wearily, feeling very disappointed. Had he misread her? Did she really have no romantic feelings for him at all? And was she so dense she couldn't recognize an attempt at flirting? Sasuke knew it was a somewhat pathetic attempt – it wasn't like he got in a lot of practice – but still, for her not to realize he was coming on to her… it was really disheartening. "I'm going to lie down now."
And he did. He padded quietly back to his bedroom and lay down obediently, folding his hands behind his head and staring blankly at the ceiling. He heard her come in a minute later, but didn't stir.
"Okay, Sasuke – tell me if it's too hot, okay?" she told him, and put the warm compress on his wound. He felt immediate relief – the warmth spreading throughout the throbbing area and soothing it. He found himself relaxing involuntarily.
The feel of Naruto's fingertips lightly tracing the edge of the wound that the compress didn't cover nearly made him shoot to his feet. He pulled his eyes from his fascinating ceiling and looked down the length of his body to where she was kneeling at his waist, with one hand touching his skin and a concerned expression on her face.
"You suck, you bastard. Getting such a deep cut from a lame-ass Oto nin of all people – I bet he wasn't a jounin. I bet he wasn't even a tokujou. Yeesh," she grumbled, her fingers roving over his skin and her eyes trained on his wound the whole time. However, there wasn't any bite to her tone. Sasuke's features involuntarily softened. Naruto got up, grabbed the compress and disappeared out the door for a minute before reappearing and reapplying the cloth and her fingers. She seemed captivated by his wound – which was a good thing, because her feather-light touches were igniting tingles that Sasuke felt all the way up his arms and all the way… down. It was a good thing his meditation was working, or else all she would have to do was turn her head and she'd be able to see what exactly her touches were doing to him, had he not been able to control himself. Then he realized that her head was really near his… stuff. Red suffused his cheeks and he plunged deeper into his subconscious meditation with renewed zeal.
Her eyelids were becoming heavy, Sasuke noted, and her head was steadily tilting downwards until it rested on the uninjured part of his abdomen. The first pricks of her hair tickled, but he'd been anticipating that and managed to suppress the need to squirm. Before he realized it, one of his hands had found its way down and had buried its fingers in Naruto's smooth yellow hair, and was combing through it.
"That feels really good, Sasuke," she mumbled, a drowsy smile on her face. Sasuke grunted quietly. Without opening her eyes, she asked, "To continue our earlier conversation – what is your next requirement for Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke?"
Sasuke grimaced and closed his eyes. "Stop saying that, usuratonkachi."
"Well, that's what they're gonna call your wife, ain't it?" she retorted. "So?"
Sasuke exhaled loudly and wound his fingers in her hair, letting it slide over his digits to feel its smoothness. "She's a gentle girl, with gentle hands, who's always concerned about me," he answered quietly. There was no reply from the blonde for quite some time, and when he looked down, he saw that she had fallen asleep, with her head leaning against his side. He sighed quietly and continued combing his fingers through her hair.
"When are you going to realize it's really you I'm describing, usuratonkachi?" he whispered.
When Sasuke arrived at the Hokage Tower in the morning he found that Naruto had blabbed to the Hokage about his injury, and so the Hokage had put him on the sick list. He gave the man the evil eye, but Kakashi just gave him a crinkly-eyed smile in return, and didn't seem to feel the effect of Sasuke's glare.
"Go back and rest, Sasuke," the masked Hokage said benevolently. "Naruto would rasengan my bits if I let anything happen to you."
Sasuke gave Kakashi a middle-finger-equivalent of a dirty look at the quiet titters of the other shinobi in the room and strode out, not acknowledging Kakashi calling after him, "Oh, and you're not to train, either! Naruto specifically said that she'd bury my Icha Icha if she caught you training!"
Great. Now he was off the mission roster for at least a week, and he wasn't allowed to train. He marched back to his apartment with a thundercloud over his head and slammed the door behind him.
Naruto had disappeared by the time he'd woken up this morning, and he'd found out that she'd left on an easy mission just before he reached the Hokage Tower. He scowled to himself, plucked a random jutsu scroll from his shelves and sat himself down to read.
It was two days later, when he was about to say heck to Kakashi's Icha Icha and go out to train, that his doorknob rattled and Naruto let herself in. He looked up from his nth scroll to glare at her.
"Heya, Sasuke! Met any dangerous, sword-wielding Oto nin lately?" she chirped.
"I don't remember giving you my key," he growled.
She stood in front of him with a puzzled expression for a long moment, then scratched the back of her head and shrugged. "I don't remember you giving me your key, either." She dropped onto her haunches in front of him and tilted her head to one side. "So. How's your injury?"
"It's fine, and has been fine for three days already," he gritted out. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have had to stay at home for three whole days." And no, he wasn't sulking.
"You're sulking!" Naruto exclaimed. She got to her feet and bounded onto the sofa next to him, and tried to grab at his shirt. "Let me see!"
"I'm not sulking!" Sasuke growled, and slapped at her hands. "And get your hands off me!"
"I wanna see!"
"Come on, you stubborn bastard!" she grumbled, and hands were flying and slapping between them. Unfortunately for Sasuke, Naruto somehow managed to get her hands on the hem of his shirt and lifted it. Sasuke rolled his eyes and dropped his hands with an exasperated groan. Her fingers traced the scar and he squirmed.
"Okay! Happy?" He glared at her and pushed her hands away. Naruto nodded, then reached a hand out to gently pinch his ear.
"Your ear is red!" she informed him, grinning. He scowled, feeling his ears get warmer, and turned away with a huff. She scrambled to her knees and bent around him to see his face. "Aww, you're pouting!"
"Am not," he muttered. He elbowed her gently in the side until she sat back down.
"You must have been bored out of your wits, huh, Sasuke," she commented cheerfully, and picked up one of the scrolls he'd been reading. "Advanced Ninjutsu: The History and Intricacies of Handseals and their Relevance to Chakra Moulding." She gave him a slack-faced expression. "Seriously?"
"If you hadn't blabbed to Kakashi I wouldn't be reading this, now would I?" Sasuke retorted, and would have folded his arms, except that he needed to hold the scroll he had been reading and was now pretending to be immersed in. She shuffled closer to him and nudged his shoulder with hers.
"You angry at me, 'Suke? You're pouting again," she said, and nudged him again when he didn't reply. "Okay, so maybe a week was too long a rest period for your injury."
"Hn," he grunted at her concession. She nudged him again.
"I knew you'd be all sulky and angry at me, so I got you something," she informed him. He merely grunted again. She reached into a pocket, brought out a small scroll and unrolled it, and quickly unsealed whatever had been sealed into the rune on the paper. A puff of smoke revealed three of the biggest, juiciest-looking tomatoes Sasuke had ever seen. He swallowed discreetly.
Naruto had to hold them with two hands. "For you. You're not angry with me anymore, are you?"
His was transfixed by the fruit. "Nu-uh."
"Okay! Here you go, then!" She dropped the tomatoes into his lap, and he quickly grabbed one and bit into it. They were as juicy and tasty as he imagined, and he let out a satisfied moan that he quickly managed to turn into a grunt. In a deep dark place in his mind he realized that he'd been bribed into forgiving her, but the sheer deliciousness of the tomatoes made up for it. In fact, he even decided to forgive her the time she'd insulted his tomatoes, and promised himself to start treating her to ramen again. With a nod, he took another bite.
"Good, huh," Naruto commented. "I saw them on our way back to Konoha and thought of you immediately." She paused, then continued a little more slowly. "You know I told Kakashi to put you on the sick list – it was so you'd at least get a bit of rest. I know you too well – you'd have trained and gone on missions and probably overexerted yourself and make your injury worse."
He grunted and started on the second tomato. She rested her head on his shoulder.
"And you know I did that only because I – I, I m-mean, I did that coz you're my best friend, and I watch out for you, you know?" she said hastily and shot to her feet. Sasuke became alert when she stammered, and narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her. Had she meant to say something else?
Before he could ask her, though, she grinned at him. "Glad you liked the tomatoes! Oh, and you have a date tonight. I've found you the gentlest girl in Konoha, so – same time, same place! I'll see you for lunch tomorrow, and I want the details, alright? Ja!"
And she disappeared, leaving Sasuke to scowl at the puff of smoke she left behind.
There was only a light breeze this time, so the table had been set away from the trees. Sasuke sat waiting for his 'date' to arrive, and occupied himself by reviewing what had happened in his living room a few hours earlier. He couldn't help wondering if she had meant to say something else before she caught and corrected herself. It was gnawing away at his curiousity, but he hadn't been able to track Naruto down, and had given up after an hour. He knew from experience that if that blonde wanted to hide, she'd stay hidden. It didn't help that she could do that Sage Technique thing where her chakra senses were amplified to the point she could pinpoint every single individual chakra in Konoha, so she'd easily detect any chakra signatures coming after her.
He sensed a quiet chakra signature approaching, so he straightened out of his slouch and wiped the grimace off his face. Moments later, Hyuuga Hinata came into view, escorted by another Hyuuga. Once she'd greeted Sasuke and sat, she nodded to her escort, who disappeared in a silent whirl of leaves.
The dark-haired girl ignored the food and fixed unusually penetrating eyes on Sasuke. He had no problem meeting her gaze, but wondered what had gotten into the usually mild-mannered woman.
"Uchiha Sasuke," she began abruptly and got straight to the point, her voice soft but clear and dignified, "what are your intentions towards Naruto? What is the point of all this?"
Sasuke raised a black eyebrow at her bluntness. "Naruto has spoken to you. I'm sure you know by now that this is her idea, not mine."
"Nevertheless," Hinata continued, her eyes sharp and narrowed a little at him, "it is hurting her. I am dismayed that you, whom she calls her best friend, cannot see it."
Sasuke scoffed at that. "I very much doubt that. In case you misheard me, I shall say it again – all this is Naruto's idea. Without intending to offend, I must point out that I am here under protest." Somehow hearing Hinata speak brought out the somewhat dusty formal language he'd learned ages ago.
"Under protest? Really?" Who knew that Hinata could sound so mocking? "We may not interact much, Sasuke, but I know you well enough to know that you only do what you want – like leaving the village to join Orochimaru." Sasuke frowned at that. "And coming back at Naruto's request."
Sasuke nearly snorted. "Request? That is putting it rather lightly." But he couldn't argue with what Hinata was saying. Even when he'd had that final fight with Naruto, he could have just walked away and disappeared if he had really wanted to. Instead, he allowed himself to listen to Naruto's passionate arguments and empathy – she'd finally understood the pain of losing a loved one – and be persuaded to return to Konoha.
"We digress. You have not answered my initial question," Hinata pointed out, unwilling to let Sasuke change the topic. "What is Naruto to you?"
He gave her his stock answer. "She's my best friend." She raised an eyebrow, her expression clearly showing she was not satisfied with his answer.
"Is that all she is to you? A best friend?" Hinata asked sarcastically, which was rather strange to hear since her voice was still quiet. "An animal can be a man's best friend."
Sasuke glared at her, his fists clenching under the table. "What is it you are obviously trying to get me to say?"
"I do not want to put words in your mouth," Hinata answered, and her expression hardened the tiniest bit. "I want to hear the truth."
"Fine!" Sasuke declared heatedly. "You want to hear the truth? She's my best friend! I like her! I love her!"
I love her. The words echoed softly among the trees in the sudden silence that followed. I love her. Sasuke himself initially felt shocked by what he had just blurted out, but when the shock had quickly worn off, he realized there hadn't been much to be shocked about, except how he'd just exposed his feelings to someone who was practically a stranger to him.
He had thought he liked Naruto – a little more than just as a best friend, but he didn't realize how deep his feelings really ran until he saw how concerned she was for him, and he had realized he was in love with her when she'd fallen asleep with her head against his side. And even before that epiphany, he had disliked and disagreed with the whole idea of Naruto searching for Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke – at that time he hadn't realized that in his mind, she was the Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke she was trying so hard to find. That was why every time she had asked him for a characteristic he'd want for his wife, he'd reply with what was essentially one of her personality traits.
He quickly looked at Hinata. Her white eyes were guarded, as was her expression. "In love with her? Really?" Her voice fairly dripped with sarcasm. Sasuke glared at her.
"Then, Uchiha Sasuke – you are a coward." Her declaration left him surprised and a little angry.
"Is that so?" he gritted out, eyes flashing.
Her eyes narrowed and her expression hardened further, and her words left him shell-shocked. "Because Naruto loves you as well, and yet you allow her to go through with this ridiculous search for your wife without taking into account her feelings for you! Do you think it is easy for her to do this? How do you think she feels every time she sets up these dates for you and sits at home while you are here, thinking that it's just a matter of time before you find a woman to marry?"
He had difficulty processing anything past the first four words. "Naruto loves me?" he asked, dazed. Hinata glared angrily at him.
"Yes! I don't understand how you, who spends the most time with her, cannot even see that! And you claim to love her yet you don't stop her from—"
"Obviously I didn't know!" Sasuke cut her off. "Do you think I enjoy myself on these dates? I would rather be at Ichiraku Ramen with Naruto. I did this only because she wanted it! If she loves me, then why is she even doing this? Why hasn't she said anything?"
Hinata straightened. "Naruto is a deceptively complex person. Her motives towards others are always easy to understand and interpret, but for all her bluster and friendliness, not many of us really know the person Namikaze Naruto." That, when translated, meant that Hinata didn't understand why Naruto hadn't said or even indicated anything about her feelings. "However, I hold you in contempt, Uchiha Sasuke, for not expressing yourself to her and stopping this mad, masochistic idea of hers."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "What makes you so sure she loves me in the manner you mean? I have looked for signs of reciprocation after I realized that I had feelings for her, but she seemed scared of my advances." He remembered her reaction to his pathetic flirting attempt and sighed inwardly.
Hinata's brows furrowed a little. "As I said, Naruto is a difficult person to understand. But the way she looks at you, speaks of you, cares for you… I have only seen it once, but that once was more than enough to confirm her feelings for you – the love in her eyes and on her face when she looked at you. Her heart was in her eyes and her face was radiant, and there was no mistaking her feelings. However… I do not know why she continues to hide and deny – even to herself, probably – her feelings for you."
Sasuke's heart was beating hard and butterflies were storming his gut. Sakura had said he looked moony, staring at Naruto, but having heard Hinata's description, he longed so hard to see that look on Naruto's face directed at him.
"You might have been mistaken in what you saw," he finally concluded with a sad sigh. "Naruto isn't the type able to be able to lie and pretend so consistently. Yes, she does manage to fool some of us when she doesn't want us to worry about her, but to hide her feelings about someone…" He shook his head dejectedly. "I remember how it was when we were kids, and how Naruto made no pretense about how much she wanted to win Sakura's affection and friendship, and how much she hated me at first. I find it hard to believe that she would be able to conceal these feelings that you say she has about me from me."
Now Hinata seemed to agree with him and looked a little doubtful of herself. "I hold by what I've said – Naruto is in love with you," she persisted, although not as vehemently as before. She shook her head. "I am very sure of what I saw. Naruto is in love with you, and seeing you date other women – even if she was the one to set everything up," she interjected quickly as Sasuke opened his mouth to protest, "hurts her."
"Then why did you agree to this?" Sasuke threw back.
"To let you know of how things really stand. Naruto is my friend; I will not have her cutting off her nose to spite her face," Hinata replied quietly. Her expression hardened. "Stop being such a coward, Uchiha Sasuke. It's time you own up to your feelings and put a stop to this." Her eyes glinted. "If you don't, I will."
Sasuke viciously sliced the Oto nin's head off with his Kusanagi. There. That had been the last of them.
He cleaned his blade and sheathed it, signaled his team, and started back to Konoha. Four mornings ago – after the date with Hinata – he had woken up in a foul mood, so he'd gone to ask Kakashi for the dirtiest mission he had. If it involved the slaughter of Oto nin – all the better. With a wary look in his eye, the Hokage had handed him a scroll detailing a mission to eliminate one of Oto's minor bases. His evil grin of pleasure at reading the details probably hadn't reassured Kakashi much.
They had cleaned out the hidden base – it was in Fire territory and was too close to Konoha for comfort – and harvested any useful information before destroying it. But unfortunately, Sasuke's black mood remained more or less intact.
And he clearly knew the reason why.
Hinata's threat to put a stop to Naruto's mad wife-hunt scheme left a sour taste in his mouth and a bad feeling in his stomach. It was easy for her to order him to stop it – she wasn't the one who would have to witness and deal with Naruto's Puppy-Eye TechniqueTM and hurt feelings. If only he hadn't lost that damned bet! It was Naruto's nindo to never go back on her word. If she promised him Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke, she'd find him Mrs. Uchiha Sasuke if it killed her to do it. And according to Hinata, it was killing her to do it.
As for owning up to his feelings, well – he wasn't denying to himself that he was in love with Naruto. But the failure of his one lame flirting attempt and her obvious non-feeling during every nearly-intimate moment they'd experienced together made him leery of coming clean to her.
He was also worried about Hinata's threat. How exactly was she planning on stopping Naruto? He had a feeling she meant to inform Naruto of Sasuke's feelings for her, and he was rather worried about what Naruto's reaction would be. He didn't want to lose his best friend…
"Hey Sasuke-kun!" Sakura greeted him cheerfully. In the dim evening light, Sasuke noted she was wearing her off-duty gear and was carrying a paper bag with its handles tied together by a pink ribbon.
He stopped short and waited for her to come closer. He'd arrived back in Konoha in the afternoon and had gone straight to his apartment. Having had a good rest and taken a bath, he'd decided to go looking for Naruto so they could go for dinner – he did kinda miss her – but her apartment was empty, and the old man at Ichiraku Ramen said she had been there at lunchtime, but was a no-show for dinner. He wondered if she might have gone to the Hokage Tower to finish up the paperwork Kakashi was forever dumping onto her, and so had started walking in that direction when Sakura hailed him.
"Watcha doing going in this direction? Shikamaru's house is over there," she said. Sasuke gave her a weird look.
"I'm looking for Naruto. Why should I be heading to Shikamaru's place?" he replied.
The medic nin threw up her free hand in exasperation. "You didn't look at your mail, did you?" she asked. When Sasuke shook his head, she explained, "Shika and Temari are giving a small party for their daughter's first birthday, and they've invited all the Konoha Eleven, as well as you, Sai and some other people. It started about fifteen minutes ago. Naruto should be there already."
Sasuke nodded and walked with Sakura to the Nara residence.
"So," Sakura began conversationally, "how's the search for Mrs Uchiha Sasuke going?"
The cringe was automatic, and the foul mood that had lifted a little since his nap came back with a vengeance. He scowled and let Sakura interpret what she would from that.
"I see…" Sakura trailed off.
"Is Hinata going to be there?" he asked abruptly. Sakura paused and looked at him strangely.
Sasuke nodded impatiently. Sakura rubbed her chin. "No, I don't think so… if I'm not mistaken Neji mentioned that Hinata left on a mission this morning."
"And Naruto? Is she going to be there? Has she been acting weird?"
Sakura peered at him suspiciously, obviously wanting to ask questions but knowing she'd probably not get answers. "Naruto got back yesterday. She's been normal, as much as Namikaze Naruto can be normal. She's probably going to be at Shika's house, since she asked my opinion on what to get the birthday girl." Sakura giggled, probably remembering something. "Shika probably wouldn't appreciate what Naruto had originally wanted to get his daughter."
They walked on in silence and dark storm clouds until Sakura couldn't contain her curiousity. "What's got you in such a funk?"
Sasuke scowled into the distance and ground his teeth. "Hinata's going to tell Naruto of how I feel if I don't stop this stupid wife-hunt."
Sakura squealed before she could stop herself. "She's going to tell Naruto that you like her?!"
Red started to suffuse his cheeks. "No. She's going to tell Naruto that I love her."
He'd anticipated the eardrum-shattering squeal, so he shunshin-ed straight to Shikamaru's house. Feeling a little awkward because he wasn't bringing a gift, he hesitated at the door. Before he could make up his mind, however, the door flung open and Sasuke's heart gave an energetic beat and then froze in his chest.
Naruto was standing there with a sleepy baby girl in her arms. The girl had fluffy dirty blonde hair, and black irises were visible under half-closed lids. For a moment, Sasuke felt like he'd taken a step into the future that could happen. He was coming home, Naruto greeting him at the door carrying their daughter, who'd have her blonde hair and his black eyes, and from somewhere in the house he could hear the running footsteps of their son, who'd have his black hair and her sparkling blue eyes…
Then he was aware that Naruto was standing in front of him, staring concernedly into his face. "…suke? Sasuke?" she was saying.
Sasuke snapped out of his daydream and hoped he wasn't blushing. "What?"
Naruto peered at him suspiciously, much like Sakura had earlier. "Your ears are red. And you spaced out. You okay?"
Darn. "I'm fine." He assessed her with a quick glance and felt intense relief to note she wasn't acting strange. "I didn't bring anything for the baby, though—"
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called, running up to them with a huge grin on her face. Sasuke cringed inwardly at the scary glint in her eyes. "Oh, hey Naruto!"
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto greeted, her head tilted and her eyes closed into slits that made her looks very fox-like. "What's up with you?"
"Oh, I'm fine! I just heard the greatest news!" she said, her voice nearly reaching squeal-volume. Naruto grinned.
"Neji proposed? You're getting married? You're pregnant? Neji's pregnant?"
Sakura and Sasuke both shot her deadpan looks, and Sakura gave her a light bop to the back of her head. "Don't be ridiculous, Naruto!"
"Usuratonkachi," Sasuke muttered, and shot Sakura a warning look. "I'm tired; I'm going home."
Naruto cuddled the baby closer to her and came closer to him. "You okay, 'Suke?"
"Hn," he grunted, and turned to go. Naruto quickly shuffled after him.
"Oi! Wait up!" she said. Sasuke slowed down and stopped when he saw her still carrying the baby. He quirked an eyebrow at the baby. Naruto looked down. "Oh," she said, seeming to have forgotten that she'd brought the birthday girl along. "Anyways, what's with you? You don't look fine to me." She looked and sounded concerned.
Sasuke's black mood dissipated a little. He heaved a sigh. "Just some things on my mind."
"Wanna share?" Naruto shifted the baby so that she leaned against her shoulder. Sasuke's gaze rested on the baby for a moment, slid over to Naruto's face, then looked away and shook his head. Naruto changed tactics. "How did the date with Hinata go?"
Sasuke tensed. "She's not my type." Naruto looked disappointed.
"But she's the gentlest girl in Konoha!" she protested. Sasuke wanted to give her a wry look, but didn't bother to. Naruto probably wouldn't believe him. Before that night, he'd have thought that Hinata was the gentlest girl in Konoha, too, until he learned that for all her gentleness she had a steel centre. So he just shook his head again.
"Look, Naruto," he said, suddenly feeling tired of the whole matchmaking scheme – and a little worried about Hinata's threat, "can we just stop this?" She looked puzzled, so he elaborated. "I don't want you to look for a wife for me anymore, okay? No more dates; no more women."
"What? Why?" she exclaimed. The baby squirmed, and she patted its behind soothingly. "Why?" she asked again, more softly this time, looking distressed. "We've barely started – you've only met three girls! There's lots more women in Konoha!"
Sasuke gritted his teeth. "It won't work out, alright! I'm just not interested in the women you've been showing me! Just stop."
She looked hurt, just like he'd known she would be. "No. You lost the bet, so you have no choice," she said stubbornly. Sasuke rounded on her with flashing eyes.
"Fine! Then how about you get me a blonde for the next date?" he hissed, staring meaningfully at her. She glared back.
"Fine! I'll find you a—"
"Oi Naruto!" Temari's voice shouted from behind. "You kidnapping my baby?"
Naruto stopped short and took a deep breath. "I'll find you your blonde. And I won't stop until I've found you a wife." She turned on her heel and marched back up the street, leaving Sasuke to stare after her in frustration.
"Why am I not surprised?" Sasuke muttered as he sat down. Of course, Naruto hadn't gotten his rather obvious hint about wanting a blonde woman this time. Unfortunately, Temari heard.
"Surprised about what?" she asked, and bit into an onigiri. Sasuke frowned at her.
"What are you doing here anyway? Aren't you married?" he said with narrowed eyes. Temari chuckled and leaned back in her chair. They were at the same place where he'd had all those other dates. The sky was cloudy, so it was rather dark, but Naruto had added more candles. The candlelight flickered over Temari's dirty blonde hair, and only served to remind Sasuke of Naruto's smooth yellow hair. He sighed.
"Yeah. The lazybum's minding our girl. I heard the whole story about your wifehunt from Sakura, then Naruto comes stomping up muttering about how she'd get you a blonde, and I have to say I was curious about it, so I kinda volunteered myself," Temari grinned. "Naruto disagreed, as did Sakura, but I wouldn't take no for an answer."
"He doesn't get a say," Temari grinned. "He just thinks it's troublesome."
"You're mad," Sasuke muttered, and bit into an onigiri. Temari shrugged and chuckled.
"Maybe. But not as mad as you – how on earth can you agree for the girl you love to look for a wife for you?"
Sasuke choked and hacked. "What?"
Temari gave him a rather evil grin. "Your secret's out, Sasuke. Sakura told me how you feel about Naruto to try and dissuade me from coming. But I told her better you meet me – whom Naruto knows you won't stand a chance with and thus won't be worried about – than some blonde floozy she might rustle up. Naturally, Sakura saw the logic in that and helped convince Naruto into letting me come."
"Naturally," Sasuke said dryly.
"Now, you haven't answered my question about why you're doing this when you love Naruto. Why don't you just tell her?"
Sasuke looked to his left at the twinkling lights of the village reflected on the large, perfectly circular lake smack in the middle of the village. He knew the story behind it; he had heard how Naruto had fought Pain, although she had never told anyone how she'd finally defeated him. "It's not that easy," he said at last.
"And it's probably not as complicated as you think it is," Temari offered.
What the heck, he thought. He didn't like making his private feelings public, but it seemed they weren't private anymore. "She just doesn't love me that way," Sasuke told her quietly. "Hinata is very sure she does, but she got scared the one time I tried to flirt."
"Ouch, ego-bruiser," Temari commiserated with a wince. Then her gaze sharpened. "So, Hinata's sure Naruto's in love with you, huh. I'd believe Hinata – that girl's quite sharp, for all that she's sweet and demure."
Sweet and demure? Sasuke nearly snorted. Temari gave him a thoughtful look.
"Like I said," Temari continued slowly, "Hinata's a sharp girl. I'd bet that she's right. As to why Naruto got scared… maybe I can help you a little there."
Sasuke quirked an eyebrow at her, interested in spite of himself. "Oh?"
She answered him in between bites of onigiri. "I'm just gonna draw a parallel between what I understand of Gaara and what I see happening here with Naruto," she said, speaking carefully. "Now, Gaara wanted to become the Kazekage because he wanted to prove to our people that he wasn't a monster anymore. If I remember correctly – Naruto wanted the same thing – she wanted the approval and acknowledgement of Konoha. Gaara got it, as did Naruto. But here's the thing – they've been shunned for too long that it's difficult for them to believe people no longer see them as monsters. Do you see what I'm getting at?"
Sasuke felt he was beginning to understand.
Temari went on after drinking a little tea. "Gaara understands in his head that Kankurou and I respect him as the Kazekage and love him as our little brother, but the latter's still very hard for him to grasp with his heart. He loves us, but it's hard for him to accept love and care in return. It's difficult for him to believe that anyone could love him." She paused and glanced meaningfully at Sasuke, who nodded slowly.
"I've a feeling it's the same for Naruto. She's earned the acknowledgement of Konoha by saving it, and she's fulfilled her promise to Sakura by ensuring your return. She's a good friend to everyone, and everyone likes her, and she'd do anything for them, but when it comes to anything deeper than friendship or comradeship, I can only guess that it's hard for her to accept it. She probably doesn't believe that anyone would reciprocate the way she loves them."
A wind blew, putting out most of the candles and plunging them into near-darkness. Sasuke absently re-lit them with a weak Katon jutsu and indicated for Temari to go on.
"Gaara's got quite a few admirers whom he basically ignores. But if you didn't know him as well as I know him, you'd never realize he's actually got feelings for this one girl, if his expressions when he stares at her when she's not looking are anything to go by. He never admits it even to us, even during sibling torture," here she paused to chuckle at some memory, "but Kankurou and I are pretty sure. But the thing is, he's afraid that she'll reject him, and their friendship will suffer for it, even though the girl's made quite clear that she's kinda sweet on him, too. It sounds absurd, but I think it's a lack of confidence in himself."
"Naruto's got no problem with confidence," Sasuke commented wryly. Temari shook her head.
"Yeah, Gaara too. But what I mean here is not confidence in their shinobi abilities. I'm talking about their confidence in themselves as a person. They can make friends, but having the confidence to go deeper than that despite loving that person with all their hearts…" she trailed off. "Of course," she continued, "these are just my observations of Gaara. Naruto could be a totally different case."
Sasuke had been thinking while listening. "It sounds… right," he said slowly. "That would explain why Naruto was afraid when I tried to hit on her. She might have thought I was just making fun of her feelings…"
Temari nodded. "Yeah, probably. It might scare her to even think that you love her, when she finds it difficult to accept that people are able to love her for who she is. She's probably deluding herself into thinking that no one will ever love her in a romantic way."
Sasuke's shoulders drooped. "And she's the most stubborn person I know…"
"Well," Temari propped one elbow on the table and rested her cheek on her fist. "You'll have to be direct. You'll have to make it so clear to her that you love her – that this person she's trying to search for is actually Namikaze Naruto, beyond a doubt."
"But she might run," Sasuke said, his voice betraying a little of the helplessness he felt inside.
Temari shrugged. "She might run," she agreed. "But if you don't tell her, then she'll never know, and you'd miss out on what might have been, because you were both afraid."
Sasuke went home and gave a good deal of thought to what Temari had told him. He could see many similarities between Naruto and how she'd described Gaara. But that fear that things between him and Naruto would turn awkward was the biggest obstacle he'd have to overcome if he was going to confront Naruto.
No one – except Naruto, probably – realized that Sasuke wasn't as calm and cold as he made himself out to be – at least, in emotional matters. That's why he always tried locking up his emotions whenever he interacted with anyone. Naruto had managed to get past that barrier into his heart, like she'd hacked at it years ago when they'd fought in the Valley of the End. After Itachi died, Naruto was now the only one who knew that on the inside, Sasuke was as fragile as anyone else.
He'd tried to push her away at first, ashamed and worried that she'd look down on him for actually having a heart. But she'd seemed to like him better for it, and slowly he started to warm back up to her, and to slowly fall in love with her, it seemed.
Rivulets of cool water rushed down his body. He leaned his upper body back against the cold tiles of the bathroom, out of the range of the shower.
Naruto was afraid to be loved, and Sasuke was afraid of rejection.
He could live with loving Naruto from afar – in a sense – as long as she didn't distance herself from him, as long as she remained his best friend, as long as she still sparred with him and smiled at him, he'd be content. Not satisfied, but content enough. He—
BANG BANG BANG!
He jumped and nearly slipped when the loud thumps shook his bathroom door.
"Oi Sasuke! You drowning in there or what? You need me to rescue you?" Naruto yelled from the other side of the door, and sniggered loudly. Sasuke scowled.
"Yeah, how about some mouth-to-mouth?" he muttered.
"Wassat?" she shouted.
"Nothing!" he shouted back, and turned off the shower. He was done, anyway, and had just wanted to think over things again. "I'm coming out in only a towel, so you'd better cover your pansy eyes!" He pulled the towel around his waist, tied it and opened the door to see Naruto's back.
"Why don't you bring your clothes with you? Then I wouldn't have to protect my eyes like this," she complained.
He moodily walked back to his bedroom. "My house, usuratonkachi." He got dressed and found Naruto rooting about in his fridge. Too used to the sight to get annoyed, he just sat down at the dining table and caught the tomato she threw over her shoulder at him. She found some bananas – she'd probably left them there, since he didn't remember buying any – and came to sit next to him.
"I'm sorry about last night," she mumbled around a mouthful of banana. Sasuke's head shot up and she giggled. "You look like a vampire," she told him, and reached over to wipe away tomato juice with her thumb. Sasuke barely restrained himself from nipping her thumb when it passed over his lips. He stared at her. That was something that was beyond mere best-friendship, best friends did not go around wiping juice off their best friend's lips with a lingering swipe like that. Hope started to flutter in his chest.
Naruto found her banana fascinating, and stared at it while talking. "Sorry about last night," she repeated. "Temari was very insistent, and for some reason Sakura-chan and Tenten ganged up with her. Sakura-chan threatened to talk Teuchi-jisan into banning me from Ichiraku Ramen for a week like she did last time."
Sasuke remembered the last time – it was when Naruto's team had gotten into trouble and she'd hatched a hare-brained scheme to rescue a team member on her own, and had nearly gotten killed. All of them, especially Tsunade, Kakashi, Iruka, Sakura, Sai and even Sasuke himself had been worried and (except Kakashi and Sai) furious when she'd reached the hospital in a half-dead state despite being warned against crazy ideas before leaving on that mission. Sakura had retaliated by snitching to the owner of Ichiraku Ramen, who agreed to not serve Naruto for three days to teach her to think before acting. Naruto had learned her lesson well since then.
Naruto looked so mournful that Sasuke sniggered quietly. She glared lightly at him, and he smirked back at her.
"Anyways!" she said loudly. "Last night was a bust, and won't be counted. And no," she added quickly when she saw Sasuke about to protest, "I'm not going to stop until I find you a wife."
Sasuke scowled and sulked.
"So!" she continued, beaming at him, "we already know you want someone blonde. Any other characteristic you have in mind?"
Sasuke stared hard at her, then got up and pulled out her chair by its back, ignored her startled squeak, and caged her with his arms gripping the back of the chair. She looked up at him in confusion, and Sasuke could see the fear in her beautiful blue eyes. His expression softened.
"I want a blue-eyed blonde," he whispered, his breath blowing across her face. He saw her gulp, and he saw her lips try to form words, and he badly wanted to kiss her. Then she came out of her shock, slapped her hands onto his shoulders and shoved. Sasuke let himself be moved back a few steps, and stared at her silently. Her line of sight dropped to his lips for a second before coming back up to his eyes, but he dared not smirk for fear she might think he was just making fun of her. So he looked at her with a serious expression.
"What's gotten into you?" she hissed angrily. "Stop that, alright! I'll go find you your blue-eyed blonde. Just stop doing all these weird things!"
She flashed through some handseals and disappeared. Sasuke sighed deeply, sank back into his chair, tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
Whoa, Sakura thought, Hinata's pissed off.
Indeed, the next clan head of the Hyuuga was scowling delicately after hearing Temari's brief details of her meeting with Sasuke two nights ago. Sakura could hardly call it a date, seeing as Temari was married and she knew neither was interested in the other. But Hinata might not have gotten that part.
"He's going too far! How dare he allow her to continue searching for a wife when I've told him that she loves him!" Hinata fumed quietly. Her voice was never raised, and neither did her face turn ugly, but that was an unnerving anger anyone would have been able to sense. Sakura took a moment to pity Sasuke, remembering his tone of voice when he'd asked if Hinata would be at Shika and Temari's place that night. He must have gotten a dose of furious Hinata.
"Hold it right there, Hinata," Temari said, shifting her snoozing baby from one arm to the other. "I know you love Naruto very much, and you probably think Sasuke's public enemy number one for doing this, but I'm pretty sure he's doing it just to please her."
"Yeah," Tenten nodded.
Sakura agreed. "You probably haven't been exposed to the pressure of Naruto's Puppy-dog Eyes Technique TM." She shuddered lightly in remembrance.
Hinata still looked disgruntled, and took a sip of tea before answering. "He's being a coward," she insisted.
"Gonna have to contradict you again, Hinata," Temari said. "He's actually being very considerate of her feelings." Hinata raised an eyebrow, and the two other women turned to the blonde in interest. Temari grinned. "It's a long story that I explained to him that night when I met him. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to meet up with him, especially after Sakura told me he's in love with her.
"To make it short – people like Naruto and Gaara think a little differently from the rest of us, because of what they've been through as kids. Things like people loving them or falling in love with them are difficult for them to accept, even if they love that person with all their hearts. They're afraid of rejection. Now you might tell me that Naruto's the most confident person in Konoha – Sasuke did – but I'll tell you what I told him – it's a different kind of confidence. It's a different kind of acknowledgement. She's acknowledged as a person, because of her ninja skills, but when it comes to love it's an acknowledgement of herself for who she is, you get what I mean?"
Sakura nodded slowly. Hinata looked less furious, though still dissatisfied. "So you're saying, basically," Sakura said, "that Naruto's afraid of being loved, because she doesn't believe anyone could love her. She's afraid Sasuke would reject her."
Temari nodded. "Yeah."
"Those poor kids," Tenten shook her head and reached for a stick of dango.
"I know you're not happy about it, Hinata," Temari said, turning to said person, "but it's something Sasuke and Naruto will have to work out between themselves. Sasuke's the only one who can get through to her about this."
Sakura pitied Hinata a little. She knew that Hinata adored and practically idolized Naruto, even after they'd grown up and Hinata saw that her idol wasn't perfect. She'd admired Naruto's confidence and never-stay-down spirit since their Academy days, especially since she'd lack confidence in herself. To be told that Naruto had a self-esteem problem – she probably had a lot of trouble believing it. Sakura shook her head to herself – when it came to Naruto and Sasuke, nothing was ever simple.
A series of light knocks sounded on the door of their private tea room, and they heard the sounds of someone scrambling to take off their zori. It was definitely Naruto, Sakura decided with a smile. Ino would never make those kinds of sounds. She was proved right when the door slid open to show Naruto, who stepped in and closed the door behind her own back, nearly catching the tip of her ponytail and the edge of her black flame-lined red cloak doing so.
"Hey girls! Sorry I'm late – Kakashi-sensei dumped another load on me when I was about to leave, that lazy old man," Naruto huffed, and plonked herself down between Temari and Sakura, and gave Temari's baby a quick pinch on the cheek and a tender caress on the head. Sakura knew that Naruto knew Kakashi was training her to be Hokage in his own way, though she often acted annoyed about Kakashi giving her a lot of paperwork.
Tenten poured tea into the cup Hinata held out, and Naruto gratefully took the cup Hinata offered. She downed it in one go. "Aahh," she moaned appreciatively. It was one of the reasons why they usually came to this teahouse to hold their once-a-month girls-only get-togethers – good tea, good dango, and soundproof tea rooms.
"Sooo…," Tenten started, staring curiously at Naruto, "how's the search for Sasuke's bride coming along?"
The blue-eyed blonde gave a frustrated groan and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I've been searching all around Konoha but I can't find her! Darn Sasuke and his choosiness. Kakashi's sudden overload of paperwork isn't helping, either!"
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "What did he ask for this time? He wanted a strong…"
"Sweet," Tenten offered.
"Gentle," Hinata put in.
"Blonde," Temari said.
"…girl…" Sakura ended, and they all stared at Naruto, who didn't realize it.
"Exactly! Can you believe how fussy he is! And now he wants her to be blue-eyed, too! I just can't seem to find a blue-eyed blonde in Konoha!" Naruto exclaimed.
She was given incredulous looks, and the girls nearly face-faulted.
"I can't believe…!"
"I'm dying for tea, dango and gossip!" a new voice said over their groans and Naruto's indignant cry. Ino came in and slid the door shut behind her. "It's great to be back in Konoha! Iwa's a great place if you're on holiday, I guess, but mission-wise it sucks!" She paused and looked around, realizing something was going on. "I sense something juicy here! Spill!" she ordered, looking excited.
"Naruto here got it into her head that the state of Sasuke's balls will deteriorate if she doesn't find him a bride soon," Sakura said dryly. Ino's eyes bulged as she swallowed the dango she'd snatched up.
"Seriously? Whoa, Naruto!"
"What? It's true, ain't it?" Naruto said, and combed her fingers through the tips of her long blonde hair petulantly. "He's being so picky that it's hard to find a woman that would fit!"
Temari groaned, as did Sakura, who had to fight the urge to knock some sense into Naruto. How could she be this dense? Blue-eyed blonde? Any more direct and Sasuke would have to spell out her own name for her!
"Really?" Ino asked, grabbing the cup of tea Hinata offered. "What kind of a girl does he want?"
"Strong," Sakura droned.
"Gentle." Hinata sounded like she was grinding her teeth, which was ridiculous, because Hinata would never do something like that.
"Blonde," Temari said with a chuckle and a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"And blue-eyed!" Naruto finished up. "Can you believe it?" Ino was staring at Naruto incredulously, much like the other girls had done. "What?" Naruto grumbled. Then her eyes widened. "Ino!" she exclaimed.
"What?" Ino answered jokingly in the same tone. Sakura perked up, as did the other girls. Had Naruto finally understood?
"Blonde and blue-eyed! You're blonde and blue-eyed!" Naruto exclaimed happily, pointing at Ino and not hearing the groans and near-screams of frustration and disbelief from the other girls. "Would you go on a date with Sasuke? Please pleasepleaseplease?" she begged, unleashing the full-force of her Puppy-dog Eyes Technique TM.
Ino shrugged easily and polished off the last dango on her stick. "Sure, why not? I don't have a crush on him anymore, but he's still quite the piece of eye candy, ne?" she agreed, and Naruto whooped.
"That's great! I'll go tell Sasuke now! Be at the top of the Hokage Monument at seven tonight, 'kay! Thankyouseeyoubye!" And she shot off, presumably to inform Sasuke of his good fortune.
Ino chuckled. Then she felt her skin prickle, and she looked up to see four sets of menacing eyes and expressions trained on her. "Uh, girls…?"
Naruto trudged up the stairs to the top of the Hokage Monument feeling heavy-hearted and disappointed with herself.
For some crazy reason, Ino decided to bail on her. The other blonde had come by her office earlier this afternoon, accompanied by Sakura-chan, and had told her that she wouldn't be going on that date with Sasuke tonight. Or any other night, Ino had added when Sakura-chan dug her elbow into her side. Ino looked disappointed, and Sakura-chan had that slyly exultant look. Neither of them would spill, although Ino looked like she was bursting to say something, but a loaded look from Sakura sufficiently cowed her.
They'd then started their shift at the hospital, where Naruto had been kicked out after badgering them until their patients complained. She'd then scoured Konoha with an army of kage bunshin, looking for a blue-eyed blonde girl to go on tonight's date with Sasuke, and had been able to come up with… none. There was no other blue-eyed blonde in Konoha besides Ino! Naruto found that so hard to believe, but she hadn't been able to find any other girl.
She'd failed, effectively. Darn Sasuke for being so choosy. Perhaps she could talk Sasuke into forgetting about a blue-eyed blonde, or at least the blue-eyed part. Her kage bunshin had found a few other blondes – maybe Sasuke might be interested in them.
What a curious sensation – to feel hope and crushing disappointment at the same time. She stowed away the emotion to be dealt with later.
She reached the top step and lifted her head to look around for Sasuke. There he was, lounging in one of the chairs she'd arranged, together with the usual table and candles, that she'd set up earlier in hopes that she found a blue-eyed blonde for him. She swallowed at the sight of him – breathtakingly beautiful contrast of pale skin and blue-black hair, and those piercing onyx eyes that she'd seen glinting with smug confidence and clouded over with repressed emotion. But more than that she saw Sasuke, her friend – human, strong yet frail, cold on the outside yet warm and somewhat lonely on the inside.
She shook her head and mounted the final step with resolve. She saw Sasuke tense, then push his chair back, stand up and turn around. She was walked nearer to him, and or some strange reason Sasuke gave a start at the sight of her, then his face lit up and a real smile curved his lips that fairly took Naruto's breath away. He came quickly towards her, the smile still on his face.
"Naruto?" he asked. Even his voice sounded happy, for some crazy reason. Naruto blinked blankly at him. "Naruto?!"
Then she remembered why she was here. "Sasuke, I'm so sorry, Ino was supposed to come but I don't know why Sakura-chan won't allow her to come, and I tried finding another blue-eyed blonde, honest I did! But there's no one else in the whole of Konoha! Can you believe it? Do you think you wanna rethink the blue-eyed part? There were a few blondes I came across; I bet they're really nice once you know get to know them…" she trailed off and tilted her head to one side. "Sasuke?"
Throughout her speech Sasuke had at first looked a little confused, then realization took hold of his features. Realization then gave way to disappointment, which disappeared to leave his features expressionless, but Naruto could still see the disappointment in his eyes, and it made her feel like crap.
"I'm really sorry, Sasuke," she mumbled, looking to her feet. Sasuke just sighed deeply and turned around. He went back to the chair he had been lounging in and sat on it again, planting his selbows on the table and burying his face in his hands. "I… I feel really bad about this."
He felt so disappointed; so very disappointed. She actually didn't get it. "Just… never mind, Naruto," Sasuke sighed through his palms. "You don't get it."
He sensed her crouch down next to him. "What's there not to understand? I couldn't find your blue-eyed blonde. I want another chance, though." She prodded his thigh. "You're so choosy! Maybe if you weren't so specific it would be easier for me to find you a girl you'd like… Sasuke?"
With a frustrated groan Sasuke tore his head away from his hands and turned to her, eyes flashing. Naruto looked taken aback. "Sasuke?"
She really was that dense. Therefore, he had only one option now. But if you don't tell her, then she'll never know, and you'd miss out on what might have been, because you were both afraid, Temari had said. Naruto loves you as well.
He stood up, towering over her. He saw a slight flicker of emotion in her blue eyes before she stood up, facing him, and tilted her head to the side – the picture of confusion. Sasuke reached out and grabbed her arm, making sure not to hurt her.
"Naruto," he growled, "do you really not understand? Are you really that dense or are you just running away?"
There was that flicker again in her eyes, then they narrowed in anger. "What are you talking about, bastard? Namikaze Naruto is does not run away," she hissed back.
"Really? Then why are you avoiding your feelings?" Sasuke said, staring right in her eyes. She glared back at him.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, bastard." She wrenched her arm out of his grasp and backed away a few steps. "Stop being ridiculous. Look, all I came here to tell you was that Sakura-chan got Ino to bail out on tonight's date-"
Sasuke grabbed both her arms, making her glare at him. He stepped closer to her and saw fright cross her face. He scowled. "Why are you always scared whenever I get close to you?" he demanded. "Every time! Tell me, Naruto!"
He could feel her pulse accelerate under his fingers. She struggled in his hold, trying to break free, but his expression and grip hardened, telling her she wasn't going to escape until she came clean.
"Let me go, bastard!" she shouted, pure anger in her voice, with a tinge of fear of some sort. "Don't make me hurt you!"
Sasuke scoffed. "Like you could." She growled at him and tried to kick him, and it took him some fancy footwork to avoid her legs and keep his grip on her arms. "Fine!" he barked. "You brought this on yourself. Kanashibari no jutsu!"
She froze in his arms. He'd left her head mobile, as she soon discovered. "Let me go this instant bastard! When I break this I'm gonna break your neck! And your di—"
Sasuke chuckled darkly and lifted her easily into his arms – he'd put more than enough chakra into the jutsu to make sure she wouldn't be able to break it easily. He walked towards the edge of the cliff and hopped down towards the stone heads of the past Hokage, choosing to sit on the head of the Yondaime. He arranged her so that she was sitting in his lap, and wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder, pressing his cheek to hers. He exhaled softly against her soft skin, and the shouts and threats of bodily harm he'd been ignoring stuttered to a stop.
"Now. Tell me, Naruto," he whispered huskily into her ear, feeling her shiver, "why are you so afraid of getting close to me?"
"I'm not afraid of getting close to you, you narcissistic, egoistic, vain, asshole-ish bastard!" she hissed back at him, though the effect was spoilt by the tremor in her voice. Sasuke just tightened his arms around her and nuzzled her cheek. She tried to push him away with her head, but couldn't quite manage it. "Let go of me, bastard!"
"Tell me, Naruto. Why are you so intent on finding me a wife?" He felt her inhale to re-start her tirade, so he continued, "And I don't believe your excuse about being worried about my… balls." He added in a quiet, almost-whisper, "I'm not letting you go until you tell me the truth."
She was trembling against him, probably in anger. "Fine!" she hissed in a dangerous tone, her voice trembling with the force of her emotions. "You want to know why I want to find you a wife? It's because I can't stand being around you anymore!"
Sasuke stiffened, his eyes narrowing, feeling a cold hand closing around his heart. "What?" He quickly maneuvered her so that she was facing him, sitting sideways on his lap, her right side resting against his chest and her head tucked under his neck so that he could see the expressions on her face. "Do you… you hate me…?"
She continued in a rush, seeming not to have heard him. "I can't stand being around you anymore. Every time I spar with you I can't stand it, because you're so graceful and it gets on my nerves watching you! Every time I'm next to you I want to rest my head on your shoulder and I want your arms around me! Every time I'm in front of you, I see your face and my heart jumps and my stomach twists and I want to kiss you and I want you to kiss me back like there's no one else and nothing else in the world but us! Every time I hear your voice I want to hear you saying…"
Sasuke had steadily stiffened as she continued to talk, his heart pounding against his chest. Could it… could it really be? Had Hinata been right all the while? He was so shocked that he didn't hear the last part. What had she wanted to hear him say?
"I…" he said, and had to clear his throat to dislodge the lump that had formed there. "I didn't hear you, Naruto. What do you want me to say?"
She tried to head-butt him. "You bastard!" she hissed. He was surprised to hear the fury in her voice, as well as how thick it was. "You bastard. Haven't you had enough? I've embarrassed myself enough – isn't that enough for you? You just have to get me to repeat myself to humiliate me—!"
Sasuke gently put two fingers on her lips and she stilled in surprise. "I… you just surprised me. I honestly didn't hear what you said at the end, dobe. And I want to hear it. Repeat it… please?"
She was shuddering in his arms with her face buried in his neck, and only when he felt his high collar become wet did he realize she was sobbing. He felt a guilty pang, and tightened his arms around her and carded his fingers through her silky hair in an attempt to comfort her. She unconsciously snuggled deeper into his embrace, and her voice was muffled and thick with tears. "You're killing me, Sasuke," she said. It felt like someone had given him a chidori to the heart. What?
"You're killing me," she repeated. "Do you know how long and how much I've wanted to be like this? Just the two of us, with your arms around me?" She went silent for a long moment, and Sasuke almost missed it again when she whispered, "Every time I hear your voice, Sasuke, it kills me because I want the impossible – I want to hear you saying that you love me. Because I love you."
Sasuke froze, then a huge – at least, as huge as an Uchiha could make it – smile split his face and he laughed, a genuinely joyful sound. Naruto stiffened at the sound and pushed away from him, her eyes bloodshot and her face streaked with tears.
"Shut up, bastard," she choked out, pushing against his chest in an effort to stand up. Sasuke quickly threw his arms around her and pulled her back to his chest. She had been scrambling to her feet, and so fell against him and the air in his lungs fled with a choked huff. She turned to him, furious. "Let me go, bastard! I don't need to hear you humiliate me! Let. Me. Go!"
Sasuke caught her chin with one hand and leaned in. Her eyes widened in panic. He ignored that, and smiled tenderly at her. "I love you, Naruto," he whispered, and kissed her gently on the lips.
"I love you, Naruto," he repeated, and kissed her cheek. It was getting dark, but he could still see the sheer incredulity on her face, so he kept repeating himself. With someone as dense as Naruto, it usually took repeated attempts to get things through to her. "I love you. I love you. I love y-"
She finally came to her senses and scrambled to her feet. Sasuke followed a little more leisurely, and smirked when she looked at him in surprise. "When did you dissolve the jutsu?"
"When you were telling me that you wanted my arms around you," he replied, and took a step towards her. A look of alarm crossed her face when he came nearer. She couldn't move anywhere, because there was no more rock, only air around her.
"Listen, Sasuke, just stop it. I didn't tell you my feelings so you could make fun of me, alright!" She quickly started the handseals for shunshin no jutsu.
"You're just going to run away?" Sasuke said, with a dark, angry look. "You think you were the only one who came clean about how they feel?" Her hands stilled, her fingers folded into the seal. "You think you're the only one who opened themselves up for humiliation? Didn't you hear me, dobe? I. Love. You." He cautiously reached out for her, and gave an inward sigh of relief when she didn't struggle. She allowed Sasuke to press her tightly against his chest. "I love you, Naruto. That's why I didn't want the whole wife-hunt. How were you going to search for yourself? You didn't allow yourself to really hear what I was saying. Every time you asked me about what I wanted in my future wife, didn't you hear that I was describing you?" He sighed and pressed his lips against her cheek. His arms were wrapped tight around her, the tightest they could go without hurting her.
"There is no one else, Naruto. You will never be able to find Mrs Uchiha Sasuke until you take a good look into the mirror and admit that the there is only one strong, sweet, gentle, blue-eyed blonde that I am describing." Sasuke raised his head and looked her in the eyes, leaning his forehead against hers. "I love you, Namikaze Naruto. There is no one else, and I'm absolutely sure about how I feel. The question is – do you believe me? I know you love me, but do you believe me when I say that I love you?"
Naruto exhaled, shuddering. "You arrogant bastard," she growled. He bit his cheek, suddenly feeling slight trepidation in his chest. Anything could happen now; she wasn't known as the most surprising ninja for nothing.
"I was content to love you from afar because I thought you didn't love me like that," he blurted out before she could continue, in hopes of further convincing her of the genuineness of his feelings. "I, I was scared that if I told you how I really felt it would mess everything up, and I'd lose my best friend along with the woman I loved…"
Sasuke's eyes widened in shock when she silenced him with a shy press of her lips against his. A blush erupted over her face and she buried her face in his neck. "I believe you, bastard."
"Tell me you love me," he urged her almost breathlessly. No, scratch that. Uchiha Sasuke was never breathless. Nope, never. He was just expectant. Yup, that was it. He wasn't breathless.
"Bastard," Naruto told him. Then she raised her head, wound her arms around his back and looked him in the eyes. "I love you, Sasuke."
Naruto never knew that Sasuke could actually look that happy – and in love. And Sasuke? He finally got to see that hopelessly-in-love look on Naruto's face directed at him.
Five women were pressed into a small crevice beneath the Shodai's head.
"Dammit, Ino-buta, I can't see anything! This is the last time you get to pick the hiding spot!"
"Shut up, Forehead! Take your elbow out of my kidney! And don't you dare tell me humans can survive with just one kidney!"
"I'm beginning to regret coming along…"
"Kyaa! Naruto-kun just kissed Sasuke!"
"I wish I had the Byakugan…"
The Author has More to Say: The End! ^_^ Or is it?? Muahahaha! Manga spoiler alert! Can you believe how stupid Sasuke's being in the manga?! Arrgh! I really hope he has a brilliant plan, coz going against the freaking Raikage? And the Kazekage to boot? Not smart. Sasuke-baka! Poor Naruto… sigh…
Remember to check my profile for an announcement. Only if you're interested, of course. And pleasepleaseplease don't kill me after that!
Reviews and constructive criticism much appreciated!