Disclaimer: No, don't own Naruto himself. Not the manga either.
Author's Note: I'm back, baby! Someone has to be happy about that. I gotta tell you guys, it gets harder and harder to write the next chapters for this story. I started this one last May for crying out loud. And I've only just finished.
Sorry guys. That's my bad. I promise I'll haul my ass off to produce the next chapters. But until then, hope you like this one!
Chapter 20: Edge
And the songbirds are singing, like they know the score.
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before.
She was tired of fighting. It was a feat unbecoming and useless to someone who was doomed to lose anyway. Every struggle was every point of defeat, every breath an insurmountable challenge. The bones and muscles in her body were screaming for rest they have never gotten in years. This was what it feels like to be dying, slowly, painfully, where there was no semblance of release.
Death had to be release, it had to be salvation. It was like being at the edge of the cliff, more than willing to let go of a thorny branch one has been holding on to for far too long. She was ready to let go. Ready to free her bloody hand from the thorns that clawed her skin, ready to fall to the dark abyss, ready to release her last breath. More so than anything else, she just wanted to rest. She had done her part, hadn't she? So why wasn't she allowed to let go? It was too damn unfair.
At first, it was a whisper, no more than an undertone with the gust of the wind. A faceless voice, calling and calling. It became a stronger call from above the cliff, insistent and harsh with every repetition.
"Sakura-chan..." it called. Again and again, as if waiting for her to acknowledge and reply.
Of course she wasn't going to answer. For all the hope that that voice had to offer, there was no use in holding on to it. Nothing can reel her in, not even this voice.
"Hey. Come on, wake up...". On and on and on and on. Kami, it was annoying. It was annoying and had she any strength, she would have climbed all the way off that cliff and punch the owner of that voice halfway to hell just so it would go away and leave her alone.
The desire to just tell that voice off had never been stronger. So she took a deep breath. And for the first time, she summoned all her strength to do something. By the time she opened her eyes to realize that she had been dreaming, she had woken up to a pair of arms around here, restricting and reassuring at the same time.
She looked down to Naruto, his face obscured by his blond hair as he held tightly onto her. She realized he had pulled her onto a sitting position, holding her, his face gently trying to bury onto her shoulder blade.
"Are you okay?" His voice was slightly muffled as he spoke through her shirt. "You were having a nightmare."
But it wasn't just a nightmare, it was worse, almost a premonition of her deteriorating state which even in her sleep would not leave her alone. The worse her condition gets, the more frequent it happens when she sleeps. Sleeping wasn't rest for her anymore, it was a painful vision. But it was also a promise of the end, and every time she was closer and closer.
All thoughts on how to respond to the blond had left her as Naruto raised his head up for the first time and looked at her, really looked at her with an expression that shook the pink haired girl to her core. His eyes were red and were threatening to shed tears and his whole face was pained, as if someone had been physically beating the life out of him. The world didn't know that the blond was capable of such a pained expression, but here it was in front of Sakura and she didn't know the first thing to do about it. Seeing him with that scared was unsettling, like trying to take your first breath after a long moment underwater and realizing that there was no air to breathe. More than that, he was trembling, shaking like a leaf.
"Are you okay?" he repeated, choking every word.
The intensity of the moment did not occur to Sakura until he finally looked down and tears fell onto the mattress, tears that were not hers.
"What is it?" she spoke for the first time, wondering if she was having another unpleasant dream. If it were, this was admittedly worse. His hands were suddenly twisting uncomfortably around her arms, unwilling to loosen their grip as if she was a prisoner trying to get away. She attempted to grasp his arms in reply.
He took a few ragged breaths, but after several more, instead of calming down, he whimpered and buried his head again, this time on the the spot between her neck and shoulder, holding her tighter.
"I was trying to wake you up. You wouldn't for a while. I thought you were..." He couldn't continue after that.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, deciding to stroke his back like she would to children when she was calming them down. "Really, I'm fine," she continued, talking to a spot on her room's wall as she couldn't make the blond release her and look at her so he would realize that she was okay and alive, for the time being. The clock above her dresses indicated that it was a little past two in the morning. She must have moaned in her sleep loud enough to wake the blond ninja with the heightened senses.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sakura-chan," a mantra he had said, chanted like before until he was out of breath.
"I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry," he continued. He must have been referring to their most recent fight where he blew up and made her cry.
It was very painful to hear him suffer saying those words. And it made her want to cry too. Instead, she tightened her hold of him in return.
"It's fine. I'm not mad, Naruto." She continued stroking his back. He had every right to be mad at her when they fought. She'd be mad at her too, she explained. Lack of sleep and emotional instability had rendered her blond companion to be an inconsolable boy. She could feel his guilt oozing through his tears.
"I'd give it all back. I would die for you," he said finality and willingness that made Sakura snap and forcefully pulled his head back to look at her the second time that night.
His last sentence made her furious beyond comprehension. Didn't he already how much more important he was than she was? Didn't he understand how stupid it was for him to say those words?
"Look at me," she started, quiet with frustration. In the semi-darkness, she held his repentant face with both hands. "You are not allowed to say that ever again. You hear me? I gave my all to make sure that doesn't happen" she choked. Yes, admittedly, it was hypocritical of her to insist, but for everything that happened, he wasn't supposed to suffer the way that she was. No words could ever explain that to him.
Her words calmed him a little and he responded by enveloping the hands that were on his cheeks and softly settling his forehead on hers. It was the first time that he felt some semblance of warmth in her. He had caused it, as his skin never left hers.
"You can't die," he begged with closed eyes, as if the choice were up to her. "You can't die," he repeated, refusing to lose contact and now pressing his hands on the skin near her chest to feel her heartbeat from a heart that was ready to give out.
She wasn't at liberty to promise him something like that. No one could.
"I'm still here. Right here," she whispered to his ear, unable to assure him of anything other than that. She nudged his forehead with her big one hard enough to get his attention.
"Then stay. Stay with me," he pleaded again.
"Naruto…" she pleaded back, ready to argue that they shouldn't get into this at two in the morning, both exhausted and not in the proper state of mind.
But he pushed again. "Stay. Please." His blue eyes bore through the darkness and into her green ones as he let her go and held both her hands. "Just stay."
He was unreasonable, demanding of his request. He was out of line and didn't understood . He was a scared boy right now. It was a part of Naruto that she had unwittingly coaxed out of him.
"Whatever you want."
That morning, she woke up with no trace of Naruto except for a distinct lingering scent and an unsettling feeling that he had held her through the night.
"I think he might be going crazy," she confided off-handedly as Haji led her through the hospital corridors. He was walking her to the home for the elderly which adjacent to the hospital building. Sakura was to join some kind of tea party.
"Well that's very reassuring for the next Hokage. I'll be sure to cheer for him at his inauguration," Haji replied.
This was the first check-up she had without the annoying blond hovering like a mother hen over his patient and asking all kinds of medical questions that his little brain couldn't memorize much less understand.
Apparently, Naruto arranged for Shizune, the Hokage's assistant to drop Sakura at the hospital because he had "errands" to do. He merely left a note for his patient. Whatever the reason, Haji thanked the stars for it. A day without that guy was a good day for the unsociable doctor.
Besides, it gave him the chance to chance to check on his patient in peace and spend time with her for a little bit.
"I'm serious though!" the pink-haired girl tugged on his arm's sleeve and stopped her tracks. Sakura didn't seem to mind being alone today, but her comment on the next Hokage's mental stability was apparently an alarming matter.
"Last night. He's…different," she explained, having succeeded in halting her escort and getting his full attention.
Haji had to sigh. Of course, whether physically present or not, that blond idiot would be annoying him and his patient. "How different?" he obliged.
"I'm not sure. One minute he's pissed at me, we're yelling at each other and the next, he'll be…I don't know how to call it."
"Different?" the doctor suggested, sensing the girl's loss for words.
"He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"What? No. Of course not!" she defended.
Assessing the truth to her statement, Haji narrowed his eyes and just cursed the Heavens for not having the emotional quotient needed for these kinds of talks.
"This is why Neji and I didn't want that…that moronic jock hanging around you so much. He's not good for you." That was to put it lightly.
"You sound like a mother," she replied, placing both her fragile arms on her hips.
"I FEEEL like the mother in this conversation," he said, exasperated. "Look, I'm only looking out for you. I don't need to remind you that it's good for you to be stressed about anything right now. And the last thing you need to worry about is that moron. He's as healthy as a horse."
"God, you're unhelpful," she gave in as they resumed their walk.
"Speaking of unhelpful. Why are you even going to those geezer party anyway? You're sick, remember?"
"Naruto and I met Ichi-san and his wife Miho-san during dialysis. They invited us. It would be rude not to come," Sakura explained, grateful for her doctor's company and concern.
"It's also rude to replace the sugar container at the hospital pantry with salt, but you don't see me apologizing to the nurses for it."
"You're unbelievable." She had to chuckle at the doctor's concept of revenge for those unruly nurses at the hospital. Whether he admitted it or not, Haji had a sense of humor and was part prankster. He and Naruto could actually get along if they tried.
"You know they deserved it for messing with the couch springs."
"Yes, they did," she agreed as they reached entered the home's corridors.
"Are you sure you don't need me to stay with you?"
She turned to him with a grin. "Come on. That would be like taking your own daughter to the prom."
He rolled his eyes to her teasing. If this was what it's gonna be like to have a daughter, well, that's just not gonna happen.
"Besides, you have that important meeting with the hospital board."
"I can skip it."
"No, you can't. Just go! I'll be fine," she said, giving her escort a gentle shove towards the hospital.
"Excuse me, Miss. Is this guy bothering you? Cause I can call security if you want," a voice explained interrupted their banter, obviously trying to repress a chuckle. Sakura and Haji turned around to a smiling Naruto, hands in his pocket, dressed in a casual black polo shirt and grey jeans,.
"Oh, Christ," Haji groaned. Of course it was him. This was his punishment for messing with the nurses.
"Naruto," Sakura called as the blond approached them. "Your errands," she inquired.
"All done. Besides, I wouldn't want to miss the party of the century. We promise we'd come," he joked. "You look pretty, Sakura-chan."
Even Haji felt the sincerity in those words. His patient was wearing her usual thick sweater, but visible under it was a slightly longer spring green summer dress with streaks of white and a ribbon on the waist. It suited her.
Sakura uttered her thanks and smiled in return. Despite his apparent annoyance with the blond, Haji somehow felt like he was intruding on a moment between the two.
Naruto beat him to breaking the silence as he offered his hand to Sakura-chan, leading her towards the door.
"I'll be taking your daughter to the prom now, Mam. I promise to get her home before midnight," he jibed to the long-haired doctor, even finishing with a wink.
Haji made a disgusting sound at this, ignoring the moron before bidding goodbye to his patient.
"You're right, Sakura. Batshit crazy," was all he said.
Miho-san was right. There were more women in the home, and most of them made it their personal mission to each get a dance from him. Granted, it was flattering, but he suspected anyone below fifty years old would be eye candy to this kind of event. He should take Lee here sometimes.
The weekly party at the home was bustling with lots of activities – bingo, all-you-can-eat whole grain cracker buffet and of course, dancing to old people song.
He was on his…tenth?... eleventh?...dance now. Good thing he learned this kind of stuff, dancing, with Ero-senin. Otherwise, it would be horrible to step on blushing old women's feet.
As he gently twirled his current partner, Emiko-san, a stout woman with thinning hair, his eyes found Sakura sitting beside Ichi-san who was in a wheelchair, chuckling at something the old man had said.
Last night had passed like a fast blur and a long pause at the same time. Last time was the most horrifying thing he had ever had to experience. Thinking Sakura was actually dead, she felt like she was dead, having her unresponsive in his arms, being unable to do anything about it but say her name had caused him to lose him freaking mind. Especially after the way he treated her before.
He never wanted to experience death, her death. It was out of the question. Which was why he had refused to let her go, held her for the remainder of the night to make sure that she breathed every breath, to make sure that her heart was beating the whole time. Which was why he had asked her to stay. In his delusional state and desperation to keep her that night, he pleaded for something he knew she couldn't give. And she acquiesced, and no matter how crazy, he believed her.
It was an intense feeling. He had never been grateful for someone else's heart beating. Seeing her, alive and breathing was a heaven that he was grateful for, no matter how temporary.
"Don't worry, son. Ichi ain't gonna steal her," his dance partner jibed.
"Huh?" he said, confused as he looked down on Emiko.
"Your girl over there." She pointed to Sakura with her head, who seemed very content with her company. "Ichi's too damn loyal to Miho. He ain't gonna make a move on her," she explained amusedly.
Choosing to ignore her taunt, Naruto merely smiled swayed his partner to the other side of the room.
Emiko grunted in mild annoyance for her handsome dance partner's silence. She smiled however as eventually the blond's gaze kept going back to the pink-haired girl.
As the current song neared its end, she halted her feet which consequently caused her partner to stumble with a "Whu?".
"Tell you what, handsome. Since you've been a perfect gentleman this whole time, this is gonna be your last dance. Imma fend off the ladies while you go get your dance with pinky over there," she said with a wink.
She didn't even let Naruto start to either say some kind of explanation or apologize for his being distracted while dancing.
"Go on child, dance with her! I gots a good song for you."
"Emiko-san…" the blond tried again, scratching the back of his head.
"Ain't you fought a bunch of demons and evil shinobi and whatnot?! You're scared of asking girl to dance?!"
"You useless boy!" she exclaimed as she stalked over to the pink-haired girl's table.
Emiko-san was a rotund woman, but damn, she was faster than Lee without his training weights. By the time that he had struggled through the women waiting in line for a dance, she was already talking animatedly with Sakura seeming confused and Ichi-san amused with his wife Miho smiling quietly at her side.
"So, whaddaya say, pinky? Can you give us women a break and dance with this dummy?" Emikos said, her mouth upturned from ear to ear, as if to say "You ain't backing out of this one."
"Sa…Sakura-chan, you don't need to, really. You must be tired and…" he was talking to the pink-haired girl as the big woman interrupted again.
"You idiot! Look at her with the beautiful dress. You think she came here to sit in the corner…" She continued on babbling even as the new song came to the dance floor. Man, was this woman butting on things she didn't have business with. The entrance of the new song with the slow beat of guitar and piano drowned the rest of her speech.
"Kami, you gon' give me a heart attack, boy…"
Naruto rolled his eyes at this exasperating woman and pleaded with Sakura with a pained look. She understood and stood up just to effectively silence Emiko who had just smirked. As soon as Naruto took Sakura's hand, she sat down and wagged her brows at the old couple beside her.
For you, there'll be no more crying
For you, the sun will be shining
And I feel that when I'm with you, it's alright
"She's a handful, isn't she?" she chuckled lightly as soon as they were out of earshot.
"Yeah. Thanks for saving me," he replied with a grin. Back to the task at hand, he thought, as he took one slightly shaking hand and gently placed it on Sakura's waist while the other held her hand. She let him lead her in a gentle sway as she took a step closer to him. He supported her light frame, almost like dancing with a mannequin made with cotton. So soft, more importantly, fragile.
To you, I'll give the world
To you, I'll never be cold
Cause I feel that when I'm with you, it's alright
Content with her proximity but still a little nervous, he settled with looking at a spot at the floor "You look beautiful, Sakura-chan."
"Enough with that already. It's just a dress and braided hair," she answered slightly to his neck.
"No, it's you," he replied immediately. That earned him a heartful laugh.
"You think you're gonna smooth talk your way to me like with the other ladies, huh?" she said as she pulled back to look at him.
His response was just to tighten his hold to her, like he had the last night, and said "No."
And the songbirds are singing like they know the score
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before
It was too much to look at him, painful even, so she went back to her spot, facing his collar, and they swayed again.
"Are you mad at me?" he asked.
And I wish you all the love in the world
But most of all, I wish it for myself
After a deep sigh, he answered. "You were pulling away. I felt you pulling away. I pulled you back the only way I know how."
"Don't pull away," he whispered.
He felt her removing one hand to wipe something from her face.
"Please." He pleaded into her ear. So close. Softly.
"I can't." She whimpered and started to pull away, looking anywhere else but him. He had to do something or he was going to lose her.
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before
It was a brief kiss. Her lips were salty and soft, chapped from being sick all the time. Moreover, she was unresponsive. Nonetheless, it was the closest he had been to her. He poured all his emotions to that kiss, the only way to pull her, pull her back where she belonged. With him. Alive and with him.
As long as he thought that kiss lasted, she stepped away from him just as fast, her green eyes red from the tears and yet devoid of emotion.
The song had ended. Other women were now clamoring to where they were for a dance.
She was just staring. At him. Through him.
Instead, she unhurriedly turned her back from him and started walking away.
To be continued.
That's it. Hope it's not too short. Reviews anyone? :)
PS. Thank to Fleetwood Mac for the inspiration.