Author's note: An early New Year's present, a steamy NaruSaku one-shot. More "Voice in the Wind" coming soon. Hope you enjoy! Please read and review!
Sakura knew she was fighting too close to the edge, but she didn't care. She had the advantage. If she could just get close enough, it would only take one swipe to disable the hulk of a man bearing down on her. But the combination of a fat-knuckled fist followed by the whiplash chain-and-sickle weapon he wielded in his other hand kept her dancing.
The man twisted his meaty forearm and the chain whipped around suddenly, it's half-moon blade slicing the air. But Sakura wasn't impressed.
Scooting easily out it's range, Sakura used the moment of retraction to gauge their situation. Around her the battle raged. All her compatriots were engaged. This ambush proved to be more brawn than brains, but a fight was a fight, any way you cut it.
Only Naruto had enough control over his battle to glance away. Sakura dodged another swing of her assailant's fist, catching Naruto's concerned expression as she came back up.
His blue eyes sparked, his mouth thinned to a tight line. She nodded quickly, feeling the ridiculous need to both reassure him that she was alright and check on his status. But just seeing him across the battlefield, the same need written on his face, made her feel somehow connected to him.
Her stray thoughts were dashed away. The chain whistled around, and the shimmering scythe sliced through the air just inches from her stomach.
Sakura backed up another step, but instantly realized her mistake. She was eating up more precious space between her and the top edge of the canyon wall. And the big man in front of her knew it.
His attacks turned more aggressive, using the long-range weapon to push her closer and closer to the edge.
'Stupid mistake,' her mind hissed as she arced her body away from next whiplash dart of the weapon. A vacuum of blue filled her eyes for a moment. The cliff's edge was so very high up — her stomach clenched — higher than she thought.
The wind tore up the cliff wall and licked at her shirt tauntingly. Sakura knew she was caught between two deaths. And though it was her error in judgement that brought her to this precipice, the man in front of her, winding up for the final blow, didn't know who he was dealing with. If he thought she'd just tumble over the edge, then he had another thing coming.
She'd gladly die fighting. And she'd take him with her.
Sakura turned back to her assailant and dug in her stance. Chakra seared down her arms as she funneled as much of the potent energy as she could to her fists. It felt as if her gloves were on fire, but she knew without looking that the menacing green glow was coming from her skin.
The big man must have seen it too, she thought with no small amount of satisfaction. His eyes were wide, and his arms had slackened a bit. His fat fist was not balled as tightly as it had been.
Then everything slowed. The chain still swung from the weapon, but the blade was falling toward the ground. Small, fluttering shadows fell over his fist, his arm, his chest, his face. The man's mouth fell open in mute fear. Eyes bulging, he stared in frozen terror at some unknown point above their heads.
A shadow flickered over his face, twisting to cast a perfect rectangle for a moment, before the blue-black edges dissolved into the shadow of flames.
But by the time the burning rectangle dropped into Sakura's sightline, it was already too late. The paper tag exploded just above their heads and ignited the small cloud of bombs falling down around them.
Blasts rocked the ground, burned the air, and cleaved the cliff face from under Sakura's feet. Boulders, topsoil, the assailant and the kunoichi were pitched helplessly toward the canyon floor.
Disoriented, momentarily blinded, Sakura nearly lost her wits and succumb to the terror. But the screams of the man hurtling past her kicked Sakura's adrenaline into over drive. She wouldn't die this way, dammit.
Tumbling heels over head with the rest of the debris, Sakura forced the chakra back to her hands, this time to wrest her own life from the second of the two deaths.
Fingers spread out like claws, Sakura grabbed at anything to slow her. Boulders fell away from her grasp, dust blinded her eyes and filled her nose, but she kept flailing desperately for any solid surface. Finally she found it.
Chakra-coated fingers made contact with the cliff wall. But the loose rocks and dust made getting a firm hold impossible. She slowed, but didn't stop falling.
Palms flat against the wall, Sakura pushed her hands together to give the green chakra better drag. But she still skidded too fast down the jagged surface. Sakura tucked her head down and squeezed her eyes shut. All she could do now was hope she slowed enough to soften the inevitable, bone-crushing impact.
But her descent stopped with a brutal jerk.
Body flopping like a rag doll, Sakura's hands had caught the exposed roots of an old cliff-side tree. It held fast to the wall, and Sakura's chakra-engulfed hands held fast to it.
Sakura hung there, panting, while the last of the debris rained past her. Then everything was quiet. The wind buffeted her gently, and the birds returned to the forest canopy that seemed miles below her.
Muscles burning with strain, Sakura sighed deeply. She licked her overly dry lips. No, she told herself again, she wouldn't die here. If she could hold on, then she could live. Somehow, her team would get to her. He would find her. Now all she had to do was hold on and wait.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Sakura muttered as she tried to connect with the surface of the dusty cliff wall with her feet but to no avail.
She should never have been close to that edge. But she would have never guessed that their opponents would sacrifice their own man just to detonate the cliff. It was obvious not that they were losing, and had hoped to turn the battle with the distraction.
Sakura's chakra-laden foot slipped against the cliff again, sending her whole body banging against the wall. Channeling chakra didn't work if the surface was unstable. The only thing she could do was hope the gnarled root would hold until someone could pitch a rope down.
Sakura was just readjusting her grip when a conspicuous line of black-and-orange men came hurtling over the edge. Straight for her.
She frowned thunderously, even though she was the one in danger.
"Stop it!" she yelled up at the line of Narutos bearing down at her. "I'm in no danger. And you're opening yourself up to attack!"
But he kept on, more and more coming, arm linked to arm, as if he'd never heard her.
And this really pissed her off. Moreso than her hanging on a root off a cliff because of her own stupidity, he should never, ever, come after someone like this.
"Don't worry," he said as he got closer. "I've got a whole bunch fighting at the top. We're safe."
More clones popped into existence somewhere up the line, pushing the last Naruto with the outstretched arm ever closer.
"Come on," the last one said with an easy smile, reaching for her, ignoring her protests completely. But his blue eyes were sharp with fear and concern, the kind that couldn't easily be hidden with a false smile. He raked his gaze over her, looking for wounds.
She sighed, softened by his anxiety, and reached for him in spite of herself. She should have known he'd send a line of clones for her. He'd never let anyone go, it was one of the things she loved about him, after all.
The last Naruto in the line hooked his free arm around her middle. Sakura carefully slipped one hand off the branch and threaded her arm around his neck. Next came a leg, wrapped around his waist. Then she gingerly shifted the bulk of her weight to him.
Even though she knew, logically, that she wouldn't burst through the jutsu that created his clones, she still moved with extreme caution. She couldn't quite convince herself that she wouldn't pop him like a balloon and send her plummeting to the earth. It was so very high up, after all.
But as her hand closed around the back of his shirt, Sakura's fingertips brushed the bare, warm skin at the back of his neck. She gasped, and he tightened his grip, thinking she'd slipped a little. The scrape of his skin had shocked her. This was not a clone. This was the real Naruto, at the bottom of a line, come to get her.
Satisfied that she wasn't falling, Naruto shifted the crook of his arm down to her waist and pulled her to him, settling her more securely onto his hip.
"Naruto, stop this," she hissed, easing her other hand off the branch and wrapping her arm around the front of his neck. "You shouldn't be down here."
She frowned at his profile, but he ignored her. Which riled her more. He was too important to do such reckless things. Didn't he know that?
But the set of his jaw, lips thinned in determination, told her what he wouldn't say. That he thought differently.
Dammit, she wasn't a child needing to be saved. She was a kunoichi who should protect those she cared about, not endanger them.
"What about your dreams?" she snapped stupidly.
The arm around her back tightened, the muscle at his jaw tensed. He was still looking straight ahead, but it was obvious she'd hit a nerve.
"And what about yours?" he said lowly, not able to keep the harsh tone out of his voice.
"My dream is the same as yours," Sakura fired back immediately. "It's for you to be the Hokage. And this is too great a risk."
She stopped short of yelling that if he were to ever get hurt because of her mistakes, it would just kill her. She still grumbled it to herself though. He was so much more important than to be down here saving her. She wasn't diminishing her value, but he was carrying the village on his shoulders. They didn't know it yet, but she did. And he did.
Still looking ahead, Naruto didn't say a word. But the thunderous frown and tighter grip gave away his irritation. This wasn't the first time they had argued along these lines. Her misunderstanding was a cloud over their otherwise seamless partnership. But instead of clarifying, he simply pulled her more firmly against him.
"Naruto, you shouldn't put yourself in danger like this," she pushed on angrily. "Your dream is to be Hokage, what if something happened—"
"Stop it," he snapped. He dropped his arm to hook under her seat, then pulled her firmly onto his hip and turned to face her. They were so close their noses nearly touched. And his anger was clear on his face.
Sakura gasped at the suddenness of the movement, but the way he looked at her robbed her of words. She'd never seen him truly furious. She drew in a deep, steadying breath, determined to calm down and close up this apparent rift she'd caused between them.
That's when everything changed.
The breath expanded her chest into his rib cage. At their close proximity, there was simply no where for her to go but closer to him. And suddenly she was embarrassed. She felt overly curvy where he felt solid. She bit her lip and slanted her eyes, trying to ignore the traitorous thoughts, but one glance back showed her that Naruto had not missed the small movement.
The look he fixed on her shifted intensity, it darkened. Sakura's mouth went dry.
She was suddenly aware of just how close she was to him. Her skirt hiked all the way back and stretched tight across the tops of her legs. The zipper of his jacket gently biting into the soft skin inside her thigh. And the curves of her chest molding into his side. She felt like she couldn't move without revealing some part of herself.
This was closer than she'd ever been with him before. They were as close as two people could be who weren't lovers. But this, this was different. Her cheeks went warm at the thought of it, and she dropped her gaze to his lips in a desperate attempt to hide her thoughts.
Naruto, arm tucked firmly underneath her, locking her to him, was also very aware that something had changed.
This wasn't like when they were children, tussling in a match. Or when he had to drag her home on his back after failed missions.
He always held back with her, forced himself to only think of her as his teammate, no matter what else he wanted. But this time, it felt different. She felt different.
The warmth of her legs, wrapping snugly around him so he would have less to carry. The softness of her body as it curled into his side, minimizing their target size. The long arms thrown around his neck, trusting him and wanting to ease the burden. Naruto's eyes were full of her pale skin. And even the smallest breath carried that faint scent of her, that heady mix of sweat and that something else, something that was distinctly her, warm and sweet, something that smelled like home. He breathed in deeply.
"Sakura," he said her name, his voice close and intimate, his breath ghosting over the tops of her cheeks. There was something entirely different about the way he said her name too.
Sakura dared to glance back up. He pinned her with the same dark expression for a moment, then tore his eyes away to look up the line of clones.
She silently studied his profile. It seemed he was preparing for their ascent, but he gave no signal to the clones, nor did he receive any. No, he was clearly still working through something. Something that had to do with her. Sakura swallowed reflexively and waited.
At length, Naruto turned back to her, his face even closer now. He seemed to have come to some decision.
But he didn't look in her eyes. Instead, he let his half-lidded gaze slip down her face, taking her in. Her dark eyelashes were impossibly fine, yet curled up impishly at the corners. Her pale cheeks were lightly sun-kissed with freckles, so faint he knew no one else had been close enough to appreciate them. Her mouth was still beautiful and pink, as it always was, but the subtle chapping of skin bore silent testament to the ordeal she'd just survived.
That tugged at him. It was the possessive feeling that made him feel like he'd been the one blown off that cliff just by watching her. He could only look on with horror as her body arced into the air then disappeared into the cloud of rocks and dust. He felt like his legs were made of lead. He couldn't move fast enough. And the sucker punch he took in the melee didn't help matters any.
But he recovered quickly. He grabbed his opponent's neck and jerked him to the ground. Grinding his boot into the guy's back, Naruto launched off him and into the air. Blurring through the hand signs to make a clone, Naruto dove over the edge of the cliff, knowing the line of clones popping into existence above him would keep him safe while he raced to pluck Sakura from the falling rocks.
And then he saw her, panting hard, clinging to a gnarled root that stuck out like a stray thread on the expanse of rock. She was scared, shaken, but she was still alive. And her lips were chapped because of it.
That possessive urge to claim her lips, claim her and never let her go, was nearly overpowering. And utterly out-of-place. Though he'd like to give in to the moment, they were still in danger. That hell still waited for them at the top of the cliff.
What nonsense had she said when he'd gotten to her? Something about being Hokage? His dreams? He shook his head once.
She should know by now that he'd go to any length to keep her safe. If she went off a cliff, then he'd be right behind her. She should never, ever doubt it.
More than anything, she needed to know how precious she was to him. If she thought being Hokage was his only goal, then she was sorely mistaken.
"Sakura," he said, voice darkening. "I have other dreams too."
Sakura could only blink as his breath fanned over her slightly parted lips. She heard what he'd said, felt his low voice reverberate in her chest. And she caught the look in his eyes. She was wrong — it wasn't fury, it was heat that was restrained there. But the ridiculous quivering feeling in her stomach rendered her incapable of speech.
Naruto closed his eyes for an instant, then recovering himself, he looked back up the line identical bodies. And with a single nod, they were being whisked straight back up the cliff wall.
Sakura never took her eyes from him. Pink hair whipped around her face, but she blinked it away.
His words shook her to the core. What had he meant? She watched him, barely breathing as her mind worked over the many possibilities. Was she one of his dreams, then? She came back to the same place. Her heart whispered that it must be so.
A swaying wind pushed her to hold on to him tighter. She flexed her legs around his midsection and buried her head in his neck to clear of her face of hair. These little movements would have been routine, but now they felt anything but. Every sense seemed to be alert to him.
Sakura felt his warmth in her limbs, this boy that she knew by heart. She'd never thought about Naruto any other way, but if she were to think of him in another light, as something more than her teammate, her best friend, her most precious person, it felt like slipping into something she'd always known was waiting there for her.
The movement from her was a surprise. He hadn't meant to give any of his feelings away. But she needed to know how he felt about her, whether she felt it or not. She was his most precious person.
It dawned on him that he wasn't so much hoisting her up as she was clinging to him, and not about to let go. A warm feeling unfurled in his chest. He flicked his gaze down to her pink head, nearly buried in his shoulder, and smiled in spite of their precarious situation.
Sakura didn't lift her head from that new place she'd found on his shoulder. She wondered about what other things about him were always there, waiting to be discovered. She moved to readjust her cheek on his collarbone, hair blowing across the front of his throat before catching at the edge of his shirt. Another sway of their bodies, and the curtain of soft pink hair slipped down inside the gaping collar.
Naruto's whole body went tense at the out-of-place silkiness. The thought of her hair on his bare chest — even the very top of it — was a maddening intimacy. It made him feel exposed. Naruto forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand and tightened his grip on the clone.
Softly nuzzling his neck, Sakura surreptitiously breathed in his scent. The secret puffs of breath tickled his skin.
Letting a low chuckle thrum through his chest as he realized just what she was doing, Naruto relaxed a bit and rubbed his cheek against her head.
"How about we go for some ramen when this is all over?" he said, speaking into her hair, pushing his luck.
"I'd love that," Sakura said with a little laugh that pulsed across his throat. The quiver in her stomach returned.
It was ironic, she thought, that he could unnerve her now, in an entirely new way than when they were children. And she'd told him the truth. She wanted nothing else in the world than to do those things, rediscover this person she'd always known.
Somehow, she knew he'd come. He wouldn't let her down. She was never afraid. And it was how she knew he'd be Hokage one day. She knew it through and through.
Sakura tightened her fingers into the fabric of his shirt and wrapped her arms tighter around him. She pushed her face into his neck, nuzzling him undeniably now.
Naruto's torso tightened, as if holding his breath, and Sakura shifted her knees a bit, reflexively thinking she might be hurting him. She immediately blew out an embarrassed breath when she realized that she was reading his movements through her thighs and tried to scoot back from such close proximity.
But Naruto had other ideas. He'd come this far, he wasn't letting go. Instead he shifted his arm and pulled her fractionally closer. He flexed his arm along the curve of her bottom, and curled his fingers into the bend of her hip.
"Good. I'd love that, too," he said, daring to look at her, mouth tilting up into a warm smile.
She looked into his face, eyes glittering, cheeks flushed, all smiles and all for him. It took his breath away.
"Almost to the top, get ready," he willed himself to speak, still watching her, still smiling.
She leaned in and kissed his cheek. It was a sweet as she was. For all her tantalizing closeness, that was the one thing he wanted the most right now. To be sure. To be sure of her. He felt his skin cool when she pulled away to look back into his face. The voices and fighting were getting louder.
"Thank you," she said breathlessly. "I don't know what I'd do without you." She looked at him as if he was the only thing in the world. As if they weren't just cresting a cliff to reenter a tense battle.
But Naruto felt the same way. Like there was nothing else in the world but her.
"Tell me more on our date," he said, grinning roguishly.
He gave Sakura a hard push so she could lunge away from the cliff's edge. Then he flipped back to flat ground in the different direction. Both were instantly engaged.
Across the field he could hear her voice, dispatching any enemy who came across her path. He moved with speed too. Perhaps they both felt the same way, that they were anxious to get this skirmish over so they could pick up where they left off.