A/N: Written for the NaruSaku contest at Heaven & Earth. This is my first time ever writing this pairing, so I apologize if it's so horrendous that it makes your brain melt.
This story takes place shortly before Sasuke leaves the village, so Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke are 12/13.
The Season When Things Die
"It's cold," Naruto whined.
"Tuck in your scarf," Sakura replied unsympathetically. She glanced over at Sasuke, who had his scarf dangling carelessly out of his pants. She felt deflated.
"They are warm," Kakashi said thoughtfully. He had his own wrapped around his face. In addition to his usual mask, it gave his words a heavy muffled overtone. Still, Sakura brightened a little.
During one of her artistic pursuits, Sakura had taken up knitting. She'd read in a magazine somewhere that men liked women who could create their own clothing. It had also suggested the possibility of knit underwear as a sexy alternative to lace, but Sakura was horrified by the pictures and quickly turned the page. Regardless, the next day she bought some yarn, a pair of needles, and an instructional book.
She'd originally began with a kunai holder with intent of giving her creation to Sasuke in a fuzzy expression of her undying love. But she quickly learned that was too difficult, and instead moved onto a scarf. One day Naruto had spotted the knitting in her room when he'd went to fetch her for a mission and promptly demanded for one of his own. She'd settled on making one for each member of Team 7. They had come out a little uneven, and she'd run out of wool near the end, so she had to switch to a scratchy synthetic yarn, but all things considered she was proud. She'd felt absolute joy when she passed her lovingly-made creation to Sasuke, giving him the best of the bunch. She gave Kakashi his, wrapped her own around her neck, and given the one that she'd messed up on partway through to Naruto. Consequently, his was significantly shorter than the others.
He seemed to like it nonetheless. At her words, he tucked it in, although he continued to look upset.
The group walked back toward the village after an uneventful day of training. It was autumn, and Kakashi had been drilling them on their cloaking techniques, insisting that they take the changing climate into consideration. The air had begun to develop a wintery snap, but Sakura didn't think that it was cold yet. She thought that Naruto was just sulking because Sasuke had effortlessly passed every test while he got a lecture from Kakashi.
"I think it's nice outside," Kakashi said absent-mindedly. Sakura had to agree with him. Fall was in full bloom, and the normally green village was bursting with reds, yellows, and oranges.
Naruto scowled. "It's cold," he repeated.
"If you can't handle this," Sasuke said icily, "then how do you expect to fight in
the winter, dobe?"
Naruto flushed an indignant red. "Shut up!" he yelled, lunging at Sasuke. Sakura gasped, but Sasuke avoided him easily. The group ground to a stop. Naruto balled his fist and kicked the ground. Sasuke smirked defiantly. His hands were still firmly in his pockets. Sakura thought that made him look very cool. She gazed off dreamily.
Naruto attempted to look stoically indifferent, but failed miserably. He eyed Sasuke angrily. Suddenly a large smile spread across his face. "Sasuke-kun," Naruto said evily, "you're bleeding."
Sakura snapped to attention. Indeed, a line of blood was trickling down his nose and onto his chin. She gasped and then immediately rounded on Naruto. "You idiot! You've maimed him!"
Naruto flushed, "Hey, I didn't even land a hit on him!"
"Settle down..." Kakashi said in bored voice. During the fight, he'd pulled out his book and was already sufficiently detached.
Sakura turned to Sasuke instead. "Are you ok Sasuke-kun?" She asked, her voice dripping with motherly concern. Sasuke had swiped the back of his hand under his nose and it was streaked with blood. He'd apparently been unable to find a tissue, and so he'd wiped it off on his scarf. He now had his nose firmly pinched and head slightly elevated, looking absolutely livid. "Do you want me to take a look?" Sakura continued, advancing on him.
"Doh," he said nasally. Naruto burst into laughter.
"I should take him to the hospital," Sakura replied, unperturbed.
"Doh," Sasuke repeated, "I just hab…" he scowled at the sky and mumbled, "allerdies."
Naruto lost it completely. He clutched his sides and doubled over in laughter. Sasuke cast him a scalding look. Sakura looked like she was ready to murder Naruto.
"I'be leabing," Sasuke huffed with as much dignity as he could muster. This only served to fuel Naruto's laughter. Sasuke's shoulders hunched as he stomped off.
"Sasuke-kun, wait!" Sakura called but Sasuke ignored her. She looked at his retreating form sadly. Then she rounded on Naruto.
"You're a jerk," she screamed, bonking him on the head. Naruto's laughter ended abruptly as he let out a large yelp. He looked up pitifully.
"I'm sorry Sakura-chan," Naruto moaned, rubbing his head.
"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to! Sasuke-kun needs our help."
Naruto's mouth dropped open incredulously. "Why? It's only allergies!"
Sakura turned to him and put her hands on her hips. She pulled herself to her full height and tried her best to look sufficiently intimidating. "He's our teammate," she said commandingly, "and teammates help each other."
Naruto opened his mouth to protest, but catching eye of her taunt fists he frowned and pouted. "I just want a new mission instead." he whined.
"Great idea." Kakashi said suddenly. Sakura and Naruto both looked up. Sakura had completely forgotten that he was there. "That can be your new mission, find a way to help Sasuke."
"What?" Naruto screamed. Sakura nodded.
"Come on Naruto-kun," Sakura said, dragging him by the arm like a rag doll. He feebly stared at the disappearing form of Kakashi. "We're going to the library."
"The library?" Naruto asked, horror-struck. He snapped back to life and stood up, untangling himself with difficulty from Sakura's vice-like grip. "Why don't we just go buy some medicine from the store?"
Sakura fixed a scandalized glare on Naruto, "Because that's the easy way out! We're going to the library to find a recipe to cure his allergies. We're not poisoning him with prepackaged garbage."
"I think it works just fine..." Naruto mumbled.
Sakura ignored him.
Naruto scowled and sat on the floor in a nook of the library, arms pressed against his chest and looking thoroughly miserable. Sakura bustled around him.
"Let's see," she said, tapping her index finger against her lips, "the medical dictionary is probably a good place to start."
She walked down the aisle, head swiveling, and spotted the imposing book resting on the shelf, just above her head. Sakura stood on the tips of her toes and made a grab for it, but her fingertips brushed uselessly against its based. She grunted and stretched her body out completely. She raised herself on the tip of her feet, willing her legs to grow. The book remained out of her reach. She panted and dropped down flat on her feet. Realizing there was a more obvious solution, she looked over her shoulder and called, "Naruto—" her voice died out as she saw that Naruto was staring, very intently, at her bum. Sakura felt a blush spread across her face. When he saw her looking, Naruto turned bright red and averted his eyes to the bookshelf, as though that was what he had been looking at the whole time.
She should have screamed at him. Her brain was begging her to tear him a new one. But instead, she felt the hot blush on her cheeks, too embarrassed to acknowledge it. She ignored it.
"I can't reach this book," she said in a business-like tone, purposefully avoiding his eyes, "bring that chair over here."
Naruto glanced at the chair, then back at her. "I can probably reach it."
"Probably not," she said, folding her arms over her chest, "I'm taller than you."
Naruto stood up and strode over to where she was standing. He grinned sharply. "Just watch me!" He stuck a hand up and grabbed for the book, but he made no further headway than she had. Sakura smirked triumphantly. Unperturbed, he dug the tip of his feet onto the bottommost shelf, just in front of the books, and hoisted himself up. With one hand, he pulled the book from the shelf.
"Here." he grunted, handing it to her. Her arms dropped under the weight and she nearly dropped it. She didn't want Naruto to know, so she grinned instead.
"Good." she said through gritted teeth. As quickly as she could, she shuffled toward a nearby table and dropped the book down with a deafening thud. Several heads turned in their direction. Sakura ignored them and flipped the book open with another thud. She pulled up a chair and sat down to read, quickly becoming engrossed. Naruto cautiously approached her table. He gingerly pulled out the chair next to her and cast a fearful glance at her face, worried that she would become mad. When Sakura didn't look up, he sat down. When she continued to ignore him, he grew bored and laid his head down on the table.
"Here we go!" She exclaimed suddenly. Naruto violently jerked awake. He tucked a hand under his chin and pretended to look fascinated. Sakura rolled her eyes. "This refers to a recipe, here. Now I just need to find a book that details how to make it…"
"You mean there's more reading?" he moaned.
"Why are you complaining? You haven't done anything!" She snapped. "Never mind." She stood up suddenly. "I'll be right back."
Naruto watched as she trotted off and disappeared behind some bookshelves. He sighed and let his chin drop down onto the table that sent pain shooting up his jaw line.
She returned after a few minutes with a scrap of paper in her hand. Ignoring Naruto, she scanned the wall of books, occasionally consulting the paper. After a while, she let out a triumphant sigh and pulled a thin book from the shelf. She returned to their table and opened it promptly.
Naruto watched her idly as she turned the pages rapidly. Her eyes lit up and she triumphantly pointed. "Found it!"
Naruto inched closer to her and stood up in his seat so that he could read the book. Sakura was very aware that his body was next to hers. Her face felt hot, but she prayed that she wasn't blushing.
"You're too close!" she moaned, "I can smell the noodles on your breath!"
"I had miso for lunch." he replied indignantly, "I wanted ramen, but I didn't have any left."
Sakura leaned away from him. "That doesn't mean that you still don't smell!"
"Well I didn't have time to shower! You dragged me here!"
"It's our mission!" She scoffed.
Naruto frowned. "No, you just want to help Sasuke-kun because you think that'll make him like you."
Sakura turned bright red. When did Naruto get so perceptive? Or had he always been that way and she hadn't noticed?
"What's so great about him anyway?" Naruto pouted.
"He's handsome, smart, and talented," she rattled off, "now go put this book back." She shoved the medical dictionary at him. She looked down determinedly at the book in her hands, pretending that she was actively reading it. Naruto hesitated for a few seconds before silently scooping up the heavy book and walking away.
He was right, of course. Sakura's interest in curing Sasuke had little to do with the Uchiha's well-being and more to do with the possible kiss-related reward she thought he might give her. She realized that it was foolish. Nothing she did seemed to have the effect on him that she wanted. But, still, it was too early to give up hope. They'd progressed to "friends" at least. Sakura thought he ought to consider a friend, anyway. He'd never explicitly said so. But he'd also drop dead before calling Naruto his friend and Sakura knew it was obvious that the two shared some sort of bond that she couldn't even begin to define.
She became distracted by the sounds of labored breathing and expletives being uttered. Gathering her resolve, Sakura swiveled around in her chair. Naruto was in the process of shoving the medical dictionary between two books with great difficulty. His face was screwed up in concentration and his two hands pushed the book unwillingly into place.
Sakura stormed over to him. When he heard her approaching, he stopped and fearfully attempted to look innocent.
"That's not where it goes." she pointed out.
"Really? I thought it was…" he said in an unconvincing tone.
Sakura frowned. She began tugging at the book. "I'll just do it, because, apparently, you can't do one simple thing—"
"It was a mistake!" Naruto replied angrily. He also began tugging at the book. "I can do it."
Their hands attacked each other as they both tugged on the firmly-wedged book. They were so intently glaring at each other that neither one noticed the books on either side shuddering. Naruto braced himself with his foot and gave an almighty tug. The book wrenched free into his grasp. "Ha—" he began triumphantly but was silenced as a wall of books came shuddering down. A few books hit his head and he leapt out of the way. Poor Sakura, however, had barely a moment's notice before books rained down upon her. She screamed and fell on her bottom, smacking it hard as a pile of books surrounded her. Naruto stared in horror. One last book dropped lazily from the shelf and landed open on her head, obscuring her face with pages.
There was a moment of stunned silence as Sakura remained immobile, possibly dead, under a pile of medicinal books and Naruto gaped in terror. Finally he found his voice.
"Ah! I'm sorry Sakura-chan!"
Her head whipped up so fast that he thought her neck had snapped. She screamed a swear so foul that it could strip the paint from a wall. She grabbed the nearest book and chucked it at his head.
"Ow!" He rubbed his head and then quickly ducked as another one went whizzing by his ear.
"How do you like it?" She shrieked. Her arms were a blur as she flung book after book in his direction.
Naruto dodged the onslaught of incoming books, narrowly missing a volume of chakra control techniques headed straight for his crotch. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he chanted steadily.
Sakura ignored him, consumed with unquenchable rage. Her hair stuck up in odd places and her eyes bulged, giving her a mad look. Gritting her teeth, she replied, "So help me, Naruto, I'm gonna-"
"What do you think you are doing?" a nasally voice shrieked. The spindly librarian had appeared, looking livid. Her short hair was streaked with grease and pushed sharply away from her pallid skin. She wore an unsightly black checkered suit that Sakura suspected was made long before she was born.
The librarian roared. Sakura shrunk back next to Naruto, terrified.
"You will pick up all these books," she commanded, a wad of spit flying from her lips, "and then leave this institution until you learn to behave."
"Y-yes sir," Naruto mumbled.
The librarian fixed an even deadlier stare on him. "You mean 'm'am'," she snorted.
Sakura bit her lip and trembled with laughter.
The librarian narrowed her beady eyes and pointed two fingers at them. "I will be watching you two," she squeaked ominously. With one more steely glance, she turned on her heel and waltzed back toward her desk.
The second the librarian's checkered pants disappeared from view, Sakura burst out into laughter. She put a hand to her forehead as tears stung her eyes. Naruto stared at her in confusion.
She breathed slowly, still giggling.
"I've never met anyone who could get people to hate them so much as easily as you can." She grinned affectionately.
"She shouldn't have her hair short if she's going to wear clothes like that." Naruto scoffed, trying to save face, "It's not my fault I thought she was a guy."
Sakura laughed and scooped a handful of books off the floor. She began putting them back on the shelf. "You're really funny," she said absent-mindedly. A second later she realized that it sounded too much like a compliment and she bit her lip in self-reprimand.
"Thanks." Naruto said earnestly.
"You're—you're welcome." she replied awkwardly.
Sakura continued to put the books away. She glanced at Naruto. He was helping her along by shoving books into the shelves regardless of their marking. She glanced back down at the book she was busy filing and said quietly, "You know, you've really improved."
Naruto brightened immediately. "I've been training every day." he said proudly.
"No, that's not what I mean. Well, you have been doing that too, but…" she trailed off. She wished that she hadn't opened her mouth, but Naruto was looking at her expectantly so she continued in the most matter-of-fact tone that she could muster, "There was a time that I couldn't stand to be around you. But now, spending time with you isn't…completely terrible." She determinedly stared at the books that she was putting away. Looking at him after saying something like that was unimaginable.
The silence seemed to stretch out for forever. Finally he asked quietly, "Almost as good as spending time with Sasuke?"
Sakura paused as she set a book on the shelf. Her hand was trembling. She angrily commanded it to stop, but it ignored her. "Yes," she whispered. She cleared her throat. "We're friends, ok?" she said louder.
"You and Sasuke?"
Sakura laughed. The awkwardness of the situation served to intensify the humor. "You are so stupid," she said. Forgetting her rule, she turned to look at Naruto.
He was grinningly slyly at her, standing a few feet away from her. Sakura eyed him shrewdly. It's true that he was nowhere near as handsome as Sasuke, but Naruto wasn't terrible-looking either. It's just that his grating personality dwarfed his outward appearance.
"I think this book goes over there." He pointed near where she was standing and shoved it in it's "place". His arm brushed against hers as he moved. He was way too close. Sakura normally would have pushed him away, but something stopped her this time. That same something was making her heart beat faster than it should be.
"To be honest Naruto, I like spending time with you more than I like spending time with Sasuke," she admitted softly. Immediately she regretted uttering these words. She looked up to see Naruto looking surprisingly pleased.
She flushed bright red. Without a word, Sakura turned around and ran out of the library. The librarian squawked at her as she passed, but Sakura ignored her. She wrenched open the door and fled out down the street.
Sakura was not looking forward to the next day when she would inevitably have to interact with Naruto. The rational part of her brain reminded her that she had nothing to be upset about—she hadn't done anything. They'd only talked. It was perfectly normal. Naruto probably thought nothing of it. But while she was busy convincing herself of this, the emotional part of her brain doubted the validity of that claim very much.
She readied herself and walked toward the bridge where the team was meeting. The air was slightly warmer than the day before, but a lazy wind cooled it. Sakura let herself admire the scenery as she passed. The village was so bright this time of year. She remembered reading once that the leaves changed color because they lost their ability to convert light into energy. She remembered thinking that sounded like death. But it was ironic, in her opinion, that something dying could look so beautiful while doing it. That was what fall was: the season when things died. But it made way for winter, which made way for spring, when something new would grow. Sakura sighed and continued walking.
She'd waited a little longer than normal to leave, and to her delight she saw that Naruto hadn't quite yet arrived yet. But Sasuke was already waiting.
"Hello Sasuke!" she said in a dreamy voice.
He nodded in acknowledgment. It was a little hard to tell with Sasuke, as his irritated expression was so similar to his usual expression, but Sakura gathered that he was still upset about his spontaneous bleeding yesterday. "Are you feeling better?" she asked sympathetically.
"Mmmn," he grumbled.
Sakura dropped the subject immediately. She crossed over to the railing of the bridge and looked down over the water. The vibrant fall leaves reflected in it, making the water look like it was on fire. Sakura glanced at Sasuke again. He wasn't wearing his scarf. But, then again, she wasn't wearing hers either.
The loud sound of thumping footsteps announced the arrival of Naruto. Sakura willed herself to be calm and put on the best casual smile that she could muster.
Naruto carried a plastic bag looped over his arm. "Sasuke," he jabbed his head in his direction. The other boy raised an eyebrow apathetically. "Here." He thrust the bag at his face. Sasuke grabbed it with a dubious expression. "Sakura made some medicine for your whatever, but she left it at my house by mistake."
Sakura felt her stomach drop. A strange and unwelcome lump had appeared in her throat that made it hard to swallow. Before she could think she strode over to where Naruto was standing and wrapped her arms around him. Perhaps not knowing what to do, Naruto remained stiff and a large blush had overtaken his cheeks. But Sakura didn't mind. Something rough pressed against her cheek and she realized with a start that Naruto was wearing her scarf. She pulled away and smiled.
"Thanks, Naruto," she grinned.
His face was bright pink. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
"Thanks as well," Sasuke mumbled.
Sakura turned to him briefly. "You're welcome," she said. She turned back to Naruto and grinned. Suddenly she felt very giddy.
"I'm glad to see we're all getting along today," a voice above them said. The three of them looked up to see Kakashi standing on the railing of the bridge, reading his novel. He had an uncanny ability to appear and disappear when Sakura wasn't paying attention. He hopped down. "I think we need to do more camouflage training today. You're not where you should be." His lone eye drifted in Naruto's direction before returning to his book.
Naruto scowled and crossed his arms. "It's too cold for training," he moaned.