~ Cherish Me ~

~ Prologue ~

(AN) Well hello all you lovely people – it's been awhile.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, but I maintain my rights to fantasize

"This is boring as fuck."

Sakura sighed for what had to be the sixteenth time in the last fifteen minutes. It had to be a record.

Absolutely had to be.

"It's a stakeout, Naruto," Sakura lectured, keeping her voice expertly calm, "if it's exciting, we're doing it wrong."

"So then why are we heeeeeeere?"

Why indeed? Sakura could only assume it had to do with the fact that they were relatively new Jounins and needed to go through the information gathering phase before they could move on to the assassination or theft phase. Clearly, Naruto had been hung up on the later and was thoroughly disappointed.

So disappointed, in fact, that he felt compelled to remind her every – she did the math quickly in her head – 0.9 minutes.

It wasn't like she was surprised; after having been on a team with Naruto since she was a pre-teen, she was well acquainted with his impatience and need for action. Now, at 18 years of age, there wasn't much of a difference in the man.

Except for the obvious fact that he had grown into a man, despite her many attempts – and Naruto's best child-like efforts – not to notice. He was tall and broad and well-built, having filled out over the years of better eating, better training, and an overall healthier lifestyle. If of course one could have a healthy lifestyle as a ninja who ate ramen at least twice a day, but she digressed.

"Maybe because Tsunade-shishou wants you to learn patience," Sakura quipped quietly as she adjusted her back against the bark of the tree she rested against, more than 100 feet up. Naruto sat perched on the branch adjacent to her, his back resting on the same trunk.

There was a large possibility Sakura was correct on that account, as well. Naruto still held on to his dream to become Hokage, and Tsunade still held on to her dream to retire while she was still relatively young. It seemed mutually beneficial to the blond powerhouse to train up Naruto for the job, though Naruto himself seemed woefully unaware of the goings-on.

"I can be patient..." Naruto groused, "It's just hard to be after I've been sitting in a frickin' tree for hours."

"It's been one hour, Naruto," Sakura laughed quietly in a soft exhale of breath, "maybe one and a half, tops."

"Uuuugh," Naruto moaned as he dramatically dropped his head back against the tree trunk, cursing quietly as the bark poked sharply at the back of his head.

Sakura couldn't help the smile that crossed her lips. Missions with Naruto certainly were never boring for her. Sai had supposedly joined ANBU – she didn't know for certain, since she didn't see much of him and when she did he wasn't one for conversing, let alone about secretive topics – which had resulted in Sakura and Naruto becoming more of a partnership than a team over the past year.

Tsunade swore up and down that she was looking for a replacement to fill Sai's spot, but Sakura was ever more suspicious that the woman hadn't even begun to search.

Admittedly, Sakura wasn't in too much of a rush herself to gain a new teammate. Over the past few years, Naruto and Sakura had grown closer, becoming good friends, great friends, and maybe, on occasion, when Naruto wasn't being a gigantic impatient idiot and impulsive dolt, best friends.

Currently, the twitchy and grumbling blond was hovering closer to 'dead friend' – or at least he would be if he couldn't learn to sit still. Though it was pitch black out, with the light of the moon unable to breach the thick foliage above them, anyone in the vicinity with the tiniest bit of skill would know they were there.

"Naruto," Sakura hissed as quietly as she could, tilting her head in his direction and catching his silhouette in her peripheral vision, "are you trying to get us both killed?"

There, that got his attention. Naruto halted his twitching, and the sound of leaves rustling in the cool night breeze was the only sound for the next 20 minutes.

The silence of the forest was broken by the sound of two sets of feet, crunching through the dry leaves on the forest floor.

The two Konoha shinobi were immediately alert, snapping out of their zen like state without a sound or movement. The mission was on, and Sakura had every confidence that she and Naruto would pull this off without a hitch. She didn't even waste a second concerning herself with Naruto – impatient and child-like though he may be, he was an expert and skilled shinobi. Sakura even wagered to guess that the charismatic blond didn't even realize how little stood between him and being the best in the village.

The footfalls came to a stop near the base of the tree, and Sakura made a mental note to find and congratulate whoever had been in charge of the intel for this operation.

"I don't like this," said a deep male voice, laced with a mixture of anger and fear, "anyone could be listening."

"Don't be a fool," said another, more confident voice, "there's not a soul out here. We're in the middle of the forest on the outskirts of the country; there ain't no one here to overhear."

"That's what we're supposed to think," the nervous man said ominously, "but these parts are roaming with shinobi. I know it, I've heard the tales."

"Hah," the confident man said condescendingly, "you're a fool, believing that. Those are just stories the Brothers make up to cover their own asses when they fail."

Sakura resisted the urge to shake her head. Confident, uneducated people were far more dangerous than one could even begin to imagine. The nervous man, who Sakura hereby dubbed Smart Guy, had the right idea.

"Fine," Smart Guy conceded, and Sakura could picture him continuing to shift around nervously as she listened to the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. "Let's just get this over with real quick, okay?"

"Whatever suits you, chicken shit."

God, that guy was a dirtbag, Sakura thought as she continued listening to their conversation, waiting for that vital piece of information they were waiting to be said.

"The trade'll take place in a fortnight," Dirtbag said, "just outside the Port City. We'll be rich, and the cargo will no longer be our problem. Easiest thing you've ever done."

There. That was all the information they needed. After the two men finished their talk, Sakura and Naruto would be able to have a well deserved stretch, head back to Konoha, and debrief the Hokage and her council.

"The fuck? I thought this was going down in a matter of days?" Smart Guy's nerves were escalating again.

"The situation changed, asswipe. You gotta problem with that or should I go ahead and cut you out of the deal?"

"Fuck you," Smart Guy bit back, his voice rising, "I can wait the fortnight. I'll meet you at the rendezvous point on the way to Port City."

The two men crushed the leaves beneath their feet once more as they began to head back in the direction they came.

That was before the bushes just several feet away from the men began to rustle, and the snap of a twig seemed to echo like a gong.


Crazy Mc-Losing-His-Shit went from zero-to-sixty on the full-scale panic attack and Naruto just knew this wasn't going to end well.

Dick Head Extraordinaire proved he was just as useless as his self-preservation skills, choosing to swear foully instead of take out his sword and defend himself.

It was an animal in that bush; Naruto just didn't know what animal. He had been quietly hoping it was a bunny rabbit, snoozing away, but it was just his luck that it would be something bigger.

Last he checked, bunnies didn't snap small branches.

Or snarl – he could definitely pick up on some snarling over the raucous the two bandits were making. Naruto could feel Sakura tensing up on the branch next to him, confirming his suspicion that things were about to get just a bit more complicated.

Ever so slowly, Naruto popped open the top of his weapons case on his thigh and quietly extracted a kunai, just in case.

In less than a second, a mid-sized wolf launched itself out of the brush, teeth bared and saliva dripping from its jaw. On any other day, Naruto probably would have described the beast as cool and the situation that was about to ensue as sweet justice, but right now it was just going to go down as the most inconvenient act of nature ever.

He didn't just sit in a tree for hours – Sakura's proclamation that it was only just over an hour was irrelevant – to have a wolf's appetite for dirty man flesh fuck everything up and blow this mission for him and Sakura.

This needed to go off without a hitch if he ever wanted to get out of the information gathering gig.

The bandits apparently didn't know whether to shit or go blind. Finally, Crazy Mc-Losing-His-Shit decided the best course of action was to run like hell, and Dick Head Extraordinaire followed suit.

The wolf took off in pursuit of his late night snack, but shooting Sakura a quick glance, Naruto knew that this was an acceptable outcome.

The wolf wasn't a big one, and it was probably out on one of its first real hunts. The bandits had an almost perfect chance of escaping their single pursuer if they could run fast or remember that they had a sword and dagger strapped to their hips. Idiots.

What they wouldn't be able to manage was if the rest of the pack caught up with them.

Swinging down from the tree and landing quietly on the ground, Naruto sent out a pulse of chakra, attempting to draw the nearby pack into the glade.

It took only moments before a much larger wolf, with a thick grey coat, launched out into the clearing flanked by three more wolves.

Grinning, Naruto crouched low and erupted into a chorus of snarls of his own as his clones began to pop up around him. Excited to finally get to do something other than sit around on his ass, bored out of his mind, Naruto set his copies loose on the wolves.

In no time flat, the wolves were subdued beneath of a sea of orange, black and grinning.

A flash of pink landed on the ground beside him, and Naruto shot Sakura a grin of his own.

Even after a full day's journey and a million hours spent sitting in a tree, Haruno Sakura was still the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on. He hadn't thought it was possible for her to get more beautiful, but at 18 years old, she was even more jaw-droppingly gorgeous to him.

She was also the most bad-ass kunoichi he'd ever had the decency to be scared shitless of and head-over-heels in love with simultaneously.

Uzumaki Naruto had a dream, and that was to become Hokage and win this fair maiden's heart, in no particular order.

Both of which were still pending, but that didn't mean he wasn't working on it.

Sakura approached the pack of subdued wolves and, one by one, gently touched each of them on the neck. It was some freaky weird medic trick that did weird things to weird places and put people to sleep. Naruto didn't know too much about it, other than the fact that it was cool and buckets of useful.

"They'll be out for awhile," Sakura said as she came back to stand beside him, her voice soft and eyes bright now that the light of the moon could reach them out in the glade.

Fuck, she was pretty.

"So what do you suppose we do about Crazy Mc –" Naruto trailed off and instead chose to flail an arm in the general direction the two bandits took off in, figuring his nicknames wouldn't be well received.

"Smart Guy and Dirtbag?"

"Yeah, them."

"I think they can handle themselves," Sakura answered, pushing a stray lock of hair back behind her ear, "We need to head back to Konoha. We can swing by their general direction on our way, just to make sure."

Nodding his agreement, Naruto slipped his kunai back into his pouch and secured the cover.

In moments, the Konoha shinobi were back up in the tree tops, en route to check on the lucky bandits who had, finally, remembered who they were and had drawn their weapons. More sad for the young wolf than they were happy that the bandits survived to die another day – or fortnight, as Naruto figured the case would be – they set their course for Konoha.

(AN) The beginning of the prequel to Captivate Me, here by popular demand :) I don't mean to scare anybody, but I didn't outline this story. All I have is the history for the two that I concocted in my head for Captivate Me and a few key situations that were alluded to. Therefore, getting from point A to point B is going to be an adventure for all of us!

Slot me a review, if you'd be so kind?