Another black stone.
In an effort to become more Hokage-like and avoid arguments, Naruto came up with the idea of drawing colored rocks to choose roommates during missions. Sasuke only needed the smallest peek into his fist to know he'd drawn a black stone—again. It seemed his hand was magnetically drawn to the black stone. He pulled it every single time in the year he was back on duty with Team Seven.
"Okay. On three, open your hand."
Sasuke prayed to every god he knew that Sakura would pull a black stone from Naruto's little, orange pouch.
She always drew white.
Given a choice, Sasuke would choose no one for a roommate. Naruto was a cacophony of bodily noises, the worst of which drove Sasuke to drag a futon up to their inn's roof just to get some fresh air. Sai was no better. He recently discovered women and his hormones quickly washed away what little sense of propriety he had. Sakura always said Sai didn't know better, but Sasuke knew he didn't pull that shit when he roomed with Naruto or her.
A room to himself would've been his first choice—until three months ago.
Three months ago, Sasuke gaped as Sakura was washed over a cliff by a Suiton user's Giant Vortex. The vision of her slipping over the edge, his Sharingan noting her empty chakra tank, still made him shudder.
His only thought was Get to her! as his legs churned, hoping she'd managed to grab a root or rocky ledge. When he glanced over and saw a rapidly plummeting mop of pink, he jumped off the edge, flattening his arms against his sides in an effort to catch up.
A foot away, Sakura stopped flailing long enough to look up. His stomach swooped as her hands reached out to him. The thought of losing Sakura forever made him stretch until his shoulders burned with effort. When his fingertips finally touched hers, she crawled into his arms.
"Sasuke-kun," she whispered into his ear as she wrapped her arms and legs around him with constricting force. Relief made him close shaking arms around her, his eyes squeezing shut.
"How are we going to stop?"
"Stop?" His eyes shot open when he realized he hadn't gotten that far in his planning.
Panic blurred Sasuke's thoughts as he clutched Sakura tighter. A thousand jutsu raced through his head.
I just need one!
With a breath-taking oof, they landed on the back of an enormous, cawing ink bird that soared up the hillside. It fluttered to a landing before disappearing in a messy splat beside the rest of Team Seven.
Sasuke narrowed his eyes at Naruto's sarcastic tone—the years had not diluted their competitive natures one bit.
"Like you would've done better." He sat up and only then realized that Sakura was still clutching him, her head tucked into the crook of his neck. "Sakura?" he asked, concerned that she'd been hurt more then he knew.
Slowly, her grip on his shirt loosened, her legs went slack around his hips, and she moved her face in front of his.
It was strange and unexpected how the feeling came over him. He'd been this close to other women before, both in the line of duty and because of unwanted advances. A lifetime of goal-oriented self-discipline left Sasuke coldly indifferent. But with Sakura's ink-smeared lips an inch away from his and her twig-scratched arms and legs still twined around him, a tidal wave of desire like he'd never felt before flooded his body. For several moments, there was nothing else in the entire world—no mission, no teammates, no cliff. Just Sakura.
"Are you two going to kiss now?" asked Sai, crouching next to them with a pencil and sketchpad at the ready.
"Sai!" squeaked Sakura as she jumped up.
With her head turned away, she held a hand out to help Sasuke up. His body was on fire, the rush of desire still surging through him. He was about to use Sakura's outstretched hand to pull her back down to him, but she wiggled her fingers in expectation, snapping him back to reality. Sasuke grabbed her hand in what he hoped was a rough, friendly, non-enamored way and got to his feet.
Since then, every minute Sasuke spent away from Sakura, he recalled that moment when her body was close and her mouth was so ripe before him. In his daydreams, he didn't let her pull away. He smashed his lips to hers—his other teammates be damned.
Every minute he spent with Sakura became a series of self-appointed mini-missions where he came up with new and different ways to touch her, to be near her. Any excuse would do. He offered to deliver mission scrolls, brushing her fingers as he handed them over. He waited until she found her seat at Ichiraku's and then dashed for the chair beside her, grazing her knee with his whenever possible. He gave himself bonus points if he made her grin, laugh, or blush.
As excited as these glancing touches and soft smiles made him, they only fanned the flames. He needed to touch her more, with more purpose.
That's when he decided to attack.
During team spars, Sasuke always avoided Sakura. He justified this in his thoughts by remembering her incredible defense. This time, however, when he saw her even chakra humming in the distance, he raced toward her.
Her eyes widened when he broke through the tree line, lightning crackling in his hand, but she was quick to throw down a fist and raise a rock wall in his face. Chidori blasted the wall to pebbles and he darted up the tree she was hiding in. Sakura would never match his speed, though, and Sasuke's long fingers were soon wrapped around her ankle. He tugged her down as she yelped, shuddering when his palm skated along the firm muscle of her thigh.
The glow of chakra scalpels flaring in his face caused Sasuke to rear back. Sakura took the opportunity to spring from the branch, her eyes flashing like fire over her shoulder. Her feet barely touched the ground when the earth exploded beneath them, twisting and obstructing his path. Sasuke smirked—he would not be so easily denied.
He flash-stepped behind her, skimming his hand down her arm as she ran like a frightened rabbit. As fast as Sasuke was, Sakura was twice as smart and she slipped out of his grasp repeatedly. Each kiss of skin only multiplied his desire. He grabbed at her waist, tugged on her skirt, and trailed his fingers down the tempting curve at the small of her back. Her squeaking and squealing emboldened him. His nimble hands finally caught her, snagging her wrists behind her, yanking her against him.
"S-Sasuke—haa, haa—I yield," she panted, but he pulled her harder and she thumped against his chest. "I said I yield!" she shouted, turning to scowl at him.
The mud splashed across her shirt and face and the dried leaves crushed in disheveled pink caused an uncomfortable tug in his groin. He reached up and raked trembling fingers through her hair.
"O-oh," she stuttered, her eyes closing when his thumb dipped to trace her cheekbone.
"Ha, ha! Sakura lost!"
Naruto's voice boomed across the clearing as he and Sai stepped out from behind a tree.
Sakura jerked her hands out of Sasuke's grip and backed away. "Shut up, Naruto," she growled, rubbing her wrists.
Since then, she stayed close to Naruto or Sai during spars. His time alone with her was cut short.
His longing, however, would not fade. His every thought, waking or sleeping, was filled with Sakura. He dreamed of some time alone with her, so he could make his intentions clear—to let her know that, yes, he wanted desperately to touch every inch of her, but that day soaring over the cliff taught him something else. He couldn't live without her.
As he held another rock in his sweaty fist, Sasuke dredged up hope from the darkest recesses of his heart and pleaded with the fates for a break.
"One, two, THREE!"
Sasuke unfurled his fingers and waited to be clapped on the back by either Sai or Naruto. When silence followed Naruto's countdown, he turned toward the rest of Team Seven and found Naruto and Sai staring slack-jawed into Sakura's open palm. She was biting her lip until she flicked her eyes to his. Her mouth twitched with a tentative smile.
"Looks like we're roommates."
Sasuke was as stunned as his teammates.
A black stone.
In Sakura's hand.
He fought hard to keep a grin from his face. Losing his battle, Sasuke scooped up his pack, growling, "Let's go," as he shuffled up the stairs toward their room.
Sasuke wanted to vault up the stairs, but he heard Naruto and Sai whispering and snickering behind him.
Am I that obvious? he wondered. Then embarrassment gripped his stomach.
Did Sakura know how he felt?
The questions snowballed. Was that why she avoided him during spars? Did he make her uncomfortable? Was he too bold?
Sakura dropped back to chat cheerfully with Naruto, without the tiniest shred of distress on her face. She seemed to be completely at ease with the idea of rooming with Sasuke. He couldn't understand why she wasn't a tangle of anxious and excited nerves like he was. Until a chilling thought paralyzed him.
Did Sakura not love him anymore?
When Sasuke stumbled on the stairs, Sai threw him one of his creepy, searching looks.
I am being obvious! If Sai knows enough to question me, I must be flailing around like a lovesick moron.
Humiliation made Sasuke nauseous. Suddenly, the prospect of sharing a room with Sakura seemed dismal.
After what felt like a million miles, Sakura finally twisted the key in the lock of their door. Naruto and Sai lingered, covertly snorting and pointing. Sasuke studied his shoes until the door swung open and Sakura stepped inside. He glanced at his teammates only to find Naruto hugging himself, making a disgusting kissy face and Sai obscenely thrusting his hips—until Naruto saw what he was doing, put him in a headlock, and dragged him into their room.
Sasuke let out a shuddering sigh and marched into their room like he was heading to his doom. He toed off his shoes. Sakura's boots next to his made his ears burn. Eyes trained to the green tatami mats, Sasuke dropped his pack next to the table and sank into a chair. He could hear Sakura opening and closing drawers, emptying her pack. When he finally dared to lift his eyes to survey their room, he found his worst nightmare and most wicked fantasy had collided—there was only one bed.
"I'm going to take a shower. Could you tell Naruto and Sai to come over here for dinner so we can outline the mission plan? I'll be out in a few minutes."
Sasuke nodded stiffly, snapping his eyes down. He had no idea how he'd make it through this mission. Just the thought of her showering only a few feet away made his heart thump uncomfortably fast, never mind the fact that she'd be warm and drowsy, next to him in that bed. He dreamed of pulling her close, whispering all the things he wanted her to—
A cool hand on his cheek made Sasuke jump. His wide eyes connected with Sakura's.
"Sasuke? Are you feeling all right?" Her hand moved from his cheek to his forehead as his eyes darted away—only to land on the clothes in her hand. A tiny pair of red underwear on top made his face blaze with heat.
She knelt down in front of him. "You're burning up. I hope you're not getting sick."
"I'm not," he grumbled, leaping out of the chair and heading for the door.
"If you say so…"
Sasuke's stomach churned as he slipped back into his shoes. One side of him was comforted by the idea that Sakura cared whether or not he was okay. His other, more insecure side thought that, as captain, she didn't want a sick shinobi messing up her squad.
He threw open the door to his teammates' room to find Naruto sprawled out on the bed and Sai hailing a local girl from their window.
"What's up, jerk?"
"Sakura says she wants to have dinner together to go over plans. She'll be out of the shower soon."
"Oh, will she now?" Naruto said, wiggling his eyebrows. "That means she's over there right now…naked…doesn't it?"
Sasuke tried to appear bored while his heart raced. He forced a sigh and folded his arms. "Just make sure you and the other moron are there in fifteen minutes." He added idiot for good measure before he slammed the door shut behind him.
Standing in the empty hall, he knew he couldn't go back into their room…not with Sakura possibly…maybe…
Sasuke shook his head. Best not to think about it.
He ducked down to the main desk and ordered dinner, lingering over the menu and haunting the lobby for as long as possible. He had to make sure there was no chance he'd walk in on Sakura in her ridiculously small, red underwear.
Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Sasuke put his hand on the knob—and lurched forward when the door was pulled open from the other side. Before he could stop, he was thrown onto Sakura. His arm looped around her waist for balance, his face pressed into her shirt.
The voice was much deeper than he expected from Sakura. He didn't have time to contemplate that thought as heat seared his body—he just realized what was gently pillowing his face. Sasuke jerked upright, still clutching her hips.
Raising himself to eye level, he was caught off-guard by her bright smile.
Clutching Sakura a little tighter, Sasuke pulled her in closer. His eyes flicked from her softly smiling lips to the downturned fan of her night-black lashes.
"Uh, Sasuke? I think it's safe to let go of Sakura-chan now."
That same deep voice finally registered in Sasuke's love-addled brain—Naruto!
He whipped around to see his two other teammates turning a brilliant scarlet with suppressed laughter. Immediately releasing her, Sasuke side-stepped Sakura and stalked into their room. When their dinner arrived at that exact moment, Naruto and Sai were distracted and Sasuke thanked the gods for small favors.
I need to get it together, he thought. Slipping into the bathroom to throw some cold water on his face, he vowed to stay as far from Sakura as possible.
When he came back into the main room, Sasuke was pleased to see that dinner was laid out and Sai had taken the chair next to Sakura and Naruto the one directly across. He'd be on the completely opposite side of the table—incidental contact would be impossible.
Sasuke felt his muscles relax. I can do this.
Knock, knock, knock.
The only person still standing was Sasuke and, pressured by the silent command of his teammates' staring eyes, he answered the door with an annoyed grunt.
"HEY! Sai! Get your stinking hands off the ramen. I called it!"
In the hall stood a deeply bowing hotel employee.
"If I recall the rule you told me, I would need to see your name written on the food for possession to be legal. And I don't. Therefore…"
"Therefore, you better shut up and hand over the ramen, asshole!"
Extending a tea tray, the steward said, "So sorry. This was forgotten." The clatter of porcelain rang from the room behind him as Sasuke took hold of the tray, nodding and closing the door.
"You better shut up before I club the both of you!"
When Sasuke turned back to the table, he nearly dropped the tea. After Sakura threatened his moronic teammates, they'd scurried to the opposite side of the table—leaving only the chair right next to Sakura available. The teapot began to tremble.
I am a shinobi. I endure. I am a shinobi. I endure, Sasuke chanted in his head. He set the tray down near Sai and scooted his chair closer to the opposite end of the table. He couldn't risk their arms brushing or knees touching.
Sasuke concentrated on his meal and nodded along as they discussed the plan of attack for their mission. When Sakura spread out the map on the table, her fingertips grazed the back of his hand and he could feel his face glowing red. A snort from Sai had him scooting his chair further away. Braving a look at Sakura, he found her frowning at the map.
I do make her uncomfortable. That means she…doesn't... Sasuke couldn't bring himself to finish that thought.
His eyes darted up as Naruto tried to suggest breaking off into pairs for scouting. "Come on, Sakura-chan. I know you're captain, but this makes sense. Me and Sai could go one way," he jerked a thumb at his teammate, "and you and Sasuke could go another. We'd cover a lot more ground and—"
"No." Her voice was stern as she squinted her eyes dangerously at Naruto. "We have no idea how many enemies we're dealing with or their threat level. The team stays together."
It felt like something curled up inside Sasuke at Sakura's cold tone. He knew she was putting distance between them. Tentatively, he glanced at her as she rolled up the map and wondered what would happen if they scouted in pairs. His mind filled with a dark green forest dappled in sunlight, the scent of moss and pine, the sound of their ragged breathing as he pressed her against a woody trunk, the feeling of her soft skin as he kissed his way up her neck.
A poisonous thought intruded and Sasuke's eyes squeezed shut tightly. If the idiot suggested she pair with Sai, would she have said yes? The idea of anyone else holding Sakura blackened his mood.
Ripped from his thoughts, he found himself staring into Sakura's concerned eyes. When they flicked to his hand, Sasuke looked at his closed fist and saw his chopsticks snapped in two. At the sound of a stifled grunt, his head jerked up to his teammates. Sakura frowned again, Naruto bit his lip to hold back a guffaw, and Sai wore a fake smile that Sasuke wanted to punch right off his face.
"I…need a shower," he said, throwing down his broken chopsticks and heading for the bathroom, not daring to look back.
He grimaced at his obviousness. Sakura has to know how I feel now. His anger melted into humiliation. I make her uneasy. Heavyhearted, Sasuke stayed in the shower until his fingers wrinkled and the water ran cold. He calculated jutsu chakra ratios just to stay calm and focused on something other than the fact that he'd be lying next to Sakura all night.
When he finally left the bath, their room was tinted blue with moonlight. The glow cast deep shadows over Sakura's curled shape on the far side of their bed. He listened to her even breathing as he finished toweling his hair dry. Convinced that she was deeply asleep, he fished clothes from his pack. Sasuke glanced at her one more time before dropping his towel and stepping into pants.
Gently, gently, Sasuke glided beneath the covers and released a held breath. He successfully made it into bed without waking her. His muscles relaxed as he stared at the back of her head against the pillow, the strap of her nightgown slipping down her shoulder, the dip of the sheet at her waist.
Maybe this won't be so bad after all.
Quickly flipping over to prop herself up on her elbow, Sakura hovered above him. "Sasuke, what's wrong? I know something's bothering you. Please tell me."
He felt pinned to the mattress under her strong gaze. The bare skin of her arm pressed against his made blood rush to inconvenient places. All he could do was stare at her, his breath coming in rapid pants. He needed to do something, say something. His mind was a jumbled mess as she shifted, rubbing her soft skin against his. All he wanted to do was roll her over, push her nightgown up, and bury his face in her—
The whisper of that tender suffix jarred him from his wicked thoughts.
Sakura…so fragile. What am I thinking?
Berating himself for his behavior, Sasuke turned away from her, mumbling, "Nothing. I'm fine. Go to sleep."
a/n: So, WordPress is a lot more hard to manage than you would think! Plus, it doesn't help that I'm too lazy to keep things orderly. Hee, hee. Anyhoo, I'm publishing this story here, despite it being completed on my WP site.
A waterfall of bacon for Unicorn Paige for editing this and for always setting me straight. Thanks, Paige!