Nobody had ever managed to take her breath away quite like Sasuke. Probably, nobody ever would.

He'd done it so many ways in her life: clapping a hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming in their mischief in their younger years, catching her when she fell, suffocating the life out of her against a jagged rock.

But nothing compared to the way she stopped breathing when he emerged over the edge of the horizon.

She can't have claimed to have noticed it first, and there was nothing romanticized about the way her form was slick with sweat, her hair matted with dirt and blood, and the power of exhilaration in her veins.

It would be too much to say that their eyes met in a passionate burst of love.

If anything, it was a struggle to pick out the hawk against the late afternoon blistering sun, and tipping her head back she was surer that she was delirious from dehydration than actually seeing him. The sun was too bright, her eyes were too weak, and she was too hopeful.

But as he leapt off of the bird and landed in a crouch before straightening out of it, there was no way a hallucination could be this real. No, this was reality, and this wasn't how she thought it was going to be at all.

She wasn't sure how he'd changed, but there was something different about him.

Naruto's hand was in hers, and she didn't know when it had gotten there, but the wound up tension in her lungs was expelled within seconds. A team, both of them were, until the very end.

It would be too much to say that time had stopped. It would be too much to say that the world had frozen around them because not only would that be unrealistic it would be incredibly unwise.

But something had stopped, and maybe it was her heart.

"Why are you here?" the words were out of her mouth before she could control them, and she never thought it would be like this.

She thought he would have attacked before she spoke, killed before she felt, reduced himself to ashes before together they could try to save him again.

But something had changed in him and it wasn't his height or the lessening of baby fat or the evidence that they'd all grown under the tensions of a war. It wasn't the scars in his skin or the hardened gaze of his eyes. Sometimes, she supposed, changes were more than skin deep.

"Because those who don't take care of their friends are less than trash."

Her breath caught in her throat, and Naruto's hand tightened in hers.

Nobody would ever manage to take her breath away quite like Sasuke.




notes: for les, title and summary creator extraordinaire. FOR CHAPTER 627 BECAUSE I AM SO PROUD.