Disclaimer: I do not claim to own these characters.
by Blue Jeans
Sakura imagined many firsts with Sasuke:
A cool spring day and his hand in hers. The dusty street of their hometown and a bright, white parasol. The cotton dress she'd wear too early, leaving her a little chilly but the prettiest girl in town. The heat of his fingers tightening around her own as they take their first steps together.
A summer evening in a pretty yukata that compliments her hair and eyes. The first time she will catch him blushing at the sight of her, visible even under the dim lantern lights. The breath she catches in her throat when she tugs on his haori sleeve for walking too fast. His eyes meeting her own as fireworks explode overhead.
A fall afternoon. Red leaves the same red as the fan on his back. A red bridge over a cold black stream. The umbrella shaking a little as he leans in too close. And for the first time she can see their breath mingle in the chill. In the quiet grayness, he says, "Beautiful." so softly she almost does not hear. Her heart pounds in her chest and she's afraid to turn her head. So she pretends its her he means.
A chilly winter morning. She is laughing in surprise and delight at the first snow in years. There are not enough to even make one pathetic snow ball, so they settle on shoving each other down onto the ground. He pins her, trying to stuff snow into her shirt as she shrieks in protest. And even so, she's the first to still because it's the first time she'll hear him laugh.
But it is not Sasuke with whom these things occur. And it is not these girlish fantasies of firsts that she remembers now. They are passing moments, soft and fleeting, but always leaving an unshakeable impression that builds:
A chilly spring morning, rainy and grey. The dirt is everywhere, between her exposed toes and on her clothes. She's soaked through from the misty rain and chilly winds. She's also swearing up a storm as she struggles to cover the rare herbs she's planted the year before with plastic wrap.
Naruto's hand suddenly descends onto her own frozen fingers, reminding her to take that deep and calming breath that she's been holding in. His hands are surprisingly warm and her fingers tingle a little, trying to come back to life from the contact.
He looks amused, despite having blond hair plastered to his equally drenched and dirt-smudged face. His blue eyes appear a little duller because of the cloudy day. His eyelashes clump together and drip rain drops down his cheeks, often blinding him as the wind buffets their faces and threatens to snatch the plastic from their clutches.
But Sakura, for a moment, will forget the blinding rain and the chilling morning. Instead, it is a feeling she has no name for yet that she recalls: The first time she realizes that Naruto's hands have grown larger than her own.
A hot summer afternoon, the heat is unrelenting. Sakura remembers wishing for a cool breeze and not just the ineffectual shade she was hiding under. The sweat on her back makes the cotton shirt cling to her uncomfortably. It is during this immobility that she senses Naruto's approach. He cheerfully calls out to her but it is simply too much effort to turn so she grunts a greeting.
Of course, because of her own slothfulness, she ends up yelping at the cold glass suddenly pressed up against her heated cheek.
"Watermelon juice," Naruto offers helpfully with a grin while ignoring her baleful glare. Lucky for him, she's too grateful to do more than yank it out of his hand with lackluster force. Taking a sip, Sakura finds it so delicious that she audibly sighs, before returning Naruto's earlier smile.
"Your face is kind of red," she notices, still smiling lazily up at him as a pathetically warm breeze rustles the leaves overhead. It offers none of the comfort she wishes for and only manages to disrupt the shadows patterning Naruto's face. Sakura notices how odd he continues to look, and it's not long before he looks away. "Did you get a sunburn coming here?" she asks, more curious than concerned.
Sakura scoots over in the shade with the energy the cold juice gives her. She offers a spot for Naruto, only raising a brow when he hesitates for one awkward moment. "Perhaps," he lies unconvincingly, ending that moment as the buzz of the cicadas overhead washes over their silence. Then, as if defeated, he finally plops down a little too forcefully next to her. The sheepish look lingers and he continues to avoid her gaze. He follows this by rubbing a nervous hand over his stubble and then his mouth, like a man with something to hide.
Sakura blinks at his unusual reticence and, for the first time, realizes that Nartuo can be shy.
A still warm fall. With her favorite T-shirt on and a dusty parasol in hand, Sakura wonders the busy marketplace. She easily locates the figs freshly picked from the southernmost regions of the Land of Fire. A brown face and weather beaten hands greet her as she picks two baskets with glee.
"What are those?" Naruto inquires, appearing out of the blue as the old shopkeeper hands Sakura her bags.
"Figs, Naruto," Sakura answers matter-of-factly, a smirk quirking her lips. "Don't tell me you've never had one before."
Naruto scrunches his face up, and she knew right then he's never even heard of the fruit. "Who'd want to eat a vegetable that looks like that?" he retaliates huffily, as expected. He then crosses his arms over his chest in defiance, unaware how accurately he has already been judged.
Sakura, on the other hand, is torn between laughing at him and shaking her head in bewilderment. She chooses to walk over to a public fountain instead, dusting one plump fig off before giving it a rinse. "It's not a vegetable, Naruto." She corrects him, more amused than annoyed as he follows her detour. She takes a bite and smiles with satisfaction, letting the sweet and honeyed taste unravels on her tongue. "See? It's delicious." She assures him with a chewy grin before theatrically swallowing the delicious morsel in her mouth.
Naruto gives her a stubborn and skeptical look in response, unwilling to admit his fault. Sakura rolls her eyes at him and reaches into her bag for another. He can't judge it if he doesn't try, she reasons, and is entirely surprised when Naruto chooses that moment to lean over. He makes sure to steady her hand first with his own, and then takes an unusually large bite out of her half-eaten fig to make a point. For a moment, Sakura looses composure and can only watch Naruto with wide-eyed surprise as he chews.
"I guess it's... OK," Naruto finally concedes, scratching at his whiskers with a familiar pout for having to admit being wrong. It is only then he notices her unusual stillness. "Uh... Sakura-chan? You okay there?" Naruto asks. He is only beginning to realize that he has probably done something he shouldn't, but he still isn't sure what that was yet.
"I-I can't have this now," Sakura suddenly stutters out, a little too abruptly and too loudly to be ignored. Her delayed reply rattles Naruto but she ignores his surprised look and waves the remaining part of the fig at him in emphasis. To throw him off from focusing on her obvious nervousness, she proceeds to shove it into his mouth the moment he opens it to respond.
Now that her hand was free, Sakura turns and stalks away, too disturbed to lecture him on decorum. The figs bump against her hip and thigh unevenly as Sakura puts her freed hand over one burning cheek...
For the first time she discovers that Naruto had the power to make her heart skip a beat.
A cool and foggy winter night. Sakura thinks with contentment that this night isn't looking very different from any other and is grateful for the reprieve from her action-packed occupation. The dark shapes of distant trees and the shadowed rooftops of buildings stretch before her. The streetlights of Konoha glitters, forming small streams of gold and creating isolated islands of highlighted contours.
"Hi Sakura-chan," Naruto's voice makes her turn to greet him with a smile. "What are you doing up here?" he asks as he checks their surroundings before settling down.
"It's a lovely night," she tells him. For a long stretch of moments, they are silent. Sakura is the one to break that stillness first. She reaches one hand up to trace the faint milky way in the sky before pulling it back in wonder. "How do they do it?" she questions no one in particular.
Naruto follows her actions and gives her a quizzical, sidelong look. "Uh, what do you mean?" he inquires, rubbing the back of his neck in confusion.
Sakura, for a heartbeat, debates with herself on whether or not to elaborate. Naruto shifts uncomfortably next to her but waits her out. It's the silence that convinces Sakura to cave, even if only a little.
"When I was really young," Sakura begins, gathering her legs to her chest. "I thought it was really romantic how the cowherd and the weaver girl would meet once every year." She can't help but smile a sad, secretive smile about these memories. "They had a whole day where everyone celebrated their romance. A testament that even impossible things could become reality if you loved hard enough," Sakura pauses here and takes a moment to remember her childish self. She both longs for and regrets those naive and foolish hopes. "Now, I wonder, how the two could survive year after year, knowing only that for one day they could be together again. At the end of that day they'd have to say goodbye." Sakura's eyes mist, so she looks up and blinks the mist away. She wishes for the ignorance of not know what it meant to really miss someone - to spend day after day and year after year wishing for a reunion.
When she was young, she had wanted to be the child of a goddess, one who was gentle and beautiful and could weave the most beautiful of cloth. She dreamed of the vanity and beauty of such a status. Sakura, like many young girls her age, had thought it would make her brave and deserving. Surely then she would be considered strong and worthy of admiration, confident and untouchable by reproach. She used to imagine the cowherd to be as handsome and capable as Sasuke had been in her child's eyes. In her dreams, she believed that it would be so terribly romantic to be cast in such roles as legends.
Naruto's hand covers hers and brings her back to the present.
"She's worth the wait," he says earnestly and with the same conviction he's always had. "I think if a guy's lucky enough for the daughter of a goddess to love him, he'd be happy if she was happy." Naruto insists, for once his eyes darting away from her own when she turns to him in surprise.
For another long moment, Sakura isn't sure what to say or how to act. It all sounds too much like a confession. But, unlike all the other confessions that Naruto have already made in the past, this time he looks as if he didn't want to be rejected. He seemed, for the first time, vulnerable and exposed.
Naruto's hand slips away as he gathers his long legs to his chest, curling in on himself and mirroring Sakura's own posture. It looks wrong on him though, as if he was preparing for something harsh or dismissive from her. Sakura wonders if this was how she looked to him when she spoke about her childhood. Surprising even herself then and definitely him, Sakura leans over and rests her no-longer-as-wide forehead against his tensed shoulder. She feels his heat radiating off of his body, even if it isn't covering her hand anymore.
He was always so warm.
"You're an idiot," she tells him, when she really meant herself. Her breath puffs against his tensed shoulder and she thinks how strange that it's taken her so long to see Naruto, unselfish and sincere about the things she still did not have the courage to fully face. Beneath the boasting and bluster, the troublemaking and silliness, he always manages to surprise her with his honesty. It matters, even more because they are shinobi, how honest he always is with her.
Naruto stutters a half-formed excuse while pulling away, but stills when Sakura's fingers dig into his bicep. Laughing a little at herself, Sakura finally lifts her head to meet his slightly wounded expression. His eyes look black in the darkness, but she knows that they are as blue and bright beneath the shadows as they have always been under the light of the sun.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks, suddenly nervous and unsure at the unreadable look she's giving him. He tugs at her hand again as he tries to rise, showing his slightly grim profile when she doesn't reassure him with words. But Sakura tugs him back, this time with more force. Her action surprises a "Hey!" out of him as he lands none-too-softly back onto the roof tiles, cracking and rattling them beneath his weight.
Sakura doesn't bother to hide the mischief in her smile. Not this time. Instead she leans over to him on a cold winter's eve for another first.
Note: Yes, I know that writing in the present tense is generally frowned upon. And I'm sure I've slipped up on a tense or two when I did this... but for some reason, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. So frankly, I don't have an excuse. It was completely a conscious decision after I realized where the vignette was going.