Naruto blinked. For a moment he looked stunned. Then he smiled broadly, and relaxed back onto his pillow with his left arm folding back behind his head. He tilted his head to look at her with those pearcing blue eyes of his, a satisfied smile still on his face.
"Sakura-chan, if you ever want to be with me, you don’t have to sneak around. "Even if I’m asleep, I’ll be glad to wake up for you." His eyes twinkled in the moonlight as he rubbed the fresh not forming on his forehead. "Just go easier on the wake-ups, okay?"
Sakura laughed. "I’ll do my best."
"So," Naruto said. "I’m awake now. Is there something you want to talk about?"
"Well," Sakura said thoughtfully. She got to her feet and walked back around the bed to plop back down in the small leather chair meant for visitors. "I didn’t really intend to . . ." Naruto frowned, just a little, and Sakura stopped herself from saying, "talk about anything important."
Naruto was ready to listen, and the way his attention tended to drift during the day,
Sakura figured this might be a rare opportunity to ask whatever she wanted. She decided to start with something simple.
"But I have been wondering something," she added quickly.
Naruto struggled to sit up again.
"Lay down! You’ll mess up the bandages," Sakura said as she slid the chair closer to the front end of the bed so he could see her better. "Anyway, back at our last battle. What did Hinata say to you, if I may ask, before she passed out?"
Naruto’s face drooped with sadness and worry.
"Hinata." Naruto’s eyes met Sakura’s again. "How is she?"
"She’s still in intensive care," Sakura said. "But Tsunade-sama is confident that she is stable now and out of danger."
Naruto nodded. His lips still tight with worry.
"It was nothing special," he said at last. "Why do you ask?"
"I’ve never seen you fight with so much power. I was so scared that the Kyuubi was releasing again. But it was your own power, Naruto. It was taming the kyuubi’s. I’ve been looking for my own way to help you, so . . .
Naruto sighed. "She said I could do it, that I could win. That she’s always believed in me, and . . ." Naruto paused, to scratch his head. He was clearly struggling with something. "She, ah . . . she said she loved me."
Sakura’s eyes went wide at the same time Naruto began to blush a little. She suddenly felt like her heart had been flash frozen, and it made her inhale sharply. At the same time, it all made sense, knowing the way Hinata acted around Naruto. For some reason, Sakura also felt a warmth for Hinata that she had never experienced before, as if they were suddenly kindred spirits. What was this feeling? Fear?
"And . . ." Sakura began carefully. "Do you . . . love her?"
"I-I’m still a little overwhelmed," said Naruto, stalling. "I never really thought about it. I mean, she’s very cute, and strong. I’ve always liked her, still . . ."
Sakura waited, hoping the interest on her face would encourage him to continue.
"Still, it was never like what you feel for Sasuke."
Sakura felt tension leave her shoulders as her whole spine slumped back into the chair. She closed her eyes. What was wrong with her?
There it was. Everything always came back down to Sasuke for them. Was that tramp right? Would Sasuke want to come back? She sighed.
"Naruto. I hope you never feel for anyone what I feel for Sasuke. To love in vain, it . . . it hurts too much. I always thought the pain would be worth it in the end,
but . . ."
Naruto reached for her with his left hand when he saw the tears billowing in her eyes, but he could not quite reach her face by reaching across his own body. Sakura let him take her hand.
"But I think . . .I wish . . .I wish I loved someone like you, Naruto.
Naruto smiled an understanding smile. Those eyes . . . she felt like they could see right through her, to an extent even greater than the Byakugan. She felt naked, exposed. She felt short of breath. And still Naruto just smiled at her. She resisted the urge to bolt from the room, and only because Naruto was holding her hand softly. She hadn’t really said anything at all. She could have meant anything by it, but Naruto understood. He always had.
"I love you too, Sakura-chan." he said.
Sakura’s heart leapt to her throat. She stammered, her mouth working soundlessly, searching for some reply . . . any reply. None came.
"Its okay, Sakura-chan," Naruto said. "I don’t expect anything. I know we are not meant to be together, but you don’t mind if I try asking for a date every now and again, do you?"
He grinned. It was his biggest, stupidest one in while, and it made something within Sakura snap.
She threw herself at him, lips first, and found her target. Her lips met his with enough force to pin his head to the pillow. Naruto never stood a chance as she thrust her tongue between his lips.
Naruto’s body went ridged as he barely managed an, "mmmph!" before Sakura’s kiss fully enveloped him. A moment later he relaxed, and she felt an arm slide across her shoulders and a hand cradle her neck as he pulled her closer and returned the kiss.
Sakura relished the moment, even as it suddenly became awkward. She realized that she needed to be less forceful, let him lead the dance at times. Every pass of his tongue made her shiver, the touch of his lips on hers warmed her. She reluctantly parted with him with a long, wet smack, and only because she needed to catch her breath.
"Wow," Naruto breathed. "That was much better than kissing Sasuke."
Sakura laughed. And kept laughing. She doubled over next to the bed and laughed so hard she could barely breath. Tears came to her eyes as she realized Naruto was laughing too, only more controlled. But it fueled her laughter, and try as she might she was unable to stop.
"Sakura chan, Shhhh! Shhhh! Now you are the one who is going to wake everyone up!"
"I-" Sakura gulped. "I had almost forgotten about that time! I was so . . .ha! ha! . . .I was so jealous of you!"
Sakura regained control of her breathing at last, and wiping her eyes, she stood up.
"Thank you, Naruto-kun. I haven’t laughed like that in a very long time."
Naruto smiled warmly. Then he looked serious again.
"What does this mean, Sakura-chan?" When Sakura offered no answer right away, he continued. "I mean, I know what I would like it to mean, but . . ."
Naruto looked away, and Sakura had an idea what he was about to say.
"What happens if, sorry, when Sasuke comes back?" she finished for him.
Naruto nodded. "And we will get him back, Sakura-chan."
Sakura knelt beside the bed again and took Naruto’s good hand in both of hers.
"I . . . I don’t know, Naruto. I’m sorry. Please be patient with me a little while longer."
"I understand," said Naruto. "And waiting is no problem, its just that . . ." Naruto was visually struggling with his next words, his eyes shifting from side to side. "For so long I’ve been resigned to just be your friend, but now, if I let myself love you, won’t I always just be the guy you had to settle for?"
Sakura was actually stung by that, and Naruto read it on her face, because he said,
"I’m sorry, Sakura-chan. I’m just scared of . . ."
"I know, Naruto. And I understand, I do. But if I give you my heart, you have it all. I don’t do things half-ass."
"I know." Naruto said, his eyes twinkling again.
"Just a little more time." Sakura assured him. "I just need some time to think. And . . . for what its worth, I think Sasuke wants us to be together."
Naruto’s eyes widened, and she knew he had remembered the last thing Sasuke had said to him. She kissed him goodnight, but on the forehead. Then she left without a word.
Later, back in her room, Sakura fell asleep with a new good memory.