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Something Good

Chapter Text

Sasuke Uchiha was an asshole.

It was universally agreed upon in the office (once everybody had gotten over the guy's pretty face) that on a bad day, he could be even worse than his brother. He was cold, unamused, and if he ever said more than two words to you, there was a good chance you were about to be flayed within an inch of your life.

Sasuke Uchiha, his boss of the last four years, was absolutely an asshole—

And Naruto was about to be late for work.

As if this day could get any fucking worse.


"Uzumaki."

He didn't need to raise his voice to make sure the man heard. From the way his body didn't tense at all—from the way it only sagged, instead—it came as no surprise.

"My office."

He didn't look behind him as he turned back. He did, however, leave the door open—open, for the man to follow; open, for him to close.

It wasn't the first time Naruto Uzumaki was late—and he was sure it wouldn't be the last. He had certainly never been this late, however. If the man wasn't such a consistently brilliant part of the team, he would be in far more danger—but, as it was, Sasuke couldn't even play with the idea of firing him.

Of course, he didn't need to know that.

Sasuke sat behind his desk, examining his nails as he waited for the excuses to come.

"Are you gonna fire me?"

Sasuke reeled back.

"What?"

"For being late." Naruto's eyes were dull—his voice quiet. It was such a far cry from the way the man usually looked that Sasuke found himself wondering if it was the same person at all. "Are you gonna fire me?"

"...No." The word escaped his mouth easily—automatically. His mind couldn't seem to move past the way that Naruto stood as if the weight of the world itself was on his shoulders, dragging him down inch by inch—the way his gaze focused somewhere past Sasuke, even as his eyes seemed to be on him—

And there was no spark of happiness in response to Sasuke's answer—no relief. Just...nothing. Naruto simply nodded.

"Alright. I'll be at my desk."

And then he was gone, leaving Sasuke to do little else but blink at the closed door.

What the hell had that been?


Naruto pulled his chair closer to his desk, straining to keep himself sitting up. He felt so...hollow. So heavy. As if if he let himself give in, if only for a moment, he would just collapse on the spot—

But, at least, Sasuke (Mr. Uchiha, whatever) didn't fire him. That was something.

Even though he couldn't bring himself to feel what he should—some happiness, maybe, or relief, at the very least—he knew it was a good thing. A job meant money and money meant food and a place to live, and all of those were good things—he knew that.

He just wished he could actually feel that.

He let out a soft sigh, eyeing the work in front of him. He had work to do. He had a crap ton of work to do, and he hadn't even begun to look at his emails. He was sure there would be more. More work—more things to do—more things to think about—

Well, maybe that was a good thing, too.

If he could just throw himself into the work—if he could just focus on that, and not think about—not think about how—how his guardian, his only family left, the closest thing he had ever even had to family to begin with—

He hissed a breath out through his teeth, viciously fighting back the burning in his eyes—simultaneously with the lump in his throat—

He had work to do.


"Haruno."

"Ah, yes, Mr. Uchiha!" The woman jerked in place, trotting over to his office as he left the entrance.

He waited until she shut the door.

"Ah—um—if this is about the—"

"Uzumaki," he interrupted her. "What's wrong with him?"

Something in her eyes changed.

"I—um." Her back straightened, and she set her mouth into a firm line. "With all due respect, Mr. Uchiha, it isn't any of your business."

He would almost be impressed with her resolve—if he weren't so annoyed.

"Is it not?" He eyed her, tapping his fingers along the wood of his desk. "He was late this morning."

He paused, watching the woman's eyes widen.

"He gave me no reason for his tardiness. Are you telling me the same?"

Her mouth open and shut.

"Haruno."

"I—" she heaved out a breath, swaying on her feet, "there is a reason. It's—just—really not my place to tell you it."

"I have no reason to believe you if you don't."

"It's—Mr. Uchiha, please—"

"I am also perfectly capable of being discreet," he paused for a moment, "and it is my business if one of my employees is...genuinely unwell."

"...Alright." She sighed. "Alright—okay—I'll—" she glanced towards the door, as if at any minute the blond might come bursting through it, "I'll just—someone close to him passed away. It happened—well, he—he found out about it last night. Just—"

"Why is he at work?" Sasuke could hardly think of a better reason not to be here. Why hadn't he just told him—

"I don't know. He's been…"

She shook her head, stepping back towards the door. Sasuke sighed quietly.

"Alright. Dismissed."


He couldn't focus. He could see the words—see the time, ticking by—but his mind just couldn't latch on to any of it. He just felt so…

Numb.

"Uzumaki."

Naruto turned towards the voice.

"The reports aren't—"

"Do you need to go home?"

Naruto blinked. Sasuke only leaned against the makeshift wall of his cubicle, watching him.

"I—I don't." Naruto straightened. "I'm fine. Sir."

Sasuke watched him for a moment longer. Naruto fought the urge to shift under the gaze.

"I will be in my office today. I will not be leaving until after six." He looked away, crossing his arms. "My brother will not be in at all."

He looked back at Naruto.

"Should you not happen to be here, I will be none the wiser."

And then he was gone, Naruto blinking after his back.


True to his word, Sasuke locked himself in his office until it was well past six. He knew his workers well enough to know that, if left to their own devices, they would leave the moment the clock struck five, which would let Sasuke avoid any questions—comments—concerns…

He sighed.

He hoped Naruto would be long gone, by now. At the very least, it would mean that the blond had had a thought—made a decision—stood up and decided to do something beyond sitting there, like he had been, eyes void of every aspect Sasuke had come to know as his personality...

He closed his laptop, letting out a breath.

If only the man hadn't been so obviously different. If only Sasuke hadn't been bothered so much—why had he been bothered so much

It didn't matter.

Naruto would be gone, by now, and Sasuke could worry about this tomorrow.

Or—not that he was worried. It was none of his business.

Naruto's hollow eyes flashed in his mind again, and Sasuke clenched his fist.

It was none of his business.


"You know—" Naruto sprung awake at the sound a voice—he spun around—

"Most employees, given permission to skip a day of work, would jump at the chance." Sasuke watched him, still in that same casual, leaning position—the one where it was as if he could judge your worth from just a glance—

Naruto blearily blinked at him, realizing that it was dark, now—and that he was still in the office—why was he still—

Oh.

He stared down at the grain that made up his desk.

It was as if he had woken up to a nightmare.

"I don't...want to go home," he said quietly—honestly. He didn't care either way if Sasuke knew. He didn't really care about anything right now.

He heard Sasuke sigh.

"Alright, let's go."

"...Go?"

"You can't sleep in the office, moron. Let's go."


He didn't know what had possessed him.

It had been in the spur of the moment (when Naruto's exhausted, dead eyes had blinked up at him) that Sasuke had decided that the blond needed company. That Naruto's I don't want to go home had really meant I don't want to be alone, and Sasuke had felt something surge through him, something telling him that that look—that statement—was far, far too familiar—

"Get in," he said quietly, opening the passenger door.

Naruto blinked.

"Your car won't be moved overnight." He looked away. "Get in before I change my mind."

Naruto (slowly, as if each movement was weighed down) moved up into the car. Sasuke watched him for a moment longer than he needed to before he finally closed the door.

He was going to regret this.


He was going to regret this.

Naruto watched as Sasuke (Mr. Uchiha, his boss) turned the steering wheel, eyes unwavering from the road—

He didn't know what had gotten into the guy.

He was an asshole. He should have been yelled at. Fired. Something. Not...this.

Naruto let out a quiet breath and looked away.

Somebody must have told him. It was the only real explanation. There was no way Sasuke would be acting like...this otherwise. It was weird. It was freaking him out. It was—

Distracting him.

He turned back to stare at the Uchiha, who was still obviously pretending not to notice him—

Sasuke was doing this on purpose.

...Huh.

Chapter Text

"Where are we?"

Naruto's voice was still quiet—still too...neutral for the man—but it was more than the dead, half-whisper of the rest of the day, at least.

"My apartment." Sasuke responded simply, turning off the ignition.

Naruto blinked at him again—that blank stare, with the barest hint of question—but he said nothing. He followed Sasuke out of the car quietly—slowly—

Passively. It was a word he would have never even dreamed of using to describe Naruto until today.

He hated it.

"Lock the door behind you," he sniped as Naruto made the motion to shut it, "or are you too useless to do even that?"

Naruto blinked at him in surprise—and then—there it was.

Annoyance.

"And here I was thinking you were less of a dickhead than I thought." Naruto pressed the lock down and gave Sasuke the weakest glare to date.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I am not responsible for your misconceptions."

He turned on his heel, making his way to unlock the door to the building.

If Naruto heard the noise of the car automatically locking behind them, he didn't comment on it.


It was official.

Naruto had no idea what was going on.

The car locked—automatically. It beeped when it did. There was no way Sasuke didn't know. So what the hell had that been?

He shook his head, letting out a breath. Well—he had never claimed to understand anything that went on in his boss' head, and he wasn't about to start now. Still, that had felt…

Sasuke held the elevator door open for him, intently staring at the buttons. After a moment, he switched his gaze to the floors.

"Quit staring at me, moron."

Naruto crossed his arms, leaning against the wall.

"Why? S'it bothering you?"

Sasuke's eyes met his.

"Yes." The word was slow—emphasized—as if he was speaking to an idiot. Naruto's anger immediately surged to life.

"Can you not go twenty seconds without being a fucking prick?"

"Depends on the amount of time you can go without irritating me into oblivion."

"Oh—you are—" He was so—so—infuriating, that stupid fucking casual smirk, as if nothing Naruto did could get through to him—

"Don't hurt yourself." Sasuke moved through the doors as they opened. "I'm sure your last remaining brain cell is struggling enough as it is."

Naruto barged after him.

"Oh yeah, 'cause you're such a fucking genius with your people skills," he snarled as Sasuke unlocked his door. "Who was it that convinced Hyuuga to work with you after you royally fucked it up?"

"Yes, I'm sure they were more than willing after they saw the idiot I'm forced to deal with—"

"I've been your best employee for two years straight!"

"An idiot of idiots," Sasuke deadpanned. "Congratulations."

Naruto heaved in a breath, rocking back on his heels.

"One of these days," he pointed at Sasuke, "I am going to kick your ass."

"One of these days," Sasuke removed his shoes, "I'm sure you'll try. Make yourself at home."

Naruto jerked in surprise, only now realizing that he had entered Sasuke's apartment. Or—Sasuke had let him in, really. Sasuke had invited him in. Honestly, what the fuck—

"Is an apartment that overwhelming to you?"

No, but the reminder of why he was here was.

He swallowed.

"I—" His voice started, but he had nothing else to say. Naruto looked down at his feet.

He heard Sasuke shift.

"Listen," he started, "you really don't have to do this. I know—I mean, I assume someone," he swallowed, looking away, "told you, but I'm—"

"If you say fine, I'm going to throw this at you." Sasuke casually held up a kettle—which he had apparently been filling. He still didn't look at Naruto. "Would you like me to take your coat?"

What the fuck alternate dimension had Naruto been transported to?

"You're making tea and offering to take my coat?" He stared at Sasuke, incredulous. "Are you okay?"

"Well, one of us ought to have a semblance of manners," Sasuke shifted past the sink—to the stove, Naruto assumed, "and considering you are still tracking dirt into my house, I assume it's too late for you."

Naruto kicked his shoes off onto the carpet out of spite.

"You've called me an idiot every other sentence since we got here," Naruto pointed out. "It's too late for you too."

"Only every other sentence?" Sasuke moved around the counters, rifling through a drawer for something. "I must be slipping. Take this," he passed a flyer to Naruto, "and pick what you'd like. I'm going to get changed."

And then he was gone, leaving Naruto to do little else but blink at the take-out menu in his hand. The take-out menu...

For ramen.

What the actual fuck?


Sasuke tapped his fingers on the dresser, debating whether or not he should offer Naruto a change of clothes as well. It was the polite thing to do—he knew that—but him and Naruto were far past politeness at this point. Or, well, they had never really been there in the first place.

Sasuke snorted.

At least it seemed to be throwing the man off—and he would take surprise (or annoyance, or anger) over those hollow eyes any day. And annoying him had been surprisingly effective...maybe a tad more enjoyable than it should have been.

Sasuke let out a breath.

Well, he could have his fun getting a rise out of the moron, for now. And when he inevitably annoyed him out of the apartment, then it wouldn't be his problem anymore.

That would work.

"Your kettle's boiling!" He heard Naruto's voice shout down the hall.

He sighed and grabbed a spare set of clothes.

Naruto had shifted to sit on the couch, he noticed—and taken off his shoes. And left them on the carpet. Sasuke bristled at the sight.

"Did you pick food?" He tossed the clothes in his face. That was for the shoes.

Naruto floundered for a moment before glaring at him.

"Yes, asshole—what—"

"You're welcome to stay in your dress clothes all night." Sasuke took the menu from him. "What did you choose?"

Naruto blinked down at the clothes in his lap. "I—uh—miso."

The first option. Hm.

Sasuke moved back to the kitchen, where his kettle was still whistling away. Naruto made no move to get changed—he only stood to lean over the counter.

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow at him.

"Can I help you?"

"You know ramen is my favourite food." It wasn't a question. Sasuke wasn't fazed.

"The entire office knows that." He poured the water into the teapot. "What's your point?"

"Um," he looked down at his hands—down at the countertop, "could we...not…?"

Sasuke gently put the kettle down, watching him.

"It's just—um," he saw Naruto swallow, "he and I—used to—"

He cut himself off, ducking his head down. Sasuke couldn't see his eyes, but he could see his lips, and he had never seen them quiver like that—

"What are your thoughts on spice?"

Naruto's head jerked up—eyes suspiciously bright, even as they only met Sasuke's for a second—

"...Spice?"

"Spicy food."

"Oh—um, yeah," he said quietly, nodding, "I'm—good with spice. I like it."

"Alright."


Naruto changed in the bathroom—which was just as neat as the rest of Sasuke's place. Naruto didn't know why he was surprised—the guy was meticulous in every aspect of work, so why wouldn't he be a perfectionist at home, too?

But Sasuke had picked him out comfy clothes, at least. More comfortable than the jeans he had changed into—really, were jeans any better than dress pants? Naruto didn't think so. These sweatpants, on the other hand…

He folded his clothes over his arm, adjusting the shirt on himself. He wasn't sure if it was Sasuke's laundry detergent or what, but this shirt...smelled like him. He hadn't even realized Sasuke had a smell until just now. What the hell.

Naruto shook his head, leaving the bathroom. Today was just—insane. Nothing made sense today. He didn't even know what to think. He didn't even have the energy to think. He looked up just in time to catch Sasuke looking him up and down—

"...What?"

Sasuke's eyes snapped up to his.

"You're wearing my shirt backwards." He turned away.

"Oh." Naruto frowned down at himself, pulling his arms in so he could twist the shirt around. He could have sworn...

"The food will be here in an hour."

"Oh—uh, yeah, that's fine." Naruto pulled the shirt down again. "What did you get?"

"You'll see."

"...You wanna make that sound less ominous?"

"Not particularly." Sasuke smirked to himself. Naruto rolled his eyes in response, turning away to rest his eyes on the opposite wall.

The silence settled into him.

It felt...wrong to do this. Every time he joked about something, his mind fiercely reminded him why he shouldn't be joking. Or smiling. Or feeling good. It felt like—betrayal, or something. Like guilt. He shouldn't be—

"Stop thinking so much," Sasuke's voice muddled through his thoughts, "before you hurt yourself."

Naruto didn't even have it in him to retaliate, this time. He just stared—eyes not really focusing on anything. Not really seeing anything. There was nothing to make him feel better—no way to reassure himself. No way to fix this, no way to reframe this—it was just—he was just—

"—maki—"

Naruto heaved in a trembling breath, buckling forwards—something twisting and awful clawing its way through his body—fuck, this hurt—he was gone, he was just gone, and there was so much, so much that Naruto would never—he would never—

He felt his body be pushed—he stumbled, uncaring as he fell—he didn't catch himself, but someone caught him, instead—

"—brea—"

He couldn't breathe—he couldn't breathe—his lungs were so swelled with pain that nothing could leave, nothing could enter—it spread up to his throat, stifling his voice even as he tried to cry out—

"—es, Naruto—"

He was gone, he was gone, he was gone, he was gone, he was—

"Naruto—look at me."

His eyes snapped open.

It was blurry—foggy—everything was spinning along the edges and Naruto wasn't sure what he was supposed to be looking at—he felt a pressure on his knee—

His gaze sharpened.

"Are you back?" Sasuke—kneeling, on the floor, between Naruto's legs—looked up at him. Naruto was on the couch, now, and Sasuke's eyes were rapidly darting between his, as if scanning him for an answer—

"I—" he heaved in a breath—and then another, because his chest was still swollen and aching—too full, and yet empty—

"Naruto?"

He swallowed, nodding. The movement shook free the tears he didn't know he had, and he sucked in another breath as the felt the drops fall onto his knee—one of them hit Sasuke's hand—

"Fuck, s-sorry." He wiped at his face, sniffing. Sasuke only moved past him, grabbing something off the back of the couch—

Oh. A tissue box.

He took it gratefully, burying his face into a tissue. Anything to not look at Sasuke right now. He still felt—fuck, he didn't even know what to feel, he—god, he—

He felt Sasuke's hand on his knee again.

"Stay with me." His voice was low and calm. Naruto hadn't even noticed the way his breathing had sped up until Sasuke slowed it down again.

He met his eyes, swallowing against the lump in his throat.

"This sucks," he breathed out, a soft, unhappy laugh colouring his voice.

"I know," Sasuke offered quietly, and it made Naruto pause. Something about the way Sasuke had said that...

Sasuke sighed, leaning back as he pulled his hand back to himself.

"I was nine," he said, not looking at Naruto, "when my parents passed away. Just old enough to remember it all." He gave the carpet a bitter smile.

"Fuck," Naruto breathed, running a hand through his hair. That was awful. That was— "...How did you deal with it?"

"Not well," Sasuke said quietly. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually believe myself to be a paragon of human functioning." Sasuke gave Naruto a look.

Against all odds, Naruto felt himself fight a smile. He saw Sasuke do the same, and, for a moment, Naruto felt just a little warmth spread through his chest—

But it was quickly replaced.

Naruto ran his hand through his hair again, staring down at the carpet.

"Does it actually get any better?"

Sasuke sighed, leaning closer to the fabric of the couch.

"It's not that simple," he replied quietly. "You'll feel better. Eventually. But it doesn't go away, no."

He paused, and Naruto turned back to see him staring at the windows—he got the sense Sasuke wasn't really seeing them, though.

"You learn to live with it. The pain is still there—if you look for it, you'll find it. Sometimes it comes back," he swallowed, "when there is something you...would have liked them to be there for."

He turned back, meeting Naruto's eyes for a brief moment.

"But you live with it. You get used to it. It becomes part of you."

Naruto let out a breath, feeling his body sag with the weight of Sasuke's words.

"I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear," he heard Sasuke offer quietly.

"No, it's okay." Naruto shook his head. It wasn't a happy truth, but it was a truth. At the very least—

"It's honest. I don't want to be lied to right now." He sagged further into Sasuke's couch. "...Maybe later, though."

Sasuke gave a humourless snort.

"I'll keep that in mind."


It was quiet—the wait for the food to get here. Sasuke had taken out his laptop with the premise of at least looking like he was doing work and the tea was likely cold, now, but...somehow, this silence felt different than before. Naruto's eyes weren't quite as...dead, although he still looked far from happy. It seemed like it had finally hit him, now. Well, something had definitely hit him. That had been…

Terrifying. He had never seen Naruto like that. If he hadn't known exactly what was happening—if he hadn't felt it himself before—

He had a whole new respect for what he had put his brother through as children. What his brother had done for him—for them. He had seemed so...sturdy, then. So stable. He knew, now, that it had been for his benefit, but…

He wondered if he had ever really, truly thanked Itachi for that.

"His name was Jiraiya."

Naruto's voice broke his thoughts. It nearly startled him off the couch.

"He adopted me when I was thirteen."

Sasuke stayed quiet. Naruto wasn't looking at him, still, and Sasuke wasn't sure if he was talking to get a response or talking just so someone would hear him—

"He was supposed to earlier." Naruto snorted, running a hand through his hair. "He was named in my parents' will. My birth parents." He looked over at Sasuke, as if making sure he was understanding. Sasuke nodded. "But he was...I dunno. He never gave me a straight answer." Naruto shook his head, looking away again. "Guess that's another thing I'll never—"

He cut himself off in a harsh breath. Sasuke snapped his laptop shut, sliding it onto the coffee table so he could face Naruto fully.

"He was—he wasn't that responsible," Naruto let out a wet laugh, "but he was—fun. We had a lot of fun. Didn't focus on school as much as I should have, but…" he let out a breath, "he supported me. No matter what. No matter how many times I—I was suspended, or I got detention—or—" Naruto ducked down, swallowing again, "he was always on my side. Always ready to believe in me. Unconditionally. You know?"

"I do," Sasuke responded. It sounded an awful lot like his brother.

Naruto looked over at him, resting his mouth on his fist.

There was a pause. Naruto's eyes were red, but his mouth didn't shake—not like it had before, at any ate. Still, he seemed content to sit and watch Sasuke—waiting, as if he knew there was more he wasn't saying—

Sasuke let out a puff of air, rolling his eyes.

"You weren't the only one who was getting in trouble," he said finally, "in school."

Naruto moved his fist from his mouth.

"Seriously? You? No way."

Sasuke casually flipped him off. He had no idea why Naruto's response was to laugh—quiet, and short, but there nonetheless, and Sasuke felt something akin to relief flood him at the sound—

"What did you do?" Naruto turned to face him—so much brighter, now—nearly normal, now, if not for the redness of his eyes. "I spray-painted one of the hallways once. Like the whole thing. Drew the biggest dick you've ever seen."

"Classy," Sasuke deadpanned, watching as Naruto's smile grew just a little wider, until it was tantalizingly close to his usual grin— "I'm sure the janitor appreciated that."

"Oh, they made me clean it. I got caught like every time."

"Why am I not surprised?"

"Hey! I—"

Sasuke's intercom buzzed.

"Oh," he pushed himself to his feet, "that will be dinner. I'll be back."


True to his word, Sasuke was back in barely two minutes, one big paper bag in hand. It took Naruto a moment to realize that Sasuke had paid for his dinner without a word.

Naruto squinted at him.

This guy...he was just doing everything he could to throw Naruto off, wasn't he?

"You gonna tell me what you got now?" He asked, moving over to the counter that separated Sasuke's kitchen from everything else.

"Ethiopian food." Sasuke frowned, opening one box after another. "I'm going to attempt to lay it all out the way they do in the restaurant. No promises on the effectiveness of that."

"Sasuke," he let out a soft laugh, "I'm going to stuff the food in my mouth no matter how it looks."

Sasuke's hand paused.

"No—it," he shook his head, smiling (and Naruto stared, because he didn't think he'd ever seen Sasuke smile like that), "the food goes on top of the bread. It's called injera. Here." He ripped a piece from one of the containers, holding it out for Naruto.

Naruto took it, chewing it slowly. It was...weird. Kind of sour? Pretty, uh, tangy—

Sasuke eyed him, and Naruto swore he saw his smile grow—

"Don't like it?"

"It's not bad," Naruto chewed a little more, "it's weird though. I didn't really...expect this. Didn't you say spicy?"

"The rest of it is spicy." Sasuke set several plates out. "Most of it, anyway. The injera offsets it."

Sasuke glanced up at him, gesturing to the table.

"Go sit down," he started, scanning over him for a brief moment, "and I'll tell you about the time Itachi grounded me for a month."

Naruto had never moved faster in his life.

Chapter Text

"Do I, uh, get like a fork or anything?" Naruto blinked up at him.

Sasuke shook his head.

"You eat with the bread—with your hands," he said. "It's rather messy," he sat down, eyes flickering up to Naruto's for just a moment, "so I'm sure you'll be a natural."

"...Thanks, dickhead." He knew Sasuke was making fun of him, and that he should be offended—he knew that—but, right now, for some reason, he just…didn't feel it.

He didn't feel it at all.

Sasuke only met his eyes for a short moment, before he gestured at the plates in front of them.

Naruto snorted.

"Okay." He ripped a piece of bread, grabbing a piece of everything he could. "I was promised a story?"

He looked up at Sasuke, pausing as their eyes met again.

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow.

"Yes, you were," he said, sighing as he relaxed back into the chair. "Alright. Well—I got into a fight in high school. It wasn't my first one," Sasuke rolled his eyes a little, "but it was...particularly violent."

"...What happened?"

"I fought a teacher."

"You did what?"

"I physically fought a teacher," Sasuke smirked, "and I won."

"What—who—why—"

"He was an asshole," Sasuke flicked some hair away from his face, "to begin with. Most students were...uneasy around him. It was for good reason, in the end. He tried to start something with me," Sasuke met Naruto's eyes, as if making sure he was understanding, "something nonconsensual and very illegal—and I broke his nose. And his collarbone. And a few of his ribs, I think."

"Fucking hell," Naruto breathed, leaning back. "Teenage you is my hero."

Sasuke snorted, eyes flickering up to meet Naruto's for just a moment.

"Why'd Itachi ground you for that? You deserve a fucking medal—"

Sasuke's smile widened a little.

"Actually, I think he just phrased it like that so I wouldn't interfere." Sasuke tapped his fingers on the table in thought. "Orochimaru—the teacher—tried to press charges. Get me expelled, suspended, whatever. But as soon as it all started, Itachi grounded me. He didn't let me go anywhere—let alone back to school." Sasuke turned back to Naruto. "And when I finally went back to school, Orochimaru was gone."

"...Okay, the way you say "gone" makes me think—"

"I don't know what happened to him. If he had a trial, they never asked me to testify." Sasuke shrugged. "I honestly don't know."

Naruto tore a bit of the injera off, letting out a breath.

"Your brother is terrifying."

Sasuke let out a soft laugh, shaking his head. "Yes, I'm aware."

There was a moment's pause—a silence that Naruto really...didn't mind. Sasuke was still smiling a little, and the food was really good (even if he could only handle little bits at a time because his mouth was on fire)...

"What's the name of this place?" Naruto gestured to the food. "I'm gonna have to eat this again."

It became just a little more obvious that Sasuke was smiling.

"Wass Ethiopian. It's close to the office, actually."

"Is it? What else do they have?"

"Mostly this." He gestured at the food. "These platters have a sample of everything. They tend to serve honey wine with it, although—"

"Honey wine?" Naruto perked up.

"Mm," Sasuke nodded, "Tej—it's Ethiopian mead."

"Damn," Naruto licked at the oil on one of his fingers, "why didn't you get that? Sounds awesome."

Sasuke's good mood faltered.

"I wasn't sure alcohol would be a...good addition to everything else going on," he said quietly.

"Oh." Well, there went Naruto's good mood, too. "Yeah. I guess."

He put down the food he was holding, turning to stare out the window instead. He didn't feel much of an appetite anymore.

"...I do have liquor, if you'd like it," Sasuke offered. Naruto sighed softly, glancing back at him.

"S'probably a bad idea," Naruto said.

Sasuke tilted his head in acknowledgement, but stayed quiet. He only watched Naruto, as if waiting for a solid answer.

Naruto let out a long, tired breath.

"...Ask me again on Friday." No sense in making tomorrow any shittier than it already would be—and he was already planning on sleeping the weekend away as it was.

"Alright."

There was another pause, and this silence felt so much worse than the last. It was so easy to forget that everything fucking sucked right now. He felt like—

"You're drifting again."

Naruto sucked in a breath and forced himself to sit up straight. It had already been embarrassing enough to break down in front of Sasuke like that once (even though the guy had been half a step to decent about it), and he just had to hold it together for a little longer. Just a bit longer—until he was alone, and he could—

"Naruto."

Fuck. Fuck. It was so hard to keep—

"Sorry." He sighed, leaning back. His appetite was all but gone now, even though the food had been great...and Sasuke was still watching him, but Naruto suddenly really didn't want to look him in the eye—

"I used to have a nose ring."

Naruto's eyes snapped to his.

"You—what?"

"I used to have many more piercings, actually. I have a photo on my phone." He paused, just for a moment—

"Can I—see it?" Naruto could feel the smile slowly spreading across his face (and the warmth, moving from his heart to his fingertips). It was a distraction—the same as Sasuke had been offering him since they got here—but this felt—

"Let me find it."

It took barely a minute (during which Naruto rapidly wiped his hands off). He made grabbing motions towards Sasuke's phone the moment they were clean—

Sasuke rolled his eyes, but passed it to him.

"Oh my fucking god."

It was everything Naruto had hoped it would be. It was so much more than a nose ring. Naruto felt the laughter burst from him the second he looked at that fucking photo—

"You were goth!"

"I wasn't goth—" Sasuke made to grab the phone back, but Naruto immediately twisted away—

"No, no, no, no, I gotta burn this into my memory—oh my god—" He laughed again. "I dunno what's better—the eyeliner or the fucking choker—"

"I am starting to regret this."

"Aw c'mon," Naruto grinned back at him, "I'm sure I have a picture somewhere that's just as bad. Is that a temporary tattoo?"

"No," Sasuke said, pulling his shirt to the side a little, "it's real."

Naruto blinked.

And then blinked again.

"What the hell!" He stood, twisting around the table to stand behind Sasuke. "How have I never noticed this?! I had no idea!"

"Yes, well," Sasuke shifted so that he could eye Naruto, but still left his neck exposed for Naruto to see the tattoo, "I don't exactly make a point of showing it off at work."

"Fair point." Naruto grinned. "I still can't believe I didn't notice it, though. Or your piercings. You had your ears done, too?"

"In several places. I'm sure everything has grown in by now."

"Yeah, but I can still see the scars." Naruto crossed his arms over the back of Sasuke's chair. "Is that your only tattoo?"

"Yes."

"Huh," Naruto rocked back and forth, still scanning Sasuke's skin, "I mean, for the record, it does kinda suit you. Even past your goth phase."

Sasuke turned away, a faint blush on his cheeks.

"...Moron."

"Dick. How old were you?"

Sasuke turned back to him—shifting, this time, to sit sideways in the chair.

"In the photo? I was sixteen. I had the tattoo done when I was fourteen."

"Hey! I got mine when I was fourteen too! Was Itachi cool with that? I can't imagine he—"

"No, he was furious. I have no idea why the artist never asked for ID. You have a tattoo?"

"Yeah, on my stomach."

Naruto bunched his shirt—or, well, Sasuke's shirt—up so Sasuke could see.

"Jiraiya gave me permission, though. He was all for it."

He let his shirt drop, sagging back onto Sasuke's chair with a soft sigh.

"Did he help you choose it?"

Naruto nodded.

"It was—well, kinda. My birth parents were artists—Jiraiya still had some of their old stuff lying around. This was something they...both worked on."

He let out another breath. Usually, talking about this filled him with...pride, or excitement or something. His parents had been awesome and talented and—

Gone. Everyone was still gone.

"You made a good choice."

Naruto blinked back into reality.

"Huh?"

"Your tattoo." Sasuke pulled a leg up onto the chair. "It suits you as well."

Naruto let out a soft laugh.

"Thanks. Yours mean anything?"

Sasuke let out quiet breath.

"Partially." He shifted, scratching at his neck—at the tattoo. "There was a story...my parents would tell me. When I was young." He paused—and his fingers paused too. "It was about a man—one of our ancestors—that had this pattern in his eyes. Three tomoes."

"Nice." Naruto smiled a little. "Was he like—a superhero or something?"

"In a way," Sasuke shifted again, "his eyes gave him—power, and wisdom, and...something. I don't remember the details anymore. But yes, he was—" Sasuke cleared his throat, "the reason for the Uchiha name."

Naruto let out a small breath—almost like a laugh.

"That's cool as hell. I like it."

"Really?" Sasuke said softly, not looking at him. "I thought yours was better."

Naruto stared at him for a long moment, before he finally broke and smiled, shaking his head.

"Careful, Sasuke," he warned, pushing himself off the chair, "you're damn close to being responsible for my misconceptions."

Sasuke's only response was a soft laugh.


There were several things currently happening that made Sasuke incredibly uncomfortable.

For one, his first name should not have sounded as good as it did in Naruto's voice. For two, Sasuke's eyes definitely should not have lingered they way they had when Naruto had shown him his tattoo. For three—

Naruto laughed, looking back at his phone.

—Sasuke should not be enjoying this as much as he was.

He supposed that making Naruto laugh—breaking through the fatigue and the pain that kept threatening to overwhelm him—really was just...getting a reaction out of the man, at the end of the day. And Sasuke had always enjoyed getting a reaction out of Naruto.

Of course, that reaction was usually anger.

And it didn't make Sasuke feel nearly this good.

"...What are you doing?" He turned, suddenly suspicious at the way Naruto was typing something on his phone—

"Emailing this to myself."

"You—" Sasuke nearly launched himself over the back of the chair, grabbing at the phone—

Naruto dodged back, twisting around—Sasuke distinctly heard the tap of several buttons—

"Uzumaki," he growled, snatching at the phone again—

"C'mon, please?" Naruto paused, turning the phone so Sasuke could see his finger poised right over the 'send' button. "I'm gonna need something to cheer me up tomorrow."

That swept the fight right out from under him.

He sighed, sagging in defeat. "Fine."

He heard, with more than a little resignation, the small sound of the email being sent. It was only a moment before Naruto pressed his phone into his hand.

"If this is plastered all over the office tomorrow, you're fired," Sasuke said, standing.

Naruto grinned.

"What if I only plaster your office?"

"Then I'll plaster you to the sidewalk." Sasuke moved past him.

"Jeez." Naruto laughed, catching up to him. "Y'know that's a lot more terrifying now that I know you've destroyed a fully grown adult."

Sasuke smirked.

"As it should be." He turned back to the table. "Did you finish eating?"

"Oh—um, yeah, I think I'm done." Naruto let out a breath, moving back to his chair. "There's a lot left though."

"Lunch tomorrow," Sasuke offered.

"Yeah, that's true." Naruto helped him carry the plates to the kitchen, passing him the food as he reached for it. He should probably set aside some cutlery, too, really, because the office wasn't exactly the environment to be eating this properly—

"Um," Sasuke turned to see Naruto on the tail end of a yawn, "d'you mind if I stay the night? I can sleep on the couch."

"Yes, now that I've dragged you here and left you without a car, I'll be kicking you out," Sasuke rolled his eyes, "or forcing you to sleep on the couch. Moron."

He finished off in a mutter, shaking his head. Honestly. Naruto was—

"You are so weird."

He turned back to see Naruto watching him, squinting at him with a look that made absolutely no attempt to hide the disbelief.

"Yes," he turned back to the fridge, "between the two of us, I'm the strange one."

He didn't have to turn back around to know Naruto was smiling.


Naruto didn't really manage to resist exploring Sasuke's bedroom when he had the chance. Well, he didn't really try to stop himself to begin with—but if Sasuke didn't want him snooping around, he really shouldn't've let him in here. He should've known Naruto better by now.

Then again, the guy was still watching him from the doorway.

Naruto paused at the bedside table, fingers inches away from the picture frame. He couldn't quite bring himself to touch it.

"Yes, that's them." Sasuke's soft voice answered his unasked question. Naruto swallowed.

Sasuke looked so...happy.

"You were such a cute kid." He laughed a little—but it sounded thick, even to his own ears. "Look at that smile."

He heard Sasuke snort—heard him move up to stand beside him, but he didn't reply.

Naruto didn't turn towards him.

"I never knew my birth parents." Naruto scanned the photo again, taking in the way Sasuke's hand clenched his mothers as if he couldn't bear to let go—the way Itachi watched him, eyes amused, affectionate, resigned—as if Sasuke was every bit the excited child with his loving family that Naruto—

"They died when I was born."

He felt Sasuke's gaze on him, but he still didn't turn towards it. Sasuke's father looked stern and unyielding—every bit the aura that Itachi had now. He wondered if the man had held the same fearsome loyalty, too.

He guessed Itachi must've gotten it from somewhere.

"I was in the foster system before—before Jiraiya." He tore his gaze from the photo, looking down at the floor. "I didn't even know what they looked like. Or what their names were...nothing. I was just..."

No one. He had been no one.

Until Jiraiya.

He felt the burning in his eyes and the lump in his throat—the awful, awful pain in his chest, again, always—Sasuke had said he would get used to it but Naruto just couldn't imagine how anyone could get used to this

He felt the briefest touch—just a brush of the back of Sasuke's knuckles—on his arm. It jerked him back into reality.

"Do you know now?"

Naruto nodded, too scared to speak lest his voice crack—too scared to blink lest the tears fall—

But Sasuke stayed quiet, and Naruto knew the question in that silence.

"Um," he whispered, swallowing again, "I can show you a—a picture or something—tomorrow. I don't—" he let out a breathy, shuddering laugh, "I really don't want to turn on my phone."

Sasuke shifted, watching him closer, now.

Naruto finally looked over at him.

"I turned it off last night," he said quietly. "Once the...everything started...coming in."

Sasuke let out a soft breath.

"They mean well."

"I know." Naruto nodded. Everyone was kind—sympathetic—supportive, but… "It's just—"

"Overwhelming," Sasuke finished quietly. "I know."

"...Yeah."

Sasuke watched him for a moment longer.

"I suppose that explains why you were so late."

Naruto let out a small laugh.

"Yeah, I didn't have an alarm. Sorry."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"The one time he has a valid excuse he apologizes." He crossed his arms. "You really are a moron."

Naruto let out a small laugh, looking back down at his feet.

"Thanks, asshole."

There was a pause. A soft, calm silence where Naruto didn't really feel like diving into his own head. He could just stay here, focused on his own feet—maybe a little on Sasuke's barest hint of a smile, instead—

"Try to get some sleep." Sasuke said softly. "And tomorrow—I will be requiring at least one embarrassing photograph of you."

Naruto ducked his head, smiling softly. Yeah—yeah, okay. That was fair.

"...Yeah, whatever. Night, asshole."

"Idiot."

Chapter Text

Sasuke woke Naruto up with a gentle knock on the door. Considering his eyes were already open—red-rimmed, foggy, tired—

Well, it didn't take a genius to figure out that Naruto had barely slept. Sasuke had hardly expected him to.

"Would you like breakfast?" He generally skipped it himself, but—

"No, that's okay," Naruto's half-broken whisper responded, and Sasuke watched him slowly stumble to the bathroom.

It was always worse in the mornings.

He sighed, turning back to his kitchen. At the very least, he could pack something extra—and Naruto definitely wouldn't be turning down some coffee. Not in his current state.


Sasuke met him with a cup of coffee and a penetrating gaze.

"I wasn't sure how you take it," he said quietly. "There's cream and sugar there."

Naruto nodded, taking it without a word. He could definitely use the energy. Last night had been…

He shook his head, stumbling slightly. He'd expected to wake up a little, after splashing some water on his face, but he still just felt...dizzy, and nauseous and—just—

Sasuke caught him by the shoulders as he stumbled again.

"How long has it been since you've had some water?" He asked, pulling the coffee back from his hand. Naruto shrugged. He had no idea. He…

"Hold onto something. You're swaying." Sasuke said, darting out of Naruto's sight. He made no motion to move. Even lifting his arm felt like something impossible—everything was so heavy, so weak—he was so tired

"Naruto—" He lurched back—the grip on his shoulders tight, nearly painful, now—Naruto opened his eyes, not realizing he had closed them—

And looked into Sasuke's frantic gaze. Oh.

"Moron," he hissed, "you can barely stand. You—"

He spun around, grabbing a cup—a bit splashed onto his hand—

"Drink this. All of it."

Even if Naruto had any fight in him, Sasuke's tone would have taken it right out. He took the cup—slowly finishing it, even as Sasuke's hands continued to hover around him.

"Good," Sasuke took it back, shoving it somewhere behind him, "now go back to bed."

"...What...?" They had to go to work. He had to—

"You're going back to bed. Go."

Naruto blinked—

"No," he said, "no, I have to—"

"Naruto," he said seriously, "you are in no condition to go to work. And I will not be driving you there."

Shit.

"I—" he looked up at Sasuke, chest twisting, "I—don't want to—"

"I will call my brother. It won't be an issue. Go." Sasuke gave him a soft push backwards—against his will, Naruto followed it.

Call. Not tell—call. Sasuke was—

"...You're—going to stay?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"You think I'd trust you in my apartment alone? I'd come back to a pile of ashes."

Naruto let out a breath—and then another one that might have been a laugh if it had been any other day than today. Sasuke's grip on him tightened as he leaned forwards again.

"You need to lay down. Go."

Sasuke pushed him again, and this time, Naruto didn't resist.

"...Okay."


What a royal fucking dumbass Sasuke was. What a complete and utter moron. He was furious with himself. What had he been thinking—leaving Naruto alone, overnight, like that? He should have known better. He should have known far better, and now—

Now, it was as if yesterday hadn't happened at all. If anything, Naruto seemed worse. As if his shattered mental state had infected the rest of his body, too—

He let out a frustrated breath, running the tap over biggest bottle he could find. He had seemed better so Sasuke assumed he would staybetter. Like an idiot.

He pushed his door open, heart sinking as Naruto's numb, unfocused gaze didn't move from the wall.

"Water," he said quietly, pushing the bottle onto the bedside table.

Naruto didn't even blink an eye.

"...If you don't drink it, you're fired."

It worked. Naruto turned—far too slowly, in Sasuke's opinion—to look at him with eyes that were just a little bit closer to reality—

"You can't keep using that, y'know," he whispered, reaching for the bottle.

"As long as you remain incapable of following simple orders," Sasuke kept his voice just as quiet, "I can and I will."

Naruto's eyes flickered up to his.

"...Asshole."

"Moron."

He waited until Naruto finished drinking to grab the bottle back. He would refill it in a moment, but first—

"I'm going to call my brother. I'll be out in the hall." Close enough to hear if Naruto called him, but far enough for him to speak without the blond overhearing him. He was sure his mind was enough of a mess as it was without Sasuke giving him reasons to think about why he was bedridden.

"'Kay." Naruto rolled over to face the windows. Sasuke only let himself scan the back of his head for a minute before he left the room.

He would normally be at work right now, so Sasuke didn't bother reading the texts Itachi had bombarded him with before he hit dial. It was easier to explain this way.

"Itachi," he greeted as his brother picked up the phone.

"Sasukewhere are you? Uzumaki isn't here but his car is, and that woman Haruno is tearing up the office trying to—"

"He's here. With me." Sasuke let out a breath. He hadn't anticipated Naruto's friends looking for him—although maybe he should have. Maybe Naruto should have, really, but his mind was obviously...somewhere else. "Neither of us will be coming into work today."

There was a pause.

"...Sasuke?" The worry in his brother's voice was clear as day.

"He had a death in the family," Sasuke kept his voice quiet, leaning against the doorway that led to his bathroom, "or, rather, a death of the last of his family."

A small intake of breath was the only indication of his brother's reaction.

"...How is he?"

Sasuke gave his bedroom door a brief glance.

"About as functional as I was after the funeral."

Another pause. Maybe he shouldn't have brought that up.

"Do you need me to—"

"No," he sighed, "stay—run the office and calm Haruno down. Let her know Naruto's phone is off right now. He wants...space."

"...Is that wise?"

"No. Which is why I'm not coming to work." He turned away, walking further into the bathroom. "Listen—I have to go, but—you—could you—" he let out a breath, shaking his head as he wondered how deeply he was going to regret this, "I need you to get me every embarrassing photo you have of me. Like every piece of blackmail—I need them all. Okay?"

He heard his brother give a soft, surprised laugh.

"Really, now? All of them?"

"Yes, all of them. Just—just do it, okay?"

Another laugh. Fucking Itachi—

"Whatever you say, little brother."


He rolled over as Sasuke came back into the room, turning to face him. That was about the extent of the energy he had left.

"I refilled your water." Sasuke pushed the bottle back onto the table. "Drink when you can."

Naruto shifted his eyes from the table back to Sasuke. He felt so...lethargic. Lost. As if he wasn't really here at all. He could barely find the focus—the energy—to lift a hand, let alone form a reply.

Sasuke didn't speak either—he only watched him, eyes scanning over Naruto with a fierce frown. It was another new look of Sasuke's—and Naruto had thought he was pretty familiar with all his grumpy looks. But this was...different. This was—

Oh.

Worried. Really worried—even more than before. Sasuke was…

"Sorry," he whispered. He didn't mean to worry Sasuke. He didn't want Sasuke to worry. He'd be fine. Eventually. Sasuke didn't have to—

"Don't be stupid," was Sasuke's quiet reply. Naruto felt the soft pressure of something on the bed—on his lap. He blinked down just as Sasuke opened his laptop. Why…?

Sasuke pushed it closer to him.

"This is…"

"The show you and Haruno are always harping on about," Sasuke finished his thought. "There was a new episode last night, wasn't there?"

Naruto blinked at him. There...it was...Wednesday, now, he supposed. So...

"Yeah," he shifted, looking up at Sasuke, "you watch it?"

"No. You do. Which episode?" Sasuke scrolled through the page. Naruto pushed his arm out from under the covers, gently tapping Sasuke's wrist out of the way.

"If you haven't seen it," Naruto mumbled, "we should start on the first one."

He clicked on the link.

"I—" Sasuke looked at his laptop—then Naruto—then down at the bed. He was still awkwardly half crouching over—

"Oh," Naruto breathed, shuffling over, "you can sit down."

It was another few seconds before he felt the bed shift. Naruto forced himself to move further back to give Sasuke some space. Every movement just felt like…

"That alright?" Sasuke repositioned the screen, tilting it towards Naruto.

"Yeah. S'good."


Sasuke had never been more relieved to hear snores in his life.

He had also never been less surprised that someone snored.

He sighed, placing a hand on the side of the laptop. The episode had ended a few minutes ago, but Naruto had collapsed about halfway in—which meant it should be safe to move it by now. Surely.

He let out a breath, slowly—slowly—inching it off the blond, sliding it onto his own lap—

"—nn, s...puh..."

Naruto twisted, rolling over to throw an arm over Sasuke's stomach and bury his face into his side.

Ah.

Sasuke let out a breath, frozen with his laptop half in the air. He...didn't know what to do about this. He couldn't move, obviously—that would wake Naruto up and at that point he may as well have not done anything at all today, but…

He leaned back against the headboard.

He supposed this wasn't so bad. Sasuke's body heat would keep Naruto warm and warmth would keep him comfortable—and, by extension, asleep. It wasn't as if he was harming Sasuke in any way, or even stopping him from working. And he should get what he could done now, while Naruto was asleep, because missing today was already going to make tomorrow absolute hell...

He let out another soft sigh, pulling his laptop further up his body. He had to wrap his arm around Naruto to order to type properly, which made this feel even more (affectionate, intimate, comfortable) uncomfortable than it already was, but there was little else Sasuke could do.

He let his arm rest along the man's body and opened up his internet browser.

Thirty new unread emails—and it had barely been an hour. Fantastic.

Chapter Text

Naruto awoke to the sound of someone tapping away on a keyboard. He really needed to stop falling asleep at his desk, like this, but it was so warm...and comfortable…and...soft…

...Soft?

Naruto blearily blinked his eyes open—he was pressing his face into some...sort of fabric…

Oh. Oh

Naruto pushed himself up, blinking—

Oh.

Fuck. Every time. Every time he woke up, it hit him again.

He sagged back down. Not onto Sasuke, this time, but he didn't bother moving any farther away. He didn't care anymore. He wanted to go back to sleep. He wanted to forget, again—

Naruto heart the soft snap of the laptop being shut, and felt Sasuke shift beside him.

"Water," Sasuke's voice said, pressing the bottle against Naruto's arm.

Naruto breathed out in response.

"Drink some," Sasuke said, "and I'll let it be."

Naruto breathed back in.

"Or would you rather I pour it on you?"

Naruto closed his eyes.

There was a pause, and then Naruto heard the distinct sound of a cap being unscrewed—he opened his eyes just in time to see Sasuke, tilting the bottle over his head—

"Asshole," he slurred, grabbing at it. Sasuke didn't have to be such a dick about it—Naruto was fine, he was just tired, he just wanted to go back to sleep and he didn't need this stupid fucking guy hovering over him like this—

He barely took a sip before he shoved the bottle back into Sasuke's hands, glaring. Sasuke didn't look remotely fazed.

Naruto rolled around, facing away from him.

"Go away."

All movement behind him paused.

"...Excuse me?"

"Leave me alone." He didn't want Sasuke here. He didn't want Sasuke here. He didn't want—

"No."

"Leave me alone."

"I won't."

"Damn it, will you just fuck off already?" Naruto spun around, something hot and angry surging through his veins—he could hear his voice raising and there was nothing he wanted to do to stop it—he wanted this guy away from him, he wanted everyone away from him—just away, just go away—would everything just fucking go away

He didn't even realize he was shoving at Sasuke until he felt his hands be caught—pushed back—Naruto's back hit the mattress again and the frustration left his mouth with it—

"Leave me alone—" he said again, and it broke just as his eyes started to burn—

"I won't." Sasuke's hands left his, for just a moment, before something was tossed onto his chest. A phone—not his; Sasuke's phone—what…?

"I will leave on the condition that you call Haruno. Or someone else." Sasuke looked away. "Not alone, but I will leave."

The words drained the heat right from him.

He closed his eyes, sagging back down. He really…fuck. Just...just fuck.

"Sorry," he whispered, "I'm—I'm not—"

"Thinking straight. I know."

Naruto swallowed.

"Don't be nice," he breathed, eyes still closed. "It's making me feel worse." He felt awful. Sasuke was being so—so—

There was a long pause—and then Sasuke heaved in a breath.

"You're an idiot," Sasuke said, and Naruto's eyes snapped open, "even in sleep. I suppose it's my own fault for expecting any differently. You've drooled all over my sheets and snored loud enough to cause a small earthquake. Every day I think your idiocy has peaked, and yet you continue to surprise me. I will be sending you the cleaning bill, as well as that of my therapy." Sasuke's eyes turned back to him. "Better?"

For the first time that day, Naruto felt the urge to smile.

"Yeah. Yeah, that's better." He twisted his face further in the sheets, turning to lay on his stomach as Sasuke took his phone back. "Was Sakura worried?"

"...Yes," Sasuke answered quietly. "She went to your apartment last night and...panicked when you never came home."

"Shit," Naruto breathed. Fuck. He hadn't even thought. "Shit—I—"

"Relax. Everything's been sorted out." Sasuke opened his laptop back up—Naruto could faintly see his emails on the screen. "Although she may be convinced that I am keeping you here to cook you for dinner."

Naruto gave a soft snort.

"Are you not?"

Sasuke glanced over at him, a faint smile playing at his lips.

"I might be." His finger traced along the side of his laptop. "In which case I should be fattening you up. Are you hungry?"

Naruto nodded.

"Yeah," he said softly, pushing himself up a little, "yeah, I could eat."


Haruno had been half-ballistic and absolutely convinced Sasuke was up to something unsavory—especially when he had denied her request to call. But Naruto had been asleep and half-wrapped around him, and Sasuke had had little other choice.

She was also very insistent that he speak with someone named Tsunade, who was apparently about as incapacitated as he was. But Naruto was in no condition to be anyone's grief counsellor, and he had told her so in no uncertain terms—

But—when she had said that they would understand each other on a level neither he nor she could...he couldn't exactly argue the point.

Still, he would wait until Naruto was at least relatively functional—and if it all went to hell, he had Haruno to blame.

"Would you like last night's dinner or something new?"

He moved slowly, keeping an eye on Naruto just in case the blond started to sway again. This whole mess was bad enough without adding a head injury to it.

"Anything's fine," Naruto said softly, one hand along the wall. Perhaps he shared Sasuke's fear of his instability.

"Are you feeling dizzy?"

Naruto shook his head.

"No—not like—like this morning." The hand that had been on the wall left it to run through his hair instead. "Just...I dunno. Weird. Weak."

Sasuke figured as much. The weight to every movement was back, as it had been this morning—as if everything Naruto did required three times the effort—

"Um," Naruto spoke up, just as they reached the kitchen, "I'm sorry about that, by the way. I didn't think I was...like that."

Sasuke opened the fridge.

"Naruto Uzumaki, not thinking?" He deadpanned. "A shocking development."

Naruto let out a breath, shaking his head as he crossed his arms over the counter.

"You're such a dick. You never get any less sarcastic."

"And you never get any less idiotic. Funny, that."

"Are you admitting that you're an asshole?"

"I don't recall ever denying it."

Naruto let out a small laugh, ducking down as he leaned against the marble.

"...You let me cuddle you, though, didn't you?"

Sasuke jerked, just as he was putting the food in the microwave.

"When I was sleeping. Didn't you?"

Sasuke scowled.

"Well what was I supposed to do? Toss you out of the bed?"

Naruto's eyebrows were raised.

"Push me away?"

"And wake you up—brilliant, Uzumaki, really—"

"It's what an asshole would have done." Naruto lifted a hand to rest his chin on it. "And I thought it was Naruto, now?"

Sasuke studiously avoided his gaze.

"It's Uzumaki when you're being an idiot."

"And Naruto when I'm not?"

Sasuke didn't bother replying. Naruto smile was small, but there, and it knew quite well what Sasuke was thinking. He shoved a plate of food at it.

"Shut up and eat."

Naruto gave him a two-fingered salute.

"Sure thing, boss."


The food did, actually, make him feel better. He didn't realize how much of the fatigue—the faint pain in his bones and the heaviness to his muscles—were just due to that. He hadn't even felt that hungry, before.

"If you are feeling up to it," Sasuke started quietly, "Haruno was quite insistent that you contact someone named Tsunade."

Naruto's stomach sank through the floor.

"Tsu—fuck, fuck—I—" he stood with such intensity that he heard the chair screech behind him, "yeah, of course, I have to—"

Sasuke blocked his path.

"Only if you're feeling up to it," he said, eyes sternly scanning over him. "Tell me honestly. Are you prepared for someone else's grief combined with your own?"

Naruto paused.

"I—" he swallowed, because Sasuke was here, between Naruto and his phone, and this was a level of caring that he was only just now starting to appreciate—

"I don't know." He looked down at his hands—and then back up to Sasuke. "But—I have to."

"You don't have to do anything. No one is your responsibility."

Naruto fiercely shook his head.

"I have to. She's my friend, Sasuke. She was his best friend. I—" he cut himself off, running a hand through his hair, "I do have to. And I want to."

He met Sasuke's eyes.

"I want to."

Sasuke scanned him for another moment, before he finally moved aside.

"Alright," he said quietly, "but drink some water before you go."

Naruto rolled his eyes.

"You and your water."


Sasuke gave him some privacy for the call. After Naruto had finally found his phone, Sasuke had quietly pulled his laptop off the bed and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Naruto couldn't imagine he had gone far. He shook his head, biting his lip a little.

He'd never known Sasuke could be so...fussy.

The icon on his phone screen spun again—still working on booting up. Naruto let it rest on the bedside table as he sat back down on the bed again.

Again, he found his eyes drifting to the photo. He didn't know why he found it so hard to look away from. He felt like he had stared at it half the night, last night…

But his phone turned on just then and it vibrated once—and then again and again and Naruto frantically grabbed it up before it shook itself right off the table—

The 37 missed calls from Sakura brought him right down to reality. Fucking hell, he was going to have to pay for dinner for a month to make up for this. Maybe two months—or six.

He sent her a quick text—begging for forgiveness, offering his firstborn, the usual—before he scrolled through his contacts.

He hit dial with a long, long sigh. It was going to hurt—he knew it was—but somehow, knowing Sasuke was just outside—

The phone was answered on the first ring.

"Brat."

He let out a soft laugh.

"Hey granny." He swallowed. This was—this was really real, now. This was—so much closer to home than being here with Sasuke had been. This was—

"Sorry I've been—"

"Don't." She said softly—thickly. "I've been the same."

He swallowed again—the lump in his throat even bigger, more painful, now—

"Although probably less into the vodka than me."

He let out another laugh, but it was barely even a breath, now—

"Yeah—I've been," he swallowed again, "I'm saving the vodka for later."

"Smart boy." She said, voice shuddering off at the end, as if she couldn't quite finish the thought—

"Where are you?" He asked, sitting up straight. He didn't want her to be—

"At home. Where are you?"

"At a—friend's." He ran a hand through his hair, unwilling to explore that thought any more right now. "Are you alone?"

"No—no, Shizune is here. Sakura visited last night." She let out a soft breath. "I keep telling these harpies to leave me alone. They never listen."

He let out a laugh.

"I—I said the same thing to the bastard over here—this morning." But Sasuke hadn't left. He hadn't even—

"What a pair we are."

He laughed a little.

"Yeah."

There was a pause. Naruto played with the hem of Sasuke's sheets, eyes automatically drifting back to the photo on the bedside table—

"Shizune says—she—I—we need to...go through h-his things and—plan the—the funeral—"

She cut herself off with a sharp exhale, just as jarring as Naruto's deep, sucked in breath, as if someone had punched him right in the gut—

"I—" he started, keeling over the side of the bed, "I don't know how to do that—"

"I do."

She laughed, and Naruto knew the tears had started. Fuck. It was so easy to forget how many people Tsunade had lost—

"I'll help you."

"You don't have to—"

"I'll send Sakura to kick your ass if you don't let me." He clenched Sasuke's sheets in his hand. "Tsunade. Granny. Please."

"...Alright. Hewe still have to—to move him. He's in the...morgue," she heaved in a shuddering breath, "still, and I—wehave to pick a f-funeral home," she let out a breath—and another, and Naruto clenched his eyes shut so the tears wouldn't fall, "and—just...we...we'll need to go through, um," there was a pause, and Naruto knew she was trying to get ahold of herself, "his things as soon as possible. I was going to—go there tomorrow."

Tomorrow.

"...By yourself?" He whispered.

"I—well, he has a lot—of—"

"Porn." Naruto ducked down, clutching a hand to his face. "Fuck, Tsunade, what are we doing to do with all his porn?"

He laughed, and he felt a tear slide out, against his phone—he wiped at it, quickly, sniffing—

"—don't know. Bury th-them, too—let him have something to look at in the—afterlife—"

Naruto laughed, wiping the tears as they leaked from his eyes—

"I—I don't think they'll all fit—"

She gave a soft snort.

"I know his favourites. He made s-sure that I," a pause, "that I did."

The laugh rumbled out of him, and he clutched at his face again, even as he spoke—

"Tits and tricks?"

"The special edition, Naruto." She let out a soft, wet laugh. "Only for—"

"The behind the scenes," he finished for her, laughing the line—he had heard it too, a thousand times— "God, there's gonna be so many Playboys—"

He ducked down, laughing again. It hurt—it hurt—but—

"What—um," he swallowed, "what time are you…?"

"I don't know. I d-don't—the evening, I think. Six? I…"

"Okay. Okay—six. I can—I'll be there. I'll come after—work. Okay."

"Okay. ...Thank you, Naruto."

"Of course," he whispered. "All that—that heavy lifting would break a poor old woman, like you—"

"Brat," she let out a soft laugh, "I could bench press you, and you know it."

"I'll believe it when I see it."

"Alright. Tomorrow, then."

"Tomorrow."

They hung up the phone at the same time.


Naruto stumbled out into the hall looking...relatively okay, all things considered. His eyes were red, but a smile still played at his lips, and his eyes were focused—

They focused right on Sasuke.

"Hey," Naruto's smile was just as shaky as the hand running through his hair, and Sasuke could distinctly see the tear tracks as he came closer, "um, I—I don't—um."

He let out a breathy laugh, and a few tears slid free—Sasuke was immediately at his side—

"I d-don't know how to do any of this." He wiped at his cheek, shaking his head. "We have to—" he sucked in a breath, "we have to move his—him. And—and pick a—a funeral home and plan a funeral and I don't—I don't—I don't know—"

He crumbled forwards and Sasuke caught him by the shoulders, holding him stable—

"Slow down." He ducked down to catch Naruto's eye. "Take it a piece at a time. You don't have to do everything at once."

Naruto heaved in a shaking, trembling breath.

"But—"

"One thing at a time. You have people to help you if other things need to get done." In fact, Sasuke's mind was already racing with what he could remember—he hadn't been involved in the actual planning all that much, but Itachi—

"It's not as urgent as it feels." Sasuke said softly, feeling the weight of his phone in his pocket. "Where is he now?"

"T-the hospital," another few tears leaked from Naruto's eyes, "has a morgue, but—I—I can't remember how long they said—how long they would keep—"

He cut himself off in a harsh breath. Sasuke used his sleeve to wipe at Naruto's chin—his cheek—the blond's shirt (well, Sasuke's shirt) was well soaked through by now, and leaving to get a tissue box just didn't feel like an option right now—

"They will not move him without informing you," Sasuke said quietly, "which means you have tomorrow, at the very least. Did Tsunade have a suggestion?"

"N-no, she," Naruto sucked in a breath, raising his face as Sasuke wiped at it again, "she's planned a—a funeral before, though. Two of them."

Sasuke let out a small sigh. Sometimes, the world was just—

"For her brother—and her, um, fiancée."

—awful.

The world was awful.

For the first time that day, Sasuke did absolutely nothing to fight the urge to hold Naruto in his arms.

Naruto buried his face into the side of Sasuke's neck—he was quiet, trembling, and Sasuke could feel the tears on his skin—

"I'm sorry," he whispered, knowing Naruto would hear him. "I'm so sorry."

"It's—s'not your f-fault." Naruto's arms squeezed so tight it was nearly painful—

"You don't deserve this." Sasuke swallowed—he could feel the lump in his throat, too, now— "No one deserves this."

He felt Naruto's face twist against his skin—felt his body tense, felt his breaths stop and then start again—

"It's not fair," it was broken, shaking, and just a hair's breadth above silent—

"It's not fair," Sasuke agreed.

"It's not fair—" His voice grew—his body tightened, tensed, as if something was building and about to explode, "it's not fair, Sasuke—"

Naruto collapsed into sobs—angry, frustrated, helpless cries that rang out clear no matter how he tried to stifle them. Sasuke gently pushed them back, towards the bedroom, because he really wasn't sure how much longer Naruto's stability was going to last—

But as he fell back, onto the bed, Naruto didn't let go.

"Naruto," he said softly, locked into a position half on top of him—

"Don't leave," Naruto gasped out, "please, I—please—"

Naruto's voice broke and Sasuke felt his heart do the same. He pulled Naruto up just as he laid down, turning them both until the blond laid over him, face still buried in Sasuke's neck—

He tightened his grip along Naruto's waist, placed a hand on the back of his neck, and let the blond fall apart.

Chapter Text

Naruto didn't remember falling asleep. He didn't remember much of anything after he had just started sobbing into Sasuke's shoulder, honestly—

Which, judging by the fact that it was still wet, probably wasn't that long ago.

He sucked in a small breath, letting his eyes flutter open. Sasuke's arms were still wrapped around him just as his were around Sasuke—and, from the looks of things, Sasuke had fallen asleep, too.

A week ago, Naruto would have thought that attempting to cry on his boss's shoulder would get you thrown out of his window, minimum.

Now...Naruto didn't know what to think.

He was still an asshole. Still snarky—sarcastic—pessimistic...but…

But he was warm. And caring. And something close to kind, which just felt insane to think but there was no other word to describe what Sasuke had been to him today. And yesterday. And, damn it all to hell, there was no way Naruto was going to come out of this without thinking of him as a friend.

Kiba was gonna go nuts.

He let out another breath, leaning back down against Sasuke's skin. He hadn't noticed he had been burying his face into the tattoo until now—the three….tomoes, Sasuke had called them, that gave him strength and wisdom…

Maybe Naruto could use one of his own.

He let out a soft snort, relaxing into Sasuke's grip. Getting a matching tattoo with Sasuke's—now that was something that would get you thrown out of a window.

Well, maybe. He thought that now—but he had also been pretty positive that cuddling Sasuke was high up on the suicide mission list, and yet here he was.

In Sasuke's arms. Feeling warm, and comfortable, and...cared for.

...Maybe it felt a little past friendship—but this was a weird, messy, intimate situation, and Naruto was too emotionally exhausted to delve into it right now. It was nice. This was nice.

He could just leave it at that.

He closed his eyes, ready to fall right back asleep—

A phone rang.

He jumped—simultaneously with Sasuke's body, which jerked awake underneath him—

"Oh," Sasuke's voice, heavy with sleep, came. He fished his phone out of his pocket, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed—Naruto sat up, too—

"Ita—oh, already—yeah. Okay. I'll buzz you in." Sasuke stood. "Hang on."

He hung up the phone, stumbling over to the door.

"Is—someone here?"

"My brother." Sasuke paused in the doorway. "I—texted him after you fell asleep. Just...ah…"

He waved a hand before he wandered out into the hall—after a moment, Naruto followed him.

It was barely a minute before Itachi was at the door.

"Sasuke," he greeted—his eyes flickered past him to Naruto—

"Uzumaki." He lowered his head in a soft bow. "I'm very sorry for your loss."

Naruto's voice locked up.

He nodded, immediately unable to look at Itachi a moment longer—

"This is what you requested," Itachi said softly—to Sasuke, now. "Both items. These are not the originals," Itachi held up a folder, "so don't get any ideas."

Sasuke snorted. "I figured as much."

"And this," he flipped another folder on top, "is everything I had left. Be careful," his eyes switched to Naruto for just a moment, "when they give you a 'typical' quote, they are nearly always giving you their most expensive options. Funeral homes are a business first—remember that."

Naruto blinked in surprise—turning to Sasuke, who was flipping through the folder, a scowl on his face.

"Alright. Thank you, Itachi."

"Of course. Let me know if you need anything else."

And with that, he was gone—Naruto left to blink at the empty doorway. Sasuke closed it with another sigh, still frowning at the papers in his hands.

"I hate people," he muttered softly.

"I don't." Naruto watched him, smiling a little wider as Sasuke looked up in surprise. "That's all for me, isn't it?"

Sasuke immediately looked back down at the folders.

"I—I thought Itachi might be more help than...I would be." He shifted, obviously uncomfortable. "And—obviously—I wasn't about to trust your research capabilities—"

Naruto let out a soft laugh, and moved closer.

"What's the other folder?"

"Incentives," Sasuke answered ambiguously, not looking up. "Would you like to look through these yourself?"

He held out the top folder, flipping the second behind him.

"...If I do, do I get to see what's in there?" He nodded at Sasuke's other hand.

Sasuke shrugged. "Perhaps."

Naruto slowly took the folder from him, not quite ready to open it just yet—

Sasuke moved away.

"Where are you going?" Naruto would never admit to the flash of panic as Sasuke turned away—

"To get my laptop." Sasuke turned back to face him. "We'll look through Itachi's research, I'll do my own, and then we'll give what we have to Tsunade. Alright?"

Oh.

"Oh," Naruto swallowed, looking down before he nodded, "yeah, that sounds—that would be good. Um, thanks."

Sasuke only rolled his eyes.

"Moron."


It was as if he was back at work.

They went back and forth—as usual, with Sasuke bombarding him with fact after fact—Naruto making sense of them, which the bastard could have easily done himself if he just explained things like a normal person, and turning them into suggestions—Sasuke griping at him about how he was an idiot and only half of those suggestions would actually work in the real world—Naruto firing back that that meant half of them would work and these were all based on Sasuke's own research, thank you very much—

"Fine," Sasuke said, elbow bumping against Naruto's as he reached forward, "then we're down to these three homes. Two with reasonable options—one more elaborate, but closer in location. Then—are you writing this down?"

"What? No—I know all that—"

"Not for you, idiot, for Tsunade." Sasuke shook a piece of paper at him. "You need to run this by her too. Is there anyone else that should be contacted?"

"I," Naruto blinked down at himself, thinking, "I—I don't—" He wasn't sure—he didn't know—Tsunade was the one who had told him when it happened and—

"No—nevermind." Sasuke shook his head, reaching over him to grab Naruto's phone. Naruto's phone? Wait—

"Wh—hey! You—"

"I'll take care of it." Sasuke dodged his hand with ease. "In the meantime, choose a number between one and fifty-four."

"Uh," he started, just as Sasuke stood, "what—"

"One to fifty-four, moron." Sasuke called behind him, already moving away, phone up to his ear—

"Uh...Eleven!" He yelled down the hall, having absolutely no idea what he was agreeing to.

There was a moment's pause—Naruto could hear Sasuke's voice, muffled by a door—

"—Yes. I thought it would be best." Sasuke's voice grew—he switched Naruto's phone to his other ear as he shuffled through the sheets on the table. He met Naruto's eye for a moment. "I'm looking at him now."

Naruto blinked.

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow and moved the phone away from his mouth.

"Haruno would like to speak with you in person, and informs me she will be relentlessly riding your ass until you agree to it." He gave Naruto a look. "What an interesting relationship the two of you have."

"Oh my god, that's not—"

"All office romances must be disclosed to Human Resources, Naruto," Sasuke called behind him, already walking away. "Corporate policy, you know—"

"Oh fuck off, asshole!" Naruto immediately looked for something he could throw at him—he settled on a pen—

Sasuke dodged it, rolling his eyes as he brought the phone back up to his mouth.

"Yes, Haruno. No—not now. I need to speak with you first."

He looked back at the sheet in his hands—ducking back, down the hall, until his voice was muffled once again.

Naruto let out a breath, sagging back down the couch as the rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Sasuke just—lived to fuck with him. Before this week it had usually left Naruto muttering obscenities on his drive home (well, okay, sometimes to Sasuke's face, and sometimes a little more than muttering), but now—

He let his arm rest over his eyes, biting his lip to try to stifle the smile. Now it just left him feeling so...warm.

He moved his arm away, staring up at the ceiling.

He wondered if it made Sasuke feel the same way.


It ended up taking far longer than he had intended it to. After Haruno made it clear that he ought to talk to Tsunade himself, he had called her, awkwardly introduced himself, explained everything several times and then been forced to call Haruno back

He moved out into the hall, where Naruto was still on the couch, looking up the at the ceiling. He tossed his phone onto his chest in greeting.

"Ow." Naruto shot him a weak glare, grabbing it all the same.

"Tsunade informed me that you only referred to me as "the bastard"."

Naruto threw Sasuke a dumb, wide grin.

"And you knew it was you right away, didn't you?"

Sasuke grabbed his face and squished his cheeks together.

"Mmpuh—"

"She also informed me that the two of you are planning on dealing with Jiraiya's possessions tomorrow."

Naruto nodded, still vaguely slapping Sasuke's hands away—

"The two of you. Alone."

Naruto paused.

"You monumental idiot."

"Wh—huy—"

Sasuke let go of his face.

"Have you ever moved someone out?"

"Yeah," Naruto grumbled, still rubbing at his cheeks, "I—"

"Let me rephrase that." Sasuke glared at him. "Have you ever moved someone out after a day of work, starting at six P.M. with only two people, both of which need to accurately index each and every item you are moving?"

Naruto stared at him. Sasuke's gaze didn't waver.

"...I mean," Naruto looked down, ducking a little, "I guess when you put it like that...I can probably call—"

"You aren't calling anyone. Haruno is on the warpath," Sasuke turned back, grabbing the page he had brought out earlier, "and she fully supports my assessment of your intelligence."

Naruto eyed him for a long moment before he ducked down into a soft laugh.

"You guys are so mean to me." He smiled up at Sasuke, one hand running through the side of his hair.

"Yes, I'm sure we are." He held the page out for Naruto, face down. "Now—number eleven."

Naruto blinked down at the page before he sat up—slowly taking it from him.

"What's this?"

"An incentive," Sasuke repeated, crossing his arms. Was he going to regret this? Probably. Most likely. Definitely. But it was going to work, and he had watched the exhaustion slowly seep back into Naruto as they had researched, today—and, well, Sasuke could handle a little humiliation, if it meant that—

"Oh my god."

Naruto's eyes were wide and his smile was wider—he stared down at the page in disbelief—

"Oh my god," he buckled over, laughing—clutching the page to himself, "how old were you?!"

"Seventeen." And he had been feeling particularly idiotic that day—just enough to decide that a photoshoot with him, his mirror, and that awful, awful shirt would be a good idea—

"That's the deepest V I've ever seen!" Naruto laughed again. "It goes past your belly-button!"

"Yes, well," Sasuke crossed his arms tighter, clearing his throat a little, "I was particularly...proud of my workout that day."

"Wow," Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "wow—and the belt? What's your excuse for that?"

Sasuke flushed.

"It's not...actually a belt. It was a rope."

Naruto ducked down, laughing again—

"Damn—where did that fashion sense go? Now you're all boring dress shirts and jeans—" Naruto gestured at him up and down.

Sasuke shrugged, moving back towards the kitchen.

"I'm sure I still have that shirt lying around somewhere."

"Wh—really? Do you actually have it?" Naruto was immediately standing right behind him—Sasuke shoved him away a little, shrugging as he fought a smile—

"Oh my god, wear it. Wear it! Put it on!" Naruto shoved at him as he shook his head. "Come on, please? Please? Please? Sasukeeeee—"

"I'm not going to wear the shirt." Sasuke rolled his eyes, turning back as Naruto clapped his hands together as if begging—

"...Maybe as another incentive," he muttered.

Naruto pumped his fist in the air.

"Yes!"


They both managed a bit of dinner. Naruto still seemed to have some appetite, which was good. That was the last of the leftovers, though—and Sasuke was just about due to go grocery shopping.

He sighed. Just another thing to do.

"We really slept the day away, huh?" Naruto's voice—down the hall—broke his thoughts. "I'm gonna have so much to do tomorrow."

He let out a small laugh, running a hand through his hair.

"Don't be stupid." Sasuke closed his fridge door, straightening up. "I've delegated your work elsewhere."

He saw Naruto blink in surprise—

"Which means you have no excuse if anything comes in late from now on."

He smirked as Naruto's eyes narrowed.

"You dick," he said, smiling.

"Mm. Are you ready for bed?"

"Yeah, just about. Thanks for letting me steal a toothbrush."

"I'll send you the bill."

Naruto snorted as Sasuke moved past him, following him down the hall. Sasuke paused at the doorway to the bedroom. Naruto eyed him curiously.

Sasuke let out a small breath, feeling...well, he definitely didn't want to bring this up, but he didn't feel as if he had any other choice—

"It gets worse at night, doesn't it?"

Naruto blinked at him—the tension came back to his posture, all at once—

"It was worse last night, wasn't it?"

Naruto sucked in a breath, looking down at his feet. It was a moment before he finally nodded.

"I can sleep on the floor, if you'd like," Sasuke offered quietly.

Naruto's head snapped up.

"You—"

Sasuke shrugged his shoulders, looking away.

"If you'd like."

It was a long, nerve-wracking moment before he heard Naruto's soft, surprised laugh.

"You're crazy, Sasuke." His grin was lopsided and his eyes glittered in the dim light. "I'm not kicking you to the floor."

Sasuke watched him for a moment longer.

"You already cuddled me twice," Naruto's grin widened, "so if you're trying to save your reputati—"

"You're an idiot." Sasuke moved past him.

Naruto only followed him in, laughing all the while. Sasuke dug through his drawers, picking out a set of pajamas—he turned to check—

Naruto held up the set from yesterday, smiling.

Sasuke nodded and ducked back.

"I'm going to get ready for bed. You...get comfortable."

He felt Naruto's gaze burning into his back as he walked away.


Naruto was already changed and under the blankets by the time Sasuke was back. He barely felt tired, though.

Sasuke peeked into the room, one hand on the light switch. Naruto was entirely used to seeing him in a suit—and even his casual clothes had been relatively formal—but this—

Sasuke flicked the lights off and Naruto grinned.

"Pajamas suit you."

Naruto laughed as Sasuke flipped him off. It took him another moment to plug his phone in and get into bed—

He saw Sasuke pause.

"Will you be...alright to go to work tomorrow?"

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah," he breathed out. "Yeah. Sakura'll kick my ass if I avoid her another day, I think."

And...it would be good to go back to work. Being here, with Sasuke, was good—but it was too good. It was easy to escape here. Easy to stay away from reality, and if he kept doing that—

Sasuke snorted. "Yes, she was rather...violent."

Naruto turned to grin at him. "She let her temper show, eh?" He laughed a little. "I thought she never would after that big crush on you."

Sasuke visibly cringed at the reminder. Naruto's grin widened. Yeah, Sakura had gone a bit overboard with the whole thing, but, well...must've been even more awkward for Sasuke, being the boss and all—

"Yes—well," he shifted awkwardly, "I assume that is—over, now."

"Oh—yeah. You're off the hook," Naruto laughed a little, "don't worry."

Sasuke relaxed in reply, letting out a breath. Naruto rolled back to look at the ceiling.

"I used to be super into Sakura."

He saw—out of the corner of his eye—Sasuke blink and turn to look at him in surprise.

"In high school though," he said quickly. "Like way long ago," he turned to grin at Sasuke, "right about the time you were wearing V-necks."

Sasuke shoved Naruto's smile into the pillows. Naruto only laughed, slapping Sasuke's hand away—

"I was really into tracksuits," he grinned at Sasuke, cheek squashed against the pillow, "just wait. I'll show you—remind me."

He let out another laugh, rolling over.

"...Feels like a lifetime ago."

It had felt so important, then. Like it was the most important thing that was ever going to happen to him.

"Jiraiya," Naruto started, remembering the way he would get a pep talk nearly every night, "was all for it. He—" Naruto let out a laugh, running a hand through his hair, "Sakura kept—kept turning me down, y'know?" He looked over at Sasuke, who was still watching him—eyes even clearer than the rest of him, which was weird because, if anything, they should have blended into the darkness—

"Like she would say no—hard stop." He sliced his hand through the air, slapping it against the sheets. "That was it. Just—no way. Never gonna date you."

He rolled back to look at the ceiling.

"And Jiraiya always—he was always telling me to go for it anyway." He laughed—this one breathier, disbelieving. "Like give her flowers and romantic shit and everything anyway and if I just kept doing that she'd come around—"

He felt Sasuke shift.

"That is…"

"Awful advice!" Naruto laughed again, nodding. "It was so bad!"

Naruto looked back at him, and this time, Sasuke's face had widened into a laughing smile, too—

"Did it work?"

Naruto's snort turned into a laugh. "No—are you kidding? Of course not; it was a disaster. I can't believe she dealt with as much of my shit as she did."

Sasuke let out a soft laugh, and Naruto immediately felt drawn closer to it. Sasuke really didn't laugh enough—

"I can't believe she still does."

It was Naruto's turn to shove at Sasuke's face. "Asshole!" He laughed as Sasuke grabbed at his wrists—Naruto rolled closer and Sasuke didn't let go—

"I can't believe you do," Naruto offered, still laughing but no longer...meaning it. It was late and Naruto was tired and confused—and he had been for the better part of the last two days. Sasuke had asked nothing (only been kind and patient and several other things that Naruto hadn't thought him capable of) and Naruto just...Sasuke didn't seem someone to do things out of pity, but...

Sasuke let go of his wrist, rolling to look back up at the ceiling.

"You're not so bad."

It was like a breath. It was so quiet Naruto was half-positive he imagined it entirely—

"Am I not?"

Sasuke turned to meet his eyes.

"No."


It was, maybe, a good thing that Naruto snored, because it let Sasuke be well aware when he wasn't asleep. It also let him know when the hitch in Naruto's breath meant that Sasuke should shift, in the bed, and remind Naruto that something else existed outside of his own thoughts—

"Sasuke?" Naruto whispered, eyes still closed. "Can I ask you a...really personal question?"

Sasuke eyed him with more than a little apprehension.

"...I reserve the right not to answer," he replied carefully.

Naruto's eyes—glittering clear, even in the dark—opened.

"Yeah," he said softly, "yeah, of course."

Sasuke shifted, slowly, to face him better. He was still yet to be used to this serious look on Naruto's face—

"What, um," Naruto swallowed, eyes darting off to the side, "d'you remember from when you were little?"

Sasuke stared at him.

"I mean," he swallowed again, closing his eyes as he ran a hand through his hair, "I had Jiraiya. I know that. But—um…" he opened his eyes to stare back at the ceiling, "that was when I was thirteen. And before that, it was just...I just switched foster homes like every couple months, so…" he paused, twisting his head a little, "and—um, Jiraiya wasn't really, like...normal. I know that much."

"I'm not sure any family is "normal"," Sasuke offered quietly.

Naruto turned back to look at him. There was nothing calm about the look in his eyes.

Sasuke suddenly felt the need to consider his words very carefully.

"I…" he let out a breath, "I'm not sure how to answer that."

Naruto sucked in a small breath—almost as if he flinched—and then he shook his head.

"Right—yeah, sorry—that was a," he sucked in another breath, "it was a dumb question anyway. Forget I asked."

He turned his head towards the windows—just enough so that Sasuke couldn't see his eyes anymore.

Sasuke let out a small, resigned sigh.

"I was young. I'm not sure how accurately I remember it anymore." He rolled to look at the ceiling—feeling, just through the mattress underneath him, the way Naruto stiffened. "I remember—I remember that I wasn't allowed to watch TV during meals. Neither was Itachi."

He had been so—he had felt so...justified when Itachi got in trouble for the same things he did. He rubbed his knuckle against his smile.

"We had to come to the table. I would set the table—that was my job." He could still hear, sometimes, the way his mother would sing as she cooked—as Sasuke twisted around her legs, carrying all the cutlery he could at once so he wouldn't have to make a second trip. He sucked in a breath to try to clear the lump forming in his throat—

"My parents were...intelligent. Hard-working. My father was always working. He was—very stern," he nodded a little, just to himself, "stern and...impassive."

"So like you at work." Naruto's voice was just above a whisper—and closer to Sasuke, now. He hadn't even noticed when the blond had rolled back over to look at him.

"...Am I stern?"

Naruto's face broke out into a small smile. "Yeah. D'you not know?"

"I…"

Sasuke swallowed the rest of his words.

He had tried very hard not to do this. For a long time. Not to compare himself to his parents—to barely think of them, at all, because the memories were too painful and Sasuke was just trying to survive—

"Your dad's attitude," Naruto said quietly, "but you smile like your mom."

Sasuke froze.

"Do I?" The words whispered out almost desperately—he hadn't—he didn't—

"Yeah," Sasuke felt Naruto shift, beside him, "just like the picture."

Oh.

Sasuke closed his eyes.

Oh—that—that hurt. That—Sasuke drew in a shuddering breath and felt a single tear spill free—

"Oh—no, no, no, I'm sorry," Naruto was immediately up—immediately closer, his hands dancing around Sasuke as if not sure how or where to touch, "I'm sorry, Sasuke, I didn't mean to—fuck, I'm such an idiot—"

"Moron," Sasuke whispered quietly, turning away. "It's fine."

"No—I—"

"Naruto." He kept his eyes on the wall and his voice firm.

He heard Naruto shift behind him.

It was painful. It was a raw, aching part of him, even after all these years, but it was a part of him that wanted to think these thoughts. A part that wanted to talk about them, even—a part that clutched onto these memories as if they were all he had, even as, with every passing year, he felt himself lose a little more of them—

"Sasuke," Naruto whispered, and Sasuke felt it in the mattress as the man laid down again, "tell me more about your parents."

And Sasuke did.

Chapter Text

The alarm could fuck right off.

It was loud, it was annoying, and it was way too fucking far away for Naruto to even begin to care about it. It would shut off—eventually—or he would just...fall back asleep. It took him like two minutes to get ready anyways; it would be fine. He really wasn't—

"—ruto—need to get the alarm." The voice rumbled from underneath him and he blearily blinked up—

—at Sasuke, oh, who he was currently half on top of—oh

He jerked back, letting Sasuke roll to slap at the alarm—literally. It was only a moment before he was back—eyes fully closed.

"Shouldn't we—" Naruto started—

"—'ve five minutes," Sasuke slurred, rolling closer to him. "Shut up. Five min'tes."

"...Five minutes?" Naruto asked, smile rapidly widening—

"Four, now, y'fucking moron," Sasuke rolled even further, shoving himself into Naruto, "shut up."

Naruto was way too stunned to do anything but obey. He did, however, do absolutely nothing to stifle the grin at the fact that it was Sasuke cuddling with him, now. He had no idea the guy could be so…

Well, he had known he could be grumpy.

He laughed a little, to himself, pulling his arm out from under Sasuke.

"Wh—nn…"

"Take your five minutes," he whispered, sneaking out of the bed.

Sasuke didn't reply.


Sasuke awoke to an empty bed. He wasn't sure what woke him up—it must have been the cold, because it certainly wasn't his alarm—

He shot up in his bed, grabbing at his phone.

Fuck. Fuck—he had slept through his alarm. He'd been up so late last night—well, him and Naruto both—he heaved in a breath, sitting up in the bed and trying to screw his head on straight—

"Oh, hey! You're up!" Naruto shoved the door open with his hip—mug in hand.

Sasuke stared at him.

"It took me a bit to figure out your coffee maker, sorry." He shot Sasuke a grin, sliding the mug onto the table. "It's—uh—ten minutes since your alarm? You only wanted five."

Sasuke rubbed at his face.

"You—" He sucked in a breath. "...What?"

Naruto's smile widened.

"Coffee." He gestured to the cup on the table.

"Oh," Sasuke immediately grabbed at it, "thank you…" he paused, just as he brought it up to his lips. "Black?"

"As black as your heart."

Sasuke swung his legs off the bed to kick at him—Naruto dodged, dissolving into laughter.

"Hurry it up, Uchiha!" He called behind him. "I'd hate to see you have to yell at yourself."

"Fuck off, Uzumaki," he muttered, clutching the mug closer to him.

He needed at least two more minutes with this coffee before he could respond properly.


They made it to work right on time—which, to Sasuke, apparently meant that they were ridiculously late. Naruto rolled his eyes as Sasuke hurried from the car, trotting after him. Honestly, this was earlier than he'd been in weeks.

Sasuke straightened, as they reached the elevator, and Naruto watched as that stern, impassive demeanor took him over again. All hints of fatigue left his face—the stress, the worry—all gone.

That had to be some kind of Uchiha magic gene bullshit.

"You're staring again." Sasuke kept his eyes firmly on the doors as he spoke.

Naruto let his head lean against the wall of the elevator.

"Is it bothering you?"

Sasuke finally turned to look at him and Naruto felt the smile pull at his lips. Somehow—when Sasuke looked right at him then, his face almost seemed to...soften.

"Yes."

Naruto's grin widened.

"Good."

The elevator doors opened, and Naruto made to exit, only to find—

"Naruto Uzumaki!"

—Sakura, waiting right there, for him. Shit.

He swore he heard Sasuke laugh on his way by.


Sakura was—well—less angry than he had expected. More worried, though—and he had thought Sasuke hovered. Not that he really minded—he'd take pretty much anything over angry Sakura. He'd pissed her off often enough in his life to know that.

She was still sitting on his desk as he vaguely flicked through his emails—the vast majority of chains he'd been a part of yesterday hadn't actually ended up addressing him at all. Just like Sasuke had said.

He smiled a little. He hadn't realized that Sasuke had been actively working to respond to everything while they were still at his apartment, but now, reading through email after email, half of which were from the guy—

He really hadn't given Sasuke enough credit.

"Mr. Uchiha!" Sakura immediately stood, straightening as if she had been caught in the act—well, she was kinda blowing off work right now, but Sasuke had probably totally expected her to. "I was—ah—"

"Hey," Naruto cut her off, leaning back in his chair to flash him a smile, "what's up?"

Sasuke frowned, eyes scanning somewhere past Naruto. He blinked back at his desk.

"What?"

Sasuke's eyes narrowed, and then he promptly spun on his heel.

Naruto shared a clueless look with Sakura.

"What did I do?"

Sakura just shook her head.

"I thought he was here to ream me out for not being at my desk."

Naruto laughed. "I thought he was here to ream me out for not doing anything yet."

He opened the next email. He still had to skim everything to get up to speed, even if he was confident that Sasuke had diverted everything away from him yesterday—

Sakura made a small noise, in her throat, and Naruto spun around just in time to see Sasuke, again—

"Wh—"

Sasuke slapped the back of his head.

"Ow, Sasuke, you asshole—"

"Idiot."

Naruto raised his head just in time to see Sasuke plunk a bottle of water onto Naruto's desk.

He blinked.

Oh.

Oh.

"I was gonna—" he spun around, but Sasuke was already walking away, not a care in the world about any of Naruto's excuses. As per usual.

Naruto laughed and ducked his head. He should—actually—probably drink some water. It hadn't even crossed his mind.

"Okay. Two things." Sakura shoved herself closer to him, sitting back on his desk to lean in again. "What the fuck was that—and when the fuck did he become Sasuke?"


Sasuke drummed his fingers along his desk, resisting the urge to get up yet again. He had already found every excuse to walk past Naruto's desk and he knew he was rapidly getting less and less subtle with each attempt—

He sighed.

He was not Naruto's keeper. The man was an adult. He could surely take care of himself—and he had friends (good friends) to pick up any sort of slack that the blond may give himself, but…

Sasuke couldn't stop himself from...caring.

Damn it. This was exactly the type of thing he had been hoping to avoid.

With another long, deep sigh, he stood, resigning himself to finding the blond yet again. He left his office door open—he'd only be a moment—and twisted around the cubicles with practiced ease.

At least Naruto still jumped when Sasuke came by his desk. Small victories.

"Hey—I, uh—"

"Have you read the email I sent you?"

"The—which one?" Naruto spun back to his computer, scrolling through the messages.

"The most recent one. An hour ago." Sasuke crossed his arms and made no move to hide his frown. He was not a patient man.

"I'm still going through everything from yesterday. I have thirty-two left—hang on—"

"No." He would not hang on. "This is far more urgent. Nothing from yesterday is even relevant to you."

"It'srelevant! If I'm in the chain, then—"

"It's not. I took care of it. This is important; I need everything I sent completed by noon—the forms, the summary—everything. Understood?"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair, finally opening the email.

"Crap—okay. Yeah—I'll—noon, really?"

"Yes, really." He watched Naruto sag as he opened the attachments—Sasuke certainly wasn't going easy on him, but he didn't exactly have a choice. Deadlines were deadlines and Sasuke needed to meet them.

Sasuke shifted, letting the folder he had discreetly held become far more obvious.

"One to fifty-four."

Naruto spun around to stare at him.

Sasuke tapped the folder. Naruto grinned.

"Oh—um—twenty-two?"

Sasuke inclined his head.

"Everything completed by noon," he tapped the folder again, "or I shred it."

Naruto blinked. "Wai—what?"

"Number twenty-two. Noon, Uzumaki, or it's gone forever."

And with that, he walked swiftly back to his office.


Naruto had never worked faster in his life. He had waved off Sakura three times—waved off Kiba four (with the promise of actually talking to them at lunch)—and now, it was almost ten minutes to noon, and he just needed one more signature

There.

Naruto frantically shuffled everything together as the last page printed. It took everything he had not to yank it out of the printer before it was done—the damn thing was so slow—he glanced at his phone for the thousandth time; he was on his last few minutes, now—

At the same time Naruto sent Sasuke the email, he pulled the page from the printer. He didn't know if he needed everything in paper or electronically, and Naruto sure as hell wasn't gonna give the asshole an excuse to back out—

"Whoa, sorry, Hinata!" he called back, narrowly dodging knocking her to the ground—he got to Sasuke's office with a minute to spare and slammed the door open with his shoulder—

"Sas—11:59! 59! It's not noon yet, see?" He threw the papers onto Sasuke's desk and shoved the phone right in his face. "I made—oh, hi, Itachi." Naruto straightened up, only just now realizing that—

"—uh, I mean, Mr. Uchiha. Sorry. Crap—sorry, were you guys meeting?"

Sasuke put his face in his hands.

"That's alright," Itachi chuckled softly, "and Itachi is just fine. Sasuke—I'll see you when I'm back."

"Fine." Sasuke lifted his head just enough to give Naruto a look as the door closed.

Naruto met it with a sheepish grin.

"I made it, though."

Sasuke rolled his eyes as he sat up.

"Yes, you did." He sighed, flipping through the pages until he pulled out what was rapidly becoming Naruto's favourite folder—Naruto was immediately at his side—

And he froze.

"Whoa...this is you?!" The picture—or several pictures, now that Sasuke pulled the paperclip away—showed a shirtless, shining Sasuke, his torso twisting as he danced with the flames around him—

Sasuke let out a soft sigh as he idly flipped through the pages Naruto had thrown at him. "Unfortunately."

"Wha—what do you mean 'unfortunately'?! This is cool as fuck!" Naruto flipped through the photos, forward and then back again— "Oh my god—can you still do this?"

Sasuke snorted. "I hardly have the equipment. Did you email me everything here?"

"The—wh—oh, yeah. I sent it like a minute ago." He shook the photos at Sasuke again. "Could you though? If you did have it?"

Sasuke glanced back at Naruto before he eyed the photos again. "...I don't know. It's been a while."

Naruto leaned forwards until he could rest his elbows on the desk, still flipping through the photos.

"How old were you?" He was definitely younger than now, but—

"Eighteen." Sasuke opened a drawer, slipping the folder in between a million identical ones that he somehow always managed to know the difference between. "Old enough to play with fire."

Naruto laughed. "Old enough not to get burned?"

Naruto distinctly saw Sasuke's smile widen.

"Not quite."

He turned to face Naruto just a little more, fiddling with his tie and then the buttons of his shirt—Naruto saw just the glimpse of the tattoo before he saw—

"Jeez," Naruto breathed, automatically reaching towards the scar. "Ouch."

It was weird. All of Sasuke's skin was so smooth and unblemished—something like a big, messy burn scar was something he would've never expected. It just...didn't fit.

"Weird," he said softly. "I would've thought there'd be like...a million precautions to stop you from doing that."

"There were." Sasuke said, unmoving as Naruto's fingers trailed under his collarbone. "No precautions against me being an idiot, unfortunately."

That made Naruto laugh, pulling away to slap at Sasuke's shoulder instead—

"I'm gonna quote you on that for the rest of your life. What're you doing for lunch?"

Sasuke paused in pulling down his sleeve. "...What?"

"Lunch. Food. Y'know, you need it to live?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "I'm working, moron."

"Through lunch? I thought we were out of leftovers."

Sasuke's scowl deepened, but he only turned back to his computer.

Naruto watched him for a moment longer.

"...Do you always work through meals?"

Sasuke's fingers paused, just for a moment, along his keyboard.

"Not always."

"But usually." Naruto leaned back against his desk. "You're really the dickhead workaholic to a T, aren't you?"

"Fuck off, Uzumaki."

"Don't wanna." Naruto shoved himself further onto Sasuke's desk until his legs could swing freely. "We're all going to Akimichi's. You coming?"

He expected Sasuke to say no. Not that he was going to accept that—but he knew exactly what Sasuke's gut reaction would be. What he didn't expect, however, was the genuine surprise that flashed across his boss' face—

"What?"

"Lunch," Naruto said, gesturing to the door with his head.

Sasuke scowled at him.

"Come on, you stubborn asshole, come to lunch or I'll just bring back the shittiest thing on the menu—"

"I don't need food."

Naruto's eyes rolled so far back into his head, he could see behind him—

"Oh, okay. I figured you'd make more of an effort to cover up your robot heritage, but y'know, whatever—"

"Uzumaki—"

"Or is it alien? I guess that would explain your creepy eyes, but then vampire works better, and they don't really eat either—"

"Jesus fuck, fine—I'll come to fucking lunch—"

Naruto nearly cackled in victory.

Chapter Text

Sasuke was...way too tired for this. He had fully expected everything to go back to usual today. Back to normal—at least for the most part, once Naruto had access to his actual friends, but—

It hadn't.

He'd sought Naruto out—more than once—and then Naruto had sought him out, and now he was here. Going out to lunch. With Naruto—and Naruto's friends. Why had he agreed to this? Why had he even been invited? No one in the office had any fond feelings for him and Naruto was well aware. People were indifferent at best, and Sasuke was fine with that. Used to that. He didn't need people to like him.

"Oh my god, you're so slow." Naruto slapped an arm behind him. "Hurry up, dickhead. I'm hungry."

Sasuke rolled his eyes, but obediently caught up to Naruto. Weird—wrong—strange—different. All of this was just—

"Hey!" Naruto called, and Sasuke saw the distinct flash of pink hair over the roof of the car. "We're gonna meet you guys there, 'kay?"

"Okay!" One—several—voices answered, with none of them reacting to we the way Sasuke had.

"I'll drive." Naruto threw him a grin. "I think I owe you that much."

Oh.

Oh.

Sasuke relaxed.

Gratitude. Repaying a favour. That's what this was. That's what Naruto's friends would know it was, no doubt. Fine—okay. One lunch, and everything would go back to normal.

And that would be better.

It would be.


"Our friend owns this place," Naruto said, pulling into a parking spot. "Chouji. You been?"

Sasuke only shook his head. He was still quiet—and he'd stayed quiet for pretty much the entire car ride. Not that Sasuke was normally a talkative person, but this was...different. Sasuke seemed—uncomfortable, somehow? Naruto almost wanted to say he looked nervous, but he just couldn't imagine that being an emotion that the guy had ever felt—

Then again, he supposed he could just add that to the list.

"It's kind of a mix of everything," Naruto threw him a grin as he pulled his keys from the ignition, "so even a picky bitch like you is bound to like something."

Sasuke was immediately glaring at him. But it was weak, and his eyebrow was raised, and Naruto swore that the corners of his lips were fighting to rise—

"A picky bitch like me," Sasuke muttered, and Naruto's grin widened. "I've watched you eat chips off the floor."

"Five second rule!"

"I know you know that isn't real."

"You don't know that at all." Naruto laughed, swinging the door open. "C'mon."

He waited for Sasuke to get out of the car before he locked it. It might've been his imagination, but he seemed just a bit less stiff—something about the way his shoulders fell…

"Is that Haruno?" Sasuke nodded somewhere past him, and Naruto spun around just in time to catch a glimpse of pink hair—

"Oh, probably," he said, already moving. "We always get the same table so we just kinda meet there."

And everybody had beat them there, apparently, which was fine with Naruto (but maybe a bit less fine with Sasuke, from the way he had tensed again when all their eyes turned)—

"We ordered yet?" Naruto slid in beside Sakura and kicked out the chair beside him for Sasuke.

"Yeah. Oh, ah—Chouji's in the back but we can call someone over for Mr. Uchiha, though—I'll—"

"Number three is fine," Sasuke muttered, apparently already having flipped through the menu.

Sakura scurried off, and Naruto peered over Sasuke's shoulder.

"You're so boring," he said, unfazed as Sasuke shoved him out of his personal space. "Fried rice? That's as adventurous as you get?"

"At somewhere you frequent? Yes."

"Wow." Naruto laughed, leaning back in his chair. He vaguely glanced back at the group, but everyone seemed to be in their own conversation, so—

"You'll like it, relax. Chouji's done a ton of classes and competitions and shit—he only moved back out here to take over the family business. But he's always trying new stuff with the menu."

"Hm." Sasuke glanced over Naruto's shoulder again—at what, Naruto didn't know. Nobody was really looking their way by the time Naruto turned around…

"So—why'd you stop? The fire stuff, I mean?"

Sasuke's eyes focused back on him.

"It ate a lot of my schedule," he said, hand unmoving along the glass of water. "I don't exactly have time for hobbies anymore."

"That's 'cause you're a workaholic."

Sasuke gave him a look, and Naruto met it with a grin. It was only another moment before Sasuke rolled his eyes again.

"If I don't do the work, it doesn't get done. My brother is busy enough as it is without me slacking off."

"I guess that's fair." Naruto shuffled in place for a moment. "You do...like you like it though, don't you?"

"What?"

"The work. The business, y'know." Naruto waved a hand vaguely in front himself. "You like what you're doing, right?"

Sasuke watched him for another moment before he pulled the glass closer to himself.

"I suppose so."

"Wow, I'm so convinced," Naruto muttered, grabbing the water jug to top his cup up—after a moment, he nudged Sasuke over enough to fill his, too—

"It's..." Sasuke started, "it's—frustrating, at times. And tiring, most of the time, but it's my responsibility. It's what I want to do. It's worth doing."

"'Cause—it—it was your, uh, dad's, right? The business?"

Sasuke's eyes flickered back to him for a moment.

"Yes."

"Mm, sorry." Naruto wiggled his own glass around, and a bit of water splashed onto his hand. "I was, um—kinda half-asleep at that point so I didn't know if I dreamed that part up."

Naruto met Sasuke's raised eyebrow with a sheepish smile, and it was only another moment before his face softened. It was weird—Naruto had never really noticed him doing that, before. It was so easy to see, now...like he was just on the verge of smiling...

"S'nice though. That you have something to connect to him like that."

For a moment, Naruto thought that might've been a step too far. It was true, though, and although Sasuke was still staring at him, he didn't look mad—and Naruto knew he should shut up, Sasuke probably wanted him to shut up, but he just—he just wanted—

"It...is."

"What about your mom? What did she do?" He paused for a moment, before continuing (more quietly, now)— "You can tell me to shut the fuck up whenever."

Sasuke let out a soft snort.

"Thank you for your permission." His lips twitched up as Naruto laughed—something about Sasuke making jokes made them like a million times funnier— "She was an oncologist."

"She—whoa, really?"

Sasuke nodded.

"Holy shit," Naruto breathed, letting go of the glass to run a hand through his hair. "Jesus, no wonder you guys are so fucking smart, oh my god—"

Sasuke's eyebrows furrowed, even as his smile widened—

"You know I'm going to use that against you," Sasuke said, eyeing Naruto as he rested his head on his fist, "the moment you next disagree with me."

"No—no, no, no," Naruto laughed, pointing right at Sasuke, "that's not how it works. Just 'cause you're a genius or whatever doesn't mean you can't make dumb choices—"

"Mm, as evidenced by my presence here."

"Why—hey!" Naruto shoved at Sasuke's shoulder. "You can't say that 'till you've eaten. Try the food first—you can roast me as much as you want, but Chouji is genuinely talented and—"

"Relax," Sasuke turned back to his water, "I'm not going to insult your friends outside of work."

Naruto snorted.

"But inside is fair game?"

And just like that, Sasuke's smirk was back.

"My business, my rules."

Naruto couldn't help but laugh.


"He seems...alright."

Sakura spared Chouji a brief glance.

"Yeah, that's what I'm worried about," Ino replied, leaning just enough to peek through the small kitchen window. In retrospect, Chouji had probably set up their usual table right where he could see them on purpose. "He's like the king not letting people know something is up."

"He's helping, though," Sakura interjected quietly.

Ino looked back at her.

"Who is?"

Sakura inclined her head.

"Him."

She had been the last one to expect it. She had been the first person to be suspicious. She had snarled at him over the phone and he had hissed back and they had somehow come to an agreement and hung up, and then—

And then she had realized what had just happened.

Their boss had brought Naruto to his own home, stayed with him through the night and the next day (she could not remember a single time Mr. Sasuke Uchiha had ever taken a personal day) and just…

Acted like a friend. A good friend. Someone who honestly, genuinely cared, and with every time Naruto laughed across the room (every time Sasuke leaned in and muttered something, and Naruto laughed harder), Sakura was realizing more and more—

"They've always had a weird kinda vibe, haven't they?"

—that maybe she had missed something.

"I didn't think that vibe was friendship," she responded quietly.

"No," Ino conceded. "It's a bit more...intense that that."

Sakura snorted. Intense was a good word for it. Somehow, Naruto had always managed to be on the same wavelength as Sasuke. She never knew how he did it, but he just...always knew what he wanted. Always knew what he was going to say. Always knew what he meant, even when he was communicating through barely two words, and she just…

She just hadn't realized that feeling was mutual.

She let out a long breath. She'd been debating, because she wasn't sure and this was confusing and awkward and...but...if he kept making Naruto laugh like that…

Yeah, she really needed to ask Sasuke to join them. Make him join them. Whatever. She'd figure it out.

"So you're coming tonight, right?" Sakura turned from the window back to Chouji, who was bustling back in the kitchen, now—

"Oh, as if he has a choice," Ino replied before Chouji even had the chance. Sakura laughed as Ino made a show of cracking her knuckles.

"Biting the hand that feeds you," came the shout from behind the shelves, before Chouji's head peeked out from behind them, "you're playing a dangerous game, Ino."

"Jokes on you," Ino grinned, "Sakura and I are splitting."

"Not if he spits in your food, we're not," Sakura said. "You'd tell me, right, Chouji?"

Chouji laughed, and firmly ignored Ino's offended "hey!"

"'Course I would. You guys wanna help me carry this all out?"

"It's done? Finally!"

Sakura rolled her eyes and followed them—sneaking one last glance through the window as she did.

This was going to get a hell of a lot more confusing before it got any better.


Naruto's friends were anything but subtle. Sasuke was sure they thought themselves the epitome of espionage, but even a trained seal would have been able to notice all the glances they were sneaking during the wait for food.

Not Naruto, though, apparently.

No, in spite of all of the times Sasuke had made a point to catch someone's eyes, to remind them that he noticed and would very much like them to stop, Naruto had remained utterly oblivious to it all.

He supposed he shouldn't have expected anything different.

But the food was coming, now—aided by the help of Haruno and Yamanaka—and Naruto's face had gone from thrilled to—

Oh.

Oh, no.

Sasuke watched, with growing dread, as the bowl of ramen was slid in front of Naruto. He vaguely registered his own food being placed in front of him, but Naruto's breath had quickened and his eyes widened and then closed entirely—his chest rose, as if deeply inhaling the smell of—

Sasuke reached over and switched their bowls.

Naruto's eyes snapped open.

And they stayed on him for just a moment longer, before they turned to stare at the bowl in front of him, instead, and as Naruto's breathing changed from quick and short to slower, deeper, calmer, Sasuke caught the curious gaze of Haruno—who visibly flinched, but didn't look away. Sasuke made no move to stifle his glare. If her knowledge of Naruto was anywhere as good as she had claimed, then she should have fucking known better

"...Thanks."

Sasuke broke the gaze and picked up his chopsticks.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

And that was that.


They left kinda early.

They finished lunch and everything (well, Naruto definitely had more leftovers than he normally ended up with, but he'd eaten as much as he could). Usually, they'd all stick around until they had the exact ten minutes they needed to get back (or, okay, yeah, maybe sometimes less), but today...

He just felt too...tired.

And Sasuke was watching him again, like he had been ever since they'd started eating. Maybe he thought Naruto wouldn't notice—they were subtle gestures, where Sasuke's head just barely moved, but Naruto felt his eyes on him all the same.

But he'd be fine. He was fine. Just a little sleep-deprived. Maybe a little too full or something. He could still smell the ramen and something about it was making his stomach...

He turned the heat down in the car a little and took in a deep breath. Sasuke did that little twitch thing where he was obviously looking over at him—

"I'm okay," Naruto said quietly, not taking his eyes off the road, "just don't...feel great."

"...In what way?"

Naruto let out another breath and sagged a little. In every way, but he knew what Sasuke meant.

"I—just—kinda nauseous. I dunno." He shifted uncomfortably. He had been doing so well, but that lump in his throat was back and it made his stomach twist all the tighter—

"Pull over."

Naruto glanced at him. "Huh?"

"Pull over," Sasuke gestured at the side of the road, "if you need to be sick. I'll drive."

"...Oh," Naruto said. That was a good point, really. If it caught him by surprise…

He pulled into the first lot he could. Sasuke was already at his door by the time Naruto opened it, frowning at him just like he had when—

"I drank water this time," Naruto said. The smile felt weird and half-forced, but only half—

Sasuke's scowl only deepened.

"I know. Can you stand?"

Naruto snorted.

"I'm not that sick."

He gently pushed Sasuke out of the way to prove his point. Still, the movement brought the dizziness back, and from the way Sasuke grabbed his waist, he definitely noticed—

"I'm okay," Naruto said quickly, leaning back against the car. His stomach was twisting again and his body was light, and growing lighter—he ducked down and sucked in a breath, just to ground himself, just to pull himself down—

"Naruto—"

Fuck, he'd been okay—he'd been doing so well, he'd been doing so—

Naruto clapped a hand over his mouth as he dry-heaved. He didn't want to vomit in the middle of the pavement—he didn't wanna puke at all, if he just—

"Uzumaki," Sasuke wrenched him up just enough to shove a bag into his hands, "hold this. Breathe."

Naruto clutched it with shaking hands. Just a plastic bag—just one of the ones Naruto had in his car, the ones he kept meaning to take out, to get rid of, to throw away—

"Breathe."

Naruto heaved again.

The force of it had him stumbling forwards—he would have fallen if not for the way Sasuke shoved him back (pulled him back, maybe, from the way Naruto could feel his warmth at his side)—

"Breathe."

Naruto's eyes were burning again—whether because of this or everything else, he didn't know. He could still—when it had come out—when the food—it had just—

Smelled like home. Family. Jir—

"Fuck," Naruto spat the word out as a breath. Fuck this. Fuck everything about it. He—

"Did you vomit?"

"No," Naruto half-groaned, panting back against the car. As if he'd be that lucky. He couldn't even get it over with—

"Are you going to?"

"I don't know." He hated this—he—

"Take the bag and get back in the car."

"You—huh?" Naruto blinked up at him—at Sasuke, who was still pretty much holding him up—

"Get back in the car. Passenger's side."

"Oh," Naruto said, trying to straighten up. He guessed—yeah, now that he had a bag—it wasn't as if it was Sasuke's car, either, if he messed it up…

There weren't any cars passing them by, but Sasuke still followed him to the door. Hovering, worrying—just like yesterday. And today, even. Naruto nearly smiled at the thought.

Sasuke loved to hover.

"You're so weird," Naruto slurred, pushing his chair down as far as it would go.

Sasuke snorted, adjusting the rear view mirror.

"From you, I'll take that as a compliment."

"Asshole," Naruto muttered. If he just bunched up the plastic bag near his face then he should be okay—his stomach was still tight, still twisting with warning—

"Moron," was the soft, muttered response, and Naruto let the wane smile stretch his lips as his eyes closed.


He couldn't tell if Naruto had actually fallen asleep, or if he was still trying to. Either way, it was probably the best idea the man had had all day.

Sasuke stifled another sigh and shifted in place. What a disaster of a lunch. What a disaster of a day. He was starting to wish he'd slapped the bowl right out of Yamanaka's hands.

Naruto let out a breath, beside him—long and slow. Out of place, though, and it meant that he was likely still awake. Likely still nauseous.

Sasuke scowled and changed lanes.

Just a quick stop, then.


Naruto wanted to groan. The car was slowing and it meant they were back at the office already, and he still felt like such actual shit...he let out a breath and forced his eyes open—

"Stay there. Go back to sleep."

"Wh—" Naruto blearily glanced around. "Hang on, where—?"

"Just wait here."

Sasuke slammed the door shut.


Naruto was still awake when he got back. Still unsmiling, still exhausted, but with eyes alert and focused—

Sasuke tossed the bag into the blond's lap and started the car. Just painkillers, nausea medication, tea, mints—whatever would get the man through the day. And since Naruto likely didn't have any—

"Water, huh?"

"Fuck off," he muttered back, but Naruto was laughing again and Sasuke felt some sort of relief settle into him—

"Aw," Naruto laughed softly, "you're such a softie."

Sasuke kept his eyes (and his glare) firmly on the road.

"You," he responded, channeling every bit of the flush in his cheeks into steel in his voice, "are an idiot, and I will not be responsible for another one of your collapses—" Honestly, what was with the moron and just disintegrating in Sasuke's presence, it gave him a damn near heart attack—

"Sasuke," Naruto's voice was still laughing, but gentler, this time, "thanks. I really appreciate it."

Sasuke's voice died in his throat. He kept his eyes straight ahead, though—he knew looking at Naruto would mean his eyes would stay on Naruto, and he was driving, and that was dangerous, and he would spend far longer than necessary eyeing the blond to make sure he was actually alright and not just pretending for the benefit of—

"You're really nicer than people think, huh?" Naruto's voice was half-mumbled, half-slurred. Sasuke hoped to god his eyes were closed.

"No," he said, nonetheless.

Naruto laughed, and it sounded muffled. Sasuke glanced back just for a moment—just long enough to see Naruto press his face into the seat as he shifted.

"You're such a dick."

"And you're contradicting yourself," Sasuke didn't miss a beat. "Go to sleep before I put you to work again."

"'Kay." A pause. "Thanks."

Sasuke didn't answer.


Naruto woke to the small noise of someone tapping the keys along their phone. The car was warm and the seat was comfortable—but it wasn't in motion, and that was what made Naruto open his eyes.

They were back at the office.

"Wh—"

"How are you feeling?" Sasuke said, eyes scanning over him. Naruto sucked in a breath and sat up a little more.

"Um," he said, shaking himself, "uh—yeah, better, I think."

"Good," Sasuke said, and Naruto heard the click of his phone going to sleep, "because we're twenty minutes late."

"You—what?!"

"Run for it, Uzumaki."


Sasuke was such a dick. He'd been with him the whole time and Itachi knew that 'cause they walked in together and he still got that stupid reprimanding 'tsk-tsk' raised eyebrow asshole look—fuck that, fuck both of them, Itachi and Sasuke did that in the exact same way and it made Naruto go damn near crazy

He huffed out a breath and slammed himself down into his chair.

A bag came flying over the wall of his cubicle.

"Ow—hey!" Naruto said as it landed on his face—

He didn't need to see Sasuke's face to recognize his laugh.

"Asshole!" he called back, but Sasuke was already gone. And Naruto was left sitting here, with the bag of—

Oh. Oh yeah—all the meds Sasuke had got him. And tea and stuff.

He ducked his head to hide his smile.

Sasuke was so fucking weird.


That had been far too satisfying. Sasuke bit down on his smile as he opened the door to his office—

"Mr. Uchiha!"

Sasuke turned.

"Haruno," he greeted her. His throat had started to say Sakura, though, with Naruto's voice flittering through his mind—

The girl straightened her shoulders, as if building herself up. Sasuke was immediately on edge.

"I have to give you the address for tonight."

"...Address?"

"For Jiraiya's," she said.

Sasuke stared at her.

"We need as many cars as we can get, you see."

"I hardly think—"

"And Tsunade is looking forward to meeting you."

Sasuke's voice died in his throat.

Sakura's eyes glittered with victory.

"Do you have a pen, or shall I email it to you?"

Damn it all to hell.

Chapter Text

Naruto's mood got worse as the day went on. It was like standing on a railroad, unable to move as he watched the train approach—the time was ticking by and no matter the videos Kiba made him watch, no matter how many emails Sasuke sent, no matter how long Sakura spent at his desk—

The distractions weren't working anymore.

He knew what was coming.

And for once, when Naruto had wanted his work to last—when he'd wanted to stay at the office just a little longer—of course, the time was gone.

It was four PM. Work ended at five. Naruto would be leaving at five. Naruto had to leave at five. There was no way to avoid this. No way to think about anything else. This was it.

This was it.

He would have thought he'd still be crying right now. His eyes definitely burned enough, but they stayed stubbornly dry. He just felt so...tired. He'd barely even done anything today. Maybe he was getting sick again after all…

Naruto unlocked his phone again (as if that would make the time change) and fought a small smile.

He kept forgetting he'd changed his background.

"...You used that picture as your background?"

Naruto nearly jumped out of his chair.

"Jesus," he breathed, holding a hand over his heart, "fuck, Sasuke, why do you always do that—"

"I have to keep you alert somehow." Sasuke shifted slightly to eye him over.

"Ass," Naruto said, slouching back down, "I finished everything you sent me. You got more?"

"You finished everything I sent you due today. I have plenty more."

Naruto waved a hand at him. There was no point in doing the stuff way before he had to—then he'd forget everything for the meetings. It was strategic procrastination.

"Why is my face your phone background?" It sounded less like a question and more like a whine. He didn't quite manage a grin, but Naruto definitely felt something close to laughter bubble up in his chest—

"So I never let you forget your goth phase. How long did the eyeliner take you?"

"You're fired," Sasuke huffed and spun on his heel. That did actually get a laugh out of Naruto, soft and accidental—Naruto thought he saw Sasuke turn back for a second, but then—

"Haruno."

"Ah—Mr. Uchiha—hello."

She ducked into Naruto's cubicle, looking a bit sheepish. Naruto threw her a small smile.

"Caught in the act, huh?"

"Shhh," she slapped at his arm, "for all he knows, this could be for work."

"Sakura," Naruto said, "they always know. He's not as good at it as Itachi, though."

Sakura glanced at him, and shook her head with a small smile.

"First Sasuke, now Itachi." She leaned back to rest against his desk. "Poor Kiba's never going to recover."

Naruto snorted. Yeah, Kiba had muttered more than one thing about Naruto befriending the devil himself when Sasuke walked by his desk. And he was pretty sure Sasuke heard him, from the way his eyes narrowed and the small, embarrassed squeak Kiba'd let out—

"Poor Kiba," he agreed, shaking his head a little.

It was funny. Any other time he'd be laughing right now, and Sakura knew it too. It was why she kept glancing at him right now.

Naruto let out another breath and forced his smile to widen as he looked at her. No sense to worry people.

He was fine.

"Hey," Sakura's voice was gentle as she flicked the side of his arm, "none of that."

Naruto looked away.

"I'm okay, Sakura."

"No, you're not," she answered without skipping a beat, "and you shouldn't be."

Naruto drew in a shuddering breath.

"But we're here for you. We're all coming tonight, you know."

Naruto let the breath back out. "Everybody…?"

"Mhm," Sakura said, "even Sasuke."

Naruto looked up at her.

"He—" Sasuke hadn't—well, maybe Naruto shouldn't've been so surprised, but— "he was...okay with that?"

Sakura laughed softly.

"He didn't even put up a fight."


He should have put up more of a fight. He should have at least tried an excuse. Everything about this was already hideously awkward without being around Naruto's friends while they were all drowning in emotional vulnerability—

Sasuke let out a breath.

It was five. His things were packed. He needed to go soon. He needed to go now. Because he'd accepted the invitation to go pack a deceased man's things.

Fucking hell.

It was going to be a messy, wildly inappropriate situation—and yet another one that he had he willingly walked into. Naruto had plenty of support—he had a veritable army of friends, and yet—

The office door opened.

"Hey—oh, um, Sas—hey. I didn't think you'd be so close to the door." Naruto rubbed the back of his neck and ducked away.

"I was on my way out."

It was only half of a lie.

"Oh," Naruto said, "did you—um, I didn't know if you needed, uh, instructions or…something?"

"I have the address," he answered quietly.

"Oh," Naruto said again. He stayed firmly in place, though, eyes drifting somewhere past the floor—somewhere else, somewhere not here—

Sasuke yanked him in by the wrist and shut the door behind them.

"Hey, wh—"

"Can you handle this?"

Naruto faltered.

"I—"

"We're perfectly capable of packing boxes. Half of Inuzuka's skillset is labelling."

Naruto gave him a look at the last comment, but it was as weak as the insult had been.

"You've been sick from a memory once today. Can you handle this? Answer me honestly."

"I…" Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "fuck, Sasuke, how am I supposed to know that? I don't even—"

He cut himself off in a breath that made his whole body sway. Sasuke eyed the motion with more than a little alarm.

"Naruto," he said, and the blue eyes focused back on him.

"It doesn't feel real," Naruto's voice was half of a whisper, "not yet. And it's gonna be real there. It's really going to…I won't be able to—you know?"

Sasuke nodded.

"And I don't want to face it. But fuck, Sasuke, I have to, don't I? If I sit on my ass while everybody else is—packing, what d'you think I'm gonna be thinking about?"

"If you need a distrac—"

"No," Naruto shook his head, "not now. Not right now. I need to deal with this. I need to—I just want to—just," Naruto swallowed, "just get it over with, right? Like ripping off a band-aid."

There was a pause.

"I imagine it's more akin to snapping a bone back into place."

Naruto threw him a wane smile.

"Yeah. Probably."

Sasuke leaned against the wall and looked Naruto over. Naruto watched him as he did—but Sasuke made no move to hide it. Better if the blond knew.

"If you change your mind," Sasuke said quietly, "at any point tonight, say so."

Naruto tilted his head, his smile stretching just a little wider.

"And you'll do what? Kidnap me?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I'm your boss. Kidnapping is hardly necessary."

That made Naruto snort out a laugh, and he rolled with it towards the door. He reached up towards the ceiling, making a noise as he stretched—

"I'm already tired," he sighed, his arms sagging back down to his sides, "and we haven't even started yet. Man..."

"With the amount of people Haruno's recruited, you'll be lucky if there's anything left for you to do."

Naruto looked back at him.

"Yeah," he said, ducking his head down a little. Sasuke saw the soft smile return to his face all the same. "Yeah, you're right. Okay. Let's go."

"After you."


Sakura let out a breath, scanning around the apartment. It was going to be hell—today, and most other days for at least a few weeks, but maybe, together, they would get through it.

She rested a gentle hand on Tsunade's arm, just as the woman started to tremble. She was determined to stay sober again today, after her dip back into the bottle had turned into more of a dive. But she and Shizune were here to keep Tsunade from drowning her sorrows.

She looked back out at the apartment.

The weirdest thing about all of this—all of this—was the fact that Sasuke had called in the favour as if it had been for him. She had fully expected it to be about work—but it hadn't.

It had been about Naruto.

She turned, just as Kiba made it to the door.


"Hey," he greeted, obviously out of breath, "I'm not late, am I?"

Sasuke barely needed his GPS, in the end. He'd only followed behind Naruto's car, keeping half an eye on the way it moved in case the man was sick, yet again.

And then they had stood, in front of the door, until Sasuke was forced to gently move past Naruto's shaking hand—

"Hey, kid."

Oh.

"Granny." The word barely made it through Naruto's mouth. It broke along the way, and Sasuke hesitated, behind him, stuck somewhere between making his presence known and quietly slipping back out of the building—

"Oh," Naruto said, glancing back at him, "um—this is, um," his face relaxed into a small grin and a smaller laugh, "the bastard."

Sasuke yanked him back by the ear.

Naruto's laugh grew, even as he made a fuss—Sasuke had barely pulled, but Naruto had followed the touch as if he had, quickly and harshly—like he'd been forced to bump back into Sasuke, complaining all the while. The woman laughed, too, and Sasuke looked up as she moved forwards—

"Ah yes, it's good to actually meet you," she said, and Sasuke let go of Naruto to shake her hand. "Call me Tsunade."

Her eyes were still red, but there was a focus to them now, as if he was being somehow assessed—

"Sasuke. Likewise."

He vaguely registered Naruto glancing back at him. He was a bit surprised himself (although, maybe, at this point, he shouldn't have been—Naruto was always taking down any walls of formality that Sasuke managed to build), but the word had escaped his mouth before he'd had the chance to—

"So the brat's been bugging you, huh?"

"Wh—" Naruto spun back towards her, offended—

Sasuke relaxed.

"Oh, for years."

"Hey!"


He left them alone, in the end. Not permanently, not for tonight, but for now—once the planning had started and the tears had followed...it was no longer a moment Sasuke felt he should be privy to. And Naruto's friends seemed to think the same, from the way they had all crowded back here, down the hall, with him—

"We're going to do the little things first," Sakura said quietly, "clearing all the shelves, the tables—once we get all of that out of the way, then…"

"Who makes the decision on what to keep?"

Sakura grimaced a little.

"I...didn't really want to bring that up, yet."

Fair enough. Sasuke didn't want to either.

"And in the meantime?"

"We've got a storage bin. One of those big things," Inuzuka—who had been so quiet Sasuke had nearly forgotten he was there—said. "I'll make runs back and forth, it's like half an hour away. I brought my truck."

Sasuke nodded.

"We started in the living room—but, um, we haven't—" Sakura gestured towards the door, "there's still Naruto's old room…"

Sasuke sucked in a breath, and then let it out.

"One thing at a time."


Okay. Packing today, funeral home tomorrow, Tsunade would update him when she knew more—he'd offered to help, but Tsunade had waved him off, saying something about all the work he'd already done and how he was too nice to negotiate properly...she wasn't wrong, but Naruto still wished he could...do more.

She'd already started on the will—Naruto hadn't even thought about that yet, but Jiraiya had asked her—written her in, maybe, Naruto didn't know—to be the, um—the executor of his will, and, well, Naruto didn't actually know what the fuck that entailed, but...

Naruto let out a breath.

Fuck. Okay. This was fine. He was fine. He just had to get through it all. Now if only he could fucking bring himself to move and pack and just function like a normal person—

He glanced up just in time to meet Tsunade's eyes.

They looked away from each other at the same time. He swallowed, staring back down at his hands—back to another Swimsuit Edition of whatever magazine whatever, whatever—

"This is," Sasuke's voice jerked him out of his thoughts, "a lot of pornography."

Naruto laughed, stumbling a bit as he did—Sasuke caught him by the arm.

"I told you he wasn't that responsible," he mumbled, a hand over his face. "He—fuck, I should've told you—he, um, wrote porn. As a career. Sorry. You know Icha Icha?"

He wiped at his eyes, which did absolutely nothing to help, 'cause his sleeve was already soaked—the moment he'd seen the place half-empty, and the boxes, already packed, he'd just—

Sasuke pushed his hand away, using his own sleeve instead. Naruto swallowed, moved closer, and let him.

"No, I don't," he said quietly.

"No?" Naruto blinked up at him, sniffing. "You sure? It's pretty popular—they, uh—there's actually been a couple, uh, movies based off—"

"Naruto," Sasuke pulled his hand away and gave him a look, "I assure you I am unfamiliar."

Naruto laughed. He couldn't help it. Sasuke kept holding the magazines out in front of him as if they were gonna jump out and bite him—

"Well, like, this is his, uh, research. That's what he'd call it."

"And academics everywhere begin to cry," Sasuke muttered under his breath, but Naruto heard it anyway—

"Sas—god, you fucking dick. They're probably the ones buying his shit, y'know."

Sasuke snorted.

"I suppose so. Should I be using gloves?"

"Sasuke—that's—ugh," Naruto shoved at him, "no, you gross bast—"

"What? Look at what I'm holding—" Two DVDs, side by side, with a logo conveniently covering the woman's—

"He used it to help him write, you gigantic prude—"

"I'm not a prude—"

"You're the biggest prude. Move over." Naruto shoved past him to get to the box. They were gonna clear off all the little things first, Sakura had said, and Kiba was making trips back and forth to the storage box with his truck—they'd already cleared the kitchen, and the living room, mostly, and everybody else was dealing with Jir—with the main bedroom, and that left—

"We should do my room next."

Sasuke paused. Naruto ran a hand through his hair.

"Are you—"

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah. Ripping off a band-aid."

He didn't actually know if it would be any better to deal with it all now. He didn't know. The good thing was all of this felt so fucking overwhelming that he could barely pick a thought to rip his heart apart—

"Am I going to find your pornography in there?" It was quiet, muttered so only Naruto could hear, and Naruto's head snapped up so quick his neck hurt—

"No, Jesus, Sasuke, you fuck—" Naruto paused, because wait, no, actually, he'd had that box under the bed and maybe that locked drawer in his bedside cabinet— "wait, uh—no, wait, actually, let me go in there first, and I'll—stop laughing at me!"

Sasuke turned away, hand over his mouth—

"I was a teenager!"

Sasuke waved his free hand back in Naruto's direction, ducking down as his shoulders still shook—

"Sasuke, you—ugh, you fucker," Naruto shoved past him, but Sasuke only straightened up and followed him, laughing all the while (and okay, maybe the warmth from the embarrassment was also just the warmth that Sasuke kept making him feel but that didn't change the fact that he was an ass)—

He slowed once he got to the door. (Behind him, Sasuke stopped too.)

"I'm—I'm gonna go in," he said, steadying his breathing, "just—I just—I just need a—"

"Take your time."

Naruto breathed in again.

For a moment, he just stared at the wood. His—it was just constant mood swings, from the second he'd got here. He'd been laughing one second and crying in the next, and he just couldn't get ahold of himself—if he could just get ahold of himself—

"I had, ah," Sasuke's quiet voice came from behind him, "I found—Itachi had—"

Naruto turned just as Sasuke let out a breath.

"Here."

Sasuke shoved his phone into Naruto's hands, crossed his arms and looked away..

Naruto stared down at it. This was…

"Oh man," he breathed, "oh man, Sasuke—this is...wait, you had your lip pierced, too?" It looked like the same outfit—or, well, it was all black, anyway, but—

"No," Sasuke sighed, "it's fake."

Naruto stared at him.

Sasuke massaged the bridge of his nose.

"Go ahead."

Naruto's eyebrows reached his hairline and it was in that moment that the laughter finally made it out of his chest—quieter than normal, breathier than normal, but fuck, hadn't even known fake lip piercings existed, let alone that Sasuke—

"Is it—I mean," Naruto tried to catch his breath, "is it—from the same—"

"As your phone background? Yes." Sasuke pulled his hand away from his face to throw Naruto a look.

"This is amazing," Naruto told him, clutching the phone in his hand. "How the fuck did you get a fake lip—"

"It's a clip-on earring."

"You're kidding," Naruto breathed out another laugh, "Sasuke, there's no way—"

"I am not kidding," Sasuke muttered. "And you now owe me at least two embarrassing photographs."

Naruto looked up. That's right, he had—

"Yeah," Naruto passed Sasuke's phone back to him, "hang on, I've definitely got a—"

He pushed the door to his old room open.


Wildly inappropriate. That's what Sasuke kept telling himself—this whole situation was wildly inappropriate, and he really, really ought to start establishing some boundaries before he missed his chance entirely to—

"Here," Naruto said, already at his shelves—in the corner of the room, filled with books and knick-knacks and every bit as colourful as he'd expected (and you could barely see the paint of his room with the posters wallpapered all over it, from movies and shows and video games and Sasuke wasn't surprised, not at a single one, not at a single bit of this glimpse into Naruto's life)—

"Is that—"

"My old yearbook, yeah," Naruto threw him a small, loose grin as he plopped onto his bed, "hang on, I've definitely got—there's this one—"

He crossed his legs and flipped through the book in his lap. Sasuke struggled somewhere between closing the door behind him and wondering why he had that urge in the first place—as if this was some sort of private moment, between them—

"Found it." Naruto slid the book off his lap and twisted it around. Sasuke took a few steps forward, until he—

"That—" Sasuke bit down on the laughter bubbling up in his chest, but looking up at Naruto was making it so much worse, "that's very—ah—"

"Orange?"

Sasuke cleared his throat several times.

"Ah," fuck, it was so hard to keep a straight face, "yes. Very orange."

"Uh huh."

Sasuke pressed his lips together.

"Y'know what I wore underneath?" Naruto asked, staring up at Sasuke as if he knew— "A fishnet shirt."

"Wh—why?"

"I thought it looked cool."

"You—" Oh god, oh no, he could see it, in the photo, now that Naruto had pointed it out—Sasuke clapped a hand over his mouth—he just couldn't help it

At the same time Sasuke finally broke, Naruto laughed, too. Soft and erratic—as it had been the rest of the night, but it hadn't quite crossed the line into hysterical, yet. Naruto was doing everything he could to keep control, which was admirable, but…

"Okay, okay, two embarrassing pictures...I've got some more…" Naruto ducked back towards the shelves. "I stole these from Jiraiya years ago. He had a bunch of albums and I'd go in and…"

Naruto cut himself off, shrugging a little.

"Maybe I should've taken them," he said quietly. "I'll take them now, I guess."

"Keep the pictures together," Sasuke said. "We'll have a separate box for them."

"They're not all loose, though. Some are in albums and stuff—like in the, um, other room—"

"I'll speak with S—Haruno. Are those loose?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, letting the pictures spill out onto the bed, "I just kinda tucked them into books or corners or whatever. This, um—"

But Sasuke had already picked up the photo. The resemblance was unmistakable.

"That obvious, huh?"

"You are a carbon copy of your father." Down to the colour of his eyes. It was uncanny. Sasuke hadn't expected the fiery red hair on his mother, for some reason, although he supposed it wasn't an unpleasant colour—

Naruto let out a soft snort. "Yeah—that's—that's what Jiraiya said. But I have my, um, mother's personality."

"And her smile," Sasuke said, more to himself than anything—

"Yeah. Jiraiya said that too. Like my mouth's try'na take over my face."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him. Naruto gave him a small, transient smile.

"I thought about dying my hair like that, y'know."

"Like your mother's?"

"Yeah. I like my natural hair too much, though."

It wouldn't have looked...bad. Then again—Sasuke was hard-pressed to imagine something that would. Naruto was a conventionally attractive man, comfortable in his own skin, with a bright personality and a brain that wasn't always half-asleep.

It would take a lot more than a change in hair colour to take away from that.

"What?" Naruto said, and Sasuke realized that he might've just been staring— "Picturing me as a redhead? It'd look dumb, I know."

He laughed a little, awkward and insincere as he looked away—

"No. No," Sasuke said quickly, clearing his throat, "I don't think it would look...bad."

There was a pause.

"...D'you think it would look good?"

Sasuke shrugged and looked away.

"I'm not exactly the best resource for fashion advice, Uzumaki."

"Yeah," Naruto's laugh was warmer, this time, and it made Sasuke looked back at him, "you and your fake lip ring."

Sasuke flicked the photo back onto the bed like a frisbee.

"Fuck you."

Naruto's smile widened for a moment, but it dimmed quickly as Naruto looked back down at the photos in his hands.

"We should, um," Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "start on all this, right? Or—I guess I owe you another—"

Sasuke moved forwards and took the photos from him. They could stay with the yearbook, for now—he'd pack them last. They were small and delicate and not easily found, and Sasuke would not allow them to be lost.

"Relax, moron."

He gently placed an empty box on the bed. For now, they could start with the shelf.

"The folder's in the car," Sasuke continued, pulling several figures off their respective shelves. "Whenever you need to take a break."

Naruto turned to watch him with tired eyes.

"And you should eat dinner, at some point."

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah, I was—I didn't know if that would be…" Naruto frowned down at Sasuke. "What're you doing with those?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"Packing them." He placed a piece of tape over the bubble wrap. "So they don't get damaged."

Naruto laughed a little.

"You're treating them way better than I ever did."

Sasuke snorted and placed the figures in the box.

"I don't doubt it. Pass me everything else."

"Oh—yeah, I'll—I should get a box, too—hang on…"

Naruto ducked around him and left the room. Sasuke watched the entrance for a moment longer before he turned back to the yearbook, still open on the bed—

He pulled out his phone. Fair was fair, after all.

He snapped a quick photo and slipped it back into his pocket, just as Naruto came back.

"'Kay, I got more boxes and more tape," he sighed. "It shouldn't be—like, I know I have a lot of stuff here, but I've been kinda slowly taking it to my new place…"

"It's perfectly doable," Sasuke said, returning to the shelves. He could keep all the figures to this box—let Naruto have some semblance of organization, even if he never got around to unpacking the things. "What about these plants?"

"The—um," Naruto swallowed, "yeah—I—I guess I'll just take them? I kept, um, I kept meaning to take them every time I came and never—I just never—"

Naruto turned with a shuddering breath—and Sasuke was immediately at his side.

"Stop," he said, as Naruto opened his mouth to apologize, give some sort of excuse, laugh it off— "sit down."

"Sit…?"

"Down. Onto the bed."

"I—I gotta keep packing, Sasuke, we've got so much to—"

"I'm packing. You are sitting. Sit." He emphasized the last word with a gentle push.

It did the trick. Naruto sat down, onto the bed, ducking down into himself as if just trying to shrink away from the world—

"Say your thoughts out loud," Sasuke said, unravelling the next roll of bubble wrap.

Naruto let out another shuddering breath.

"I—" one tear leaked out, and Naruto was quick to slap it away, "what's the point? He's...there's no—he's just—"

Sasuke reached into the box he'd brought in, and held a bottle out to Naruto.

Naruto stared at him.

"Did you—did you seriously bring a bottle of wa—"

"Have you drank anything since you've walked through that door?" Sasuke jerked his head towards the entrance.

Naruto sagged a little, but the barest hint of a smile spread across his face.

"...No. You dick."

Sasuke nodded, and continued to pack.

"Keep talking," he said, after a moment.

Naruto twitched a little, as if acknowledging the thought. He ran a thumb up and down the bottle in his hands.

"I hate that we have to move all this out."

Sasuke paused as he gently took another figure from the shelves, and then continued.

"I hate it. I'm not ready yet. Why is this moving so fucking fast?"

Sasuke glanced over at him.

"Okay, yeah, fine—that was fucking stupid, I get it. I'm the one who keeps trying to get it all over with."

Sasuke placed a piece of tape along the bubble wrap.

"I'm not ready. I keep trying to deal with it—am I dealing with it? I don't feel like I'm—I feel like I'm just—"

A few more tears spilt free, and Naruto ducked down to wipe at them.

"Every time I see anything—I just—I keep looking out the door and expecting him to—"

"I know," Sasuke said quietly. He'd caught Naruto staring into space more than once tonight. It wasn't as if he didn't know the feeling.

"Yeah," Naruto said quietly, looking down at his lap again. "Yeah, you do. M'sorry, Sasuke. I'm not trying to—"

"Moron," Sasuke told him, meeting Naruto's eyes as they snapped up to his, "of all the nights to be selfish, this one is it. Take it."

Naruto let out a small laugh.

"I never like being a burden on people," he said. "It's like—one of my things. I dunno. I guess it isn't great."

"You're compassionate to a fault," Sasuke said, busying himself with packing. "I'm well aware."

There was a pause. Sasuke could feel Naruto's eyes on him, and he made a point of not looking up, only continuing to take things from the shelf—

"That was almost a compliment."

"I said 'to a fault'," Sasuke immediately snapped, face burning—

Naruto laughed, and flopped back onto the bed.

"Can't fool me, Sasuke. I already know you're nice."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. He'd moved onto the bedside table, now—once they cleared the furniture, they could clear the room properly. The top drawer looked to be able to lock, but the key was slotted in place, so…

Sasuke slammed the drawer shut.

Naruto jumped and turned around. "What?"

"Nothing," Sasuke answered, quickly moving onto the poster on the wall—he most definitely wasn't meant to see—

"Wait, you didn't—did you? The first—"

"No," Sasuke said quickly—

"Oh motherf—" Naruto threw his hands over his face, "oh god—"

Naruto peeked through his fingers and Sasuke prayed the ground would swallow him up whole—

"I warned you!"

Sasuke turned away.

"Motherfuck—Jesus, I'm so sorry, I—"

"It's fine," Sasuke told the wall.

There was a pause. Sasuke refused to turn back.

"...What did you see?"

Sasuke slid the drawer open without turning around.

There was a pause. He distinctly heard the bed shift.

"Oh, god."

Sasuke massaged the bridge of his nose, but didn't reply.

"So you're just gonna kill me now, right?"

Sasuke coughed out a laugh before he could help it. He turned to see Naruto's hands, still over his bright, bright red face—

"Did you two not believe in the internet or something?"

"No, we—hey, okay," Naruto sat up onto his knees, pointing at Sasuke, "that wasn't a thing when Jiraiya was growing up and I learned through him and come on you asshole! It was like a million years ago, you—"

Naruto grabbed at his hands as Sasuke stumbled back, laughing again—

"Sasuke—"

Sasuke shook his head, unable to fight the smile.

"Unbelievable."

Naruto squinted at him.

"You dick."

"You moron."

Naruto glared at him a moment longer. But the smile was spreading across his face, and Sasuke found himself staring down at it, as if—

Naruto pulled away.

"I—yeah," Naruto ducked his head, "sorry. I'm a bit of a moron, yeah."

Sasuke turned away.

"Can I get that in writing?" he muttered, busying himself with the poster on his wall. He didn't know why he felt so—tense, so built up, as if he was the one embarrassed and nervous and—

"Ass. Let me pack that shelf. Or—fuck, we can throw it all out. I'm gonna throw—you're gonna forget you ever saw anything, okay?" Naruto pointed a finger right in his face. Sasuke suddenly got the sense he was far too close—

"Okay?"

Sasuke bit down on his smile and moved away.

"Sure thing."

"Oh, you fucking liar," Naruto mumbled, sighing as a ran a hand through his hair. "...Sorry."

"It's fine," Sasuke said again.

"I guess this is—this is when I should tell you I'm bisexual, huh?"

Sasuke coughed a little.

"Yes, I…" Sasuke waved a hand at the table, "assumed that, ah…"

Naruto crumbled back onto the bed and threw his hands over his face.

"Please tell me it doesn't make it uncomfortable or something. I already wanna die."

"It doesn't."

Naruto peeked at him through his fingers.

"...Doesn't look like it."

Sasuke frowned.

"Look like what?"

"Like you're okay with it."

Sasuke crossed his arms.

"I apologize for not being more thrilled by your choice in pornography."

Naruto groaned and crumbled back into his hands.

"...Uzumaki."

Naruto shook his head without looking up.

"Just—" Naruto pulled his hands away from his face and stared at the wall, "I'll finish this room. You've done enough already. I'm really—you should go."

Sasuke stared at his pathetic form for a moment longer, before he sighed.

"You—" he sighed, resigning himself to this fate, "Naruto. It would be incredibly hypocritical for me to be bothered by your orientation."

Naruto's head spun to face him.

"Are you—wh—would it?"

"Yes."

Naruto blinked. And then he blinked again.

"Oh," he said softly. He sucked in a breath, as if to speak again—

"And I would appreciate your discretion."

Naruto rocked back a little, and then—

"Wh—yeah, of course, I'd never—" Naruto said, nodding vigorously, "yeah. 'Course. Um, are you bi too? Or…?"

Naruto shuffled a little, in place, pulling his legs closer to himself—

"Gay," Sasuke said quietly.

"Huh," Naruto said, scanning along the edge of the bed as if there was some sort of answer there for him. It was only a moment before his eyes were back up to Sasuke's, a soft smile on his face—

"...No wonder you hadn't heard of Icha Icha."

"You're fired."


Naruto was absolutely no help.

Sasuke had single-handedly packed his entire room into a few neatly labelled boxes, and all Naruto had managed to do is mumble about whatever thing Sasuke had just picked up. And every time he'd tried to get up—

"Moron, drink your water."

Sasuke had stopped him.

"You sure you don't need help?" Naruto asked, again, like he had been half the fucking night—

"You think so highly of my capabilities," Sasuke said, moving past him.

Except for the porn. Except for his stupid drawer of lotion and tissues and really, really bad porn that he had forgotten about and then remembered and then immediately forgotten again

God, Sasuke had it right. He was such a moron.

"Did you want your games with your comics, or on their own?"

"Um," Naruto rolled over a bit, "on their own would be great."

Sasuke dutifully grabbed another box from the floor.

"Is that the last of it…?"

Sasuke glanced at him.

"Except for the posters," he said, "and the furniture."

"Oh," Naruto said, "yeah…"

Naruto jumped as he felt Sasuke flick his arm—gently, though; Naruto nearly thought he imagined it—

"Do we have elastics?"

Naruto looked up at him. Sasuke sealed the box, and flicked off the cap of the marker to swiftly label the side.

"Elastics?"

"For the posters," Sasuke said, "to roll them. If not, I'll find a way to lay them flat."

"The—um, I don't actually know...Sakura might—"

"Sakura will," Sasuke brushed some hair out of his face before he heaved the box over to the rest of the pile—

"Wait," Naruto said, the smile rapidly spreading across his face, "did you just call her Sakura?"

Sasuke's head jerked up.

"I—"

"You said Sakura!"

"It was a mistake—"

"No," Naruto laughed, "no, I'm totally getting to you! You're gonna be on a first name basis with Kiba by the end of this—"

"God help me," Sasuke muttered, and all it did was make Naruto laugh harder—

"You better not let her hear you or that crush might come back, you know," which was actually way more convenient since, "she never even stood a chanc—"

"Discretion. Please."

Naruto's mouth snapped shut. Sasuke had almost sounded…

"Hey—I was just kidding. You know I'm not gonna be an ass." Naruto shuffled over to the corner of the bed. "That's your area of expertise."

Sasuke snorted, but stayed quiet. He just kept doing that thing where he acted like pulling a poster off Naruto's wall took every bit of his concentration—

"Does Itachi not know?"

Sasuke glanced at him.

"No, he knows."

Naruto relaxed a little. Itachi was every ounce as loyal as Sasuke.

"I just," Sasuke shifted awkwardly, "would rather avoid being the centerpiece of office gossip."

Naruto snorted.

"Sasuke," he said seriously, "you're our boss. We talk about you all the time."

"...Fantastic."

"I mean, it's usually like 'I wonder if he takes his heart out of the freezer in the morning' or 'that coffin he sleeps in must be'—"

Sasuke let go of the poster long enough to throw the empty water bottle at Naruto's head. Naruto dissolved into laughter.

Sasuke levelled Naruto with a soft glare as he went back to fiddling with the poster. Naruto gave him his most innocent smile.

"No one would believe me anyway, don't worry," Naruto said, rolling onto his back. "And—oh, everybody knows I'm bi, so you're off the hook. I mean, Itachi might not know." He threw Sasuke a grin. "You can tell Itachi."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I'll make it my first priority."

Naruto's smile widened.

"Y'know my yearbooks?"

"The ones that feature you as an orange? Yes."

Naruto snorted a little, turning back to stare at the ceiling.

"Jiraiya would flip through them and, like, point out all the girls I should go after." Naruto's smile dimmed. "After I told him, he did it with the guys, too."

"Well," Sasuke said, "I suppose that's one way to show support."

Naruto laughed—it lessened the pain in his chest, if only a little.

"Yeah. Yeah, it was. He never really...got it—like, I mean, you saw. He's a straight guy's straight guy. All about the boobs."

"Hm," Sasuke said, neatly tucking the poster into a box, "I can't relate."

That surprised a smile back onto Naruto's face, and he turned to see Sasuke fighting a smile of his own—

"So you're telling me," Naruto said, "this entire damn time, you've had a sense of humour?"

Sasuke shrugged, turning his attention to the next poster. He wasn't totally successful in hiding his smile, though, and it made Naruto sit up to catch another glimpse—

"When did you—I came out in high school. To everybody, though. Did you ever…?"

"Only to my brother," Sasuke said, "well past high school."

"Mm, makes sense."

There was a small pause. Naruto swallowed and rolled over on the bed (somewhere, in the back of his mind, knowing this would be the last time he'd ever lay here)—

"I'm not sure if my parents would have been supportive," Sasuke said, gently peeling a piece of tape off the poster. (He hadn't damaged a single one so far—Naruto probably would've ripped them all to shreds.) "I'd like to think they would have taken it well. As unlikely as it seems."

Sasuke finished quietly, as if the thought was just for himself. Naruto sat up and pulled his knees to his chest.

"Even if they hadn't," Naruto said, resting his cheek on his knees, "you and Itachi are way too stubborn to let that stand. They would've been behind you all the way, in the end."

Sasuke stared back at him, halfway through pulling the poster off the wall.

Naruto shrugged a little.

"What? It's true. Itachi would like—smite down a whole village for you."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"You have a very high opinion of my brother. Should I be worried?"

"Hey—my opinion is based on what you told me," Naruto said, rolling to face Sasuke better, "and according to you, Itachi is the bestest big brother in the whole wide—ow!"

Sasuke, hands free of the ball of tape he'd thrown at Naruto's forehead, looked very pleased with himself.

"What's with you and throwing things at me?"

Sasuke turned to the next poster.

"You're an easy target."

"Wow," Naruto flopped back onto the bed, "thanks, asshole."

Sasuke threw a smirk back at him.

"I didn't realize I had so many posters…"

"No?" Sasuke asked. "I imagine your current apartment isn't much better off."

Naruto laughed.

"You'd imagine right. How'd you know?"

Sasuke spared a moment to raise an eyebrow at Naruto as he pulled the last piece of tape off the poster.

"There's nothing subtle about you."

Naruto snorted.

"You'd better hope there is," he said, "or else you're gonna be hot office gossip as of tomorrow."

"With that picture on your phone," Sasuke didn't miss a beat, "I'm surprised that's not already the case."

Naruto smiled at the reminder.

"I might have to replace it with the lip ring one, I gotta say." He laughed a little. "It's really hard to pass up."

Sasuke snorted.

"As long as it isn't all over the office."

Naruto let out a breath. Sasuke really was…

"Hey," he said softly, feeling his old bedroom sheets under the back of his hand, "thanks."

Sasuke glanced at him.

"This has been—I mean, you've been really…" Naruto let out a breath, "helpful. Um—"

"Relax, Uzumaki," Sasuke turned to the next poster, "if you really want to help, find some elastic bands."

"Oh—yeah," Naruto finally got back on his feet, "I'll ask Sakura—gimmie a sec."

And then he was gone.

Chapter Text

They wiped the place clean.

It took six hours, several car trips, and more boxes than Sasuke had thought they'd had access to—but they managed it. Sasuke had made a point of setting Naruto's photographs—and plants—in his car, and repeating the placement of them every few minutes until the man himself made it there.

Sasuke glanced to his side and flicked on his turn signal.

Perhaps he should send it in an email, as well. Perhaps when he was home...half an hour from now.

He sighed.

He was exhausted. He'd been exhausted for the better part of today—since the moment he'd awoken, and now—

Sasuke smoothly changed lanes.

And now he was angry with himself, on top of it all. It was as if he'd forgotten where he was. It was as if he'd forgotten who he was. He'd spent the better part of six-something hours chattering away with his employee, and he'd just—

He'd just opened up. Like it was nothing. Sasuke was hellishly uncomfortable with revealing any and all personal information. Always. But there—but then, but recently, it was like he was trying to recite his entire life story to Naruto.

Sasuke scowled as he hit the brake pedal. Fucking red lights.

He'd gone years without even a whisper of his sexuality. Without a whisper of his dating habits, or his hobbies, or anything—and it had been perfect. He didn't want anyone knowing anything about him. He was happy that way. He was better off that way.

The light turned green, and Sasuke forced himself to accelerate at a reasonable pace.

It wasn't as if Naruto was a bad person. No, of all the people to take advantage of Sasuke's hospitality...Naruto would never be one of them. And he had been incredibly grateful. And obviously preoccupied. And...

Sasuke sighed.

Naruto had better things to think about than Sasuke's embarrassment—or, well, worse things. Far worse things.

Fucking hell. Alright. Well.

Sasuke merged into the turning lane, and waited.

What was done was done. All he had to do now was make it home, stuff some food into his mouth, and pass out.

He could worry about this tomorrow.


He'd worry about his stuff tomorrow. The photos were fine, and he might as well bring the plants to the office or something...he already had too many here.

Naruto slammed his car door shut with his back, and sucked in several breaths. Sakura'd offered to sleepover—and, well, from the way everybody else had listened in on that conversation, everybody else had probably been willing to too, but Naruto was just…

Fucking exhausted.

He closed his eyes as the elevator doors did the same.

He'd skipped Chouji's dinner out of fear of being sick again, but now he was just way too damn tired to eat. It'd be a miracle if he made it to his bed. He'd been running on the last of his adrenaline for the drive home, and now…

The elevator beeped, and Naruto stumbled down the hall.

He fell asleep, in his bed, with his clothes unchanged.


Sasuke barely made it through dinner.

He settled for a piece of toast, with whatever he could find slapped on top—he was too tired to care. He bit into it as he pulled his belt from his pants and the shirt over his head. He'd sweat enough tonight to be able to get away with tossing them into the laundry basket (he nearly threw the belt in, too, and it was only then that he realized his wallet and keys were still in his stupid pants' pocket).

His toothbrush barely skimmed his teeth as he pulled his pajamas on. He didn't bother to floss—but he did make sure to set his alarm, with his phone sitting beside his head on the bedside table—

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.


He couldn't sleep.

Naruto had woken up cold, uncomfortable, and unfathomably hungry—stumbled his way to the fridge, stumbled his way back, and now—

He couldn't sleep.

God fucking damn it. It was four in the morning. It was four in the morning. He had work tomorrow. He was supposed to be functional tomorrow. He'd already barely existed today, with how—

Naruto hissed out a breath and threw himself onto his side. No. No. His mind would not race again—he wasn't going to think about this—he wasn't going to think about anything. He'd keep his mind blank, so he could actually fucking sleep—

This was never going to work.

Eyes heavy and sore, Naruto sat up. He didn't know how he could be so exhausted and so totally unable to sleep. His room was pitch black, his body was as tired as his mind, he…

He stared down at his lap.

He didn't know what to do.

He'd hoped he'd be too tired to feel any of this. Too numb or too distracted or…

Naruto sighed and grabbed his phone. Maybe he could scroll through some dumb website or…

Oh.

Against his will, Naruto smiled.

He'd completely forgotten about his background. Again.

...He knew Sasuke would kill him if he called. He surely would, no matter how nice he actually was turning out to be—Sasuke's cell had been given to them for work emergencies only. But so far, he'd been—so far, the only night Naruto had actually managed to get decent sleep, Sasuke had…

Naruto closed his eyes, and hit dial.

"—lo?"

Crap. Sasuke sounded exhausted.

"Hey," he said quietly, "um, sorry, it's—"

"Naruto."

"I...yeah," Naruto sat up a little more, "hi."

"Are you—"

"I'm fine," Naruto said quickly, "I'm fine, sorry, I didn't—crap," Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "I'm sorry, go back to bed, I'll—"

"Uzumaki," Sasuke growled, "if you called me in the middle of the night only to immediately hang up, I will come to work tomorrow and kill you."

Naruto ducked his head.

"Yeah," he said quietly, "yeah—I—sorry. I couldn't, um, really sleep."

"...You bizzare bundle of energy," came Sasuke's mumbled response, and Naruto let out a small laugh.

"No—I, um, I mean, I was asleep. I'm just—" Naruto rubbed at his eye with the base of his palm. "I woke up again."

He heard Sasuke let out a breath.

"Have you eaten?"

Naruto laughed a little—more nervous, this time—

"Yeah, I think that's what woke me up. I did."

"Mm," came Sasuke's sleepy voice, "water?"

"Oh," Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "I guess—"

"Every time with you."

"Hey!" Naruto protested. "No, this time doesn't count—I didn't even do anything when I came home. I didn't even take off my work clothes!"

"Stupid," Sasuke breathed, "get changed."

Naruto let out a breath.

"Don't make me come over there."

And Naruto didn't know if it was a threat or an offer, but—

"You'd," he laughed quietly, pushing himself up a little more, "you'd crash on the way, genius. I just wanted to...um, talk."

"To me," came Sasuke's quiet voice, and it made Naruto flinch. Yeah, he could've called anyone. They would have been happy to talk to him.

He could have called anyone.

"You can yell at me if you want," he whispered.

"...Such a high opinion of me," Naruto heard a breath and a small groan, as if Sasuke was stretching on the other end— "What time is it?"

"Um," Naruto grimaced a little, "four."

He heard Sasuke let out a breath.

"Sorry."

"It's fine, moron, I was asking a question." Sasuke made another small noise. "Haruno didn't stay with you?"

"No, I, uh—I thought I'd pass out right away. I mean, I did, but then…y'know."

"I know."

There was a small pause. Naruto looked down at his lap and debated actually getting up and getting changed...getting some water or something...maybe getting some real food as opposed to the fucking crackers he'd ended up just stuffing in his mouth…he really didn't want to move, but—

Naruto's phone buzzed in his hand.

"There." Sasuke's voice sounded like a sigh.

Naruto pulled his phone away from his ear.

"You know you're in my phone as 'the asshole'?" he asked, tapping on the text message—

"I didn't need you to tell me for me to know that."

Naruto let out a soft laugh. Sasuke had sent him a photo, it seemed, from the attachment that was still loading—

"Oh," Naruto laughed again as the photo loaded—it was the one— "oh my god, amazing, Sasuke, that—I'm gonna change my background right now."

"I'm so flattered," Sasuke deadpanned.

"You should be, I'm in high demand," he said, tapping through his settings. Sasuke's voice was loud enough that he didn't really need to hold him up to his ear—he could just lay with the phone on his side, like this…

"I don't doubt it."

The smile spread across Naruto's face again. He wondered if Sasuke realized how often he'd accidentally complimented him.

"Done," he said, letting out a breath. "Okay. I'm gonna get some...water or something."

"You're listening to me," Sasuke mumbled. "It's a goddamn miracle."

"Thanks, dickwad." Naruto groaned as he pushed himself out of the bed. He switched ears as he dug through his drawers for a clean set of pajamas—preferably soft, too—

"Are you getting water?"

"I'm getting changed first," he told the phone—on the dresser, now, as he pulled his shirt off—

"That explains why you're yelling from the dark side of the moon."

Naruto snorted. He was way too fucking tired to hang up everything properly—he'd wash it all later. He grabbed a pair of pants and stumbled his way to the kitchen.

"Did you remember the boxes? I was going to email you…"

"I'm bringing the plants to the office," Naruto said, tucking his phone between his shoulder and his face, "and the pictures are still in the car. I'll get them tomorrow."

"How many plants do you need? Your cubicle is already a greenhouse."

"I like plants, asshole," Naruto said, filling up a cup. "If you think that's bad, you should see my actual place."

"Is it a greenhouse?"

Naruto laughed, and nudged his bedroom door open with his shoulder.

"It's a bit of one, yeah." He slid the cup onto the table and flopped back into bed. "I like being surrounded by life, y'know?"

There was a pause. Naruto twisted himself up in his sheets.

"S'that weird?"

"No," came Sasuke's muffled voice, "it's very...romantic."

Naruto turned onto his back.

"...Romantic?"

"I—whatever, I'm tired—"

"No, no, no, no," Naruto laughed, "you said—how is it romantic?"

"Fuck off, Uzumaki," Sasuke mumbled, "it's four in the morning."

Naruto laughed.

"Yeah," he said, "I think it's the first time I've ever heard you be off your game."

"I'm going to quote you on that."

"Yeah, go ahead. I'm gonna tell everybody you think plants are romantic."

"The sentiment was—you moron, not the plants, you—" Sasuke let out a breath, "stupid."

Naruto laughed.

"Yeah, well. I mean, I guess I used to name them and stuff."

"...Your plants?"

"Yeah. When I was younger."

"Younger as in four years old or younger as in fourteen?"

Naruto rolled over a little.

"...More like fourteen."

On the other end, Naruto heard Sasuke's soft laugh.

"Sounds about right. What were their names?"

"Um, I had—well, my first one was Kurama, which was this big orange foxglove—y'know the ones that are like—they're super tall and straight and have big bunches of flowers in like—in like a column?"

"Mm."

"Yeah. That was Kurama. And I had a cactus named Shukaku that I could never get to flower, but it lived forever. I moved it so much and it never even flinched."

"And the ones with you now? Do they have names?"

"No," Naruto said quietly, "I stopped after—I, um," he let out a breath, "after a lot of them didn't, um, live too long and I—well, like, I know they're plants and it's not like—"

"Romanticist. I told you."

Naruto let out a surprised breath.

"You ass." He closed his eyes. "I guess I'm probably too sentimental about stuff."

"...You're not. Why would you be?"

Naruto's eyes opened.

"I mean," he let out a breath, finally acknowledging the lump in his throat—the one he'd been trying to push away all night— "it'd be nice not to—not to have to feel like, um, this—" Naruto waved a hand around himself and sucked in a shuddering breath, "you know?"

"Moron," came Sasuke's voice, with a consciousness that hadn't been there a moment ago, "you'd never be happy living like that."

"You don't—"

"Surrounded by life. You said it yourself."

"I mean, I—"

"You love people and people love you."

"I—"

"And part of love is loss."

Naruto sucked in half of a breath—

"But I—I don't think—"

"You're going to be okay."

Naruto's breath caught in his mouth—

"You're going to feel okay."

"Sasuke," he said, unable to—

"I know."

"Sas—"

"I know, Naruto."

Naruto, alone and cold in his bed, crumbled into himself. He muffled the sobs with the blankets he clutched to his chest—

"Keep breathing."

Naruto did what he could to obey. The pain was deep and insidious and twisting through every part of him, waiting to suffocate him at a moment's notice—not even, it was like as soon as he started to feel like himself, he—

"My family had a cat, growing up."

"You—" Naruto coughed out a breath, "what?"

"We had a small black cat. My mother brought him home."

"...Him?" The word was like a breath in—

"Susanoo, god of storms. From Japanese mythology."

"Oh," Naruto let out the breath into the covers in front of him, "that's really—"

"He was terrified of storms."

Against every bit of his will, Naruto laughed. It was wet and breathless and Naruto felt some tension leave his body with the breath—

"He'd hide under my bed."

"That's so cute," Naruto whispered.

"And lunge out at my feet every time I came near it."

Naruto put a hand over his smile.

"He was a little bastard."

"Just like you," Naruto couldn't help but say, and something in Sasuke's soft laugh made him know he'd been expecting it.

"So you say," Sasuke said, "although I've never been known to scream at the top of my lungs at four in the morning."

"Oh, now's your chance, then." Naruto sniffed and wiped at his face—he was gonna have to get a million more boxes of tissues by the end of this…

"Meow."

Naruto laughed.

"That wasn't a scream!" It had been deadpan and filled with sarcasm, like every other bit of Sasuke, but—

"My apologies," Sasuke said, and Naruto heard something shift, as if Sasuke was rolling over. "One to fifty-four."

"You have the folder there?"

"I'm getting it. One to fifty-four."

"Um," Naruto rolled onto his back, wiping at his eyes again, "six?"

"That works."

Naruto heard more shuffling on the other end.

"Am I gonna get another text message?"

"The original plan," came Sasuke's voice, muffled and distant, "was to never allow you permanent access to any of this."

"Ah," Naruto said, "permanent, like being my phone background?"

"Yes. Great example. Give me a minute."

"Okay."

Naruto closed his eyes, and waited with his phone in his hand.

"Oh, god."

Naruto opened his eyes.

"...Is it that bad?"

"I had hoped Itachi burned this. Incoming."

Naruto sat up a little. His phone buzzed in his hand and the attachment started to load—

"Oh no."

"I know."

"Oh no, Sasuke—"

"I know."

It was a little fuzzy, in the obvious darkness of Naruto's room, but he could easily make out younger Sasuke's stiff, pained look at the camera, complete with a girl wrapped around his arm, looking up at him like—

"Oh, god, she's so into you!" The giggles finally burst out of Naruto, just as he heard Sasuke's muffled, soft groan—

"Please don't remind me."

"Was this your first date?"

"Yes."

Naruto stared into photo-Sasuke's poor, helpless eyes.

"Was it your last?"

"...Yes."

"You heartbreaker! Did Itachi take the photo?"

"He insisted."

"Oh my god, I'm so glad he did," Naruto laughed again, and flopped back onto the bed. "Okay, okay, start from the top."

He heard Sasuke sigh.

"There's not much to tell. I was tired of being badgered to go on a date, so I went on a date."

"And?"

"And it was a disaster. By the end, she thought so too."

Naruto hissed in a breath through his teeth. "Ouch. Did you pull the old 'this was nice, but let's never do it again'?"

"She did, actually."

"She did?!"

"Apparently, all it took was being alone with me to pick up on my disinterest."

"Ouch! Oh man, that's—"

"Disaster. I told you."

"Aw," Naruto turned on his side and let out a small breath, "did you at least tell her why you weren't interested?"

"Of course not."

Naruto made a small noise of acknowledgement.

"If it makes you feel better, I didn't date anyone 'till I was way outta high school."

"It does not make me feel better to know you made smarter decisions than me, no."

Naruto laughed.

"Ass. I'm plenty smart."

"Sure you are."

It was sarcastic and deadpan, just as Naruto expected, but there was a note of something in Sasuke's voice that made Naruto suddenly sure that the guy was laughing, too—

"Yeah, okay, goth boy. You're not even wearing black here—what happened?"

"I was graduating. I had to join the real world."

"Ugh, conformist."

"..God," Sasuke's soft breath nearly sounded like a laugh, "you are such a moron."

Naruto grinned as he shut off his phone screen again.

"Did you go to university after?"

"Obviously."

"Obviously," Naruto mocked. "Be real—you could've easily just started here after school. Itachi would've taught you everything."

"I think he was attempting to keep my life as normal as possible. Or typical. Reflective of what everyone else was doing, I don't know. Something like that." Sasuke let out another breath. "At any rate, no. I was not mentally prepared to be in charge of anyone, let alone their finances."

"No?"

"No."

"Jeez," Naruto shuffled in place, "I didn't expect you to admit that so easily."

Sasuke snorted.

"I'm aware of my weaknesses, Naruto." He paused for a moment, before continuing more quietly, "and it's four in the morning."

"Mm," Naruto yawned at the reminder, "did you date anyone else after?"

"Not until I came out."

"Fair," Naruto said. "And then?"

"Nothing long-term."

"Hm," Naruto let his eyes flutter closed, "everybody annoys you too much?"

Sasuke snorted.

"Perceptive."

Naruto made a noise of acknowledgement, feeling the warmth of the bed weighing his body down. It was fair enough for Sasuke...off all the things to be picky about, this was probably the most justified. And he could afford it, too, with his looks and his brain and all that, but...Naruto'd never had anything make it long-term, either—not as long as he'd wanted, anyway—and he just...he didn't know how Sasuke could live alone, like he did, and not get…

"Guess you have Itachi, though..."

"I have Itachi for what?"

"Around," Naruto mumbled, eyelids getting heavier. Still, Itachi was as busy as Sasuke, and… "did you get another pet? After…um," Naruto swallowed and breathed in, bring his consciousness back to him just a little—just to remember— "after Susanoo?"

"...No," Sasuke said quietly, "I didn't want…"

His voice trailed off.

Naruto let out a long breath. His thoughts drifted in a haze of fog…everything was so heavy...

"You never lonely or just don't wanna open up since it happened?" he mumbled, feeling himself fade—

In the piercing ring of Sasuke's silence, Naruto's eyes snapped open.

"Sorry," he said, rubbing at his eyes as the room spun around him, "fuck, I'm sorry—forget I said—I was just falling asleep—I didn't know what I was—sorry."

On the other side of the line, he heard Sasuke let out a breath.

"Not thinking before you speak," he said softly, "how rare for you."

The guilt washed the panic away as if it was nothing.

"...Sorry." Naruto stared down at his lap. Of all the things to have said—

"It's fine. Moron."

There was another pause. Naruto felt like the world's biggest asshole.

"...—er."

"You—what?"

"The latter."

"Oh," Naruto said, sucking in the word with the same breath as his surprise. He'd expected to be yelled at, not—this. But the honesty that Sasuke'd shown him demanded in the same in return, so—

"I'm—you probably—I'm the former. Or, the, uh—the opposite of, um, what I said. You probably know."

Sasuke knew everything, right? He probably knew. He definitely—

"I had my suspicions," Sasuke said, and Naruto let out a small, anxious laugh— "that you were even more stupid than I'd initially thought."

"I—hey—what! That's not—"

"You are surrounded by people at all hours of the day."

"That's not—"

"Actual friends of yours."

"And I appreciate them," Naruto let out a breath, "I—I do, but—"

"But?"

"But it's not—there's—" Naruto ran a hand through his hair and let out a frustrated breath. There were things that he wanted that his friends couldn't give him. There were parts of him that his friends didn't know. He wanted someone who would—

"Maybe you should get a dog."

"I...oh my god, Sasuke—"

"And I'll get a cat."

Naruto's sentence paused, in place, before Sasuke's crumble into laughter had Naruto laughing, too—

"Sas—what are you even saying?"

"I don't even know," Sasuke let out a soft, sighing groan, "I'm half-asleep. What were we talking about?"

"Uh," Naruto let out a pathetic laugh, "life?"

"Mm, so specific, moron, thank you."

"You're the one who can't remember anything!" Naruto protested, flopping back down into the bed. He rested his phone on his shoulder so his ear was right beside it, without pressing on it—

"You should go to bed. I'm gonna stop bugging you."

"If you hang up, I will call back."

Naruto blinked his eyes a little more open.

"Why?"

Sasuke let out a breath.

"Stupid," he sighed, and Naruto heard something shift, "how many posters does your room have?"

"Posters?"

"You said it was as covered as your old room."

Naruto let out a soft laugh, glancing around the darkness of his room. He could pick out every detail on the walls, even if he couldn't see them all—

"I mean," he said, "yeah, it is. S'like my wallpaper."

"Mm," Sasuke let out a sigh, "did you wallpaper the ceiling, too?"

"No," Naruto laughed the word out, "no—I did that in my old room, and then one of them fell on me in the middle of the night and I nearly fucking shit the bed—"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair just as he heard Sasuke start to laugh again. It was such a satisfying sound—

"Learned your lesson, did you?"

"Learned it real fast, yeah." He paused for a second, before he rolled onto his side again. "You don't have any posters or anything."

"No. Should I?"

"'Course you should. If you had to pick a poster, what would you put up?"

"...Do I have to pick one?"

"Yep."

Sasuke let out a breath.

"Does it have to be a poster?"

Naruto snorted.

"No, you fancy bastard. Painting, picture—whatever."

"...Lilies."

"Lilies?"

"They were...painted in white. In my par—in the master bedroom."

Naruto sucked in a small breath.

"...You know," he said, after a moment, "that's one flower I've never tried to take care of."

"I've heard they're finicky."

"Eh," Naruto said, "I've dealt with finicky before."

There was a small pause.

"What else did the, um, master bedroom have?"

He heard Sasuke breathe into the phone.

"It was...calm. Clean. Warm," a shuffle, "there was a lot of...beige. Or cream...the bed had curtains—I always thought they were silk. I don't remember if...I don't know."

"It sounds nice," Naruto said softly, eyes closed again. He could see the whole family huddled on the bed, watching a fireplace or something…

"It was. I liked to watch the fire."

"I was just picturing a fireplace there. Was it a real one?"

"Yes. My father would bring the wood in."

Naruto smiled.

"I love that. Tell me more."

"Susanoo wasn't allowed on the bed."

"Aw, what! That's not—"

"He was always on the bed."

Naruto laughed.

"Classic. Did he cuddle?"

"Only with my mother," Sasuke replied. "Sometimes with me, if it was too late at night."

"That's adorable. He'd come into your room?"

"And sleep on my face. Over my eyes. I think he liked the...warmth."

"Aw," Naruto let out a breath, "you're making me want a cat."

"Wait until it tries to cut your Achilles tendon," Sasuke muttered. "You'll eat your words."

Naruto laughed.

"You know," he said, "for a cat that kept trying to attack you, you sure had a lot of trust in him."

"What can I say," Sasuke said, "I was a stupid child."

"You were just as much of a nerd as you are now and you know it."

Sasuke snorted.

"A roundabout way of complimenting my intelligence, but I'll take it."

"You're one to talk," Naruto countered. "You've called me all sorts of nice shit recently."

"...Lies and slander."

Naruto laughed.

"Okay, okay—I forgot, you're mean and evil and you don't like anyone ever. Better?"

"Much, thank you."

Naruto nudged the side of his face into his pillow.

"You're welcome. Did Susanoo never cuddle with Itachi?"

"No," Sasuke said, "Itachi would get allergies the next morning if he stayed in his room. My father would too, I think...but he dealt with it. I'm not sure if it was less severe."

"Good man," Naruto said. "Jiraiya was never into pets or anything...I always kinda wanted one."

"If you can fall asleep to a TV show, you can likely fall asleep to a cat purring. It's very loud."

"Isn't it soothing, though? I've always thought that…"

"Mm, it isif they sleep through the night. Susanoo was very nocturnal."

Naruto snorted.

"Did he wake you up all the time?"

"He did."

"Aw," Naruto laughed a little, "was it the meowing?"

"The meowing to let him out of the room, the meowing to let him back in the room, the meowing when he found a toy, the meowing when he lost the toy…"

Naruto laughed again.

"Was he trapped in your room? He—"

"No, I left the door open regularly. He refused to believe it was open."

Naruto's smile spread against the pillow.

"You've gotta send me a picture of him. If you have one. I'm dying to see this dork."

"I have one in my bedside drawer. One second."

Naruto's eyes flickered open. The room seemed somehow darker than before—and his phone seemed much brighter. His eyes felt weighted and slow but, for the first time that day, they didn't burn, either—

"Oh," Naruto said, as the photo loaded onto his phone. Sasuke had a photo album, from the looks of things—although Naruto wasn't sure how full it was, because the slot beside this one was empty—

"Your mom is so pretty," Naruto couldn't help but say. She smiled down at the cat in her lap with such delicate affection, Naruto felt his heart squeeze at the sight—

"She was," Sasuke replied quietly, and Naruto got the sense the guy was scanning her features the same way he still was.

"Man," Naruto breathed out, collapsing against the pillow with the phone still held in front of his face. "I'm sorry, Sasuke."

He didn't think he'd told him that. He was, though—Sasuke had had the kind, loving, warm family ripped out from under his feet all at once, and just the thought of it had Naruto—

"It's life." Naruto distinctly heard something that sounded like a drawer closing.

He let out a humourless snort, and set his phone back to sleep.

"It's not life," Naruto said. "It's bullshit. It's fucking bullshit."

Sasuke let out a breath.

"It's—fuck, I'm so fucking mad, Sasuke—" His blood surged through his veins, hot and alive and fucking furious—he slapped his arm against the bed and twisted away from the phone—

"Na—"

"No, I'm serious!" He was nearly yelling, now— "What the fuck?! Why the fuck does this happen? What's—where is the—god, I'm so fucking—"

Helpless.

Naruto stared at his hands, hanging loosely above his face.

"How do you do this? How do you do it, Sasuke?"

"Slowly."

Naruto breathed out.

"Slowly and unevenly."

He closed his eyes.

"And not at all, some days."

"God," Naruto whispered.

"And perfectly well, other days. Naruto. You don't need to rush this."

"I think—I think I want to rush it, though."

"No," Sasuke said. "You want to remember him. You want to appreciate him. You want to grieve. But that takes time, and you don't think you have it. You feel like you need to be normal right now, because life is moving on."

"Yes," Naruto whispered.

"You're wrong."

Naruto sucked in another breath.

"You have the time. Let yourself be what you are. If it's sad, then it's sad. If it's happy, let yourself be happy." Sasuke sighed softly. "You can have time off work if you think you need it, but…"

"You think I'll spend my time wallowing in loneliness?"

Sasuke snorted.

"Something like that."

"Yeah," Naruto let out a breath. "I probably would. Thanks."

Sasuke only sighed in response.

"You're so level-headed with all this."

"I assure you," Sasuke said, "that the majority of my advice has been plagiarized from my brother."

Naruto laughed.

"Then thank Itachi for me."

Sasuke laughed softly, and then there was a pause. Naruto felt himself relax into the bed again, just a little bit more...

"S'nice that you guys are so close," Naruto said. "I kinda lost touch with all my foster siblings. It was a long time ago."

"Mm," Sasuke acknowledged, "remind me when Jiraiya adopted you?"

"Thirteen."

"Thirteen," Sasuke repeated.

"Thirteen years." Naruto let out a breath and rubbed at his face. "What d'you think he was doing for thirteen years?"

Sasuke didn't reply.

"Yeah," Naruto sighed. "I don't have an answer either."

"He never…?"

"No," Naruto rolled over, "no. And I didn't want to bring it up. I always figured I'd ask him later," he let out a bitter, harsh laugh, "and now I guess it's later, huh?"

"What about Tsunade?"

"What about her?"

"If they were...close, she might have some insight."

Naruto's eyes opened.

"That's a good thought."

"Thanks. I have them from time to time."

Naruto felt the smile pull at his lips.

"And for what it's worth," Sasuke let out a breath, just as Naruto held his—damn it, he had just stopped crying— "I've yet to meet an adult who knows what the fuck they're doing."

The breath left Naruto's chest as a laugh.

"I think Itachi might," he offered.

Sasuke made a small noise of acknowledgement.

"That's not an adult thing. That's an Itachi thing."

"Aw," Naruto laughed a little, "he really is the big brother you look up to, huh?"

He could hear Sasuke roll his eyes.

"Don't push it, Uzumaki."

"Uh-huh, don't think I didn't notice that wasn't a no," Naruto rolled onto his side, "but I'm shutting up, I'm shutting up."

"I don't think you're physically capable of shutting up."

"Wow," Naruto said, "asshole Sasuke is back."

"Asshole Sasuke was never gone," a pause, "dumbass."

Naruto laughed.

"You're the one choosing to be on the phone with this dumbass. You could be asleep right now."

"Don't remind me," Sasuke said. "I've turned on all the lights in an attempt to keep myself awake."

Naruto smiled softly.

"How's it working?"

"You tell me. Am I making any sense?"

Naruto let out a laugh.

"More sense than I am, I think."

"Mm," Sasuke made a small noise, as if he was stretching, "that's not exactly difficult."

"Okay—I know you're trying to deflect by being an asshole, but seriously," Naruto bit his lip and turned away from the phone a little, "thanks."

"...Don't think this will make me go easy on you tomorrow."

Naruto snorted.

"I know it won't, don't worry. You'll kick my ass like any other day."

Sasuke let out a breath, and Naruto swore he could hear the smile in it.

"As long as you're aware."

"'Course," he said. "Hey—we're the same age, right?"

"...If you're trying to undermine my authority, you—"

"No," Naruto snorted, "I mean, I already do that all the time, but no, I'm just trying to get your timeline right in my head. That'd mean you were working with Itachi for...two years before I got there?"

He heard Sasuke let out a breath.

"That sounds about right."

"Huh. I always thought it was longer."

"Well, yes," Sasuke said, "I should hope I came across as experienced."

Naruto laughed a little.

"Wasn't it weird though? Going to work with your brother?"

"It was a transition," Sasuke admitted. "It's still...we're technically at the same level, but…"

"He still kinda feels like your boss, huh?"

Sasuke sighed in response.

"I mean," Naruto shifted back onto his back, tucking his hand under his head, "I think everybody else is just as scared of you as they are of him."

"You aren't."

"That's 'cause you're nice to me."

"No—before now. And I am not nice."

"You're a fucking sweetheart, deal with it," Naruto yawned, "and I liked to fuck with you. Figured if you were actually gonna fire me, you would've done it the first time I called you an asshole to your face."

Sasuke snorted.

"You know I have access to your emails, right? I knew what you thought of me well before that."

"You—what! You guys read our emails?!"

"We have better things to do with our time than stalk you, relax. You can easily avoid it by not using your company email for personal conversation—and this was fully disclosed to you when you began working here."

"I—" Naruto groaned, "was it in that big ass contract? As if anyone read that thing…"

"I read that thing."

"Yeah, that's 'cause you're a fucking nerd. Nobody with a life read that thing."

"I...don't care enough to debate that."

Naruto laughed.

"That's 'cause you know I'm right. What do you even do in your free time?"

"Bold of you to assume I have free time."

"Oh come on," Naruto laughed, "even you aren't that bad."

"I eat, I check my emails, I go to work, I come home, I eat, I check my emails, I sleep. I bought three books at the start of this year and I haven't started a single one."

"You and Itachi gotta have a chat about work-life balance," Naruto said. "What're your books about?"

"They're novels. Fiction."

"What kind? Sci-fi? Romance? Oh, don't tell me," Naruto laughed, "erotica?"

"Oh, yes, you got me," Sasuke deadpanned, "my one and only hobby is buying porn that I never even read."

Naruto stuffed his smile into his pillow.

"I knew it. What are they actually?"

"Two historical, one philosophical fiction. I have no idea if they're any good."

Naruto snorted.

"Oh, yeah, just a bit of light reading," he mocked. "Nerd."

"Thank you ever so much. Do you even know how to read, moron?"

"Okay, I asked for that," Naruto mumbled, "but for real, I didn't know how to read for ages. Way longer than I was supposed to. I've always kinda struggled with it since then."

"What? You went to school, didn't you?"

"Yeah, and my teachers were assholes. And I was an asshole. Nobody wants to teach a little asshole."

There was a pause.

"So they didn't fucking teach you how to read?"

Naruto's eyes opened. Sasuke had actually sounded pretty mad, there—

"I mean," he said, "I learned eventually—my foster brother—or, I mean, one of them—made me sit down every night and...yeah. I dunno. He was way older—like he was basically an adult, and I—I probably—I think I needed someone to personally sit down with me. I dunno."

There was a long pause.

"...Are you taking a moment to reconsider all my shitty spelling mistakes?" Naruto let out a nervous laugh—

"I'm taking a moment to feel like an asshole," was Sasuke's soft, mumbled response, as if he had a hand over his face—

"You—" Naruto laughed, "Sasuke, it's fine! I know I'm a dumbass, I can laugh about it—"

"You're—you know you're not genuinely stupid, right?"

The serious tone of Sasuke's voice made Naruto's smile falter. His cheeks burned, though, as if to make up for it—

"I...yeah. I don't think I'm actually stupid." He paused for a moment. "I'm a little dumb sometimes, though."

Sasuke snorted.

"Your awareness is appreciated." There was a pause, before Sasuke continued with a quiet, barely audible, "...sorry."

The blush and the smile spread across Naruto's face, this time.

"Sasuke! It's fine, I'm telling you—I keep calling you a dickhead even though you're talking to me at four—is it five? It's probably five, now—"

"Fuck, please let it not be."

Naruto snorted and ran a hand through his hair until it hit the pillow.

"Y'know you can hang up on me at any point, right? I keep telling you—"

"Yes, yes, I know, I don't care. It's a general complaint of mine that time passes too quickly."

"S'been a mix of too fast and too fucking slow for me, recently."

Sasuke let out a breath.

"Well, feel free let me know if it goes too slowly. I have plenty of deadlines I can have you stress about."

"Aw," Naruto rolled his eyes, "you're so sweet."

"I try."

Naruto opened his mouth to reply, but all that came out was a yawn, instead.

"And if it goes too quickly, I can always send Rock your way."

"You—hey! Don't be mean to Lee!"

"My apologies. He talks at an entirely reasonable pace for an entirely reasonable duration of time."

Naruto really didn't mean to laugh—

"Sasuke! He just gets excited, it's not—"

"About everything?"

"Yeah! It's great! Just 'cause you're a mean old grump—"

"I am not old."

"Just 'cause you're a mean young grump, then," Naruto amended. "Honestly, you're just the grinch of the office."

"I just want to be left alone?"

"So you steal Christmas—"

"So I take reasonable action against my inconsiderate neighbours."

Naruto's snort turned into a laugh—

"Reasonable!" He laughed. "'Course you'd be on his side. Lemmie guess, you always identify with the villains?"

"What can I say?" came Sasuke's lazy voice. "Sauron had a point."

"He—what! What are you—"

Naruto's voice cut off as Sasuke's laugh started again.

"I'm kidding, you moron. You're so easy."

Naruto rolled his eyes and settled back down.

"Not as easy as you, asshole," he countered. "You read Lord of the Rings?"

"Before the craze, I did."

"Oh, of course," Naruto laughed, "sorry, sorry, you read it before it was popular, right, goth boy? I bet you like a lot of bands I've probably never heard of—"

"I'm going to kick your ass, Uzumaki."

"Yeah? Come at me, Uchiha," Naruto replied automatically. "I didn't think fantasy would be your thing, though."

"No? I read quite a bit as a teenager."

"But not anymore?"

Sasuke sighed softly. "I've bought some."

"Ah," Naruto said, "the time thing again, huh?"

"Yes," Sasuke said, "the time thing again."

"Seems to be a reoccuring theme in my life."

"I'd hazard a guess that it's a theme in everyone's lives."

"Yeah," Naruto closed his eyes again, "maybe. What other books did you read?"

"A lot of one-offs that I didn't particularly enjoy," Sasuke said. "But I tried them. I spent a lot of time at the library."

"Nerd," Naruto mumbled, "I knew it."

"Let me guess," Sasuke said, "you spent a lot of time at the movies?"

"Damn," Naruto laughed, "called me out. I spent a lot of time in front of the TV, yeah. Got me to sit down and shut up, I guess."

There was a pause.

"Sorry," Naruto said, when Sasuke continued to be obviously silent, "was that too much? It wasn't that bad."

"It...was this before or after Jiraiya?"

Naruto opened his eyes.

"Bit of both, really. I was an annoying kid."

"All kids are annoying," he could hear the scowl in Sasuke's voice, "that's no excuse."

Naruto felt a smile pull at his lips.

"Are you defending little ol' me?"

He heard Sasuke let out a breath.

"Relax, Sasuke, it wasn't that bad," Naruto said. "I mean—it wasn't bad at all. I was fine, I just needed a lot of attention, and everybody was just—"

"Too busy for you."

The words faded from Naruto's mouth.

"I...yeah. Kinda," he said quietly, "but it wasn't bad. I mean, it was fine. I was—I was pretty happy."

"Hm."

"I'm serious—it was fine."

"Alright," Sasuke said, sounding entirely unconvinced. "One to fifty-four."

"You've got the folder again?"

"It's still in my lap. Might as well do something with it."

Naruto let out a soft laugh.

"What was the number I picked before?"

"Six."

"Okay—seven."

"They're not in any particular order, but...oh."

"Oh?"

Sasuke sighed.

"Oh. Incoming."

"Already ready," Naruto said. He'd twisted on the spot, until he laid on his stomach, perched up on his elbows, phone in hand—

The photo loaded.

"Is that a—"

"It is a swan."

"Is the—is the swan—"

"It is attacking me, yes."

"Is it ripping your shirt off?!"

"Just about."

Naruto crumbled into laughter.

"Did Itachi take the photo?! Why didn't he help you?!"

"Of course he did. And he was stuck in a state rather similar to your current one."

Naruto composed his laughter long enough to breath—but one glance at the photo had him laughing again. Teenage Sasuke looked so panicked

"That's what I get for trying to befriend animals."

"What were you—what did you—where even are you?"

"We went to the lake."

"What lake?!"

"Past the city. Around an hour and a half north."

"Okay, okay, back up, back up, back up. Gimmie the whole story."

"Alright," Sasuke sighed, "I was fifteen—it was my birthday, and Itachi decided..."

Chapter Text

Sasuke barely made it to the office on time.

He'd woken up on his third alarm, with half of his body still asleep and the other half feeling entirely nauseous—

And his phone still on his shoulder.

He didn't know who had fallen asleep first. He hoped it was Naruto. It likely was, from the way his phone still held a silent call with minutes ticking past the three hour mark—

He'd hung up the call, and promptly skipped both the coffee and the breakfast that morning.

Of course, now that he was here, he was starving. And exhausted, but that was to be expected. He'd been awake for at least two hours of that three hour conversation. He hadn't checked to see if Naruto had made it in—probably to the man's benefit, the chances of him being on time were incredibly slim—but he would, once he finished everything up here.

"You've reached Byakugan, how may I help you?"

"Sasuke Uchiha calling for Neji Hyuuga."

"One moment please."

Sasuke tapped his fingers along his desk as the hold music began to play. The sooner he got the important business out of the way, the sooner he could have that energy crash that he could feel waiting to stri—

"Sa—hey, sorry," Naruto's voice fell to a hush as soon as he slipped in enough to see the phone held to Sasuke's ear.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"The—um." Naruto tucked a bag under his arm as he pulled a coffee from the paper tray and slipped it onto Sasuke's desk—and the bag was quick to follow.

Sasuke blinked at them.

In the next moment, Naruto had already slipped back out—the door gently shutting behind him. Sasuke tucked the phone in so he could hold it with his shoulder, and hold the cup in his hands—

Black, extra-large, and with Naruto's name written right on it. Sasuke couldn't help but snort. And the paper bag held something warm and savory, if the smell was anything to go by—a sandwich, or something…?

Sasuke pulled the package from the bag, and a small piece of paper flicked out with it.

He caught it between his fingers.

A post-it—yellow and small—with messy handwriting that simply spelled out 'thanks.'

"Neji."

Sasuke opened his notebook, slipped the note in, and flipped it shut.

"It's me. Do you have time to talk details this morning?"


Naruto hadn't, actually, ended up being late.

He was exhausted. And he felt like shit. And everything still really sucked, but—

That had been a really nice thing that Sasuke had done. That had been a really nice thing that everyone had done. He had really good friends.

Naruto let out a breath.

He had such fucking good friends.

And the breakfast for Sasuke was just a start. He was gonna make sure he thanked everybody—properly—before he forgot to. They'd dropped everything to be there for him. And the aching pain stil pulsed under his skin, but there was a warmth there, too, and try as he might, he couldn't bring himself to ignore it.

"Hey, Sakura." It was him sitting on her desk, for once. "Wanna get lunch again today?"


Sasuke, predictably, started to crash around noon. His energy had dipped around 10:30, and there was only so long the adrenaline and caffeine could keep him going…

He sighed, sent his last email, and put his head in his hands.

He could fall asleep like this. He could so very easily fall asleep like this. He had enough time in his lunch break to either sleep or eat, and right now, it was looking like…

The doorknob turned, and Sasuke's spine was instantly straight. He might not be able to be awake, but if he could fake it—

"Oh, it's you." Sasuke relaxed with a sigh. There was no sense in putting on faces around Naruto.

Naruto shut the door with his back and shot Sasuke a grin.

"It's me? Are you disappointed?"

Sasuke put his head back in his hands.

"Endlessly."

"You look like shit." Naruto's voice sounded much closer than it had a moment ago.

"Thank you," Sasuke said, unmoving, "so very much."

"Wanna take a nap and I'll bring you food?"

Sasuke pulled back and squinted at him.

"What's with you and making me eat?"

Naruto grinned.

"Probably the same thing that's with you and making me drink water."

Sasuke collapsed into his hands again.

"Go away."

"Will do. Was the sandwich good? You like stuff like that?"

"Yeah," Sasuke told the darkness, "it was fine."

"I'll take it." Naruto's voice became just a little more distant— "Wake you up in an hour!"

"Mm…"


Naruto made sure they went to Chouji's. It was like a take two—like a rewind and a restart—and Naruto wanted the chance to really be there. Really talk to everyone. Thank them. Sneak off and pay for lunch, and laugh when they all yelled at him for it—

And he'd left early, again, but that had more to do with getting back on time. He wanted to call Tsunade, because she'd had the appointment this morning, and he'd have to wake up Sasuke, too...the original plan had been to drag him along, but from the look of him, he'd be lucky to make it out the door—

"What're you smiling about?"

Naruto glanced over at her. Sakura had jumped in his car on the way over, saying something about not feeling like driving. Funny, how she'd said that after she'd heard Sasuke wasn't coming.

Naruto tapped his fingers along the steering wheel.

"...Did you know Sasuke had only been with the company for two years when we started?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sakura turn towards him.

"Really? I thought it was longer."

"I know!" Naruto flicked his turn signal on. "That's what I said."

"Did this come up...yesterday?"

Naruto fought the urge to glance at her, keeping his eyes on the road instead. There was a note of something in Sakura's voice that he couldn't quite pick out…

"Not—uh," Naruto let out an embarrassed laugh, "not when we were together. I kinda called him in the middle of the night."

There was a pause.

"You—"

"He's really good to talk to, okay? Not just about this but especially about this—and he's been really," Naruto ran a hand through his hair and let out a breath, "really decent about this whole thing, and I just—he's been—"

"You don't have to defend yourself," Sakura interrupted quietly. "I know he's been there for you."

Naruto sagged in place.

"...Yeah," he said quietly. "Yeah, he really has."

It was weird. It was completely fucking bizarre. Their relationship had been a mess since the start—a stupid, yelling, back-and-forth mess of a relationship, but he hadn't realized how...comforting that mess was. Sasuke called him a moron and Naruto relaxed. He called Sasuke an asshole, and he relaxed even more. But then—

(You know you're not genuinely stupid, right?)

Maybe they'd never really meant either one.

"You getting that crush I was supposed to have?"

"Oh fuck off, Sakura." He slapped at her arm as she laughed—

"Gonna start writing Mr. Naruto Uchiha—"

"No, Jesus—you know you completely overdid it," Naruto said, quickly merging lanes. "He was freaked the fuck out."

"Good. All the less chance of him actually reciprocating."

Naruto's lips twitched. Well...

"I did, uh," he said, quickly changing the subject, "tell him you were totally over him, though. You might need to find a new beard."

Sakura groaned, and slanted her chair all the way back.

"Don't fall asleep!" Naruto said, waving a hand her way. "We're almost back!"

"Ugh, that's worse," she muttered, dutifully pulling the seat back up. "My parents just got off my back…"

"We can fake being together, if you want."

"No," Sakura said, "no, that whole thing in high school killed that option. They'd see through it right away."

Naruto laughed and pulled into the parking lot.

"Sorry, Sakura."

"No you're not, you butthead."

"Butthead? Did you seriously just call me a bu—" Naruto put the car into park—

"What? Is Sasuke the only one allowed to insult you now?" Sakura said, unbuckling her seatbelt—

"What?! Sasuke is not—"

"Naruto and Sasuke sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S—"

"Get out of my car!" Naruto laughed, shoving at her—

He heard Sakura's laughter even as the door closed. She gave him a cheery wave, and he stuck out his tongue.

Stupid Sakura.

Stupid Sasuke.

Naruto let out a breath.

Okay. He had about twenty minutes to spare.

Plenty of time.

"Hey granny," he said, as Tsunade picked up the phone, "how'd it go?"

Chapter Text

Even the gentlest touch on his arm had Sasuke immediately startled awake. He shot up so fast he saw Naruto jerk away, too—

"Oh," Sasuke sagged back down, "...already?"

Naruto shot him a small, apologetic smile.

"Yeah," he said quietly, "sorry. I did bring food though."

He gestured to the box on Sasuke's desk. Sasuke blinked at it, breathing in as if it would suck in some energy, too—

"And a coffee?"

"And another coffee," Naruto laughed a little, staring at the wall behind Sasuke, "yeah. You don't have to drink it. I thought you might...want it, I dunno. Yeah."

Sasuke blinked again. Naruto sagged back against his desk, his gaze turning onto the floor underneath him. There was nothing subtle about this man, and every bit of him was telling Sasuke—

"What happened?"

Naruto jerked in surprise.

"Huh?"

Sasuke didn't reply. He did make a point of narrowing his eyes, however.

Naruto looked away.

"...That obvious, huh?"

"I don't believe you have once been capable of subtly."

Naruto's mouth stretched into a small, vacant smile.

"Relax, Sasuke," he tilted his head to glance at him, "I'm okay. It's nothing bad."

Sasuke's glare sharpened.

"I'm about two sentences from permanently striking "okay" and "fine" from your vocabulary."

Naruto let out a breathy laugh and rolled his eyes, gently slapping at Sasuke's arm.

"I mean it, asshole, I've been pretty good today. I just—I," Naruto let out a breath, "I called granny to find out how the, um, appointment went and it went fine, but—she—"

Naruto sagged in place, staring down at his feet.

"She asked me to do the eulogy."

Sasuke let out a small breath. There was some sort of heaviness that spread through him, too, at the thought—

"Sit down," Sasuke said quietly, and Naruto slid to the floor, with his head between his knees.

"I can't even—I don't know—I suck at speeches to begin wi—"

"No you don't," Sasuke interrupted, staring at Naruto. The man had plenty of strange misconceptions, but this one— "You give speeches all the time."

Naruto stared up at him with tired, red eyes.

"Yeah," he said, "and they suck. They never stick to what they're supposed to."

Sasuke let out a frustrated breath, and kicked himself out of his chair to throw himself down beside Naruto.

"You are an unbelievable idiot," he started, intently not looking at Naruto, "and I'm only going to say this once."

He paused, waiting for Naruto's interruption—

It didn't come.

"You are a natural born leader. You lead and people follow. You talk and people listen. Why do you think that is?"

He glared at Naruto. Naruto stared back with wide eyes.

"You empathize. You understand. You take what you know and you speak from the heart. You are genuine and honest and you go on stupid little tangents that work."

He looked back at the wall.

"So don't be an idiot. There is no one else he would have wanted."

Naruto sucked in a breath, and then another, faster than before, and then a third, and then—

Sasuke put his arm around him and pulled him in.

"Sorry," Naruto sobbed into his shirt, "I—"

His breath cut off in a gasp, and Sasuke gripped him tighter. It was strange and foreign and wrong to hear the pain in Naruto's voice, and it had Sasuke's chest somehow aching too, right around his heart—

"I—I can't—" Naruto's breaths were uneven and harsh, as trembling as the rest of him—

"You can," Sasuke said softly.

"I don't think I—"

"You can do this."

"I—"

"But you don't have to."

Naruto sucked in a breath—

"But—"

"She would understand," Sasuke continued quietly, "and so would everyone else. You don't even have to attend the funeral if you don't want to."

Naruto pulled back, glaring eyes still shining with tears—

"I have to go! I can't not—" Naruto shook his head, swallowing.

"I'm not telling you what to do," Sasuke said. "I'm telling you what your options are."

Naruto swallowed again and stared down at the floor, his lips pressed together as if holding his breath.

"Na—"

"You know what the worst part is?" Naruto said, eyes snapping back to Sasuke's pained and angry. "I was gonna see him the weekend before. I was gonna sleepover, and I didn't. I didn't even have a good fucking reason not to go. I just didn't feel like it. I kept saying I'll go later, I'll go next weekend, and I just—I never—"

Naruto hissed out a breath and ran a hand through his hair—

"You thought you had more time. Naruto—what were you supposed to do? Expect this?"

"He was alone, Sasuke." Naruto's voice was hard and cold. "He didn't make it to the phone in time. If I was there—"

"And my parents died in a car full of my birthday presents."

Naruto stared at him with wide, anguished eyes.

"So, what?" Sasuke asked him, refusing to cede to the lump in his throat— "Is it both of our faults?"

"No," Naruto breathed, horrified. Well, good. "God, Sasuke, I'm—"

"It's not about me. It's about the guilt. It's about the regret," Sasuke said, looking away. "And they both would be there no matter what you had done. He could live another fifty years with you visiting every minute of every day and you still would find something, because you'll never be ready. No one is prepared for this."

Naruto stared at him.

"Sasuke..."

"It's the same." Sasuke still didn't look back. "You could have always done more."

Naruto let out a slow breath and sagged back down. His weight stayed on Sasuke's shoulder, this time.

"I got your shirt all wet," Naruto whispered.

"Mm," Sasuke said, unmoving, "better than ink."

Naruto moved away to duck his head, the redness in his cheeks matching the hue around his eyes—

"It was supposed to wash out..."

"Mm," Sasuke snorted, "tell that to the ruined shirt in my closet."

"Aw, fuck," Naruto ducked forwards again, "I'm sorry. Why'd you keep it anyway?"

"Vain hope of finding a strong enough stain remover." Sasuke sighed. "I liked that shirt."

"Damn it, now I feel like even more of an asshole."

"It's alright, I deserved it."

Naruto gave him a confused look.

"Really? I don't even remember what you—"

"I made you work a Saturday."

Naruto's face broke into a small, slow smile, and Sasuke felt the pain in his chest ease, just a little.

"Ah," Naruto said, eyes just a little bit brighter, "guess I went easy on you, then."

Sasuke snorted and shoved his shoulder into Naruto's. Naruto only laughed in response.

"Um," Naruto ducked his head, "thanks. Sorry for—kinda taking over your office—"

"I have to eat lunch anyway," Sasuke said, propping himself up onto his knees. "What did you get?"

"We went to Chouji's again," Naruto said, "so I, um, got you the fried rice just in case—but I got you the chilli chicken, too. I figured you like spice."

"I do," Sasuke said, plopping the bag on the floor in front of him. "Thank you."

"I should...I mean, I have to get back to work, right?"

Sasuke paused, just about to snap his chopsticks apart.

"You have the company's full permission to take paid leave," he said quietly, "so I'm not about to penalize you for taking a few extra minutes for lunch. Especially when I'm doing the same."

Sasuke gave him a look, and Naruto shifted the collar around his neck as he let out a small laugh.

"Jeez. I feel like you're giving me a lot of power here."

Sasuke watched his smile for a moment longer.

"Don't get used to it, moron."


The rest of the day passed pretty…uneventfully. After him and Sasuke had sat on the floor for longer than either of them wanted to admit, Naruto had slowly felt...like himself again. Not completely, but more and more…

And Sasuke had swept past his desk more than once, and Naruto had made a point of shaking his water bottle at him more than once—it made Kiba look at him like he was nuts, but Sasuke laughed every time. Well, he didn't laugh—he did that half-smile thing where he shook his head and rolled his eyes like he hated the fact that he was laughing—but Naruto knew what it was.

Had Sasuke always been this easy to read? Naruto didn't really know anymore. He didn't mind, though—no, Naruto...liked knowing more about Sasuke. It left him feeling curious and intrigued and stupidly excited about little details like the name of the dinosaur doll Sasuke had had as a child—

Sasuke was the weirdest guy, and Naruto was fascinated.

But it was the end of the day now, so Naruto had to go home. He had to go home, and it was almost...a shame. He almost wanted to stay. At work. What the hell.

Naruto let out a breath and shut down his computer.

He'd probably just pass out tonight anyway. But then, if he couldn't…

Naruto smiled down at his desk.

He could always call Sasuke.


Sasuke was...unbelievably thrilled that it was the weekend. For one thing, it meant he could actually sleep. For two, it meant he could spend a few hours not relentlessly keeping track of his emails, and for three—

For three, it meant he could have some time away from...the office. From the people there.

From Naruto.

Sasuke let out a breath.

It wasn't that he didn't like Naruto. It wasn't that he was uncomfortable around him. It wasn't that he thought he was stupid, or annoying, or unpleasant to be around—

No.

It was the opposite.

And Sasuke's brain had spent the better part of today tripping over last night's conversation, finding more and more pieces that had slipped his sleep-deprived mind and adding them to the puzzle that made up Naruto. There had always been more to him that that relentless positivity and loudmouth attitude. Sasuke just hadn't been able to put his finger on what it was.

Loneliness.

And the deep-rooted loneliness in the back of Naruto's eyes had Sasuke as frantic to fix it as the cold, dead, hollow sadness. It was wrong. It was undeserved. Naruto was a bright, shining force in the lives of everyone else—a relentless beam of happiness and light and life, and Sasuke couldn't bear the thought of that ever dimming—

Sasuke spat out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. He was far too tired to deal with these sorts of thoughts. More than likely he was just being tired and overdramatic. He'd hoped that the forced proximity to Naruto over these past few days would irritate him into oblivion, the way it did with everyone else, but instead, it had only...

Sasuke shook his head.

At any rate, it was the weekend. He had two days to get his head in order—two days of peace and quiet, if all went well, and then he could revisit...whatever this was.

Sasuke sighed.

Two days.

Chapter Text

Naruto dreamed of Jiraiya that night.

They were strange, scattered dreams—vague and confusing, but Naruto felt every inch of them. In one moment, Jiraiya was dead, in the next, he greeted Naruto as if nothing had ever happened at all, he'd only been lost—and then he was dying, with Naruto standing at his hospital bed alongside his birth parents for some fucking reason—

Naruto blankly stared at his ceiling.

He didn't know what time it was.

He didn't care.

He could hear his phone going off, but he felt no need to check it. He was just...too tired. Maybe he could just go to sleep, instead...but then, the dreams…

His phone fell silent. Somehow, it seemed louder.

Naruto closed his eyes and turned away.


It was his bladder that finally motivated him to get out of bed. He needed a shower, and to brush his teeth, and probably to get some food, but—

Naruto stumbled back from the bathroom and fell back into bed.

He felt exhausted. He'd slept all day, and all it had done was give him this pounding fucking headache. He had some painkillers in his bag, out in the hall…

He let out a long, slow breath.

There were a million things Naruto could do to feel better, and he didn't have the energy for any of them. More sleep just made him worse. He really needed to get out of this bed, but…

His phone rang.

Naruto sucked in a breath. It had been ringing on and off for the better part of today—he remembered now—and chances were that it was either Sakura or Tsunade trying to—

"Hello?"

"Well, you managed to pick up this one."

Oh. Oh.

"Sas—?"

"Hello, Uzumaki. Your pink-haired friend has turned into a ball of screaming anxiety."

"Crap," Naruto let out a breath, "sorry—I—I just woke up."

There was a pause.

"...Did I wake you?"

"No," Naruto said, his eyelids falling heavy again, "I just...I've been in and out."

There was another pause. Naruto let out a long breath as he felt himself sink into the bed…

"Message Haruno."

Naruto started.

"Oh," he said, sucking in a breath, "yeah, sorry, I'm—I'll...yeah."

He pulled his phone away from his ear to tap at his messages. Sakura had been worried sick, apparently—he sent her an apology, but it didn't feel like nearly enough...

"She called you?"

"I was her last attempt before she was going to come over there. She's with Tsunade."

"Crap," Naruto whispered, more to himself than anything. It was almost four P.M. now. They must have been—

"It's hardly your fault."

It was almost four P.M.

"It is," Naruto said, glaring up at the ceiling. "I need to get out of this fucking bed."

"Have you eaten?"

"...No. I haven't done anything. I've just laid here and felt like shit." Naruto let out a breath. "Sorry, Sasuke, thanks for calling—I'll be—"

"I'll make you a deal, Uzumaki."

"A deal?"

"I will send you," Sasuke sighed, "the best piece of blackmail material you can get, in exchange for you getting up and making yourself food."

The smile pulled at Naruto's lips.

"How do I know you'll go through with it?"

"Send me a picture of you making food and I'll send you one of my work in progress."

"Your work in progress!" Naruto let out a soft, surprised laugh. "What are you even planning on doing over there?"

"Get some food and you'll find out."

It was only another moment before Naruto rolled out of bed.


He'd brushed his teeth, downed two painkillers, drank a cup of water (and then two more), and was midway through finally making his sandwich—

And he was still talking to Sasuke.

"Okay, hang on," Naruto said, licking a finger as he switched his phone to the other ear, "what do you mean Itachi left you there?"

"I mean he forgot me there," Sasuke said. "He went grocery shopping alone so often that he didn't realize I was supposed to be with him until he'd already checked out."

"And then he drove away?!"

"No, no," he heard Sasuke shift, "he remembered once he made it to the end of the parking lot."

"And what did you do?"

"Absolutely never let him forget it."

Naruto laughed.

"Oh my god," Naruto said, "please tell me you have a folder of blackmail material on Itachi, too—"

"Of course I do."

"Wh—oh my god—can I see it?"

"Of course not."

"What! C'mon—"

"Revealing blackmail defeats the purpose of having it in the first place, moron. There is a time and a place, and that time and place is the next time I need something fairly inconvenient from my brother."

"You guys are real jerks to each other, huh?"

"Siblings walk a fine line between love and hate," Sasuke said. "Speaking of blackmail, have you eaten yet?"

Naruto glanced down at his plate.

"I'm just about to. Hang on—I'll send you proof."

Without waiting for Sasuke's reply, he snapped a quick photo with his phone and moved to his messages, grinning at the most recent, swan-attacking-Sasuke picture still on there—

"There. M'gonna eat now," Naruto said, pressing his phone to his ear with his shoulder as he weaved around the counter. "Can I get a hint of what you're doing?"

"A deal is a deal." Sasuke sighed. "One moment, I have to…"

He heard some shuffling and several muttered curses, but Naruto was far too busy stuffing his face. Once he'd actually smelled the food—he'd gone for a grilled cheese, since his regular comfort food was a no-go for at least a little bit longer—he felt fucking starving.

"That's the best I can do for now."

Naruto nudged his phone off his shoulder, still chewing. His fingers were all buttery, and he wiped them on his pants before he grabbed his phone—

"S'that nail polish?!"

"You're a genius. Congratulations."

"No, no, no, you're not gonna deflect that," Naruto laughed, "black nailp—do you have eyeliner? Oh my god, the choker?"

"The nail polish was all I could find," Sasuke muttered. "It's very old."

"Oh man, I can't wait." Naruto stuffed the rest of his grilled cheese in his mouth.

"You won't have to wait much longer. I think they're dry."

"You are the actual best." Naruto shoved his plate aside so he could rest his elbows on the table.

Sasuke let out a soft, laughing breath.

"That heavily depends on who you ask." There was a shuffle on the other end— "Give me a minute."

"'Kay."

Naruto stood to put his plate away, and hovered in front of his fridge. Was he still hungry? He might still be hungry…

His phone buzzed in his hand.

It was in front of his face in a heartbeat. It opened straight to his messages with Sasuke—

"Oh my god. Oh my god—the shirt! I completely forgot about the fucking shirt—"

Sasuke, complete with that loose fitting, very low V-neck shirt, flipped off the camera with a firm glare and pitch-black nails. It had Naruto in stitches.

"You look like the most emo looking porn star alive!"

"I do not look like a porn star—"

"I can see your nipples!" And his burn scar, and his tattoo, and his—

"Please refrain from talking about my nipples."

"Here he is, Jack Bonington—"

"What—"

"Starring in: The Orgy before Christmas—"

"Naruto—"

"Wait, no, The Orgy before Cockmas!"

"Uzumaki, I swear—"

"Or did you prefer to keep your vampire persona? Like Edward Cul—Edward Cummin? Edward Cum-in-me—"

The rest of Naruto's sentence dissolved into laughter.

"I swear to god," Sasuke said, voice muffled and faint, as if he was holding a hand over his face (pinching the bridge of his nose, probably), "I will hang up on you."

"Okay, okay," Naruto desperately tried to catch his breath. "The fuck, though, Sasuke, I thought you had no time? How are you this in shape?"

"I inherited my mother's frame."

"Your mom had abs?"

Sasuke snorted out a laugh. "No, you moron, she was thin."

"But you're not—I mean, you're kinda thin, but you're...nevermind."

There was a pause. Naruto stared down at his phone and vaguely wondered if he had a thing for black nail polish—or the muscles, maybe it was the muscles, or the challenging way Sasuke glared at the camera, flipping it off like the asshole that he was—Naruto bit his lip—

"I'm what?"

Naruto flinched back into reality.

"You're—" hot, Sasuke was hot, what the hell— "you're telling me you don't work out at all?"

"No, I do," Sasuke said, "not very well or very regularly, but I do."

"Guh." Naruto let out a breath. Now that he'd zoomed in, he could see the hint of a smile on Sasuke's face, too—and Naruto knew that smile; it was the one where Sasuke was desperately trying to hold in his laughter, Naruto loved it when he made Sasuke smile like that—

"...Did you finish your food?"

"The—" Naruto looked up from his phone. "Oh, um, yeah."

"Water?"

"Drank a whole glass, dick."

"Drink another one."

Naruto rolled his eyes, but stood nonetheless. "You're worse than Sakura, y'know."

"I hardly think that is fair. That woman called me five times; I was in the shower."

"Yeah, she called me seven." Naruto paused as the words sunk in. "I mean, I guess I should've picked up…"

"You picked up this one," Sasuke said. "That's good enough. Although I imagine you're regretting it now."

"Are you kidding me? You just sent me the best fucking picture I've ever seen in my life—"

"What a sad life you've lived."

"Asshole. You gonna keep that nail polish for Monday, goth boy?"

"I may have to," Sasuke muttered. "I don't think I have any remover."

Naruto's snort immediately turned into a laugh.

"What?! You didn't check if you had—"

"Shut it, Uzumaki. I'll buy some tomorrow."

"I'll pay you twenty bucks to not."

"You can pay me by informing Haruno that she does not, in fact, need to call me another thousand times."

Naruto laughed.

"Fuck—yeah, I texted her. Sorry."

"It's fine."

Naruto slid the empty glass back onto the counter and opened his phone back up to the picture again.

"...Did you try putting your old earrings in?"

"I didn't. I don't even know where they are."

"Aww…"

He could hear Sasuke roll his eyes—and he definitely heard the sigh.

"...I'll try to find them."

Naruto laughed.

"You don't have to do that!" Naruto said. "I mean, the fake lip ring is fine too—"

"Fuck you."

"C'mon, if anyone could pull off a clip-on earring as a lip ring, it's you."

"I…" Sasuke let out a breath that almost sounded like a laugh, "have no idea if that's meant to be a compliment or an insult."

Naruto laughed.

"Compliment!" he protested. "It's a compliment, I promise."

"Sure it is," Sasuke said.

"What about me?" Naruto said, turning around to lean back against the counter. "Think I could pull off a couple piercings?"

"Red hair, piercings—going to get a motorcycle, too, Uzumaki?"

"I'm way too much of a wimp to do that," Naruto laughed. "I'd never take it—wait, did you have a motorcycle?"

"Of course not." Sasuke paused. "I only had a license."

"What?! You have a motorcycle license?"

"I do, yes. It's buried in my wallet somewhere…"

"Wait—no, hang on, hold on, hold on—so you got a license, but never got a bike?"

"I was attempting to prove my responsibility to Itachi," Sasuke said. "He'd been shutting down the idea for weeks. Something about me being too reckless with my life…"

"You? Reckless? I can't—"

"Naturally, the last time he said no, my response was to go out and get a tattoo without his permission."

Naruto burst into laughter.

"Sasuke! That—you just—"

"Proved him right?"

"Yeah!" Naruto laughed. "God, you were worse than I was."

"Now that," Sasuke said, "I find impossible to believe."

"Hey—hey, I had full parental guardian consent for my tattoo!"

"And your tattoo is the most reckless thing you've ever done? I seem to recall a particular drawer—"

"Sas—you motherfucker!" Naruto nearly threw himself onto the damn floor out of pure embarrassment— "You were supposed to wipe that from your memory!"

Sasuke only laughed.

"I never made any promises."

"You asshole! You are—" Naruto slapped his free hand over his face and groaned.

"Thirty seconds ago you were rattling off pornstar names for me. Don't try to play the innocent act now."

"I was kidding! This is way more real than your porn career—"

"Well thank goodness for that."

Naruto coughed out a laugh, his hand still over his face.

"You—" Naruto let out a breath, shaking his head. "God, you live to fuck with me, don't you?"

"This coming from the man who rigs my office door every other month."

Naruto laughed, ducking his head in acknowledgement—

"C'mon, you know you need somebody to keep you in line."

"How interesting. I think the same of you."

Naruto's smile widened.

"Fight me, Uchiha."

Sasuke snorted. "You're all talk. Don't think I don't remember you still owe me another photo."

"An embarrassing one?" Naruto laughed a little. "I'm gonna owe you like a million by the end of this."

"Then start on it, Uzumaki."

Chapter Text

Sasuke remained firmly of the opinion that the only reason he texted Naruto through Saturday night—and all morning so far—was that he needed to keep in contact with him. He was checking up on him. Never mind that he was continually talking to Sa—Haruno, and likely any number of his other friends—this was purely for Naruto's benefit. And the buildup of anxiety and excitement when his phone went off (or didn't go off) was just an extension of worry.

That was it.

And any other superfluous things were just an extension of that—distracting Naruto helped him, and Sasuke was a distraction. So it was perfectly reasonable to send him whatever stupid thing Sasuke happened upon—like his old sketchbooks, full of—

'Even my dreams are made of darkness…'

Terrible, terrible poetry.

Sasuke let out a breath. The sketches weren't half bad, but Naruto would absolutely lose it at the writing. And his most recent message had been quiet and neutral and dulled along the edges, so the phone was already in Sasuke's hand—

'Thought you'd appreciate this.'

And there it was—the strange anxious bubble in his chest as he waited for a reply. It wasn't the first time he'd had this feeling around Naruto, but he hadn't remembered it being this often—or this strong, or this...warm…

'HOLY SHIT'

Sasuke snorted.

'"My shackles are built from my own bone" sasuke you ok?'

Sasuke bit down on the smile. The phone buzzed in his hand, yet again—

'PLEASE tell me you had a melody for this. It rhymes omg'

And then, a moment later—

'Did you scream it? Was it screamo?'

Sasuke snorted. He could barely eve—

'"Like the ice, aching around my heart" SASUKE'

Sasuke sat back down onto the chair and waited for the barrage of messages to finish.

'I didn't know you could draw though?'

He put a hand over his smile.

'This is the best thing you've ever sent. Is it a book? Can I see the book?'

Okay, surely now he'd be able to—

'I'll do whatever you want.'

Sasuke rolled his eyes, and waited a moment longer.

'Please?'

Sasuke let out a breath—that wasn't a laugh—and finally replied.

'It's a book that will never leave this apartment, let alone make it to my office. My brother has enough blackmail material on me, thank you very much.'

He barely had the chance to stand before he received a reply.

'So in your apartment is fair game?'

Sasuke blinked.

'I'd say so.'

It wasn't as if Naruto hadn't been here before. Why not? It wasn't as if it was anything new, or special—

'THANK YOUUUU'

Sasuke rolled his eyes. His phone buzzed in his hand—

'Do you not still draw? You were so good!'

Sasuke absentmindedly flipped through the book.

'I was hardly an artist.' But then...Sasuke tapped his fingers along his phone— 'I've been thinking about picking it up again.'

'Do it!'

And then—

'You need more hobbies. Did you just sketch?'

Sasuke let out a breath.

'Mainly. Sometimes painted.'

He didn't know where any of his things went. He'd kept them all together, usually, but then...he didn't know what happened to that folder...or had it been a box? He didn't remember what he'd done with everything...

'Oooh, do it! Right now!'

'I don't even have anything here, moron.'

'Then leave your cave, batman. Didn't you need to get groceries anyway?'

Sasuke was about two letters from refusing out of spite, but...he glanced back at his fridge.

Damn it.

Naruto had a point.

Sasuke grabbed his coat.


It was a weird-ass rollercoaster that Naruto was on.

He'd go from the worst he'd ever felt to walking on fucking air in the span of seconds. He'd have hours of feeling normal—feeling like himself—and then plunge into the pits of despair for no fucking reason. He was being slingshotted between emotions and it was a damn good thing that he'd spent most of this weekend alone; he didn't know how anyone else would be able to deal with Naruto's completely random moods—

'No, only in high school.'

Naruto smiled a little. It was a lie, he guessed—that he'd been alone this weekend. He should've gone to bed hours ago.

'So what happened? I saw you eat meat at lunch.'

But he hadn't. And he hadn't yesterday, either. They'd both stayed up way too late. He'd fully expected Sasuke to tell him to fuck off ages ago, but…

'I transitioned to very extreme vegan, very quickly, with absolutely no plan to monitor my nutrition. It would have been fine if I hadn't been so stupid about it.'

But Sasuke had just...been there. Nothing even phased him. Naruto would be laughing one moment and crying in the next—

'Wait, did Itachi not like, keep track of that?'

And all Sasuke would do was bring up his favourite brand of eyeliner to bring that laughter back.

'I'm a genius, Naruto. I didn't tell him.'

And here he was, laughing again.

'Sasuke! You're as dumb as I am!'

That was the weird part, though.

'Was. I was as stupid as you currently are.'

He didn't know why talking to Sasuke made him this happy.

'Nice try, asshole! I already know you think I'm super smaaart.'

He'd always pissed Naruto off.

'And yet, you still manage to be a moron. Incredible.'

He'd never hated him or anything—

'A moron you're somehow beating in reckless childhood shit. I think the worst thing I did was try a dumbass bike jump.'

—but the guy had been cold and impassive and unaffected and emotionless.

'Please don't tell me you have a legitimate head injury.'

It had rubbed Naruto the wrong way since the moment he'd met him.

'Nonono, just broke my arm.'

The highlight of Naruto's day had been when Sasuke would turn and glare at him (not past him, but at him, right at him), eyes flashing and angry and—

'Great. I was about to never open my mouth again.'

Open.

'Don't worry, my head was fine. It was my nuts that weren't.'

He loved it when Sasuke opened up.

'Thank you ever so much for that.'

(Naruto dissolved into giggles.)

'Gotcha! What'd Itachi do when he found out you went secret agent: vegan on him?'

Had it just been that, all along?

Chapter Text

Sasuke greeted Naruto, the next day, with a slap of a hand against his cubicle wall and a middle finger—

—with nails that were still painted black.

Naruto nearly tackled him to the floor.


"D'you think I'm ignoring Tsunade?"

Sasuke looked up. Naruto had been sitting in relative silence—during one of his many office visits that day—for a few minutes, and although he'd seemed in a decent mood when he had arrived…

"Are you?"

Naruto slid his hand through his hair.

"I didn't talk to her this whole weekend. Sakura and Shizune were with her so much, I should've been…"

"Her caretaker? Naruto—"

"Her friend, Sasuke," Naruto snapped, angry eyes meeting his.

Sasuke didn't even flinch.

"And is she not your friend?" Sasuke leaned back, tilting his head to eye Naruto properly. "Could she not just as easily have been by your side?"

Naruto visibly deflated.

"That's...different."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed.

"Right, I forgot," he said. "Your problems don't matter as much as everyone else's."

Naruto's mouth opened and closed.

"Moron. Go see her tonight," he flicked some hair away from his face with the back of his pen, "if you care that much."

Naruto stared at him.

Sasuke made a point of turning back to his work. (As he'd been trying to do, but it had always been so hard to focus with Naruto's eyes on him—)

"Aw," came Naruto's soft voice, "and here I was planning on going through your sketchbook tonight."

Sasuke looked up, and Naruto met his eyes with a small grin.

"Were you, now?"

"Yeah," Naruto slouched to the side, "did you think I'd be patient or something?"

Sasuke ducked his head to hide his smile.

"And if I have plans?"

"What," Naruto's grin widened, "did you finally develop a social life?"

Sasuke flicked his pen at Naruto's face. Naruto yelped and dodged—and promptly threw the pen back at him.

Sasuke caught it.

"I have a social life," he said, gently uncapping it and going back to work—

"Itachi doesn't count, y'know."

"I have friends outside of work, you moron," Sasuke said, rolling his eyes as if he hadn't barely spoken to them over the past few months (really, he was lucky to see them in person once a year), "but tonight I'm meeting with an old family friend."

He'd beaten Kakashi off with a metaphorical stick for the better part of the last few weeks. Itachi had already met the new boyfriend, apparently—why Kakashi wanted Sasuke's approval, too, he didn't know, but—

"A family friend?"

Naruto had visibly straightened.

Sasuke put his pen down.

"He mainly helped Itachi with the...emancipation."

Naruto continued to watch him.

Sasuke let out a breath and looked back down at his desk.

"Yes, he knew them."

Some sort of tension seemed to seep out of Naruto.

"So is he—is he like—your Jiraiya?" Naruto turned away as he spoke—

"...He did read erotica in public, if that's what you mean."

Naruto's head snapped back around. Sasuke watched as the smile slowly came back to Naruto's face—a warmer, blushing smile, directed at Sasuke as if—

"I mean—I don't think Jiraiya ever read...well, he probably wrote in public…"

He laughed, and Sasuke found himself covering his smile, too—

"He wasn't your guardian, then, huh?"

"Itachi had just turned sixteen, so they rushed the emancipation," Sasuke said quietly, turning back to his work, "so we wouldn't be separated."

"So—Itachi was your legal guardian?"

Sasuke tapped his pen against his lip.

"I think he still is, technically."

Naruto snorted, and Sasuke busied himself with his work as the blond propped himself up onto his desk.

"Can I help you?" Sasuke asked, not looking up.

"I'm gonna talk to her tonight."

Sasuke paused.

"She might not know anything," Naruto continued, "but…"

He let out a breath. Sasuke remained silent.

Naruto met his eyes.

"If things go to shit, can I come over?"

Sasuke didn't know what it was. Maybe it was the soft fear that threaded through Naruto's voice, or the way his knuckles were white with how tight they gripped the edge of Sasuke's desk...maybe it was the way Naruto was following Sasuke's advice—advice that could so easily backfire—or maybe it was the way that Naruto was here, trusting Sasuke with every bit of his vulnerability—

"You can come even if they don't."


Naruto bounced on the balls of his feet. Tsunade had seemed...relieved, honestly, to hear from him. Maybe she'd expected it to be a work call...although, he was pretty sure she'd taken the time off—

"Door's unlocked, kid!"

Well, no time like the present.

His hand didn't falter, like it did at ho—at Jiraiya's. At the place that used to be Jiraiya's. He didn't know what it was. He was still scared, but…

Naruto opened the door to a complete mess.

And Tsunade, sitting on the floor, in the middle of it all.

"Uh," Naruto said, "redecorating?"

Tsunade snorted, glancing up at him so fast it was almost like a twitch—

"I'm choosing the photos," she said, breathing out, "for the visitation. I chose—oh—" she looked up at him, "there—during the, ah, event, I chose just photos—no casket, I don't think I could do an open cask—

"No," Naruto said quickly, some sort of alarm lashing through him— "no, yeah—no—photos are—are fine."

Jesus Christ. Naruto sucked in a breath to steady himself.

"The—we're pushing it with the two—or week and a half, it's a week and a half," she continued, "but Friday. It's—Friday afternoon for the visitation. Funeral after that—just a—" she heaved out a breath—

"Okay," Naruto said gently, moving forward a little.

"It's all informal. You know—he—Jiraiya hated those stuffy things."

Naruto slowly kneeled down beside her.

"So is Hooters catering, or…?"

That got a soft laugh out of her—finally—and Naruto felt himself relax just a little. Still, she sniffed and shook her head, letting out a harsh breath—

"Haven't cried yet," she said, looking down again as she shuffled through the same four pictures in her hand, "not today. That fucker would never let it go if he knew how much I'd cried over him."

"Tsunade," Naruto said, and Tsunade pulled herself back, slapping at the strands of her hair, "you're allowed to be sad."

"N—"

(I am packing.)

"I'm gonna go through these," Naruto told her, channelling every bit of Sasuke's sternness into his voice, "and you're gonna sit there and cry. Got it?"

(You are sitting.)

She stared at him.

(Sit.)

"Hey," he said, gently grasping the pictures, "I've got it from here."

She let go.


"Sasuke!"

He was even cheerier than usual. Sasuke didn't dislike Kakashi, but sometimes—

"You're as cute as ever, look at those cheeks—"

"Will you—Kakashi, get off me—" Sasuke clambered out from under him, glaring. For god's sake, he wasn't a child anymore.

"Iruka! Come meet Itachi's little brother!"

"I have a name," Sasuke snapped, and he immediately felt himself be transported to the age of eight years old—

"Sasuke," came a new voice, and Sasuke relished the fact that it made Kakashi finally let go of him, "it's a pleasure to meet you."

Sasuke, with every bit of nicety that was drilled into him, automatically shook his hand.

"Likewise."


It was three hours in, and Naruto was struggling.

Not with his emotions—no, he had no idea how or why, but he was holding it together pretty well.

"I had no idea you guys partied so much," Naruto said, squinting at a photo. "How d'you even make it to med school?"

"Brat," Tsunade swiped at his head, and Naruto easily dodged, "how did you think I met Jiraiya? In class?"

Naruto laughed and conceded the point—

And then they fell silent.

The question was on the tip of his tongue. It had been all night. It had been for years, but then Jiraiya had been busy, or in a good mood, or in a bad mood, and tonight, Tsunade was just the same—

"Where is the—um—everything going to be, anyway?"

"Oh," Tsunade said, shifting a pile of photos behind her, "the dinner—afterwards, after everything—I rented a back room in Rasengan."

His favourite bar.

"That's perfect," Naruto said, ducking his head with a soft laugh. It was every bit as inappropriate as Jiraiya had been, but then— "I mean, he might've preferred a strip club—"

"Brat!"

Naruto dodged another swat.

"What about the—um…"

Tsunade pulled back.

"I couldn't—there was no spot beside them, but near—"

Naruto sucked in a breath.

"The visitation will take place in Konoha's Cemetery."

Naruto closed his eyes.

"As will the funeral."

With his parents. Jiraiya was going to be buried with his parents. Jiraiya was going to—

"I'm just gonna—" Naruto stood, jumping over a pile of photos, "gotta go to the bathroom."


"I have to take this." Sasuke didn't even look at his phone. Anything to get away from the hearts bursting out of Kakashi's eyes—

"If you dine and dash, I'll tell your brother!" Kakashi called after him.

Sasuke flipped him off without looking back.

"Uchiha."

"H-hey, sorry, I, um—I'm—"

"Naruto," Sasuke stopped where he stood, "already? Do you—"

"No," Naruto said quickly, "no, I'm—I haven't brought it up yet, I just need—" Naruto let out a harsh, heavy breath. "I'm not interrupting your—your dinner, am I?"

Sasuke slipped out of the restaurant into the cool air outside.

"You are," he said, briefly glancing back, "and I'm begging you to continue doing so."

"You—huh?"

"He brought his new boyfriend. They've split dinner. They've split dessert. Please continue to hold me hostage."

Naruto let out a soft laugh.

"If you insist…"

"I do. In fact, it's an order."

"Got it, boss." Naruto let out a breath. "Um…"

Sasuke leaned back against the brick of the building.

"Um, the, um—the visitation is Friday—it's at six, and the—the funeral is right after, and then we're, um, doing a dinner event thing at—um, well, could—"

"All of your friends can have the time off needed to prepare," Sasuke interrupted quickly. That should be the least of Naruto's worries.

"Oh," Naruto said, "and—um—you…?"

Sasuke blinked.

"...I can be there," he offered quietly. He hadn't expected...maybe he should have, but to have Naruto—

"Thank you."

It was like a breath of relief.

Sasuke hadn't known he'd meant this much.

"Of course," he said quietly, rubbing at a spot in his chest—like his heart was aching, or maybe it was his lungs as he tried to breathe—

"I—" Naruto let out a breath, harsher than before, "I can't bring it up. She's so upset, Sasuke—"

"Naruto," Sasuke said quietly, "it's never going to be the perfect time."

He heard something that distinctly sounded like Naruto's breath hitching. He couldn't blame him for his hesitation; it was a complex, painful subject—bordering on the edge of accusatory. Justified, yes—more than justified, in Sasuke's opinion—but still delicate.

"I know. But maybe—"

"No," Sasuke cut him off, "Naruto. This is something that you should have been told years ago. If no one else has brought it up, then they are waiting for you to do so."

Naruto breathed out.

"You're right."

"I'm always right."

And Sasuke couldn't help but smile, then, because Naruto laughed out a small, "you cocky bastard," and it was filled with so much warmth—

"Interesting choice of words."

Naruto's snort turned into a giggle, this time—

"S'from your porn star days."

"I can and will hang up on you."

"Yeah, and go back to the lovey dovey couple."

"Ugh," Sasuke glanced towards the door, "don't remind me."

"But, um," Naruto let out a breath, "we're still on for tonight, yeah?"

"What do you think, I'm going to lock you out?" Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Are you having dinner there or did you want me to pack something up where I am?"

"I—" Naruto paused, "I mean—I ate before I left, but if you're offering…"

"Hm," Sasuke said, glancing back again, "only if you ask."

"Only if I—"

"Ask Tsunade."

Naruto sucked in a small breath.

"That's a dick move, Sasuke," Naruto laughed softly.

"I hope you weren't expecting something different," Sasuke said. "I am not nice."

"Yeah," Naruto said, "yeah, you are."

Sasuke swallowed. He really didn't appreciate how hard it hit him every time Naruto said that—

"Moron," Sasuke muttered quietly.

"Asshole," Naruto responded in kind.

There was a pause.

"Okay," Naruto let out a breath, "pump me up for this."

"Pump you up? Am I your cheerleader?"

Naruto laughed, but it trailed off. It was so easily to tell when the man's mind drifted...

"Naruto," Sasuke called his attention back to him, "this is something you've wanted to know for a very long time."

"Yeah. It is."

"It's knowledge you have a right to. It's about you."

"I...yeah."

"It's never something that should have been kept from you."

He heard Naruto breathe in.

"No. No, it's not. I should know this."

"You should."

"Okay. Okay—okay, I'm gonna—I'm gonna go, now—"

"Alright."

"Okay. Bye, Sasuke—I'll see you, um, later."

"Mm."

"Bye."

Sasuke waited until he heard the click of the call ending, and then slipped the phone back into his pocket.

He sighed. Alright; at least he could excuse himself soon. He'd been trying to cut back on the work he did at home—Naruto's taunt about work-life balance had been a joke, but it had rang with more truth than Sasuke had wanted it to...still, there was some work Sasuke wanted to finish before Naruto got there. Lord knew it was impossible to focus with that bright, brilliant moron's attention on him.

"Everything okay? Who was it?" Kakashi, nosy as always, asked as Sasuke slid back in. He was half-surprised they'd noticed him leaving.

"It's fine. It was a—" Colleague? Friend? Someone he had spent far too many hours speaking to and far too many more enjoying his company? Who even was—

"It was Naruto."

Sasuke turned back to his food.

"I'm—I'm so sorry, did you say—did you say Naruto?"


"So," Tsunade greeted him, "we have eight. Should we go for fifteen or stop at—"

"I need to talk to you," Naruto interrupted her quietly.

Tsunade sat back on her heels.

"And I'm sorry," he continued. "I don't want to—and I should've asked Jiraiya—but I—I need to. I need to know."

Her eyes were wide and wary, but Naruto's resolve had already hardened.

"Why didn't he take me when they died?"

Tsunade sucked in a breath—

"Why didn't he even talk to me?"

—she opened her mouth—

"Thirteen years, Tsunade. Both of you. I didn't even know my parent's names."

"Naruto—"

"Why? Why didn't you—"

He cut himself off in a harsh breath, something in his chest and neck and eyes burning through him—

"I know."

Tsunade spoke, and it was quiet.

"I know," she said again, eyes on the floor, now, as if they were unable to look up to meet Naruto's. "I wish I had a better answer for you. I...we were scared."

She nodded, down at the floor, as if it reaffirmed what she was saying—

"We were stupid and...scared and you were a child. A baby—you couldn't even walk—"

"So you didn't even acknowledge I existed?"

"I—" Tsunade shook her head. "I'm not going to pretend it wasn't selfish. It was. You looked just like them."

She looked up at him, and Naruto's throat sealed shut.

"You still do."

"Don't," Naruto breathed

"And I could do a lot of things," Tsunade continued, "but taking care of a child was never one of them. Jiraiya couldn't even get a plant to survive. We—we thought your life would be...better."

"It wasn't," Naruto snapped.

"You don't know that," Tsunade's voice raised, "I gambled far too much and I drank even moreI still have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Jiraiya barely survived his own grief. We were not parents, Naruto. We were not adults that could have been good to you."

Naruto's anger flickered and waned, but the pain stayed strong.

He looked away.

"But, if I could go back," Tsunade's voice came back—softer than before, "if I could try again, I would tell you sooner. I would meet you sooner. I should have known what a bright spot you would be in my life."

Naruto forced himself to keep breathing at a steady rate—

"Naruto."

He couldn't—he couldn't—

"It is one of my deepest regrets."

It hurt—it hurt—he could barely—

"Do you think," Naruto breathed in and the air burned his lungs— "do you think he regretted—"

"I know he did."

Tsunade caught him as he crumbled.

Chapter Text

Sasuke paced back and forth.

He'd texted Naruto to expect a surprise—he had no idea if he ought to warn him any further. From the sound of things, his talk with Tsunade had gone about as well as could have been hoped for, so there was that, but—

There was a knock at the door.

Iruka, behind him, gave him a smile and a thumbs up.

Sasuke let out a breath and moved to the entrance—he opened the door, just a crack—

"Hey," Naruto said, looking utterly exhausted, "whatcha got?"

"More emotional impact," Sasuke answered vaguely—and quietly. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah—it went...I'll tell you once you let me in. What d'you mean more emotion?"

Sasuke swung the door open.

"Tha—Iruka?!"

It was a good thing that Sasuke had chosen to stand off to the side. It was an even better thing that Iruka was a straight shot for the blur that launched himself across the room—

Iruka caught him, laughing.

"I didn't know if you'd remember—look at you! You're so big!"

"You didn't think I'd—you taught me how to read! Of course I—" Naruto spun back around to Sasuke, "what did you—how did you—"

Sasuke pointed at Kakashi.

"Hi!" said Kakashi, with a jaunty little wave. "I'm Kakashi!"

Naruto's mouth made a small 'o'.

"So the—the new boyfriend—"

"Yes," Sasuke answered.

"Aw," Kakashi said, "did you tell him about me? I'm so—"

"Don't get ahead of yourself."

"I can't believe how big you are," Iruka laughed, "but you look—you're exactly the same. Look at you!"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair and ducked his head. Sasuke tapped his fingers along the granite of his countertop as the satisfaction flooded through him.

"How've you been? Tell me everything."


Iruka stayed for another four hours. Naruto didn't even notice the time go by—and Sasuke never even said a word, even though they were all in his place—but Kakashi had eventually, gently, dragged them apart.

(He'd given Iruka his number, his email and every single social media he was on, though. He wasn't about to lose him again. Naruto had moved so far away, too, from his old foster home, he couldn't believe—)

"Too excited to sleep?" Sasuke, casually leaning against the wall, watched him. And, well, from the way his cheeks were aching—

"Yeah," Naruto said, biting his lip a little, "I'm—what are the chances?"

Sasuke only shook his head, smiling softly.

"Sasuke, I am—" Naruto let out a breath, rocking back on his heels, "I'm so—"

What a fucking day. What a whirlwind of emotion. But it was good emotion—it was relief and understanding and then shock and excitement and—

And once again, it was because of Sasuke.

"Thank you."

When had this happened? Why hadn't he realized sooner? How had he gone, so long, without knowing—

"Moron," Sasuke said, and Naruto's heart skipped a beat, "come get your food."


It was about time, Sasuke thought to himself, to consider the fact that he may have lost control of all of this.

It was maybe about time to consider the fact that he had been losing control for a very long time now.

When Naruto's attitude had been informal and inappropriate and under his skin, Sasuke hadn't been able to stop himself from snapping back. When Naruto's eyes had been hollow and his voice had been lost, Sasuke hadn't been able to stop himself from talking (everything, anything to bring the life back to those eyes). When Naruto had crumbled under the weight of his devastation, Sasuke hadn't been able to stop himself from catching him.

And now, with Naruto smiling at him with soft, aching affection—with Naruto's laugh and shove at his arm and Sasuke's skin tingling with that contagious warmth—Sasuke was afraid he wouldn't be able to—Sasuke was starting to feel like he wouldn't be able to stop himself from—he was afraid that he'd already—

"Tell me about your friends," Naruto said, tilting his head so he could rest his cheek on his fist, "they from university? High school?"

Sasuke looked away and firmly told himself that curiosity did not equate interest.

"High school. I only keep in touch with three people, really."

Naruto flicked a grain of rice at him.

"S'more than I expected," he said, easily grinning in the face of Sasuke's weak, weak, weak glare, "kidding, kidding, kidding—what're their names?"

Sasuke flung the grain of rice back. It bounced harmlessly off Naruto's smiling cheek.

"Juugo, Karin and Suigetsu."

"And?"

"And they're about as annoying as you are."

Naruto's grin widened. "Knew you liked me. Where's the sketchbook?"

And it was a good thing that Naruto stood then—it was a good thing that he looked away, then—because Sasuke's heart had jumped with some sort of stupid fear into his throat—

"The—"

But Naruto was already moving down the hall. Sasuke sighed and stood after him—he hadn't cleaned up, yet—

"Whoa, Sasuke," Naruto said, stopped at the entrance to his bedroom, "were you painting in here?! Did you actually listen to—"

"Don't flatter yourself," Sasuke said quickly. "I'll clean it up."

"Wh—no, no, you don't have to—I'll just go on the bed," Naruto said, hopping his way over to it to prove his point. Sasuke watched as the blond threw himself onto his bed, bouncing up and rolling over to look at him—

It was a sight that Sasuke was far too comfortable with.

"I can—if you wanted to keep painting," Naruto said, sitting up, "if you don't mind me being here, though, I mean—sorry, I should've—"

"Thought this out better?" Sasuke asked, leaning against the doorway.

Naruto blushed and ducked his head, doing that thing where he rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at Sasuke with those fucking eyes—

"Moron," he said, turning away to step carefully to his shelves—he'd slipped the sketchbook here, somewhere obvious, so he wouldn't lose it, "here."

He held the book out to Naruto.

"I feel like you're handing me the holy grail," Naruto said, laughing a little.

"The holy grail of blackmail?" Sasuke asked. "I think you'll find that on your phone."

Naruto laughed and slapped in his general direction, pulling the book onto his lap. Sasuke took it as an excuse to move away.

He'd never let anyone else look at that book before. Even though it was stupid, now—even though it felt silly and outdated and embarrassing—Sasuke still felt—

"Hang on—that'd make you...you were fifteen?" Naruto said, sounding more like he was talking to himself than to Sasuke.

Sasuke glanced back at him, just as Naruto flipped a page.

"What the fuck," Naruto muttered. "I guess you're just good at everything, huh…"

"I'd hardly call that good."

Naruto looked up at him.

"What? Why not? Look at this—" Naruto held the book up, open to—okay, well, yes, he had been rather proud of the shading on that snake skull, but—

"Fucking incredible," Naruto said, pulling the book back into his lap. Apparently he didn't really care about Sasuke's opinion—and, well, that wasn't so out of the ordinary—but—

Sasuke swallowed, and gently sat down on the edge of the bed. He hadn't really gone through the book fully—not thoroughly and carefully, like Naruto was doing—and he wanted to—he wanted to see what kept catching Naruto's eye—

"Oh," Naruto laughed, "there's the poetry! Amazing," he grinned over his shoulder, "wanna recite it to me?"

Sasuke shoved his face away, and Naruto dissolved into laughter.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding!" he said, sitting back up and propping the book up on his lap. "Okay, I'll recite it. My heart is a shell, a bone made from bl—'"

Sasuke shoved him much harder, this time.

Naruto rolled back with an easy laugh, but his hands grabbed at Sasuke's wrists and pulled him forward—the book was knocked somewhere off Naruto's lap, off the mattress, even—Sasuke retaliated by pushing harder, pinning that stupid laughing moron until his back was pressed against the bed, Sasuke overtop of him—

"That's enough out of you," Sasuke said, eyes narrowed.

Naruto didn't fight back, but there was nothing subtle about the challenge in those eyes.

"Yeah?" he breathed, chin tilting up. "Whatcha gonna do about it?"

Sasuke's tongue darted out against his lips.

Naruto's eyes dropped to it.

There was a moment—a long, slow, heavy moment, where Sasuke felt reality falter. It was muffled—foggy—dimmed to the point that Sasuke could only focus on one thing, the one thing in front of him, the one thing underneath him—

And then all at once, it came rushing back.

Sasuke wrenched himself away.

"Kick you out of my apartment," Sasuke muttered, feeling flushed and anxious and—

"You're all talk, Uchiha." Did Naruto's voice sound a little more breathless than usual? It sounded as if he was—or he could be, and Sasuke wanted to turn around but that would involve looking at Naruto and he just couldn't bring himself to do that right now—

"No more so than you," Sasuke said, standing. "I'm going to—get ready for bed. And take a shower."

"Oh—yeah, okay. Sure."

Sasuke couldn't have left any faster.


Okay.

Okay, alright—well. There were several things that were spiralling through Naruto's head at the moment. For one—that attraction to Sasuke was, well—sitting in this bed with his dick still half hard really wasn't helping him with the denial here. For two—there was a good chance that Sasuke had realized, with the way the guy had practically sprinted from the room...but then—Naruto could have sworn…

When Sasuke had been on top of him, with their hips pressed together and Naruto's hands pinned down...Naruto could have sworn there had been desire in those eyes, too.

Then again, his brain was currently being run by his dick, so that was probably just wishful thinking.

Naruto let out a breath.

Just the memory of it had his heart going fucking nuts in his chest—the nerves buzzing from his chest to the tips of his fingers. Naruto had never wanted anyone so...viscerally before.

It kinda weirdly made sense though...everything with Sasuke just tended to make Naruto react. Like from the gut—like there was no hiding with that guy. He got under his skin like it was nothing, and...well...Naruto guessed he should've paid more attention to that feeling before this point, but...between the pictures, and the stories, and fucking finding Iruka for him...

Naruto ran a hand through his hair, and slid the sketchbook back onto his lap.

If Sasuke wanted to kick him out—that'd be fine. He'd respect that. He didn't wanna make anyone uncomfortable.

But he was gonna get his money's worth while he still could.


Sasuke came back to a Naruto still flipping through his sketchbook. The shower had done the job—cooled him down significantly.

"Hey," Naruto said, looking up as he walked in, "I really like this one."

He smiled and turned the book around. It was another animal study—a hawk, this time, and Sasuke particularly recalled never wanting to look at another feather ever again—

"Thank you," Sasuke said quietly.

Damn it. He'd just gotten his head in order.

Naruto smiled and flipped to the next page. It was something about that quiet, happy smile—Sasuke's heart was just—

"What?" he asked, to the way Naruto's eyes kept flickering between the page and Sasuke's face—

"I've never seen your hair wet before," Naruto laughed a little, "it's so…" Naruto waved a hand in his general direction, "straight."

Sasuke gave him an incredulous look.

"My hair is straight."

"Okay, yeah—that's—it's usually all spiky though! Don't you gel it up?"

Sasuke self-consciously patted the back of his head. "I—sometimes."

"Showered, pajama Sasuke," Naruto grinned, "s'not a sight a lot of people get to see, huh?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Shove over, moron," he said, making his way to the bedside table to plug in his phone. "You're taking up the whole bed."

"Gotcha, boss," Naruto said, dutifully rolling to the side. "You're not gonna paint?"

And Sasuke had no idea why he sounded so disappointed, but—

"It's midnight, Uzumaki. You can watch me paint another day."

"You—crap, midnight, really? I gotta get ready for—wait," Naruto said, pausing midway in his movement off the bed, "I can watch you paint another day?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know what you're expecting," he said honestly, "it's a long, boring process."

"No, it's not! It's—intense and elegant and—I—I think—I think it's a really—really admirable thing."

Naruto finished quietly, and Sasuke suddenly had a moment of clarity.

"I hope you're not expecting me to be as talented as your birth parents," Sasuke said.

Naruto's head jerked up, and Sasuke knew he'd hit the nail on the head.

"You're going to be disappointed," Sasuke told him.

Naruto's face broke out into a smile—

"Sasuke!" he laughed. "I'm not going to be—"

"I sketched in high school. I have taken arguably one art class—and that was art history, so it doesn't—"

"It counts!"

"And your parents were professionals. I am very much not."

"I think you're great and stupid and selling yourself short."

Sasuke scoffed. "Sure. But when you're bored, don't blame me."

"I won't be—you—I am gonna fight you," Naruto finished helplessly.

"Fine," Sasuke said, "but get ready for bed first, will you?"


Naruto slid into bed feeling—well—lighter. Way lighter. Sasuke seemed totally normal and if Naruto kept acting totally normal too, then—then what a bullet he'd fucking dodged. Whew.

"You mind if I keep flipping through it 'till I fall asleep?" Naruto held up the sketchbook.

Sasuke cracked an eye open. "As long as you don't drool on it."

"Drool!" Naruto laughed, crawling over to the other side. "You asshole, why would I—"

"You drool in your sleep."

"Wh—" Naruto shook his head a little, "how do you even know that?"

"Because you drooled on me, moron," Sasuke said, rolling over to face him.

Naruto burst into laughter. That would've been—shit, only like a week ago, it felt like ages ago, now—but it was when Sasuke had just barely started opening up and—

"I can't believe," Naruto said, in between giggles, "you didn't fire me on the spot. I drooled on you?!"

Sasuke looked suspiciously like he was fighting his own smile, but Naruto couldn't quite tell with the way his hand was over his face—

"You're so loud," he muttered.

"Yeah," Naruto said, "what are you, surprised? You've known me for years."

Sasuke snorted, and Naruto settled down into the bed—soft, with sheets probably way more expensive (and cleaner) than Naruto's own—and flipped open the sketchbook. Sasuke had acted so flustered about it—he'd expected it to be way shittier, but…

Naruto flipped the page.

Even the sketches were detailed. He could see the bits that Sasuke had spent hours on and the parts where he'd given up before he'd begun. He could see the ones that Sasuke scribbled out and started over, and the ones where Sasuke tried something he'd never done before.

There was so much of him on every page.

And there were words—bits and pieces of thought around every page, although most of them...seemed like they were song lyrics. Really angsty song lyrics. Naruto grinned and flipped the page—

"Stop laughing at me."

Naruto started—he'd thought Sasuke had been falling asleep, not watching him—

"I'm not!" he protested.

"You are literally laughing."

"I'm laughing 'cause I'm happy you dickwad, look—" he turned the sketchbook to the side, "this is really fucking cool, okay?"

It was. Yeah, it was pretty fucking emo to draw a half-mechanical but otherwise anatomically correct heart but it was also super detailed and complicated and meticulous

"Wow," said Sasuke's sleepy voice, "I've never met anyone with such low standards."

Naruto whacked Sasuke's shoulder with the back of his hand. Sasuke only caught it and shoved it away, laughing all the while—

"Stop roasting yourself," Naruto said, turning back to the book. "You're really good."

Sasuke snorted, but fell silent. It was a good thing, too, 'cause Naruto sucked at multitasking and there was something like a rant on this page, in Sasuke's quick, messy handwriting, like the handwriting he had when Naruto fucked something up and Sasuke circled it in angry red and tore it apart—

"Do you still think this?" Naruto asked quietly.

"What?"

Naruto re-read the first sentence again.

"That love is bullshit."

Sasuke pushed himself up enough to look over his shoulder. Naruto automatically tilted the book so he could see it better, just as a drop of water fell from Sasuke's hair onto Naruto's neck—

Sasuke let out a breath and sank back down (not close enough to touch, but still close enough for Naruto to feel his body heat—)

"I think," he said, "it was more the...phrase I took issue with."

"The—" Naruto skimmed for the one Sasuke meant, "the 'when you have love you have no fear' one?"

"Mm."

"How come?"

Sasuke closed his eyes.

"Because you fear losing what you love."

Naruto breathed in and turned back to the book. That…

"But," Naruto said quietly, "even if you lose—even if you lose the thing, you don't lose the love. That doesn't go away."

"Sure," Sasuke said quietly, eyes still closed, "and do you find it worth it?"

Naruto let the breath out.

"Ugh," he flipped the page, "even fifteen year old you is smarter than me."

He heard the bed shift. He kept his eyes on the pages, though, 'cause this was all hitting way too close to home, and Naruto didn't know if he was up for actually considering any of this right now—

"In what way?" Sasuke's voice was significantly more awake, now. "Pessimism doesn't equal intelligence."

Naruto looked back at him.

"Do you think it's worth it?" Was it worth the pain? Was it really? Wouldn't it have been better to have never had—

"Yes."

Naruto jerked back. Of all the answers, he hadn't expected…

"Re—wait, really? But you said—"

"You're being a moron," Sasuke told him, "and so was I. You never met your birth parents. Was it better?"

Naruto's mouth opened and closed.

"That...that's not really," he let out a breath, "that's a different...kind of pain."

"So you hurt no matter what." Sasuke laid back down. "Might as well have something good out of it."

There was a pause.

"I can't believe," Naruto let out a soft laugh, "I just witnessed you looking on the fucking bright side—"

"I used my brain since you've apparently misplaced yours," Sasuke said, eyes opening into a tired glare. "What excuse did Tsunade give for Jiraiya abandoning you?"

"He didn't abandon me—"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "Of course."

"He—" Naruto let out a breath. "I mean...it was pretty much what you said. They had their own issues, and they—they knew my birth parents, y'know. They were still dealing with...all of that, so—"

Sasuke's eye twitched.

"What?"

"What? I didn't say anything," Sasuke said.

"You wanted to," Naruto said. "What were you going to say there?"

Sasuke was quiet for a moment.

"...Itachi was dealing with all of that as well."

Naruto scoffed and conceded the point.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it, you love your perfect big broth—"

Sasuke jammed his knuckles into Naruto's side.

"Ow—ow, hey, okay, okay, I yield. Jeez," Naruto sat back up, and Sasuke pulled back with the distinct look of victory on his face.

"But seriously—I mean," Naruto said, "I liked it more than the foster homes. I definitely liked it more than the foster homes," he let out a soft laugh, "but that—a lot of it was 'cause I finally had like...a place, you know? One place. I was—I was kinda a bad kid, so a lot of homes or schools or whatever program they tried to put me in just didn't have the, uh, time for me, so I moved around a lot, and—and then I didn't have to anymore."

Sasuke stayed quiet. His eyes stayed, unblinking, on Naruto—

"And Jiraiya—he still—" Naruto laughed a little, "I mean, like, he regularly brought, uh...women home. Like thinking back, obviously he didn't like—take me to meet them or anything, he was always quiet about it and made sure I had stuff to keep me occupied and...I mean, I guess they could've been anyone he'd met otherwise, but...y'know. S'not like he was a relationship kinda guy. And he liked to drink and party and—I mean—this was a guy that was never gonna have kids if it was up to him, you know?"

"Your parents still chose him."

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah," Naruto said quietly, "I get why, though. He was really...honest. Honest and loyal. Probably gave me too much independence, but," Naruto shrugged a little, "whatever. I turned out okay, I think."

"You do have a tendency to avoid approaching others with your problems. Likely related to your inability to see your own concerns as legitimate."

Naruto paused.

And then he shook his head, the disbelieving smile growing across his face—

"You," he said, pointing at Sasuke, "stop fucking reading me, you asshole."

"Mm," Sasuke's eyes narrowed a little, but the soft smile still played along his face, "that was for the phone call."

"The—"

(You never lonely or just don't wanna open up since it happened?)

Oh. Oh—Naruto slapped a hand over his face—

"Fuck, I'd—you asshole, I'd just stopped cringing about that," Naruto said, ducking forwards. "I'm—"

"Don't apologize. We're even."

Naruto peeked back at him through his fingers. Sasuke was laughing at him, again

"Asshole," Naruto muttered.

"Mm," Sasuke said, rolling onto his back, "was that it, then? Seems like a rather short conversation."

"No—we—we mostly picked, um, pictures for the visitation and after, y'know—the dinner thing. S'gonna be in a bar." Naruto threw Sasuke a small grin.

"Fitting," Sasuke offered back, and Naruto nudged him a little.

The silence was comfortable, this time. It was strange—the aftermath of such an emotional day. He wasn't numb, not really, but everything felt a little more...settled in him.

"She did say he regretted it," he said quietly.

"Regretted…?"

"Not meeting me sooner."

Sasuke made a small noise.

"Well," he breathed out, "I should hope so."

Naruto glanced back at him. Sasuke was half-asleep again...

"What?" he said, nudging Sasuke's arm a little. "Did you wanna meet me sooner?"

Sasuke snorted and tossed Naruto's hand back at him. It lingered, though, along Naruto's skin until it fell right in between them—fell right beside him, right beside where Naruto's hand would fall, too—

"You're stupid," Sasuke said, and Naruto's heart tripped over itself.

"Not as stupid as you," he whispered back, letting his hand rest. This was where it naturally fell. Where it comfortably fell—it was coincidence, he told himself, that their fingers overlapped a little. Accidental, even—

But Sasuke didn't move away.

"You can leave it on the floor," Sasuke offered, watching Naruto glance around him, sketchbook in his free hand—well, no, both of his hands were free, he wasn't holding Sasuke's hand, it was just nice and warm and that's where his hand happened to be (Sasuke was practically on his side of the bed, anyway)—

"'Kay," Naruto said, doing just that.

By the time he shuffled himself down the bed, Sasuke's eyes were closed again.

Chapter Text

He'd barely slept.

Sasuke took a sip of his coffee and flipped a page, vaguely skimming the words.

It was as if the shower had backfired, last night. All it had done was put him on edge, woken him up so thoroughly that he had been intensely aware of everything Naruto was doing—

So, naturally, Sasuke had closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. Then that had backfired, because Naruto kept flipping pages and making small noises (like little differences in the way that he breathed) that made Sasuke vividly aware of every reaction he was getting—and then he'd wanted to know so he'd opened his eyes and then—

And then he hadn't slept, because Naruto fell asleep facing him, with his hand in his.

Sasuke put the pages down.

He knew it was normal to Naruto. He was a very affectionate person—very...uncaring about personal space. No, it likely meant very little to him.

But it meant far too much to Sasuke.

Sasuke let out a harsh breath and downed the rest of his coffee. He was a mess. This was a mess. He didn't know what he'd been thinking from the—

His door opened.

"Yes?" he asked, wondering if his brother was ever going to learn to fucking knock—

"Here," Itachi said, tossing a packet on his desk.

"What's this?" Sasuke asked, already picking the—

The Relationship Disclosure Form.

"Kakashi informed me you had a visitor last night."

"The—this—" Sasuke stammered, "that was platonic!"

"Of course it was," Itachi said, already moving to the door, "as was every other time, I'm sure."

"It was—Itachi, I swear to—"

"It's always best to get ahead, Sasuke."

Sasuke threw the packet at him.

It hit the already closed door, splattering uselessly on the floor as Itachi's laughter faded away.

Sasuke put his face in his hands.

Some days, he hated his brother.


"I'm not coming to lunch."

Naruto laughed. He hadn't even made it through Sasuke's door

"Jeez," he said, "you're grumpier than usual. I keep you up too late?"

"No," Sasuke said quickly, "no, that—no."

Naruto blinked a couple times.

"Okay...weirdo, gonna tell me why you've decided to only drink the blood of your enemies from now on?"

Sasuke rubbed at his temples.

"...No."

Naruto frowned a little, glancing back at the door before he moved around Sasuke's desk.

"Hey," he said gently, "you okay?"

Sasuke looked up. Naruto didn't know why the guy looked so surprised—had he really expected Naruto to leave? It was hardly the first time he'd been snapped at by the guy.

"I...yes," he looked away, "I'm—just—tired. I have a headache. Sorry."

Naruto laughed.

"You don't have to apologize." He flicked Sasuke's shoulder. "I'm used to you being grumpy."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, but Naruto saw the twitch of his lips—just the hint of a smile—

"Did you want a head massage?"

Sasuke blinked. Naruto moved a little closer.

"For your headache," he offered. "I'm not that bad at them—here. Close your eyes."

Sasuke was...surprisingly docile. He didn't move away as Naruto moved behind him—he didn't flinch as Naruto touched him...he really must not have been feeling well. Naruto pressed his fingers on either side of Sasuke's neck, smiling a little as the way the collar shifted meant Naruto could see the tiniest bit of Sasuke's tattoo—then up, at the base of Sasuke's skull, moving up and up—

"Lean back," Naruto said softly. If it was a migraine, he didn't want to irritate it too much—those things could be awful. And Naruto was always kinda loud...but Sasuke just let his head roll back, in Naruto's hands, so he could massage his temples as well…

"S'that better?" he asked as Sasuke opened his eyes.

Sasuke sat up.

"...Yes," he said softly, "thank you."

Naruto furrowed his eyebrows a little, but didn't press the point. Sasuke still seemed a little grumpy, but...

"I was gonna—well, yeah, also lunch, but I was gonna ask—if you had time," Naruto bit his lip and shifted over a little, "if you wanted to come over tonight."

There was a pause.

"I mean," Naruto continued quickly, "I really owe you at this point, y'know."

He laughed, and it sounded way more nervous than he'd wanted it to—

"To—your house?"

"My apartment, yeah," Naruto shrugged a little, "and you can judge me for all my posters and plants and how messy my place is compared to yours—"

"Moron," Sasuke snorted, and there was the smile, "I have...work to do."

Naruto laughed. "Duh. You always have work to do. Do a little and then come over."

There was another pause. Sasuke stared down at his desk, mouth partially open as if waiting for some words to come out—Naruto stared at him, waiting, too. The guy was really off his game today.

"You don't have to—if you're too tired or anything," Naruto shifted a little, "just thought I'd ask."

And with that, he moved away. It was probably a little much—especially on a work night. Especially with how much they'd been talking to each other—Naruto didn't really need space but Sasuke probably did, and—

"Naruto—"

"Hm?" Naruto turned, halfway back through the door already—

"I...need your address."

Naruto glowed.

"I'll text it to you!"


Sasuke had the unfathomably insane urge to bring a gift. He wrestled with himself for the better part of an hour—and then the better part of an hour and a half—and then he'd just fucking stuffed a bottle of wine in his overnight bag and told Naruto he was on his way.

(He'd also ended up packing a few tubes of paint, that pad of crappy, but thick paper he'd bought, and a few brushes. Just in case.)

He'd been an absolute irritable mess until Naruto had come around. And then he'd been an absolute nervous mess, instead. He could have said no. He should have said no, but Naruto just stamped Sasuke's self-control into oblivion—

Sasuke pressed the buzzer.

He had no idea what he was doing.

"Say the magic words!"

"It's fucking freezing, Uzumaki."

He heard Naruto's dazzling laugh over the speaker, and the door unlocked.

Sasuke slid through the door, into the very narrow stairwell. Naruto had said third floor, so...he hadn't given an exact number, but—

"Hey!"

Sasuke looked up. Naruto waved at him from over the railing.

"C'mon up!"

And then, in a flash of blond, he was gone. Sasuke shook his head and dutifully trudged up the rest of the stairs. Naruto's door was still swung open when he got to the top—

"You're both earlier and later than I expected," Naruto shouted from the...kitchen?

Sasuke closed the door behind him and moved towards the voice—vaguely taking in the way that, yes, Naruto had littered the place with even more plants than he had initially expected—

"Are you—cooking...?"

"Yup!" Naruto—clad in an apron—danced past him, some bottle of something in his hand— "S'been a while. I always make too much for myself and then throw out half, but—" Naruto finally pulled back to smile at him, "hi. Thanks for coming."

Sasuke swallowed.

"I—sure."

"I didn't really know when to start 'cause I started and then I stopped midway 'cause you hadn't—anyway—it's almost done, I promise."

"No need to rush," Sasuke said. "I can wait."

"Now that," Naruto pointed at him, "is the first time you've ever said that to me."

Sasuke grabbed Naruto's finger.

"Your deadlines are my deadlines, moron."

Naruto's smile only widened.

"So you're a very patient man when work isn't involved?"

Sasuke let go. Naruto had leaned in then, and tilted his head to the side in way that had him—

"Depends on the situation."

Naruto laughed and turned back to the stove.

"You can make yourself at home. Paint all over my floor—whatever."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Can I name your plants?"

Naruto attempted to shove Sasuke into the fridge.

"Jerk! As if any of your names would be good enough—"

"Oh, what, now you have standards?"

"Sasuke, you asshole! I have standards!"

"You drank an entire carton of milk that had been expired for a week."

"I was hungry!"

"Right. Should I be worried that you're planning on poisoning me tonight?"

"You—yeah," Naruto said, right in his face, "yeah, you should be, actually, 'cause vampires can't eat regular human food—"

"You—" Sasuke shoved Naruto back and the blond burst into giggles, "—moron."

Naruto backed off, still laughing.

"Okay—I'm gonna taste this. Did you—" Naruto paused for a moment. "Oh yeah, manners—" Naruto turned to grin at him, "want me to take your coat?"

"Don't pretend you've ever known what manners were."

"Wh—hey!"

Sasuke propped his bag up onto his thigh and pulled out the bottle of wine.

"There," Sasuke said. "Manners."

And then he weaved back around the break in the wall, content to throw his things on the living room couch, for now—

"Is this for us?" Naruto called after him.

"Whatever," Sasuke called back.

Naruto muttered something after that, but what it was, Sasuke had no idea. He slung his jacket over the back of the couch and glanced back, just making sure Naruto wouldn't watch as Sasuke took the place in.

He was perfectly content to give himself his own tour.


Sasuke was a bold fucking guy, bringing wine that had a cork in it. Naruto hadn't needed a corkscrew in ages—he knew he'd had one at one point, but…

Naruto bit his lip, and turned down the heat a little on the stove. Less chance of bubbling over.

Somewhere in his admittedly dumbass brain, he'd become convinced that this was supposed to be a date. And it wasn't. It wasn't—but it felt like one, and Sasuke playing along with Naruto's shit really wasn't helping.

Naruto glared at the bottle of wine.

He'd even dressed up for this. He should've been in his pajamas by now—but no, no, no, of course not, he had to dress up and then immediately mess up the clothes he'd taken way too long to pick and so he'd dug out the apron he hadn't used in years either—

"Ah, fuck—" The pot had started boiling over—

Naruto dragged it over to the other element. It was pretty much done, now, he just had to find that fucking corkscrew…Naruto dug his hand into the back of his bottom drawer—

There. Jeez. He knew he'd had one.

Naruto switched off the stove and slid the corkscrew beside the wine—he'd go find Sasuke, first, 'cause he was fucking starved at this point—

"Sasuke?" Naruto wandered into the living room. Nope, no Sasuke here...his apartment wasn't that big—so that pretty much just left the bedroom or the bathroom, and considering the bathroom door was open…

"Hey," Naruto said, just as Sasuke turned, "finding anything interesting?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I've avoided the bedside table, if that's what you mean."

"Oh fuck you," Naruto said, caught somewhere between turning on his heel and glaring daggers at this snarky fucking asshole, "now I'm definitely gonna poison your food."

"Mm, can't wait," Sasuke deadpanned. "Is it ready?"

"It is, yeah. C'mon, goth boy."


The apartment was worse than he'd expected.

Littered with plants and posters and misshapen lamps and half-worn furniture—it was a place cluttered with...life. And Sasuke, to some extent, had expected the warmth—he'd prepared himself for the comfort—but he hadn't—

He hadn't been ready to feel this...at home.

"So, um," Naruto said, rolling his shoulders back as if getting rid of some sort of stiffness, "I made ramen. I hope that's okay."

Sasuke stopped.

Naruto glanced back at him with a small smile.

"You reminded me," he said, "why I liked it so much—it wasn't actually Jiraiya, originally," he weaved around the wall, "it was Iruka."

Sasuke leaned against the counter.

"That's how he bribed me," Naruto said, twisting around to look through his cabinets. "If I sat through some school stuff, we went out for ramen."

"So you're trained with food," Sasuke couldn't help but say, "like a dog."

Naruto let out a small laugh and slapped at his shoulder.

"You're such a dick."

Sasuke didn't move away. Naruto had two bowls in his hand, now, and he was moving to serve them—

"Will you be…"

"I don't know," Naruto said, "but, um—I wanted to make more...good memories. And if I can't—you've—you've been—I know you'll—"

"I'll handle it."

Naruto looked back at him with open, grateful eyes.

"I know you will." One hand reached behind him, pulling the string to untie the apron. "Wanna get the wine?"

"Sure."

Chapter Text

It wasn't exactly right. No, the smell was there, and so was the warmth, but Naruto had never really been able to get it...exactly right.

Maybe it was a good thing, in the end. The nausea wasn't back—and thank fuck for that—but the nerves still were, and Naruto found himself downing way more of the wine even though he normally didn't even like red that much—

Sasuke's knee bumped against his.

His table was too small. Or maybe him and Sasuke were too tall—and the problem with that was that Naruto felt like he could barely think with Sasuke nudging his food or his calf or his knee or his hand—they were accidental touches, they had to be, but then—but then, with Sasuke's eyes trained on him, piercing (as they always were)—

Sasuke was just as distracting as he'd always been, and it was making Naruto feel so…

"Is the—is the food okay? You don't have to eat it if you—"

"It's fine."

Naruto rolled his eyes a little.

"I mean it, Sasuke," he said, feeling his foot brush up against Sasuke's calf. "I'll order in if you don't like it. I really don't—"

"Uzumaki," Sasuke said, eyes darting down to the floor, "you're a good cook."

Naruto beamed.

"For one meal," Sasuke quickly clarified, but Naruto's head was already up in the clouds.

"I know you're trying to roast me," Naruto said, resting his chin on his palm, "but yeah, you're right. I'm—I'm pretty okay at boiling different kinds of noodles and stuff—and my seasoning is okay, but like—I suck at everything else. I burn everything that goes in the oven, I swear."

Sasuke did that thing where he tried to hide the fact that he was smiling, but Naruto knew.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"'Cause you never have enough faith in me," Naruto answered without missing a beat. "You owe me a home cooked meal, now."

Sasuke met his eyes.

"I hope you like the microwave."

Naruto burst out laughing.

"What! Sasuke, c'mon—"

"I never cook," Sasuke said. "I live alone. I have no time. Why would I cook?"

"I dunno," Naruto said, incredulous, "for your health? For fun? For the fact that you used to be fucking vegan—"

"I think the only thing that achieved was proving I am not to be trusted with my own nutrition."

"Sas—" Naruto waved a hand over his face to try and stop laughing— "okay, okay—from now on, I'll cook for you while you paint. How's that sound?"

Sasuke's eyes widened, just a little—and then they busied themselves with something in his bowl—

"I did bring some paint," he said quietly—almost shyly, but that was crazy, Sasuke had no reason to ever be shy— "if you wanted."

"You brought—if?"


Naruto ended up on the couch behind him. Despite all of his protests, Sasuke had insisted he stay on the floor—the moron didn't have any spare newspapers, but they'd gone for plastic bags instead. He knew how messy paint could get.

But now—with the brush hanging over a blank page, and Naruto hovering over him—

"Are you just going to watch me?"

Naruto pulled back.

"Is that—is that not okay?" Naruto said, and Sasuke barely had a chance to look up before he continued— "here—I'll—I'm gonna play a video game or something. And I'll be totally distracted, okay?"

Sasuke sat up onto his heels, and watched Naruto flitter all over the place without ever hearing a reply. But then—it hadn't been a bad idea, and maybe Naruto had read the discomfort in Sasuke's body, like he so easily tended to—

"You ready? I haven't played this in years."

And Sasuke hadn't painted in years.

"If you last longer than five minutes, I'll show you what I'm doing."

Naruto downed the rest of his wine.

"Game on, Uchiha."


Okay, Naruto sucked.

He used to be pretty damn good at this game. At least, he'd remembered being good at this game, but then Sasuke kept getting up to get him more wine, and he'd ripped pages out and painted something else several times now, and Naruto had yet to see any of—

"If you keep kicking that foot past me, I'm going to paint it black."

Naruto stopped for a moment, considered his options, and promptly kicked his foot out right at Sasuke.

Sasuke caught it.

Naruto met his gaze with his most innocent smile.

And then—

"Ah—Sas—that tickles, that tickles—!"

Naruto crumbled down the couch, knowing that kicking Sasuke in the face would get him fucking murdered but with every bit of his body itching to flail in every way it could—

"There." Sasuke let go.

Naruto caught his breath—and his foot, pulling it up onto his lap to see what Sasuke had—

"Wow," Naruto said, admiring the bold, black, capital lettered MORON painted across the bottom of his foot. "I've been labelled."

"I needed to warn the world."

Naruto snorted out a laugh, slapping at Sasuke—

"Careful, I could stamp you with this foot," Naruto kicked it out flat, waving it right in front of Sasuke's face, "then who'd be the moron?"

"Mm, let's see."

Sasuke grabbed Naruto's ankle and promptly pressed his foot flat against a blank page—

"No," he said, letting go and holding up the...perfectly white page, "looks like it's still you."

"You asshole! It dried already?" Naruto pulled his foot back to him. "What the hell…"

Sasuke ducked his head and laughed, turning back to his book. Naruto watched him for a moment longer before he slipped onto the floor, too, his controller forgotten—

"Can I see it yet?"

Sasuke shoved his face away.

"No. I'm not happy with it."

Naruto pushed his face right into Sasuke's hand.

"You weren't happy with your old sketchbook," he insisted, "and I loved that!"

Sasuke pulled his hand away to flip the page back, and Naruto took it as his chance. He crossed his legs—with his painted foot up, just in case—and stuck his hands in the middle so he could use them to really lean over Sasuke's shoulder—

"Whoa," Naruto breathed, practically resting his chin on Sasuke, "I have...no idea what I'm looking at."

Sasuke shoved his shoulder into Naruto's chest. He barely budged.

"S'really cool though. Kinda—like—it reminds me of my tattoo."

"That was…" Naruto felt Sasuke shift a little.

His grin widened.

"Was that what you were trying to do?"

"No," Sasuke said.

"That's what you were trying to do, wasn't it?"

"No," Sasuke insisted—

Naruto dived over him to get to the other pages. Sasuke scrambled to stop him, catching his arms and pushing back, but Naruto was already crawling further—

"Let me see," Naruto whined, stuck halfway over Sasuke's lap—Sasuke kept slapping his hands away, but he was so close—and Sasuke couldn't push him any further 'cause then he'd get in the paint—

"Watch the wine, moron."

"Oh," Naruto pulled back—he'd forgotten the glass was right behind Sasuke—

Sasuke shoved him onto the floor.

"Wait," Naruto said, inch-worming his way up, "your glass is empty!"

Sasuke snorted.

"And you're gullible."

Naruto narrowed his eyes, watching him neatly tuck the extra pages into his book—away from Naruto's eyes. That crafty asshole.

"Dickhead," Naruto said, pushing himself up onto his knees, "I'll get you more. I think we're outta your red—white okay?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow back at him.

"We have work tomorrow."

Naruto grinned at him.

"Then stop drinking so fast. Little sips, Sasuke—"

Sasuke reached out and swiped his paintbrush across Naruto's cheek.

"Wh—hey! You—"

"Go open the white."

Naruto rolled his eyes.

"Bossy bitch Sasuke is back," Naruto grumbled, getting to his feet. Sasuke swatted at his ankles on the way by.

"Wh—oi, oi, oi, I'm carrying glass, asshole!" Naruto hopped over him, laughing—

He glanced back, on the way, just in time to catch Sasuke's playful smile as he looked back down at his book.

Naruto swallowed and ducked behind the wall. That smile was so...

"It's not chilled, do you care?" he called, already twisting the cap off—

"Yes, but not enough," Sasuke called back.

"Snob!" Naruto laughed and just fucking poured the glasses anyway. Maybe a little more than was supposed to be in them, but whatever. He ducked around the corner—

And distinctly saw Sasuke hold back laughter the moment he laid eyes on him.

"Yeah," Naruto said, gesturing at his face with the cup, "look at this. You did this. You monster."

That made Sasuke break, and he couldn't even hide his smile like he always did, 'cause Naruto made him reach for the glass of wine—

"That okay?" Naruto asked as Sasuke took a sip.

"I've had worse," Sasuke said, sliding the cup to his side.

Naruto laughed and dropped onto his knees to sit beside Sasuke again. He wondered if he could get away with just watching Sasuke, now…

"I can't believe you matched it so well," he mumbled, resting his chin on Sasuke's shoulder again. "Haven't you only seen my tattoo once?"

"Yes," Sasuke said, flipping to a blank page, "which is why I can't seem to…" He let out a frustrated breath through his nose and dipped his paintbrush into the black again.

"Oh," Naruto leaned back, "here—"

He pulled his shirt over his head.

"That help?"

The paint dripped from Sasuke's brush onto the blank page.

"Yes," Sasuke said, unblinking, "thank you."

Naruto shifted self-consciously. Sasuke still stared at him, and it made him wanna like—sit up straight or something, he was always slouching, and that would kinda hide the tattoo—

"You're, um," Naruto ducked his head a little, "getting paint on the page."

Sasuke flinched and looked down.

"Crap," he muttered softly and something about the way he said it was just so fucking funny—

"Gimmie that page," Naruto laughing, making grabbing motions as Sasuke ripped it out, "that can be mine."

"Are you stealing my paint?" Sasuke asked, passing it to him. "I would have thought crayons would be more your style."

"Oh my god," Naruto laughed, "gimmie a brush, you asshole! Do you only have black?"

"Well I wasn't going to carry everything over—"

"You only bought black paint, didn't you?"

"I didn't!"

Naruto gave him a totally convinced look.

"...I also bought white," Sasuke said quietly.

Naruto firmly pressed his lips together, but the laugh was swelling in his chest—

"I hate you," Sasuke muttered.

Naruto laughed and reached over him to grab the paint.

"The feeling's mutual," he said, nudging Sasuke a little on the way. "You're gonna need to mentally prepare yourself for this."

"Am I?

"Yup. Can you handle my greatness?"

"I think I can handle you just fine."

"Jeez," Naruto said, feeling his cheeks burn a little even as he laughed, "c'mon, 's'ke, at least let me have more wine first—"

Sasuke's hand slapped back at Naruto's shoulder, but the paintbrush was still slipped between his knuckles, so—

"Wh—hey!" Naruto shoved at him. "You're getting paint all over me!"

"It's non-toxic," Sasuke said, holding the little half-empty jar, "and you deserve it."

"Ass," Naruto said, lifting his arm to try and see it. "At least draw something cool!"

Sasuke tilted his head back a little, already midway through another sip of wine. Naruto grinned as he put the glass down, but then he turned around and Naruto—

"Don't move," Sasuke said, leaning in too close, way too close—he grabbed Naruto's arm with one hand and positioned his brush with the other—

"I didn't say not to breathe," Sasuke said, glancing up at him with dark, amused eyes—

Naruto let out the breath he didn't know he was holding.

"Smug bastard," he said, and it was a miracle that his voice came out as steady as it did. Sasuke only snorted softly and went back to stretching out the line he'd made on Naruto's shoulder—or, well, that's what it felt like he was doing—

Naruto swallowed.

He was really nervous. The brush felt really soft and smooth and Sasuke had that focused intensity to him again, the one that drew Naruto in, the one that was on him now, and Naruto had to remind himself to breathe, again (and keep breathing, normally, slowly, normally)—

"You better not be drawing a dick," he mumbled. And then he immediately regretted it, because there was no way to hide the chills that broke out over his skin when Sasuke laughed, 'cause his shirt was off and Sasuke was right there

"Don't drag me down to your level," Sasuke said softly, focusing back on the paint. "...There."

"Done?"

Sasuke only leaned back and grabbed his wine again, gesturing at Naruto with his head—

"Ooh," Naruto twisting himself up a little more to try and see it better—it was more of that— "it's really like my tattoo! Sasuke! Do more!"

More of that abstract design that Sasuke had been painting, but with a large swirl spiralling up Naruto's shoulder, which was—

"More?"

"Yeah," Naruto couldn't help but ask— "do the rest of me. Please?"


Sasuke was drunk.

He curved the brush along Naruto's collarbone—less so, this time, because he wanted the pattern to match along his chest, and his neck...almost like a chain, hm...

"Your hand's so steady," Naruto said, unabashedly watching him.

"Is it?" Sasuke asked, not looking up. He certainly didn't feel like it was. Sasuke had agreed to this somewhere between the alcohol and that stupid Naruto-induced giddiness, but he knew—he knew, in the deep, rational, shouting part of his mind, that this was crossing several thousand lines—

"Yeah," Naruto said, "you don't shake at all."

Well.

He was glad Naruto couldn't tell.

"And you have such straight lines," Naruto said, admiring his arm again. "How'd you get so good at that?"

"Years of never having a straight edge when I need one," Sasuke deadpanned, telling himself that the hand he placed on Naruto's waist was only there to stop him from moving and not for any other warm, tantalizing reason—

"Oh," Naruto said, as one of Sasuke's lines continued down, past his tattoo—stopping at the hem of his pants. Stopping there, Sasuke firmly told himself—

"D'you need my pants down a little?" came Naruto's breathy voice. Sasuke stared up, into his eyes, refusing to speak—refusing to ans—

"Yes." Fuck. Fuck

Naruto's head tilted and his hips rose—his hands played with his belt as if about to—

"How far down?"

And Sasuke's brain paused there—it stopped and stuttered, freezing in place and rewinding, replaying—

Naruto pulled his belt from his pants and hooked his fingers through the loops, shuffling in place.

"That good?"

Sasuke stared at Naruto's hips and prayed for mercy.

"A little more," he heard his voice say, the whisper the only thing hiding the way it strained. He could see the end of Naruto's tattoo and they way his hip bones curved and his golden fucking happy trail—

Those hips lifted, again, and Sasuke's restraint trembled.

"How about that?" Naruto's voice was husky and low. His eyes were half-lidded and Sasuke had a moment of insanity where he wondered if he ought to just drop the brush and use his tongue instead—

"That's fine," he answered, wrenching himself back into reality. Painting. He was painting. He let out a breath and continued the line down Naruto's side, keeping it symmetrical—keeping his focus on the pattern, and not on Naruto's skin, not on the fact that his face was inches away from being in between Naruto's legs—

"That tickles," Naruto said, face flushed and smiling.

Sasuke smirked and swiped the same spot again.

Naruto only laughed, pushing at Sasuke's face in a way that was more akin to running his hands through his hair than anything else. Sasuke found himself missing the touch as soon as it was gone—

"You ever thought about being a tattoo artist?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke focused on finishing the line he wasn't quite happy with, unwilling to face that smile again yet—

"Maybe during my goth phase," he answered, a bubble of warmth bursting in his chest at Naruto's resulting laugh. "Turn to the side. I'll do your other arm."

Sasuke pulled back so Naruto could shift—

"Aw, but you're so warm," Naruto said, one hand gently tracing a path down Sasuke's arm as he pulled away, "okay, okay, I'm moving."

Naruto shoved himself up, crossing his legs again so Sasuke could see the insult still painted across to bottom of his foot. The amusement only lasted for a second, though, because Naruto had apparently no qualms in shuffling over until he was nearly in Sasuke's lap—

"That okay?"

Sasuke swallowed.

"It's fine."

It was, in retrospect, quite possibly the stupidest thing Sasuke could have ever chosen to do under the circumstances. He was already clambering to keep this attraction under control, and memorizing every bit of Naruto's naked torso—alongside that glowing, affectionate smile—

"You're so good at everything."

Sasuke snorted, and turned his attention to Naruto's bare shoulder. He was...unfortunately forced to trace a path along his muscles—forced to hold his arm in place, and forced to move the touch as he moved the brush, too...

"Careful, Uzumaki," he said softly. "According to you, my ego is already out of control."

Naruto rocked to the side then, just a little, to nudge Sasuke.

"It is. You're a cocky bastard."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow and Naruto's playful grin widened. The last time Naruto had said that—

"A porn star and a tattoo artist," he said. "Any other careers available for me?"

Naruto shifted his hand to rest on Sasuke's calf.

"Mm," he hummed while Sasuke attempted to continue to breathe, "motorcycle racer."

"Take that up with Itachi."

Naruto laughed and leaned closer.

"Professional chef."

Sasuke coated the paintbrush and swiped another bold, black line across Naruto's cheek—

"Wh—hey!" Naruto laughed, ducking away and then back again—

"There." Sasuke leaned back with far more effort and far less relief than he wanted to admit. "Stop stealing my paint."

Naruto paused.

"Am I done?"

"Done? Did you think I had a plan?"

Naruto laughed and shoved himself to his feet.

"I'm gonna go see!"

And then he was gone. Sasuke rolled his eyes and followed him, flicking his paintbrush between his fingers to grab the wine on the way—

"Holy shit," Naruto said, unabashedly checking himself out in the mirror, "this is so cool! Sasuke! I look so cool!"

He spun to Sasuke with brilliant, ecstatic eyes—

"My phone's on the—I'm gonna go get it."

Naruto buzzed past him again, and this time Sasuke was content to just lean against the doorway and watch. Every emotion Naruto had was just so obvious—there was no filter to this man. No hiding. Not a dishonest bone in that...toned, tanned body...

Naruto flung himself past Sasuke, phone in hand, before he spun around so fast Sasuke flinched back—

"Wait," Naruto said, "should I wash my face or keep it on? Does it—"

Sasuke grabbed his face.

"Stay still," he said, sliding his wine onto the rim of the sink so he could use his paintbrush properly—

Naruto dutifully paused, but then—

"Stop smiling, moron—"

"I can't!" Naruto laughed his way out of Sasuke's hands— "Okay, crap, sorry, sorry, sorry, I'll be—"

He let out a breath, put on a straight face, and immediately started to giggle again.

"You are the worst," Sasuke told him, but he was smiling, too—

"You're the worst! Stop looking at me!"

Naruto ducked away and Sasuke laughed then, too—

"What? Should I paint you blind?"

"You—" Naruto laughed again and Sasuke caught him, this time, pulling him closer—

"Close your eyes, then," Sasuke said.

"Close my—"

"Close your eyes, moron." His paintbrush was drying out—

"Oh," Naruto said, his eyes fluttering closed, "yes sir, whatever you say, my liege, your wish is my command—"

It was Sasuke's turn to hold in a laugh, then, and Naruto obviously noticed when he cracked an eye open—

"That's enough out of you," Sasuke said softly, poking his cheek with the back of his paintbrush. Naruto's smile widened for just a moment before he let out a breath and bounced on his feet—

"Okay, okay. Go."

Sasuke didn't have much to work with. Naruto broke after only a few moments and was terrible at keeping still, even with the way Sasuke practically had him pressed up against the sink—he'd done much better when they were on the floor—

"I can't do any more than that," Sasuke said. Naruto opened his eyes and spun around before Sasuke could pull away—

"Did you—did you give me whiskers?"

Sasuke jerked back. "They're not—"

"You gave me whiskers!"

"I did not!"

"Oh my god, where's my phone—" Naruto scrambled around him, pushing him into the wall in the process—

"Oi, moron," he said, because the towel rack was jabbing into his spine—

"Here," Naruto pulled it up, "smile!"

Sasuke heard the distinct sound of a picture being taken.

"Why—why am I in the—"

"Wait, d'you still have your—" Naruto grabbed at Sasuke's hands. "Aw...you took the nail polish off?"

"It was chipping," Sasuke said, wondering why Naruto sounded so disappointed—

"So you took it all off?"

Sasuke snorted. Of course he did—

"You're such a perfectionist," Naruto told him, some sort of indulgence in his voice, "c'mon. One smile."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"A new photo background?"

Naruto's smile widened.

"Oh, definitely."

"...You're such a moron." A bright, shining, glowing, happy moron—it felt so good to see Naruto almost back to normal, like this—

Snap.

"Got you!" Naruto said, laughing as he pulled his phone back to him. "Aw, I don't wanna wash this off…"

"I don't think it's meant to be on skin," Sasuke pointed out.

"Yeah, but," Naruto frowned down at himself, "it's so...can you take a couple close ones?"

What a harmless request. What a simple, innocent excuse for Sasuke to spend another ten minutes eyeing every bit of Naruto's body—

"Sure."

At least it pulled Naruto away from him. At least it kept Sasuke's hands occupied—at least it stopped him from doing every (stupid, stupid, stupid) thing he wanted to, except for...well…

"Get my shoulders, too," Naruto said, twisting a little.

Sasuke let out a long, slow breath and snapped another photo. His shoulders, his chest, his stomach—Sasuke had spent the better part of the last hour utterly invested in them, and yet he was still so...fuck. What else was there to look at? Naruto's blue, sparkling eyes? His genuine, excited smile? Jesus Christ

"What d'you think? Should I get all tattoo'd up?"

"If you come into work with a face tattoo," Sasuke told Naruto's chest, "I will fire you."

Naruto laughed.

"What—you don't like my whiskers?"

"They're not whiskers—"

"I like my whiskers," Naruto said, leaning closer to the mirror to examine them. "They're so itchy though…"

Naruto poked at his cheeks a little.

"It's—moron, wash it off if it's irritating your skin!"

"You said it wasn't toxic!"

"Yes, it won't kill you—get in the shower."

"Fine, fine, fine, fine." Naruto shoved his phone onto the counter and shuffled over to the towel rack, thumbing at the hem of his pants as he did—Sasuke clutched his glass of wine to his chest—

Naruto threw him a mischievous grin.

"Staying for the show?"

"Fuck you," Sasuke muttered, spinning on his heel.

He barely remembered to shut the door on his way out.


One very satisfying shower later, Naruto was feeling clean, less itchy, and a bit more sober. A bit.

Sasuke was already in bed (and in his pajamas), though—in Naruto's bed, with his sheets lazily pooled at his hips, and that definitely wasn't helping with the dizzying nerves that kept buzzing through him—

"You have boring pajamas," Naruto greeted him, still scrubbing his hair with the towel. He'd only had the pants he'd run in the bathroom with, so he'd have to get changed now…

"With your standards," Sasuke said, not looking up from his phone, "I'd call that a compliment."

Naruto threw the towel at him. It slapped Sasuke right in the face and Naruto stumbled back, arms over his stomach as he doubled over laughing—

"You—" Sasuke yanked the towel away, the angry look faltering after only a moment— "Will you put some fucking clothes on?"

Naruto caught the towel as Sasuke whipped it back at him.

"You're such a bitch," Naruto flipped the towel over his shoulder as he dug through his drawers, "if you hadn't shoved me in the shower, I'd've had clothes by now."

"Excuse me for caring," Sasuke muttered, and Naruto smiled at the floor. Stupid Sasuke didn't realize he'd admitted it.

"It was kinda hard to scrub off, though." Normally, Naruto's showers took him like five minutes, but—

"Was it? Turn around."

Naruto looked up and obeyed, clothes in hand. Sasuke had moved to the end of the bed and beckoned him forward with a frown—

"Your skin is red," he muttered, glaring at it.

"Yeah," Naruto said, looking down at himself, "that's cause I scrubbed it a bunch."

"Does it feel hot?"

"I mean," Naruto blinked, "not really? I'm warm from the shower."

"Does it itch?" Sasuke glanced up at him.

"...No, doctor, it doesn't. Any other questions?"

Naruto met Sasuke's glare with a cheeky grin.

"Yes. Is there a reason you're such an idiot?"

Naruto's grin widened.

"You bring it out of me."

Sasuke flopped back onto the bed with a, "god help me."

It did make his shirt ride up a little, though, and Naruto had a moment where he considered the fact that Sasuke—attractive, funny, dickhead Sasuke—was lounging in his bed, just drunk enough to loosen up a bit—

And yeah, okay, he was never gonna be attracted to Naruto, gay or not, but a man could dream.

Yeah.

A man could definitely dream.

"I'm gonna get ready for bed," Naruto said, eyes still on Sasuke's midriff.

"If I'm asleep when you get back, set an alarm at six-thirty."

"Oh—yeah, sure."


Naruto's bed smelled like him.

It was the first thing Sasuke had noticed when he'd laid down. It was completely and utterly unavoidable, and Sasuke had to physically stop himself from closing his eyes and cocooning himself in the sheets. Of all the effects he'd expected Naruto to have on him, calming had never been one of them. And yet…

Sasuke breathed in a long, slow breath.

Everything was peaceful about this place.

"Incoming!"

It was Sasuke's only warning before he flew into the air, Naruto bouncing on the bed beside him—

"Jesus Chri—" Sasuke spun around, glaring. Alright, well, peaceful may have not been the right word.

Naruto stuck his face in Sasuke's and grinned.

Sasuke shoved it away. Naruto had, apparently, chosen a far-too-large shirt paired with far-too-large pants, loose enough to fall off his shoulder and ride so very low on his hips, respectively—

"Thanks for cleaning up the living room," Naruto said, rolling onto his back.

Sasuke made a noncommittal noise. He didn't let his head turn, but he couldn't quite stop his eyes from wandering as those hips twisted to reach the bedside table—

"Okay," Naruto said, "six-thirty. Ugh…" he rolled back over, "we're barely getting five hours."

"And whose fault is that?" Sasuke asked, turning away as if he hadn't just stared at Naruto's ass for a good thirty seconds—

"Yours," Naruto said immediately. "I don't need to get to work a million years early."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes and Naruto laughed.

"Okay, okay, I know," Naruto said, kicking the blankets out from below him, "I've been fucking up your sleep schedule for the past week. Sorry."

Sasuke snorted.

"I assure you," he said, as Naruto pulled the blankets up to his stomach, "that my sleep has never been on any sort of schedule."

"Yeah?" Naruto laughed a little. "You a night owl?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"How did you guess?"

Naruto shoved his grin against the pillow.

"'Cause we've been up way too fucking late every day and you haven't yelled at me yet."

Sasuke felt the smile stretch his lips.

"I have the patience of a saint."

"Uh-huh, yeah, okay, want me to move to the floor so your ego has enough space on the be—"

Sasuke shoved the pillow into Naruto's face to muffle his laughter. Naruto slapped him away.

"Watch it, moron."

Naruto laughed and rolled closer.

"I'm so scared," he mocked, but all Sasuke could focus on was the way Naruto was on the same pillow as him, now, and it was making the nerves spark to life yet again—

"You know your eyes change colour in the dark?"

"I—what?" Sasuke blinked back into reality—

Just in time for Naruto to brush some hair out of his eyes.

Sasuke froze.

"They change," Naruto said softly. "It's cool. You've got such weird eyes."

Sasuke swallowed.

"You think everything about me is weird."

"S'cause it is, weirdo."

"Wow."

Naruto's grin widened.

"I'm a weirdo too, don't worry."

"Well," Sasuke said softly, "I can't argue with that."

Naruto laughed.

"Thanks, asshole." He propped his head up with his arm, eyes still scanning Sasuke's (Sasuke's heart fluttered in his chest with every movement)—

"You tired at all?" Naruto asked, utterly wide awake.

"I should be," Sasuke muttered.

Naruto laughed and slapped at Sasuke's arm, using it as momentum to roll onto his back. Sasuke struggled somewhere between relief and disappointment that Naruto's eyes were no longer on him—

"Okay," he said, scanning the ceiling for something, "tell me about…university."

"Tell you about university? Am I telling you bedtime stories now?"

Naruto laughed and rolled back towards him.

"That's pretty much what you've been doing, yeah." Naruto reached out and flicked another bit of hair out of Sasuke's face. "You mind?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes and turned away, positive Naruto would be able to make out the flush in his cheeks—

"What do you want to know?"

"I dunno." Naruto stretched his arms up and arched his back, letting out a breath. "Did you live on res?"

"No," Sasuke said, "I had an apartment. Did you?"

"I did, yeah. I had a roommate in my first year and then I was an R.A. for the rest of it."

"You?" Sasuke turned to him, raising an eyebrow. "As an R.A.?"

Naruto's grin widened.

"Want me to lecture you about safe sex?"

"Ugh." Sasuke shoved Naruto's laughing face away.

"What? It's what I did! Ninety percent of my job was making up special knocks for whatever kind of condom the person wanted."

Sasuke put a hand over his smile. "More than one? How many types did you have?"

"I had fucking buckets, Sasuke. Undergrads are animals."

And Sasuke couldn't hold back his laugh anymore, because Naruto was laughing too—

"I don't think," Sasuke caught his breath, "your experiences were universal."

"No?" Naruto said, propping himself up so he was nearly leaning over Sasuke. "Your undergrad wasn't a sex-filled rompfest?"

"No," Sasuke said, incredulous. "Was yours?"

"No," Naruto laughed, "no, are you kidding? I get way too attached to people way too fast."

Sasuke snorted. "Seems about right. Am I never getting rid of you, then?"

"Nah," Naruto settled back down—closer to Sasuke, "that's it, you were nice to me. You're stuck with this now."

"...Like a stray puppy."

Naruto laughed.

"Jesus, man," he said, "you make me sound so pathetic."

"You're the one sticking to someone for showing you basic human decency."

"Basic—" Naruto sat up again, and Sasuke was suddenly very aware of how close they were together, "I think you've gone a bit past basic decency, Sasuke."

And that was true, Sasuke knew it was, but—

"Just because you have no concept of—"

"Shut the fuck up," Naruto happily sighed as he laid back down. "We're friends now. Deal with it."

Sasuke paused.

Naruto giggled.

"Hah," Naruto said, rolling over to grin at Sasuke, "you can't even deny it!"

"I—"

"You came over and brought wine and painted all over my body—"

"Yes, I did," Sasuke snapped, "exactly what kind of friends do you have?"

"Weirdos," Naruto grinned, "like you."

Sasuke glared at him. Naruto's grin only widened.

"Okay, okay, no, you're right, I'm sorry," Naruto relented. "You're the weirdest person I know. Weirder than anybody else. You have a special place of weirdness in my heart—"

"You—"

"There is no one else in the world who could take your weird-ass place." Naruto waggled his eyebrows. "Better?"

Sasuke stared at him helplessly.

"You are," he said, "the dumbest person I've ever met."

"I'll take it." Naruto laughed and fell back into the bed, smiling up at the ceiling. Sasuke swallowed and told himself he wasn't staring.

"This was fun," Naruto said, after a moment. "I needed this."

He turned to face Sasuke.

"Right?"

And Sasuke didn't know which question Naruto was asking there, but—

"Yes."

Naruto's smile faltered a little.

"It's okay, right? That I—that today—um," Naruto swallowed, "right?"

Oh.

Sasuke reached out and flicked Naruto between his eyes.

"Ow, Sas—"

"Stop that."

Naruto rubbed at his face again.

"I—" Naruto let out a breath. "Yeah. Sorry. Sorry, I'm just—"

"Being an idiot. Stop feeling guilty."

Naruto's laugh came out sounding more like a sigh.

"You—you make it sound so simple." Naruto let out a soft, shuttered laugh again. "Don't you think that I—that I should be—"

"No. Moron. Let yourself be happy."

Naruto closed his eyes and let out a breath.

It shuddered.

"Damn it," Naruto whispered, "damn it, today was gonna be the first day I didn't—damn it—" Naruto sat up with a harsh breath, slapping at his face—

"And now look what you've done," Sasuke said quietly, sitting up to pull Naruto's hand away from his face.

Naruto looked at him with red-rimmed eyes, and a pathetic smile.

"Sorry," he whispered.

"Stupid," Sasuke whispered back. "Come on."

Naruto didn't fight as Sasuke gently pulled him forwards. Sasuke wasn't sure if he expected him to. It certainly wasn't the first time Naruto had cried on his shoulder, but somehow—somehow, as Naruto's arms wrapped around Sasuke's neck and Sasuke's wrapped around his waist—somehow, this felt—

Naruto breathed out a shuddering sob and Sasuke's skin broke out in chills.

He was very, very selfishly relieved that Naruto was crying right now.

It stopped whatever had been coming—whatever had been building—whatever Sasuke would be doing if Naruto was smiling in his arms, instead. No matter how—how stupidly enamored Sasuke was, or how invested Naruto seemed to be—his emotions were a mess. He was a mess—and Sasuke was a shitty person with shitty motives, and that wasn't even taking into account that he was Naruto's boss and Jesus Christ, he never should have let it get to this point to begin with—

Naruto's arms, around him, tightened.

Sasuke closed his eyes and felt his arms do the same.

He was in so, so much trouble here.

Chapter Text

Naruto awoke, the next day, to an empty bed and a sun high in the sky. He had a good three minutes of pure panic before he registered the small post-it on his bedside table—

Naruto gently picked it up.

'Take the day, Uzumaki.'

He sagged back down into the bed, staring. Sasuke had—had just left? Just let Naruto sleep? They'd both needed sleep, but—he hadn't needed to—Naruto had been…

He swallowed.

This was...really nice.

He rolled to the side, sliding his phone off the bedside table into his hand. He really should thank Sasuke or something...he bit the tip of his thumb, opening up his messages—

And Sasuke had texted him already—just making sure he'd found the note. Naruto smiled a little and typed a quick reply. That asshole…

He flipped back to his messages, just to check—

Oh. Sakura had texted him? No, wait, he'd texted her—last night. When had he…

Naruto stared at the screen.

Aw, fuck.


Sasuke was short with everyone. He could feel the snap in his voice before he was even asked a question. He felt like a veritable nightmare, and it was a damn good thing his office locked, because if Itachi said one single word about Naruto, Sasuke was going to lose it.

He let out a harsh breath—trying, for the millionth time, to focus on his work. He couldn't, of course—he'd been trying all damn day, and all he could think about was the fact that he'd woken up in Naruto's goddamn arms. Literally—Naruto's hands had been under his shirt and his breath on his neck and it had taken every single fucking bit of Sasuke's willpower to rip himself away from that warmth—

Damn it all to hell.

He was a fool. He was a pathetic, lovesick fool. He'd let these feelings spiral entirely out of control, knowing—knowing—that it was a terrible idea. Knowing he shouldn't feel this way. Knowing that Naruto would never—especially now, he couldn't possibly—

Sasuke put his face into his hands.

He was starting to wish he'd never looked into those brilliant, blue eyes.

And he'd skipped lunch today, as he usually did, but then—but apparently Naruto had gotten him used to whatever it was they did, so now he was even more exhausted and angry and—helpless

'Hey, asshole. You're gonna use this against me later, aren't you?'

Sasuke sent a response before he even had time to reconsider.

'I wouldn't dream of it. Just wake up?'

He stared down at his hands as the message sent.

Damn it. He immediately felt better. More awake—giddy, even, with the sparks dancing from his heart to his fingertips—

"Fuck," Sasuke breathed quietly, turning back to his work. Maybe he'd be able to focus, finally, now that he knew Naruto was alright…


Sakura tapped her fingers on the desk, waiting. She'd stared at her phone for the better part of the morning, trying to figure out if she should demand a million explanations or wait for Naruto to start babbling them at her. She figured it had been a mistake, but…

Her phone rang.

Sakura smiled. Speak of the blondie.

"Well, well, well, look who it is."

"Uh—hey, uh, hi, Sakura."

"How're you holding up? Your boyfriend told me to let you sleep."

"Oh, was Sas—he's not my boyfriend!"

"No? Friend with benefits?"

"No, oh my god—"

"Did you kiss at least?"

"No!"

"Well," she leaned back in her chair, "that explains the storm cloud following him around today."

"The—he's in a bad mood?"

"I think he might kill Shikamaru if he complains one more time."

Naruto snorted.

"So…"

"So, um, I meant to send that picture to Sasuke. Last night—I forgot his name wasn't Sasuke in my phone, so, uh, sorry. Can you delete it?"

"Sure. If you answer some questions first." Sakura laughed at Naruto's small groan. "When was this taken?"

"Uh, last night."

"Hm," Sakura said, "is that wine on the counter?"

"It—yeah, it was, uh—"

"And the black stuff all over you? What's that?"

"It's—it's Sasuke's paint. I kinda—"

"Paint. Huh. Okay. Okay. Sasuke's paint," Sakura shifted a little, "which just happened to get onto your body…"

"It really wasn't like that, Sakura."

"You realize I can still look at the picture right now, right? You're literally in his arms."

"We...no, I'm—okay, that's on my endyou don't even know if he's gay! I was the one who—"

"So you're interested?"

"No!"

Sakura tapped her fingers on the table.

"I—okay, maybe a little, but—"

Sakura heaved out a breath. "Naruto—"

"Okay—I know. I know, okay? I know he's our boss and I know he's never gonna be interested in me but he's really nice and funny and hot as hell and I'm obviously never gonna act on this, so—"

"Naruto. I need you to stop talking, and open up the picture again. Look at it." She paused. "Are you looking at it?"

"I—one sec, hang on." A pause. "I'm...looking now."

"Zoom in on his face, please. When have you ever seen him look like that?"

"What—he smiles like that all the time when we're alone. He's just a dick at work—"

"At you. He's smiling like that at you."

"I…"

"And I wasn't going to say anything, but if this is already happeningyou two have had this weird-ass dynamic from the second you looked at each other, and it was a little weird and obsessive but I thought it was just that you found each other really, really annoying. But it's not that, is it?"

She heard Naruto breathe in.

"...No. It's not."

"So it's something else. And at this point, I think we have pretty firm evidence that Sasuke really gives a shit about you, and I'm honestly starting to think he might've been half in love with you this entire ti—"

"Haruno."

Sakura nearly dropped her phone.

"Oh! Sa—Mr. Uchiha, I—"

"Wait, is Sasuke there?"

"If you have nothing better to do than gossip on company time, you can hand in your resignation. I have three items expected from you and I've yet to see any of them. Is this your lunch break at," Sasuke glanced at his watch, "1:40 PM?"

His glare could freeze the blood in Sakura's veins.

"N-no," she said, "I'm sorry, I'll—Naruto, I need to go."

"HeSasuke didn't hear anything, did he?"

"He—" Sakura glanced behind her, "did, yes, I really have to go, I'm sorry."

She hung up the phone. Sasuke's eyes burned a hole in her skin at every movement.

"I expect you to limit your comments to your own business in the future."

A spike of anger shot through her veins.

"Naruto's feelings are my business," she snapped, not turning around. He could be as pissed as he wanted to and that wouldn't change.

Sakura filled the silence with the tapping of her keyboard. Better to look busy if Sasuke was going to snap at her again—

He turned on his heel and left.

Sakura sagged back against her chair, staring behind her.

Huh. She'd really expected him to be angrier than that.


Sasuke sagged against the office door, closing his eyes.

First Itachi, now Sakura.

And yes, they had a point. Obviously. But it was a moot point, because there were a million reasons as to why it would never happen. Why couldn't people just shut up and leave him alone? He was way too tired for this. Physically and mentally and emotionally—he didn't want to deal with any of this. He never had, and now...

(Naruto's feelings are my business.)

Now, Sasuke's heart was hammering in his chest at the mere implication that Naruto had any sort of feelings for him. Which he didn't—he didn't—and even if he did, those feelings were nothing more than mislabelled gratitude. Sasuke—during this entire ordeal—had played the role of a convenient distraction.

Nothing more.

He felt the phone buzz in his pocket. He knew who it was.

Sasuke, with his eyes still closed, reached into his pocket and pressed the button to shut it down.


Naruto patted his hair down a little. It was still all scruffy—he'd been in bed all day—and he didn't—well, he didn't look great, but—

The elevator beeped.

He let out a breath and quietly walked through the hall. Everybody else would be packing up or gone, but Sasuke always stayed late. And if he wasn't gonna answer his phone…

Naruto pushed the door to Sasuke's office open.

"I knew it," Naruto said, as Sasuke stared at him as if he'd seen a ghost, "workaholic."

Sasuke scowled and looked back down at his desk.

"Can I help you?"

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah," he said, stepping in to close (and lock) the door behind him, "yeah, you can."

Sasuke's head jerked up with the click of the lock, and he watched him with wary eyes.

Naruto held up the bag in his hand.

"I brought a peace-offering. It's leftovers—from yesterday."

Sasuke looked back down at his work.

"I'm not hungry."

Naruto could make out the stiffness in every bit of him. The tension in his shoulders, his arms, his jaw—even his eyes stared straight ahead, unmoving, not reading. He was just rigid, tight, waiting, like a snake, ready to strike—

"Take it anyway," Naruto said, gently placing the bag on Sasuke's desk. He moved around to stand beside Sasuke—

Sasuke stood and backed away.

"I have work to do, Uzumaki," he snapped. He'd moved until the desk was in between them again, diagonally, now—

Naruto propped himself up onto it.

"Yep, you do," he said, swinging his feet out in front of him. "Come do it."

It was only another moment before Sasuke let out a harsh sigh.

"Will you get out of my office? I'm—"

"Not until you actually talk to me," Naruto said, tilting his head to look back at him. Sasuke's face was stone, but his eyes were just as panicked.

"Some of us appreciate personal space."

Naruto rolled his eyes.

"Some of us don't appreciate being ignored."

"Some of us don't feel the need for social interaction twenty-four hours a day to stifle our inherent, neglect-induced loneliness."

Naruto stared.

For a moment, the words just echoed in his mind—and then they pulsed in time with the rush of the blood in his ears—

He stood.

"No," Naruto said, trailing one hand along the desk as he walked closer, "they just avoid it completely so that they never get attached to anyone or anything."

Sasuke didn't back away. His nostrils flared, though, and he opened his mouth, eyes flashing again—

"I didn't out you to Sakura. I promise. She had her own theories, and I dunno where she got them from, but I told her she was wrong. Okay?" Naruto wanted to tell him that, at least.

Sasuke's eyes searched his.

"And two more things," Naruto held up a finger, "one, the fact that you know me well enough to say something shitty like that says a fucking lot, and two," he held up a second, "if you weren't acting so nuts right now, I would never have even begun to believe her."

He saw it, in Sasuke's eyes, as the realization hit him.

"So what the hell, Sasuke?"

Sasuke swallowed.

"Get out of my office." It was weak. Something close to a whisper—

"No."

"Get—"

"I won't. You can push me away as much as you want. I won't listen."

"Naruto—" It nearly sounded like a plea, now—

"What can I do to make you calm down? I'm not gonna leave. I didn't out you to Sakura. I brought you food." He gestured helplessly to the bag on the desk again.

Sasuke's eyes darted between the bag and Naruto.

"C'mon. Please? Being ignored today sucked."

And Sasuke visibly flinched at that, but it had—he wasn't gonna guilt trip Sasuke, but Naruto'd gotten in his head that the best time to finally read Jiraiya's will was today, and then he had, and then he'd dialed a number he knew would go nowhere—

And no other number had been the same.

Sasuke looked away. It was too late, though—Naruto had seen the guilt all over his face.

"What can I do?" He asked again—gentler, this time. Closer, this time—close enough that Naruto could reach out and gently grip Sasuke's elbow, just under where his shirt was bunched up—

He took a step closer.

"Sasuke," he asked softly.

Sasuke didn't move away. He didn't look up, though, and it made Naruto reach out again—he hated when Sasuke didn't look at him—he pushed Sasuke's hair back, away from his eyes—

Sasuke looked up.

And it had always been those eyes—dark and swirling and betraying whatever emotion Sasuke tried to hide from him—that sucked Naruto in. It had always been them—like he was addicted to those eyes on him—like they were a black hole, pulling him in, pulling him forwards, pulling him closer—or maybe Sasuke was moving closer, maybe he was, because—

Naruto closed his eyes as the gap between them did the same.


It was a heatwave. Like something that started soft and slow, building and building until it was a pulse of a desert storm that trapped Sasuke in the center—and Sasuke was already dizzy, already spinning, already falling, so it was only natural that he fell forwards, pressing Naruto into the desk, their lips locked together in that light-headed heat—and god, Naruto was like fire in his hands—

"Mm—"

Hot and wet and Sasuke was addicted, Sasuke was gone, Sasuke was—

Making an irreversible mistake.

He tore himself away. Naruto's eyes went wide and he made a noise of protest, but Sasuke was gone before he could catch him—

"Forget that happened," he said, spinning to face the wall—fuck, fuck, he—

"Sas—wha—"

"Forget that happened," he snapped, turning but unable to face Naruto yet, not yet—he needed to—to get out of here, to get away, to go back in fucking time—

"You asked what you could do. Don't mention this—any of this—ever again."

"You...but—"

"But nothing!" He made the mistake of turning back for only a moment, to catch Naruto's dazed, confused, earnest eyes. "Don't mention this. Ever again. It's inappropriate and—irrelevant." Sasuke swallowed. "You and I are co-workers."

Naruto breathed out.

"You and I are friends at the very fucking least, Sasuke."

"Fine," Sasuke snapped, "but that's it. You are—you are in no place for any of this."

Naruto jerked back.

"Wait, I'm the reason—"

"Stop," Sasuke cut him off as the panic reared its ugly head yet again— "Naruto—don't. Don't, or I'll—"

Naruto raised his hands in acquiescence.

"Okay," he said quickly, "okay, I'm shutting up."

There was a pause. Sasuke stared down at the floor underneath him and willed it to swallow him whole—

"Can I say one thing though?"

Damn it.

"Naru—"

"You're a really good kisser."

"That's—" Sasuke's heart tumbled and then tumbled again, skipping so many beats that the blood could do nothing but rush to his cheeks— "that's not—"

And Sasuke's thoughts stumbled there—they tripped and fell to a halt, because it just then hit him that Naruto had—when Sasuke kissed him, he had—

"You kissed me back."

Naruto paused. Sasuke's mind continued to reel. (Naruto had kissed back. Naruto had—)

"Well, yeah," Naruto ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck with the same hand that had run through Sasuke's hair— "did—did you really not expect me to?"

Sasuke stared.

"Sasuke," Naruto laughed and ran that hand through his hair, "you dumb bastard, I thought I wasn't capable of subtly—"

Sasuke didn't let him finish. He didn't, he couldn't—Naruto sucked in a breath as Sasuke lips pressed against his, but all that did was leave his mouth open—soft and warm and Naruto barely took a moment until he responded, gripping, pulling, wanting—threading his hands through Sasuke's hair and Sasuke was gone, Sasuke was his, Sasuke was—

Sasuke tore himself away.

"What is the matter with me?" He hissed, spinning around—god, he just—he couldn't control himself, not around Naruto, never around Naruto—

"I mean," he heard Naruto swallow (he was still breathing heavily, still panting, just as Sasuke was), "I'm not complaining…"

"You—" Sasuke let out a harsh breath. "Don't—just—"

He turned to see Naruto's smile even wider

"Stop." Sasuke pointed at him. "This isn't happening. St—forget about this."

"Okay, okay," Naruto relented, "but, um, if you want to do some other things I have to forget about later, just let me know."

"Fuck you," he breathed out, trying to screw his head on straight—

Naruto's tongue darted out against his lips, his grin widening. Sasuke stiffened—

"That could be one of them, yeah."

"Uzumaki, I swear—"

"I didn't say anything," Naruto said innocently, but the flushed smile on his face was anything but— "Wanna go to the break room? We should warm these up."

Naruto gestured at the bag on the table.

Sasuke let out a strained breath, glancing down at his desk—

"Take your work with you," Naruto said, before Sasuke could say a word. "What d'you have left?"

Sasuke massaged the bridge of his nose. "Just...signatures. Proofreading and signatures. Was, ah—my brother still...here?"

"I didn't see anyone." Naruto slipped the containers back into the bag and swung it onto his arm. "Pass me stuff. I'll help carry."

"...Alright."


Sasuke was a buzzing mass of nerves. It was super obvious. And Naruto was trying not to make him uncomfortable—he really was, but—

"Stop it," Sasuke muttered, flipping the page.

"Wh—I didn't do anything!"

Sasuke met his eyes with his narrowed own, but they softened so quickly—so easily—Naruto felt his heart flutter in his chest…

"Stop it," Sasuke hissed, jerking his head back down. Naruto laughed and ducked his head.

"I can't help it," Naruto mumbled, running a hand through his hair for the millionth time. His lips were still warm. He could feel Sasuke on them like it was nothing. Like nothing. God, that kiss had been so—

"Naruto. Please."

Naruto let out a breath. Alright, if this was tormenting the guy like this—

"Okay, okay," he stretched his arms up, staring at the ceiling, "here—I'll ruin the mood. I read Jiraiya's will today."

Sasuke's head jerked up.

"You—why?"

Naruto shrugged a little, standing as the microwave beeped.

"I dunno," he said, pressing the button so he could slide the bowl out. It was a little too hot, maybe, but better than too cold… "I had the day off. It was there. Something I should've done a while ago."

In the silence of the room, he slid the bowl in front of Sasuke.

"It was okay," he answered Sasuke's unasked question, turning away again. He had to heat up his own food, too. "I'm okay about it. I knew him really well. I knew what he'd write."

"What time?"

"Hm?" Naruto turned around—finally—looking back at Sasuke to see him scrolling through something on his phone.

"What time?"

Naruto blinked.

And then he rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, asshole, I tried to call you after. I obviously didn't expect you to pick up, it's fine—"

"Did you read it because I wasn't responding?"

"I," Naruto shuffled a little, "I mean, you probably could've talked me out of it, but it was something I needed to do. And it was fine. Really."

Sasuke's harsh gaze turned to him.

Naruto ducked his head.

"Okay, okay, I cried a lot. But I was—"

"If you say fine, you're fired." Sasuke sighed and put his face in his hand, massaging the bridge of his nose—

"D'you have a headache again?" Naruto asked, moving a little closer.

"No," Sasuke said quietly. His bangs were covering half of his face and his hand was covering the rest—

Naruto reached out and tucked some of Sasuke's hair behind his ear.

Sasuke caught his hand before it left.

For a moment, all Naruto could do was look at him. All he could do was stare—stare and swallow his nerves, even as they built up in his throat—

"I'm not mad at you," Naruto said softly. Sasuke's eyes still swirled with some sort of guilt—some sort of conflicting, fighting emotion— "Aren't you the one who said nobody was your responsibility?"

"You yelled at me for saying that," Sasuke offered back, and it was gentle.

"I didn't yell," Naruto laughed a little, "I just didn't agree. S'my own fault for reading it when you were already ignoring me, anyway."

Sasuke inclined his head a little, his grip on Naruto's hand loosening.

"You are a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"

Naruto laughed and turned back to the beeping microwave. His hand lingered against Sasuke's though, tracing a path along it until their fingertips pulled apart—

"Sorry," came Sasuke's voice.

"Don't be," Naruto said. "I'm not. I needed to do it. I probably should've done it before we packed up all of his stuff, but," Naruto shook his head and let out a breath, "whatever. It's done."

He slid the bowl onto the table and sat down.

Sasuke's gaze was unwavering.

Naruto let out a breath, eyes flickering up to Sasuke's own, again. Looking away from Sasuke's eyes always felt so impossible—they were so…

"Talk to me now."

Naruto didn't know why he was surprised. Sasuke was amazing. Sasuke was such a stupid antisocial asshole. Sasuke was—

"Thanks," Naruto said, scanning over him again. Their legs bumped into each others', but Naruto felt no need to shy away, now. Not anymore. "Um, so...he left me a bunch of stuff from my parents, actually. My birth parents, I mean. And he…"


By the time Sasuke left the office, it was well past seven. And that was nothing new, not for Sasuke, but for Naruto—

"Man, I dunno how you do it," Naruto said, stretching up as he passed through the door Sasuke still held for him. "I hate leaving after the sun goes down."

Sasuke shrugged. He did, usually, mind.

Not today, though.

Naruto trailed beside him, hands in his pockets and smile at the sky, until they reached Sasuke's car.

"So, um," Naruto ducked his head and turned those brilliant eyes to him, "there any way I can convince you to come over again tonight?"

Sasuke's heart tumbled its way onto the floor.

"I can't." Weak and ineffectual, just like every other one of Sasuke's protests. He'd already kissed Naruto twice today—already held his hand once, and then again, when he'd told Sasuke every bit of what had been left to him and why—and if he—if they were alone any longer—

Naruto leaned against Sasuke's car.

"Aw," he shot Sasuke a lopsided grin, "not even to paint or anything? I promise I won't keep you up."

Sasuke snorted.

"As if I believe that."

Naruto's grin widened.

"Yeah, okay. I'd keep you up all night if I had my way."

Sasuke's head snapped around.

"Y'know," Naruto's teeth ran over his smile, "platonically. 'Course."

The laugh left Sasuke before he could stifle it.

"God," he breathed, shaking his head, "you're such a moron."

But Naruto flickered his blushing, affectionate smile at him, as if he could hear what Sasuke wasn't saying—or what he was, really—

"Yeah, I know," he shifted along Sasuke's car, leaning back against it as he looked down at his feet. "Can I call, at least?"

The guilt shot through Sasuke's stomach again.

"Yes. Yes, you—" He let out a harsh breath, looking away—

"Aw, crap, no," Naruto was immediately closer, "I didn't mean—fuck, sorry, Sasuke, I didn't say that to guilt trip you, I promise. I just wanted to make sure you'd be okay with it."

Sasuke let out a breath.

"Here—if it makes you feel better, I did fuck up today. I meant to send you the picture of us from last night but I forgot your name was 'the asshole', so I sent it to Sakura. That's what made her—"

"Fucking fantastic."

"No, no, no, she'll delete it! She promised. It's way more embarrassing for me, anyway. I'm the one covered in—"

"If living with Itachi has taught me anything, deletion is never permanent."

Naruto laughed.

"Okay, okay, okay—fair. In that case, then, I've got a ton of blackmail on Sakura. Absolute shitloads. She's got the same on me, but—eh. I'd take the hit for you."

Naruto shot him a dazzling smile.

Sasuke moved closer, eyebrow raised.

"A week ago," he pointed out, "you hated me."

Naruto twisted his body to face Sasuke better—

"Don't be dumb," he said softly. "I never hated you."

Sasuke searched his eyes.

"No?"

Naruto's eyes searched his.

"Not even when you made me work a Saturday."

Sasuke laughed softly, and it made him duck down to gently press his forehead against Naruto's. It was like a magnet. Naruto was like a sinkhole, like a whirlpool, like something sucking Sasuke in, never letting him go no matter how he struggled—

"You have the best laugh in the world."

And Sasuke would have stumbled if he was walking, then, because Naruto's voice was soft and breathless and—

And Sasuke was kissing him, again.

Damn it, he thought, as Naruto made a small, happy noise in Sasuke's mouth—damn it, as Naruto's hands twisted around his waist to trail up his back—damn it, as their tongues rolled, soft and languid and like a dream, like breathing in, like sinking into the best, best, best, sleep—

"Sasuke—" Naruto mumbled into his mouth and Sasuke's heart jumped into his throat—

Sasuke let out a harsh, desperate breath.

"No."

He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against Naruto's.

Naruto's arms loosened, around him, but they didn't leave.

"I really want to know," Naruto whispered softly, "why you're so set against this."

Sasuke swallowed.

There were a million reasons.

Sasuke was Naruto's boss, for one thing, and Sasuke had always been of the opinion that office romances were for idiots and their idiot partners, and that didn't even take into account a power dynamic—nevermind that Naruto had never respected his authority, nevermind that he had Itachi to keep him unbiased—it was wrong, morally, logically, in every way except for the way his heart was twisting his brain. Especially with the state Naruto was in—Naruto, who had admitted to being a mess, who was vulnerable and already prone to latching onto people who showed him the most basic niceties—

There were a million reasons, and Sasuke couldn't voice a single one.

So he kissed Naruto, again, instead. He pushed the fear into his lips, instead—the fear, frustration, desperation—Sasuke ground himself into Naruto and Naruto threw his head back and gasped, but that broke the kiss, and Sasuke—

"Sasuke—"

"One more." There was no guarantee Naruto would look at him again, after this. No guarantee that these feelings were anything more than warped gratitude. Sasuke's feelings were firmly set in place, like a metal that Naruto had twisted into shape—but Naruto's—

Pulling apart was like ripping off a band-aid. It would be better to do it now. Quickly, before the wound opened any further.

Sasuke stepped back.

Naruto stared at him for a long, painful moment.

"...You really like me, huh?"

Sasuke huffed out a breath.

"Go home, Uzumaki."

Naruto snorted, running his teeth over his bottom lip again—which only drew Sasuke's gaze back to it, damn it

"Yeah, okay, fine. But you're a fucking tease, you know that?"

Sasuke let out a breath—he meant it to be a laugh, but it shuddered along the edges. He really hadn't meant to—

"Sorry," he said quietly. The last thing Naruto needed right now was another thing screwing with his emotions, and yet, here came Sasuke—

"Are you kidding? Don't be," Naruto laughed. "I'm gonna be thinking about that all night."

Naruto laughed again, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he glanced behind him—

"Okay," Naruto stuck his hands in his pockets and ducked his head, "have a good night, Sasuke. I might call you later."

Sasuke inclined his head.

"'Kay," Naruto said again, shuffling back, "um." He glanced behind him again, and then—

In the same moment, Naruto darted forwards, pressed a quick kiss to Sasuke's cheek, and darted back.

"That one was for me. Bye, Sasuke!"

And he was gone, with Sasuke left to do nothing except helplessly hold his hand to the warmth.

It took him far too long to leave the parking lot, after that.

Chapter Text

The phone call was only two hours and a bit, that night. Only.

It was pretty good considering their track record. And it had been pretty tame—Naruto had kept his flirting to himself and he hadn't once mentioned how bad he wanted to kiss Sasuke. So there was that.

But Sasuke's voice had been low and soft, alongside his muttered insults and warm laughter, and Naruto had just been...it didn't matter what they were talking about. It didn't matter how shitty of a time Naruto was having. Sasuke made it so, so much better.

Naruto bit his lip, flicking through his emails again.

He'd really have to make a point of telling Sasuke that.

He wouldn't tell him how cold his bed had felt, though. Sasuke was already apparently kinda sorta freaking out without Naruto making a point to shove his interest in his face. So—fine. Sasuke could set the pace.

Didn't mean Naruto was gonna give up, though.

"Hey, mister I-never-talk-to-my-friends-anymore."

"Aw, crap, sorry Sakura, I—"

"Shh," Sakura glanced behind her, "Sasuke's already out for my blood—I'm leaving in a sec. You and I are having lunch, got it?"

"I—uh—" Well, actually, he'd been hoping to hang out with Sasuke, but—

"That wasn't a request, Uzumaki."

"Yes, ma'am, sorry, ma'am," Naruto said quickly, nodding his head.

"Much better. You—"

"Uzu—ah, hello, Miss Haruno."

"It—ah, Mr. Uchiha," Sakura visibly jumped, and Naruto frantically bit down on his laugh for fear of his life, "I—Naruto, I'll see you."

She'd never fled faster.

"Hi, Itachi. What can I do for you?"

"Naruto," Itachi said, a pleasant smile on his face. "Accompany me to my office, please."

"Uh—I," Naruto glanced back at his stuff, standing slowly, "okay..."

He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually gone into Itachi's office. It was always Sasuke's—or the conference room, or something. Naruto ran a hand through his hair and trotted after him, catching Sakura's still-terrified eyes on the way—

"The door, please," Itachi said, effortlessly sliding into his seat. He waited until Naruto closed it to speak again.

"Have a seat."

Naruto obeyed.

There was a pause. Naruto vaguely wondered, as Itachi flipped through some pages, if this guy was like this with Sasuke, too—

"You are aware that there are cameras on the premises, correct?"

Naruto froze.

"And," Itachi continued, not looking up, "interestingly, I see no new paperwork has been filed in Human Resources under your name."

Naruto's mouth opened and closed.

Itachi finally met his gaze.

"I understand you are...otherwise occupied," Itachi said softly—gently, but Naruto bristled nonetheless, "but your emotions are not the only ones at play here. I—"

Naruto's veins lit on fire.

"Itachi," Naruto ground out, "none of this is your business."

"My brother's happiness is always my business."

"Your—" Naruto rocked back on his heels, "Sasuke's the one who—"

Nope. No, no, no—Itachi had no reason to know any of this. Sasuke wouldn't want him knowing any of this.

Naruto hissed out a breath and crossed his arms.

"Fine," he said, staring daggers at the wall. "Yeah. Sure."

"Sasuke is the one who…?" Itachi prompted, but Naruto still didn't look back at him—

"Doesn't matter," Naruto told him. "None of your business. You wanna know, ask him."

There was a pause.

"Was that it?" Naruto asked the wall.

"It...was, yes."

"Fine." Naruto turned on his heel.

"Naruto," Itachi's voice came again, just as Naruto's hand touched the doorknob, "surely you understand where I'm coming from."

Naruto gripped the doorknob tight.

"I do," he told the door.

"I am not looking to make things difficult."

"I know."

"But the fact of the matter is—things are moving in a particular direction, and you are a significant source of motion."

Naruto let out a breath.

"I'm not gonna talk to you about this," he said again. "Ask Sasuke. Get Sasuke to be here. I don't care. I'm not talking to you about this."

There was a pause.

"I trust, then," came Itachi's voice, "I can count on you to take care of him?"

"That was always the plan!" Naruto snapped—and then he was gone. He barely managed not to slam the door shut; fucking—god, okay, he got that Itachi was just being protective and whatever but fuck, like Naruto was the one who—

"Wh—moron, you—"

Naruto grabbed Sasuke's wrist as soon as he nearly walked right into him, yanking him back to his office—

He slammed the door to Sasuke's office shut.

Sasuke stared at him as if he'd gone crazy.

"Your brother's a nosy dick," Naruto said, as if that was an explanation. He let out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. "...Also I think he might try to murder me."

Sasuke huffed out a small laugh.

"You do never know with him," he offered. "What happened?"

"There's cameras in the parking lot, that's what happened. And Itachi's gotten it in his head that I'm the one who—like I'm not the one that—"

Naruto let out a breath and shook his head.

"Whatever. It's fine. Worst case, I get fired. I can deal with that."

Sasuke stared at him.

"It's not fine," Sasuke said. "He pulled you in there to say what?"

"He was just being protective," Naruto crossed his arms, "I get it. Relax—you're fine. It's my ass on the line here."

If anything, Sasuke seemed to get angrier.

"That—that is exactly why I was—you have enough going—I'm going to kill Itachi."

And Sasuke pushed past Naruto, then, as if he was actually going to, and it made Naruto immediately grab at him—

"Wai—Sasuke, you can't—"

"No, let me go, Naru—"

"Sasuke, Sasuke—you can't—"

"Let me go, Uzumaki, or I'll—"

Naruto yanked back just as Sasuke wrenched forwards, at the door—his arms circled around Sasuke's waist to pull him back, and it took all of the help of gravity, too, but then—

Sasuke relented.

Naruto fell back with a yelp, pulling Sasuke down with him. His ass hit the ground with a painful thump

Naruto laughed.

It was just so ridiculous. Sasuke was in his lap. Sasuke was in his fucking lap, and they'd just been caught on camera making out, and Itachi was maybe out to get him, but more probably trying to make him date Sasuke properly, and Sasuke was in his lap, twisting around, laughing with him—

"You stupid idiot," Sasuke muttered, as Naruto wrapped his arms around him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, not letting go, "be better if you...mm…"

Sasuke got the hint. Sasuke always got the hint. Sasuke always just knew—whatever he was thinking, whatever he was feeling...Naruto sighed into the kiss and relaxed, and then relaxed again—Sasuke just made him feel so—

Sasuke pulled back. And it sucked, 'cause his face was red and he was pulling back more and more, now, like he kept doing—

"That—don't do that again. What was my brother doing looking at the security footage? We barely ever look at that."

Naruto shrugged, feeling cold.

"Dunno. Maybe he saw me come in?"

Sasuke frowned.

"It's plausible. What else did he—ah," Sasuke adjusted his tie, again, but all that did was make Naruto stare at his throat—

"I mean," Naruto swallowed and looked away, "I told you. He's got it into his head that I'm the one who's not—like I'm just kissing you for what? To fuck with you? Obviously I know I'm into you, I've spent the last—"

Something sparked in Naruto's head.

"Oh my god," he turned back to Sasuke, whose wariness looked to only be growing, "that's what you think, isn't it? That's why you don't want to—"

"That—" Sasuke pulled back until he was up on his feet, turning away, "that's not the only reason."

"You—what do you think, Sasuke? That I—"

"Listen," Sasuke turned back, arm out between them, "listen. You are in no place to properly evaluate your emotions right now."

Naruto blinked. He—he didn't think—

"Sasuke, I don't think that—"

"You're not."

"No, I really think—"

"No."

"I mean it, Sas—"

"I know that you're not!" Sasuke said, voice raising— "I've been there! And I made a million horrible decisions as a result, and I don't want this to be one of yours!"

Sasuke shrank back as soon as the words left his mouth.

Naruto stared at him.

"Sasuke…"

"No," Sasuke told him. "No."

Naruto flopped back onto the ground and threw his arm over his face.

"Do you have any idea," he said, every bit of everything he'd ever learned about Sasuke tumbling around in his head, "how much more that makes me like you?"

There was a pause.

"I don't know," Naruto swallowed, "how you can expect to be so—"

He opened his eyes, finally, to throw his hand out to gesture at Sasuke. All of Sasuke. All of him. Every time Naruto learned more, he just—

"—and expect me not to—" Naruto let out another breath. "Jesus. Every time you do anything, I just—why didn't you let me know you sooner?"

He looked up at him, helplessly. He didn't know if his emotions were fucked—well, he did, but that didn't change the fact that he was still here, feeling like this. He still felt like this. He still—

"Fine," Naruto said to Sasuke's silence. "Okay. I get what you're saying—I don't agree, but I get it."

Sasuke, finally, seemed to relax.

"But," Naruto said, "for the record—every time you kiss me, I'm gonna kiss you back."

Sasuke huffed out a breath and looked down at his feet.

"...Moron," he said softly. "I'm trying to stop doing that."

"Yeah, well," Naruto snorted, "I'm not gonna help you at all with that. In fact—I'm gonna—hey, you know when I had to wash the paint off and asked if you wanted to stay for the show? I wasn't kidding. That was an offer. Also, the pants—"

"Quit rolling around on the floor, Uzumaki," Sasuke had clapped a hand over his very red face, "and get out of my office."

Naruto hopped up onto his feet.

"Sure thing, boss." He gave a two fingered salute to Sasuke, trotting his way over to the door—

A gentle touch on Naruto's arm stopped him.

"I'm sorry," Sasuke said quietly, eyes downcast, "about my brother. I'll speak with him."

The warmth in Naruto's chest came back in full force.

"He's just looking out for you. I can't blame him. He wasn't even mean or anything—I'm just touchy."

Sasuke scowled.

"For good reason."

Naruto's smile faltered a little.

"Yeah." Yeah, for good reason. A reason that was rapidly coming up, too, because today was Thursday. And tomorrow was Friday. Tomorrow was…

"Oh, um," Naruto said, suddenly not ready to leave, not with Sasuke this close to him— "Sakura's kidnapping me for lunch. I'll bring you back something?"

The scowl was gone as quickly as it had come.

"Moron," Sasuke said, and Naruto ducked his head to hide his blush, "all lunch?"

"Yeah," Naruto shuffled a little in place, "I think it will be."

"Hm," Sasuke said, eyes scanning over him once more, "in that case, one to fifty-four."

Naruto's hand left the doorknob.


Naruto had stars in his eyes.

Stars in his eyes, and a smile on his face. A smile at his phone, no matter how Sakura tried to get his attention, it was gone in the next moment. Not that she could really complain—it was the closest she'd seen Naruto to himself since he'd heard the news.

But, then again…

She snapped her fingers right under Naruto's nose.

"Wh—oh, sorr—"

"Okay, loverboy. Break time's over. Was I right or was I right?"

Naruto blinked.

"You—"

"Are you two dating or what?"

Naruto's face grew a bright red.

"We're—we're not dating."

Sakura took a sip of her drink.

"We're not!"

"Okay, okay, I get it," she said, leaning back. "You gotta keep it quiet 'cause he's the boss. I underst—"

"Sakura! You're the worst, oh my god," Naruto rubbed at his face, completely unable to hide the smile. "We're not dating."

"He's into you, though, huh?"

"He's—" Naruto's heard jerked up and then away—he did that thing where he was obviously trying to stop himself from blurting out the first million things in his head. It had taken him some time to master that one. "I—listen. I don't wanna talk about his—like—his personal stuff with you. I dunno what he'd be okay with me saying."

Sakura's eyes softened.

"That's considerate of you," she said. "I don't remember you being so considerate of him a little while ago."

Naruto threw her a small, closed-lip smile.

"Yeah, I was still trying to piss him off then."

"Not anymore?"

Naruto's grin widened.

"Well, I mean...nah," he said, eyes glinting, "I'm still trying to piss him off all the time."

Sakura watched him smile into space a moment longer.

"So none of his personal stuff, then," Sakura relented, "but yours is fair game?"

Naruto blinked back into reality.

"I—"

"Talk to me. I've never seen you like this about someone."

Naruto ran a hand through his hair.

"I—yeah," he ducked his head, gripping the edge of the table as he shuffled in the seat, "yeah. I've never...it's all kind of...crazy, huh? We've been, um..."

Sakura rested her chin on her palm.

"Out to get each other since day one," and then, after his laugh— "although I didn't think you were trying to get each other like this—"

Naruto threw his scrunched-up napkin at her. It fluttered between them uselessly.

"Shut up," he muttered, and it was half a sigh. The small, embarrassed smile still stretched across his face, and it told Sakura everything she needed to know.

"Have you been into him this whole time?" And then, before he could deny it— "I'm not trying to tease. I'm genuinely asking, Naruto."

Naruto's mouth opened and then closed again.

"I," he said, pausing to swallow, "um...it's all kind of—"

He waved a hand and let out a breath. Sakura waited for him to continue.

"I don't know," Naruto said finally, "but I—when I think about it, I—I always wanted him to...look at me. Notice me. He always—like—like that thing he does where he talks to you when he's reading something and never looks up? Like never acknowledges that you're even there? I fucking hate that."

It was really annoying, but—

"Itachi does that too," Sakura pointed out.

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah," he said softly, "yeah, he does. But I never…reacted to it. Not like I did with Sasuke, anyway. Ugh, I don't know—it's so fucking weird, Sakura, I'm so interested in him. I don't even mean, like—not even physically—I mean, I am, physically, but that's not—like I just—I just want to know about him. I just want to know more and more and every time he starts talking about his hobbies or his past or anything, I'm just—"

Naruto threw his hands out in front of him.

"I'm just—fucking—like, what am I, obsessed? This is—"

"You're curious."

Naruto laughed out a breath.

"I think this kinda goes past curiosity, Sakura." He rubbed the base of his palm against his eye. "It's like—I just—"

He breathed out again, staring down at the table in front of him.

"Every time I—every time I learn more, I—I really—"

"You really like him, don't you?"

Naruto groaned and put his face in his hands.

"I'm so dumb."

She patted the top of Naruto's head.

"You are. You're an idiot."

"Ugh."

"If you have a messy break up, your work life is going to be hell. You know that?"

"Mm," Naruto mumbled, not looking up, "can't break up if we never date."

"Is that the logic you two are using?"

Naruto heaved in a breath and pulled himself up.

"No. Not really. I mean I'm sure it's a factor, but…"

"But?"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair.

"It's, um, more the, uh," Naruto swallowed, "timing. Of everything going on."

Oh.

"Oh."

"...Yeah." He ducked his head as his hand fell back onto the seat.

Sakura let the thought filter through her mind. It was a reasonable point, but…

"It may never have gotten to this point if not for the timing," she pointed out gently.

Naruto met her eyes for a long moment.

"...Maybe. I'd rather not think about that though."

Sakura flinched a little.

"I'm sorry, Naruto, I didn't mean—"

"It's okay. You're staying with Tsunade again tonight, right?"

"I—oh, yes, I'd planned on it. She—since she took the time off, she spends the days alone, you know, so—"

"I know," Naruto let out a breath, "you've been great, Sakura—she's really needed you. If she hasn't thanked you—"

Sakura gently put her hand on Naruto's.

"She has," she said softly. "But thank you, Naruto. I'm sorry if I haven't been there for you as much as I could have been."

Naruto shook his head.

"You have been—don't feel bad about that, Sakura, you've been amazing. You made us pack Jiraiya's whole place in a day—"

"Hey," Sakura cut him off, pulling back to point at him with her straw, "a good chunk of that was Sasuke."

Naruto blinked.

"Was—was it?"

Sakura nodded. "He made some calls. I made some calls. He sent some emails, I sent some emails. Why do you think I haven't been trying to murder him for making the moves on you while you're going through this?"

Naruto let out a surprised, confused laugh—

"Trying to—okay, he hasn't been making the moves on me. If anything, I've been flirtier with him."

"Ah," Sakura leaned back, "and he hasn't shut it down, has he?"

Naruto's face flushed.

"I—he—well—"

"Uh huh."

Naruto let out a breath.

"Sakura, you—"

"I know probably won't listen to me," Sakura said, "but I want to say it anyway. Be careful, okay?"

Naruto met her eyes.

"Be careful with all of this," Sakura said again, "for me, if nothing else."

Naruto nodded.

"I know. I will."


Sasuke only saw Naruto once, after he'd left. Only once, when he was on the phone, and Naruto had snuck in to give him a box of food and a smile—and then quietly fled the room before Sasuke even had the chance to whisper a thank you.

He pulled his hand away from his face. He'd caught himself touching his lips again.

He'd expected Naruto to visit again, though—at least once. At least when it hit five o'clock...it was nearly six now, and—

Sasuke let out a breath and slammed his laptop shut.

Fine. Fine. The man had obviously gone home but if it appeased his stupid pathetic heart then he'd go out and scour the place for no goddamn reason—

"Naruto?"

He was at his desk. Naruto was still at his desk—Naruto was still at his desk, scribbling away at some work, no less, and Sasuke wracked his brain trying to remember if any deadlines had passed—

"Oh," Naruto leaned back to throw him a soft smile, "hey."

"You're still here?"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair.

"Yep." He turned back to his work.

Sasuke stared at him.

"Oh, actually," Naruto glanced back at him, "d'you still have that thing for Neji? I can finish it up now."

Now?

"It's past six."

"Yep," Naruto said again. "Do you have it?"

Sasuke frowned.

"Not here," and he wasn't about to go get it. "What are you doing?"

Naruto glanced back, again.

"What—I'm doing work. You're the one—"

"No," Sasuke cut him off, "what are you doing?"

Naruto sucked in a small breath.

"...Trying to distract myself," he said finally. "Thought work would be better than—um, home, y'know."

Naruto shrugged. Sasuke continued to watch him, feeling…

"I thought my office served that purpose."

Naruto turned all the way around. Sasuke crossed his arms tight.

"I—kinda figured you wanted, uh," Naruto ducked his head, "space?"

Sasuke's scowl deepened.

"What I want," he said, moving closer to lower his voice to a soft hiss, "is for my brain to function reasonably when you're involved, but I'm never going to be granted that wish so just do whatever the hell you want."

Naruto sat up straighter. Sasuke fought the urge to back away as the glint came back to his eyes—

"Whatever I want?"

No, okay, Sasuke definitely had to back away now.

"Don't—within reason, moron."

Naruto's soft grin grew wider as he stood.

"Yeah, well," he said, moving closer—Sasuke's back hit the cubicle wall— "my brain doesn't work right around you, either."

Sasuke's arms loosened. The way they were crossed was really the only thing separating them, now, and if—if Naruto was going to move any closer—

Naruto's eyes flickered down between them, and he pulled back.

"But, um," he said, moving back to his desk (and Sasuke felt him leave, as if a cloud moved to hide the sun—), "seriously, I'm good here. I just wanted to get everything finished up and then I'll head out."

Sasuke glared at his back.

"I'm an only child."

Naruto blinked back at him.

"Huh?"

"My apologies," Sasuke said, crossing his arms tight again, "I thought we were telling each other blatantly transparent lies."

Naruto paused.

Sasuke continued to stare him down.

"Yeah," Naruto said, smiling sadly down at his desk, "sorry. I guess you always kinda see through me, huh."

Sasuke moved closer, arms loosening again.

"It's not as if you make it difficult."

Naruto laughed out a breath.

"...Yeah."

There was a pause.

"I'm...scared," Naruto admitted finally, quietly, not looking up. "I'm not ready. I feel like it hasn't even hit me yet."

"Moron," Sasuke told him. "It hits you several times a day."

Naruto glanced up at him with tired eyes.

"Yeah," he breathed softly. "Yeah, I guess you're…" He let out a breath, and then another one, and then— "Fuck—sorry, I—"

And Naruto tried to turn away, then, as his perfectly fine facade flickered and faltered—but Sasuke didn't let him. It only took the smallest pull on Naruto's arm for him to turn, to twist, to fall into Sasuke—

At the same time he wrapped his arms around Naruto's waist, Sasuke felt the familiar feeling of tears sliding down his neck.

"S-sorry," Naruto breathed out, hands clutching uselessly at him, "I'm—I just need—"

"Moron," Sasuke whispered, feeling Naruto's hair against his lips, "you never apologize for the right things."

Naruto's laugh came out as a breath that broke along the way.

"Come see me if you're feeling like this," Sasuke told him quietly.

"I'm always feeling like this," Naruto countered, shaking his head along Sasuke's body—

"Did I stutter, moron?"

He felt the tension leave Naruto as he finally, actually laughed.

"You—fucking asshole," Naruto pulled back just enough to wipe at his eyes (but one hand still stayed on Sasuke, still held onto him tight—), "I—"

"And you're not always feeling like this. It comes and goes."

Naruto swallowed, nodded, and let his head fall back into the crook of Sasuke's neck.

The chills broke out across Sasuke's skin as Naruto breathed out again. It didn't shake this time.

"I'm not ready," Naruto's muffled voice said again. "I don't want it to be tomorrow."

"I know," Sasuke said. Naruto's arms tightened in response.

"I'm—and the stupidest—of all the things, I'm—I'm scared my speech thing isn't good enough. I've been—god, it's so stupid—"

"It's not," Sasuke told him. "It's important."

Naruto let out a long breath.

"Yeah. I mean—yeah."

"Although likely more important to you than anyone else."

Naruto's body tensed for a small moment, before he relaxed again.

"I...guess…" he said, relaxing even further, "um, can you...keep doing that. S'making it hard to think."

And Sasuke realized, then, that his hand had made its own way to Naruto's hair, gently threading his fingers through it—he hadn't actually meant to—

"You're going to fall asleep on my shoulder," Sasuke whispered quietly. It was a miracle it didn't shake.

The warmth of Naruto's laugh danced across Sasuke's skin.

"Yeah, well. Wouldn't be the first time you let me do that."

Sasuke swallowed.

"Don't get used to it, moron."

"Too late."

Sasuke's heart stuttered over a beat, but he continued to breathe.

Naruto sighed against his skin.

"You're so good at this."

Sasuke's fingers paused.

"At scratching your head?"

Naruto laughed softly.

"No, dickhead—don't stop," he muttered, sighing again as Sasuke's fingers continued to move. "At making me feel better. At making me happy."

And Sasuke's brain latched onto the implication there, clear as day, that Naruto was happy in Sasuke's arms—that, in spite of everything, Naruto was—Naruto could be—

Sasuke closed his eyes and let out a breath, trying to control his spiraling mind. These thoughts were a whirlpool, and Sasuke was already drowning.

He pulled away.

And Naruto made a soft noise of discontent, but Sasuke—

"Come on, moron."

He turned.

"Wh—come on?"

"Come on," he glanced back over his shoulder, "your car won't be moved overnight."

Chapter Text

Naruto was losing it.

He was absolutely losing his mind here. He'd told Sakura he'd be careful. He'd been getting more—more miserable or terrified or anxious or whatever the hell was building up in him by the second, but now—but now—

But now, the tips of Sasuke's fingers brushed against the back of Naruto's hand, and it was all Naruto could to do stop himself from reaching out and grabbing it. It felt warm and soft and stiflingly intimate—a lump was in Naruto's throat and a weight was in his chest, and yet—

"Come in," Sasuke said quietly, loosening his tie as he held the door open for Naruto. And Naruto tried to stop his hand from brushing along his waist as he slipped by—he really did, but Sasuke was right there and he was so warm and he just—

Sasuke caught it.

Naruto froze.

For a long time—or what felt like a long time, Naruto didn't know, Naruto barely knew anything at all—they just stared at each other. Sasuke gently held Naruto's stopped hand where it pressed against him, right along his shirt, right above his belt—

Sasuke let go.

"Sorry," he muttered, pulling his hands to his chest—

"No," Naruto said quickly, backing up, "no, that was—that was me. Sorry."

He ran his hand through his hair and let out a breath, staring down at the floor.

"Uzumaki," Sasuke said, "of all the days to give me space, this one isn't it."

This was what he meant. Losing it.

"Naru—"

"It's not even—it's not even sexual—not right now, you know that right?" Naruto jerked his head up, meeting Sasuke's wide eyes— "I just—I just want to feel—close. To you. Fuck—"

He twisted away, running his hand through his hair.

"I'm going crazy over here."

He heard Sasuke let out a soft scoff.

"You're the one going crazy," he said, and Naruto looked up just as Sasuke pulled the door shut. "Well. I'm glad the feeling's mutual."

Naruto paused.

"Wait," he said, as Sasuke started to walk away, "which feeling?"

Sasuke didn't answer.

Naruto's heart jumped into his throat and he stumbled after him.

"Sas—"

"Please tell me you're happy with frozen macaroni."

Naruto paused—and then he laughed.

"Oh my god, you're pathetic," he said. "Only if you slather it with even more cheese."

Sasuke rolled his eyes and his head rolled with them, back, as if he was stretching his neck, tie still loose, shirt still unbuttoned just a little—

"That was the plan, yes," his eyes flickered open, "moron."

And Naruto was immediately nervous again. Immediately nervous and flustered and—and Sasuke's eyes lingered and Naruto had always kinda noticed that but it'd never been like this—they were still piercing and intense and had Naruto's blood sizzling with some sort of alertness, but he hadn't been able to pick out—he'd never been able to pick out—

"Stop that," Sasuke said, watching him.

"You stop," Naruto groaned, turning away to run a hand through his hair. As if Sasuke was making this any easier. As if Sasuke wasn't making this so much easier…

He let out a breath.

"Hey, um," he said, looking down at the tile, "so—the whole—the whole needing space thing...that's off the table?"

Something flickered in Sasuke's eyes.

"I dragged you into my apartment," he said, sighing, "again. Moron."

Naruto let out a breath in place of a laugh.

"You asshole. I was just trying to—Sakura told me to be careful with all this."

"At lunch?"

"Yeah."

"Hm," Sasuke said, looking over at him, "good advice, terrible execution."

Naruto slapped at his arm.

"You fucking dickhead."

"That's better," Sasuke said. "I'm surprised she's taking it as well as she is, considering…"

Naruto laughed.

"Oh," he said, leaning on the counter, "oh, no, Sasuke—she told me I could tell you—sorry. She was never into you."

Sasuke blinked.

"You were—kinda her cover. She's a lesbian."

Sasuke stared at him.

"Wh—why me?"

"'Cause she said you'd never be into her," Naruto laughed, "huh—maybe she knew more than she let on…"

Sasuke shoved Naruto's laughing face away.

"I hate both of you. I'm going to get changed."

Naruto spun after him.

"Wh—hey, what happened to macaroni? I'm hungry!"

"You have the patience of a cat in front of a plate of food," Sasuke said, glancing behind him as he pulled his tie off (Naruto stared at the motion—). "What clothes do you want?"

"Uh," Naruto said, still looking at the fabric threaded through Sasuke's fingers, "I get to pick?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes and pushed his door open.

"I—wait, oh my god, can I pick what you wear? Where's the porn star shirt—"

"I can and will kill you."

"Aw, come on," Naruto turned back—and Sasuke's fingers were on his buttons now— "you've wor—are you stripping?"

Sasuke stared at him.

"I'm getting changed. I said that. It's how I started this."

Naruto stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"Yeah, okay, fair enough, fair enough," he said, unmoving. "Get to it, then."

He distinctly saw Sasuke fight a smile.

"Moron," he said, the laugh clear in his breath. "Get out of my room."

"Ugh," Naruto gave an exaggerated groan, "fine."

He sauntered over to the doorway and paused.

Sasuke undid two more buttons.

"This isn't a show, Uzumaki."

But Sasuke wasn't moving to close the door—no, his fingers just moved to the next button, instead—

Naruto's tongue darted out against his lips.

"Is this what you're gonna be like all night? Is this how you're distracting me?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, finally looking over at him with smug, half-lidded eyes.

"Is it not working?"

The shirt slipped off his shoulders.

"You cocky motherf—" Naruto twisted on his heel, throwing the door shut behind him.

He distinctly heard Sasuke's soft laugh from behind the wood.


Sasuke's smile lasted only another moment longer.

He...hadn't actually meant to do that.

He let his head lean forward, massaging the back of his neck again as it rolled.

He very much hadn't meant to do that. In fact, some might say he had meant to do the opposite. Even Naruto's friends had reservations.

As they should.

But Naruto, it seemed, had none. Or very little—or some he wasn't listening to at all. Any of the above—and that had Sasuke...well.

He knew Naruto was physically attracted to him. He couldn't deny that anymore. If nothing else—god, the way Naruto had looked at him had Sasuke—

Sasuke fell back onto the bed.

This was insane. He was insane. The funeral was tomorrow. Naruto needed a distraction for a reason and Sasuke—and Sasuke kept trying to remind himself but all he seemed to come up with was—

Naruto needed a distraction.

Sasuke was a very good distraction.

Sasuke threw a hand over his eyes.

And maybe that's all he was. Maybe it was. But then—if it was all he was—if it was what Naruto needed—

If Sasuke was going to be a distraction tonight, then he might as well be a damn good one.

Sasuke sat up and let out a breath.

This might have been the worst plan he'd ever had.


Naruto took his time skimming through Sasuke's fridge. He definitely needed something to cool him down, something to stop him from bursting back into Sasuke's room and just fucking tackling him back onto the bed—

Naruto let out a breath.

Okay. Being careful. Letting Sasuke set the pace. Sasuke was obviously into him but the timing was shit and it was fucking with both of them—

So they had to be careful.

Naruto used the fridge door to pull himself up.

But careful didn't mean nothing. Careful, maybe, meant...clear. Obvious. Slow, maybe, but honest. And Naruto might not be able to do slow, but he could do honest.

He shut the fridge door and opened the freezer—which was pretty packed. Sasuke really hadn't been kidding about the microwave…

"Moron."

"Wh—" Naruto nearly leapt into the air, "Jesus, Sasuke, every time—"

He spun around, pressing his back to his fridge. Sasuke watched him, one eyebrow raised, as casual as could be—

"Nice PJs, asshole."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"I figured they were more your style," he said, moving past Naruto. "Did you want tea?"

"Sure," Naruto tilted his head a little, unabashedly continuing to check Sasuke out, "is that a cat tail on your ass?"

"It was Itachi's idea of a joke," Sasuke answered, opening a cupboard.

Naruto's smile widened.

"Me and him agree on something then."

Sasuke shut the cupboard to give Naruto a weak glare. It reddened into something else entirely after only a moment.

"Shut it, Uzumaki."

"Make me."

And yeah, okay, maybe that wasn't the most careful response, but there was no way that Sasuke hadn't picked pajamas that made Naruto look at his ass on purpose—

Sasuke paused, a hand loosely gripping the counter as his eyes flicked down to Naruto's lips—and then he rolled his eyes.

Damn it.

"Go get changed, moron. I'll warm up some food."

"Aw," Naruto said, "I don't get to see your microwave skills in action?"

"Fuck you." And then, just as Naruto opened his mouth— "Don't say it."

Naruto grinned.

"Me? Never said a word in my life."

Sasuke swatted at him. Naruto laughed and stumbled back, catching Sasuke's hands as he did—

Naruto's back pressed against the wall.

"Moron," Sasuke said quietly, eyes boring into him.

Sasuke wasn't gonna kiss him. Naruto knew that—they were both being weird and hesitant and holding back, but—

"Anybody ever told you you have beautiful eyes?"

Sasuke flinched back, surprise and embarrassment mixing in equal parts across his face—

"You—what?"

"You have really nice eyes," Naruto said—carefully. Honestly. It was about time Sasuke knew. "I've always liked them."

Sasuke stared at him.

"You said my eyes were creepy."

Naruto laughed.

"Yeah, 'cause your ego's bigger than my apartment. I had to shrink you down so you'd fit, y'know—"

Sasuke shoved his face into the wall and Naruto dissolved into soft laughter.

"Moron," Sasuke's voice was soft and warm, and his hand traced down Naruto's face to his neck as he pulled it away—

"Bastard," Naruto told him. Sasuke squinted at him, as if waiting for Naruto to laugh in his face and call every bit of this a joke.

Well, the dickhead was gonna be disappointed.

"S'true, though," Naruto said. "I like it when you look at me."

Sasuke crossed his arms, his face rapidly reddening.

"That's because you thrive off attention. Go get changed."

Naruto snorted.

"Wow, okay, dickwad," he rolled his eyes and turned, but not before he called back— "I'll just go take off all my clothes in your room. Excuse me while I go get naked—"

"Please refrain from going commando in my clothing," came Sasuke's voice, echoing down the hall.

"You'd love it and you know it!" He shouted back, not turning around. He was half-joking, but only half…

Naruto glanced back at Sasuke's doorway for another moment before he closed it.

Okay.

What was the best thing he could put on in here?


Sasuke turned the microwave on and sighed. Naruto had said pathetic and he was right—but Sasuke had never been able to make cooking feel worth the effort. Not for himself. For Naruto, maybe…

He let out a breath.

Was there anything he could do to make it any better? Real cheese, maybe, once it was warm...he didn't think he had any bacon, but some vegetables, maybe, to make it a bit more reasonable...he had chilli powder? Hm…maybe he should have just ordered food in again. Naruto's cooking had been…

(Okay, okayfrom now on, I'll cook for you while you paint. How's that sound?)

That was right.

This wasn't supposed to be his job at all.

Well, Naruto couldn't blame him, then.

"It's done, Uzumaki!" He called, slipping his own container into the microwave. He'd pulled out a few things, and the man could pick out whatever he wanted from them to make this less of a disaster.

Laughter.

Muffled (but growing less so) laughter, from down the hall—damn it. Sasuke leaned over the counter, fighting the exasperation down—it was really his own fault. He'd let Naruto have unlimited access to his closet, after all.

"I'm done too!" said Naruto's voice, growing louder, and then—

Oh, god damn it all.

"What do you think?" Naruto said, spinning around. Black and white sweatbands on his wrists, leather fingerless gloves on his hands, Sasuke's old tripp pants (baggy, ripped, belts and zippers falling off it in every mismatched direction, fucking hell) and his even older, too-small t-shirt (a simple NO. blazing across it in bold, angry font)—

Sasuke put his head in his hands.

"C'mon," Naruto said, utterly glittering with laughter, "don't I pull it off?"

"Fuck you," Sasuke mumbled.

"I think I pull it off," Naruto continued, as if Sasuke had never spoken. "I was looking for a hat, but I couldn't find one. You weren't into beanies?"

Sasuke sighed and forced himself to look up.

"They," he said, despondent, "messed up my hair."

Naruto's smile grew about another thousand sizes.

"You," he said, voice strained to keep back the laughter, "are my favourite fucking person."

And Sasuke's face burned at that, but the microwave beeped and it might've saved the last of the loose threads of Sasuke's shredded ego—

"Hey," Naruto said, "how do you paint nails? I gotta complete the look."

Sasuke turned around, one hand still on the microwave door.

"You're a moron," Sasuke started, "and there's no way I'm trusting you not to ruin every bit of furniture in this apartment."

"Blah, blah, blah, I'm Sasuke and everything has to be spotless all the time or I'll get my brother to murder you—"

Sasuke threw the roll of paper towels in his general direction.

They missed spectacularly.

"Okay, okay—Mr. Perfect Artist—you paint my nails. While we eat."

Sasuke glanced back at him.

"Show me how it's done," Naruto challenged.

Sasuke cocked an eyebrow for only a moment longer.

"Fine."


"Quit moving," Sasuke muttered, pulling Naruto's finger down for the millionth time.

"Wh—I'm trying to eat!"

"That's a one-handed job. You are so—" He was so—so involved, so exaggerated, in everything he did. Every feeling was written all over his face—every bit of what he said was emphasized in the way he moved—Naruto lived with such intensity that Sasuke couldn't even begin to fathom it—

"I'm so what?"

Sasuke yanked Naruto's hand closer again.

"You're a moron." And he'd screwed up, again, so he pressed his nail along Naruto's skin to get rid of the nail polish before it dried—

"Mhm," Naruto said, through a mouthful of macaroni. Sasuke didn't even begin to stop his eye from twitching. "That's not what you were gonna say, but I'll play along and pretend I'm dumb."

"Excellent," Sasuke said, gently trailing the brush along the next nail, "thank you."

"Your wish is my command, boss."

Sasuke snorted and finally met Naruto's brilliant eyes with his narrowed own.

"Don't pretend like you've ever listened to me."

Naruto's face flushed, but his smile didn't waver.

"I listen," he protested. "I just don't, uh—"

"Do anything I say."

Naruto laughed. Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Moron," he said again, "give me your other hand."

"'Kay," Naruto said easily, dropping the fork from his free hand, and—

"Careful," Sasuke hissed, grabbing Naruto's wrist. "It's not dry yet, moron, you can't use that hand yet—"

"What!" Naruto protested, freezing in place all the same. "But I'm not done eating!"

"That's not my problem," Sasuke said, turning his attention onto Naruto's free hand.

Naruto huffed out a breath but didn't pull away. He didn't even twitch—it's how Sasuke knew he didn't mind—he just stayed loose and relaxed and every minute he grew happier, Sasuke's chest filled with something like relief—

"I'm still hungry, though."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Of course you are," he said, moving onto the next nail. This nail polish was so thick, he might be able to get away with a single coat...he didn't think Naruto would sit still long enough for another one—

"Sasuke," Naruto whined.

Sasuke rolled his eyes, dipped the brush back into the bottle, and scratched out some macaroni with Naruto's fork.

"Eat, then," he said, holding it out to Naruto.

Naruto's eyes flickered in between the fork and Sasuke's eyes, and then he leaned forwards. Sasuke didn't know why it felt more—more intimate? Close? Something—than he'd expected, but his cheeks flushed as he picked the bottle back up all the same—

"Useless," he muttered, just to say something.

Naruto laughed (and, to his credit, kept his full mouth closed).

"I'll pay you back," Naruto told him, "the next time you're painting your nails."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"You're the one that makes me paint them in the first place."

"Oh, come on," Naruto said, shifting closer (Sasuke paused, brush in hand, until the man stopped moving)— "you do that for you. I'm just your excuse to be unprofessional."

Sasuke felt the smile stretch his lips, but he bit it down.

"Don't flatter yourself."

"Uh huh," Naruto said, "sure. Admit it—you love it when I annoy you."

Sasuke switched to the next finger, remaining stubbornly silent. He couldn't lie—no, Naruto was rapidly getting better and better at seeing through him—and he certainly couldn't tell the truth

Naruto laughed, again, and this time it was filled with delight.

"Okay, asshole," he said, "gimmie more food?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes and quietly obeyed. Naruto used the hand that Sasuke had been painting (still on Sasuke's lap, on his thigh) to take his weight as he leaned forwards—

"Is it even any good?" Sasuke muttered, looking away as he put the fork down.

"Are you kidding?" Naruto said, covering his half-full mouth with his freshly painted hand. "I lived off of instant shit for years. This stuff is comfort food now. Can I have more?"

"I—yes, sure," Sasuke said quietly, scratching out a bit more. He'd gone through quite a bit now; maybe Sasuke would need to make more—

"Mm," Naruto said, as Sasuke pulled the fork away, "you got—hang on."

He swallowed as he pulled Sasuke's hand back and promptly wrapped his mouth around his fingers

Sasuke stayed, frozen, as Naruto pulled back.

"There was some cheese," Naruto said, as if it was a perfectly reasonable explanation—and maybe it was, Sasuke didn't know, Sasuke was too busy trying not to crumble onto the floor—

"Right," he breathed, looking down at the floor—at Naruto's hands, which really didn't do anything to save Sasuke's nerves, but his bangs helped to hide how red he knew his face was—

"Sasuke," said Naruto's voice, "you know you're allowed to kiss me, right?"

Sasuke's head jerked up.

Naruto tilted his stupid, beautiful face.

"You know that's something I want, right?"

And yes, he did, to some extent, but in much more real, honest, actual terms he absolutely did not—

"I—"

"Personal space's off the table?" Naruto interrupted him.

Sasuke's throat locked up, but he nodded all the same.

Naruto moved forward—he felt it in the weight of Naruto's hands on his thighs, he felt it as his eyes fluttered closed—and pressed warm, soft lips against his.

It was a gentle, short, closed-mouth kiss. A brief touch of intimacy—of tenderness—something that told Sasuke, acutely and intensely, that his feelings were still stubbornly there and they could lash up and command him at any given moment—

"Sorry," Naruto whispered, "hope that was okay."

Okay. Okay, Naruto said, as if Sasuke wasn't—

"It's fine."

He kept his eyes stubbornly closed—until a weight (warm, soft, unmistakable) fell onto his shoulder.

"Naru—"

"It's so weird," Naruto said, head heavy and growing heavier on Sasuke's shoulder. "I'm so happy. I'm so sad, but I'm so happy."

Sasuke's arms moved, on their own, to pull him closer.

"I know," he offered finally. Sasuke knew the feelings like the back of his hands—conflicting and confusing, and feeling happy felt something like betrayal. It still did, some days, like the anniversary of their death, but even that didn't make sense because how else were you supposed to live—

"You make me feel like everything gonna be okay."

Sasuke swallowed.

"It is."

He wouldn't let it be any other way.

Naruto's arms tightened around him.

"I know."

Chapter Text

Naruto did, eventually, end up changing into more reasonable clothes. He'd kept his nails, though (although Sasuke griped at him when he fucked up his thumb—he'd thought it was dry already, it'd been ages!). He wanted to keep them—for tomorrow, at the very least. He wouldn't be able to look at his phone all the time, then, and…

But yeah, he'd had to change. The shirt had been way too tight and he was the kinda guy who wanted to be in sweatpants at all times if he could swing it—so when Sasuke suggested that they ought to get ready for bed, as early as it was, Naruto didn't complain.

He wasn't that tired, though—or, well, he wasn't ready to sleep, even clad in another pair of Sasuke's cat pajamas. He wasn't ready for tonight to be over yet—or for it to be tomorrow. He...

"One to fifty-four," Sasuke said, entering the room with a very familiar folder in hand.

Naruto rolled to face him better.

"Fifty."

He hadn't done anything that high yet, right? He couldn't remember. Hopefully Sasuke was keeping track—well, no, of course Sasuke was keeping track. That goddamn nerd.

"Hm," Sasuke said, flipping the folder open. He absentmindedly flicked the bedside lamp on and the ceiling light off, and Naruto watched the bare walls grow dimmer. Sasuke really needed to dress them up with something…like white lilies… (Naruto's eyes moved to the photograph, still on the bedside table—)

"...Oh," Sasuke made a soft noise, and Naruto was immediately more alert, "I'm—I'll give you fifty-one."

Naruto sat up a little more.

"Wh—hang on, no, that's not the deal!"

"We never had a deal."

"We did!" Naruto sat up, onto his knees (pulling at Sasuke's shirt, it kept rolling up on him)— "Aw, come on, Sasuke, now I'm dying to know. Please?"

Sasuke's eyes flickered to him and then down to the page.

"Not a word," Sasuke said, coming closer, "understand?"

Naruto zipped over his lips.

Sasuke sighed, stared at him for one more moment, and then passed him the page.

It was—oh, texts this time. And a screenshot from Itachi's phone, from the way 'Baby Brother' was written across the top. Naruto wondered why Sasuke had been so…

'No.' wrote Sasuke's chat bubble. 'Uzumaki is the best choice. His personality lends itself well to these types of meetings.'

'That is a departure from your usual commentary.'

'He is impactful and relentless. If you want a strong first impression, he is the best choice.'

Naruto snorted.

"I said not a word," Sasuke said, still standing—

"I didn't say anything! I'm not even done yet, asshole."

'Careful, Sasuke. That was nearly a compliment. I thought you disliked the man?'

'I never said that.'

The picture cut the rest off. Naruto bit down on the smile, knowing Sasuke was watching him like a hawk—from that guy, this was nearly a declaration of love—

"Shut up," Sasuke said, snatching the page back.

Naruto laughed.

"Sasuke—you dumbass," Naruto said, rolling his eyes, "I already told you I never disliked you either."

Sasuke didn't reply. He did shift, a little, as if some tension left him then—

Naruto flopped back onto the bed.

"The hell's wrong with us?" he asked, staring at the ceiling. "We could've been friends this whole time."

There was a pause.

"I'd wager that was more my fault than yours."

Naruto's head snapped to face Sasuke, surprised. It was a—

"Avoiding attachment, remember?" Sasuke said, eyes intent and narrowed.

(They just avoid it completely so that they never get attached to anyone or anything.)

Naruto cringed.

"Sorry," he said softly, "that was kind of—"

"True?" Sasuke asked.

"Mean," Naruto corrected.

"It was deserved. I lashed out. You responded in kind. Nothing you said was inaccurate."

Naruto let out a breath and stared back up at the ceiling.

(Some of us don't feel the need for social interaction twenty-four hours a day to stifle our inherent, neglect-induced loneliness.)

"...I wasn't neglected. I mean, I don't think I was," Naruto said softly, after a moment. "But I guess you were kinda right, too."

"I could be wrong."

Naruto turned his head back to Sasuke.

"I could be," Sasuke said again.

Naruto huffed out a breath.

"Stop fucking with my head and come lay down."

"I'm not—"

"Yeah, you are," Naruto told him. "You've been nice this whole time, fuckface. Come lay down."

Sasuke breathed out a laugh, but he obeyed nonetheless.

"Are you going to cuddle me as soon as I do so?" Sasuke muttered, pulling the covers up.

"Yup," Naruto said, because that was an invitation if he'd ever heard one— "get cozy, asshole."

And Sasuke did—with one hand just slightly raised as if by accident. Totally by accident, just so that Naruto could slip right in, yup. Whoops.

He sighed as Sasuke's arm wrapped around him.

This was so fucking comfortable.

"You make a great pillow," Naruto told him.

Sasuke snorted.

"Great. I'll quit my job."

Naruto laughed.

"Come work for me full-time. Then I'll be the boss."

Sasuke flicked his side. Naruto took it as permission to throw his hand over Sasuke's stomach, right where his shirt was riding up—

"Hands to yourself, Uzumaki."

Naruto laughed.

"Okay, hypocrite. You're warm, fuck off."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes down at him. Naruto innocently smiled back.

"You're so stupid," Sasuke muttered, looking away.

"Nope," Naruto said, "I'm impactful and relentless."

"I'll kill you."

"Uh-huh," Naruto narrowed his eyes, "fucker."

"You—what?" Sasuke stared at him.

"I'm mad that you're such an antisocial dick," Naruto explained, "'cause if you weren't then we could've talked sooner when you couldn't say dumb shit like I don't know what I'm doing."

And he could have met Jiraiya. Naruto wasn't gonna voice that part, though. That was too—

"I'm still your boss."

"Wehhh, I'm still your boss," Naruto mimicked. "Think you own me or something? I yelled at Itachi today."

Sasuke snorted.

"What a coincidence," Sasuke muttered, turning to let his free hand massage the bridge of his nose, "so did I."

Naruto shifted up a little more.

"Did you really? You didn't have to—"

"It was completely unacceptable for him to talk to you about this," Sasuke said, "without speaking with me, first. It was—I'm still—"

"He's just protective."

"At your expense? That's not an admirable trait."

Naruto's eyebrows raised.

"Wow," he said, scanning Sasuke's face in something like wonder, "you're really protective too, huh?"

Sasuke tensed and met Naruto's eyes with his wary own.

"...Don't flatter yourself," he finally said quietly, turning his head to look at the wall.

Naruto just laid his head back down and tightened his arm. It had slipped under Sasuke's shirt, now.

"Hey," he said, listening to Sasuke's heartbeat, "s'it cool if I leave at noon tomorrow?"

Sasuke shifted under him.

"Of course it is," he said. "What am I, a demon?"

Naruto grinned up at him.

"I mean," he squeezed Sasuke's waist a little, "yeah, sometim—"

"Watch it, Uzumaki," Sasuke said, shifting again. "Why noon?"

"Oh, Tsunade asked," Naruto said, settling further into Sasuke's warmth. "Maybe I finally got through to her about actually asking for help when she needs it…"

"Wow," Sasuke deadpanned, "are you positive the two of you aren't related?"

Naruto squinted a glare at him, but he couldn't help fight a smile at Sasuke's smug bastard face—

"Okay, asshole, you thi—

"Your brilliant plan," Sasuke said, looking down at him, "was to do work to distract yourself for the entire night."

"It wasn't gonna be all night! It was—and that was 'cause I was trying to give you the space you kept saying you wanted, you ass," Naruto said.

"Yes, well," Sasuke shifted as if to make the point, "great job you've done of that."

Naruto laughed, but before he could say a word—

"And space is wise," Sasuke shifted awkwardly, looking away, "for the record. Not—necessarily...wanted."

Sasuke looked obviously uncomfortable with the statement.

"For the record," Naruto repeated, trying to be serious and honest and careful about this instead of just throwing himself at Sasuke right then and there— "If we're going on the record, then I'm pretty bad at personal space as it is, so…"

"Shocking."

"Okay, okay, asshole, jeez." But it was permission, Naruto thought, and maybe just enough permission for him to stretch even further to gently put his hand in Sasuke's—

Sasuke intertwined their fingers.

Naruto's chest burst with warmth. It was like it spread right up from Sasuke's palm—

"Tomorrow," Sasuke said gently, staring down at their hands, "will you need any—help?"

"Help?" Naruto blinked.

"Is there anything to set up, or…?"

"Um," Naruto swallowed, looking away from him (Sasuke's hand tightened in his)— "um, just the pictures, I think, but—if you're offering to, uh, come a little early," Naruto squeezed his hand back, "I definitely wouldn't say no."

"...Half an hour, then?"

Naruto glanced up.

"Is that too late? I can come sooner."

And there was that warmth, again.

"Thanks, Sasuke," Naruto said. "Tell you what—I'll text you when we're about to head over there and start dealing with everything. 'Kay?"

"Sure."

Naruto let out another breath, and let his head fall back onto Sasuke's chest.

"...This okay?"

Sasuke moved his arm up to thread his fingers through Naruto's hair.

"Moron," he said quietly.

Naruto closed his eyes and smiled.

"Wanna know something funny?" Naruto asked quietly, shifting until he could hear Sasuke's heartbeat again.

Sasuke tapped his fingers along Naruto's side in response.

"Apparently," Naruto said, shifting again, "Jiraiya told me—my parents started out, like, hating each other."

Sasuke's head rolled back to look down at him. Naruto reached up to brush some of his hair out of his eyes.

"I dunno if they actually hated each other or if it was like—like us, but," Naruto laughed a little, "they fought all the time. Apparently my dad kept doing stuff for my mom and she took it as—like—she thought that he thought she was totally incompetent and then it all went nuts from there. Jiraiya said it was really funny."

A soft smile danced across Sasuke's face.

"Do you know how they figured themselves out?"

Naruto laughed.

Naruto shook his head. "No—I mean, I know my mom ended up asking my dad out. I dunno how they...got to that point or anything. Maybe Tsunade would know…"

"She likely would."

"Yeah."

Sasuke's arm tightened a little, pulling him closer. He didn't know if he'd done it on purpose, but Naruto followed the touch all the same.

"Once," Sasuke said, eyes scanning over the ceiling, "I remember—Itachi wanted to stay up late, or go out, or...I don't really remember. Something that my father—he refused. Outright. And he—he was so set against it, and then—my mother—" Sasuke laughed softly. "She told him he was being ridiculous, and to remember the time he'd snuck out of his window to meet her every day for a week because his parents had said no—"

"Oh my god!" Naruto laughed, sitting up—closer—to Sasuke. "All this time I totally thought you took after your mom, but you got your whole rebel thing from your dad—"

Sasuke shoved his still-laughing face away. But Naruto's arms were still wrapped around Sasuke, so when he rolled, Sasuke ended up—

Kissing him.

"Oh," Naruto said, sinking into the bed—sinking into the kiss, even with the smile still on his face. Sasuke's lips moved softly, as languid and tempting as the tongue in Naruto's mouth, and Naruto's mind just melted—just fizzled away into nothing but this feeling—god, Naruto didn't want to lose this feeling—

Sasuke broke the kiss for breath, but Naruto's hands in his hair didn't let him leave.

"Don't stop," Naruto mumbled against Sasuke's lips, and then his voice was as gone as his mind again. It was a miracle he had enough left to move his lips—to respond in kind—but then, maybe it was just automatic—maybe it was natural, just like him and Sasuke, Naruto could never think, could never plan, he could only react—

And when Sasuke pulled back again, he did.

He didn't even think Sasuke had been pulling away from the kiss—no, because his arms stayed still around Naruto, stayed moving across Naruto, Naruto rolled on top of him and every bit of Sasuke tightened, as if to say yes

"Hah—"

It was a small breath of air as Naruto kissed Sasuke's neck—a faint, restrained lift of his hips to press against Naruto's—and the pants were thin, they both were, and there was no mistaking the hardness he could feel, pressing against his own as he nipped at Sasuke's ear—and Sasuke made another noise, another breath, another yes, another more, so the only choice Naruto had was to obey—

"Sasuke," he whispered, threading their fingers together—pressing the back Sasuke's hand into the mattress as Sasuke's fingers tightened—

Sasuke's only response was to nudge him up until he could kiss him again—fiercer than before, with a desperation that reminded him of the first time, when they were scared and confused and angry and it reminded him that Sasuke, still, was scared—scared that Naruto would regret this, scared to move forward, scared that it was all a mistake—

Naruto pressed Sasuke's other hand into the mattress, and pulled back.

Sasuke's eyes flickered open.

For a moment, they just looked at each other. Naruto scanned Sasuke's eyes, his neck, the tension in his shoulders, the flush in his cheeks, the swelling in his lips, the way his hair curved to frame his incandescent face—

It was as if nothing else existed.

"I think I'm falling in love with you."

Sasuke's breath shuddered.

"No, you're not."

And Naruto breathed in to answer, but Sasuke didn't give him a chance—

"Stop," Sasuke whispered, eyes swirling with something entirely different, "slow down."

Naruto pulled back.

"Slow—"

"Slow down," Sasuke repeated in a shaken whisper, "before we do something we both will regret."

"Oh," Naruto said, immediately moving away—back, as far as he could go while still on the bed, "I—sorry, I'm sorry, Sasuke, I didn't mean to—"

"Idiot," Sasuke said, moving just enough to grab Naruto's wrist and yank him back into the pillows, "I came onto you."

...Huh.

Naruto rolled to face him, just as Sasuke pulled his hand back to himself.

"You do keep doing that, don't you?"

Sasuke rubbed at his eyes, sighing softly. He didn't deny it, though.

"So...personal space is back on the table?"

Sasuke pulled his hand away, opening his eyes.

"I never said that."

Naruto smiled.

"Um—"

"Come here, moron."

Sasuke lifted his arm, and it was only another moment before Naruto pressed his ear to his heartbeat again.


Naruto was never going to sleep.

With every passing moment, it was becoming clearer. The man was obviously exhausted—Sasuke could see it in every bit of him, every time his eyes fluttered closed for just a moment too long, every time the weight on Sasuke grew heavier…

But he wouldn't let himself fall.

Sasuke couldn't blame him. Tomorrow was the start of another slap of reality—an afternoon and evening of being hurt, over and over and over again. Things he needed to live through, yes, but it didn't mean he wanted them to come any faster.

"Tell me...um…" Naruto said, eyes closed again, "oh—" he opened them, "d'you have that picture of Susanoo? In the book?"

Oh.

"I do," Sasuke said, shifting a little, "you'll have to…"

Naruto made a soft, disgruntled noise, but moved his weight off of Sasuke.

Sasuke gently rolled the drawer open. He kept it safely tucked at the back, although the photographs had been backed up about a thousand times, now…

The book opened to the page he had left it.

"Aw," Naruto said, his hand pausing just before he touched it, "she's so young. I couldn't tell on my phone—did she always look that young?"

"No," Sasuke said quietly, "they had Susanoo before I was born."

Naruto's head dropped on his shoulder again. He still didn't touch the book.

"You're the baby of the whole family, then," he said, laughing softly. Sasuke flicked his neck as his hand passed it—it was just easier, to put a hand around Naruto like this—

"Oh!" Naruto said, as Sasuke flipped the page. "The fireplace!"

"Yes," Sasuke said, "that's it."

"Is that you or Itachi?"

"Itachi," Sasuke said, "I have—hang on."

Sasuke flipped forward a few, ignoring the way Naruto twitched every time he saw a picture—

"Ther—"

"Oh my god, you have the chubbiest cheeks I've ever seen!" Naruto yelled into his ear, half climbing on top of him—hands dancing around the book he still refused to touch—

"You can take it," Sasuke said, pointing it at him—Naruto snatched his hands back to himself, "moron. Here."

"No—" Naruto said quickly, clutching his hands to his chest, "no—I, uh—I'm really klutzy, Sasuke, my hands are all sweaty and I bend books all the time even when I don't mean to, you really don't want me—"

Sasuke put the book in his lap.

"Well, then," Sasuke said, "I suppose you can never move again."

Sasuke laid down and closed his eyes.

"...You asshole," Naruto whispered, and Sasuke heard the nervous, exhilarated laugh in it.

He opened an eye just in time to see Naruto's trembling hands delicately flip a page.

"It's not going to shatter."

"Shut up, dickhead," Naruto said, and his voice shook too. "Are those the, um, lilies…?"

Sasuke rolled closer to him. Naruto seemed content to stay sitting up, but Sasuke's body had started to shut down for the night long ago…

"They are," Sasuke said. "My mother painted them."

He hadn't been able to voice that, before.

Naruto sucked in a breath.

"She painted too?"

Sasuke felt a small, fond bubble of warmth pop in his chest.

"You and your artist obsession," he said, shifting to tuck his arm behind his head.

Naruto's eyes flickered up to him, with flushed cheeks and a small, sheepish smile—

"Shut up," he muttered, one finger running along the side of the book. "You're the worst."

It was such a terribly told lie that Sasuke couldn't help but smile.

"It was the, um," Naruto started, flipping the page again—the book was rather sparse, really; Sasuke had left it as unfinished as he'd gotten it, "first thing I learned about them."

Naruto met his eyes for a brief moment.

"My birth parents, I mean."

"...I thought as much," Sasuke said, shifting to play with the hem of the pants Naruto was wearing. "He told you?"

"Yeah," Naruto said quietly, and there was a distance to his unfocused eyes, now— "that's the thing. I wasn't—I mean, I never knew who I was before—before him. I wasn't really—I didn't really...exist."

"Tell that to Iruka."

Naruto's eyes snapped back to reality.

Sasuke met them, unrelenting.

"You became who you were every day of your life. Parents or no parents."

Naruto let out a soft breath.

"Yeah—I mean...yeah. It's...kinda different, though, with the foster homes. I never felt...connected to anything. When I was there. I mean—Iruka was—he was great, and maybe if I'd stayed..." Naruto let out a breath. "I moved around a lot, y'know, so even my time with him wasn't…"

"Long enough?"

Naruto's sad eyes met his.

"Yeah."

It never felt long enough.

"And now?" He heard himself ask. His hand had moved to Naruto's ankle, now...

"And now what?"

"Do you feel...connected to anything now?"

Naruto sucked in a small breath—and then the smile flickered across his face.

"Fishing for compliments, asshole?"

Sasuke grew far more awake.

"Wh—I didn't," he said, blinking, "no, I—"

He hadn't—he really hadn't thought—

"Sasuke, you dumbass," Naruto said, squinting at him, "obviously. You're just as much of my place here as everybody else."

And Sasuke was almost disappointed in that answer, except—

"Everybody I love."

Sasuke froze.

"I guess—yeah," Naruto continued, looking past him somewhere—as if everything he'd said was entirely reasonable— "I guess Jiraiya was kinda a turning point for me—but maybe it started with Iruka...I have a lot of—really good people in my life, now. I'm really lucky."

Sasuke swallowed, still staring at him.

"There's that unreasonable optimism," he whispered, and Naruto slapped his shoulder.

"Okay, okay, shove over, dickhead," Naruto said, "I wanna keep looking at this."

And what he meant by that, apparently, was that he wanted to put the book back on Sasuke's chest and his head back on Sasuke's shoulder—

Naruto settled in with a small sigh.

"He knew my parents through school," he said softly, "Jiraiya was a prof. My dad studied under him for a bit—anybody ever tell you you look like a chipmunk as a kid? Those cheeks—"

"I will throw you out of this bed. Back up—that man taught children?"

Naruto laughed.

"No! No—no, university. He taught adults, don't worry."

Sasuke let out a long breath. "I'm not sure those adults have aged enough for the content he was into," he said, "but alright."

Naruto crumbled into another laugh.

"They have, Sasuke," he grinned up at him, "I was an R.A., remember?"

"Yes," Sasuke said, "you poor soul."

Naruto flipped the page.

"Aw," he sighed, laughing a little, "oh my god, you're so tiny, Itachi can barely—"

"I'm fairly sure I'm taller than you."

Naruto turned a little—

"What, now? You're dreaming."

Sasuke met his disbelief with a raised eyebrow of his own.

"I am."

Naruto's eyes narrowed playfully.

"Your hair gel doesn't count."

"Fuck you."

And Naruto rolled away with a groaning stretch, leaving the book open on Sasuke's lap—

"You gotta stop saying stuff like that. I'm try'na be normal over here."

Sasuke swallowed. The memory of Naruto, panting into his mouth, panting his name, threading their fingers together and—

He kept trying to push it away, too.

It wasn't working.

"You've never been normal," he answered weakly, his heart suddenly fully and entirely awake—

"I want to do something we might regret," Naruto whispered at the ceiling.

Sasuke stared.

Naruto didn't turn to face him.

"Naruto—"

"I know," Naruto said quietly, "I know. I just—I don't want anything else to exist. I just want it to be you."

Those eyes finally turned back to him.

"Can't it just be you?"

Sasuke was undone.

And it was a bad idea—even worse, now, because with all the hopes and dreams that had been building in Sasuke's chest, here was reality to crush them again. Distraction, distraction, distraction, it was all Sasuke was good at—it was all he was—

Fine.

"Then eyes on me, Uzumaki," Sasuke whispered into the kiss.


Naruto moaned. He couldn't help it. Sasuke was always a bossy asshole but he hadn't realized it could make him this kind of heated—

And Sasuke pulled back, then, to pull the shirt off Naruto that he'd barely just put back on—and Naruto scrambled with Sasuke's own, scared that Sasuke would start kissing him again and then Naruto wouldn't be able to ask for anything at all—

"I'm sorry," Naruto breathed, feeling the dizziness and affection and the warmth— "this—this is selfish, but I'm—"

Sasuke pressed his forehead to Naruto's.

"I am fully participating in this bad idea."

Naruto swallowed in a breath. It was a bad idea. The promise of being careful had fallen from Naruto's fingertips the moment Sasuke had brushed them, replaced with some sort of desperate yearning—and Naruto knew what this was but he'd never felt it like this before—

"And I told you to be selfish," Sasuke continued, his eyes softening into something far, far hotter. "Listen to me."

Sasuke breath turned on to Naruto's bare neck—Naruto sucked in a breath—

"Focus on me."

Naruto eyes snapped open. Sasuke's kisses trailed down his chest, but his eyes stayed still, locked with Naruto's—

"Sas—"

"Just me."

Naruto nodded.

As if he had any other choice. As if Sasuke didn't command his attention from the moment he entered a room—Naruto looked at him and he just—

"Hips up."

Naruto obeyed. Sasuke's fingers gripped the hem of his pants with ease, and Naruto's stomach spun as if this was the first time Sasuke would see him naked—

"Legs apart."

And Naruto listened—of course he did, but—

"Aren't you going to—" Naruto gestured to Sasuke's still-clothed bottom half—

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, and Naruto had never fully registered how fucking sexy that movement could be until just this moment—

"Did you think I was going to make it easy for you?"

Sasuke gripped his cock.

"I—" Naruto trembled and tumbled—fuck, fuck, he didn't want to say it—it was way too early to say anything like this, especially with how Sasuke had reacted before, but—

"Work for it, Uzumaki."

No one had ever made him feel like this.

"Sas—you dickhead—"

He'd never felt like this about anyone else.

"Or would you like," Sasuke whispered, hand moving smooth and steadily, "me to make you beg?"

Never like this.

"You fucker," Naruto groaned, but he clung to Sasuke, pressing his hips up into his hand, pressing his lips up to his skin—

He felt Sasuke's smile stretch against his skin. (Naruto's heart skipped a beat—)

"Not yet," Sasuke teased, and Naruto's skin set alight.

"Oh, that's—" Naruto hissed, as if the way Sasuke was touching him didn't have him completely fucking useless, "pants off—strip, Sasuke, I'm gonna ride you 'till you can't fucking think—"

"You're making a lot of promises for someone who hasn't even found the lube yet."

Naruto sucked in a breath—

"I have to—"

"Find it. Go on."

Sasuke's smirk widened as he tightened his grip.

"You fuck—ah," Naruto crumbled and then crumbled again, but—god damn it, he couldn't succumb to this pleasure, not yet, not so soon, not before he was even able to touch Sasuke—

Naruto twisted around as Sasuke's grip relented—but the moment his back was turned, it tightened again, and Naruto felt the distinct sensation of Sasuke's pressing up against him

"Keep looking, Naruto," Sasuke said, poised to fuck him right into the mattress.

"You fucking tease," Naruto hissed back, because Sasuke's hand kept moving even as Naruto reached down to slide the first drawer open—the second—and god, god, he couldn't cum, not yet—

He collapsed, back, against Sasuke, lube in hand. A bunch of condoms came with it, too, all linked together, but Naruto didn't care—he was back on Sasuke's lap, now, with Sasuke's lips on his neck and his hand palming his cock against his stomach—

Naruto reached behind him.

"Hah—"

And Sasuke didn't complain as Naruto reached down his pants—just loose enough to fit both hands—no, if anything, he did the opposite—

"Ah—"

"You all talk or somethin'," Naruto breathed out, "Uchiha?"

Sasuke shoved him into the pillows.

"On your knees, Uzumaki."

And that, right there, might have been the hottest thing he'd ever fucking heard, but Naruto was much more preoccupied with the way he couldn't grab Sasuke anymore—combined with the sound of very familiar cap flipping open—

He felt Sasuke pull away. Not his hand, no, but the rest of his body—and Naruto turned just in time to see Sasuke shifting—just in time to feel his hand on his thigh, and then his other hand left, too, and—

"Oh," Naruto breathed in, as Sasuke pulled Naruto's hips down to straddle his face, "oh, oh god—"

It took every single bit of his restraint not to thrust forward. Every single fucking bit of it. He'd expected Sasuke fuck him and be done with it, not take his time going down on him, fuck, he was already so—

"Spread your legs wider," said Sasuke's breath against his cock, and Naruto obeyed, trembling—

"Oh god, oh fuck," Naruto ground out into the pillows he'd collapsed into, because fuck—Sasuke had taken him in at the same time he'd pressed a finger in and Naruto hadn't realized just how bad he'd wanted it until just now—just—ah—god—now—

And it took every bit of him to keep his hips up in the air—Sasuke needed air to breathe—but his free hand pulled on Naruto's thigh with a gentle rhythm—the same rhythm as his hand, as his mouth, and god, he—

"It's so good, Sasuke—" Naruto moaned, because he was right on the edge—right on it, and it was taking every bit of him not to cum as Sasuke's fingers spread inside of him, "you gotta—I'm gonna—"

Sasuke pulled back.

Naruto let out a long, long breath as Sasuke gently pushed him back by the hips—and then he continued to push, and oh—oh, yeah, okay—

He stared into Sasuke's gorgeous, gorgeous eyes as the condom wrapper flittered onto the floor.

"Ride me," said Sasuke's swollen, panting lips.

Naruto ducked down to kiss them, and obeyed.

It felt—like a lot, and yeah, it'd been a good chunk of time since he'd last been with a guy like this, but—but it was a lot in his head, too. Too much in his head, when all he wanted was Sasuke—Naruto threw his head back and threaded his fingers through Sasuke's as he sank down—

He breathed in. Once, twice, a third time—

"I'm gonna move," Naruto said, opening his eyes to meet Sasuke's. "Don't be gentle."

"Don't—"

"Fuck me hard, Sasuke."

Sasuke's grip tightened and his hips lifted—

"Yeah," Naruto breathed, starting to move with them, "yeah, like that, like that, keep—"

He didn't want it to be slow—he didn't want it to be soft. Not now, not anymore—he wanted Sasuke to want him, to feel as desperate as he did, to feel as—

"F-faster—oh god, oh god, yeah—"

Sasuke thrust up and Naruto did what he could to meet him. Sasuke's hands didn't leave his, not even as they really began to move, not even as they sped up, not even as—

"Right there—fuck, right—nn, yeah, yeah, yeah—"

And there was that angle, fuck that was so good, if he just tilted his hips that way then Sasuke hit him perfectly—like that, like that, like that, like that—

"Look at me," Sasuke said, breathless, and Naruto was way too far gone to do anything but listen. Sasuke looked as dazed as he did—just as on the edge—he thrust up like that and Naruto felt his orgasm rear up to strike—

"Oh—" he gasped in, his back arching as Sasuke's hands left his to grab his hips instead—and they grabbed hard, grabbed tight, right on the edge of painful if it wasn't so fucking good—they pulled him, commanded him, Naruto let his head roll back and gave in—

"I'm there—I'm there, Sas, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me—yeah, oh god, Sasuke!"

His orgasm lashed through him like a whip, twisting around its target and letting go, all at once. Sasuke cried out too and Naruto crumbled forward, like the branch it had just snapped in half—

"You're loud," Sasuke muttered into his mouth. The kiss was lazy but warm, tired but heartfelt—

"Shut up," Naruto breathed out, and it still sounded like a moan. He'd be in this afterglow for years… "You're bossy."

And it was Sasuke's smile against his lips, this time, that broke the kiss, and Naruto couldn't help but smile too—

"Moron."

"Mm," Naruto said, nuzzling his nose into Sasuke's cheek, "asshole."

For a moment, they only breathed.

"Speaking of," Sasuke said, smile still soft and teasing as he broke the silence, "how's yours?"

Naruto laughed.

"Perfectly beaten up, thank you," he mumbled. "Can you help me get off of you?"

"Yeah." Sasuke pushed them both up with his body, hands running over Naruto's probably-bruised hips. Naruto sucked in a breath as he forced himself to lift up, just enough—and then tumble onto his back.

"Man," Naruto whispered, the heaviness and warmth settling deep into him, "I'm…I don't think I can stay..."

"Sleep, moron," Sasuke said gently—closer to him than he'd expected. "Wake me up if you can't."

"Mm…"

"Alright?"

"Yeah, 'kay…night, Sas..."

"—ight..."

Naruto's world went black.

Chapter Text

Sasuke awoke, the next day, with something heavy and terrified deep within him. It wasn't just the quiet resignation in Naruto's tired eyes, not just his uncommented-on state of undress, not just the all-black clothing Sasuke set aside—

It was so much more, all at once.

"Are you sure you—" Sasuke started, because Naruto looked as if he could barely stand.

"Yeah," Naruto said, "yeah. Let's just—have a normal morning. Same as always."

But his head stayed still on Sasuke's shoulder, and Sasuke didn't push him away.

"...I'll just carry you to the car, shall I?"

Naruto let out a soft snort. (Sasuke relaxed, just a little. Not like that morning, then.)

"Yeah. Yeah, that'd be great. Can I borrow some clothes 'till noon, too?"

"...Only if I'm the one who chooses them."

Naruto laughed. It was soft, quiet, and not all there—but it wasn't forced.

"I guess I deserve that," Naruto mumbled into his shoulder. "Toothbrush?"

"The blue one is yours now, moron. I desperately hope you haven't been switching."

Naruto snorted again.

"What?" he said, pulling his head back to give Sasuke a tired, barely playful look. "Grossed out by the thought of swapping spit with me?"

Sasuke flicked the skin behind his ear.

"If you're awake enough to make bad jokes, you're awake enough to get ready for the day."

"Ugh," Naruto said, and his head fell back onto Sasuke's shoulder.

"Permission to leave early is not permission to arrive late," Sasuke told him, tapping two fingers along the back of his neck.

Naruto snorted.

"There's the asshole I know and love."

Naruto pulled back. (He took Sasuke's heart with him.)

"Okay," he said, running a hand through his hair. "Let's do this thing."


Uzumaki was at work.

It was Friday morning—Itachi had been well informed about the series of events to go on tonight by several reputable sources, and yet...Uzumaki was at work.

It seemed a bizarre choice, although the man's work ethic could rival his own in the right situation...this was far from the right situation.

Still, Itachi held his tongue. It was another thing that wasn't any of his business, as he'd been informed by Naruto and then, in much more snarled terms, by Sasuke. He hadn't meant to stick himself where he didn't belong, but it was a messy situation turning even messier—Itachi was just trying to keep the clean-up to a minimum.

Perhaps, though, they had figured themselves out. Or perhaps they would. Itachi was all for the men biting the bullet, but no, they had simply continued to dance around each other like they had been for the past four years. Like they were now—with quiet, hesitant glances, turning away from each other the moment they were noticed—

Surely Sasuke knew that the path by Uzumaki's cubicle wasn't the only way out of his office. Surely Uzumaki knew that following his brother into every other room—even under the pretense of argument—took him several steps past overkill. Surely they were aware that a blushing red face, each and every time you looked at someone, was anything but subtle.

Itachi let out a sigh and turned back to his office.

There were other times for thoughts like these.

For now, Uzumaki was in the office, and Itachi was attending a visitation tonight.

He was plenty of work to occupy him until then.


Naruto was...pretty okay. Right now—anyway. Sasuke was doing a really good job keeping everybody acting like everything was normal. He'd even grouched over a couple of things Naruto'd fucked up, and every time anyone had acted surprised to see them, he'd snarled them away too.

Of course, he'd ended it all by bringing Naruto some water and staring him up and down for a good minute or two—but Naruto hadn't expected much less. Sasuke was such a...fussy guy.

A fussy guy he'd had sex with. The thought (the memory) had been in the back of his mind all day—and the whole boss thing definitely didn't help. Every time Sasuke tried to be a dick, all Naruto could hear was eyes on me, focus, look at me, on your knees

Naruto let his head roll along the back of his chair.

And today was definitely not the day to talk about it, but this was...something they were gonna have to figure out. At some point. 'Cause Naruto had admitted a lot of stuff that made him really fucking vulnerable, and although Sasuke hadn't really responded badly

(No, you're not.)

It hadn't really been the best response, either.

Or an accurate one. It'd been weird—the blatant refusal, followed by Sasuke's...intensity. He hadn't given him another chance to speak—barely a chance to think, too, and whatever Naruto had wanted last night...Sasuke had given it to him.

That didn't seem like the action of a guy who wasn't into with him. At least a little. At least falling—right?

Naruto tapped his fingers along his keyboard.

Weird thoughts. It was a weird day. A weird day that was almost half-over, now, which meant that it was almost actually starting…

He felt okay about it. Right now, anyway—he was holding it together. Probably another one of those things that wouldn't hit him until it really, really hit him. He'd have to hold it together a bit longer, though—for Tsunade, for the eulogy…

Naruto closed his eyes. He didn't want to dwell on this stupid, horrible pulsing loss. He really didn't. It was like a hole in his chest that he couldn't patch up—even though, sometimes, it felt like it might be scabbing over…

"Naruto."

Naruto's eyes snapped open—to Sasuke, right beside him.

"Oh—I—sorry, just needed to close my eyes for a—"

"Don't," Sasuke said gently, and it made Naruto's voice still.

Yeah.

Yeah, he wasn't okay.

"Um," Naruto said, feeling the lump in his throat grow with the burning in his eyes, "um, d'you, um, need to see me in your office?"

He really, really hoped the hopefulness didn't show.

"Yes," Sasuke said, standing. "I believe I said before noon, Uzumaki, for the reports to be on my desk."

"I—yeah, but—"

"Are they finished?"

Naruto gathered the pages in his hands.

"Almost, I just needed to—"

"Then why are they not on my desk?"

"I—well, they will be—"

Sasuke turned on his heel.

"Wh—hey, hang on, asshole, I'm—"

Sasuke glanced behind him. "Are you incapable of speaking and walking?"

Naruto gathered everything into his arms and trotted after the fucking bastard—

"What is your prob—" Naruto hissed out a breath, speeding up as Sasuke did too— "oi, asshole, I'm talking to—"

Sasuke shut the door behind them—and laughed.

"You're so easy," he said, pulling the pages out of Naruto's hands. "I'll finish everything else. You're done for the day."

"I...huh?"

Sasuke flicked his cheek.

"Moron." Sasuke pulled away to slide the pages onto his desk. "Are part of your plans to get food?"

Naruto's brain rapidly tried to catch up.

"The—uh, plans?"

"With Tsunade."

Oh. Oh

"Yeah—yeah, um, we're gonna finish some stuff up over food and then get moving," Naruto said, moving back over to the fucking brilliant, compassionate asshole. What the hell had that been? Beyond—well, kinda really nice and weirdly comforting and the perfect way to settle Naruto's nerves—

"Good. You've got twenty minutes to kill."

Sasuke held up a very familiar folder.

"Four numbers. Five minutes for each. Are you going to come in properly or what?"

"I—" Naruto let out a disbelieving, offended laugh. "You bossy asshole—I'm coming, I'm coming."

Naruto ducked around the desk and pulled Sasuke down with him.

"You and sitting on my floor," Sasuke grumbled, kneeling all the same.

"You and sitting on the floor with me," Naruto countered. "Get some comfy chairs in here and then we'll talk."

"The uncomfortable chairs are the only thing that keep me awake," Sasuke muttered. "Pick a number."

Naruto shoved himself further into Sasuke's shoulder to try to catch a glimpse.

"Um—you said four?"

"Four," Sasuke agreed, shifting the folder away from him.

See? This. This is what had Naruto—

"You're so good to me."

Sasuke met Naruto's starry eyes with his narrowed own. It was Sasuke's own fault, though, for not taking him seriously when he said stuff like this. He wouldn't have to keep dropping hints if Sasuke would just listen

"Numbers, moron."

"Mm," Naruto thought for a moment, sighing softly, "forty-five. And then six, seven, eight."

Sasuke flipped through the pages, a quiet frown on his face.

Naruto let his head rest on his shoulder and closed his eyes.

"I don't regret it."

He heard Sasuke hands pause.

Naruto didn't move.

"...Just so you know," he continued quietly.

"Yet," was Sasuke's quiet, monotone response, and it made Naruto sit up.

"I'm not going to," Naruto told him, trying to catch his eyes all the more Sasuke refused to meet them— "Sasuke. Listen to me."

Sasuke looked at him with wary, reserved eyes.

"Not today."

Naruto sucked in a small breath and sat back on his heels.

Sasuke turned back to the folder.

"Number—"

"Not—so you'll listen to me another day?"

Sasuke's head jerked up again.

"You promise you will?" Naruto prompted.

It was only another moment before those stupid, dark, magnetic eyes softened.

"I promise, moron. Do you want to embarrass me or not?"

The smile finally broke Naruto's face.

"I always want to embarrass you."

"Then come here, dumbass."

And for four more photographs, Naruto was okay.


Hours. Hours and hours and hours—so much done, and so much more she didn't want to do—

And poor Naruto, being dragged along for it all.

Kid deserved better.

"You don't have to," Tsunade told him again. "I'll go in. I wouldn't blame you for—"

"No," Naruto cut her off, "no. No, I'm coming in."

She heard, somewhere between the shake in the corner of his lips and the hard look in his eyes, his I won't let you do this alone. She didn't have the voice to thank him.

He heard it all the same, too.

They pushed the doors open at the same time.

The room was empty—save for the casket. It had been left for them open—left for them alone—to say goodbye.

She had said goodbye so many times. She said it a hundred times a day, with each picture she placed aside, with every box she packed, with every word of the will she read again and again and again and again—

And again, here they were. To pay their respects. To close the casket. To fill it with stupid little things that meant nothing to anyone else but the world to them, like cards and disks and his favourite beer—Naruto shakily pulled a small little statue of a—a toad, from the looks of things, out of his pocket—

"This is Gamakichi," he whispered, eyes wide and unmoving from the body— "He's the, um, youngest. He—he keeps an eye on—on everything—to make sure I was okay, you know? When—when Jiraiya wasn't around—"

He sucked in a shuddering breath.

"I have Gamabunta, now, to watch over me, so—Gamakichi stays—stays here."

The figure trembled against the casket as he tried to put it down. The shake to his hands only seemed to grow worse with each passing second—

"He'll make sure everything is okay."

At least his eyes were closed. At least it only looked as if he was sleeping. Although, now that Tsunade looked, no—no, he was too stiff, far too stiff, and with the tension in his body—he had already begun to—

Tsunade's chest twisted tighter.

Death was no stranger to her. Grief wasn't, either. Tsunade had comforted more families than she could count, as their loved one laid, stiff, eyes unseeing—

She remained professional through it all. Sympathetic, but rational—a doctor first, a human second. It was what they needed.

(She only cried when she was alone.)

"Granny…?"

Tsunade shook her head.

Naruto moved towards her.

And Tsunade shook her head again, and again, and again, but it didn't stop the tears, and it didn't stop Naruto—

"It's okay," he said, hands on her shoulders as if they could hold her up, "it's okay. I bet he's laughing at us, y'know? I bet he's—remember when he broke his thumb, and we were freaking out and he just kept—"

Tsunade laughed. Like a bubble of hysteria, bursting out of her mouth—

"The stupidest man al—"

Alive.

"The stupidest," Naruto agreed, holding up even more of her weight. "He never worried like the rest of us. But, you...you know that he knew you loved him. You know that, right?"

Tsunade sucked in a breath.

"I—" she shuddered out, "I—but I—"

"He always said it. He—he'd say you always play tough, but you're the first to come when he calls. You're—you were always there for him."

She closed her eyes.

"He really appreciated that, y'know. He told me all the time."

Not a day without a lump in her throat. Not a damn day.

"I—"

"He loved that stubborn woman."

Tsunade cried out a breath—

"Stubborn bitch," she corrected. "He said stubborn bitch."

"Yeah," Naruto said, giving her a soft, sad smile, "I thought you might kill me for that one."

That surprised a soft laugh from her, alongside a—

"Good kid."

"I was raised with a healthy amount of fear of you," Naruto said, breathing in once and then again—

"I—"

"C'mere, Granny. I've got you."

And for the first time that day, she let herself unravel.


He hadn't heard from Naruto since he'd left.

He'd sent a photo every half an hour. At random, at first—and then he'd gotten increasingly more unsettled (worried, panicked) as the radio silence continued.

So—fine.

Naruto had gotten that stupid picture he'd edited into oblivion—black and white, littered with skulls, contrast so unbearable you could barely make out that it was Sasuke at all. (And, for the record, he had never posted that insufferable thing anywhere so how it ended up in Itachi's hands was beyond him.)

And then Naruto had gotten another, similarly never-posted but equally humiliating brace-faced Sasuke, attempting to hide the metal in his mouth with his overgrown bangs and hand half-clenched into a fist—

And then—fine—Sasuke had sent that particularly positive performance review that single-handedly guaranteed Naruto his raise. Deserved and overdue it may have been, but that didn't make the way it spilled over itself with compliments on compliments any less humiliating—

And still nothing.

Sasuke didn't know if it was good or bad. Either way, he could barely focus on anything else.

He'd done his best—the more he did here, the less Naruto would have to do later. The less everyone else would have to do. Sasuke had made it clear that anyone that needed the time today would have it—and he knew his brother had done the same.

He flipped the phone over in his hands.

So, work. It was all Sasuke could do right now. The only way he could...help.

He sighed.

He was feeling it again, right now—the way Naruto just consumed him. The way he gripped his heart so tightly that all Sasuke could do was—he'd never meant to care like this. He'd never wanted to. He couldn't even manage to regret last night (no, not the memory of Naruto's gasping breath or moaning voice or head thrown back), not as he should, not as he knew he should, because Naruto would inevitably heal, move on, get better, leave—

And Sasuke would be unnecessary, then.

The thought had filled him with fear, before. With resignation, too, but now—but today—he couldn't help but...yearn for it.

Let Naruto be happy.

Let Naruto be happy already. Let him be healed already—fuck Sasuke's own selfish feelings—of all the people in the world, the last one who deserved to feel like this was—

The phone rang.

(It was in his hand before the first sound ended.)

"Naruto."

"...Hey," came the soft, thick, whispered response. Tired, muted, sad—every bit of what Sasuke had expected. "Sorry I haven't, um"

"Don't be an idiot."

"No—" Naruto let out a breath. "I've been looking. I haven't had time to—but I've been—they really helped."

Sasuke held his breath.

"And thanks for the raise, asshole."

He let the breath go.

"You should have pushed for it months before that," he muttered, "moron."

Naruto let out a breath. Sasuke imagined it could have been a laugh.

There was a soft pause. Sasuke glanced down at the floor and slowly sifted through the questions that had been burning in his mind since Naruto had ducked out the door…

"Where are you?" he asked finally. It wasn't the real one, but it did the—

"The funeral home," Naruto said, "still. I'm stalling."

Another pause. Sasuke only waited, this time.

"We, um," Naruto said, and Sasuke could hear the way he ducked his head in the breath he let out, "said—bye. We—I just—I just didn't want to drive behind the fucking hearse—"

"I'll pick you up."

"Wh—no, it's okay, Sasuke, I just need a—"

"I'm coming. What's the address?"

Sasuke slapped his laptop shut, tucked three more papers into his bag, shut down his desktop—

"I can—text, um, you, but I don't—I mean, I have to move my car, I don't think that—"

"Then I'll take a cab and drive your car," Sasuke said, locking his office behind him.

"Oh my god, Sasuke, that's crazy—"

"I'm crazy. Send me the address."

"You—" Naruto let out a breath, "you really are, you—I'll—just wait a—" a pause, and then a shuffle, and Sasuke waited as— "Okay. I, um, sent it."

"Good. Wait for me."

"I will."

Chapter Text

Naruto felt...dazed.

Dazed and lost and somewhere...not here. He barely noticed the time that went by before Sasuke got there. He barely noticed him walk in. He barely noticed as Sasuke took one look and immediately pulled him into his arms—

Naruto closed his eyes.

"I gotta stop making you do this shit," he whispered into Sasuke's all-black shirt. "I'm—"

"If you apologize, you're fired," was the soft reply that rumbled from beneath his ear. "Talk."

Naruto let out a breath in the place of a laugh.

"One day," he insisted, "I'm gonna pay you back for all this."

"Mm," Sasuke said, "alright. You can start by talking."

Naruto nudged his head into Sasuke's shoulder.

"I'm," he started, breathing out into Sasuke's clothes, "I'm so tired. It hasn't even started yet, and I'm so tired."

Sasuke held him tighter. (Or maybe it was Naruto, leaning further and further onto him.)

"I know."

"I'm just—" he let out a shuddering, trembling breath. "I can't—I can't get the—the picture out of my head—I—he was so stiff, Sasuke—"

Naruto's legs crumbled with the rest of him. (Sasuke held strong.)

He'd held it together with Tsunade—held her as she cried—and he just couldn't—he couldn't—god, fuck, he knew he had to do this, but—

"You can do this."

Naruto cried out a breath.

"We have to go, don't we?" He breathed in, hitching as he spoke— "We have to—"

"No. We hit traffic."

"Sas—"

"The GPS sent you the wrong way."

"Sasuke—"

"Your asshole boss came after you for some stupid thing you never finished."

"That's—that's not even a good one."

"It's good enough," Sasuke muttered. "Tsunade seemed like a smart woman."

"Yeah, she's—" Naruto let out a small breath, rubbing at his face, "I dunno what she was doing hanging with Jiraiya and me, let's put it that way."

Sasuke flicked the side of his neck.

"Stop insulting your intelligence, moron."

"What a fucking sentence that was," Naruto said, sniffling.

"Shut up," Sasuke muttered pulling away, "just—"

Naruto blinked as Sasuke's eyes narrowed, rapidly darting back and forth to scan Naruto's face—

Oh.

"...You were really worried, huh?"

Sasuke's eyes darted away.

"I thought I told you to shut up."

Naruto tilted his head a little, feeling that soft bubble of warmth spreading out (just underneath the pain in his chest).

"You should know better by now, genius. I never shut up."

Sasuke snorted, but he still couldn't quite meet Naruto's eye.

"I should."

There was another moment's pause.

"Okay," Naruto breathed out, "okay."

He slipped his hand into Sasuke's. (Noting the way that Sasuke, without a word, took Naruto's hand, too.)

"Okay?" Sasuke asked.

"Yeah," Naruto told him. "Drive slow, will you?"


They were still pretty early, all things considered. People weren't gonna start coming for another half an hour still—which was more than enough time to set everything up. Tsunade had already figured out all the food and stuff—no alcohol yet. They'd save that for after the...funeral.

Naruto let out a breath.

But it was a celebration of his life—that's what Naruto had to keep telling himself. Keep reminding himself of—celebration, celebration, celebration. There was a purpose to all the memories littered around him, no matter how much they hurt—he'd been here. Yeah, it hadn't been long enough, but he'd been here.

And Naruto's life wasn't the only one made better for it.

(So you hurt no matter what.)

Yeah.

(Might as well have something good out of it.)

He'd been better for it.

"Give me a minute," Tsunade said, recovered and unflinching since the moment they'd arrived, "I'll be back."

"Sure," Naruto said, fiddling with the picture frame. Stupid thing wouldn't close…

"Moron," Sasuke muttered, taking it from him, "like this."

Naruto huffed out a breath as Sasuke did it on the first try.

"Whatever," he said, leaning into Sasuke's touch, "perfectionist."

Sasuke's hand slipped along his waist, and Naruto let his eyes stay closed, just for a moment. It just helped him...breathe.

"We have a few minutes," Sasuke said quietly. "If you'd like to—go back to the car."

"Oh..." Naruto's eyes opened as he considered the thought. It would be—well, nobody else was here, but it was just another moment of...privacy. Another moment of just him and Sasuke, and Sasuke was so good at indulging him…

"I mean," Naruto said, "maybe just while Tsunade isn't—"

The door opened.

And Naruto stepped away, because if now was the time to be ready, he would be—

"Ah," said the man Naruto had never seen in his life, "I am in the right place."

Naruto blinked. (Behind him, Sasuke breathed in.)

"I'm sorry," Naruto said, stuck somewhere between knowing he should move forward and unwilling to move any further away from Sasuke— "I don't think we've….met?"

"Ah, well, I am an..." the man took a few steps forwards, lazily scanning the room, "old friend."

Weird. Naruto had thought he'd known everybody on the li—

"Disappointing, though," the man continued, eyes still scanning for something, "to see myself not pictured here."

Naruto bristled. But just as he opened his mouth to speak—or maybe to snap—

The man turned.

"Well! Well, well, well—but then—what a wonderful surprise," he said, moving closer and closer and he wasn't looking at Naruto at all anymore— "my, Sasuke, how you've grown."

"Wh—"

"Orochimaru."

Naruto's blood ran cold.

"Ah!" he laughed, and it jolted up something coiled and angry in Naruto's stomach, "so nice to be remembered. Come closer, Sasuke, let me look at you properly..."

He weaved around, reaching out—

Naruto snatched the wrist before it even had the chance to extend.

"I will rip your fucking arms off."

Orochimaru's hand recoiled. Naruto spat it back at him, shifting to put his body firmly in between Sasuke and this fucker

"Such language," he said, face devoid of all the pleasantry that had been there a second ago, "for such a solemn event."

Naruto opened his mouth—

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

Tsunade. Oh—Tsunade, who obviously recognized him from the way she was—

"What?" Orochimaru asked, unflinching in the face of Tsunade's glare. "You would rob me of this opportunity to pay respects to a dear friend?"

"You were no more a friend than the shit you eat. Get out."

"And what is my crime? This is open to the public, is it not?"

And they had, actually, decided to let in people who weren't on the list—

"Your crime is existing. Get out."

"Now, now, now," Orochimaru said, lazily circling around them, "I think you may regret not hearing what I have to say."

Tsunade's fists clenched tighter.

"You are the executor, are you not?"

Naruto breathed in, just as Tsunade's shoulders tensed—

"What of it?"

Orochimaru wandered over to a photo, one pale finger reaching out to stroke the frame.

"Such a tragic death. So sudden...so upsetting, really, that one of the doctors on call that night was—"

Naruto didn't even see the fist move. He did, however, hear the crack—he saw Orochimaru duck down and Tsunade pull back from the table she'd toppled—

"Get the fuck out," she growled.

Orochimaru, hand dripping with blood—

Laughed.

"My dear," he said, straightening up, "I think you'll find you need me."

Tsunade stared at him.

"When the will is contested, as it will be," he said, wiping a bloody handprint along the half-fallen tablecloth, "the required medical records will be revealed. You might find their contents...alarming."

Tsunade recoiled as the implication hit her. Naruto did too, because surely he wasn't implying that he—

"You changed th—"

"I think their accuracy will be determined based on the accuracy of the will," Orochimaru's eyes narrowed. "I'm simply seeing to it that I recieve what's rightfully mine."

"You son of a bitch," Tsunade breathed. "You snake, no one will ever—"

Orochimaru cut her off with a laugh.

"Of course, my dear. Take the risk." He moved forward. "After all, your history is ever so...stable."

Tsunade visibly flinched.

"Okay, listen Oroch—" Naruto moved forwards, unable to stay silent for another fucking second—

"Oh, I must be early."

Naruto jerked back. That new voice was—

"Uchiha," Orochimaru breathed.

Itachi.

"Or perhaps right on time." Itachi moved forwards. "Dear me, Orochimaru. What ever happened to you?"

Orochimaru didn't reply.

Itachi took a few more strides, until he was past Orochimaru, almost behind him—

Orochimaru took several steps away.

"You ought to seek medical care," Itachi continued, adjusting the bloodied tablecloth.

Orochimaru stared at him for a moment longer, before he slipped by Tsunade with a parting—

"Consider your options."

And then he was gone, and Naruto was torn somewhere between staring at the doors shut and staring at Itachi

"How—"

"Do any of you have any particular connection to a...Yakushi? White hair, round glasses?"

Naruto shook his head. Nobody said anything else either.

"Good to know." Itachi said, moving towards the door. "I apologize for my brief—and early—visit. May I suggest the three of you remain in this room for the next ten minutes?"

Naruto's mouth opened and closed.

"Excellent. Sasuke, well done. I'll be in touch."

He paused, halfway through the door as he held it open—

And then he was gone too.

Naruto breathed in.

"What just happened?" Tsunade asked. "Who was—"

"My brother," Sasuke said quietly, pulling his phone out of his pocket, "who records all calls to his office."

Sasuke ended the call.

"Sasuke, you—you brilliant—" Naruto could have fucking tackled him to the floor. As it was, he settled on nearly turning the half-a-second hug into a damn stranglehold—

"Brilliant," he said again, Sasuke's face still in his shaky hands. "Are you okay?"

"Are you?" Sasuke responded, eyes darting past him to—

Oh.

"How did Jiraiya know that man?"


What a bizarrely terrifying experience.

What an utter nightmare. He hadn't expected to—well, he hadn't entirely frozen, but on some level he had just...he'd never blanked like that. The only part of him that had moved had been his hand, and if Orochimaru had moved any closer then he wasn't sure he had enough sense of mind to...react.

He'd barely listened to Tsunade's explanation of a distant history of two-faced friendship and financial ruin. It made it worse, he supposed, for the man to come here and ask for more when he had already taken so much—when he was already such a source of their debts, debts that had been passed down to—

"You didn't tell me about the finances."

Naruto let out a breath.

"We were only starting to deal with it all this morning. I have money from him, too, y'know. And I've got savings. I gotta do the math on—on everything. I haven't—I'll figure it out. I'll be okay. Are you okay?"

Sasuke leaned his side against the wall.

Naruto threw his arms around him.

"I—" Sasuke started, stumbling back a little, "are you okay? You're shaking..."

"I'm so mad. I'm so—when he—I could have killed him, Sasuke—"

"I noticed. Protective, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, eyes flashing, "yeah, I fucking am. I can't believe that asshole showed his fucking face. I can't believe he even came near you, that—"

"I can't believe I witnessed him breaking any more bones. What do you think his nose used to look like?"

Naruto huffed out a reluctant laugh. "Sasuke, that—I have no idea. Can I break it next?"

"Fine by me."

"Or—uh," Naruto ran a hand through his hair, "I mean. I dunno how much Itachi is gonna leave. Have I mentioned how scary your brother is yet?"

"You have," Sasuke said, "scaredy-cat."

Naruto shoved at him.

"Wh—hey, I've got good reason to be afraid, asshole. I'm the one whose gotta make him like me."

Sasuke blinked.

"Why do you—"

"Are you okay, though?" Naruto said, glancing around him for a moment before he shuffled closer. "I mean like actually okay? If you don't want to be here anymore—"

"I want to be here."

Naruto frowned a little, scanning his face. Stupid, worried, beautiful idiot.

Sasuke flicked his cheek.

"Moron," he said, watching the way Naruto's face flushed as if he'd been caught out, "I'm perfectly fine."

"You're—"

"I trust my brother. I don't want to leave. I want to be here. The only reason I'll leave is to call him. Alright?"

Naruto frowned a little again.

"Maybe we should call him now…"

"People are going in," Sasuke said, gesturing towards the doors they stood away from. No one had seemed to realize their proximity yet—likely due to how Naruto was hidden by the small partition—

"Crap," Naruto muttered, glancing behind him. "Okay. I should—I guess I gotta—"

"You don't have to do anything. What do you want? Be selfish."

Naruto turned back to him with a slow, spreading, indulgent smile.

"...I want," he said, nearly moving close enough to press his chest to Sasuke's, "to go say hi to everybody. And I want you with me."

Sasuke immediately looked away (cheeks burning, heart beating—).

"...Alright then."

Chapter Text

He was acutely aware that they looked like a couple.

Side by side, Naruto buzzing between people with Sasuke only a few steps behind—Naruto called someone's name and introduced Sasuke in the same breath.

He never once called Sasuke his boss.

He never once called Sasuke his friend.

He skipped over the silence—the pause in the conversation, where Sasuke's presence was to be explained—like it was nothing at all. And the discussions moved, too, like it was nothing at all—but Sasuke felt it, felt it on the tip of Naruto's tongue when he said—

"This is Sasuke."

Sasuke hadn't even registered the other woman's name. No, he'd been far too focused on the soft, aching affection in Naruto's eyes as he smiled back at him. He had years of formality to fall back on, though, as he automatically reached forward to shake the older woman's hand. (His arm brushed against Naruto's along the way.)

"Thanks for coming, Shima. Did you see all the pictures? There's that one of you and him on the mountain."

"And Fukasaku, yes," the woman smiled wistfully. "What different days those were."

Naruto, gentle and empathetic, reached out to place a hand along woman's shoulder.

It was so strange, to Sasuke, the way everyone came to offer support and received it instead.

No one else saw that flicker of fatigue in Naruto's eyes.

"Difficult," said the older woman, "to have our loved ones leave us."

And how did that help? How did that help? Naruto was—

"I think," Naruto said, taking a step forwards, "that they're already playing cards up there, waiting for us."

The woman placed a hand on his.

"I think these old bones still have a few more games left in them."

Naruto smiled.

"'Atta girl. Does the club still do bridge on Tuesdays?"

"They do, I think. I haven't been for…"

"Need a partner?"

The woman smiled softly.

"That would be lovely, Naruto."

"Tuesday, then. I'll call you, okay?"

"Thank you. I look forward to it."

"Me too."

Naruto smiled softly and slid away from the conversation at the same time as her—turning right to face Sasuke's gaze.

"What?" Naruto asked softly.

"You're an idiot." A stupid, selfless idiot who placed the needs of everyone else above—

"Yeah, maybe," Naruto shrugged a little, glancing behind him, "but she's alone, you know? Nobody should have to be alone."

And it took an alarming amount of restraint to stop himself from—from doing something, he didn't know what, reaching out in some way to provide any sort of comfort—Naruto bounced on the balls of his feet and they were in a crowd, but—

"Anyway," Naruto said, "I think this is everybody. I should probably start talking before people start leaving…"

"It's not everyone," Sasuke told him. He hadn't been in touch with them a huge amount, but it had been enough to know—

"What d'you mean?"

Sasuke didn't answer. He turned back to the entrance, as he'd been glancing at ever since they entered the room. He certainly wouldn't recognize anyone, but Naruto—

"Wh—hang on, that looks like—Gaara?!"

Naruto flew to the entrance, and Sasuke turned his gaze to the floor, and smiled.


It was everybody. It was everybody—Gaara and Inari and Konohamaru and Uncle Bee—that he'd lost touch with and had long thought he'd never—

"You—how did—"

"Iruka found us."

Naruto spun, exhilaration bursting through him—

"Iruka—"

"Well, I hardly did it myself," Iruka said, giving something over Naruto's shoulder a meaningful look—

Sasuke's gaze stayed firmly on the wall.

"But, Naruto," Iruka ducked down a little, speaking softer, "I—we—beyond our condolences, I wanted to show you—I hope you know that your family isn't lost."

Naruto's throat locked up.

"We may not have seen each other in many years," Iruka continued, "but you'll always be my little brother—and my top student, of course."

Naruto let out a small, wet laugh as he ducked his head. He'd been a fucking terrible student, but Iruka had always—

"And my big bro!" Konohamaru spoke up, Inari nodding along with him—

"We've missed you very much, Naruto."

Gaara—

"I—" Naruto's voice cut off before it had any chance to— "You guys, I—"

He really needed to stop crying into other people's arms.


That went about as well as it could have.

Long, emotional—they'd ducked out into the hall as soon as Naruto finally let himself go. And finally, Naruto had let himself go. Tsunade had been excusing herself regularly, but Naruto had been relentless, smiling, charming, supportive—

But tight. Restrained. Quick to laugh and distract and change the topic, unwilling to dwell on the pain.

He had dwelled on the pain now.

And then he'd sniffled and nodded and really, honestly, genuinely smiled—

So Sasuke leaned against the wall, back in the room, tucked behind a column, and waited.

"Hey everybody," Naruto said, "I figured better start talking before you all leave—and before you're too drunk to listen."

He paused for a moment, smiling as the room chuckled softly.

"And—um, I've been thinking about what to say, and I kept trying to—well, I ended up not writing anything down, so if this sucks—Tsunade made me do it so please direct all complaints to the old woman over—"

"Brat!"

And even Sasuke couldn't help but laugh, along with everyone else—

"Okay, okay, sorry, sorry, sorry, I'll be serious...'cept I won't, 'cause Jiraiya hated serious." Naruto smiled a little, shuffling his feet. "We're talking about the guy who helped me skip class to get a tattoo, after all. Helped me pick out flowers instead of doing homework so I could put them all over in Sakura's locker—hey, Sakura, sorry about that."

"I knew that was you! They were all dead by the time I got to them!"

Naruto laughed—

"I know!" he said, ducking forwards a little— "I know—we ruined them before they even got there. But, um—that's what I—Jiraiya knew fuck all about flowers. And he helped me make that disaster anyway. And that tattoo meant something to me. Jiraiya did that stuff, you know? That's who he was. He also wrote porn for a living, so if we're trying to be serious—"

Naruto paused, as chatter erupted yet again—

"What, did you expect me not to mention it? I brought one of his books."

And there it had been, in Naruto's back pocket this whole time. Sasuke resisted the urge to put his face in his hands.

"Yeah, you're really regretting asking me to do this, huh? Want to hear my favourite description of boobs ever?" He flipped the book open, grinning all the while. "Her billowing mounds thrusting through the—"

"Naruto!"

But everyone was laughing, now—everyone was smiling, or had actually put their face in their hands (like Sasuke had finally done), and the tension had lifted until it was almost nothing at all—

"Yeah," Naruto grinned, book still in hand, "take that mental image home with you."

He paused, again, to let everyone settle.

"He talked about home a lot," Naruto continued, leaning against the table a little, "with me. About finding home, since he'd travelled so much...and how home—to him, home really ended up being about the people around you. Some people are just...home. And that's...when he said that, it always kinda stuck with me."

Sasuke stood a little straighter.

"I think Jiraiya was home, for me. He was like that, wasn't he? Like—like open, and—and comfortable and honest. And he never—he was, like, an...unapologetically," Naruto laughed a little, "flawed person. He wasn't perfect and he never tried to hide any of it. He drank and gambled and had way more sex than I wanted to grow up knowing about—"

He paused as the room laughed—

"But that was who he was. And you knew that—right from the start. I always admired that part...maybe you guys could tell that, though."

Naruto ducked his head, this time, as everyone laughed again. Sasuke turned his gaze down to hide his smile.

"Jiraiya taught me a lot. About family, and love—not that kind, perverts—and humour, and...honesty. Somebody way smarter than me reminded me that there's a lot about him I want to remember."

Sasuke's head jerked up.

"And appreciate. So that's what I want today to be."

Naruto straightened up a little.

"If you've got a story—if you've got a memory, or a picture, or anything—send it to me. Tell it to me. Write it down for me. Please. We've got a book at the front, too, and a pen—and we'll bring it tonight. We're meeting at Rasengan for some—some booze and games and general debauchery—"

The room laughed again, and Naruto smiled.

"Get drunk enough to write down the stories Jiraiya said I'd have to bribe him millions to hear, 'kay? Thanks everybody."

He hopped off the little platform, shaking two, three, four hands before—

"Hey," he breathed, bouncing his way close to Sasuke, "I can't remember anything I just said. I do okay?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, taking in Naruto's relief with a rush of his own.

"You've officially told the room I'm smarter than you."

Naruto's smile widened softly.

"That doesn't sound like me," he said, scrunching up his nose as he shook his head. Sasuke sucked in a breath and swayed on his feet, just barely stopping the response that had nearly been automatic—

"But I mean, you did—you thought I did okay, right?"

...Stupid Naruto.

Sasuke grabbed him by the shoulders and firmly turned him around—

To face the crowd of people patiently gathering around them.

"You did great," he said, leaning forwards just enough to let Naruto hear him. "Go greet your admirers."

"I—" Naruto laughed and ducked his head. "Okay."

And as he moved forwards, Sasuke stayed firmly behind him.


Very few of them stayed for the burial.

Sakura wasn't actually sure, now that she thought about it, that everyone had known it was happening here and now. Naruto had only mentioned the dinner, so perhaps this was...meant to be more private.

She looked around her, in the silence, at everyone's tired, tired faces.

Yeah. Definitely meant to be private.

It was a quiet few moments. No speeches—not anymore. Just a few moments to stand here and silently say their own goodbyes.

Sakura let out a small breath. Tsunade, beside her, let out a bigger one.

She let her head rest on Tsunade's shoulder. It was good, sometimes, to remind her that she still had people around her. The woman always struggled with showing her hurt, but Sakura would be here to catch her if she fell.

She scanned over Naruto, too, who so often needed the same reminder...his gaze stayed still on the dirt in front of him. She had barely had a chance to catch him tonight. Nothing more than a word or a resilient smile—he'd been with person after person, constantly involved in some conversation or another—

Sakura wondered if he'd had any chance to rest at all.

And Sasuke's thoughts were somewhere similar, she thought, from the way his gaze stayed firmly to his left. And he must have noticed something she didn't, because—

There it was. The subtle shift as Sasuke grazed Naruto's fingertips, and Naruto squeezed Sasuke's hand so tight his knuckles went white—

"It's time, I think," Tsunade said.

Yes, Sakura thought to herself.

It was time.

Chapter Text

"I didn't expect it to be so...loud."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him.

"Expected a man with a shovel, did you?"

Naruto only leaned further against him. He hadn't let go of Sasuke's hand since Sasuke had offered it to him.

"Asshole." He paused. "...Okay, yeah, fine, I did."

Sasuke laughed softly. Naruto squeezed his hand in response.

"Are we staying until—"

"Yeah," Naruto said, "hang on. There's something I wanted to show you in the meantime."

Sasuke blinked, but let Naruto pull him forwards all the same. They were alone now, as far as Sasuke could tell—once the machines had started up, bits of the group had parted piece by piece. Naruto seemed content to wait, although Sasuke didn't know for how long...

They weaved through the stones. The path had few flowers growing alongside it—Sasuke could see some bouquets, here and there, and some candles, too, but they were few and far in between. It was difficult, he knew, to visit as often as they should.

"Up here."

Sasuke sucked in a breath.

Minato and Kushina Uzumaki.

In a large, single headstone, buried together, just as Sasuke's own parents lay.

"Hey mom," Naruto said, "hey dad. This is Sasuke."

Oh good lord. Oh good god. Sasuke's heart twisted and turned and dove straight down into his stomach—

"Should I have warned you?" Naruto said, tilting his head back to look at him. "I guess it's kinda bad etiquette to make you meet the parents so soon, huh?"

Sasuke let go of his hand to whack at the side of his head.

"Idiot," Sasuke told him, and it was met with a soft, stifled laugh.

"Yeah, yeah," Naruto said, "I know. But I was thinking, um, well I—"

Naruto knelt down.

"I planted some bleeding hearts here a little while ago. I mean, not a little while—years. Years ago now. But the pink ones did pretty well—see?"

Naruto gently lifted some petals with his fingertips. Sasuke leaned in closer to get a better look at the flowers. How aptly named. And fitting, Sasuke thought, for the place they were in—and doing very well, almost like several bushes, now—Sasuke wondered how large they had been when Naruto planted them.

"I, um," Naruto continued, "brought some water—and some other plants, I don't think you saw them. They're all in the trunk—in my car, I mean. I thought that we could maybe, um, plant a few around, here and then, um, once it's all...I mean, you don't have to stay, obviously, we'll probably get all dirty and—"

"What kind of a priss do you think I am?" Sasuke cut him off. "A bit of dirt? Give me your keys."

And Naruto ducked forward to laugh again, but he ended it standing up instead—

"Dickhead," Naruto told him, "I'm coming with you. You'll have no clue what you're looking at."

"Wow," Sasuke said, following him, "watch your language in front of your mother."

Naruto slapped the back of his hand into Sasuke's shoulder.

Sasuke caught it and pulled him until they stood side by side.

"You're such a softie," Naruto muttered, smiling at the floor.

"I'm no such thing. Exactly how much are we carrying?"

Naruto laughed.

"Lose the blazer, pretty boy."


"You have too many plants," Sasuke muttered, patting the dirt down further.

Naruto laughed at him. He hadn't bothered with gloves or anything, which just left them knee-deep in soil, sleeves rolled up to their elbows, and Naruto had already managed to splash water all over the both of them—

"You don't have enough," Naruto insisted nonetheless. Not all of these would survive—he was messy, the soil wasn't perfect and neither was the light—but some of them would.

And that would be enough to make it worth it.

"Romantic."

Naruto laughed and slapped Sasuke's forearm—he left a dirty handprint behind.

"Ugh," Sasuke said.

Naruto laughed harder.

"You're pathetic! What happened to not being a priss?"

"I didn't exactly come dressed for gardening," Sasuke shot back, helplessly looking around himself for something to wipe his hands on.

"You can wipe your hands on my shirt," Naruto offered. "I'm a mess anyway."

Sasuke stared at him for two more moments before his face broke out into a small, incredulous smile.

"You're so stupid," he muttered, turning his smile down to the dirt.

"Aw, come on," Naruto pulled at the bottom of his shirt, "here—this bit is clean. Come on."

Sasuke, dutifully but reluctantly, used the bottom of Naruto's nice clean dress shirt as a towel.

"Is that the last of them?" Naruto asked, letting out a breath. They'd planted everything he'd brought. Enough to fill in the gaps around his parents, and then to...start it all again at Jiraiya's.

Jiraiya's grave.

Naruto let out a low, long breath.

"I...think so," Sasuke said, pulling back. "Did you…"

He shook his head.

Naruto blinked.

"Did I what?"

"Nothing."

Naruto narrowed his eyes.

"I have half a watering can full of water in my hand," he warned, "and all the dirt I could ever want. Don't test me, Uchiha."

Sasuke met his eyes with his own for another long moment—before he rolled them.

"The—hearts. Near your parents. I was—wondering if you had...more."

Oh.

Naruto sat back on his heels.

"I—oh, oh, let's grab one."

Sasuke's head jerked up.

"We don't have to—"

"They're so hardy, Sasuke, I've got like a million babies to choose from. They'd do better replanted anyway." Naruto pushed himself up and attempted to pat off his knees. "C'mon."

Naruto held out a dirty, dirty hand.

Sasuke took it.


It was, in Sasuke's eyes, pretty obvious that they weren't driving to Naruto's place. He'd caught Naruto glancing between him and the plant tucked between his legs more than once.

Still, he hadn't said a word.

And even as Sasuke pulled into the cemetery, Naruto only breathed in.


Naruto couldn't speak.

He'd figured out where they were actually going somewhere between Sasuke's tender grip on the plant and faraway look back at the car. He'd been half-sure he was wrong, though, until Sasuke took wrong turn after wrong turn…

And now—

Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha.

Naruto fell to his knees in front of the stone.

It didn't feel like enough.

"Tell me what to do," Sasuke said, pot in one hand and spade in the other.

And Naruto did.


At the end of it all, they were exhausted.

Naruto had insisted on driving, this time, citing something about how much Sasuke had already done, and Sasuke...hadn't had it in him to argue any more.

He'd ended up dozing off in the passenger seat. Just for a few scattered moments...Sasuke thought Naruto might have noticed from the soft, knowing smile on his face.

"Thanks for doing this with me," he said, catching Sasuke watching him yet again.

Sasuke shifted in his seat and let out a breath.

"Moron."

There was a soft pause.

"...The same to you," Sasuke said finally—just barely loud enough to know Naruto would hear it. He knew he did, though, even with his eyes closed—Naruto always made that noise when he smiled…

"'Course," said Naruto's voice. "...Hey, um, did Itachi ever call you?"

Sasuke's eyes snapped open.

"Sh—fuck. Hang on."

Naruto worriedly glanced to the side as Sasuke dug his phone out of his pocket. Sasuke hadn't even thought about the damn thing since Naruto had smiled in the center of a room full of memories and begun to talk—

'All good here, little brother. Did you manage to summon Susanoo?'

Sasuke let out a breath. It had been so many years since they'd brought up the "family password" that Sasuke had nearly forgotten it, but Itachi wouldn't have used it if he wasn't alright.

'My eyes haven't awakened yet. Rasengan at nine.'

"He's fine."

Naruto glanced at him again.

"Well, uh, I—y'know, I kinda expected that part. Did he say anything else?"

"No," Sasuke said, feeling his eyes grow heavy again, "and he won't in writing. He might tonight."

Naruto let out a breath, eyes glancing to the side again—

"Oh yeah...what time is it?"

Sasuke cracked an eye open to check his phone.

"Seve—"

"I knew it—that's me! You made me your phone ba—"

"You—keep your eyes on the road, moron," Sasuke hissed, pulling his phone to his chest.

Naruto laughed at him, one hand on the wheel and the other raised, as if he was reconsidering running it through his hair—

"Why," Naruto started, "the fuck did you make that stupid jumpsuit picture your phone background?"

"What," Sasuke said, shifting in his seat, "are you the only one allowed to do that?"

Naruto laughed again.

"Touché. Fine. I can't believe you—fine. You're crazy—did you say seven?" Naruto asked, smoothly turning the car with his still-dirtied hands. "I'm gonna pass the fuck out for an hour and a half."

"Not without a shower you're not," Sasuke deadpanned, eyes closed again.

Naruto let out a loud, exaggerated groan.

"Shower, sleep and manage to wake us both up in time," Sasuke said, rolling over with a sigh, "and I'll give you two more incentives."

There was a small pause.

"You're fucking on, Uchiha."


Naruto was decent enough to let Sasuke shower first. He even put out a set of clean clothes, although—

"Orange suits you!"

"Fuck off, Uzumaki," Sasuke fired back automatically, turning just as they passed each other. Naruto still looked dirty and scruffy and damn near a mess, but—

They both were...better, now.

"Don't take up the bed while I'm gone."

"I make no promises."

Chapter Text

Naruto awoke warm, a little bit drier, and way cleaner.

He also had a very asleep Sasuke splayed out on top of him.

"Hey," Naruto whispered, as his alarm continued to scream its face off. "Hey, asshole."

Sasuke shifted.

"Sasuke, you gorgeous, cuddly bastard, get off me or I'll kiss you."

"S—fuck," Sasuke let out a breath, "what did you…?"

"We gotta get up."

Sasuke cracked an eye open in a red-hued glare.

"Sasuke," Naruto insisted, "we gotta wake up."

"Says who."

"Says me. Get up or I'll kiss you."

Sasuke's other eye opened. Naruto only managed to see a glimpse of his smile before—

Oh.

Naruto's eyes fluttered closed and his mouth fell open. Finally—it was like breathing out a sigh. Like all the tension just fell from him. He'd been on the cusp of kissing Sasuke every minute of every hour they'd been together today, but Sasuke had been so hesitant he hadn't wanted to—

Sasuke pulled back.

"Sorry," he said quickly, "I'm still—" he cleared his throat, "half asleep."

Naruto stared at him through half-lidded eyes.

"Do I not get you today?" he asked softly.

Sasuke sat up straighter.

"You can tell me," Naruto continued, "if it's not something you want. I won't do anything you're not comfortable with."

Sasuke stared at him for several moments longer.

"Or—well—I guess if I'm supposed to be selfish, then, uh—"

Sasuke pinned Naruto down again.

"Be selfish," he said, lips grazing his, "idiot."

They didn't leave the bed for another half an hour.


"It's fashionable, Sasuke, don't you know anything about parties?"

"Fashionably late was never once a reasonable thing," Sasuke muttered back, adjusting Naruto's pants on himself again, "and you were the one trying to force me out of bed."

"Yeah, well," Naruto said, wandering back into the bedroom, "not my fault you're—oh. That—uh—you…"

Naruto trailed off, staring. Sasuke frowned down at himself.

"Is it not okay? I can wear something else."

"Wh—no, no, no, no, it's, um—you look," Naruto let out a breath—and then another, even more frustrated than before, "damn it, asshole, you know you're—okay, I changed my mind, you gotta wear something else so I don't drool over you all goddamn night—"

Naruto spun on his heel, muttering obscenities.

Sasuke followed him.

"If I change," Sasuke said, continuing to walk even after Naruto stopped, "we'll be even later. The cab's already waiting."

Naruto's eyes narrowed.

Sasuke put his hand on the doorknob and turned it.

Naruto's face, still suspicious, broke out into a smile.

"Fine," he said, pausing in front of Sasuke as he moved through the door, "but when I'm drunk and all over you, it's gonna be your fault."

Sasuke snorted and looked away.

"Whatever, moron."


They weren't that late, all things considered. The bar was super chill anyway and nobody was sitting down, even with all the food there. Naruto swiped a couple nachos on his way by—

"What's your drink, goth boy? The blood of the innocents?"

Sasuke swatted the chip out of Naruto's hand.

"Hey!"

"Moron. You—"

"My nacho!" Naruto cried, helplessly reaching towards the fallen chip—

Sasuke snorted out a laugh.

"I didn't expect you to throw it—"

"You slapped it out of my hand!"

"Oh my god, you idiot," Sasuke grabbed the thing from Naruto's hand and tossed it away, "just take more. Go find Tsunade and let her know we're here."

"Fine, dick, grab me a beer? You can put it on my tab."

Sasuke rolled his eyes—Naruto didn't know which part that was to—and turned on his heel. Naruto stood on his tiptoes and tried to scan the crowd before everybody noticed he was—

"Naruto!"

Ah, crap.


He'd lost him.

It'd barely been five minutes, and Sasuke had already lost Naruto. The man would have to make his way back eventually—Sasuke had his alcohol, after all, but…

"So," said a voice, and Sasuke didn't know how he'd managed not to notice the violent shade of pink at his side, "am I allowed to call you Sasuke yet, or…?"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes.

Sakura laughed.

"Okay, okay—but for the record, Naruto's called you that since the start."

Sasuke snorted into his drink.

"He called me asshole at best," he pointed out.

Sakura laughed again.

"Well—sure, that's true, you're right."

There was a pause. Sasuke continued to scan the room for a blond head of hair…or Itachi, too, while he was at it. He'd take either one.

"So," the woman spoke again, "I have a question."

Oh, for god's sake.

"I—"

"I'm not prying," Sakura said. "I mean, I want to, but for real—people are curious and they don't want to bother Naruto, so they're coming to me. I can deflect them if you want me to, which is what I've been doing, but if there's something else I should be saying…"

Sasuke turned his attention back to his drink.

"I have no idea what you're referring to."

Sakura sighed.

"Right. I'm an idiot, and you freely hold hands with everyone around the office. My apologies."

Sasuke glared at her. Naruto had needed that, he had been crumbling and Sasuke had had no—

"Naruto refuses to say anything because he doesn't want to betray your privacy," Sakura said, unflinching. "So here I am. He really likes you, you know."

Sasuke immediately looked away.

"Your desire to discuss business that is on no level yours is—"

"Oh my god, cut the crap, Uchiha. Are you dating my best friend or aren't you? Just tell me what to tell people."

"...Tell them it's none of their business."

"I'm going to staple that phrase to your forehead," Sakura muttered under her breath, but Sasuke heard it all the same. "Fine."

"Fine."

Sasuke turned away and prayed Naruto would show up soon.

"Did," and Haruno was speaking again, "Naruto tell you—anything? About...anything else?"

Did—what? He...oh.

"I'll show you the same discretion you show me," Sasuke muttered, signalling the bartender over again. He'd gone through this one a little too quickly, maybe…

Sakura laughed.

"Fine. Fine, does that mean I have your permission to use you as—"

"No," Sasuke turned, horrified, "good god, no, don't do that again."

Sakura caught her breath long enough to catch his eye, but it only made her laugh harder.

"You—come on, I wasn't that bad!"

"You were absolutely that bad—I nearly had grounds to fire you."

"You did not! I never acted on any of it—"

"You were creating a hostile work environment."

"Hostile! I think you and I have pretty different definitions of hostile," Sakura laughed, "but then, maybe that explains you and Naru—"

"I'm firing every single one of you."


"It's nuts, Granny," Naruto said, looking around them again. He'd already been pulled into a million conversations on his way over, "I didn't expect everybody to come."

"I know," she laughed, "clean up's going to be a nightmare. The poor staff—did you see the book?"

"The—oh, no," Naruto shook his head, "not since we brought it. Is it—"

"It's making the rounds. I have Shizune on keeping track of it—we might need to buy another one. Last I saw, it was already half-full."

"Wh—really?! I thought it was way too big!"

Tsunade laughed.

"I know. Me too. I think it's going to be...quite illuminating."

Tsunade threw him an amused smile as he laughed.

"Oh god," he said, ducking his head. "Please tell me you'll be with me when I read it so I have somebody to yell with?"

"Of course. You think I'd touch that thing alone? It's going to be like Pandora's Box."

Naruto laughed.

"I'm even more afraid now," he joked, meeting Tsunade's eyes again.

She was better now—just like he was. Relieved, in some way. Like a weight had been lifted off of them. Somehow, Naruto just felt like he could...breathe a little easier.

"What's your drink?" he said, nodding to Tsunade's glass—

Tsunade slung her free arm around him.

"Partygoers think it's beer," she said conspiratorially, "but between you and me, it's apple juice."

Naruto laughed.

"Nice. Somebody snag you for driving already?"

"For this lot? Of course. I'll start ferrying in an hour." She paused. "Speaking of this lot, where's your man?"

Naruto let out a embarrassed, embarrassed laugh.

"He's not mine," Naruto said, ducking down. "He's not! Don't—"

Naruto clambered at Tsunade, who only laughed at him harder—

"I'm surprised you could see past the hearts in your eyes."

"I—oh my god," Naruto hid his laughing smile behind his hand, "you jerk, Tsunade—you mean old woman—"

"I have to have my fun somehow. Are you not dating? Do the kids not date anymore?"

"Some kids date," Naruto said, "but we're—no. Not, um, yet."

Tsunade raised an eyebrow at him.

"Yet, hm?"

Naruto bit his lip and shrugged a little. He didn't want to push it—he hadn't wanted to push it, because Sasuke was so quick to pull back all the time, and Naruto kept stumbling on the steps down to falling in love with him, and he didn't know if Sasuke was at the top of the staircase or if he'd already—

"Go for it."

Naruto's head jerked up. Tsunade met his eyes with her kind, melancholy own.

"Life's too short," she told him.

Naruto sucked in a small breath.

"Yeah," Naruto said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Yeah. I know."

"Naruto," said a new voice.

"Wh—oh," Naruto spun around to face, "oh—oh, hey Itachi—"

"I'll leave you two to it," Tsunade said. "Itachi and I have already…spoken."

Itachi inclined his head, and Tsunade stepped away. Naruto immediately made his way closer, lowering his voice as best he could—

"Is—is everything, uh—"

"All is well," Itachi said, making no moves to hide his own voice. "I'm sorry I missed your speech. I've heard it was quite enjoyable."

Naruto ducked his head.

"I mean—I dunno if I'd say that, but, uh, thanks. Did you—I mean—what did you…"

"All is well," Itachi repeated, "and it will remain so. There's no need to worry."

Naruto opened his mouth and closed it again. On one hand, he really wanted to ask, but on the other, he didn't know if he...wanted to know.

"Come now, Naruto," Itachi said to Naruto's silence. "Surely you realize I wasn't always a businessman."

And what that meant, Naruto had no fucking clue—

"At any rate," Itachi said, glancing around them, "I wanted to apologize."

Naruto blinked.

"You—huh?"

"After my brother had been so…" Itachi tilted his head to the side, vaguely waving a hand around Naruto, "around you, I was fairly aware of what was going on. And I feared that those feelings could be taken advantage of," Itachi glanced back at him, "intended or not."

Naruto let out a breath.

"Yeah. I know."

"Great. Would you be able to pass that information onto my little brother? He's glaring at me."

"Wh—" Naruto turned to see Sasuke, at the bar, staring daggers at the spot directly beside him—

"Down, boy," Itachi muttered into his glass, and Naruto nearly choked. "I should speak with him. The best of luck to you two maniacs."

"S'that my older brother's blessing?" Naruto said, trotting after him.

Itachi glanced back with a small smile.

"You best hope it is."

Naruto laughed out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. It was about time to grab that drink he'd told Sasuke to get him anyway—

"Hey," Naruto breathed, pausing just a little closer than he ought to be.

"You left me," Sasuke grumbled into his ear as he passed him—

Naruto took his seat with a laugh.

"I didn't! I got kidnapped. Hey Sakura—this my beer?"

"Hey Naru. Ask him." She pointed at Sasuke.

"It is. Did you find Tsunade at least?" Sasuke said, eyes scanning over him in that way that was so familiar, now—

"Yeah, I did. Go talk to Itachi and I'll stay here."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed as if to say you'd better, and Naruto didn't even bother to fight back the way his smile widened.

Sasuke rolled his eyes and followed Itachi—to somewhere a bit more private, probably—and Naruto turned back to face an amused, exasperated Sakura.

"Your boyfriend's a douche," she told him.

Naruto dissolved into laughter.


Sasuke was waiting for him to start.

They had moved to a more...sensible corner of the bar—still loud enough to be covered by the murmur of the crowd, but secluded enough to have a reasonable conversation.

Still, Itachi was content to smile to himself in silence. The day had gone well, all things considered.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Sasuke's narrow even further.

"Relax, little brother," he said, and Sasuke rolled his eyes so far back into his skull that it surely must have hurt, "I was just apologizing to your...Naruto."

"Naruto is in no way, shape or form mine."

Itachi quirked an eyebrow.

"I'm sure you're aware that that sentiment is one-sided," Itachi told him, continuing quickly, "but at any rate—it's none of my business, so do whatever you will. I have apologized and informed him all is well; that was the extent of our conversation."

Sasuke crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, eyeing him properly.

"And is all actually well?"

Itachi smiled softly.

"Yes, Sasuke. All is well."

Sasuke sighed.

"Are you ever going to tell me what the hell that all was?"

It was quiet and muttered. Itachi wondered, sometimes, if Sasuke harboured some resentment for the ways he'd been left in the dark. Itachi had never meant for it to feel that way—but Sasuke had been so young...Itachi had thought it the right thing, at the time, to handle everything by himself.

"Do you wish to know? I could tell you, if you'd like," he offered softly, pausing for just a moment to gather his thoughts. "We all had our different methods of rebellion. It's a part of my life that I would rather leave behind, if I'm honest."

"And can you?" Sasuke moved closer. "Is this something I should be worried about?"

"No," Itachi let out a gentle laugh, "no, don't worry, Sasuke, it is behind me. This was the first time anything was necessary in many years—and the last time, I hope. I owe no favours; I have no enemies."

Anymore.

In the boom of the crowd, the word rang clear. He was sure Sasuke heard it too, from the way his body shifted along the wall.

There was a pause.

"I didn't know you were still in the office," he said finally. Itachi could see it, then—the flash of discomfort that didn't quite manage to cover the guilt. Sasuke had only been trying to record the call, he was sure, and Itachi had been on the speed dial that was easily reached.

"I'm relieved I was," he told him. "We can put this all behind us, now."

He turned to face his brother properly.

"I'm glad you're alright, Sasuke."

Sasuke looked down at the floor, speckled with footprints, spilled drinks and dirt.

"...Thank you."

Itachi blinked.

"Not only for this," Sasuke said, still not looking at him. "Thank you."

Amazing, he thought, blinking several more times as he turned away, how such simple words could render him so utterly undone. So bizarre, too, that Sasuke felt the need to say them. As if he had deserved anything less. Life had been cruel to them both, but Sasuke had always been so—

"You're such a kind soul, Sasuke," Itachi said, letting out a wet laugh. "You've always been so pure."

Sasuke stared at him.

"I've been—are you high?"

Itachi laughed.

"No," he said, reaching out to ruffle Sasuke's hair (which Sasuke was just a moment too late to dodge), "I'm very happy, Sasuke. Some of these years have been..."

Sasuke, midway through whacking Itachi's arm away, paused and looked away.

"It's nice to feel it's all been worth it," Itachi continued softly.

Sasuke breathed in, and then out again.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "if I—"

"No," Itachi cut him off, "no, Sasuke, none of it was ever any fault of yours. We were victims of our own situation, and you were a child. I was a child. We did the best we could. And I think we've done rather well."

He threw Sasuke a warm smile.

And Sasuke only shifted awkwardly there, swallowing as he looked away, as if he couldn't quite find the voice to reply.

Itachi took pity on him after only another few moments.

"Uzumaki is a kind soul as well," Itachi said, after a moment, "to let you wear his clothes yet agai—"

"And you've ruined it," Sasuke said, kicking himself up off the wall.

Itachi's laugh followed him as he went.

Chapter Text

"And the nails? What's your excuse for that one?"

Naruto laughed into his drink.

"You've been holding onto that all day, haven't you?" He stretched his hand out in front of his face. "I think they're nice."

"Mm," Sakura rested her head on his shoulder, examining them, "you fucked up your thumb."

"Oh come on," Naruto said, flinching his hand back to him. "How do you guys even notice this shit? You're as bad as Sasuke."

Sakura laughed, turning back to her drink. She'd gone for one of those fancy, fruity things, and Naruto had stolen two sips before regretting his beer. It tasted way too bitter now.

"Mm," Sakura said, sitting up a little, "speaking of."

Naruto immediately perked up. And yup—there, in all his casual, impassive glory…

"Hey boss," Naruto grinned.

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Don't call me that," he muttered, sliding in beside Naruto. He crossed his arms over the counter and put his empty cup on the table.

"That's a different tune than you usually sing," Naruto laughed, signalling the bartender over. "What happened to giving you respect?"

"You're a lost cause," Sasuke deadpanned.

Naruto laughed.

"Alright, that's my cue." Sakura slipped off her chair. "I'm gonna go hit on the blonde over there."

"Go get her," Naruto called after her. "Wait, isn't that Ino?"

Sakura turned to flash him a smile and a wink, and Naruto let out a surprised laugh.

"Well," Sasuke said, eyebrows raised, "that's a development."

"It fucking is, that's been building for—sit down, c'mere," Naruto said, gesturing Sasuke over to the now-empty chair, "for ages, you have no—oh, hey!" Naruto said, just as the bartender slid over to them. "Can I grab like a—like a mojito or something? And—uh—"

Naruto gestured vaguely at Sasuke.

"Gin and tonic," Sasuke answered simply, hand tracing over the back of Naruto's chair as he switched sides. "My tab."

"Uchiha?" The bartender asked.

Sasuke nodded, and the guy left.

Naruto immediately shoved at him.

"You ass! I was gonna—the drinks are so overpriced here!"

Sasuke rolled his eyes, but the amusement—and victory—was written all over his face.

"The drinks are overpriced everywhere."

"You—!" Naruto laughed, shuffling closer. Sasuke leaned back against the bar as if he was just being a casual asshole, conveniently making just the space Naruto needed to lean in—

"God, you're such a dick," he said, taking full advantage of it. "How'd it go with Itachi?"

"Fine," Sasuke muttered. "...He's an ass."

Naruto laughed.

"Yeah, no shit. Did he actually tell you anything?"

"Of course he didn't," Sasuke said, sitting straighter as the bartender came back over. Naruto pulled back a little, too, because it had almost been like Sasuke had his arm around him there—

"Thanks," Naruto called, grabbed his drink as Sasuke flicked a bill into the tip jar.

"Did you do the rounds already?" Sasuke asked, turning back to him.

"Yeah—I think everybody dragged me off at some point. Why?" Naruto threw Sasuke a laughing grin. "Wanna know if I'm all yours yet?"

"Fuck off," Sasuke muttered into his glass. Naruto laughed and slouched back further. Or, well, to the side, really. It was a convenient excuse to be close to Sasuke, and Naruto was feeling lazy and tired and...exhilarated. He kept noticing it now—like he'd had a weight on him for so long that he'd gotten used to the feeling. And now that it was gone—he hadn't realized he'd felt so…

"Naruto."

Naruto blinked back into reality. Sasuke was staring at him now—or, well, he probably had been this whole time.

"I'm okay," he told Sasuke's stoic, definitely-not-at-all-worried face. "I feel really good, actually. I'm just...thinking."

He paused for a moment, looking away before he glanced back at Sasuke. Sasuke seemed happy to just stare right back.

"I'm really, um—hopeful," Naruto continued. "I think that's the right word. I think it's all gonna be okay. And even if it isn't, I know that—um, that—there's stuff that'll make me happy no matter what. Y'know."

Naruto ran a hand through his hair and shot Sasuke a meaningful glance. And Sasuke's eyes softened, then, even as his cheeks flushed—Naruto swore he could pick out something strong and buried in those eyes—

"You're so stupid," Sasuke told him.

It felt like a compliment.

"According to you," Naruto teased, but he felt the need to duck his head all the same. His face felt kinda hot, now, but maybe that was just a consequence of how Sasuke looked at him…or just how Sasuke looked in general...

"My opinion holds more authority than yours."

"Oh, yeah, okay, sure thing," Naruto laughed, "I take your orders in one place and that's the bedroo—"

Sasuke slapped a hand over his mouth.

"Not a word."

Naruto stuck his tongue out.

"Ah—god, Naruto, that's—" Sasuke recoiled, wiping his hand against his pants, "I haven't washed my hands since we got here!"

Naruto crumbled into laughter.

"That's what you—man, Sasuke, your priorities," Naruto said, giggling. "Call the bartender over—lemmie get these."

"Stop being stupid," Sasuke said, turning around again.

"Watch yourself, asshole," Naruto said, shoving his shoulder into Sasuke's. "I'll pay your tab when you're not looking. You won't even see it coming."

Sasuke glanced back at him, a small, spreading smile on his face.

"Well now I will, moron."

Naruto paused.

"Wait—crap. Forget I—" Naruto scrambled at Sasuke just as he ducked down into laughter, "no, Sasuke, shut up—"

"What can I get you two?"

"Wh—oh, uh—"

"More of the same," Sasuke answered, smile still on his face.

"Yeah," Naruto breathed, staring at it, "more of the same."


Sasuke wasn't drunk enough for this. Sasuke was too drunk for this. He was flinging himself somewhere between wanting to bury himself in the deepest hole and wanting to just throw himself at Naruto and that—

That was not...where he wanted to be. Definitely not where he had intended on being. But here he was, staring at Naruto's blushing, beautiful smile again…

Naruto leaned closer.

"You're making me wanna kiss you," he said, breath brushing against Sasuke's ear—

Sasuke shivered.

"Which is mean," Naruto said, pulling back, "and totally your fault. I have a question."

Naruto smiled and plopped his chin on his palm expectantly. Sasuke raised an eyebrow in response. (He tried to keep the smile off his face. He really did—)

"Last night," Naruto said, "I never asked what your preference was. Did you just go with what I wanted? 'Cause if you—"

"That's the dumb shit you would pull," Sasuke muttered, shifting his ice around to see if there was any drink left or if his wallet was set to take another hit, "I'm perfectly capable of voicing my desires."

Naruto scoffed.

"God, Sasuke, you fucking liar," he said, laughing, "you think I'm gonna believe that? Now? You've been at my beck and call for like a fucking—"

"That's different!"

"Yeah? How is it different? Enlighten me, genius."

"...It's different. I'm going to kick your ass."

"Mm, I'm pretty sure that's not how it's gonna go," Naruto grinned as he brought the drink to his lips again, "but my ass can still be involved, if you want."

Sasuke put his burning face in his hands. Damn Naruto's honesty—damn his stupid genuine, earnest interest—

"And you," Naruto said, putting his drink back down to point at Sasuke, "never answered my question."

Sasuke pulled back, dizzy and embarrassed—

"I answered it perfectly fine."

"Nope," Naruto said. "What do you like? I'll keep bugging you 'till you tell me, y'know."

Sasuke met Naruto's glittering eyes for a moment longer, before he sighed.

"My preferences," he started, rubbing the bridge of his nose to hide the rest of his face, "tend to depend on those of my partner. Or my partner in general, I suppose."

"Oh…?" Naruto was suddenly sitting much straighter. "So—it depends on—on me? Or you'd be open to…"

Sasuke met his eyes.

"I'd be open."

Naruto's mouth opened and closed again. Sasuke felt the amusement build deep in his chest as Naruto stuttered out absolutely nothing over and over again—

"God, you're so—" Sasuke finally laughed, looking away, "I can see every thought you have. All the time. Have you successfully lied to anyone? Ever?"

Naruto let out an offended laugh, and leaned closer.

"I have, actually," he said, his nose not an inch from Sasuke's. "Not everyone has studied me like you fucking have."

"How rich," Sasuke deadpanned, refusing to move away, "coming from the man who has interrogated me about every detail of my background every minute of every hour for the past week and a half."

"Yeah, well, maybe I have," Naruto challenged. "Maybe I'm just as obsessed with you as you are with me."

"I am not obsessed with you."

"You're a little obsessed with me."

He was not obsessed. He was—interested, if anything. And yes, maybe he was a little more interested than what was strictly called for, maybe a little more than was strictly platonic, maybe a little more than—

Oh god damn it.

"...You're stupid."

"You know what," Naruto sat back in victory, "I'll take that."

Sasuke turned back to his drink—which was...full again? He couldn't remember if he'd actually beckoned the bartender over or if Naruto had, maybe…

"Have I mentioned how much I like that shirt on you?"

Sasuke slipped his drink back onto the table and subtly shifted to give Naruto a better view.

"Keep it in your pants, Uzumaki," Sasuke said, as if a firm piece of him wasn't thriving at the interest in Naruto's gaze.

"Are you sure," Naruto asked, "that's what you want?"

Sasuke met his gaze. Damn that smile. Damn every part of it—damn the way his eyes crinkled around the edges and the way his nose scrunched up and the way his smile slanted to one side and the way he looked at Sasuke—

"Fuck you," he answered helplessly.

Naruto's grinned.

"Are you sure," Naruto repeated, leaning closer, "that's what you want?"

Sasuke swallowed.

"No," he whispered.

Naruto let out an exhilarated breath, like a laugh—

"Jesus, Sas—you gotta be careful with me. I'm gonna be too drunk to stop myself from kissing you soon."

And as Naruto's brilliant, blushing smile stayed firmly on him—

Sasuke definitely knew the feeling

"Finish your drink, then."

Lightheaded and disoriented—unable to fight the giddy, giddy thrill every time Naruto looked over at him—Sasuke was starting to wonder if he'd had any reason at all to stop any of this. Was there any reason good enough to stop Naruto from looking at him, like this? From smiling at him, like this? From moving closer, like this…?

Naruto placed his empty glass back on the table, and met Sasuke's eyes with a challenge.

"Oh, and another thing, asshole," he started, eyeing Sasuke up and down. "You promised me two incentives and I haven't seen any of them. Don't think I forgot."

Sasuke's smile widened.

"I never specified the type of incentive…"

Naruto, eyes wide with desire, stared.

"Okay," he said, immediately on his feet, "we need to go."

"Hm?" Sasuke asked, feigning innocence—

"No, we're going right now." Naruto tugged at his arm. "Come on. Come on—"

"Moron," Sasuke laughed, "call a cab and I'll pay the bill. Do you need to say goodbye to anyone?"

"Oh," Naruto paused in place, "no, Tsunade left a bit ago, and then, uh—I think most people left. Or, well, I don't—uh..."

Sasuke snorted and leaned closer.

"Get some blood back into that brain of yours."

"Sasuke—" Naruto laughed, stumbling into him, "fuck you, you fucker—you—this is your fault, you asshole dickhead cocky little—"

Sasuke waved the bartender over with a laugh. Naruto stayed firmly glued to his side as he fiddled with the phone.

"Five minutes," Naruto muttered. "That's too long…"

Sasuke laughed.

"Five minutes? Five minutes is too long for you?"

Naruto opened his mouth to protest, just as the bartender made his way over—

"Uchiha," he told the man, flicking his card between his fingers. Naruto, beside him, giggled.

"That tab was paid."

Sasuke's mouth opened and closed. Naruto's grin grew nearly three sizes as the bartender fluttered away—

"Get wrecked, Uchiha."

"You're kidding me. Wh—you—when did you even—"

"I have my ways," Naruto laughed, sticking his tongue out between his teeth, "and you can get to know some of them if you take me home—"

Sasuke grabbed his card back and slid off his seat.

"Come on, moron."

He pulled Naruto out of the bar.


The cab ride was, quite possibly, the most difficult thing Naruto had ever done.

Sasuke leaned back against the window, with one leg on the floor and the other up on the seat, leaving himself ever so casually spread out—

And that wasn't even the worst part.

No—Naruto could deal with Sasuke looking tempting as hell. He'd dealt with it all night. And a good chunk of the day, too. Naruto could deal with—he could deal with that part. But the worst part of it—

The worst part was the way Sasuke was looking at him.

Unguarded.

Open.

Beyond the suggestion and intention and laughter and everything good and gorgeous in those eyes—Sasuke was relaxed. Sasuke was himself; he wasn't even trying to hide, he was just him and that was—

God, that was the worst, worst part.

Sasuke caught his eyes yet again, and his smirk widened.

It drove Naruto wild.

And the cab started to slow, then, and Naruto thanked whichever great merciful being had heard his plea, flung his money at the driver, and flung himself at Sasuke.

Sasuke caught him with his mouth.

And he felt Sasuke's laugh against his lips as he let Naruto push him back—as he pressed Sasuke against the door and desperately fished for his keys—where were his fucking keys

"Moron," Sasuke mumbled, hand in Naruto's pocket for way longer than it needed to be—feeling around way more than it needed to, too— "here."

He pressed Naruto's keys into his hand.

"Impatient asshole," Naruto said, unlocking the door and using Sasuke's back to open it. They stumbled up the stairs, hands all over each other, breaking the kisses only so they wouldn't fall—Naruto felt like he had to cling to the railing just to keep upright—

"You have too many doors," Sasuke grumbled as they reached Naruto's apartment. Naruto laughed, but he'd kept his keys in his hand, this time—

"You're worse than I am," he teased, swinging the door open.

Sasuke shoved him inside with his tongue.

His jacket was on the floor before he'd even kicked the door shut, and then his hands were immediately scrambling with Sasuke's, and Sasuke was proving every bit of this was worth it with every noise he made into Naruto's mouth—

"Mm," Naruto said, lips pressed against Sasuke's, "do I get my incentives now?"

Sasuke slammed Naruto's back into the door.

"One," Sasuke whispered against his lips, his hand slipping under Naruto's pants. Naruto groaned as he gripped him, scrambling with his belt to give Sasuke at least a little more room to m—move, oh god—

"Fuck," Naruto breathed as Sasuke moved his smile to his neck. He crumbled back against the door, gasping for breath already, seeing stars already

"Sas—damn it, asshole, you—this isn't fair," he broke off into nearly a whine—he couldn't reach Sasuke like this, not with the way he was pressed up against him—

"Is it not?" Sasuke muttered against his skin, still stroking Naruto's cock. "Why is that?"

"You fucking tease—" It started out a growl and ended up a moan. The way Sasuke had twisted there had Naruto already feeling the precum—

And Sasuke, too, from the way his smile widened.

"That's it," Naruto said, grabbing Sasuke's hips. "Strip. Strip, you fucking asshole, get that—"

He shoved a laughing Sasuke back and immediately yanked him close again—

"I thought you liked this shirt on me," Sasuke said, one hand still firm on the hem of Naruto's pants as Naruto practically tore Sasuke's buttons apart—

"I like it off you more."

And Naruto's mouth was entirely occupied after that, and so were his hands, leaving a trail of clothes behind them as he pushed Sasuke to the bedroom—

"You're gorgeous," he breathed out as he fell overtop of a half-naked Sasuke—staring and staring and staring because what a completely stunning—what a—a sarcastic, kind, genuine asshole of a beautiful person—

"You're stupid," Sasuke said in reply, lips swollen and panting. Naruto laughed against them.

"That's your way of saying you like me," Naruto told him, pressing his hips into Sasuke's—Sasuke's legs widened to let Naruto slip in between them— "I can see right through you."

And he saw Sasuke swallow as he moved his kisses to his neck—he felt his back arch as he pushed their hips together—he could feel Sasuke's erection against his even through their pants—

"I—" Sasuke strained out—

"Yeah?"

Naruto rocked their hips together.

"Ah—!" It was like a breath in, the softest moan into Naruto's ear, but Naruto felt the thrill rush through him all the same—

Naruto's eyes glazed over.

"God," he breathed, "you're so—"

He let out a stifled, strangled noise as he crashed their lips together again. He could feel something desperate now, bubbling up to the surface like it had been buried in him all night—maybe before that, maybe for weeks, maybe for months, maybe for years—something yearning, something scared, something—

He didn't want to lose this.

Naruto kissed Sasuke harder.

He was so, so afraid of losing this.

"Take everything else off."


It was official.

Sasuke had lost.

He'd been fighting a battle against these feelings for years—refusing to even acknowledge them, refusing to even acknowledge Naruto—but now, but now

"Anything you want," Naruto said, in between kisses, "anything. It's yours."

You, Sasuke wanted to tell him. Oh god, you—

But he couldn't—not now, not yet, not with the doubt and fear and lust swirling through his mind, he couldn't even fucking think

"Okay?" Naruto's eyes—god, those eyes—bored a hole right through him. Sasuke felt himself nod, far more occupied with watching the way Naruto's hands looked when they slipped the last of his clothes from his sun-kissed hips—

Naruto pulled Sasuke to his feet by the hem of his pants.

"Lazy asshole," he teased, pressing kisses that sucked Sasuke's ability to stand away piece by piece, "fucking...you should be illegal—"

Naruto shoved him by the shoulders, and Sasuke let himself fall back.

Naruto pulled the socks from his feet, and then lingered, naked, between Sasuke's raised legs, one hand tracing up from his ankle to his knee to his thigh to his—

"This where you want me?" Naruto asked, gently trailing his fingers back along Sasuke's skin.

"Depends," Sasuke said, watching him, "on what's in your bedside drawer."

Naruto laughed out a soft, "asshole," before he ducked away all the same. Sasuke rolled so he could watch him as he bent over to...hm…

Naruto tossed several things onto the bed and grabbed Sasuke's ankles again. Sasuke held his breath as Naruto pulled his legs apart—

"How about now?" he asked, eyes burning and hot and on him, on Sasuke, focused with such intensity—

"Okay," Sasuke breathed out, and it felt like a confession.

"Okay?" Naruto asked, crawling over him, pressing kisses to his thighs, his hips, his stomach, his chest— "Well, that's not good enough."

Naruto pressed his forehead to Sasuke's, pulled their hips together, and kissed him.

It felt like something desperately, desperately intimate. It felt like the first time they had kissed, when Sasuke had forgotten where he was, forgotten who he was, and all that had existed was—

Them.

"How about now?" Naruto whispered again, eyes still closed, nose pressed to Sasuke's cheek, breathing in as if this was a moment he wanted to memorize—

Just them.

"This is what I want."

Naruto's eyes opened.

"Yeah?" he breathed out, giving Sasuke his best, best, best smile—

"Come here, moron."

And Naruto did. It was so simple, somehow—too easy, somehow—he could ask for Naruto and have him. It should have been impossible. It should have been so much harder than this—

But Sasuke could just ask.

Sasuke could just close his eyes and let Naruto kiss his breath away. He could just close his eyes and thread one hand through Naruto's hair while the other searched around the bed. He could just close his eyes and press the lube to Naruto's chest—

Naruto's smile stretched against his lips.

"Yeah?" he asked again, and Sasuke laughed at him in response. But Naruto got the hint, moving his kisses down Sasuke's neck, past his tattoo, past his scar, past his navel—Sasuke heard the soft click of the bottle opening—

"Ready?" Naruto's eyes—god, those eyes—bored a hole right through him. Sasuke felt himself nod, far more occupied with spreading his legs apart as Naruto spread the lube on his fingers—

A small, flushed smile spread across Naruto's face.

(Sasuke's heartbeat tripled in speed.)

"Out loud, asshole."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes.

"Fuck me, Uzumaki."

Naruto's eyes glazed over. (Good, thank god, thank god Sasuke wasn't the only one—)

"Oh," Naruto said, swallowing, "you—fucking dickhead—"

He finished the sentence with a breath, ducking down to press a kiss (a bite) to Sasuke's stomach, his hips—his clean hand pressed on Sasuke's thigh and Sasuke sucked in a breath—

At the same time Naruto's finger entered him, he wrapped his lips around Sasuke's dick.

"Ah—!"

And Sasuke was melting—Sasuke was melting—Naruto's mouth was hot and wet and his eyes were still on him and oh god, those eyes—Sasuke breathed out as Naruto pushed in—breathed out again as his mouth moved up, and god Naruto could go so deep, so—so good—fuck, fuck, Sasuke couldn't—

"Naruto, I—st—"

Naruto pulled up.

"Stop?"

"No," god, no, no, no, "no—just—I'm—"

Realization spread across Naruto's face in the form of a brilliant, smug grin.

"Gonna cum?"

Sasuke let out a breath in response—but all Naruto did was press in another finger.

"Na—ah—"

"You're tight," Naruto muttered, kissing his way back up Sasuke's torso, "and I wanna take my time with you."

Sasuke made a soft, strained noise as Naruto finally made it up to kiss him.

"Mor—on," Sasuke tried to snap back, but it came out as a groan—

"Yeah? That good, Sasuke?" Naruto pushed his fingers against the same spot and—oh— "Right there?"

"Ah—Na—fuck," Sasuke threw his head back and all it did was give Naruto more room to work with—he was—Naruto wasn't even touching his dick anymore and Sasuke was—

"You like that?"

"I—" God, yes, yes, yes—

"Wanna cum for me like this—"

Sasuke's eyes snapped all the way open.

"—or cum with me inside you?"

"I—" he gasped in a breath, and another, and another, and he still didn't have the breath for his voice so he reached over blankets to grab the still-wrapped condom, and pressed it against Naruto's chest—

Naruto smiled.

Sasuke felt his heart tumble onto the floor.

"Whatever you say," Naruto said, pressing one last kiss to Sasuke's shoulder before he pulled his fingers back—and before Sasuke could say a word, he reached up to the box of tissues, to pull them onto the bed, too, and wipe the small spot on Sasuke's thigh where the lube had dripped—

He was way too fucking slow.

Sasuke sat up, ripping the condom wrapper with his teeth and spitting it out before he kissed a wide-eyed Naruto, before he gripped his still-hard cock, letting it roll smoothly over that skin—

"You're so fucking hot," Naruto ground out against his lips, "Jesus, Sas—"

Naruto breathed out into the kiss, taking the bottle of lube from Sasuke's hand without ever opening his eyes—Sasuke heard the cap flip but didn't open his either, he didn't need to, he could feel Naruto so clearly, so perfectly, just like this—

"Put a pillow," Naruto muttered, hands all over him, "under your hips."

Sasuke pulled the one beside him and shoved it into Naruto's hands. He could offer to clean it later, he didn't care, but it was good enough—

Sasuke lifted his hips before Naruto even had to ask. Naruto slipped the pillow underneath him and his hands lingered on Sasuke's skin, lingered along his thighs as he brought his cock to Sasuke's entrance—

"Good?"

Sasuke tilted his head to eye him better.

"Moron," he told him.

Naruto smiled and leaned down—Sasuke pushed himself up to meet him for the kiss—

"Asshole," Naruto whispered against his lips—

He pushed in.

Sasuke's let out a shuddering breath and dug his nails into Naruto's shoulders—Naruto was slow, watching him with soft intensity, holding him with gentle intention—Sasuke breathed out again and tightened his arms around Naruto—

Naruto took the hint.

Sasuke sighed into the kiss, relaxing into Naruto's arms—

"Sasuke," Naruto whispered against him, "I—"

"Mm," Sasuke interrupted, stealing his lips back with his own again. It was too addicting, to kiss Naruto like this—too perfect, to feel him like this—Sasuke was so, so, so lost— "You can move."

Naruto sucked in a small breath—

"Keep your hands around me," he whispered, gripping Sasuke's hips.

"Mm," Sasuke agreed, biting his lip as—

"Move with me? Th—oh," Naruto ducked his head down as Sasuke raised his hips, "oh, yeah, like that, god, Sasuke—you're so—"

Naruto's voice cut off in a moan, a bite into Sasuke's shoulder—Sasuke gasped in a breath, and then another, and then they were moving in time together—rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and—

"Kiss me." Fuck breathing and fuck air, the only thing he wanted in his mouth was—

"Mm," Naruto responded, lips already on his, "s'my favourite thing..."

And Sasuke's grip tightened at that, pulling Naruto a thousand times closer because even with this, even now, he wasn't close enough—not after that, not after this, Sasuke was never going to recover from this—

Naruto must have noticed—he noticed something—because his grip tightened too, his hands on Sasuke's waist that pulled Sasuke in to meet every thrust, and Sasuke couldn't stifle the sounds at the feeling—it was so much, so hard, so good, Naruto—

"Yeah," Naruto breathed out, as if he heard (and maybe he had, Sasuke couldn't control his voice anymore)—and Sasuke could feel his gasps for air against his lips, could hear the soft moans in his voice, could feel Naruto's hand on Sasuke's cock, could feel the bursting heat inside him and he—

"Sasuke," Naruto's voice was panting at his ear, "you're so—"

Sasuke's breath came in moans, now—he could feel the tension building under his skin like a dam ready to break—

"You're so—" Naruto repeated—

This pleasure was so—it was so—god, he was so

"Sasuke—I'm—"

Sasuke cried out as he came.

"I—oh god, Sasuke—!"

And Naruto was cumming too—Naruto was cumming with him—Sasuke clutched onto him for dear life as they rode out the waves of pleasure together—

"Hah, ah—ah…"

Sasuke collapsed back into the pillows.

Naruto fell with him.


Naruto was in love.

Naruto was naked, dizzy and absolutely in love.

"Wow," he breathed out, face still pressed into Sasuke's shoulder.

Sasuke let out a soft, exhausted noise of agreement.

Naruto pressed a kiss to Sasuke's chest. He could feel the sticky mess rapidly drying between them, but he...he never wanted to move…

"Don't fall asleep in me," came Sasuke's mumble in his ear. "I don't have the energy to move you."

Naruto laughed and slowly, slowly pushed himself up. If he hadn't felt drunk before, he definitely did now. He wasn't sure it had anything to do with the alcohol.

"I'll clean you up," he said softly.

"Worry about yourself," Sasuke mumbled in response, vaguely waving a hand in his direction, "stupid."

Naruto laughed harder.

"Are you asleep already?! Oh my god, Sasuke—"

"M'not asleep…"

"Uh-huh, yeah, sure," Naruto stumbled around the room until he found his garbage can, carefully pulling the condom off before he turned back to—

An unmoving, deep-breathing Sasuke.

"Sasuke!" Naruto laughed, grabbing the tissue box as he jumped back on the bed, "Sasuke—hang on, hang on, hang on, let me clean you up and get some blankets, at least, you're on top of—come on, Sasuke, stay with me—"

"Ugh," Sasuke grumbled, "stupid..."

Naruto laughed and tossed the last tissue at the garbage before pulling the blankets out from under Sasuke, which the guy was even more grumpy about—

"Oi, asshole," Naruto said, kneeling beside Sasuke to pull the blankets back, "I've got my last incentive left, y'know. I wanna ask another question."

"Mm," Sasuke answered vaguely.

Naruto sucked in a breath and brushed some hair from Sasuke's half-closed eyes.

"When you said I'd regret it," Naruto started softly, hesitantly, "when you said—I said that I was, and you said that I wasn't—why?"

Sasuke's dazed, unfocused eyes lazily made their way across Naruto's face.

"Why won't you let me date you?"

Sasuke's eyes closed.

"You need a distraction right now," Sasuke answered, voice quiet and mumbled. "Never needed one before. Won't need one soon. M'just...convenient..."

And as his breathing deepened again, Naruto stayed wide, wide awake.

Chapter Text

It made so much more sense, now.

Naruto shoved his keys into his pocket and quietly, quietly slid out the front door.

It all made so much more sense. Sasuke had been a fountain of excuses—flowing with doubt and hesitation—for this whole thing. They worked together, he was his boss, Naruto's head wasn't in the right place, Naruto was going to regret it, and yet—

At every opportunity, Sasuke had been willing. Willing to humiliate himself, willing to take care of Naruto, willing to kiss him, willing to touch him—

For someone with so many reservations, he'd done a real shitty job of showing them. And it made so much sense now—Sasuke's hesitations weren't about him at all. They were about Naruto. Even the regret—

(Before we do something we both regret.)

—he'd said "we", but what he'd really meant was "you". Because he thought this was temporary. He'd thought Naruto's feelings were just...

(Never needed one before.)

Just a distraction.

(Won't need one soon.)

That's all Sasuke thought he was.

(M'just...convenient.)

So.

Naruto tapped his fingers along the roof of his car and glanced down the street.

What was the best way to prove an asshole wrong?


Sasuke awoke to the sun high in the sky, a bit of a headache, and a post-it note stuck to his phone—next to a glass of water and some painkillers.

'Don't leave before I'm back! (I know where you live, asshole)'

And as the signature, nothing more than a stupid messy little heart.

Sasuke collapsed back against the bed with his arm over his eyes.

It was the stupidest little note—but Sasuke still had that stupid little note from breakfast tucked in his notebook, and if he had that notebook here, he knew he'd slip this one in right beside it—

"God," he breathed out, frustrated.

Barely awake, and his heart was beating out of his chest.

What a helpless, hopeless feeling. What a stupid, desperate yearning. He'd collapsed under the weight of this brainless affection years ago, but he hadn't realized how far buried he was until...

Until Naruto had been himself again. Until Sasuke had realized just how much relief he felt when that smile came back, genuine and happy and barely faltering at all (and on him, because of him, there was no, no, no better feeling)—until Naruto had let him see a part of himself that no one else could see, and until Sasuke had done the same, over and over and over again—

Naruto had taken the knot that was Sasuke's heart and gently untied it piece by piece.

And here he was: a loose, pathetic pile of thread.

Sasuke let out a long, long breath.

And maybe—maybe—there was a small part of Naruto which reciprocated, but it was small, and it was temporary. Naruto was brilliant and beautiful and Sasuke was just…

Hoping again. Damn it all, he was hoping again—one look, one smile, one afternoon planting flowers and one messy little heart on a fucking post-it note and Sasuke's head was in a fog—steeped in blurry, scattered thoughts, telling him that Naruto wouldn't bring just anyone to his parents' grave, that he wouldn't tell just anyone he was falling in love with them, that he wouldn't take just anyone by the lips and into his bed and all of that meant that Sasuke wasn't just anyone and two nights ago that had seemed impossible but Sasuke was finding it harder and harder to remind himself why—

Click.

Sasuke's eyes sprang open.


Naruto shut the door behind him.

He'd taken a little longer than intended (he was a man on a mission, but even the most important mission had had to be paused when Ino had answered Sakura's door), but hopefully Sasuke would still be asleep. He was a bit too nervous to get his head in order yet, and he really wanted to be able to—

"Oh," Naruto said, blinking at the half-naked Sasuke who had—from the looks of things—woken up and hastily pulled on last night's pants in the same minute, "hi."

Sasuke stared at Naruto's hand.

"It's another day," Naruto said quickly, holding a hand in between them as Sasuke's eyes went wide. "You—you promised you'd listen. Remember? You promised."

Sasuke's mouth closed.

Naruto, with his heart drilling a hole through his chest, slowly moved to hold the bouquet of white lilies out to him.

"Naruto," Sasuke said, taking a step back, staring at it with some mix of conflict and fear in his eyes—

"You don't have to take it," Naruto told him. "I don't—if you want to reject me, fine. If you don't feel the same, fine. But you've gotta hear me out this time. Just at least hear me out. Just—please?"

Naruto met Sasuke's still-wide eyes.

"I know what I want, Sasuke. I took the time to think about it. I've been thinking about it every day since we—listen. You think I'm going to—you told me—last night, you told me—that this was—was just convenient. But I—"

"I serve a very specific purpose, Naruto."

"Yeah," Naruto said, taking a step forwards, "distraction. Right? That's the real reason. That's what you said."

He waited for Sasuke's short, stiff nod before he continued.

"Did you ever stop and think why you were such a good distraction? For me?" Naruto asked, searching Sasuke's eyes— "Because I focus on you. I pay attention to you. I'm distracted as fuck the second you walk in—that's not new, Sasuke. It's always been like that. And that was before you even let me get to know you, and now? Now—look at me, Sasuke—"

Naruto waved his arms out to his sides in a halfway shrug—

"Look at your incentives—what's the one thing that's been able to make me happy this whole fucking time? Knowing you. It's my favourite fucking thing. I love knowing you—every time I've learn something, I want to know more and more and—haven't you noticed that?"

The conflict in Sasuke's eyes didn't waver.

"That doesn't mean this isn't a bad decision, Naruto. You're—you're confusing interest with gratitude—"

"Gratitude?" Naruto let out a laugh. "Gratitude doesn't make me wanna suck dick, Sasuke."

Sasuke flushed, but held strong.

"Gratitude with physical attraction, then. It doesn't mean—"

"Oh, what," Naruto said, shaking his head, "so you mean like I like you physically and I like you emotionally? Huh, I wonder what that sounds like—"

"Naruto."

There was no trace of humour on Sasuke's face.

"Sasuke," Naruto responded in kind. "You want to know what you do?"

He took another step forward. (Sasuke didn't move away.)

"You make me happy. You make me feel like everything will be okay. Everything. No matter what the fuck is going on—you make me feel like I can do this. You know when I said some people just feel like home? You do. You feel like home, Sasuke. You know how rare it is to find someone who makes me feel the way you do?"

Sasuke didn't reply, but his eyes flickered between Naruto's—

"And I think—I think you're scared of caring about someone—and losing that person again." Naruto nodded. "I am too. But it's already too late, isn't it?"

Naruto ran a hand through his hair.

"I'm already—you didn't believe me, but I'm really—I'm really falling for you. I can't stop it. It's too late, Sasuke—I lost someone that I loved, and I'm falling in love with someone I don't want to lose. Is it so crazy that I don't want to lose you already? Is it so crazy that I want to at least have you in my life first?"

Sasuke sucked in a breath, and Naruto could hear how it shuddered—

"Aren't you the one who said we'll hurt no matter what? So we might as well get whatever good things we can find?" Naruto continued—more insistent, now, because Sasuke's eyes were clearing—opening, again, the way Naruto loved to see them— "I think you're that something—that something good, Sasuke."

Sasuke let the breath go.

Naruto held the flowers out to him again.

"So…?"

He saw it—in the way Sasuke's shoulders fell, the slight twitch of his lips and the lean of his head—as Sasuke sagged in resignation.

"Flowers?"

Naruto ducked his head, shooting Sasuke a sheepish, nervous smile.

"Jiraiya said, uh, flowers solved everything. And I know they don't actually but I—" Naruto pointed the bouquet right at Sasuke, "I know he would have told me to go for this. For you."

Sasuke gently shook his head, a soft, disbelieving smile playing at his lips.

"I thought he gave you terrible advice?"

Naruto laughed and ducked down a little again, shuffling his feet.

"Not all of it was that bad…"

Sasuke moved closer.

"For the record," Sasuke said, "this is exactly what I meant."

Naruto blinked, and Sasuke—

"Relentless."

—kissed him. And then he kissed him again, and again, and again and again and again and with every kiss, his smile grew until Naruto was laughing against his lips—

"Wait," he laughed, digging in his pocket, "wait, wait, wait, I've got—"

Sasuke pulled the lilies to himself the same time Naruto flicked the small piece of plastic between his fingers—

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow.

"A USB key?" he asked.

"Yeah," Naruto breathed, beaming, "one to fifty-four."