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Baby Animals, Weddings, And Other Things Not Normally Associated With Uchiha Sasuke

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Some citizens of the Leaf village, particularly those that knew Sasuke and Naruto as children, will swear that fate was sealed with the first kiss back at the Academy. They will swear that an epic romance was formed right there in the classroom, without warning or logic.

If asked, Sakura will scoff and proceed to point out why that makes no sense. She is unsure if the boys fell in love on their first C-rank mission, or at the chuunin exams when Sasuke turned to Naruto and said "I want to fight you, too," or if maybe it was even later, at The Valley of the End. Only Sasuke and Naruto know what happened there, and Sakura is sure that whatever happened there is significant in some way that she cannot describe and only barely begins to understand.

Sai, the fourth member of Team Seven, who is generally accepted as being less socially capable than Naruto and Sasuke put together (a feat Sakura had not thought possible until she met him), believes that Sasuke and Naruto's relationship began rather after Naruto thinks, before Sasuke thinks, and sometime long before Sai ever met either of them.

Several of Sasuke's neighbors, people that only met him after he returned to Hidden Leaf, say that his relationship with Naruto began with a cat.

---

There is a knock at the door of Uchiha Sasuke's apartment. He briefly considers ignoring it. Naruto does not believe in knocking, and no one else ever bothers Sasuke except the old man several doors down.

"Uchiha-san!"

Sasuke gets up. Old man Haruka never quits. He opens his door, greeted by a black tom cat being thrust at arm's length in front of him. "Uchiha-san, I found your cat in my yard again, today," Haruka says.

The cat glares at Sasuke through unnervingly green eyes.

Haruka makes no move to leave, or to do Sasuke a favor and dispose of it, and Sasuke has long since recognized the futility of denying any and all association with it.

Sasuke takes the cat without a word, shutting the door before it can get out or Haruka can begin his practiced rant about what a hassle it is to step in cat shit on the way to his boring, useless, civilian job in the mornings.

Sasuke begins making plans to murder Naruto in his sleep as the cat jumps out of his arms and walks to the empty bowl on the floor. It silently challenges Sasuke to a staring contest. Sasuke figures that using Sharingan in his own home is unnecessary and probably cheating. He does it anyway. The cat remains utterly unfazed, as always.

Sasuke moves to his cabinet, at last, taking out the small bag of cat food that Naruto bought. The supply within is dwindling, and the more he feeds the cat, the less is left in his cabinet. If he is lucky (and Sasuke never is), Naruto will forget to buy more cat food and the cat will leave.

The cat licks its lips, already appearing smug about yet another triumph over humans.

---

"He was trained by Orochimaru," one lord says. Whispers among the feudal lords and clan heads arise.

"One of the Sannin--"

"--defected from Leaf, too,--"

"--Some of the experiments he performed--"

"--didn't trust him with children--"

"--shouldn't trust Uchiha with children--"

Naruto stands up, knocking over his chair in his haste. He leans across the table to make sure he has the head of the Tora clan's attention. "What did you say?"

"I think it's a great idea. It'll be a learning experience," Kakashi says into the sudden, awkward silence. Several feudal lords smooth their robes in an image reminiscent of birds flattening ruffled feathers.

Naruto rights his chair. He is only allowed in the room on principle of being the technical head of the Uzumaki clan and most probable successor to the Hokage title. He glances at Kakashi before taking his seat once more. He is aware that he should be used to the slurs and general distrust aimed at Sasuke, even two years after his return. Still, Naruto thinks he shouldn't have to get used to it at all.

Losing his temper is not going to win him the Hokage title any time soon, either.

---
Naruto barges into Sasuke's house without warning. He kicks his shoes off at the door, calling "I'm home!" like he actually lives there.

Sasuke is drying his hands on a dish towel when he enters the living room. His jounin vest is thrown over the back of the couch, leaving him in a black uniform top, pushed up to the elbows.

From the floor, Bijuu meows, trotting to Naruto's side. Naruto picks him up before he can get close enough to rub against Naruto's legs.

"Your cat got in trouble again, today," Sasuke says, turning to toss the dish towel into the sink behind him. It lands perfectly, folded neatly in half on top of the faucet. Naruto never quite got the hang of that. He can hit moving targets with almost any bladed projectile, but a dishcloth over the faucet? He always winds up smacking the side of the faucet and having to watch the cloth slide into the sink.

Naruto scratches under Bijuu's chin. "He did not," Naruto insists. The cat purrs, staring at Sasuke again. The cat is mocking Sasuke. He knows a challenge when he sees one. "Oh, today Kakashi and I got you a genin team." The cat licks Naruto's hand as he lifts it to scratch behind Bijuu's ears.

"Why?" Sasuke blurts. It's the first coherent thought that comes to mind.

"You haven't been very active in the village, and since Neji is busy with his baby, we kind of needed another jounin to teach the genin, and then Juugo said that you're great with kids, animals, and women, even if you kind of hate all of them, and then Kakashi said that training us was pretty much the worst hell he ever experienced, but I'm pretty sure that was an exaggeration, and after that most of the council pounced on the chance to cause you more misery." Bijuu climbs onto Naruto's shoulders, flipping his tail near Naruto's face, once Naruto is too distracted by speaking to pet him at the same time.

"Tch," Sasuke replies, retreating into the kitchen to finish doing the dishes. Fucking genin, he thinks. Like Naruto and Sakura hadn't been enough. He smiles, despite himself.

---
Team Seven minus Kakashi and Yamato meet at Ichiraku's on the day of genin assignments.

"I do not envy you this," Sai says, lifting another bite of ramen to his mouth.

Sakura's eyes widen. "Why not? This is their chance to pass on all of the things they've learned! Oh, I bet you're going to have famous teams. The kids are probably already excited."

Naruto laughs. "It's not that big of a deal, Sakura-chan. Maybe you can have a team next year."

"Naruto, I'm the top doctor," she replies, shaking her head. "I have to help Shizune-san keep the hospital running. I can't just leave to train genin, I don't have the time." Sakura pushes her empty bowl to the side.

"Lucky you," Sasuke deadpans.

Naruto finishes his third bowl with a loud slurp. "I've got to go," he says, standing up. "My genin team is so going to kick your genin team's ass," he adds, jabbing one finger in Sasuke's general direction, before taking off, leaving his teammates with the bill.

"Aren't you going to be late?" asks Sai.

Sasuke makes a grunt of general agreement. He hands a wad of money to Teuchi behind the counter and accepts his change. He makes no move to leave, however, instead lifting his glass of water to his lips.

"Ah," Sai says.

---
The trio of genin is still waiting in Iruka's classroom when Sasuke arrives, all three of them looking bored out of their skulls.

Sasuke is careful to avoid the eraser lodged above the door. He raises an eyebrow.

"Aww!" The boy on the desk whines. He has messy dark hair and loose clothing with tattered sandals. Probably an orphan. It's not much of a surprise.

"You're late!" the girl cries. She has pale hair, almost green. After being on Sakura’s team, it doesn’t feel so strange to see that.

To the right, a third boy leans against Iruka's desk, arms folded in front of him. His bright orange-red hair is combed flat.

Déjà vu.

Sasuke steps into the room. "So you're Team Four?" he says. The girl crosses her arms, nodding. "Tch." He walks away, not missing the indignant noise from one of them. After a few seconds, he feels their chakra signatures, faint as they are, line up behind him.

---
"Introduce yourselves," Sasuke instructs. He can feel the faint tang of Naruto's chakra in the air. He must have brought his genin here, too, and shown off the rasengan or shadow clone jutsu. "Likes, dislikes, ambitions." Sasuke does not have to make an effort to look uninterested in what his genin have to say.

The goofy kid who probably set up the eraser trap goes first, "My name is Shigeru Hayate. I like ramen, pretty girls, and training. I don't like mean girls like Keiko, or being all tired and sweaty after training. I'm going to be in the ANBU, one of the best."

The girl rolls her eyes. "I'm Kiryuu Keiko. I like music and cooking. I don't like Hayate because he's a jerk. And my ambition... I want to prove that kunoichi can fight, too, and that we're not just good for being medic-nin and doing seduction missions. That's what the transformation jutsu is for."

Sasuke turns to the last genin expectantly. "Sakuraba Jin," the boy says. "Sketching. I hate swimming. I'm going to be in the ANBU."

Sasuke nods.

"You're Uchiha Sasuke," Hayate says. "Former missing-nin."

"And you're practically a hermit," Keiko adds. "You don't like anyone."

"Be here tomorrow at dawn. Don't bother eating breakfast, you'll just lose it, anyway," Sasuke replies, relishing the idea of flunking this group.

---
Naruto stops by Sasuke's place again that night. He arrives later than usual, and it's a Thursday, one of the few days Sasuke can usually count on for peace.

"Can I use your shower?" Naruto asks, letting the cat out. It will be Sasuke's problem in the morning. "The water at my apartment is out. Some guy on the floor below let his kid train inside again, and Sakura says I'm not allowed to use that line on her anymore. Sai is... I don't want to be naked in Sai's apartment if I can help it," The last part is said in a rushed mumble, which Sasuke only interprets with the help of years of practice at gathering intelligence.

He takes in the clothes slung over Naruto's shoulder, and shrugs. Naruto knows where the bathroom is.

"Thanks," Naruto replies. He tosses his clothes over the back of a chair so that he can properly dig through Sasuke's basket of carefully-folded laundry.

He comes away with a towel in an almost peach color; the victim of trying to wash a towel with a freshly-dyed Uchiha crest. It is the only towel that is not white in the pile. All of the towels on top of it are rumpled, but not unfolded. Just enough to look messy, but not enough to be worth the effort to fix.

---
Karin calls while Naruto is in the shower, as part of her weekly bug-the-ever-loving-fuck-out-of-Sasuke routine. She has just returned from some mission involving something Sasuke doesn't care enough to remember. He notes that Karin doesn't have a goddamned genin team.

"Is that your shower running?" she asks.

"Yes," Sasuke shifts the phone.

"But you're on the phone," she argues. Sasuke never picks up the phone while he is in the shower, no matter how many times it rings.

"Yes," Sasuke agrees. "I am."

"So, there's someone else in your shower," Karin replies, her pitch rising.

"It's Naruto," Sasuke says. "His shower is out."

"Whaaaat~?" Sasuke feels that he will never understand why Karin feels more threatened by Naruto than by Sakura. He holds the phone a little farther away from his ear. "That's the oldest line in the book! You let him into your house? You know, he'll sleep on your couch, and then you'll share coffee in the morning, and the next thing you know, you're having sex all over the kitchen."

Sasuke hears Suigetsu say something in the background, then Karin shouting (thankfully not into the phone), "You shut up!" Right. "I've got to go," she says. "Oldest line in the book," Karin repeats one last time, before hanging up.

Sasuke sets the phone down and begins making his way back to the couch when Naruto re-enters his living room in nothing but a towel. "Forgot my clothes out here," he explains with a short laugh, moving to the chair by the laundry basket, where his clothes are carelessly lying.

Sasuke freezes as Naruto turns his back on him. This is why Karin feels more threatened by Naruto than by Sakura. Naruto has no qualms about moving around in Sasuke's apartment in nothing but a towel, still dripping water over Sasuke's carpet and smelling like Sasuke's shampoo.

Naruto faces Sasuke again, his clothes slung over one arm. The jagged pink scar across his chest is bigger than Sasuke's hand. Sasuke is not sure how much of the size is due to the original wound, and how much of the size is due to the natural expanse of Naruto's skin making it appear to be larger.

Sasuke suffers a brief moment of paranoia as he wonders if there are still traces of his best friend's blood under his fingernails, but it passes. Of course Naruto's blood is not under his fingernails. Much of the blood under Sasuke's fingernails had been his own from trying too hard to scrape Naruto's blood away.

Naruto stops. "What?" he says, lifting an eyebrow.

"Your scar," Sasuke replies, fishing through his mind for something to continue the statement, to make it a sentence. "Is it the only one you have?"

Naruto looks down, suddenly seeming to be self-conscious. He raises a hand to the thin, symmetrical lines on his cheeks. "Yeah," he admits after a moment. "I guess it is."

"Why?" Sasuke asks. Obviously the Kyuubi has the power to heal it; the scar is surface-only. Naruto has never shown signs of suffering any after-effects. There should be no reminder of his past mistakes.

Naruto shrugs. "Kyuubi hates you."

Sasuke cocks an eyebrow.

"Well," Naruto continues, "You're an Uchiha," he twirls his fingers in front of his eyes, managing to keep the clothes on his arm and the towel on his waist, "and Kyuubi's got this whole I-will-be-the-one-to-kill-you thing going on," he lifts his hands beside his face, showing teeth in a child-like imitation of some kind of monster, "and it doesn't like me being in danger because I am a 'weak, mortal shell,'" Naruto uses air quotes. "Plus, you're an asshole."

Sasuke supposes that makes sense. His eyes linger on the scar for a few seconds before he meets Naruto's eyes, warm, blue, and defiant, as always. "Put some clothes on, moron," he says.

Naruto scowls, storming off while muttering, "See if I stop again, asshole."

A few minutes later, Naruto returns, fully clothed, and takes a seat on the opposite end of Sasuke's couch, sprawling out in what appears to be the most relaxed position one can assume without being either asleep or dead. He begins snoring before Sasuke can turn the page in his riveting book about chakra seals.

At first, the books had been a precautionary measure, just in case Kakashi was somehow pressured or overruled in his decision to leave Sasuke's eyes unsealed. Sasuke continues to read them because he thinks he is close to discovering a way to use them in battle.

Naruto snorts in his sleep beside him.

Sasuke sets his book down, getting up to fetch a spare blanket from his linen closet. He sets it on the back of the couch under the assumption that Naruto's sleeping habits have not changed since they were twelve, and that he will still grab the nearest blanket-like object if he gets cold. As a bonus, Sasuke doesn't have to feel like a concerned girlfriend.

He grabs his book and goes to bed.

---
There is a sleepy groan and the shuffle of bare feet across carpet.

Sasuke smirks, taking another sip of coffee. He can hear the bathroom door close, the toilet flush, and the sink run. He waits for the door to open. Nothing. The sink runs again, on and off, interrupted by splashing noises. Then, more nothing.

Sasuke waits, pouring a second cup of coffee and setting it on the counter. It is not as full as his own mug because he knows that Naruto will only fill it with milk and sugar to dull the taste, and Sasuke does not want coffee splashed all over his kitchen counter and floor.

Naruto enters the kitchen a minute later, looking not entirely unlike the walking dead. He shuffles toward the unguarded mug of coffee on the counter.

Naruto lifts it, inhales, then looks up and whispers, "Thank you."

Sasuke snorts. He recalls his conversation with Karin the night before and decides that he has no great desire to have sex with Naruto all over his kitchen this morning. They have genin to test. Caffeine no longer counts as a drug in this situation; it is a vitamin, and they are both suffering a severe deficiency.

As usual, Naruto is the first to attempt conversation. "Are you doing the bell test, too?"

Sasuke half-nods, balancing the mug against his lips to blow on the coffee so he can take the first, delicious sip.

"It's a good test," Naruto continues as he spoons another heap of sugar into his coffee. He opens Sasuke's refrigerator and grabs the carton of milk. "Do you have any chocolate syrup?"

Sasuke does not bother with a verbal reply because Naruto is already shifting the few items in Sasuke's fridge in search of chocolate syrup. He makes a noise of disappointment, returning to his coffee with the carton of milk in hand. "So, do you think yours will make it?"

Sasuke shrugs. He hopes not.

Naruto finishes his coffee and leaves the house in time to be only a few minutes late to meeting his genin team.

Sasuke refills his cup.

He considers stopping by the memorial stone to bitch at Itachi's name carved there long after his death, because Itachi never had to deal with genin. Sasuke finally sets down his mug several minutes later and goes to find the rest of his jounin uniform. Naruto is probably with his genin team at the training ground by the memorial.

Instead, he decides to stop by the ruins of the Uchiha complex. He knows of a few ghosts there he can visit.

---
Sasuke finds Keiko, Jin, and Hayate playing cards where he told them to meet him. One hand motion has them following after him again, single file, albeit between shouts of "You're late! Again!" from Keiko, and "You suck, sensei," from Hayate. Sasuke doesn't remember Naruto and Sakura being this bad.

At the usual training ground by the memorial stone, he finds Naruto dancing around his team with childish taunts. "Oh, hey, Sasuke-bastard!" he calls. One of his genin takes this as an opportunity. Another one trips her. Sasuke snorts. Failures.

"Loser," Sasuke acknowledges. He turns to his own genin team. They're still lined up behind him. He holds up two bells and begins explaining the object of the test.

"Hey, wait!" Keiko protests. "They got a head start!"

Sasuke shrugs. "And if you get the bells, you're better."

Hayate nods, his expression far more serious than anything Sasuke has thus far seen.

"So, with two bells and three genin, one of us is going back to the Academy," Jin says.

"Yep," Naruto agrees from several feet away, deflecting six kunai thrown by the girl on his team.

"Begin," Sasuke says. He disappears into the trees. Keiko hides, as well, but Jin and Hayate hold their places, conversing in plain sight.

Their movements are repetitive--the two of them are saying the same things over and over. Mediocre bunshin. The boys are better at hiding than Keiko, but Sasuke still hears them coming as they surround him.

---
Unexpectedly, Jin is the one Sasuke ties to the log, as the only one without a bell. On another one of the training logs, Naruto's student with the blue hair is also tied up.

"But--we worked together!" Hayate protests. "The bell belongs to both of us! We can split lunch."

Naruto laughs. "Come on, Sasuke, cut him some slack."

"Discipline your own genin," Sasuke insists.

Naruto sobers up, turning back to his own team. "And I had such high hopes for you three." His genin trio looks tired, annoyed, and the boy on the left, who is not tied to the log, looks appropriately disappointed in himself. "Himawari-chan was the best solo, but she still failed to get a bell, and Makoto, you weren't much better off trailing after her." He turns to the kid on the log, folding his arms. "And Aoiro, you're supposed to be teammates. Incapacitating Makoto and Himawari-chan does not mean that you win by default."

"Tch," Sasuke says, just to piss Naruto off.

Naruto freezes. "But," he continues loudly, "in the interests of proving my team better than my rival's, I'll give you all another chance after lunch." He hands two packaged lunches to his untied genin, passing three to Sasuke and keeping one for himself. "Don't give any to Aoiro," he instructs.

Sasuke faces his team, as well. He hands a lunch to Keiko and one to Hayate. "None for Jin," he says. There's still a chance his team could fail. He uses the body-flicker technique to disappear into the forest before Naruto.

As soon as Naruto appears at his side, Sasuke punches him. "You used my toothbrush," Sasuke explains with great disgust.

"I don't have one at your house!" Naruto replies, clutching his arm.

"Brush your teeth at your house," Sasuke says. He takes a place in the trees, watching over his genin.

Naruto follows suit. He is the first to comment after they have been watching for a few moments, "Is it cheating if my team only passes because your team gave them the answer?"

"Yes," Sasuke replies without hesitation.

Naruto uses the body-flicker technique to appear at his team's side.

Sasuke does the same, motioning for his team to keep quiet or, presumably, face certain death at the hands of Leaf's number one ninja most likely to murder his own genin.

"But--Keiko said--" Himawari begins.

"I don't care what Keiko said," Naruto snaps. He suddenly reminds Sasuke of Iruka disciplining students back at the Academy. "Why did the two of you disobey a direct order?"

Makoto stands up, spilling rice all over the ground in his haste. "You said Himawari-chan failed, even though she was the best, and we're going to suck as a team if Aoiro is still hungry on top of being an asshole."

"Language, Makoto," Naruto says. Definitely channeling Iruka, Sasuke decides.

Naruto glares at his team for several more seconds before he finally leans forward and ruffles Makoto's hair. "You pass."

Sasuke turns to his team. "They only succeeded because you gave them the answer. As shinobi, that could be a fatal mistake. As genin, you're still better than they are." Keiko and Hayate high-five.

Naruto glares at Sasuke. "Yeah? Well, we're going to train until my team can kick your team's ass."

---
Naruto requests use of Sasuke's shower again that night. The exchange goes something like this:

"Aw, c'mon, I was training genin all day!"

"You broke out in a sweat over genin? Loser."

"I had to stay close so they had a chance. Besides, there were three of them!"

"Fine, I'm not feeding you." Then, "I hope you brought your own toothbrush."

After Naruto gets into the shower, Karin does not call. Instead, the universe shows its continuing hatred for Sasuke by knocking at his door. The cat is inside, which means that it is not Haruka. Naruto is also inside, meaning that the visitor is probably someone who may have something of Sasuke's interest. Like a mission.

Sasuke sets his book on the table and gets up to open the door.

Naruto's genin stand on the other side.

"That doesn't look like anyone related to you," the least moronic genin says. Sasuke takes a moment to remember his name. Makoto.

"Could you direct us to Ichihara Shiro's apartment?" the girl asks, twirling a lock of hair from one of her long, curly pigtails.

"Two doors down," Sasuke says, pointing to the left. He moves to shut the door as the water cuts off behind him.

"Weren't you trained by one of the legendary Sannin?" the blue-haired one asks. Aoiro. Right.

"So was Naruto," Sasuke says. He attempts to push the door a little closer to being shut. Kids with questions. He can already feel his headache building.

Behind him, he hears Naruto enter the living room as one of the genin says, "Wow, so Naruto-sensei is really strong, after all!"

"Who's that?" Naruto asks, appearing at Sasuke's shoulder to see the genin. He is toweling his hair dry, and dripping on Sasuke's shoulder with no shirt, smelling too much like Sasuke's soap and shampoo again.

"Are you two--" Makoto begins, making a vague hand gesture. Sasuke finds his rather low opinion of Makoto plummeting.

Himawari, Sasuke remembers, that was the girl's name, slaps one hand over Makoto's mouth. "Anyway, we came here with Aoiro-kun because the water is out at his place, and we were wondering--"

"No," Sasuke replies.

"Why not?" Naruto asks, too loud and too close to Sasuke's ear.

"Because they already said they have somewhere else to be," Sasuke says.

Makoto steps forward. "To be honest, Sasuke-sensei, Ichihara-san is but a distant relative of Aoiro-kun, and we are working on a tiny thread of hope that he won't come to training smelling sweaty and like B.O. tomorrow morning."

"Please, Sasuke-sensei," Himawari insists, pushing Aoiro to the front like a human sacrifice to an angry god.

Sasuke continues glaring at the trio in firm denial of the pleading face Naruto is making.

"Come on," Naruto wheedles. "He lives in the apartments by the Hokage's building." The apartments which are kept up for free, he doesn't add. For orphans. Sasuke knows damn well what he means. "Those showers suck, anyway." The water pressure was too light when it was consistent, which was never, and the hot water came and went. Most only stayed until they became chuunin or found a better place to stay, whichever came first.

Sasuke opens his door, letting in the single genin. His teammates do not try to follow him inside. They wave at him with the definite air of those relieved to not be chosen for a difficult task. Sasuke shuts the door before they can say anything else.

"Make it fast," he tells Aoiro. The kid hefts a small, lumpy bag on his shoulder, probably full of clothing.

Sasuke notices for the first time that the pair of pants Naruto is wearing belong to Sasuke. Sasuke sighs and goes back to his book.

---
"You're late!" Keiko shouts as soon as Sasuke arrives. "Is this going to become a habit, sensei?" Sasuke makes a mental note to arrive early next time just to keep them on alert. He can give them extra work for tardiness. It's a foolproof plan.

"Hey, Aoiro didn't come back to the apartments last night," Hayate says. "And Keiko said that Himawari-chan told her that she left him with you and Naruto-sensei."

Sasuke shrugs. Naruto offered Sasuke's couch to his genin and told Sasuke to move the fuck over in his own bed, and then had proceeded to kick and punch Sasuke in his sleep. Coffee had not been enough to curb his homicidal rage this morning.

"So, the water is out in all the apartments in the building and you couldn't offer your own genin a chance to shower? I reek, sensei," Hayate snaps. Behind him Jin snorts, and Keiko nods, waving a hand under her nose for emphasis. Hayate folds his arms, staring at Sasuke with a kind of defiant glare particular to rebellious twelve-year-olds.

"Today for training," Sasuke says, unfazed, "you will be improving your chakra control."

---
There is a knock at Sasuke's door again that night. The chakra does not feel like Sakura's or Kakashi's, so he masks his own chakra and continues reading. The knocking ceases after a few moments.

Thirty minutes later, Naruto enters without warning. Aoiro and Hayate trail behind him. "Did you know there were genin on your doorstep?" he asks, kicking off his shoes before moving to the couch and collapsing next to Sasuke.

The cat darts inside before Aoiro can shut the door. It gives Aoiro a baleful look, which Sasuke approves of, then hops onto Naruto's lap and starts purring, which Sasuke does not.

"Hey, sensei, where's your shower?" Hayate asks, looking around. Both he and Aoiro have overnight bags slung over their shoulders.

"First door on the right," Naruto replies, pointing to the hallway.

Hayate smirks. "Thank you, Naruto-sensei."

---
Karin calls again the following week. Sasuke has to step over piles of dirty laundry and a spilled case of kunai to get to the phone before it wakes the genin on his couch.

"You win," he hisses, taking the phone back to his own room. Naruto is sleeping at his own apartment again, the water having been fixed, at last.

"Oh, I do? Do I get to choose my prize?" Sasuke can practically hear her leer.

"The shower," he says. "You were right. How do I make them go away?"

"THEM?" Karin shrieks. "UZUMAKI AND WHO ELSE? HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE RUNNING AROUND NAKED IN YOUR APARTMENT, SASUKE?"

"Two genin, and they're fully clothed," Sasuke replies with great dignity. "There is a problem with the apartments near the Hokage office. A nearby residence keeps having domestic disputes, and somehow the pipes at the apartments keep getting involved."

There is a moment of silence from the other side. Karin's voice is muffled when she finally speaks again, "Suigetsu? That building--and--have you?--pipes--gonna fucking kill you."

"Sasuke?" Karin says into the phone in her I-adore-you-in-every-way voice.

"Is the problem resolved?" Sasuke asks.

"Yes."

---
The problem is not, in fact, resolved. At some point, Aoiro and Hayate begin conspiring together to stay, because Sasuke's apartment is apparently that much better than the apartments for orphaned shinobi.

Naruto pulls Sasuke to the side while their genin are duking it out. They don't always train together, but they are the only jounin sensei they have ever heard of to call on each other when they need to know how to improve their genin. Or, Naruto is, anyway. Sasuke is just in it for the chance to gloat.

Sasuke keeps one eye on the genin at all times, pleased to see Hayate knock Aoiro across the field, Keiko spring a trap on Himawari, and Jin...

He is torn between beating Naruto for teaching his students the sexy no jutsu, and murdering any genin on his team that would dare fall for that technique.

On the other hand, Jin seems more terrified of touching a naked woman than anything, so Sasuke settles for punching Naruto.

"Ow! What the hell was that--oh. Heh," Naruto turns to face the genin properly. "Good job, Makoto!" The tall, busty brunette with the ponytail waves at her sensei, nearly getting a kunai in the side of the head. Sasuke smirks, glad that his lesson on taking every available opportunity has not gone to waste.

"Anyway," Naruto says, not taking his eyes off the genin, "I think you should let Aoiro and Hayate stay." They have been talking to Naruto, Sasuke realizes. "Your apartment is kind of small, but you know what it's like to come home to an empty apartment every day." Sasuke does know what that feeling is like. He misses it. Naruto faces him.

Sasuke makes the mistake of meeting his eyes. "No," he says, more out of reflexive denial of anything Naruto asks.

"Why not? You should let them stay," Naruto pleads.

Sasuke glares harder in defiance. He can feel his resolve beginning to crumble. "No, take them home with you." A kunai flies their way. Sasuke catches it without breaking eye contact.

"My place is a mess. I'm always at your place, anyway." A shuriken flies at Sasuke's head. He blocks it with the kunai. "He's going to block it every time, Himawari. The next one will end with you training with Fuzzy Brows for a day."

The regular clangs and clashes of battle resume.

"You've already got the eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head thing down," Sasuke says.

"What?" the staring contest is halted in favor of Naruto's confused expression.

"Mothers always know who did something wrong without looking," Sasuke explains. He tells himself that there is no note of nostalgia or wistfulness in his voice.

"Oh," Naruto says. He turns back to the genin. Himawari has once more gotten the upper hand, and Makoto stumbles, not quite used to the balance of a female body. Naruto does not say that Sasuke was the one who had parents, however briefly, but Sasuke hears it anyway.

"I'm not feeding them," Sasuke replies. It is the same thing he said about the cat.

---
"Nooo," Sakura says in an exaggerated drawl, from the booth behind Sasuke. Sasuke figures if he can hear the alcohol in her voice, there is not enough in his bloodstream. "You'd think they'd be totally obnoxious, but Sasuke-kun and Naruto really lucked out--they have the cutest genin teams ever."

Sasuke orders another drink, to the surprise of the waitress. He has been henge'ing as a petite blonde with slender hips and tiny breasts for the better part of two hours for the express purpose of avoiding any and all social situations.

Ino snorts. It's an undignified, pig-like noise she wouldn't be caught dead making if she were sober. "All genin teams are cute, but they're still jus' kids with knives." Ino's team didn't make it past her obligatory genin test.

Sasuke downs another shot and asks for something larger, "More alcoholic," before the waitress can get away.

Sakura giggles. "Oh, I know. One of their kids came in today squalling 'cause one of the other ones put a kunai in his leg. I healed it, but he prolly shouldn't be getting stabbed in the leg too much." There's a lull in the conversation, followed by the dull thud of glass on wood. "Did you know they're living at Sasuke-kun's house? Two genin."

Another thud. "Reeeeally?" Sasuke forgot how high Ino's voice could get. "Our Sasuke-kun?"

"Yeeeeah." Sakura sighs. "An' those two genin, the stabbed and the stabber said they got advice and training from Sasuke-kun and Naruto, an' I asked, isn' it cheating to have two jounin sensei? An' the stabbed one was like 'You try living with Uchiha Sasuke.'"

Ino and Sakura break into uncontrollable giggles.

Sasuke is not offended. That does not mean that he does not have every intention of making Aoiro and Hayate clean the entire apartment, top-to-bottom on sheer principle, anyway.

---
Sasuke washes the few dishes in the sink before moving on to the laundry. He sits down to read for a bit while the washing machine runs, but gets up a few minutes later to pick up a box of shuriken.

He arranges the ramen by flavor and fills the cat's bowl, even though Naruto is not around, because sometimes Bijuu allows Hayate to get close enough to pet him.

Hayate flops onto the couch in exactly the way Sasuke has told him not to on several occasions. "You're not usually this twitchy," he says. Sasuke grunts his acknowledgment of this statement, or at least of the fact that Hayate has spoken, and pulls down the book of recipes he has been accumulating. He is still a bit annoyed that the Uchiha district was destroyed in Pain's attack, and his mother's cookbook not saved, but he can admit to himself sometimes that he can't really remember what her food tasted like anymore.

"It's just a C-rank, right?" Hayate asks.

"Hn," Sasuke agrees. "Escorting an architect to River Country."

There is a moment where the only sounds are those of Sasuke rummaging through the cabinets for ingredients.

"It's too quiet without Aoiro and Naruto-sensei," Hayate says. "Don't tell them I said that."

Sasuke smirks, the expression lost on Hayate, who can only see half of his face.

"What was your first C-rank like, Sasuke-sensei?"

Sasuke almost drops the pan he is holding.

---
When Sasuke accepts the first C-rank mission out of Leaf on behalf of his team, he leaves Aoiro with the apartment and directions to Sakura's house. He does not say "in case of emergencies," because he highly doubts that Aoiro could do anything that might go horribly wrong without Hayate's help.

He is not worried about Aoiro.

Sasuke does not leave Naruto with any instructions, least of all to feed the cat. He trusts Aoiro to leave the cat alone as well, in the hopes that it will get bored and run away. At worst, Hayate will be sad for a few days; he has been attempting to befriend Bijuu.

Naruto is not, in fact, even informed of Sasuke's departure with his team. Sasuke tells himself that this is because the mission is none of Naruto's business. He goes on to remind himself that the incident with Zabuza and Haku was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and that Tea Country is not as poor as Wave was.

---
Sasuke finds himself stealing another one of Kakashi's tricks against the first bandits they encounter. He uses a genjustu to make it appear as if he has been killed, then disappears.

Hayate snaps. He incapacitates one civilian brute, catches another with a kunai to the chest, which should only be lethal if the man does not receive medical attention soon, and takes out a third by kneeing him in the groin, then in the solar plexus.

Keiko's opponent is a chuunin-level missing-nin, if the man's chakra is any indication of his power, though the rank is irrelevant given his missing-nin status. She holds her own until Hayate finishes, then exploits the opening created by Hayate turning to the missing-nin with a kunai. The whole thing is over sooner than Sasuke expected.

Jin stays next to the civilian merchant they are protecting, not letting down his guard when his teammates join him after tying up their enemies, nor when Sasuke leaps from the trees, rejoining his team.

"Oh, thank goodness, you're back," the merchant says. "What happened?"

"Prove yourself," Keiko demands, pointing a kunai at Sasuke.

Sasuke unleashes his Sharingan, noticing a layer of chakra over the merchant; a clear sign of a transformation jutsu.

"So you really are the Uchiha Sasuke," one of the men in the ropes cackles. All four of the bandits disappear in a puff of smoke, re-appearing on the other side of Sasuke's team. "We have his attention, take one and let's go."

The merchant grabs Hayate, disappearing with the bandits.

"Sensei?" Keiko says. She and Jin quickly assume a back-to-back stance, kunai at the ready. The ninja who took Hayate were well-trained for missing-nin. A little too good at stealth and retreat to be left out of the bingo book.

Sasuke finds himself longing for Kakashi's nin-dogs, or Karin and her ability to sense chakra. Instead, he bites his thumb, makes a few seals, and summons a hawk.

"Get on," he instructs, waving his genin up. "Don't get in the way." And then they're rising above the road and the treetops, scanning every direction for any sign of his missing student.

---
When they finally return to the Leaf village, exhausted, but uninjured, they find Naruto and Aoiro waiting at the gates.

"See?" Naruto says. "I told you they would be fine."

Aoiro snorts. "You're the one who kept remembering your first C-rank, Naruto-sensei."

"We're early," Sasuke points out, raising one eyebrow.

Naruto freezes. Aoiro does not, "Naruto-sensei said he could sense you coming. The Kyuubi was restless."

"Yeah," Naruto agrees, nodding and crossing his arms. "Kyuubi could totally hear your chakra coming a mile away."

Behind Sasuke, Keiko giggles. She coughs, attempting to assume a straight face with little success when Sasuke turns to glare at her. "I'll just be heading home. Bye Aoiro-kun, Naruto-sensei." She grins, taking off. Jin nods before doing the same.

"So, how did it go?" Naruto asks.

"We got sold out. They took me hostage," Hayate says with pride. "There was this guy with this huuuge scythe--he was obviously overcompensating for something--and then this kunoichi who tried to take out Sasuke-sensei, but--"

"Nuh-uh, I bet you were unconscious. Any shinobi with a hostage knows better than that," Aoiro interrupts.

Sasuke smirks.

Hayate huffs. "Anyway, did you know that there was a bounty on Sasuke-sensei's head?"

Naruto nods, his grin widening. "There's a bigger one on my head, if they catch me alive."

"Woah! Bigger than 50 million ryou?" Hayate gasps. Aoiro's eyes widen a bit, too, looking up at his sensei in awe.

"His is only 50 million if they can get his eyes," Naruto replies. "I'm worth 75 million."

"Tch, you're a little under 15 million dead," Sasuke cuts in.

"Yeah, well," Naruto grumbles, at a loss. Without the eyes, Sasuke is still worth 25 million ryou.

---
Sasuke opens the door to his apartment, greeted by the strong smell of disinfectant. This is the first sign that something has gone horribly, horribly, awry. Sasuke sets down his bags of groceries, kicking off his shoes as he steps into the living room, a distinct feeling of wrongness pervading the place.

Everything is clean. Unnaturally so. Even the furniture is gone.

Aoiro and Hayate come out of the kitchen, holding a bucket of some kind of cleaner between them. It is tilted slightly, due to the difference in their heights.

"Sensei," Hayate says, his eyes a little wide and darting around the room a little too often. "You're early."

Sasuke's eyes narrow. "What did you do?"

Aoiro scowls. "What did we do? We cleaned your fu--" He is interrupted by Hayate's free hand colliding with the side of his head. The solution in the bucket sloshes, some landing on the carpet, some on the kitchen tile.

"We, uh, broke something," Hayate improvises. "That bowl of sauce. There's sauce everywhere in your kitchen. And on the couch and stuff. I mean, not anymore, but--" Aoiro stomps on Hayate's foot, splashing more cleaning solution onto the carpet and Hayate's leg.

"Did not!" Aoiro insists.

Hayate drops his handle on the bucket, using his now-free hand to punch Aoiro. The cleaning solution practically leaps from the bucket, getting everywhere and leaving one of the sudsy sponges on the soaked carpet with a loud squelch.

"We've got to buy some time," Hayate hisses.

Sasuke uses the body-flicker technique to appear behind them. "Time?" he says, grabbing them before they can escape. His rage only intensifies as the liquid soaks between his toes.

Aoiro begins chanting obscenities under his breath. Hayate begins a drawn-out "Fffffuck."

"We can tell him why we were cleaning, at least," Aoiro compromises.

"No! He's a genius with a 50 million ryou bounty on his head, he'll figure the whole thing out." Hayate looks up at Sasuke hopefully. "Aw, c'mon! Naruto-sensei said you have a huge ego!"

"Naruto?" Sasuke repeats, squeezing the genin's arms. Of course, Naruto.

"Well," Aoiro begins, looking down in shame.

Hayate kicks him. "We'll bite off our tongues before we tell you!"

"Where is Naruto?" Sasuke asks, his voice achieving a whole new level of casual threat as he turns to Aoiro.

"He's--"

"Nowhere!" Hayate shouts. "He's your sensei! Have some backbone!"

"This is all Naruto's fault," Sasuke says, looking to the genin for confirmation.

"Yes!" Aoiro replies without hesitation.

"N-no, not exac--" Sasuke glares at Hayate. "Yes, sensei," Hayate mumbles, looking away.

"Where is he?"

Hayate speaks up. "We don't actually know. It's a security measure! For this exact situation."

"But, uh, we might be willing to help you find him if you promise not to kill us in our sleep," Aoiro says.

Sasuke's eyes narrow. "Deal." He releases the genin. "Clean this up," he instructs. He steps over the puddle on the carpet and passes the groceries on his way out the door.

Behind him, he can hear Hayate's panicked whisper, "He can still kill us while we're awake, you moron! Fifty million ryou!"

"Shit," Aoiro snaps.

---
Sasuke finds Naruto's chakra attempting to be concealed at the training grounds by the memorial. He motions for Hayate and Aoiro to follow as he darts into the surrounding greenery.

Naruto promptly flies out of the forest and tackles them. All three of them. Fucking shadow clones, Sasuke thinks.

"Bad ducklings!" one Naruto says, pointing an accusing finger at Hayate.

"That's right," agrees the one by Aoiro. "Where's your loyalty?"

Hayate lets out an aggrieved sigh, covering his face with his hands. "We failed you, Naruto-sensei."

The third Naruto keeps Sasuke pinned down, because he knows better. "Go home," he says, "Beat your genin. I'll call you when I'm ready."

Sasuke frees one hand and punches Naruto's kage bunshin into oblivion. He stands, turning to the clone that spoke first. "Ducklings?" he says, curling his lip.

Naruto hesitates. "Well, your hair looks like a duck's butt, and they kind of follow you in this little line, like ducklings, so I thought..."

Sasuke's eyes narrow.

"Mayday!" the clone says, dismissing himself.

The other one glances between the empty space and Sasuke. "I can still kick your ass," he insists, before dismissing himself, as well.

"We don't follow him like duckies," Hayate mutters.

Aoiro shrugs. "Your team does, but not me and you," he replies.

Sasuke moves past the boys, following the faint feel of Naruto's chakra. Behind him, he can hear Aoiro whisper, "Should we try to stop him? Or slow him down?"

"You should," Hayate replies. "Sasuke-sensei is gonna kick Naruto-sensei's ass."

"Nuh-uh!" Aoiro protests, abandoning all pretense of subtlety as Sasuke moves too far to hear their whispers. "Naruto-sensei wouldn't lose!"

Sasuke keeps walking.

---
Naruto feels the last of his kage bunshin dismiss themselves; it was the patrols, and they ran into Sasuke. Good, Naruto thinks, it will save the time and effort of telling the genin to bring him in.

Sasuke enters the clearing, radiating murderous intent.

Naruto takes a second to feel confused as he flips through the memories of his kage bunshin. Useless, cleaning, moving furniture, more useless--oh, there's Sasuke with the kits, must have stopped by the house before they could redirect him--more useless information about staring at trees on patrol... Naruto stops. The clone said the duck butt thing out loud? Shit. Shitshitshitshit. Naruto has less than seconds to resolve this.

"Wait!" Naruto says, "before you kill me, think of the--"

"Senseeeeeei!" Aoiro and Hayate stumble out of the woods, attempting to charge Sasuke, who catches them both by the collars of their shirts and does not falter in his stride toward Naruto.

"Actually, I'm done," he assures them. "Now, bastard, drop the ducklings."

"We're doomed," Hayate wails.

"Why ducklings?" Aoiro demands. He appears to be surprisingly unruffled by the fact he is being dragged around by one of the more powerful ninja in the village. "Why not something cooler?" He raises one frosty eyebrow.

"Why animal-related euphemisms at all?" Hayate argues.

"Yeah, are you afraid to call us kids? Are we cramping your style, sensei?"

"No," Naruto replies. "I was just-- why are you noticing now?" Aoiro pauses. At the ramen shop, they're piglets. Grocery shopping, Naruto calls them cubs. In front of Sakura they're pups. At home, they're kits. Ducklings is the only new one.

"'Cause he's stupid!" Hayate snaps. "Quick, fall asleep!"

Aoiro gasps. They both collapse, uttering convincing snores. Sasuke drops them both, finally closing in on Naruto, who points at the genin on the ground, ready to start asking questions.

"What," Sasuke begins with more patience and less chidori than he would like, "is going on?"

Naruto takes in the murderous rage directed his way, and the boys' panicked snoring, deciding he can always ask about that later. "It's July 23. That's your birthday, right?" Naruto furrows his brow. "Sakura said it was, but it's not like you go around advertising it or anything, only, I thought Sakura was a pretty reliable source, since she has access to the medical records and everything..." Naruto rambles.

Sasuke blinks. His fingers still itch to make a fire jutsu. He can practically feel the seals.

"Well, even if it's not, it has been almost six months with the--" he hesitates, almost imperceptibly, "kids, and even though I made you take them in, I haven't really helped much." Which is a lie, Sasuke thinks, Naruto bought groceries for the first four months, taking Sasuke's comment about not feeding them to heart. "So, I kind of boughtyouahouse," Naruto finishes.

Sasuke blinks again, all murderous intent dropped in favor of complete bafflement. "A house?" he repeats in the same tone with which Naruto always imagines him to be trying to say "Is your stupidity contagious? Because I think I heard you wrong, which is clearly impossible given my extensive training and ability to gather intelligence, and the idea of your stupidity being contagious might actually be preferable."

Naruto takes a pair of keys on a keyring out of his pocket. "It's a three bedroom with a fold-out couch," he says.

"How did you buy a whole house?" Hayate demands, propping himself up on his elbows.

"Yeah, you didn't mention buying a house," Aoiro concurs.

"Not that we're complaining," Hayate adds hastily, "but a house?"

Naruto shrugs, looking into the distance somewhere to the left. "Ero-sennin left me a lot of money," he replies. "I'm never going to use it all, so I thought..." He stares at Sasuke again, matching his frown. "I already have everything moved."

"We have our own rooms!" Hayate cheers, ignoring the adults.

Aoiro gasps. "Where is this place?"

Naruto grins. He tosses a second set of keys to Aoiro, then creates a kage bunshin to show the genin the way to the house. He waits until they're gone before turning back to Sasuke. "So, uh, you're not mad, right? Because that was a shitload of ryou, and the kits like it."

"Hn," Sasuke replies. "Do you have a key?"

Naruto raises an eyebrow. "No, there were just four; one for each of you, plus a spare."

Sasuke begins taking one of the keys off the keyring. "Like I would trust anyone else with a key to my house, you moron," he says, pressing the spare into Naruto's palm.

Naruto stares at the key in his hand for a few seconds, an unreadable expression on his face. "You could say thanks or something, you know," he manages after a moment.

"Mm," Sasuke agrees. It's as good as he'll get.

---
The house is on the same street as Sakura's apartment, and only a short walk from Kakashi's place, so long as roofs are not an obstacle.

Sasuke and Naruto walk inside to find Hayate and Aoiro in the middle of a heated argument over who gets the big bedroom with the view of the Hokage monument.

Sasuke settles it by telling them that the room is his, because the house is his and the room they are fighting over is the master bedroom.

The genin move to the hallway amidst grumbles about "totally cheating, sensei" and getting to the room first. The argument changes to who gets the room closest to the kitchen. Naruto's kage bunshin stands to the side, ready to help them move their things if the need should arise.

The real Naruto follows Sasuke to the master bedroom. "Where are your things?" Sasuke asks.

"It's your house," Naruto points out, his eyebrow rising.

"You brought the cat. You paid for the house. One of the genin is yours. You cook the most, and buy over half the food." He stares at Naruto; a challenge. "I could go on," he seems to be saying.

"The cat's mostly Hayate's," Naruto mumbles.

Sasuke snorts, exiting the room. "So, you'll be moved in by tomorrow, right dead last?"

"Yeah," Naruto agrees, a smile creeping across his face.

---
Naruto hesitates at the threshold of Sasuke's room. Sasuke told him to just move his stuff in--Naruto bought the house, and it would be stupid for him to just sleep on the couch all the time. Sasuke was happy he finally had a clear living room again, too.

But. The implications are different.

Sasuke is his best friend. Naruto is vaguely aware in the very small, very quiet part of his mind that understands a few social cues, that the sort of following-Sasuke-to-the-ends-of-the-earth thing he has been doing for years is not exactly the sort of thing most people would do for a friend.

Neither is adopting a couple of genin together, but, to be fair, most people aren't a jinchuuriki or a former missing-nin with a dead clan, so maybe the genin thing is okay. The last thing either of them wants to see is more lonely, orphaned twelve-year-olds.

Naruto decides that the cat doesn't count, either, because Naruto just feeds it and Sasuke just has Sharingan-enhanced staring contests with it in the hopes he can convince it to go away on sheer murderous intent. Hayate has all but openly declared the cat his own after months of playing with it, anyway.

Naruto finally takes a step into the room. No invisible barrier keeps him out. The sky does not attempt to fall, crushing his house and the world around him. No one jumps out to tell Naruto he is an idiot, haha, he fell for it, get out of the great Uchiha Sasuke's house.

So far, so good.

Naruto begins putting his things away. Ero-sennin's book on the shelf. A few scrolls on an empty rack. He puts away his clothes in the drawer that Sasuke told him was supposed to be empty, and hangs up his spare coat.

He deliberately avoids the bed as he works. It is a king size. He has slept with Sasuke on less; on missions, and on the first night Aoiro stayed at Sasuke's apartment.

The difference is that all of that was just sleeping. Naruto did not buy a house, nor did Sasuke offer half of his bed. They merely slept near one another to conserve body heat and space, and almost every single time, Naruto had to fight Sasuke to get that much.

Naruto puts away his last pack of kunai, moving to the end of the bed. He stands there for a moment, staring at it. He suddenly feels like the bed is issuing some kind of challenge to him. A gloved slap to the face.

Naruto pounces, burying his face in the smell of Sasuke's pillow and breathing deeply. He has never felt quite so much like he had a family before, with the possible exception of his travels with Ero-sennin...

He hopes Sasuke's genin are giving him hell. Naruto grins at the thought. He knows that Hayate will definitely cause trouble over having to take another D-rank.

---
"I don't get it," Naruto says. He looks around the room, peeking under several scrolls containing classified information about the village's defenses, before moving on to shoving pictures aside on the walls. "Where's the camera?"

"It's not a joke, idiot," Sasuke tells him, his rage becoming more apparent the more Naruto moves. "That's a real mission."

"Kakashi-sensei is a liar," Naruto disagrees. "There's no secret ninja wedding hosted by bounty hunters. That doesn't even sound real."

"It's a perfect set-up," Sasuke argues.

Kakashi nods. "It's hard for a shinobi to stay on guard while celebrating."

"Okay, you only need one of us for bait and guard, though, right?" Naruto replies, still looking under important files for a hidden camera. Sasuke elbows him. "Hey! 'Cause, we can't abandon the ducklings, Kakashi-sensei."

"Naruto-kun, you can't marry yourself," Kakashi says. He sounds more calm and reasonable than usual, which would be a warning sign in itself if they hadn't already heard what he has to say.

Sasuke narrows his eyes. "You're not serious."

"Of course, I am," Kakashi replies, the corner of his visible eye crinkling. "You are both excellent bait, and single. The tale of how Naruto worked to get you back to Leaf is famous all the way to Hidden Cloud. I hear there's even a book about it. You can always get an annulment when you get back. We have a specialist."

And, really, there was no argument in that.

"Oh, and you'll need to make it as authentic as possible. I'm not going to tell you to bring your genin, but it will help your image." Sasuke knows that Kakashi would not, in fact, recommend putting the genin in danger like that, but it would look suspicious for them to go to a wedding in the middle of nowhere by themselves.

Sasuke grunts his acknowledgment. Like he and Naruto need any more help with their "image."

---
"I've already called a few jounin to keep up your training while we're gone. You'll be with Fuzzy Brows for a day, then Ino for a day or two after that. We should be back on Tuesday," Naruto says.

"You're with Neji and Anko. If either of them can't make it, Might Guy is the back-up," Sasuke explains to Hayate.

"Brush your teeth. Don't break anything," Naruto adds. "Sakura-chan is just down the road if you need anything, but try not to need anything, because her cooking is terrible."

"If anyone gets stabbed in the leg this time, there will be consequences."

Naruto nods. "So try not to get stabbed in the leg, or get caught stabbing anyone in the leg."

Hayate speaks up at the first lull in their speech, "What kind of mission is it?"

"Catching head hunters. We were commissioned by a rich widow," Naruto explains, hefting his bag of supplies.

"The former wife of Yamamoto Yureshi?" Aoiro asks. "Are you escorting the next couple to be married? Who is it?"

"We're not escorting anyone," Naruto replies.

Hayate grins. "So, which one of you is the bride?"

"Naruto," Sasuke begins in a warning tone, as Naruto jabs a thumb at him and says, "He is."

"You know, Himawari-chan's father is a civilian who specializes in mission-related annulments," Hayate offers. His grin widens. "And Jin's mom designs wedding gowns."

Sasuke sighs and meets Aoiro's eyes. "The cat," he says. Aoiro salutes.

"What?" Hayate looks to Sasuke, then Aoiro, and back again. "What the hell was that all about? You're not hurting Bijuu!" He runs to his room, which is where the cat has unofficially taken up residence.

Sasuke begins to walk away, smirking.

Naruto laughs. "Don't get killed," he tells Aoiro.

Behind Naruto, Sasuke freezes. He abruptly changes course, passing Naruto on his way into the house.

Naruto watches him, confusion written clearly across his face. Then, he gets it. "Change of plans, kits!"

---
"Alright!" Hayate cheers. "An A-rank mission! Hell, yes!" He high-fives Keiko again. Jin refuses this time, rolling his eyes when Hayate bounces to Sasuke's team to demand celebratory high-fives.

"Do you think Kakashi-sensei saw this coming?" Naruto asks, watching the genin completely disregard almost all of the rules about leaving the village that Sakura used to yell at Naruto for disregarding.

"Hn," Sasuke replies, which is no kind of reply at all. "Probably," he amends, because he knows Naruto can tell the difference between a vague affirmative "hn" and the other kind that translates to "You may have said something, and will likely call me on outright ignoring your words, so here's a grunt, which is all the vocal effort I can be bothered to give."

"I hope you know what you're wearing," Himawari tells them. "This is your first wedding, sensei, you have to wear something nice."

"Sasuke-sensei, too," Keiko adds. "This is the perfect chance for you to practice for your real wedding later."

"Are you going to the transformation jutsu?" Makoto asks, genuine curiosity lacing his voice.

"Which one of us?" Naruto asks.

Himawari shrugs. "Either of you." She walks backward for a moment to watch Naruto's and Sasuke's faces.

"I don't think you should," Jin says.

Naruto folds his arms. "Why not?"

"Because, moron, you've convinced the entire shinobi world from Fire to Thunder that we were once star-crossed lovers," Sasuke replies.

"Plus, you already argue like a married couple. Sexy no jutsu would just cause confusion with pronouns," Aoiro says.

"'Wash the dishes, dead last,' 'Quit hogging the blankets, bastard!' I mean, if you just replace every other insult with a term of endearment..." Hayate trails off.

"SOMEONE IS SPENDING A FEW WEEKS DOING D-RANKS WITH FUZZY BROWS," Naruto shouts.

"Wait," Himawari interrupts. "'Quit hogging the blankets'? You didn't tell me they were sleeping together! Aoiro-kun, this is why I sent you there to begin with." She punches her teammate.

"Whaaat? Aoiro, I feel so used," Naruto wails, his embarrassment temporarily forgotten.

"You know, Himawari-chan, I told you," Hayate points out, moving away from his team again.

"Hey!" Aoiro protests, "Aren't you usually the one telling me not to betray sensei? Where's your loyalty now, huh?"

At the front of the group, Sasuke leads them through the main road out of Hidden Leaf, daydreaming of aspirin and a separate room at the inn.

---
The budget for the mission has enough for eight rooms at a nicer place than the one they choose, with enough for the same treatment on the way home, and some left over for regular mission expenses, food, and possibly some cheap souvenirs.

Himawari laughs and says in a placating tone, "Naruto-sensei, you don't really know how much a wedding costs, do you?"

"Naruto-sensei is an idiot," Keiko agrees. They buy two rooms with twin beds, and one with a single bed.

Naruto flops onto the bed before Sasuke can even get into their room and shut the door behind himself. "I think Himawari-chan is taking this too seriously," he says, staring at the ceiling. The bed isn't as big as the one back home, but it's big enough that they can sleep comfortably.

Sasuke lies down on the bed next to Naruto, too close. "Why wouldn't she?" he asks. We're being watched, he's saying. Act like a couple. Or, he's not Sasuke at all, but an impostor using jutsu to disguise himself as Sasuke instead! Naruto takes a deep breath, inhaling Sasuke's scent--all regular soap and light foods, since he made the lunches everyone ate today.

Naruto grins. "I guess you're right." A quick recovery. He is unused to this, but he can work with it.

"Don't worry about the wedding," Sasuke says. "Just be yourself."

Coming from Sasuke, the advice sounds strange, but to an outsider, it seems the perfect thing to say. Naruto gets up to brush his teeth. He supposes it's sound advice, either way.

---
"Are you nervous, Naruto-sensei?" Himawari asks. She gets a handful of a third kind of gel, trying to flatten Naruto's hair. Or something. Naruto is not sure even Himawari cares what his hair looks like anymore, as long as she can get it to do something.

Naruto picks up his hitai-ate, tracing the outline of the leaf with his thumb. He adds an imaginary slash at a sloppy angle. He can almost feel the ruined metal under his nails. "No," he lies. "I was just wondering if Sakura-chan remembered to feed Bijuu."

"If she didn't, Sai-san will," Aoiro says. "I think you should have invited them."

"Sakura-chan had stuff to do, and Sai is on a mission." Naruto frowns. "And then who would feed the cat?"

Aoiro shrugs. "It can starve for a few days."

"Hey!" Naruto protests.

Himawari throws her hands in the air. "This is impossible." She tries to flatten the lock of hair that refuses to be gelled. "Wash it out, sensei. You'll just have to go to the altar with really clean hair."

Naruto laughs, returning to the sink. He picks up his hitai-ate when he is done, turning it over in his hands again.

"It's okay to be nervous, sensei," Makoto tells him seriously.

"Give me that," Himawari snaps, reaching for the hitai-ate. Naruto takes advantage of his height to hold it out of her reach.

"What? No! I'm wearing it!"

Himawari's eyes narrow. "Sensei," she begins in a warning tone.

"It's a them thing. Sasuke-sensei is wearing his, too," Hayate says from the doorway.

Himawari huffs. "Fine."

Hayate grins at her. "Sasuke-sensei is nervous," he says.

Makoto folds his arms. "You liar. Sasuke-sensei doesn't get nervous."

"Hey, I thought you said getting nervous was normal!" Naruto protests. His genin have betrayed him! Since when is Sasuke so much cooler?

Makoto shrugs. "Well, yeah, it's normal, but this is Uchiha Sasuke. You know, 'he doesn't sleep, he waits'? That kind of thing. He's invincible or something."

"I've seen him act nervous before," Aoiro says.

Ah! One genin still loves Naruto. "Thank you Aoiro." He sniffs. Makoto and Himawari look at him expectantly. "You want me to dismiss you?"

Himawari shrugs. "I gotta see this," she says, following Hayate out of the room.

Makoto laughs nervously. "It's not that I don't believe you, Aoiro-kun, it's just. Uh." Himawari reaches back into the room to grab his arm.

Hayate returns a few moments later. "I don't know why she's on your team," he confides. "Himawari-chan could out-glare Sasuke-sensei."

Naruto laughs.

"So, uh, thirty more minutes, sensei," Hayate says.

Naruto feels his stomach collapse in on itself, trying to pull him down with it again. At least Himawari and Keiko vetoed neckties. Naruto is not sure he would not mess one up by fidgeting before Himawari came back.

---
Sasuke waits at the altar, reviewing the rehearsal in his head. The ceremony is some kind of River Country special that he is unfamiliar with, though it was simple enough to learn. He wonders if every ninja on a mission like this can hear his own heart pounding in his ears, or if some have to work at the illusion of feeling like this.

Sasuke is unaccustomed to feeling nervous, his throat dry and thoughts fluttering through his head, without an ally bleeding out nearby. He knows that other people (especially civilians) feel worse over less; this is not precisely a comforting thought.

The genin fidget in the cheap, fold-out seats lined up. Hayate is the worst, as always. Beside him, Makoto appears to be competing for the title of most fidgety. Jin looks bored. Aoiro and Keiko appear to know exactly how they should behave, although how they should look is another matter entirely.

None of the genin match. Each of them is wearing a completely different, yet undeniably formal outfit. Makoto has something suited to the weather--short pants, short sleeves, and very, very new. Keiko has a furisode with a familiar cherry blossom pattern; Sasuke thinks she might have borrowed it from Sakura, because it is entirely too big. Jin wears an expensive suit. Aoiro and Hayate left separately the night before to buy something in town, and returned with clothing made for the heat and of some kind of local plant. The fabric feels strange, and the boys' radically different tastes are shown clearly in the difference of the designs.

A giggle rips through the silence. Across the aisle from the genin sit three girls who work at a nearby brothel. They claim to have met Naruto as he traveled with Jiraiya.

Sasuke allowed himself a glare at that information. The trio flailed and apologized, insisting that they were just glad to see Naruto finally found Sasuke. Apparently, even in a brothel, training and bringing Sasuke home were the only things that Naruto ever talked about.

Not for the first time in the past few days, Sasuke wonders if this mission requires less acting than it should.

Someone cues one of the brothel girls, and she begins to play a soft melody on a small, wooden flute, composed by Takahashi Toruko during the first ninja war. Himawari flings open the doors, leading Naruto through by the arm. She walks too fast, and Naruto too slow, the result being that she seems as overeager about the wedding as usual, and Naruto looks reluctant to be married. She wears a frilly, black dress with elbow-length gloves and a thin veil, more suited to a funeral, and Naruto wears a white suit, adding to the clash.

The walk down the aisle seems to take forever until Naruto is suddenly facing Sasuke, and Himawari is smoothing her lacy skirt as she takes a seat next to Keiko. Time feels distorted, as if the walk really took no time at all.

The wedding ceremony is longer and more complex in action than it was at the hurried rehearsal the night before. It has the same basic elements as the ones back in Leaf; beginning with vows to protect one another, as per the usual ninja marriage, to love one another and stay faithful, as per the civilian vows. Sasuke is almost positive that the vow to cross countries to be together was all Naruto's doing, but he agrees to it, anyway.

Sasuke can hardly hear his next cue over the pounding of his heart. Keiko hisses "Sensei!" too loudly, and he takes a second to glare at her before reciting a promise to never leave Naruto's side. The words don't flow as easily as he thinks they should, catching on the idea that maybe the reason he is so nervous is because he is not sure he wants to wipe this all away like it's nothing.

The end of the ceremony arrives, along with Keiko and Himawari appearing at the altar, holding two wreaths. Naruto told the genin to pick the flowers to go on the wreaths, and Sasuke hadn't cared less, which he now begins to regret. Keiko hands him a beautiful wreath decorated with dethorned red roses to place on Naruto's shoulders. It is possibly the most loaded bout of symbolism he has ever seen.

Naruto accepts a wreath covered in sunflowers from Himawari, which she claimed to have chosen because it was very representative of Naruto, being a bright flower, big like his heart, and also blooming in the right season. ("And because I said so, damnit, shut up and fetch the flowers!" she added, shoving Aoiro and Makoto toward the door.)

They wait patiently for the priest to finish his explanation about the flowers representing themselves and the brevity of youth, and the shape of the wreath representing the permanence of love, before finally placing the wreaths around each other's necks.

The ceremony ends with the encouragement of a single kiss to seal the deal. Sasuke and Naruto did not rehearse this part beforehand.

Sasuke is not sure what part of "mission" he seems to be forgetting, but meaning seems to drift from the word as he steps forward, closing the distance between Naruto and himself. He lifts one hand to Naruto's cheek, his fingertips brushing the edge of Naruto's hairline, which feels clean and damp, as if he just got out of the shower. Sasuke's free hand accidentally bumps Naruto's. Naruto catches it, intertwining their fingers as their lips move.

The genin and the brothel girls cheer. Someone in the audience takes a picture, the flash washing over Sasuke's eyelids.

Sasuke can feel Naruto's grin against his lips, and Naruto's heartbeat beside his own, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he finally cracks through several layers of denial and comes to the obvious conclusion. He can hear Karin's voice in the back of his head screeching, "Whaaaaat~?" Or, maybe it's Ino's, he thinks. They're both unnaturally shrill.

---
The girls from the brothel leave shortly after the ceremony. They offer gifts of silks, to be picked up later, after the dinner, perhaps, and jewelry off their wrists and necks made of various precious metals, and lastly, their congratulations, which seem very sincere.

The dinner begins not long after the girls' departure. The food is at least as elaborate as that of a traditional Leaf wedding, if a little more adapted to local tastes.

Champagne is sent with the first course, which is another part of the reason why only Sasuke and Naruto can do this mission. They have to get drunk. For the last few months, various spies and shinobi have been sent by the Fire country and others to investigate the shinobi deaths; Yamamoto Yureshi's being the most recent. Only inebriated couples have been targeted.

This means that the head hunters have a sensor talented enough to feel chakra flow affected by alcohol, on top of the fact that the head hunters are known for speed and stealth, rather than brute force.

Sasuke and Naruto have to get drunk and recover in time to take out shinobi trained to quickly and silently dispose of intoxicated shinobi. Should they fail, Karin and Suigetsu are to be the back-up, but it is the last resort, as the shinobi have concealed themselves from all other chakra sensors.

Sasuke drinks at a moderate pace, pouring himself a glass of wine when the bottle comes, then moving on to sake shortly after. Naruto chugs the remains of each bottle, moving from tipsy to completely smashed in record time.

The genin, especially Aoiro and Hayate, are allowed no more than a tiny glass of champagne. This is crucial; Sasuke and Naruto are relying on them to keep the attackers occupied while Naruto has the Kyuubi metabolize the alcohol.

The hit comes during dessert. Naruto is busy attempting to spoon-feed Sasuke some kind of sweet custard, and Sasuke is attempting to tell Naruto to blow it out his ass. They don't notice that there are shinobi surrounding them until the genin start throwing kunai.

"Cover your eyes!" Naruto stage-whispers, covering Sasuke's eyes with his hand. Sasuke sees his fingers go bright, and when Naruto moves his hand, there are three dazed shinobi covering their eyes and flailing.

"Yeeeah!" Naruto shouts, standing up. He high-fives Makoto, as Makoto runs by. Keiko and Himawari gang up on one blinded ninja to knock him out, but the other two are already recovering.

"Shit," Sasuke mutters, lurching to his feet. He manages to draw out his Sharingan, but sits back down rather quickly. Increased perception of everyone's motion is perhaps not the best bloodline ability for getting drunk.

Naruto uses a rasengan on one, hitting a log instead. He still looks rather inebriated. "Sober up, idiot," Sasuke tells him.

"Oh, yeah," Naruto slurs. He grins at Sasuke, stopping mid-fight to focus, while the genin attempt to deflect various attacks. Sasuke throws a shuriken with perfect accuracy, hitting the second shinobi's hand.

Naruto suddenly clutches his head. "Ow, ow, too much, too fast," he says. One of the enemy shinobi grabs Makoto, holding a kunai to his throat. Everyone freezes. Makoto makes a hand-seal, his skin suddenly flaring up. Sasuke can't see anything for a moment, and when he opens his eyes again, the other two head hunters are on the floor, tied up with genin sitting on their backs.

"What wassat?" Sasuke demands, glaring at Makoto.

"Bloodline limit," Makoto explains. "Clan secret."

"Hn," Sasuke agrees. He watches Naruto's lips move. Something about getting drunk again, which Sasuke wholeheartedly agrees with. When Naruto takes his seat by Sasuke once more, Sasuke grabs the front of his shirt. They stare at each other for a moment, Sasuke completely forgetting his surroundings.

"What the hell, sensei?" Hayate says. "Pass the gooey green stuff."

Sasuke releases Naruto, shoving the bowl of green pudding toward Hayate. Naruto takes his seat, scooting his chair a bit closer to Sasuke.

---
The next morning, Sasuke wakes up with Naruto curled up against his side in the hotel's bed. "Good morning," Naruto mumbles, burying his face in Sasuke's shoulder.

"Naruto," Sasuke says. Naruto groans. "Dead last, we need to talk."

"Sasuke~" Naruto whines. He sits up. "Shit." He stares at Sasuke, suddenly much more alert. "Talk?"

"Hn," Sasuke grunts.

"Okay, um, I'm going to go first, because I really want to say this, and uh, it's not just because I was drunk last night, and I was thinking too much or anything."

"Naruto," Sasuke repeats.

"I'm serious!" he snaps. "I don't think we should get a divorce. Or annulment. Or whatever." He pauses. "That will make everything weird, and then the genin won't know where to live--"

"I agree."

"--and--what?" Naruto stops, taking the time to stare at Sasuke more. "Are you still drunk?"

Sasuke punches Naruto in the face. They return to the lobby with swollen lips, and a bruise on Naruto's cheek.

Himawari sighs loudly and says, "Boys," like it's an insult. Keiko nudges her and whispers something. They both grin. "Hey Hayate!" Himawari calls.

Sasuke takes care of the bill with the remainder of the mission's budget and a handful of money from his own pockets, before rejoining the group.

---
"You guys have to break up now," Hayate says. Aoiro nods.

Naruto opens his mouth, but is cut off by Hayate, "No, I'm serious. You guys have to split. Himawari and Keiko ganged up on us and now we owe them a million ryou, or I have to go out with Keiko. You have to break up, so I win."

"That's not as bad as me having to convince Jin to go on a date with Himawari!" Aoiro protests, shoving Hayate.

"He's right. I have to go on a date with Keiko, and I have to watch my teammate accept a date with the girl of my dreams. You can see how bad this situation is," Hayate agrees, after punching Aoiro in the arm with no small amount of force.

"Plus, Jin is totally scary," Aoiro adds. "He's all... quiet. It's not natural."

"No," Sasuke says. He shoots the genin a glare before returning to his book, one arm still around Naruto's shoulders.

"I agree," Naruto says. "There is a valuable lesson about keeping your word and not taking the easy way out here."

"You're just quoting Iruka-sensei!" Hayate snaps. "That's not fair."

"Hayate, do as your mother says," Sasuke insists, managing to hold a straight face.

"That's ri--what?" Naruto rounds on Sasuke. "Bastard, you wanna fight?"

Sasuke blocks the fist thrown his way, doing a backflip over the arm of the couch. Naruto falls onto the cushion without Sasuke's body under him.

"PAY ATTENTION TO OUR PROBLEMS," Hayate demands.

"Tch," Sasuke says, smirking. He still has his thumb holding his place in the book. "Slow as ever, dead last."

"Enough foreplay, guys, we have problems!" Aoiro shouts. Then, after a moment, he and Hayate grow looks of horror. "Gross!"

"Ugh, you made me think about it!" Hayate wails. "I need bleach for my brain!"

They both rush out of the room as Naruto pins Sasuke to the floor, screaming their mutual horror.

===