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sne_mod ([personal profile] sne_mod) wrote in [community profile] sn_exchange2010-08-22 08:07 pm

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Title: After The World Fell Down
Rating: M
Summary: Naruto has been fighting a war for the life of his neighborhood for the past four years, with no end in sight. His world is violent, arbitrary, and ruthless, but it is simple. It makes sense. And then Uchiha Sasuke fucks everything up.
Warnings: Violence, language, nondescript sex, major angst
A/N: Ughh, this turned out to be WAY longer than it supposed to be. I just started writing and completely failed at stopping. XD Note: I use one Japanese word, bouryokudan, because there’s no English equivalent that I felt comfortable using. It’s an another word for yakuza, but denotes pointless violence. The cops and Japanese media use it, but an actual yakuza would consider it an insult. *is a complete japanophile* I hope you like it!
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After The World Fell Down-

Despair. It is an inky blackness that surrounds him, taints his every action, his every thought. But it doesn't stop there. It gets inside his mouth, nose, eyes, throat, lungs. He is drowning in it and he cannot get away. He is floundering, helpless, weak, alone.

Despair is the screen next to Iruka's hospital bed flatlining. Despair is Sakura-chan's legs spread out at an awkward angle, shameless in death. Despair is Sai's cold, white fingers, still stained with ink, that will never, ever, hold a paintbrush again. It is Lee's charred body and the perfectly round bullet hole in Gai's forehead. It's an alleyway stained with Jiraiya's blood. It has been years, for most of them. More than enough time to "move on."

But they were the people he loved the most. The people who first accepted him, acknowledged him as a person instead of just some annoying brat with a bad mouth. They were the people most important to him, and, now, they are gone.

There is no moving on. There is no forgetting. There was revenge, but even that is gone with five bullets and three more corpses added to the body count. The only thing left is the mission.

And that is true despair.

Uzumaki Naruto wakes up. He sits up in bed and stretches the kinks out of his back, rotating his shoulders backwards in an attempt to get rid of any stiffness. It's best to be proactive about this sort of thing, he's learned. He used to roll his eyes at people who spent so much time stretching out before exercising, but he found quickly that being tense heightens one's chance at getting an injury.

He does pushups next, exactly 50, some side-to-side hops over a worn tape line on the wooden floor, lunges, and then grabs for the 4 kilogram weights he keeps by the foot of his western style bed. He puts them down only after his muscles scream in protest and then goes to the corner of his room where he's managed to hang a tapped up punching bag to practice some hook and jabs. After he's done, he grabs a towel embroidered with the words "Sublime Green Beast of Prey Judo" to wipe the sweat off his face.

Naruto's apartment is small. He lives right over Jiraiya's shop because it's one of the safest places in the entire neighborhood, so he can't exactly be picky. He has a bathroom, a kitchen, a closet that doesn't open, and a power outlet in an annoyingly inconvenient place. The air conditioner in the window only works half the time and the blinds are in several pieces, but whatever. It's home.

He throws the towel to the side haphazardly so that it clips the sumi-e painting of a toad pined to the wall and lands on a pink, dust covered jacket folded on his dresser.

Naruto eyes it speculatively and picks the towel up, folding it carefully this time and placing it next to the pink jacket. He gets some milk and leftover tamagoyaki from the mini-fridge in the kitchen and sits down at the small table next to the air conditioner. There is a plant on the table whose leaves are turning brown. He should water it, but after finishing his breakfast he goes to take a shower.

By the time he gets out it's nearly nine, so he rushes over to his dresser to dress for work, knocking over an old picture of a blonde man and a red-haired woman in front of an electronic store that doesn't exist anymore. He doesn't bother to right the picture, but jams on his worn shoes and grabs his plain, dark green sweatshirt before undoing the six bolts on his door and heading out. It's early September now and even though it's Osaka, the temperature has been dropping lately. He drops his keys twice trying to lock the door, swears creatively with the finesse of someone who's been doing it awhile, rushes down the dim hallway, and then takes the stairs down two at a time to come face to face with the neon green sign that reads "Abura Adult Books." Naruto winces reflexively, even though he's spent the last ten years of his life working there.

And now…well, now it's his. Jiraiya left him the whole building after all. In his will. He could change the name if he wanted. Hell, he could decide to sell something besides cheap porn. (But he won't.)

His eyes travel over the storefront, the lewd posters in the windows and the "Help Wanted" sign in the window that has been up for three years. Well, ever since Sai and Sakura-chan di-

"Are you going to open up, or are you just going to stand there?" a familiar voice asks him and Naruto smiles.

"I was just admiring Natsume Nana's boobs," Naruto lies, not turning around, "I mean, there is just no way those are natural."

"True, but, hey, I'm not complaining," Inuzuka Kiba says, sounding amused. But he grips Naruto's shoulder tightly and Naruto cannot express how much he needed that.

"I'd keep those opinions to yourself. That scary sister of your's'll kill you, if she hears you talking like that," Naruto says, trying to keep up the banter, but the break in his voice kind of ruins it.

"You okay, man?" Kiba asks, "I know you said you wanted to open up the store today, but-"

Naruto swallows, "I fine," he says, "Really. It's been almost six months, you know. Besides, neither of us can even afford ramen these days. And that stupid pervert…"

He trails off.

"…would want us to continue his great legacy of porn?" Kiba finishes, grinning a little.

"Something like that," Naruto says, digging out the keys from his pocket.

He unlocks the door, and they enter the small dusty shop filled mostly with long aisles of shelves carrying books, DVDs, posters, and the odd sex toy.

"I'll get the lights," Kiba says and head towards the light switches. Naruto walks back to the register, hopping over the counter and tries to get things organized. While wiping dust off the counter, his hand hits something small, round, and metal. He picks it up and, to his horror, realizes that it's one of those stupid rings Jiraiya used to wear. And, it's been five months, three weeks, and two days since Jiraiya was murdered, but he feels his eyes begin to burn and his throat close.

"Fuck," he whispers, "Fuck!"

And for a second he thinks this was an awful idea and that he should just rent out the shop or maybe even sell the whole building and go somewhere else, anywhere els-

"Oi, Naruto!" Kiba shouts from the backroom, "I forgot to tell you, there's an ANBU meeting tonight at Shikamaru's place. The wife's out visiting her brothers. You in?"

Naruto clenches his jaw and puts the ring in his pocket.

"Yeah," he calls back, "I'm in."

It all started 3 and a half years ago when Oto first moved into Kono-No, it started before that. For Naruto, things started twenty-three years ago when the train his parents were taking went off the track, killing them and fourteen other passengers instantly. He doesn't remember it happening-he barely remembers them- because he was only two. Umino Iruka was a friend of the family and he ended up taking Naruto in, despite being barely legal himself at the time. Naruto has pictures of his parents and he heard stories about them from Iruka, but he was never really sad that they weren't there.

He was a brat when he was little, not exactly the smartest kid in his class, but Iruka-ever the schoolteacher- was patient and always helped him through his classes and homework. He convinced Naruto to go to high school and maybe even university. It was only much later that Naruto realized just how much Iruka sacrificed for him. He never married, Naruto doesn't even remember seeing any women at all, and even though his salary was tiny he always made sure that Naruto had presents on his birthday. They didn't have much, but Naruto remembered thinking that despite all the stories he heard, Iruka was more of a father to him than some random guy in an old photograph. He never told Iruka that because Iruka had actually known Naruto's parents and he didn't want to make him feel bad. But he wishes he did.

Halfway through Naruto's second year of high school, Iruka got sick. Naruto dropped out of high school to get a job and help with the costs, and though the doctors at the hospital assured Naruto they did everything they could, within three months, Iruka was dead.

Despite their rocky start, Sakura-chan and Sai saved him. They helped him get through the funeral arrangements, the will, and the next few years of his life. It was through Sai that Naruto got his job at the bookshop and met Jiraiya and when Sakura-chan started dating Lee, all four of them would hang out together. Things start to make sense again. Looking back, it was only natural that it couldn't last.

About six years after Iruka's death, Oto-kumi moved in. Everything happened so quickly, it was like one day Naruto woke up and Konoha was a different place. Konoha had always been a pretty low-income neighborhood in Osaka, but crime had never been a big problem. But then Orochimaru came in (the kumichou of Oto) and brought with him scores of yakuza filth. They started taking over the neighborhood, forcing business owners to sell and starting their own shops as covers for money laundering, smuggling or even worse, whorehouses filled with exploited women and girls from China and the Philippines. The police were totally in over their heads and when the citizens of Konoha started to protest, Councilman Sarutobi Hiruzen was murdered.

Naruto remembers the look of horror on Jiraiya's face (apparently he knew the man) and places that as the moment he knew he had to do something. Not long after that he, Inuzuka Kiba, Hyuuga Neji, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Chouji banded together to form ANBU, and committed themselves to impeding the yakuza takeover of their neighborhood and ultimately getting rid of them altogether.

They were all young, idealistic, angry men, and until quite recently without family in the area or spouses. Sakura-chan was especially against his being involved in ANBU. She was convinced that before long the police would properly deal with Oto and that there was no reason to put himself in danger by taking the law into his own hands. Sai, too, was skeptical about the effect a bunch of twenty two/three year olds taking on a bunch of scarred, tattooed yakuza.

Strangely enough, for the first few months or so, it actually seemed to go well. All five of them were trained in martial arts and the Oto yakuza were completely unprepared for a bunch of kids willing to physically fight back. They vandalized the Oto office more times than they could count, they challenged groups of Oto yakuza to fights in broad daylight, they walked fearlessly through Oto "territory" at night. About three months into their rebellion they got a chance to end it all. A Chinese prostitute named Karin came to them with information about yakuza activities in exchange for a ticket home. It was a sad, old story of a girl who was told that she would find a high paying job as a maid in Japan only to find herself forced into prostitution. ANBU agreed, pooled money to get her a ticket and turned in the information to the police. Nearly half of the Oto yakuza found themselves in prison for 10+ years.

It is not to say that there weren't close calls. Naruto was shot at at least twice and Neji had to get stitches after a particularly rough knife fight. But they were lucky, at least in the beginning. Lucky, overconfident, and stupid. They were young and thought they were invincible. They were wrong.

Seven months after the yakuza takeover Sakura-chan, Lee, and Sai were abducted, tortured, and finally murdered in a warehouse on the Yodo River. And to make matters worse, while Naruto was hyperventilating and sobbing into Kiba's shirt, Maito Gai found out the identities of the yakuza who did it and went after them. His body was found the next morning, twisted postmortem into a grotesque position with the character "Oto" carved into his chest and a bullet in his head.

It was the last straw for Naruto and he took the handgun he got off the black market that he promised Sakura-chan he would never use and with five bullets, Sakon, Kidomaru, and Jiroubo, Orochimaru's favorites and the three most sadistic Oto yakuza yet, were dead.

He thought it would make him feel better, to have the ones who brutalized his best friends in the world dead at his feet, but it didn't. He has blood on his hands now. He has killed, no, murdered. The three men whom he shot are as gone as his friends. They will never breathe, nor laugh, nor think, nor feel-

-nor hurt his friends ever again.

In the end, Naruto does not regret ending their lives, but he still has nightmares about that day.

Everyone in Konoha knew Naruto did it, even the police, but they had bigger things to deal with. Like how five months later Councilman Danzou's house was burned down, killing his wife and child. Shimura Danzou, despite being a rightwing hardliner and a downright asshole, had been funding ANBU for some time. He survived the attack, but sustained serious burn injuries and the attack shocked the entire neighborhood who, at the time, had just been trying to pretend that the yakuza didn't exist.

The community rallied around Danzou and started fighting back against the Oto yakuza, at least until attempts were made on the lives of him, Chouji, and Neji. It happened at night and Naruto barely got out of his old apartment via the fire escape, but Chouji and Neji were not so lucky. They only escaped death by the arrival of the police and spent three months in the hospital recuperating. Naruto went to the police to ask if they'd made any progress catching the people who did it only to find himself in handcuffs for his involvement in "gang warfare" and the suspected murder of Sakon, Kidomaru, and Jiroubo. The worst of it was that the man who arrested him was Sarutobi Asuma, the son of the murdered Councilman.

For a while it seemed like he was really going to go to prison, especially when the rest of ANBU found out that he didn't throw away the gun after he shot them, but instead kept it at home.

"You complete idiot!" he remembers Shikamaru saying over and over again and everything was tense and horrible until Yamanaka Ino, one of the only non-Oto prostitutes in the area, used her considerable charm (and also cleavage) to distract the guards at his apartment door so Kiba could sneak in and get the gun out of his apartment.

Eventually they had to let him go because they couldn't find the murder weapon or any other evidence that he did it besides hearsay.

The fighting only escalated in the months after that, Naruto broke a couple ribs, and Hatake Kakashi, a solitary ex-police officer who spent an inordinate amount of time in Jiraiya's shop entered the fight. He had previously been trying to stay out of the entire thing, but when he saw Naruto and Chouji about to get killed by a mercenary duo comprised of ex-con Momochi Zabuza and a young man about their age who went simply by Haku, he jumped in. It was the worst knife fight Naruto had ever been in and it resulted in both mercenaries' deaths. Kakashi was arrested and though he claimed self-defense, he was sent to prison for two years, though he eventually ended up getting out early on parole.

About three months before Jiraiya's death, Councilman Sarutobi's teenage grandson ran away from his parents in Suna, claiming to want to join ANBU and avenge his grandfather's death. Only he ended up getting kidnapped by Oto-kumi and put up for ransom, and it was this whole huge mess rescuing the stupid brat and Naruto ended up getting shot in the hip.

Right after he got out of the hospital (because he never, ever, gets a break) Shikamaru announced that he was getting married.

"Are you crazy?" Naruto had gaped, "Don't you think your timing is just a little bit off?"

"I'm almost twenty-six," Shikamaru told him, "I know Temari and I said we were going to wait, but that's when we though this whole thing would be over quickly."

"What?" Naruto replied harshly, "You giving up? You think that our neighborhood, our community, our livelihoods are a lost caus-"

"Save your lectures," Shikamaru interrupted, "I'm not going anywhere. It's just that I don't want to end up waiting forever. Because, who knows, both of us might be dead tomorrow."

So there was a wedding. Naruto knew he should be happy for Shikamaru, that at least someone had things working out for them, but the entire thing left him feeling so horribly empty and lonely that he ended up skipping out on the reception right after his obligatory congratulations speech.

He ran into Ino crying on the way out.

"Oh, god," she said, dabbing her eyes, "God, don't tell Shikamaru. I don't want him to know."

"I won't, if you don't tell him I ditched his reception," Naruto replied and she gave a watery giggle.

"I just can't help thinking about how she would have loved to be here," Ino said, her heavy mascara leaving trails down her cheeks, "We always used to plan out our weddings when we were little and she-"

But Naruto didn't want to hear this, didn't think he could stand to. She had to stop talking, he couldn't just listen, so he ended up kissing her just so she would shut up. It was so incredibly stupid that Naruto can't even think about it now without cringing. But at the time he was desperate, miserable, and hadn't gotten laid in years. They grabbed at each other like there was nothing left in the world and by morning they found themselves sprawled on Naruto's bed in an awful awkward silence.

It was a mistake, they both knew that, but they didn't have time to avoid each other or for Ino to make a hasty getaway because then Kiba was pounding on the door saying that Jiraiya, who had been involved in a legal suit against Oto, had just been found dead in an alley.

"Any of you heard of a guy called Uchiha Sasuke?" Neji asks when they're all seated at Shikamaru's rickety kitchen table with steaming cups of tea later that night.

"Who?" Naruto and Kiba ask at the same time as Chouji and Shikamaru say, "Nope."

"Rumor has it that he's just made up a contract with Orochimaru himself," Neji says seriously, talking a small sip of tea, "I've asked around and no one's heard of him before, but he sounds like another mercenary."

Shikamaru swears softly and Naruto stiffens.

"You have got to be kidding me! We barely survived the last two," Kiba exclaims, gesturing between Naruto and Chouji, "and that was only because Hatake was there!"

"We'll deal, Kiba," Naruto says, "It's just one this time. Besides, they're not going to want a huge scene right before elections, right?"

"Why not?" Neji says darkly, "No one's going to vote for that Tayuya onee-san no matter how they spin it. The entire neighborhood knows she's bouryokudan trash."

"Either way we've got to be careful," Shikamaru says, "You know the drill, no one walks around alone, especially at night and definitely not near the waterfront, do I make myself clear, Naruto?"

"It was just that once," Naruto grumbles, tapping his fingers against the cheap wood of the table in irritation, "I don't know why you've still got your panties in a twist about it. I can take that Ukon bastard anywhere, anytime."

"You killed his brother," Chouji interjects, "And he wants revenge on you bad."

"As does the whole fucking Oto-kumi," Naruto says, leaning back in his chair flippantly.

"Just don't do anything stupid," Shikamaru says irritably, "And we'd better tell Ino to watch out for this guy, if she hasn't already heard."

"Yeah, I'll tell her," Kiba says, kicking Naruto's chair foreword again with a loud clunk, "Hey, Nara, can I have a beer?"

"We don't have any beer," Shikamaru says, without looking up from the notes he's making.

"Seriously? No beer? What is wrong with you people? I practically live off that shit."

"Which explains so much," Neji mutters.

"Temari's father was an alcoholic, get over it," Shikamaru replies, still scribbling something while Kiba and Neji glare daggers at each other.

Naruto flips open his phone to find that it's nearly one, "Look," he says, getting up and stretching, "as much as I'd love to spend all night chatting about this Uchiwa guy-"

"Uchiha," Neji corrects.

"-whatever his name is, I've got a store open tomorrow and I'd like a good night's sleep. I suggest you get home too," he says, gesturing at Kiba, "because we've got porn to sell."

"Osu, boss!" Kiba says, saluting.

"How are you two getting home?" Shikamaru asks.

"Don't worry, don't worry," Naruto says, picking up his bag, "I brought the bike with me this time."

"Because you didn't look like you're part of a bousouzoku enough with those boots?" Chouji asks in an amused voice.

"Yer just jealous," Naruto says, sticking out his tongue.

"Kiba, get a ride with Naruto," Shikamaru commands.

"What?" Kiba protests, "Aw, man, you gotta be kidding me! Two guys on one bike is kinda-"

"Get over it," Neji says, rolling his eyes and moving to stand, "And before you ask, Shikamaru, I drove here."

"Seriously?" Kiba mutters, "You are so paranoid, Nara. There's probably more of a chance of getting in an accident with this idiot driving than getting jumped."

"Hey, this idiot signs your paycheck now, asshole," Naruto says mildly, not really insulted, "And besides," he continues in a mocking tone, "if you wanted to wear the helmet, you just could've asked, honey."

"Fuck you, Uzumaki."

At the time, Naruto remembers not being particularly worried. After all, they've spent the last four years getting in fights with men twice their size, being manhandled by the police, and treating the local hospital like a second home. All of them, especially Shikamaru and Neji, are worse for wear, but they're still alive, aren't they? Naruto's best friends and boss are dead, their bodies are covered in scars from knifes and baseball bats, and half the town won't even talk to them because they're so scared of Oto coming after them. Whoever this Uchiha Sasuke guy is, it can't be anything Naruto hasn't dealt with before, right?

Someday, Naruto hopes, the irony of it all will be amusing.

Naruto's out with Shikamaru and Kiba, 'patrolling' block 4 at about 11 at night a few days after when it happens. He's spent the entire day doing inventory and is thinking mostly about going back to his apartment for a nice long shower when Kiba punches him in the shoulder and says, "Hey, the lights are still on in the Aburame's store."

He and Shikamaru both turn towards Aburame Grocery and Naruto narrows his eyes. It could be nothing, but it's not like the Aburame family to procrastinate on bills or any other store business to the point of working late into the night. He and Kiba turn towards Shikamaru, their leader forever and always (Kiba even made him a plaque), and he nods, hand straying towards the switchblade he keeps tucked in the back of his pants.

They approach the shop slowly, half expecting backup to jump out of the shadows at any second. There doesn't seem to be damage to the front of the store, but there's a group of people standing at the register way in the back. Aburame Shibi and his son who's about Naruto's age are standing behind the register, stiff-backed with pale faces. Naruto recognizes the back of Yakushi Kabuto's head and tries the door. It's open. Without further thought, without asking Shikamaru or Kiba, he throws the door open with a crash and enters the store.

It takes him a few moments to realize that what he's feeling is anger, an emotion he hasn't let himself feel in a long time. He's angry that these gangsters can just come in and push around an upstanding family like the Aburames. They sell groceries, for God's sake! He's furious that they have the nerve to walk down the street, to even be here after four years of murder, rape, exhortation, drug-dealing, loan sharking, arms deali-

"Get the fuck out," he snarls, pointing to the exit, barely registering the sound of Kiba or Shikamaru catching the door before it shuts and entering behind him, "Right now."

There are four of them, all men, all wearing the ridiculously cliché suit and tie except one. Yakushi Kabuto, Orochimaru's second-in-command, had his hand on the counter, but when Naruto burst through the door, he turned around slowly, an easy smile highlighting his face.

"Of course," he drawls, "I should have remembered that in this neighborhood it is impossible to discuss mere business arrangements without interference from the local high schools dropouts."

Considering that Naruto is the only one who dropped out of high school, he feels this isn't a particularly fair representation of ANBU, but he notices that Kabuto isn't really speaking to him, but instead to the only man not wearing a suit.

He's a newcomer, to be sure. Naruto knows the others, Suigetsu with his foul mouth and nasty looking teeth, Ukon who already looks like he'd like nothing more than to rip out his intestines, and of course Kabuto, with his delicate, deceptive-looking glasses. The newcomer is young, around his age probably, and is dressed pretty informally, wearing a dark button-down jacket and, strangely enough, jeans. He doesn't look like muscle, much too skinny, and has the face of someone more suited to being in a magazine than a yakuza group. Naruto's not sure what to make of him.

"'Business arrangement?" Shikamaru quotes sarcastically, cracking his neck threateningly, "Is that what they're calling it now?"

Naruto hears a click behind him and he doesn't have to look back to know that Kiba, impatient as ever, has taken his knife out.

Suigetsu and Ukon stiffen immediately and Kabuto, whom Naruto has never seen enter a fight, takes a step back. The newcomer doesn't react at all, but instead looks bored. Naruto decides that pisses him off.

"You have five seconds to walk out that door," Shikamaru says coldly, "If not, we'll throw you out."

It's this thing of his, giving Oto thugs the chance to leave before ANBU kick their asses. It wasn't always this way, especially when they were younger and more prone to violence. Naruto privately thinks that it's Temari's influence, and he has to say that he doesn't really agree with it. The more asses they kick, the faster the bastards will get out of their neighborhood. The idiots that joined the kumi already made their choice and it's a choice, in Naruto's opinion, that, you can't take back.

Aburame Shibi opens his mouth, but his son grabs his arm before he can say anything and gives him a warning look.

"You should probably stay back," Naruto tells them, slightly apologetic as he knows how much damage is about to be done.

Shino gives him a harsh look, nearly imperceptible behind those weird glasses of his and nods.

Ukon, predictably, makes the first move and lunges right at him. Kiba shoves Naruto out of the way and grabs Ukon's knife hand, delivering a backfist right to the face.

They decided long ago that it was better that Naruto not fight Ukon if he didn't have to, on account of the whole revenge thing, but it still leaves him feeling slightly annoyed. Shikamaru has faced off against Suigetsu, so he turns towards the new guy with a bit of disappointment. Which promptly disappears as the neither the asshole's expression nor stance has changed and his hands are in his pockets.

"Right," Naruto grouses, "Let's do this."

The other man gives him a vaguely surprised, haughty, 'why are you even talking to me?' look and Naruto loses it. He strides forward, raising his fist, but before he can even throw a punch, he finds himself crashing into a shelf full of canned fruits and vegetables with no breath in his lungs.

He sits up, gasping, barely registering the fact that it was a side kick that threw him this far and struggles to his feet. The newcomer has not moved from his position, but merely looks down at him with an expression appropriate for squashing an annoying bug. Naruto is even more angry now, and humiliated, but he doesn't have time to do anything stupid because then the other man is moving and Naruto barely dodges a kick that practically whistles as it goes by.

Remembering his basic aikido, Naruto grabs the guy's leg, and using his energy against him, throws him off balance. The guy lands on a couple cans, which looks pretty painful, but does some crazy bridge-like jump thing that Naruto's only seen in movies and is on his feet a second later. It is really, really intimidating and even the two other fights around him pause for a second in shock.

"Huh," the guy says, speaking for the first time, "So you aren't a complete waste of my time then."

His voice is lower than Naruto expected, because, to be honest, with a pretty-boy face like that, he kind of thought his voice would be high and squeaky.

Naruto bares his teeth and kicks a couple cans out of the way so he won't have to worry about tripping over them. He aims a round kick at the newcomer's head, which the other coolly blocks, clipping Naruto's chin with a utterly perfect uppercut in a way that Naruto would admire if he wasn't to busy trying to beat the crap out of him. Mouth burning, Naruto figures that if the guy's reading his every move he should do something unexpected, and maybe spitting blood in his face was a bit uncalled for, but it certainly makes Naruto feel better.

The newcomer looks thunderstruck for a second, the first time he's cracked an expression besides smug self-assuredness, and Naruto smirks.

Unfortunately, the expression morphs into something like fury and Naruto barely has time to think "Oh, shit," before he's flying into a shelf again.

Naruto groans and sees both Kiba and Shikamaru whirl towards him.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he says, waving a dismissive hand at them.

Shikamaru scowls and Kiba says something along the lines of: "Stop being an idiot," but neither of them have enough time to waste on him, and they turn back to their respective fights.

"Okay," the newcomer snarls, wiping Naruto's blood off his face, " Right. I might actually kill you now."

He has a bit of an accent, and Naruto's no expert, but it seems like a Hokkaido one.

"What do you mean, now?" Naruto asks scathingly, picking himself up off the floor and taking a few steps back carefully, "Like killing people isn't what you bouryokudan people do for kicks."

"Sorry, kid," he says, which really pisses Naruto off, because there's no way this bastard is more than two or three years older than him, tops, "I just work here."

Naruto dodges his first swing, but the second catches him in the side. He doesn't fall this time, but knees the mercenary in the stomach and winds back his fist to break his jaw. Before he can strike though, the asshole grabs his hand and suddenly the entire room in spinning and Naruto finds himself on the floor, staring at the ceiling. The new guy just judo-flipped him over his shoulder, and Naruto's paralyzed, not by the move itself, but by the fact that it's one of Gai-sensei's favorite moves. Used to be.

"Finish up, now, Sasuke-kun," Kabuto says from his comfortable distance back by the cash register and Naruto hears Kiba yell in pain. Shit, so this is that Uchiha Sasuke guy?

His body won't move properly but out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kiba, still standing, but bleeding from the neck badly and Shikamaru beaten on the floor with Suigetsu leaning over him.

"I'd say it's not personal," Uchiha Sasuke says lazily, pulling out a knife and clicking it open, while Naruto struggles to sit up, "But you got your blood all over me and God knows what kind of diseases you have."

"Right," Naruto snarls, focusing more on getting the knife out of his pocket that he doesn't really like to use than on what he's saying, "Because you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, faggot."

He's not really sure why he said it. Maybe it was just the first thing that came to mind. Maybe it's because Uchiha's a bit too handsome to avoid bringing up the word 'pretty' when describing him. Maybe Naruto hit his head just a little too hard. Either way, it's a stupid thing to say, and just a tiny bit hypocritical, but it does make the guy pause, probably out of surprise, long enough for the sounds of sirens to make themselves known.

"Fuck," Suigetsu says, whirling around to face Aburame Shibi and the telephone on the cashier counter, "Just what did you do, old man?"

He strides forward, knife out, but Shino steps in front of his father protectively, arms raised.

"You sonava-"

"That's enough, Suigetsu," Kabuto says calmly, "We need to leave now. Ukon, Sasuke-kun."

Uchiha, who had been glaring down at Naruto during this entire exchange, turns abruptly and closes his knife.

"Right," he says, perfectly cool again, and walks towards the back without a backward glance.

"You would be mistaken, however," Kabuto says, as they walk out the back door, "If you think this is over, Aburame Shibi."

The grocery store owner stiffens and Kabuto smiles at them.

"Say anything to the police," he says cheerfully, "And you won't live to see tomorrow."

Naruto opens his mouth to retort, but then the yakuza is gone.

"You okay, Shikamaru?" he hears Kiba ask and turns to see Kiba, still bleeding badly, crouched over Shikamaru's prone form.

"Yeah," the pony-tailed man gasps, "Kiba…that injury…you shouldn't…"

Naruto pulls himself slowly and painfully to his feet and grabs a package of gauze bandages of one of the only shelves left standing. He rips it open and hands the contact to Kiba, who presses them firmly to his neck, grimacing in pain.

"What…what did they want?" Shikamaru asks, slowly, as if forming words itself is a struggle.

Shino starts saying something about bills, but the sirens are coming closer and closer.

"We don't have time for this," Naruto says, looping Shikamaru's arm around his shoulders, "We've got to go. Kiba, can you walk?"

"Yeah, I'm good," he says, sounding pained, "Just…my throat."

He gestures towards it and winces.

"Right," Naruto says, understanding, "I won't ask you anymore questions, but we have to move."

"Wait," Shino says and secures the gauze to Kiba's neck with a rubber band. Kiba nods his thanks, grabs Shikamaru's other arm, and they stumble slowly out the back, Shikamaru muttering, "Sorry about the mess," as they go.

To Naruto's relief, the alley behind the shop is yakuza-free and they limp awkwardly home.

"Well, that wasn't so bad," Shikamaru says, sounding half-conscious and Kiba chokes on pained laughter.

"Yeah, that Uchiha Sasuke guy wasn't so tough," Naruto jokes, and Shikamaru lets out an amused snort.

"Next time, though," Naruto says seriously, clenching his fists "He's mine."

He drops off Shikamaru at his house, and he and Chouji end up having to take Kiba to the hospital to get stitches on his neck. By the time he gets home, bruises have formed all over his body, and he doesn't even bother to take his clothes off before he collapses into bed.

They have a meeting at Neji's nearly-empty apartment the next night, and the main topic of discussion is Uchiha Sasuke.

"He's dangerous," Kiba informs Chouji and Neji, "Naruto couldn't land a hit on him."

"I got a couple hits," Naruto says, feeling insulted.

Neji raises an eyebrow.

Naruto sighs, "Okay, okay, no, none of them really took. But last night was a bad night all around. I mean, we've lost before and we've won before. Why is this such a big deal?"

To tell the truth, he knows why it's such a big deal. It's because they've been doing this for four years and Naruto never seen anyone who could fight like Uchiha Sasuke. He isn't just some run-of-the-mill thug. He'd been trained, and pretty damn well, which is more than most yakuza could say.

"Fighting with Ukon or Suigetsu has always been a gamble," Shikamaru says, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He hadn't slept all of the night before because he'd gotten a concussion, but he's still explaining for the benefit of Neji and Chouji. "It could have easily gone the other way for Kiba and I last night. But your fight with Uchiha," he says, eyeing Naruto, "There was only one way that could've gone."

"I'll get him next time," Naruto says, straightening and looking Shikamaru harshly in the eye, "You'll see."

"Oh, no, he's got that look," Chouji says despairingly, and Naruto smiles ruefully and pours himself another glass of the awful cheap sake that Neji keeps around.

Naruto knows that what Shikamaru's saying is true, but for the sake of morale he has to argue. And even more importantly, next time, he has to win. He has to show them, and himself, that Uchiha Sasuke is nothing more than another number in Oto's ranks. That he's just the same as all the low-life scum they've been fighting all along.

He gets his chance, too, only a little more than a week later, when he gets a text from Tsunade, saying there are a bunch of yakuza punks messing up her shop. Tsunade was the sometime-girlfriend of Jiraiya and so Naruto knows her pretty well. She was one of the few people who made sure that he was still eating after Jiraiya was murdered, and so he jumps over the counter, leaving a flustered customer behind and legs it out the door, ignoring Kiba's shouts. He revs up his bike and is off swerving in and out of traffic until he's reached Tsunade's dilapidated liquor store. He doesn't even bother to take the key out of the ignition, but jumps off the bike and barges inside.

The store is completely trashed. There's alcohol and broken glass all over the floor, every single shelf has been overturned, and all the freezers are smashed. Tsunade's assistant Shizune is lying motionless on the floor with her skirt hiked up and Tsunade herself is standing in front of the younger woman with what looks like a large wrench held defensively in front of her. On the other side of the room stand Kimimaro and Uchiha Sasuke. Zaku, another henchman, is sitting leaned up against one of the smashed freezers, bloody pouring down his head. He guesses it's Tsunade's work.

"…told you to just leave her alone," Uchiha Sasuke is saying, dressed informally again and ignoring Naruto's presence entirely, "If you want to get off, go and pay a whore after we're off the job."

"Fuck you," Zaku snarls, cradling the wound on his head.

"Naruto," Tsunade says, breathing heavily, stance stiff, "You should-"

But before she can finish, Kimimaro raises his right hand, revealing a worn-looking pistol and Naruto dodges behind a fallen shelf and promotional life-size model of a model holding a bottle of sake to avoid the shot. His fingers come in contact with one of the only unbroken bottles on the floor and he chucks it over the barrier without a thought. There is a crash and he smirks as Kimimaro swears, knowing that the projectile hit its mark. He leaps up, throwing another bottle as he goes, shouting, "Baa-chan, take her out the back, I'll cover you!"

Unfortunately, the second projectile doesn't hit its mark, but is instead smashed out of the way by Uchiha Sasuke's arm and a few glass shards slice open Naruto's left cheek. He doesn't have to time to react to this though, because then a strong kick forces him into the wall, which is where the strongest and most expensive stuff in the house sits on long planks nailed to the side of the building. He winces as the bottles breaking his fall shatter and lukewarm liquor sluices down his back.

But he knows that if he pauses one second, he's dead, so he ignores the screaming pain in his back and lunges at Uchiha. It obviously wasn't what the other man was expecting, so he actually gets the drop on him, bringing him down to the floor with a hard right to the face. Uchiha recovers quickly, and pretty much kills his advantage by kicking his feet out from under him and throwing him down on his back. Naruto leaps to his feet, and Tsunade yells, "Here!" from the back out the room and throws him the wrench. He catches it with one hand and tests its weight methodically. Unlike Kiba, Naruto's not really a fan of weapons. He much prefers open-handed combat, especially against someone who's unarmed, but as much as he hates to admit it, Uchiha Sasuke beat the crap out of him last time they fought and he's outnumbered here.

Unfortunately, Naruto was paying a bit too much attention to the Uchiha Sasuke part of that last sentence and not enough attention to the outnumbered part and he doesn't notice Kimimaro pulling himself to his feet until it's too late.

"Drop it," Orochimaru's former favorite commands, gun barrel pointed straight at Naruto's face, "Now."

Naruto swallows, mind racing, but he's knows he's been caught. He drops the wrench with a loud clang on the wet floor and raises his hands in the air.

Kimimaro is the one holding the gun, but Naruto finds himself looking at Uchiha instead. He looks right back at him coolly, dark eyes betraying nothing.

"Naruto!" Tsunade shouts, making to come back into the room.

"I told you to get out of here!" Naruto yells, hands curling into fists in frustration.

"Don't go anywhere, psycho bitch," Kimimaro says, eyeing her, but keeping the gun pointed at Naruto, "We still have business to discuss."

He moves towards the front of the room, back to the door, and makes a jerking motion with the gun, "Alright, Uzumaki," he says, "To the back, let's go."

Naruto's mouth curls in disgust, which he feels in this situation more acutely than fear, and does not move. If he's going to die, then he's not make it convenient for the yakuza to cover it up.

But before Kimimaro can decide to just shoot him and get it over with, the head of a shovel comes down from the door of the liquor store, left slightly ajar when Naruto entered, and smashes him over the head. Kimimaro looks dazed for a few seconds and then falls to the floor, revealing Neji and Kiba in the doorway.

"Naruto!" Kiba says, shovel raised, "You okay?"

"Shit!" Zaku snarls, trying desperately to get up off the floor while Uchiha merely exudes vague annoyance at the fact that his comrade was just bashed over the head with a shovel. Somehow, Naruto hates him more for it.

"You should leave, Tsunade-san," Neji says, pale eyes running over the vandalized liquor store, Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, and the injured Zaku, "We'll deal with this."

"I'm afraid I can't let that happen," Uchiha Sasuke says serenely, stepping out into the center of the room, as if he isn't the one outnumbered this time, "Orochimaru has business with her."

His use of the yakuza oyabun's name and complete lack of an honorific causes the ANBU members to stop in their tracks, confused. They are not used to low-level yakuza throwing around Orochimaru's name so casually.

Their face-off is interrupted by the sound of the back door slamming shut. Uchiha Sasuke sighs, rolling his eyes and, to their shock, turns his back on them and goes after her.

"Like I'd let you!" Naruto hisses and runs to catch up with him. He hears a shot and they both turn to see that Zaku had managed to get a hold of Kimimaro's gun and shot Neji in the leg.

"Neji!" he and Kiba yell at the same time. Kiba kicks the gun out of Zaku's hands and scrambles towards Neji who has fallen to one knee, face horribly pale.

"Go after him, Naruto!" Kiba yells, putting pressure on the wound, "I'll stay here!"

Naruto turns to see Uchiha's jacket whipping around the corner of the door. He tears after him, leaving the building and entering the alley behind Tsunade's store that's filled with old crates and a dumpster.

"You're going to run away, are you?" Naruto shouts at Uchiha's retreating back, "Stand and fight, coward!"

For whatever reason, it stops Uchiha in his tracks, his shoulders stiff. He whirls around, face alight with anger, a real expression for once, and God, it's more satisfying than a cigarette after sex.

"Why don't you stop talking about things you don't understand and help your friend," the mercenary says, lips nearly white with fury, "so I don't have to kill you."

Naruto raises an eyebrow incredulously, taking out the knife that he doesn't really want to use, but, as much as he hates it, probably needs, "So you don't have to kill me? Jeez, you are new at this, aren't you?"

The knife doesn't end up doing that much good, as Uchiha immediately grabs his hand and twists it, a trick forcing him to drop his weapon.

Naruto winds back his left fist and lands an uppercut right under the guy's ribs. Uchiha doesn't miss a beat, though, but throws a kick to the head that Naruto barely dodges. Naruto blocks his next swing and hip checks him away from the wall, sweeping his leg across to try and trip him up. Uchiha dodges his foot-sweep and shoves his head into the wall, hard.

Naruto groans, seeing stars, but manages to duck Uchiha's fist.

Uchiha hisses in pain as his fist collides with the wall and Naruto rolls out of the way, smirking for more than one reason. Up until now, Uchiha has been using all open-fisted techniques. The fact that he used his fist shows Naruto's gotten him sufficiently riled up, which in his opinion is much more desirable than his whole stone face act. Technically, neither of them should really be fighting with their fists, because this isn't a boxing match with gloves for protection, but Naruto has always preferred punching people to karate chopping them and it's not like he he's ever broken his hand doing it.

He only gets so long to bask, because then Uchiha is elbowing him in the side and kneeing him in the stomach. Naruto grabs his upper arm and brings his hand back to land another blow, but then Zaku bursts through the door and Uchiha uses the distraction to jerk away and create some space between them.

"We gotta go, Uchiha," he says, still holding the wound on his head, "The cops are here!"

Now that he says it, Naruto can hear the sirens, and he's surprised that he didn't notice them before. By the look on Uchiha's face, he hadn't noticed either.

"Right," Uchiha says and they withdraw.

"This isn't over, fuckhead," Naruto calls, wiping blood off his cheek, "Next time I'm gonna kick your ass."

Uchiha looks surprised for a second or two and then smirks, turning his head away, while Zaku watches warily.

"We'll see about that, idiot," he replies and Naruto clenches his fists, barely aware that the feeling coursing through his veins is excitement.

They take Neji to the hospital, but the verdict is good. The bullet didn't hit anything important and though it will be awhile before he can walk again, they all know it could have been much worse.

Also, funnily enough, Kimimaro has been arrested.

"He's just being charged with vandalism, mind you," Shikamaru says because he has to ruin everything, "And with that damn lawyer Juugo, the charges probably won't stick."

"Are you serious?" Kiba complains, putting his feet up on one of those movable cart things with medical instruments on it.

They're all sitting crowded around Neji's hospital bed, drinking a couple beers and discussing their next move.

"Everyone knows he's Oto," Kiba continues angrily, "The police definitely know. Is it really that hard to put the bastard away for a couple forevers?"

"Juugo's good," Neji says from the bed, pushing a piece of his girly hair back that Naruto and Kiba used to make fun of in elementary school until he kicked both their asses, "With his gloomy demeanor, you'd think he wouldn't be very skilled, but he has the judge eating out of his hand five minutes into his opening arguments."

"This sucks," Kiba says, crossing his arms in front of his chest and slouching in his seat like a child, "I should have just bashed him a couple more times over the head, right, Naruto?"

Naruto stopped listening awhile ago and is instead amusing himself by watching the screen that shows Neji's heart rate. Unlike Iruka's, Neji's heart just keeps beating and beating all by itself, but still, somewhere in the back of his mind, Naruto feels that if he looks away, it will stop.

"Naruto!" Chouji says loudly, making him jump. He looks over to find the rest of ANBU staring at him concernedly.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Chouji asks, "You hit your head pretty hard a few days ago."

"'Hit pretty hard' is an understatement," Kiba says, looking Naruto up and down contemplatively, "I believe that Uchiha smashed your head into, what was it again, a brick wall?"

Naruto scowls darkly. "I'm fine," he assures them, "Really. I was just spacing out. What were you saying?"

"No, we need to talk about this anyway," Shikamaru says, getting that look on his face that means he's about to say something that Naruto isn't going to like, "You need to stop picking fights with Uchiha."

Naruto stares at him, "'Picking fights?'" he quotes, shocked, "What are you talking about? We've fought twice! And both times were because the goddamn Oto-kumi is trying to take over more of this neighborhood than they already have!"

"That's not the point and you know it, Naruto," Shikamaru says, jaw set in an annoyingly determined way, "He's different than the others. He's ten times as dangerous as the crowd we're used to. You've gotten completely overwhelmed lost both times you've come up against him-"

"That's not true, it was a tie last tim-"

"Because the police came?" Neji butts in, looking resigned, "Get over it, Naruto, he's better than you are and there's not much you can do about it at this point."

"What are you saying?" Naruto asks viciously, jumping to his feet, "That I should just yet him walk all over us beca-"

'"Don't be stupid," Shikamaru says, eyes narrowed, "I'm telling you not to fight him alone. In fact, none of us should," he says, looking around at the rest of them, "There's no way you, or me, or whoever can take him by ourselves."

"But double-teaming him?" Naruto says dubiously, not liking the idea one bit, "That's not very-"

"Dammit, Naruto, this is not a game!" Shikamaru says angrily, getting to his feet as well, "You know that! You know that."

There is a silence and Kiba, Chouji, and Neji look warily between the two of them, as if expecting a fight to break out. They needn't have worried though, because at the moment Naruto's too angry to even move, much less speak. Finally, he opens his mouth.

"Yes, I think I've understood that part," Naruto says icily, resisting the urge to drive him fist into Shikamaru's control freak face, "I just hoped I might have some principals left by the time this thing is over."

They glare at each other for a few more seconds, but before Shikamaru can make some witty retort, the door opens and Hyuuga Hinata, Naruto's ex-girlfriend and Neji's first cousin, walks in holding a bouquet of flowers.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she says, blushing, "I didn't realize that you had guests, Neji-ni-san."

None of them say anything, but just stare at her as if they're not sure if she's real.

"Umm," Hinata says, her face getting redder every second, "Um, I can see now's not a good time, so I'll come back later…"

She flees before she can even finish her sentence and Naruto feels rather guilty.

"Well, that's my cue to go," he says awkwardly, but Kiba grabs his arm before he can go.

"Naruto, we still have to talk about the festival next week," he says and Naruto grimaces at the weak excuse.

"I hate this," he says, but sits back down anyway.

The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival is a pretty big deal in Konoha. It's the only fall festival that's really celebrated and it's a huge promotional event for the businesses in the area. Business owners spend weeks figuring out what their booth should sell and buying up useless things like samurai masks and defective nets.

Still, the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival used to be one of Naruto's favorite times of year. He and Iruka would go to watch the parade of the 34 portable shrines, see the taiko drummers, but most of all to revel in the festive atmosphere and watch the fireworks.

But that was before Oto-kumi was a presence in their neighborhood and Naruto's found that festivals lose their charm when all your friends and family are dead.

Also, festivals are a time when yakuza try to insert themselves in the community the most, and while there is an unspoken rule that forbids fighting during festivals, it is ANBU's job to remind both the yakuza and the rest of the town of the former's criminal status.

Mostly, they do this by just showing up. ANBU is notorious for pissing off Konoha's not-so-friendly neighborhood crime syndicate and everyone knows it. There's a price to their fame, of course, but at this point, it's something Naruto could care less about.

There is one tense moment, however, when Naruto runs into Orochimaru, dressed in a deep red haori and black hakama, at a dango stand.

"Well, well, Naruto-kun," Orochimaru says sibilantly, while his two bodyguards, Yoroi and Misumi, he thinks, stiffen up to make themselves look more intimidating, "You don't look very festive. You should really, ah, lighten up."

He is referring to, of course, the fact that none of ANBU are dressed in yukata or in any way different than usual. Naruto's wearing his dark green sweatshirt again, Chouji an earthy brown pullover, and they're both in cargo pants. It's one of Shikamaru's things again, something about that if they dress up in festival clothes, it gives the impression that they're on break. And they can never be on break.

"You should really relax, Naruto-kun," Orochimaru says, stepping closer, causing the people in the area to back away slightly, obviously expecting a confrontation, "Allow me to buy you a drink," he continues and gestures towards a stand where they have bar stools set up.

Chouji reaches up to grip the back of Naruto's arm, as if he, too, thinks that Naruto's going to lose it and go after the yakuza oyabun. Naruto's kind of insulted at his lack of faith.

"Sorry," Naruto says, casually sliding his hands into his pockets, "I make a point not to drink with crime lords. Just a quirk of mine."

Orochimaru narrows his eyes and Naruto thinks, "You want a fight? Bring it on. I can take you and your minions on anytime."

But Orochimaru does not start a fight, but smiles in a decidedly fake manner and turns away, his thug bodyguards trailing after him

"Yeah, that's right," Naruto calls, but before he can insult the man any further, Chouji slaps a hand over his mouth and drags him away.

After a long lecture from Chouji about not doing anything stupid, the night is pretty uneventful. Just some glaring as they pass by other groups of yakuza, and that's it.

But…something is missing. It's a feeling that he can't really place, but nonetheless, it bothers Naruto the entire night and it's only when he's back at home taking a shower does he realize what it is.

Of all the yakuza that patronized the festival, Uchiha Sasuke was not among them.


Things are still strained between him and Shikamaru, but, fortunately, there's a fight a few days later that puts their priorities straight.

He and Kiba are closing up shop when Ino bursts in the door nearly colliding with a display of colorful magazines.

"Are you okay?" Naruto asks as she falls to her knees, panting for breath, at the same time wondering if he should tell her that with the miniskirt she's wearing, anyone who comes through the door behind her will see her underwear.

On one hand, he's a nice guy, and nice guys warn people about stuff like that. On the other, less-altruistic hand, he'll probably get more business if anyone does see her.

Fortunately, Kiba cuts his ethical dilemma short, by saying bluntly, "Uh, you know I can see your underwear, right?"

Ino looks up to glare at him and uses one of Naruto's poor dilapidated shelves to hoist herself off the floor.

"Look," she says, still sounding a bit annoyed, "I didn't have to come here, but I figured you should know that Oto's planning to assassinate Hyuuga Hiashi tonight."

Hyuuga Hiashi is the richest guy in Konoha, and coincidentally, Neji's uncle. They don't get along, which is sad, because every once and a while Naruto could use a loan, but he thinks he's dealing with this missed opportunity pretty well. But more importantly, Hyuuga owns quite a bit of real-estate in the area.

"What?" Kiba exclaims at the same time Naruto asks, "Why?"

Ino raises an eyebrow, "What do you mean, why? They're yakuza! Why not?"

"Well, yeah," Naruto says, scratching his head to check once more if there's anyone in the shop that could overhear them. There isn't. "But it doesn't make sense. I mean, I know Hyuuga hasn't exactly been the most welcoming person in this town, but why kill him? In fact, killing him will just probably cause problems for them. Hyuuga's a big fish in these parts, he's got connections all over Osaka and Oto'll only get a worse rep for killing him. What's their gain?"

"Look, I dunno," Ino says impatiently, fixing her skirt and adjusting her sequin-covered purse over her shoulder, "And quite frankly, I don't care. I just heard it from Ami, a total traitor, by the way, because she makes a habit of sleeping with those low-level Oto pigs. I didn't know who else to go to. I've had too many run-ins with the cops for them to trust me, so I figured that you guys were pretty much Hiashi's only chance. "

"What?" Naruto says, eyes widening, "Hiashi?"

"Umm…" Ino says, face turning a violent shade of red.

"Oh, god," Kiba says, looking horrified, " We are talking about Hyuuga Hiashi, right? The guy who owns my apartment and has the manager leave snide notes on my door when I don't pay rent on time. Please tell me we're not talking about him."

"Well, I can't exactly be picky, you know," Ino says indignantly, still the color of a tomato, "Besides, it's been a long time since his wife died, and he is rather sweet when you get to know hi-"

"ARGH," Kiba shouts, holding his hands over his ears, "ARGH."

"Wow," Naruto says, feeling like he should sit down before he falls over, "I didn't think Hyuuga was the kind of man who would…and I don't think I've ever heard anyone call him sweet before."

"Please stop," Kiba says piteously, "Please."

Naruto can't. "I mean, I ate dinner with him a couple times when Hinata and I were still dating," he continues, blinking a lot, "and I never would've pegged him as the type to…Wow."

"Don't tell anyone," Ino begs, "I wasn't supposed to say, for, you know, obvious reasons. Especially not Neji, he would…Why am I even talking about this anyway?"

"My thoughts exactly," Kiba says, looking about five seconds away from throwing himself off a building.

"Look," she says, cheeks flushed in a way that Naruto would probably consider attractive if he were not too busy warding away images of Ino and Hyuuga fucking Hiashi doing it, "Who my clients are are none of your business. Just…just don't let him die, okay?" She turns around, opening the door and adds, "And don't you do anything stupid, either, morons!"

"Wow," Naruto says dazedly, watching her leave, "Wait, we should probably call Shikamaru right about now, shouldn't we?"

Kiba merely moans in despair.

Shikamaru, Neji, and Chouji are also confused in varying degrees as to why Oto would want to kill Hyuuga Hiashi, but they all agree that they have to do something before it's too late.

They pile into Neji's car, rolling their eyes at his threats that if they ruin the upholstery, he'll kill them and race off to Suna, where Hiashi actually lives.

It's a pretty nice neighborhood, filled with two-story houses surrounded by high walls and iron gates, and by the time they get there, the sun is going down and Naruto is feeling pretty intimidated.

They park on the side of the road, which is definitely illegal and hop over the iron gate into the lush garden. They walk up the path to the front door, Kiba openly gaping, probably at the perfect view of Mount Ikoma from the garden. Neji, who is walking with a cane at this point, mutters something like, "Let me handle this," and rings the doorbell.

The housekeeper answers, a pale middle-aged woman with a stutter that kind of remind Naruto of Hinata, and Neji asks her, using polite tones, if they can speak to his uncle.

"I'm…I'm s-sorry," she says, swallowing and clutching her apron convulsively, "But Hi-Hiashi-sama is on a bu-business trip in Tok-kyo."

"Did Oto screw up?" Naruto wonders, but his stomach drops when he sees the horrified look on Shikamaru's face. "Oh, fuck, it's a trap!"

But before any of them can do anything, Dosu and Ukon step out into the landing from behind the staircase, guns out.

"Hands up," Dosu says grimly, "Step into the house, please."

"I'm so sorry," the woman whispers tearfully, stutter gone, and moves out of the way.

Shikamaru and Neji act quickly, using their bodies to block the doorway and push Naruto, Kiba, and Chouji back out of the way.

Chouji and Kiba force him down, scrambling out of the way and Naruto hears Dosu swear loudly.

"Let me go!" Naruto snarls as they drag him into the garden and out of the way, "Let me go we can't just leave them the-"

But before he can finish his sentence, he hears Kiba cry out in pain and release him, and he turns to see Uchiha Sasuke standing between them and the exit. Kiba is down on the ground, holding a bloody nose and Naruto shakes Chouji off easily and lunges at the arrogant little shit.

"Go help Shikamaru and Neji," Naruto tells them, throwing a punch at Uchiha's nose that the mercenary dodges with ease.

Uchiha kicks him in the chest, throwing him back into a tan, thatched fence, but Naruto manages to grab his leg, hoisting it high into the air. Uchiha falls, but drags him down to the moss covered ground, highlighted with round stepping stones. Uchiha snarls at him, elbowing him in the gut and throws him into a spindly azalea bush. He raises his leg, obviously having no qualms in kicking a man when he's down, and Naruto dodges it by nearly throwing himself into a stone lantern. Remembering Gai's words, Naruto feigns with his left fist and then kicks Uchiha right in the ribs.

Uchiha gasps in surprise and (Naruto hopes) pain, and stumbles backwards, straight into the koi pond.

Despite the direness of the situation, Naruto can't help but let out a shout of laughter as Uchiha surfaces, looking rather like a drowned cat. The lights outside the house choose this moment to flicker on, and Naruto gets an even better look at Uchiha waist deep in the pond and starts laughing even harder.

"Shut. Up." Uchiha says, looking furious.

He wades up out of the pond, wringing out his white dress shirt that has gone all see-throughy, making his disturbingly pale skin all the more noticeable. (Also, his six-pack, but Naruto is going to focus on more optimistic things right now.)

"I said," Uchiha snarls, when Naruto does not stop laughing, "Shut up!"

Naruto doesn't manage to dodge his punch, but backfists him in the face, even though it feels like Uchiha just ripped a hole in his chest. He fists the collar of Uchiha's shirt and slams him into an immaculately trimmed evergreen tree, ridiculously pleased by the tenseness of the muscles under his shirt. Finally, the bastard taking him seriously. Finally.

Uchiha tries to knee him in the stomach, but Naruto grabs it before it can make contact with his skin. While he hands are distracted, Uchiha pushes himself away from the tree and head butts him right in the temple.

Naruto yelps in pain, bringing both hands to cradle his head, trampling over several purple irises near the pond.

He looks up when he realizes Uchiha hasn't taken the opening to see that the mercenary's bleeding badly from the back of the head.

"Having trouble?" Naruto asks maliciously, forgetting his own injury. He prefers to revel in Uchiha's, actually.

"I could ask you the same," Uchiha says, regarding the bruise that's undoubtedly forming on Naruto's head and the ruined flowers.

"Hey, it could have been worse," Naruto says, feeling inordinately cheerful, "I could have, you know, fallen into a pond."

Uchiha practically growls at him and tries to land a spin-kick on him, but Naruto just moves to the side, grabbing his leg and throwing him off balance. Uchiha kicks at his legs, bringing him down to the mossy earth for the second time and Naruto barely blocks his next punch.

He's slower, to be sure. That knock on the head looks like it really did a number on him and Naruto fully intends to take advantage of it. He drives his knee into Uchiha's side and throws him on his back. He sits up and reaches down to grab his pale throat and squeeze. Uchiha chokes, but kicks him off just a few seconds later, scrambling backwards only to collide with the side of the house.

Naruto wheezes painfully, definitely feeling that last kick, but he knows he's won by the way Uchiha's coughing. The mercenary uses some vines growing on the wall to pull himself into a standing position, but Naruto can tell just by looking at him that it's taking all his energy not to collapse on the spot.

But before Naruto can return the favor and smash his pretty-boy face into the wall, two figures run out of the house, nearly unrecognizable in the dark.

"AND FUCKING STAY OUT!" he hears Shikamaru bellow and realizes that Dosu and Ukon have lost. That they've won.

"Of course," he hears Uchiha sigh, and turns to see him moving towards the back gate, "It figures those weaklings would turn tail and run the second things get rough."

"Like what you're doing now?" Naruto asks viciously.

The guy raises an eyebrow, though Naruto can barely see it as he's moved away from the light.

"You're not too smart, are you?" he observes in a patronizing tone, "I'm not one of Orochimaru's flunkies. I'm just in this for the money. And if they're not here so they can report later on how badly I kicked your ass, well, what's the point?"

"So that's all this is to you?" Naruto snaps, disgusted "A way to make money?"

Uchiha looks amused, "Of course," he says arrogantly, "Do you think I'd waste my time with a worthless ignoramus like you otherwise?"

Naruto's so taken aback by this that he can't think of anything to say and then the guy's disappeared into the darkness.

Naruto's won. He knows he's won, fair and square, but as Uchiha's words echo in his mind he certainly doesn't feel like it.

They have to hightail it out of there right after that because with all the noise they've made, someone's bound to have called the police. Neji has time to apologize to the terrified housekeeper about the mess, grab Dosu and Ukon's dropped guns and then they're off.

"I'm going to kill him," Naruto says for probably the billionth time since Uchiha left, "I seriously think I could kill him now."

"What are you so angry about?" Shikamaru asks, the scowl on his face highlighted by the taillights of the car in front of them, "You won, didn't you? Against my specific instructions not to take him on alone, by the way, but nonetheless you beat him. Why the sudden anger?"

If they were closer friends to Naruto-he tries not to think "if they were Sakura-chan and Sai,"-he probably would have told them. But whatever initial friendship he'd felt for his fellow members of ANBU has been eroded by years of arguing strategy and taking orders in what feels like a war that will never end. He does feel a certain bond with the rest of ANBU. He'd kill for them, be horrified if any of them died, but they are not his friends. They are his teammates and cannot be anything more. That hole could only be filled by Sai and Sakura-chan. He can never replace them and what's more, he doesn't even want to try.

"He pisses me off," Naruto says instead, "Next time I'm going to beat him so black and blue that his bouryokudan cronies won't even recognize him."

"That's nice," Neji groans, lying back against the headrest. Shikamaru is driving, as he claims to be exhausted, "Now, please shut up about him."

"Trying to sleep?" Naruto asks bad-temperedly, jerking his head around from the passengers seat to glare at him, "Why so tired, it's not like you actually did anything."

"I hit Ukon with my cane," Neji says completely straight-faced, without opening his eyes, "It was very tiring."

"It's true," Chouji says honestly, "I was there. Great hit, by the way."

"Thank you, Akimichi-san," Neji says solemnly, bowing his head and everyone laughs except Naruto, who merely seals his mouth shut in disapproval.

Naruto goes home and has pleasant dreams about ripping Uchiha Sasuke's spine out and beating him to death with it.

The next two weeks are surprisingly quiet. They all thought that after an attempt on their lives things would escalate again, but thankfully, they are wrong. September turns into October and Naruto turns twenty-six. He waves off Temari's invitations to throw a party (and Kiba's less innocent ones) and celebrates by going to wash Sai, Sakura-chan, Iruka, and Jiraiya's graves. Then he gets spectacularly drunk off Tsunade's best whiskey and ends up sobbing brokenly on his apartment floor when he realizes that Sakura-chan's pink sweater no longer smells of her perfume.

He wakes up with an awful hangover to Kiba pounding on his door yelling that he has to open up the bookshop, and he lies on the floor, staring at the yellowing ceiling, and thinks that he wouldn't mind if he died right here, right now.

But then he remembers Uchiha Sasuke's dismissive words and it's only the fact that he has yet to beat the shit out of the mercenary that Naruto gets up off the floor.

"Kakashi," Kiba sighs as the scarred man enters the shop, "What a pleasant non-surprise. What are you doing here? I told you the next volume isn't coming out for three more weeks."

"It's part of my morning routine," the ex-cop says cheerfully, "I always stop by as soon as you open."

"But we opened three hours ago," Naruto says, amused, "It's noon, you know."

He's never gotten why Kakashi always acts like a ridiculous porn-addict when they all know he can fight like a madman.

"Oh, well, I'm late, but only because I had to help young Chouji to the Emergency Room and…"

Naruto is halfway rolling his eyes at another flimsy excuse, when he realizes what he's hearing.

"What? What happened to Chouji?" Kiba demands, practically leaping over the counter.

"That's just what I was saying," Kakashi says innocently, "It seems he managed to break both his arms…and get a black eye at the same time, yet he assured me he merely tripped."

"Fuck!" Kiba snarls, really leaping over the counter this time, making for the door.

"Wait, Kiba, I'm coming with," Naruto says, tearing after him, "Sorry, Kakashi, everyone, we've got to close ear-"

"No, stay here, Naruto," Kiba says, putting on his jacket as he leaves, "We need all the business we can get. Stay here and I'll text you when I find out what happened."

Naruto wants to protest, but he knows Kiba's right. He can barely afford to restock the shelves half the time and if he didn't own the building himself, he'd be out of business by now.

"Did you see anything?" he turns to Kakashi, intent on grilling him even though the rest of the customers in the store are staring at him, but the man simply shakes his head and wanders off into the "art book" section.

After half an hour of pacing and probably scaring all his business away, he gets a text from Kiba.

/hell be okay/ it says, /both arms broken but thats it./

"That's it?" Naruto thinks, but texts back /who?/


"It's my fault," Chouji says, both arms incased in plaster, "I went out into the alley behind the restaurant to throw out some trash and they jumped me. It was stupid, I was completely alone and not on guard."

"Motherfuckers," Naruto snarls, garnering a shocked look from a middle-aged salary man sitting on the other end of the hospital waiting room, "That Uchiha Sasuke is dead. Next time I see him I'm going to-"

"Yeah, yeah, cut off his head and stick it on a pole," Shikamaru says, looking frustrated, "Just be quiet for a second, I'm trying to think."

"What do you need to think about?" Neji asks, crushing the pamphlet the doctor gave Chouji about how to take care of his arms while they were in casts into a ball, "Isn't it obvious? They couldn't take us out all at once, so they just trying to pick us off one by one."

"It also means that they aren't trying to kill us," Shikamaru says, frowning and tapping his fingers compulsively against his armrest, "Which makes sense, but I rather thought they were completely sick of us at this poi-"

"What are you talking about?" Kiba asks loudly, but continues in a softer voice when they all glare at him, "What do you mean, they're not trying to kill us? They never had a problem with killing…" he pauses and throws a worried glance at Naruto, who clenches his jaw tightly, "…people before. Why now? And how does that make sense?"

"I don't know if you've noticed," Chouji says, glancing around to check if anyone's listening, "But the entire town knows exactly who we are. The police probably know all our favorite foods and whatnot. It'd be just a bit suspicious if we all kinda got offed, don't you think?"

"Well, yeah," Naruto says, the pit of his stomach still cold from Kiba's reference to Sakura-chan and Sai, "But I didn't think they really cared about that."

"Neither did I," Shikamaru says honestly, shrugging his shoulders, "They could've killed Chouji, but instead they took the time to break both of his arms. It'd be easier just to shoot someone, right?"

"I'll fucking break his neck," Naruto grumbles, starting to pace.

"Okay, Naruto, you need to calm down," Kiba says, sitting up straight in his chair, "I know Uchiha's bouryokudan filth, but you're getting a bit too obsessed with him."

"Obsessed with him?" Naruto repeats incredulously, "He's an arrogant asshole who needs a good beating, and I aim to give it to him."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Neji shrug at Kiba, who has a defeated look on his face. Shikamaru looks contemplative, but doesn't say anything.

They switch tracks after that and try and talk about something more pleasant, like

Temari and Shikamaru's upcoming one year anniversary, but Naruto soon bails.

He's found he can't really talk to them about things that don't have to do with ANBU. But that's okay, because most of the time he doesn't really want to anyway.

He leaves the hospital and walks to the lot where he parked his bike. It's a dark red cruiser, and the most expensive one time thing he's ever bought in his life. He was never one of those guys who drooled over cars or bikes before, but the second he saw it at Shiranui Genma's used motorcycle dealer, he knew he had to have it. It took a little more than two years for him to save up for it, and a couple months after that before he could even ride it, but even though gas is always a pain and it's freezing in the winter, he's never regretted his decision to buy it. (Well, he kind of wishes it was bright orange, but beggars can't be choosers.)

He chooses to hold his helmet instead of putting it on and lets the cold October wind blow on his face as he heads back toward Konoha. His hands tighten on the handlebars and he winces at the soreness in his muscles. He's been working out more than usual lately

"Worthless ignoramus?" he thinks, speeding up and narrowing his eyes as the air hits his face harder, "We'll see about that."

It's Friday night and Naruto is having a drink alone in his apartment. Also, he's listening to the police scanner, but that's more out of habit than anything else. At around eleven o'clock some guy starts babbling about a disturbance that may or may not be a fight, and so Naruto goes to check it out. It's in the south side, the nicer part of Konoha, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

And it's not like Naruto has anything better to do.

He parks his bike a little way away and walks through the residential area towards a small house surrounded by police cars.

"What happened?" he asks one of the people crowded around the house who most likely live in the area.

"I think there was a fight," she answers, tugging her robe more tightly around herself. It's dark and Naruto decides that she probably doesn't recognize him, "Poor Shimura-san, you'd think they'd leave him alone after what happened to him a couple years ago…"

Naruto turns away from the house to stare at her, "Shimura?" he repeats, "Shimura Danzou?"

"Yes, that's his house," she replies, standing on her tiptoes to try and see over the other, taller people, "I do hope he's alright. Such a nice man, always…"

Naruto doesn't wait for her to finish her sentence, but is off pushing through the crowd to get closer to the house. Through the front window he sees Danzou sitting on the couch and talking to two police officers. He doesn't look hurt from his vantage point, but Naruto can't be sure.

He hears someone clear their throat behind him and he spins around to come face to face with Sarutobi Asuma.

"What are you doing here?" the officer asks him, crossing his arms over his dark blue vest.

"I was just in the neighborhood," Naruto says innocently, "Looks like there was quite a commotion. What…uh…happened, by the way?"

Sarutobi narrows his eyes, "Don't give me that bullshit," he says, stepping closer, "You were listening to the scanner again, weren't you?"

Naruto scowls at him, "So, what are you going to do, arrest me?"

Sarutobi reaches forward to grab the collar of Naruto's jacket with one white-gloved hand, "I should," he says, breath smelling like smoke, "For your own good."

"Ooh, police brutality. I can see the headline already," Naruto says sarcastically, raising his hands in the air.

Sarutobi scowls and drops Naruto's collar, "If you're not gone by the time we're ready to go, I will arrest you," he says seriously, "Now get out of here."

"You should really quite smoking," Naruto calls as the police officer makes his way back into the house, "Those things'll kill you!"

Sarutobi doesn't show any indication that he heard him and Naruto frowns. He has no doubt that Sarutobi would arrest him again if he gives him the chance. But he can't leave until he finds out what the yakuza wanted with Danzou.

He hangs around the house for about half an hour until the police come out and then sneaks into the yard around the back as they leave. Unfortunately, he catches sight of Danzou leaving with them and curses.

Figuring that if he's here he might as well try and figure out what happened, he looks through the back window and while the lights are off inside, he can make out that the glass screen door has been smashed and the entire inside of the house has been trashed. He's just about to gingerly stick a hand throw the hole in the glass to open the door when he hears a noise behind him and he spins around.

"Don't look so surprised, Uzumaki Naruto," Akadou Yoroi says from the alley behind Danzou's house, barely illuminated by the back porch lights, "After all, your motorcycle's pretty distinctive."

Naruto tenses up and readies himself for a fight.

"You know," a voice says from the other side of the yard, "I'm really starting to get pissed that you keep going off by yourself. I mean, would it kill you to text me?"

Naruto grins as Kiba saunters across the yard to stand at his side.

"You really have no life," Kiba sighs, stretching his arms out, "I mean, seriously, listening to the police scanner. On a Friday night?"

Naruto scoffs, "Like you're not here for the same reason."

Kiba merely smiles and mutters, "We both need girlfriends."

"Well, now we're two on one," Naruto says, smirking and turning to face Yoroi.

He doesn't look all that worried though, and a second later Naruto figures out why.

"Wrong," Uchiha Sasuke says, stepping out from behind the dumpsters.

Naruto has spent the last three weeks thinking about what he was going to say to Uchiha when he saw him again, what he was going to do. But after all that time he didn't he'd still be so angry. He can practically feel his blood boil at just the sight of him. He doesn't even realize how much he's tensed up until Kiba puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Right," Naruto says, good humor completely gone, "Yoroi's yours, Kiba.

"Naruto, maybe you shouldn't…" Naruto holds up a hand to silence him.

"Do we really have to do this?" Uchiha asks Yoroi, looking bored, "Our job's is done. It serves no purpose to come back here."

"You're new here, Uchiha," Yoroi says, adjusting his sun glasses, "So you don't know how annoying these cockroaches can be. You see a few and if you don't stamp them out immediately, they're all over you. "

"Not likely," Uchiha says, eyeing Naruto, but he doesn't turn to leave or make any other comments.

The next thing Naruto knows is that Uchiha has delivered a lightning fast front kick and he's flying through the screen door, glass shards cutting into the back of his head.

"Son of a-" he hears Kiba yell, and then there's another crash. He struggles to sit up, colored lights flashing in his eyes. He has a hard time seeing because it's so dark, but he does manage to make out Uchiha's silhouette. Groaning, he uses the nearest thing to him, a couch or something, to pull himself to his feet.

"Damn, someone's bitter," he says mockingly, but it comes out kind of hoarse because he's having trouble getting air into his lungs, "Out for revenge, are you?"

"Shut up," Uchiha says, stepping through the open door, "You're annoyingly persistent, aren't you?"

"You have no idea," Naruto says and lunges.

They smash into a small table near the wall and a vase rolls off it, shattering on the floor. Uchiha tries to jam his elbow into his ribs, but Naruto slams his head into the wall. He tries to knee him too, but Uchiha lands a side-kick in his gut, forcing him back.

"Son of a bitch!" he snarls, and the mercenary glares at him, wiping blood off his face.

"Don't you people ever give up?" Uchiha asks, circling around the room, "Orochimaru told me you were particularly obstinate, but I thought it was mostly his pride talking."

"'Orochimaru,' huh?" Naruto bites back, nursing his side, scanning the dark room for objects to avoid or use, "He a friend of yours, then?

He can't really tell because it's so dark but he thinks he sees amusement on Uchiha's face.

"Not really," the other man replies and then Naruto's dodging Uchiha's distinctive left leg that whooshes over his head.

Naruto kicks his legs under him, and while Uchiha's off balance, grabs the collar of his navy jacket and uses his favorite Judo move, flipping him over his upper back. Uchiha crashes into an already overturned side table and uses the wall to get to his feet, groaning.

Naruto makes to kick him right under the arm, but then there's an awful pain in his head and something sharp is clipping his ear on it's way down to the tile floor. Glass?

"Did you," Naruto asks, comprehension dawning, "just hit me over the head with a lamp? What kind of lameass yakuza are you?"

Uchiha replies by kicking him into a large bookcase, which totters for a few heart stopping moments, and then proceeds to fall on him.

Before Uchiha can use his predicament to do something like jump on the bookshelf, Naruto shoves it off himself, ignoring the burning in his legs and upper body.

"You filthy little-"

He throws himself out of the way of the mercenary's next kick and trips Uchiha up. He falls but does that stupid bridge jump thing before Naruto can even get to his feet properly. Naruto grabs the nearest thing off the floor, a picture frame, he thinks, and chucks it at Uchiha's head the buy him some time. The guy hits it out of the way and sneers.

"And you made a big deal about the lamp?" he mocks, looking amused, "At least I didn't use a picture of the man's dead family."

Naruto looks, and to his horror, the bastard is right.

"Yeah, I wonder how that happened," Naruto shoots back and Uchiha's face darkens.

Uchiha throws a lightening fast front kick again and it throws Naruto back out of the living room area and into a narrow hallway. He manages to grab his leg before he pulls it back and drags him down as well.

Uchiha tries a spinning hammer, but he underestimated the width of the hallway and ends up hitting the wall instead.

"Fuck!" he swears, reaching down to cradle his injured hand automatically. Naruto takes advantage of this and punches him in the gut with one hand, elbowing him in the temple at the same time. Uchiha falls to the ground, grappling with something and it's not until too late that Naruto notices the bathroom door next to him, crashing into his skull.

He lets out a cry of pain and backs up into the wall and is barely aware of Uchiha standing and grabbing him by the collar roughly.

"You irritate me," Uchiha tells him, and he certainly sounds like it. Naruto makes to land a right hook on his side, but the mercenary grabs his arms and pins it to the wall.

"Well, right back at you," Naruto hisses, struggling against him.

He breaks his grip and shoves him to the other side of the hallway. Uchiha tries to break free with his uninjured hand, but Naruto copies his earlier movement and pins it to the wall. The mercenary does not try to use his injured hand and snarls in frustration.

"You really are a complete idiot, aren't you?" Uchiha breathes, "Do you really think you can win? Orochimaru has connections you can't even imagine."

He tries to buckle Naruto off and Naruto pins his lower body the wall with his hips, blood roaring in his ears.

"Do I look like I care?" Naruto snarls, fisting Uchiha's collar with his free hand, "Because I don't. I couldn't care less how many groupies or friends in high places your boss has. I care about one thing, and that's getting you fucking gangsters out of our neighborhood."

Uchiha leans forward, so close that their noses are almost touching, "Then you're a fool, Uzumaki Naruto."

The way he says his name, the fact that he even knows his name, sends shivers dancing down Naruto's spine. Suddenly, quite without prompting, Naruto realizes that he's flush against Uchiha Sasuke. His fingers dig into the other man's upper arm and Naruto is so close he can smell the green tea on his breath. Before he can disengage, something flickers in Uchiha's eyes and his lack of action, the fact that he does not move back out of Naruto's face, speaks volumes.

"What-" Naruto starts, voice hoarse.

"Shut up," Uchiha says and without Naruto's permission, his left hand loosens on Uchiha arm, but the man doesn't let it falls, gripping it back.

Naruto has gone completely and utterly insane, the only possible explanation for why he shifts forwards, bending his right arm and leaning it up against the wall just to the right of Uchiha's head. Uchiha inches forward, something Naruto previously thought was impossible and their noses touch. Slide against each other. Uchiha's eyes are half-mast, he can practically see each slight discoloration in his irises, and all his injuries seem to fade into the background. Naruto starts to feel heat rise in his cheeks, the instinct to touch, taste, feel, overriding any common sense he had in the first place. His eyes drop down to Uchiha's cheekbones, his strong jaw, his mouth, and Naruto lets his eyelids creep downwards, pressing further against the heat of the other man's body. He swallows, leaning in, but before he can seal his fate, he hears Kiba shouting outside the house.

He shoves himself away from the wall with as much force as he can muster. To be fair, Uchiha looks just as surprised as he feels, but Naruto still has to resist the urge to punch him one more time before he runs. He ricochets off the walls to get to the front door and yanks it open, nearly tearing it from its hinges.

"Kiba!" he shouts, bolting out of the yard, "we're going!"

"What the hell?" Kiba shouts from behind the house, as Naruto tries to remember which direction he parked his motorcycle in, "Are you fucking kid-ugh! Dammit, I'm trying to have a conversation here, fucking bouryokudan!" "Kiba!" Naruto bellows, aware that he's going to wake up the entire neighborhood all over again, "I'm leav-ing!"

"Ugh, fine, dammit, I hate running!"

Naruto is tensed up, pacing back and forth, until Kiba comes running into sight from around the house.

"What," Kiba pants, "the hell…is your problem? I was just about to kick his ass into next month."

"We're leaving," Naruto repeats hurriedly, grabbing his arm, "Let's go."

"Are you serious?" Kiba groans, but lets Naruto drag him on to the motorbike and away.

Later, when he has dropped Kiba off at his place and gotten home, he sits down at his kitchen table, holding his head in his hands.

"Fuck," he says, face twisting in frustration, "Fuck!"

The first time Naruto went up against Uchiha he was annoyed, the second time he was determined, the third, furious.


He's terrified.

The next morning, Naruto wakes up, takes one look at the ceiling and remembers. He groans, putting a hand over his eyes, and sits up. He tries to go back to sleep because it's still pretty early, but he fails in this endeavor and ends up shoving the covers off his legs and making for the bathroom. He enters the room, not bothering with the slippers and stares blearily at himself in the mirror. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes and washes his face, inspecting the amount of stubble on his chin. It's pretty obvious he needs to shave. Offhandedly, he thinks that it was probably for the best that he didn't kiss Uchiha-and then proceeds to smack his head twice against the mirror upon realizing what he was thinking.

"Maybe," he thinks darkly as he gets into the tiny shower, tossing his undershirt and boxers aside, and grabbing his razor, "Maybe if I just pretend it never happened, I will one day be able to forget all about it."

But he doubts it.

Naruto's sexuality had never really been an issue before. Well, okay, that's a lie, but it had been years since he'd ever had a problem with it. He wasn't gay, he was, well, half-gay. Bisexual. Whatever.

He'd been nineteen when things started getting a bit too suspicious to ignore. Iruka had been dead for three years and he might've freaked out a bit. Konoha was pretty conservative about things like homosexuality and he'd been angry and defensive; a definite pain in the ass to be around for a while.

Eventually he told Sakura-chan and Sai, and it had been kind of weird for a while, but they got over it. And despite being out of the closest, it became something that Naruto had just sort of ignored. If he hadn't liked girls it might have been a different story, but Naruto just told himself that being bisexual didn't mean he couldn't get married or have kids. He would just overlook that side of himself and everything would be fine.

No one else alive knew when Sakura-chan and Sai died, and Naruto had intended to keep it that way.

Except now he's pretty sure that Uchiha Sasuke has a clue.

"I am so, so, stupid," he thinks and bangs his head against the tiled wall once again just for good measure.

"You gonna tell us what happened?" Shikamaru asks the second Naruto walks in the door of Neji's apartment later that night, arms crossed over his chest in an annoyingly determined way.

Naruto immediately turns to glare at Kiba, who is admiring Neji's complete lack of curtains innocently.

"Nothing happened," he grumbles, throwing his bag down onto one of the awfully uncomfortable chairs and sitting down himself, "Is this why you called us here today?"

"You don't think this is a big deal? Of course you don't." Shikamaru says rather dramatically, throwing up his hands in the air. "First off, you go off on your own, specifically when I told you not to. And I'm looking at you too, Kiba!"

"This is ridiculous," Naruto says, feeling like a child being lectured by his parents, "Alright, it was stupid, but you're overreac-"

"Second," Shikamaru continues loudly, as if he hadn't heard him at all, "You get into a fight in a residential area in the middle of the night when police have just left the scene inside someone else's house. Are you trying to get yourselves thrown in prison?"

"They started it," Kiba says childishly, "What were we supposed to do? Run away and let them skulk around while people are sleeping?"

"Well, you ended up running anyway," Shikamaru says venomously, "So you might as well have just quit while you were ahead."

"That was because we were getting too loud," Naruto says quickly, trying desperately (and failing) to ignore the sexual innuendo of the phrase, "I thought it was best to leave before someone called the police…er, again."

Kiba gives him a strange look, a fact that Shikamaru doesn't miss and Naruto schools his face to look calm.

"Sure," Shikamaru says slowly, not sounding at all convinced, "Uchiha Sasuke didn't happen to be there, did he?"

"Uh, yeah," Naruto says, disgusted at the fact that his heart skipped a beat at his name, "He was."

"And…" Neji urges.

"Oh, uh, I think I broke his hand," Naruto says brightly, "Or the wall did anyway."

"Right," Shikamaru says sarcastically, "And that's supposed to reassure me."

Naruto opens his mouth to ask him exactly what he means by that, but Shikamaru waves him off.

"Whatever," he says in a tone of voice that means he's angry, but is pretending he isn't, "We've got bigger fish to fry. According to the grapevine, there's some yakuza event planned in two weeks. And I," he smirks, reminding Naruto why, despite how annoying he can be, Shikamaru's in charge, "aim to crash it."

"Just pretend it didn't happen," practically becomes Naruto's motto over the next few days.

It occurs to him at some point that Uchiha is probably just as embarrassed as he is, and therefore not likely to use the 'incident' against him. They can both just go back to hating each other's guts and hopefully, one day, Uchiha will be behind bars and will never bother him again.

Unfortunately, not all of him agrees with this practical way of dealing with unwanted complications. His mind keeps replaying Uchiha's voice when he said "Then you're a fool, Uzumaki Naruto," the way he emphasized each syllable of his given name…and then everything sort of tightens up, his fists, his muscles, his breath. Also his pants. Especially those.

He feels hot and lightheaded, and most of all like an infatuated idiot. Except not, because he can't be, because there's no way he would ever lower himself to be attracted to a mercenary working for Oto, of all things.

He's pretty unpleasant for a while, constantly making snide remarks and grumpily dismissing things he usually would be excited about until Ino chucks one of her high-heeled shoes at his head and yells at him to stop being such a bitch. At this point, he feels kind of bad, especially after going after Kiba for knocking over a huge pile of magazines by accident.

He focuses all of his energy into hating Uchiha Sasuke, instead. It's easier that way.

He isn't worried about the next time they would meet. Whatever kind of attraction he had for the mercenary, it would not get in the way of his mission again. No matter how appealing (really, really hot, God, he'd love to get his hands on those hips) he was, Naruto would not forget who he was, and more importantly, who he was really working for. He will do what he has, the same as always.

But what he isn't counting on, is running into Uchiha without any of his ANBU teammates by his side. It makes sense, in a sort of deluded sort of way. The only times Naruto had ever met him was during confrontations, as Oto vs. ANBU. Some part of him doesn't acknowledge that Uchiha Sasuke is not some a windup robot that sleeps in some dark closest until Orochimaru needs him to beat up innocent townspeople. He doesn't even think of him as a regular person that does regular-people things, like, for instance, buying groceries.

So, you can probably imagine his surprise when he runs into Uchiha carrying a couple grocery bags outside on the north side of Konoha right by the subway.

It's a pretty bleak day, temperature in the single digits and clouds covering every inch of the sky, but it's not bad for December. Naruto has both his hands in the pockets of his dark green jacket and is on his way to Tsunade's for some good liquor and good company when he sees a familiar looking haircut. He stops in his tracks and just stares at Uchiha, who's wearing his usual casual black jacket and jeans, two plastic bags slung over his right shoulder. He doesn't say anything or make any noise at all, but somehow Uchiha notices that he's there, or at least that there's someone staring at him and then turns in his direction.

They stare at each other. Naruto can feel his face turning red, while Uchiha does not react at all; instead, he raises a sardonic eyebrow

Naruto really, really hates him.

"Can we just get to the violence, please?" Naruto asks, hating himself for being as red as he knows he is right now.

"I don't know," Uchiha says flippantly, but he sets his grocery bags down on the pavement, "Is that really what you want to do?"

"Okay, that's it," Naruto thinks, "He's dead."

He hurls himself at the man for what feels like the hundredth time. Uchiha merely steps out of the way, and then backs up into the alley between a landromat and a convenience store.

"Are you stupid?" he asks after Naruto barely stops himself from running into a brick wall, "Do you want someone to call the police? Get in here."

That last part causes his stomach to twist in a not entirely unpleasant way, but he pushes the thought viciously to the back of his mind and focuses instead on how Uchiha really sounded like Shikamaru just then. Something else that makes him angry.

He aims a sidekick at Uchiha's torso, and Uchiha dodges it, responding with a left backfist. It hits him hard in the side of the face, but Naruto doesn't falter, just uppercuts him in the gut with his right fist. Uchiha elbows him and he collides with the wall, having a sudden and horrible flash of déjà vu to the night several days before.

"No," Naruto thinks as Uchiha smirks and he feels his face heat up several degrees, "No, no, no, no. This is not happening again. This is NOT happening again!"

It starts to rain, slowly at first, but then freezing drops of water start pattering down onto his shoulders and pavement with heightened rapidity. They should stop, fighting on wet, slippery pavement is one of the more stupid places to fight, but at the moment Naruto's having trouble caring.

Uchiha throws a round kick at his head and Naruto blocks it with the outside of his forearm. They circle around each other, Naruto baring his teeth savagely. He throws a few punches at Uchiha's nose, which the other man blocks and dodges with ease, but only with one hand.

Naruto smirks, "Hand bothering you?" he asks casually, attempting to slow his heavy breaths.

"Not really," Uchiha replies dismissively, wiping water off his face, and tries to trip Naruto up with a leg sweep.

Naruto jumps over his leg, but while he's reveling in the speed of his own reflexes, Uchiha shoves him against the wall again. Snarling, Naruto tries to bash him over the head to get him off him, but Uchiha grabs his arm before he can do anything and holds it steady in a vice-like grip.

Uchiha makes a tutting noise, "You really are a coward, aren't you?" he says with a cruel smile, "I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. I expected better."

"Shut the fuck up," Naruto growls, cold rain dripping down his face and down into his jacket "I am not a coward!"

"Really?" Uchiha says, voice dropping to a whisper that sends shivers down every vertebrae of his spine, "Then why are you fighting like a scared little child?"

Naruto sees red and yanks his arm out of Uchiha's grip. He grabs Uchiha's shoulder with his left hand so he can't move and brings back his right, smacking him as hard as he can across the face, the sound echoing through the empty alleyway among the raindrops.

Uchiha turns back to look him right in the face, a red mark accentuating his pale cheek.

"Did you just slap me?" he deadpans, his stupid gelled hair beginning to wilt under the pressure of the icy rain, "Did you seriously just slap me?"

"Last time you hit me over the head with a lamp," Naruto says, half amused, half angry, "So I'd say you're not one to talk."

Uchiha scowls. He looks kind of cute.

No, he doesn't, he looks like an asshole.

"Fine," he grouses, "Now get off me," he says, referring to Naruto's left hand which is still gripping his shoulder tightly.

Despite the fact that his entire body is frozen from the cold rain, Naruto can feel his shoulder muscles tense under his hand as he says the words. Naruto lets his hand drop, slide off Uchiha's shoulder and he's pleased to see the mercenary hold back a shiver.

Rain runs down his forehead, soaking his black jacket and pants.

"This…this is not a good idea," Uchiha says, breathes it, shifting closer so that they're less than a centimeter away from touching. They're both about the same height (Uchiha might be a bit taller, but if he is Naruto would never admit it) and Naruto can smell the tea on his breath again. His dark eyelashes flicker up and down for a second, and strangely enough, this is the breaking point.

"I know," Naruto says and kisses him.

His mouth is not soft. Or maybe it is, but Naruto can't tell because Uchiha kisses him back, hard. Their teeth clack together and half the time breathing through his nose just isn't enough, but all Naruto can think about is how long he has wanted to do this, how long he's wanted to touch him like this. Rain drips down their faces, gets in their mouths, and Uchiha reaches forward to grab the collar of Naruto's soaked sweatshirt. Naruto grips his shoulders tightly and presses his mouth even more firmly against Uchiha's, kissing him with such intensity that Uchiha makes a guttural noise in his throat and slides his arms up to wrap them around his neck and tangle his fingers in his hair. Naruto's hands slide to Uchiha's waist and he pulls them closer so that their bodies are flush against each other. Maybe it's just because the rain is so cold, but the mercenary feels so warm against him and Naruto slips hid hands further around his waist. Uchiha deepens the kiss, growling into his mouth, and pushes him up against the brick wall for the second time today. He slides his thigh in-between Naruto's legs and Naruto breaks the kiss to groan, hands coming up to grip Uchiha's shoulders again.

Naruto's kissed guys before, mostly when he was a drunk teenager at those stupid parties he used to go to. He's actually gone a lot further with guys than he was comfortable with at the time, but it was never like this. Because those times he was drunk and stupid, and this time he is actually having fun making Uchiha squirm. The way they struggle against each other for dominance is just like fighting, except better because even throwing Uchiha Sasuke in a koi pond can't live up to the way he sounds when he moans.

The mercenary's kissing his neck now, and Naruto's breath is coming out in short, gasping puffs. He unzips Uchiha's jacket frantically and presses his hands to the other man's chest, sliding his hands under his shirt, over his stomach muscles and up to caress his pecs.

"God, you piss me off," he gasps, trying to grind more against Uchiha's thigh, completely oblivious to the rain now, "You really…ngh, fuck, I really, really hate you."

Uchiha lets of a soft snigger, "Believe me," he says, smirking, face flushed slightly, "The feeling's mutual."

Naruto lets out a snarling laugh and then turns the table, pressing Uchiha harshly into the wall. (How many times have they done this now? Naruto doesn't know. He doesn't really care.)

He's just about to press his mouth against Uchiha's again, when his cell phone goes off in his pocket. It's on vibrate and sort of pressed right up against Uchiha's…er…

The mercenary makes a sort of undignified squawking sound and Naruto has to stop and lean his head against the wall because he's laughing so hard.

"I'm going to kill you," Uchiha Sasuke tells him breathlessly, mouth right next his ear, and it sort of turns Naruto on, "Stop laughing. Right. Now."

Naruto's laughing too hard that he can't even answer him, much less pick up his phone. He's soaking wet, standing in an alley not even trying to run for shelter, making out with Uchiha Sasuke, and Shikamaru's going to kill him for not answering his phone.

"Oh, okay," Naruto gasps for breath after a few moments, "I think I'm done."

He looks up to see Uchiha glaring at him, his ridiculous hair dripping all over.

He resists the urge to start laughing again and clears his throat, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.

"As much as I'd love to continue this," Uchiha says, leaning in alluringly, and Naruto despairs for the blood that is not exactly flowing in the direction of his brain, "I would rather not catch a cold." He reaches up, grabbing a handful of Naruto's hair and tugging it roughly so that Naruto winces. He leans very, very close and whispers, "Next time," and marches off.

"Fucker," Naruto calls after him, wringing out his shirt, "You got me all wet."

Uchiha turns, raising an eyebrow, and Naruto scowls as he realizes what he just said.

"Really?" Uchiha asks, smiling nastily, "Something you're not telling me?"

"Fuck you, Uchiha."

"I told you," he says turning back and rounding a corner, "Next time."

Naruto gapes at him as he disappears from his sight.

That last part and the subsequent images it came with were really quite unnecessary.

Thankfully, he's literally standing in a cold shower.

"Are you going to stop banging your head against the table any time soon and help me with these?" Chouji asks, torn between annoyance and amusement one night a few days later as they're clearing off his table.

They've just finished having a meeting (accompanied by dinner, because they always have dinner at Chouji's place) and Naruto's brain has decided that this is the perfect moment to flashback to his last confrontation with Uchiha. Thus the head banging.

It's been happening a lot lately.

"I am such an idiot," Naruto mutters, but raises his head and passes Chouji his bowl.

"Well, we knew that already," Kiba says grinningly, feet propped up on the back of Shikamaru's chair casually, "The real question is what are you being an idiot about this time?"

"Everything," Naruto thinks.

"Oh, I forgot to ask," Shikamaru says before Naruto can think of an excuse, interrupting their conversation and looking at Neji, "Did you get them?"

"Yeah," Neji replies, reaching for a plastic bag at his feet that Naruto hadn't noticed before. He puts it on the table and removes several packets, each containing six palm sized spheres, "No color, like you said."

They all lean over to look at them and Naruto has to say he's pretty impressed.

"They're so going to know it was us," Chouji says doubtfully.

"Who cares?" Naruto replies mischievously, "God, the look on Orochimaru's face will be priceless."

"It will certainly be satisfying," Neji says with a rare smile, "Just don't get caught with them."

"Why?" Kiba says, frowning in confusion, "It's not like they're illegal, right?"

"Doing what we're doing with them definitely is," Shikamaru says, making another note on his pad of paper that he always carries around.

"Also, I didn't exactly get these through legal channels," Neji adds, pointing to the Chinese on the side of the box, "They're military grade, you know."

Kiba whistles lowly, "This is going to be so much fun."

"I call the leftovers," Naruto says, raising up a hand.

Shikamaru laughs, "Please," he says, eyes glinting wickedly, "There aren't going to be any leftovers."

The talk a bit more after that, go over their plans for the billionth time, and have a beer or two. Then they go their separate ways, Shikamaru giving his obligatory lecture about safety while Naruto revs up his motorcycle loudly just to be annoying.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Kiba says, rolling his eyes, "We've heard this a million times. You never give it a rest, do you, Nara."

"Someone has to make sure you idiots don't get yourself killed," Shikamaru says acidly and Naruto drives away before the inevitable fight starts.

Shikamaru didn't used to be like this. None of them did. But four years of gang warfare has changed them into people they never thought they'd become.

Naruto remembers a time when Shikamaru was neither cold nor calculating, when he didn't carry a notepad with him at all times, when he used to stare at the clouds and be too lazy to do anything more than the minimum requirement. He remembers a time before Neji's arms were littered with scars and when his issues with his uncle were the biggest problems in life. He remembers when Chouji used to be the most popular chef in town, when people would crowd to the restaurant he inherited from his parents in droves, before he started flinching when anyone made any sudden movements around him. Naruto can remember when Kiba used to talk about his old job at the kennel all the time, when his dogs were the main thing on his mind.

He could remember when he used to wear orange all the time, when he used to smile and laugh constantly, when Sakura-chan and Sai were still alive. He could reminisce about how everything was so much simpler then, when all he had to worry about was Hinata finding his secret stash of not-so-straight porn.

He could remember, but he'd rather not. It'd be too painful.

Their innocence has been stolen from them and even though Naruto knows he should think it, there's not much he wouldn't do to go back to those carefree days, so many years ago.

The problem with being Naruto is when he has a predicament, especially an awkward predicament like he is having now, his solution is to invariably ignore that it ever existed in the first place.

It's easy, too, because he's so busy working and plotting with ANBU, that he forgets all about the problem between him and Uchiha Sasuke. Because if he thinks about it, even just a little, the disgust, the want, the fear, will overwhelm him, and he has more important things to do.

So the next time he runs into Uchiha, he is completely unprepared. He has no idea what he is going to do. He hasn't thought about it, hasn't made any plans at all. He can only give thanks that he doesn't run into him alone again, because that would probably just make things worse.


It's twilight, about two weeks before New Years, and Shikamaru, Chouji and he are checking out the waterfront. There are a lot of warehouses on the river that Oto uses if they're really trying to coerce someone into doing something. It's where they stashed Konohamaru when they kidnapped him, where Neji was almost dragged one time, so Naruto knows this area well.

They are minding their own business, of course. (Shikamaru may be picking a lock or two. Or three.) And then they turn around to find Uchiha, Zaku, and Suigetsu standing behind them, arms crossed.

And now, for the sixth time, Naruto finds himself face to face with Uchiha Sasuke and has no idea what to say.

"You people really are stupid," Zaku says, tossing his stupid hair back off his face in a way that Naruto's inclined to laugh at, "You know if we catch you around here we're going to kick the crap out of you."

"You're going to try," Shikamaru shoots back, tightening his fists.

Uchiha, who Naruto has been staring at the entire time, looks over at Shikamaru, mouth curling in cruel amusement.

"You are, are you?" he asks sarcastically, and Naruto can hear his sneer more than see it, "You three aren't anything special. You're nothing more than a glorified lock picker, your friend just got both arms out of plaster, and Uzumaki here," he turns to Naruto, gaze piercing, "He's nothing more than a boorish idiot with a self-control problem."

"Oh, really?" Naruto snarls in reply, not at all sure if he wants to fight him or fuck him at this point, "I'm the one with a self-control problem? You're joking, right? Psycho much?"

Uchiha's expression darkens. Suigetsu and Zaku, on the other hand, look like Naruto might have a point.

Shikamaru sighs beside him, "Try not to do anything stupid," he says resignedly and Naruto grins, going for the kill.

They smash each other into the metal sheets that cover the outside of the warehouse for a bit and then Uchiha kicks him in the stomach, and flips him over onto the ground.

Swearing, Naruto picks himself up, feigns a round kick at Uchiha's side, and throw a right hook at his face. It connects with his jaw and he responds by grabbing his collar and kneeing him in the chest.

Naruto shoves him hard against the door of one of the warehouses and to his surprise, it breaks behind him. Uchiha scrambles backward over the fallen door, struggling to his feet, while Naruto aims a kick between the ribs. Uchiha stops his foot and elbows him the gut. He stands up properly and shoves him up against one of the wooden crates that are stacked in neat piles all around the warehouse.

"Fuck, I hate you," Uchiha snarls and it might as well have been a confession by the way it causes Naruto's breath to hitch.

They're away from the broken door and the other fights have moved completely out of earshot, so when Uchiha raises his fist, Naruto grabs it and spins him around, smashing him against the crate with his torso.

"You absolute moro-" Uchiha starts in that tone that really turns Naruto on and he shuts him up by crushing his lips against his.

Uchiha doesn't miss a beat, but reaches for the collar of his jacket, yanking him closer and shoving his tongue in his mouth. Naruto grabs at his waist, his hips and turns his head to the side for a better angle to kiss him. The back of Uchiha's head hits the wooden crate, and Naruto rocks his hip against Uchiha's harshly. Uchiha makes a snarling noise and grabs his shoulders tightly, nails digging into his jacket. It's hot and hard and most of all desperate, like the want that has been sitting in his guts for weeks, no, probably for months, has finally been set free and all Naruto wants to do is get his hands all over Uchiha's annoying, disgustingly attractive body.

Uchiha lets out a low moan, nails painful on his shoulders now, and he bites at Naruto's jaw line, mouth, neck and it drives Naruto utterly insane. He grabs a handful of Uchiha's hair and yanks his head hard against the wooden surface behind him. Uchiha opens his eyes, just a little, and smirks like he's not the one pinned immobile against a packing crate in a warehouse. Naruto pulls his jacket and shirt open, leaning against him roughly, their heavy breathes mingling, the only sound in the frigid warehouse.

Naruto slides his palms over Uchiha's chest, perfectly defined, of course, the asshole, and rubs his fingers over a nipple so that Uchiha groans, bruising their mouths together in another biting kiss.

"I have no self-control?" he asks triumphantly, pulling his mouth away from Uchiha's like ripping off a bandage to hiss in his ear.

Uchiha responds by biting his neck harshly and shoving Naruto's jacket and his shirt under it up, hands touching, caressing, rubbing until Naruto loses it. He ignores the fact that they're on different sides of a war, the fact that they're in a fucking warehouse, and are really supposed to be beating the crap out of each other and goes for the mercenary's belt.

Uchiha grabs his wrists before he can undo it properly and breathes, "Not here."

Naruto exhales loudly in frustration and is shocked to find that it's so cold that he can see his breath. Well, barely, because the only light is coming from a streetlight outside. It had gotten this dark and he hadn't even noticed.

Uchiha presses up against him again, grinding his hips in a bit, and Naruto grabs his ass reflexively.

"Come…with…me," the mercenary says between harsh kisses, buttoning up his shirt with shaking hands.

"God, yes, please," Naruto thinks blindly, but then he remembers Chouji and Shikamaru and his mission,.

"Waaaait," he moans, gripping Uchiha's forearms to steady him, pulling his mouth away reluctantly, "I can't. They're still fighting, and I have to-"

Uchiha cuts him off with his mouth, sliding his knee between Naruto's thighs again.

"Don't worry about them," he whispers in Naruto's ear as Naruto grinds back desperately, "Zaku's on crack right now and I was sparring with Suigetsu yesterday and he has bruises all over now. They won't last long. Just…" He wrenches himself away, determined look barely visible in the poor light, "Let's go. Right now."

He grabs Naruto's arm and physically drags him out of the warehouse. Naruto pulls his shirt and jacket down, only just becoming aware of the cold and is just glad that it's so dark out because if anyone sees them it will be really awkward.

They slip through two alleyways until they reach a commercial district and then Uchiha comes to the door of a local bar, dimly lit and packed with people celebrating the start of the weekend. Naruto hadn't even remembered that it was a Friday.

Naruto pauses before entering, assessing the situation. It's not a yakuza bar, which is good, but Naruto's pretty sure that the bartender, Namiashi Raidou, will recognize him and he'd rather not have that happen.

"Are you coming?" Uchiha demands impatiently, one hand on the door handle.

Naruto pulls his hood up and smirks at him, giving him a once over, "Hopefully."

Uchiha scowls, grabbing his arm and pulling him into the bar. It's really warm inside and Naruto resists the urge to take off his jacket and keeps his head down as they navigate around the bar stools tables, and tons of people, trying not to freak out when he recognizes people he knows, including Ino. They manage to get to the back where the bathroom is without detection. Thankfully, the men's bathroom is unoccupied, and Uchiha shoves him inside, closing the door behind him in an overdramatic motion.

Naruto takes note of the dirty sink and low toilet and then turns to Uchiha, pushing his jacket and shirt off, and yanking at his belt. Uchiha pushes him into the tiled wall and unzips his jacket all the way, pushing it off his shoulders at far as he can. He hauls the hem of Naruto's shirt over his head and Naruto pushes himself off the wall a bit so that both his jacket and shirt fall to the floor.

"Nice tattoo," Uchiha remarks, eyeing the tribal, red-brownish symbol on his stomach that he got when he was stupid and didn't realize that tattoos were yakuza things.

"Yeah, it hurt like hell," Naruto says because that's what he always says when anyone comments on it, and pulls him closer by his bare shoulders.

Their mouths connect again and Naruto lets out a soft moan, letting his arms fall over Uchiha's shoulders to wrap around his neck.

His hands mess with Uchiha's belt, but he can't seem to get it undone because the other man's distracting him with his hands in his hair, his tongue in his mouth, and his hips grinding against his.

Uchiha gives a particularly harsh thrust that feels just so hot and right and Naruto throws his head back to collide of the wall, letting out an embarrassingly hitch-pitched moan that has Uchiha smirking into his neck.

"Hey!" a man yells from outside, pounding on the door, "This is a fucking bathroom! Take your girlfriend somewhere else!"

They pull apart and Uchiha raises an eyebrow at him.

"Girlfriend?" Naruto mouths, taken aback, "Girlfriend!"

"Piss off," Uchiha says loudly, "I'll do what I want with my girlfriend. It's a public bathroom, get over it."

The man swears and pounds on the door a few more time while, Naruto punches Uchiha in the stomach in revenge.

"You'll do what you want, will you?" he snarls, albeit quietly, shoving Uchiha across the room so that he almost runs into the sink, while the man outside the door gives up and stops pounding on the door

"I think so," Uchiha replies archly, grabbing at his crotch.

Naruto grabs his hands and brings them up, pinning them to the wall, easing his thighs apart with his knee and rubbing at his groin. He grips Uchiha's wrists with one hand and then reaches down with his other to undo his belt, getting his pants open easily now.

Uchiha gasps, moaning brokenly as Naruto sucks at his neck. He's getting dizzy just listening to that sound, high on the way Uchiha strains against his grip, eyes shut tight and face twisted in pleasure.

"F-Freak," Uchiha hisses as Naruto leans down to outline his collarbones with his tongue, "Let me-ah, shit-go!"

Naruto looks up to lock eyes with him, and says coolly, "Make me."

Uchiha just leans his head back and groans.

Naruto's had a lot of goals in his life, some honorable like getting Oto out of Konoha once and for all, and some…less so, like eating five bowls of ramen in less than three minutes. Right now, he's not thinking about any of those goals right now and is more focused on getting Uchiha Sasuke to scream for him. So it's with this particular goal in mind that he lets go of Uchiha's wrists and drops to his knees, dragging down Uchiha's boxers with him.

Uchiha doesn't exactly scream, but he does make a lot of funny noises and bites his lower lip raw. He grabs at the sink next to him and bangs his head against the wall a couple times, which at least amuses Naruto who's finding out that having your mouth on another guy's dick is kind of gross and thinking "Shit, this guy better not have any diseases."

When it's over his mouth tastes even worse and he's just finishing up rinsing it with water from the sink when Uchiha kicks him in the side.

"Ow, what the fuck was that for!" Naruto protests as Uchiha backs him into the wall again, face still flushed, "Is that how you thank someone who just went down on y-ah, ngh…"

Uchiha has unzipped him and is sliding his hands over a particular piece of Naruto's anatomy that has been feeling kind of neglected for a while now.

"Shut up," Uchiha tells him huskily, pushing against him further, pressing his teeth to Naruto's neck.

Naruto does.

Sort of.

At three am, Monday morning, Naruto wakes up to someone banging on his door.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me," he snarls, throwing the covers off his bed, "Of course, it has to be my only fucking day off…"

He grabs his switchblade from his dresser and approaches the door cautiously, looking through the peephole. His eyes widen and he throws the door open, coming face to face with Ino, whose left cheek is bleeding badly and knees are rubbed raw.

"Ino! What happened! Are you okay! Come inside!"

"Sorry, it's so late," she says tearfully, wiping mascara off her face, "I just didn't…know where else to-"

"It's fine," Naruto says, taking her by the arm and looking out down the hallway before closing the door behind them and bolting all the bolts.

He sits her down on a chair by the kitchen table and gets out the first aid kit that he always keeps on top of the fridge.

"What happened?" he asks as she scrubs her eyes furiously, "Ino, what happened?"

"I just," she says, wrapping her arms around herself protectively, hands shaking, "I was working and…" she pauses, straightening out her short skirt, "I took a shortcut through Oto territor-I know I shouldn't have done it, but I wanted to get home quickly and I ran into Ukon and Kimimaro and they-"

"They did this?" Naruto demands, hands gripping her the packet of disinfectant he's in the process of opening tightly, "They didn't…you know…" he trails off, staring at the marks on her knees in horror.

Ino shakes her head, "No, I think they were going to, but then Uchiha-"

"Uchiha!" Naruto snarls, tightening up, causing Ino to wince when he presses in disinfectant to hard against the cut he was cleaning, "That son of a bitch, I'll fucking kil-"

"No, he actually," Ino pauses, eyes dropping to the floor, "He actually told them to go away."

Naruto blinks, "Oh," he says, relieved and at the same time, annoyed with his relief.

"Yeah," she says adjusting her tight top that looks pretty uncomfortable, "They were pretty scared of him, I think, because they left right away."

Now that she tells him this, Naruto remembers a similar situation happening with Shizune at Tsunade's shop.

"Then what did he do?" Naruto asks curiously, finishing up bandaging her face and dropping down to inspect her knees.

Ino shrugs, swallowing, "Nothing. He just left."

"Asshole," Naruto mutters, cleaning of her skinned knee while she winces.

"You know," Ino says contemplatively, staring at his ceiling, "The way you went on about him, I thought he was going to be the worst of them." She looks down at him, smiling self-deprecatingly, "I guess the fact that he has some principles, yet still associates with scum like Kimimaro and Ukon makes it somehow wor…are those hickeys on your neck?"

Naruto drops the bandage he's holding and slaps his hand over the side of his neck, face burning. He's been wearing collared shirts the past two days, but with all the commotion he forgot he was only wearing his usual undershirt and boxers for bed.

"What?" he says quickly, "No! What does that have to do with Uchiha?"

"Uh…nothing?" Ino says, looking at him strangely, somber demeanor completely gone as she tries to pry his hand off his neck, "Oh, c'mon, I totally saw them already. Who was it? C'mon, you have to tell me!"

"No, I definitely do not!" Naruto protests as she backs him into the fridge, "Ino, stop it, I have to finish bandaging your knees!"

"C'mon, you can tell me? It wasn't Hinata, no way she would have the guts-"

"Also, we broke up, like, two years ago," Naruto says bad temperedly, scowling at the reference to his train wreck relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

"Is it someone I don't know? C'mon you have to tell me all about…is there something burning?"

Naruto frowns at her for a second, sniffing at the air, until he realizes, yes, something is burning.

"Shit!" he yelps and runs back to his bedroom where his blanket is lying smoldering on his heater.

"Aw, fuck!" he complains holding up to show Ino the hole in the center, "That was my favorite blanket!"

"How old are you, three?" she asks, dismissively and sits down on his bed without even asking, "Now spill."

Naruto groans and tries to console himself that at least she didn't see all the nail marks on his shoulders.

"Look," he says, realizing that she's just going to keep bothering him about it, "It was just a…thing, okay? Just some random g-girl I met…at a bar. Nothing special."

Ino doesn't look convinced, probably because she knows him well enough to know that he's never been really into one-night stands. Before.

But she doesn't push him about it anymore, merely sighing and wishing that someone around her had an interesting love-life, and then lets him finish bandaging her up.

"You know," she says, while he makes her a cup of tea, "I keep thinking about what Uchiha said."

Naruto raises an eyebrow, "I thought he didn't say anything to you."

"No, not to me, but to them."

Naruto turns down the stove as the kettle starts to whistle and gets out two worn cups that used to be Iruka's out of the cabinet, "Why?"

"It was just weird," she says, looking small in his too-big t-shirt and shorts that he gave her to wear, "He was like, "Don't you have anything better to do than to mess around with women, of all things?"" she quotes in an awful imitation of Uchiha's Hokkaido accent, "Don't you think that's weird?"

"Mmm," Naruto says, not really listening as he gets out some old teabags.

"Especially with that hair of his…" Ino muses, twirling a lock of her own around her finger as he takes a sip from his cup, "Hey, you think he's gay?"

Naruto chokes on his tea.

"I'm not so sure this is a good idea," Neji says, rubbing his temples, "I mean, no offense to Hatake and Aburame, but are you sure it's wise bringing in outsiders like this?"

"They'll be fine," Naruto says, leaning his elbows forward onto the table, "We're going to need more people anyway. Kakashi saved me and Chouji that one time and Shino's been pissed enough to get involved after Oto messed with his father. I'm not saying initiate them totally, but they could be pretty useful on New Year's Eve."

Shikamaru looks pensive, tapping his finger against his notepad and staring at Naruto's ramen poster next to his pantry absentmindedly.

"His father's not going to want him involved," Chouji interjects, ever sensitive about family issues, "Hatake-san seems fine though."

"Shino's our age," Kiba says, waving a hand flippantly, "He can make his own decisions."

"'It'll be good to have two more people," Shikamaru says decisively, standing up to put his shot glass in Naruto's sink, "But three would be even better. Temari's coming."

"Your wife?" Kiba questions, looking unsure, "Man, you really think that's a good idea? They're twice as hard on women… I mean, if they catch her…"

"She'll be fine," Shikamaru says, and then gives a rare smile, "Besides, she played softball in high school and I'll bet she's a better shot than any of you."

"I can attest to that," Naruto says, raising his hand, "She threw a snowball at me a few years back when it dropped below freezing. It really, really hurt."

"Alright, fine," Kiba says, throwing his hands up, "But what about your leg, Neji?"

"I'll be fine," Neji says, glaring at him darkly, and Kiba winces.

"I'll brief Shino and Temari," Shikamaru says, making for the door, "Can you get Kakashi, Naruto?"

"Sure, he practically lives at our shop," Kiba says, rolling his eyes, "I should tell Ino to make herself scarce that day, too, right?"

Shikamaru raises an eyebrow, "I'm sure she won't be working then, but sure."

"Okay, then let's go," Kiba say, getting out of his seat, stretching, "After all, Christmas Eve is for lovers and though I don't have a date, I'd rather not hang around here with you lot."

"Isn't sitting at home by yourself alone worse?" Chouji asks smilingly, but he gets up too.

"Ditchers," Naruto complains as they all start trailing out, "You didn't even finish up the rest of this whiskey. Now I'm going to have to drink it."

"Have fun with that," Neji says dryly, putting on his coat, "See you in a couple days."

"Yeah, yeah," Naruto mutters after they're all gone, bolting the door, "Leave me alone then…"

He sighs and pours himself another shot of whiskey, drinking it quickly and walking into his bedroom at the same time. He collapses on his bed, and stares up at Sai's painting on the wall. Naruto feels his throat tighten and he closes his eyes until the urge to cry goes away.

Christmas Eve is for lovers and Naruto feels stupid, bitter, and most of all lonely lying alone on his bed with a bottle of whiskey.

Pouring himself another glass of the amber liquid, he idly wonders what Uchiha Sasuke is doing tonight.

But then he remembers who he works for, who he is, and with a bit of disgust, realizes he probably doesn't want to know.

Naruto hates Uchiha for being a mercenary working for Oto, because he's an arrogant son of a bitch, and because he makes Naruto feel like an idiot.

But most of all Naruto hates himself for being so ridiculously attracted to him that all those other things don't even seem to matter.

New Year's Eve. It's a night where most people in Konoha go to visit the huge shrine in the south west end of the neighborhood and pray for good luck in the coming year. Usually yakuza are not ones to forgo the festivities, but this year they've decided to defer the celebrations until tomorrow. Tonight, Oto meets with Iwa and Kumo to gamble.

It doesn't really make that much sense to someone who isn't a yakuza, but apparently it's supposed to be a pretty big deal. Gambling is where a lot of the territory problems are resolved and the strength of a kumi is tested. It's in Konoha this time and it's more to send a message than anything that Shikamaru wants to break it up. They could just call the police, and they will, but they have plans to be carried out before that.

Orochimaru's set up a toba on the north side, of course, and it's only because of luck and a yakuza prostitute that Ino knows that they know where it is. Otherwise they'd have no clue, and that's why Shikamaru decided that this is too big of an opportunity to miss.

It's in a relatively small warehouse a few blocks from the waterfront and they approach cautiously, aware that any wrong move could be fatal. There's a few guards smoking outside, leaned up again the wall. They're both Konoha and outsider yakuza, which according to Shikamaru might cause problems, but Naruto's just relieved that Uchiha isn't among them.

"I'll go," Kakashi says, laying a steadying hand on Kiba's shoulder, "It's likely they won't recognize me."

"You sure?" Shikamaru asks questioningly and Kakashi nods, standing up and sauntering over towards the guards.

They're pretty far away so Naruto can't actually hear the conversation they have. All he knows is that it is very short and by the end of it, he's reminding himself to never make Kakashi mad.

"Dude, he is awesome," Kiba says, as Kakashi stacks four unconscious yakuza on top of each other because he obviously has watched too many martial arts movies from the eighties, "Remind me to give him a discount next time."

"Oh, he's a customer?" Temari asks, raising an eyebrow, "That explains so much."

"Hey, don't insult out livelihood," Kiba says, throwing an arm around Naruto's shoulder companionably, "It pays the bills. You don't have to be so disapproving."

"Shut up," Neji says and they all shiver as a particularly cold rush of air winds through the buildings.

"You don't have any porn for women," Temari explains rationally, while Shikamaru chokes, "That's why I'm disapproving."

"Touché," Kiba says, looking impressed.

"Can we not talk about this?" Shikamaru says uncomfortably, "We've got to go before someone notices."

"We'll talk later!" Kiba mouths to Temari, looking like, after all the years Shikamaru's been dating and now married to her, he's finally giving his approval.

Temari merely rolls her eyes.

Neji hands out a few the palm-sized spheres to everyone and Shino eyes them curiously.

"How long do these last?" he asks, emotionless as ever.

"A couple minutes tops, right?" Chouji says, wrapping his coat further around himself, "That's why we have to space them out."

"That's right," Shikamaru says, as they approach the warehouse, "You ready, Naruto?"

Naruto nods, "Let's do this," he says and throws open the door.

He gets a brief glimpse of a room with a low table and men wearing business suits or traditional clothing holding hanafuda before he throws the small ball into the center of the room and in explodes into a huge cloud of thick, grey smoke.

There's a lot of yelling and panicking, but ANBU keeps throwing, even as they retreat and when they're finally out of smoke bombs, they watch as police cars screech to a halt in front of the warehouse and arrest all the people gasping and choking for breath who come scrambling out of the smoke.

It is a complete success, no one got hurt, and it's the second most satisfying thing Naruto's done this month.

He'd rather not think about the number one most satisfying thing and instead ignores that it ever happened as they go out to visit the shrine and celebrate.

Any other time they would all go out to get drunk, but with Temari there they go out to eat at a fancy traditional restaurant instead, with low tables and tatami mats.

Naruto gets home at about two o'clock in the morning of the New Year and collapses on his bed, content for the time being.

Unfortunately, he only gets about two and a half hours of sleep, before he's woken up, again, by someone pounding at his door.

He approaches the peephole cautiously, ready to jump out the window and go down the fire escape if necessary only to see Uchiha Sasuke standing in front of his door with his arms crossed. He appears to be alone.

Naruto scowls, closing his knife and unbolts his many bolts to open the door.

"Why the fuck are you h-" he starts in annoyance, but is unable to finish as Uchiha punches him in the face.

"Are you stupid?" Uchiha asks viciously, striding into his apartment and slamming the door shut after him, "Do you and your little friends want to die?"

"What the hell was that for?" Naruto shouts, touching his jaw gingerly, "It's four in the freaking morning and you come in here and punch me? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"I'm not the only who just made three times as many enemies tonight, you complete moron!" Uchiha shoots back, eyes alight with anger, "God, you piss me off!"

"I piss you off?" Naruto gapes, throwing up his hands overdramatically, "Me? You know what, screw you! You're the one barging in here in the middle of the night, acting like a complete psycho!"

Uchiha steps forward so that they're only centimeters apart, "Say that again, I dare you."

Naruto leans in, "Psy. Cho."

Uchiha punches him, hard and Naruto punches him right back in kind. They glare at each other.

"You," Uchiha breathes, breath smelling like alcohol this time, "are very, very annoying."

"Right back at you, asshole," Naruto snarls, wanting very much to sink his teeth into his stupid neck, "You are really, really turning me on right now."

…Wait, what?

Uchiha shoves him down the hallway, once and Naruto stumbles, but manages to grab him and crush his mouth against his. He pulls him to his chest and Uchiha bites his tongue and shoves him towards and eventually onto Naruto's bed. Naruto pulls him forward, feeling his head hit the pillow and grinds up into Uchiha's hips, wrapping his arms around him tightly. Uchiha moves away and jerks off Naruto's shirt, palms smoothing over his tattoo in a way that makes Naruto moan. He kicks off his shoes and rids himself of his button-down shirt while Naruto unbuckles his belt and slides his pants off, 'accidentally' groping Uchiha's ass while he goes.

"Come here," Naruto snarls, looping an arm around Uchiha's neck, and bruising their mouths together again, naked skin pressed against each other hotly.

"Fuck, shut up, Uzumaki," Uchiha hisses, pushing Naruto's boxers down, while Naruto groans and rubs his knee against Uchiha's crotch, waiting for that absolutely perfect moan of his.

"Arrogant motherfucker," Naruto snarls, pressing a heavy palm onto the middle of Uchiha's chest.

"The real question is though," Sasuke smirks up at him, running both hands down Naruto's chest until his breath hitches in his throat, "Which is worse: my arrogance or the fact that it really, really, turns you on?

His hands trails lower and Naruto lets out a moan of approval.

"H-How are we doing this?" Naruto gasps, getting a good grip on Uchiha's hair and relishing the feel of the mercenary's hands on him, trying to remember where a condom would be.

Uchiha pulls back and glares down at him, "I'm not bottoming," he says decisively.

Naruto raises an eyebrow and smirks, "Why? Scared?" Uchiha scowls and tightens his hand a bit so that Naruto winces. He sits up, spreading his legs a bit and kisses at Uchiha's neck and ears.

"C'mon," his whispers, slipping his hands under the hem of Uchiha's boxers, "Are you?"

Uchiha growls and shoves him back down, climbing over him to straddle his hips.

"You wish," he snarls and then everything gets blurry and blissfully incoherent.

Naruto wakes up to sunlight streaming through his ragged blinds and panics for a split second until he remembers that it's New Years Day and that he doesn't have to open the shop. He sits up and runs his eyes blearily, looking down in disgust at his lap. The entire bed is a mess and Naruto's in desperate need of a shower. In the corner of his eye he sees something move and he looks up to see Uchiha putting on his shirt, bite marks ingrained in his pale skin.

"You have a poster of a bowl of ramen in your kitchen," Uchiha observes, doing up the last few buttons.

"You have really sharp nails," Naruto replies, looking down at his own chest, "Why am I not surprised?"

Uchiha gives him a dark look and leans against the doorframe, while Naruto attempts to pick up his boxers off the floor without bending over. He manages it after a few tries and feels a lot more comfortable staring down Uchiha even marginally clothed.

Common courtesy dictates that he offer Uchiha use of his shower, but Naruto's never really been common or courteous.

"Why are you still here?" he says instead, throwing both legs over the side of his bed, turning his back on Uchiha.

"I've been unable to find my belt," Uchiha says, and Naruto guesses he can't dismiss him as being a complete creep for scanning Naruto's bedroom like he was trying to memorize its contents earlier.

"I think it's under the bed," Naruto mutters, sticking his head under the mattress more so he doesn't have to look at Uchiha's face than an attempt at being helpful, "Yep, there it is," he mutters, grabbing for it, the awkwardness of the situation nearly stifling him.

"Why do you have a women's jacket on your dresser?" Uchiha asks nosily, and Naruto looks up to see him reaching for the pink piece of clothing.

"Don't touch that!" Naruto says harshly, jumping to his feet.

It's enough that Uchiha's in his apartment, in his bedroom, was in his bed, but Naruto doesn't think he could bear the thought of the same fingers that take Orochimaru's money on Sakura-chan's jacket, the same jacket that she forgot at his apartment just two days before her death.

Uchiha drops his hand, but turns to him with an expectant look. Instead of explaining, Naruto chucks his belt at him, a little harder than necessary.

"There," he says, trying and failing to stop his anger from making itself known in his voice, as Uchiha catches the belt deftly, "You have your belt. Now get out."

Uchiha raises an eyebrow, and for a second Naruto thinks that he's going to hit him, grab him with those strong hands, and get right up in his face until he can't say no anymore because, dammit, Naruto just likes him too much.

"Right," Uchiha says coldly, face blank, wrapping the belt tightly around his palm, "I see."

He leaves then, and Naruto picks up his alarm clock and smashes it against the wall as soon as he hears the door click shut.

Naruto feels sick, furious, and disgusted with himself. It has been five days since he slept with Uchiha Sasuke, but the marks are still etched into his skin like a brand. He keeps remembering it too, when he goes to bed at night he keeps seeing Uchiha leaning over him, eyes squeezed shut, face straining in elation, alternating between palming and digging his nails into his shoulders like he was trying to be gentle but didn't know how, keep hearing the gasping moans echoing around the nearly empty room.

He is so angry with himself. He looks back at the events of the past few weeks, and he can barely recognize himself. He can't pinpoint when his mind just decided to go on vacation, leaving a libido-dependant freak who elected to get himself involved with a unscrupulous mercenary who helped terrorize an entire community for money.

"I haven't seen you in ages," Ino said the day after it happens.

"I was busy," he replied, curtly, not wanting to talk about it.

"Busy doing what?" she questioned.

"Having hatesex with Uchiha Sasuke," he thought, but just gave a noncommittal groan. Somehow that made things worse.

In wake of their victory, ANBU doesn't understand why he's in such a bad mood. He can't tell them, can't tell anyone, and more than ever he wishes that Iruka was still alive, or Sakura-chan and Sai, because he knows he could tell them everything and they'd understand.

But he can't because they're dead, they'll always be dead, and he is just going to have to live with that.

He spends two weeks in a deep funk, hating himself, the world, and everything in it, until something quite unexpected occurs.

They're finishing up with an ANBU meeting at Shikamaru's place again (Kiba still trying to get Temari to talk about porn, much to her husband's annoyance) when Chouji, who, has had a contemplative look on his face the entire meeting so far, speaks up.

"I saw something, earlier today," he starts slowly and hesitantly, "It could be nothing, but I figured you should know, 'cause it could mean something…"

"Well?" Kiba says impatiently, as they all turn to the least confident member of their group.

"I was out doing laundry in that laundromat across from the police station this afternoon and I think I saw, no, I definitely saw Uchiha Sasuke walk out of the station."

None of them say anything as they digest this new piece of information, surprise written on all their faces, because they're all aware of what Chouji is implying…and yet, it doesn't seem possible or even remotely realistic.

"Are you sure he hadn't just been arrested and bailed out?" Neji asks seriously, folding his hands carefully over the table.

Chouji shook his head, "Orochimaru would've sent that lawyer and low-level recruits to pick him up. He was alone and he looked like someone who didn't want to be seen."

"He has only been here a few months," Shikamaru says thoughtfully, swishing his tea around in his cup, "No one's ever heard of him before, he doesn't fight or act like the typical bouryokudan, he-"

"No way," Naruto cuts in, more sure of himself than he has been in weeks, "He is not a cop. There's just no way."

"It'd be way too obvious," Neji says, agreeing with him, "If he were a plant, he'd make more of an effort to fit in with the rest of Oto. But he doesn't look right, doesn't act right, or even fight like them."

"Besides," Naruto adds, "If he were a cop, he wouldn't have broken Chouji's arms or go into a police station in broad daylight."

"True," Kiba says decisively, "He's got a vicious streak you just can't deny. He's definitely not a cop."

"Then why was he skulking around the police station?" Shikamaru asks.

"You checked the news for dead cops?" Naruto grouses, only half-joking.

"I'm assuming he's not the type of guy to get cold feet?" Temari asks, leaning on her elbows over the table.

"What do you mean "cold feet"?" Kiba asks, confused, "They're yakuza! They kick puppies for fun, don't they?"

Temari shrugs and reaches back to put her hair in a ponytail as she speaks, "Well, ever since the 1992 bouryokudan law was passed, there have been more and more yakuza going to the police and trying to go straight."

Naruto remains skeptical. He can't imagine Uchiha "going straight" in either meaning of the phrase. The rest of ANBU looks like they agree with him on this point.

"You haven't met Uchiha," Shikamaru tells his wife, "There's no way he's the type of gangster to suddenly grow a conscience."

"And he's definitely not a cop," Naruto emphasizes. After all, up until a few days ago, he had the bite marks to prove it.

"Probably not," Shikamaru agrees, nodding his head, "That's too bad though. We could have used a break."

"Still," Chouji says, continuing to argue his point, "What was he doing when I saw him hanging around the police station?"

None of them have a good answer for that.

Naruto lasts four days before he goes to find Uchiha. He tries to focus on other things, like his failing business, but he can't stop thinking about it, can't stop remembering Uchiha saying that he wasn't all buddy-buddy with Orochimaru.

Finally, he just gives up and starts planning his course of action.

Once, way back when this whole thing started, ANBU had tried to track down the location of Yakushi Kabuto's home. He doesn't really remember why, because in the end it never went anywhere, but what he does remember is Shikamaru saying that if they could just find where he did anything domestic, like laundry or where he got a haircut, they could pinpoint the area that he lived in because those places weren't usually more than five minutes from a person's home.

So Naruto gets out a map and finds the block where he ran into Uchiha while he was carrying grocery bags. There's a subway stop right by there which complicates things, but it's an east to west line that runs directly into downtown Osaka, and since Uchiha's a yakuza, Naruto's guessing he lives more towards the northern side of town.

It's about seven-thirty when he finishes closing up the shop and heads out towards the northern end of town on food. Being late January, it's already dark out, meaning this is probably one of the stupidest things he's done in a while. He would bring his motorcycle, but if someone recognizes it, he's screwed.

He reaches the point where he and Uchiha first kissed and reminds himself that after he figures out why the hell Uchiha was in that police station, he's going to forget all about him. Naruto heads north as the temperature drops further, and he starts wishing he brought his gloves with him. After a few minutes he sees an apartment complex up ahead, definitely looking like the kind of place that's yakuza run. He slips inside the first door and looks at all the names on the mailboxes until he finds the characters うちは サスケ scribbled in permanent marker on the label of the mailbox. Room number 34. By complete chance, the second door that leads further into the complex has been left ajar, probably by some stupid low-level gangster and Naruto opens it and walks up two flights of stairs, shocked at his luck.

He walks quietly down the hallway, aware that anytime one of the doors open could spell big trouble for him and raps his knuckles twice on Uchiha's door.

Later, he will realize that it didn't even occur to him that there was a chance that Uchiha could simply not be in. Some part of him naively assumes that Uchiha will be there, that he is waiting for him, and he will wonder why he ever thought he could get rid of the other man at all.

But now, the door is opening and Naruto crosses his arms over his chest uncomfortably, privately thinking that Uchiha must be either very stupid or very arrogant to open his door so easily when he's involved in this kind of business.

Uchiha is wearing a dark t-shirt and soccer shorts when he answers the door and looks fairly surprised to see him there.

"You were seen walking out of the police station a couple days ago," Naruto states before Uchiha can say anything. The words, "Explain yourself," are implied.

Shock flits across Uchiha's face, and he grabs his the front of Naruto's jacket and drags him into his apartment, throwing him on his ass into the alcove.

"Shut up!" Uchiha hisses, shutting the door and turning on him, "Do you want me to get killed? And take off your shoes."

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Naruto shoots back, and Uchiha's mouth tightens. He walks past Naruto and kicks off his own geta into the alcove before stepping up onto the real floor. Uchiha's apartment is in the traditional style, with sprawling tatami mats, shouji screens, and sliding doors with designs of koi fish on them. There's a small bathroom just to the right of the alcove and a tiled kitchen area all the way in the back, and it looks like Uchiha's the kind of freak who actually puts his futon away after he wakes up everyday. Weirdo. But besides that Uchiha's apartment is shockingly empty. He has an old wooden dresser across from the kitchen area and an electric kotatsu with two zaisu chairs, but that's about it. He doesn't even have a TV.

Naruto sits up on the real floor with his feet still in the alcove and kicks off his shoes, not bothering to turn them around or straighten them. He stands up then, feeling the worn tatami under his bare feet and walks into the apartment, closing the decorative screen door behind him as he goes.

"What are you doing here?" Uchiha asks him, standing next to his table, arms crossed in annoyance.

Naruto scowls, "What do you mean, what am I doing here? What the hell were you doing in that police station?"

"You're mistaken," Uchiha replies in his annoying Hokkaido way of speaking, not meeting his eyes, "I haven't been in any police stations recently."

Naruto scoffs, "Please. We both know you were there. But what I don't know is why."

"Get out," Uchiha says, anger creeping into his voice.

Naruto pays him no heed, "You see, this is what I think," he says, advancing on Uchiha, "You're in way over your head in this. You're from Hokkaido, right? They don't have yakuza up there, do they? At least not to the extent we do. You were strapped for cash and figured, hey, why not? But then you started to get a handle on what really happ-"

Uchiha slams him against the wall so hard that he sees stars.

"Don't pretend," Uchiha says in a low, deadly precise voice, "to know anything about me just because we've fucked."

"Oh, because you've done some awful, illegal thing that will horrify me and you think you're all badass?" Naruto mocks, enjoying how uncomfortable Uchiha's looking, wanting to have him feel the way Naruto has the past few months for a change, "What did you do? Steal a car? Hire a prostitute?"

"No," Uchiha says, quite calm all of the sudden, "But I did murder my older brother in cold blood."

Naruto actually feels the blood drain out of his face. His mouth drops open slightly, and he inhales sharply. Uchiha moves away, face twisting in a grimace of something that might be self-disgust.

"Just a few blocks from here," he says, hair falling over his eyes, turning his head towards the shouji screens that cover the windows, "Six months, two weeks, and four days ago."

"Wh-Why?" Naruto asks hoarsely, completely cowed by this new turn of events.

Uchiha turns to look at him, staring hard, straight into his eyes, and Naruto finds he can't look away, "Because when I was eight, he took a kitchen knife and slit both my parents' throats while they slept."

Naruto's entire body goes cold, and he shuts his mouth, swallowing.

"I'd been looking for him for eleven years, chased him all over Japan, and then…" Uchiha pauses, and his eyes harden, "And then I killed him."

There is another silence and then he adds, "But that was months ago. I'm over it."

If Naruto hadn't lost his own important people or noticed that Uchiha was talking to himself more than to him, he might've believe it. But he knows very well, is sure of this more than anything in the world, that you don't get over things like that.

"And you," he starts, glaring at him with cold eyes, "You're infuriating. Infuriatingly right. This was not a well thought out decision. That sick degenerate Kabuto saw me and he offered-I had nowhere else to go, and I didn't think anything mattered anymore. So I said yes and now look at me."

Naruto cannot imagine doing anything else.

"I am in over my head," Uchiha says bitterly, starting to pace up and down his tiny apartment, "I'm sick of this business, watching that snake Orochimaru ruin people's lives over money or territory or other useless things. So, yes," he says, glaring up at Naruto, jaw clenched, "Yes, I went to the police, because I want out, and I'm giving them information so that they can bring this whole damn kumi down."

"Oh," Naruto says eloquently.

"Satisfied?" Uchiha asks viciously, squaring his shoulders, "Now get out."

"Um…no," Naruto says, shaking his head slowly, still feeling rather punch-drunk.

"What?" Uchiha says sharply, taken aback.

"I'm deeeefinitely going to need a drink first," he says and shoves his hands in his pocket, looking at Uchiha expectantly.

Uchiha is quiet for a few seconds and goes to his mini-fridge, wrenches the door open and throws him a bottle of Sapporo beer and says, "Drink fast."

He drinks the first one in four gulps, the second in even less and by the time he's finished with his third he feels sufficiently buzzed to get away with leaning over the kotatsu and nuzzling Uchiha's jaw.

"I just," he starts, speaking breathlessly slow, but then Uchiha, Sasuke cuts him off.

"Don't," he says, pushing a hand through his hair, "Don't say it."

It's like the first time in Danzou's house, strange and quiet, and Naruto kisses him slowly, sliding his hands up under his shirt to touch the sensitive skin of his abdomen, the front of his thighs right up against the side of the low table, burning slightly.

Sasuke breaks the kiss and just looks at him, eyes heavy-lidded.

"Are you going to come over here or what?" he breathes and then Naruto's hands are on his shoulder, his back, his hips and Sasuke is pushing off his jacket and curling his long, strong fingers into Naruto's hair. He pulls Naruto closer by the middle and wraps his arms around his waist tightly, dragging him down to the floor where Sasuke whispers soft, ridiculous things in his ear and wraps his legs around his hips.

Many hours later, they finally get sick of lying on the floor, and Sasuke gets his futon and pillow out. It's much more comfortable, and Naruto gets to tangle himself in the sheets obnoxiously until Sasuke gets annoyed enough that he pins him down and kisses him roughly.

Naruto memorizes the way Sasuke tilts his heads back whenever he goes near his neck, the way he curls his toes into the bedclothes, the way his breath hitches delightfully whenever Naruto gives a particularly hard thrust, and thinks this is probably simultaneously the most insane and amazing thing that he's ever done.

He falls asleep on Sasuke's shoulder and for the first time in years he feels like he might just make it through his life without all the people he's lost.

The next few weeks are a whirlwind late night visits, sparring sessions that don't end with sparring, or at least the traditional kind, and blatant lying on Naruto's part to nearly everyone he knows. February comes around, and Naruto finds himself considering Valentine's Day chocolate before he realizes he's acting like a lovesick schoolgirl and goes off to do something manly like clean his motorcycle.

ANBU takes his upbeat mood in stride, considering how sullen he was during the first part of January, though Shikamaru keeps giving him suspicious looks, as if he's not sure what to make of his new attitude.

They run into each other on the street sometimes, and it's actually really annoying because Sasuke keeps making suggestive comments and 'accidentally' hitting his teammates. So, afterwards, Naruto obviously has to corner him and punish him for riling him up, like now where Sasuke is dragging Naruto back to his place and Naruto can't stop kissing him and touching him while he's getting out the futon, moaning, "Fuck, you are so slow. Why don't you just leave the damn thing out? C'mon, faster, Sasuke, Sasuke, Sasuke."

"Why are you suddenly using my first name?" Sasuke asks after he finally regains his breath, propping himself up on his elbows and leaning his head back onto his pillow

"Hey, I'm an informal sort of guy," Naruto says, reaching up a hand to muss with Sasuke's girly hair, "'Sides, I like your name. It's all cool and samurai-y."

Sasuke scowls and jerks away, grabbing Naruto's wrist tightly.

"Seriously, though," Naruto continues rolling over onto his side to press more of his body against Sasuke's, watching as the other man's eyes lower slightly, "Do you know what I'm named after?"

Sasuke raises an eyebrow, "A ramen additive?"

Naruto shakes his head glumly, "No, I was named after the main character of a bodice ripper who was named after a ramen additive."

Sasuke makes a strange constipated face that usually means he's trying not to laugh.

"It's true," Naruto insists, walking his fingers up Sasuke's arm just to piss him off, "My mom thought it was cute and apparently wore the pants in that relationship."

Sasuke rolls over onto his stomach and presses his mouth to his, ending the kiss suddenly with a bite.

"Jerk," Naruto complains, reaching up to touch his lips with two fingers, "What the hell was that for?"

"The face you make amuses me," Sasuke says completely seriously, "It's nearly as amsusing as your orga-"

"Okay, then!" Naruto interrupts, probably flushing all over, slapping a hand over Sasuke's mouth, "Don't say that in such a clinical tone. You're really confusing my boner."

Sasuke elbows him in the guts and then pushes him over, throwing a leg over his hip and sitting on his stomach.

"Howabout," he breathes, outer thighs coming down to clench his hips, "We clear up any of that confusion then."

He leans down to press his hips against Naruto's stomach and Naruto groans, grabbing his shoulders.

Quite suddenly, Naruto flips them over, snaking a hand down between Sasuke's legs and Sasuke arches into his hand, breath coming out in loud pants.

"Bastard," he snarls, digging his fingernails into Naruto's shoulders in retaliation.

"In both meanings of the word, I assure you," Naruto says, nipping at the juncture between his neck and his ear.

"Wha-ah-t," Sasuke moans, pressing his hips up further in an attempt to garner more friction, "the hell are you, mmm, ngh, talking ah-about?"

"My parents weren't married, you know," Naruto says casually, adding another hand, "My mother thought the institution of marriage was-"

Sasuke sits up and grabs at his hands to hold them steady, "If you say one more word about your mother," he says warningly, though his face is bright red and his shoulders are shaking in an interesting way, "I will kill you, understand, Uzumaki?"

Naruto pushes him down on his back and makes a rubbing motion with his hands that has Sasuke incoherent with pleasure again, "I told you," he says, grinding a bit against Sasuke's leg, "It's Naruto. C'mon, say it."

Sasuke does. A lot.

It's been pretty quiet lately. Not completely quiet, Naruto still runs into groups of yakuza roaming the streets every once and a while, but according to Sasuke the complete fiasco with the toba lost Orochimaru a lot of influence and support from outside factors (whatever that means) and he's been focusing more on how to get it back than trying to beat ANBU into submission.

In other news, the shop's actually doing well for once and now that he's having sex regularly again, he can enjoy the benefits of living over a porn shop. Mostly the pairs of handcuffs that he's able to produce whenever he wants.

Besides Kiba, though, Naruto hasn't seen any of the other ANBU members all that much lately, as a consequence of less action going on in their neighborhood, but also because all of them are so poor. None of them have any sort of savings, they're always on the edge of bankruptcy, so they have to take advantage of the furlough and take on extra hours.

Still, the less he has to see them, the less he has to lie to them, and while Naruto feels a little bad about it, he's still not really comfortable with them even knowing about his sexuality, much less that he's involved with a guy who's technically still taking Orochimaru's orders.

"Should I ask why you have a container of wasabi peas on the ledge in your shower?" Sasuke asks, toweling down his hair with one of Naruto hideous orange towels.

"Not unless you want an answer," Naruto says, sitting on his bed, looking through some papers that Sasuke had managed to steal off Orochimaru's desk and copy. He shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, "I get hungry sometimes."

"In the shower?" Sasuke questions, "And I told you to leave those in the envelopes. I don't want the evidence to be compromised."

"I just get bored," Naruto says, ignoring the last part of his statement, "I like to have something to do in the shower." He looks up at Sasuke's disapproving expression and winks, "I've been told I'm good at multitasking."

"I'm sure," Sasuke says dryly, unimpressed, "Speaking of your weird quirks, I think you should know that I found your magazines a while back. You have awful taste in porn."

"What?" Naruto screeches, "You looked through those?"

Sasuke rolls his eyes at him, "Please. Don't act so horrified. And besides, the first place anyone is going to look is your nightstand."

"Oh," Naruto says, still embarrassed that Sasuke looked though his large collection of gay bondage magazines, "Wow, I'm glad my girlfriend never found them then."

"Girlfriend?" Sasuke asks darkly, narrowing his eyes.

"Ex," Naruto says, waving a hand in his direction, "She was kind of the innocent type. That would have really freaked her out. And stop looking at me like that. I'm bi, you know."

"Really…" Sasuke says slowly, looking a bit perplexed, "I never would have guessed."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Naruto asks, glaring in his direction.

"So…" Sasuke says casually, hanging the towel over the backboard of Naruto's bed and sitting down at the other end, "This ex-girlfriend of yours…Was it a bad breakup?"

Naruto shrugs his shoulders, not really wanting to talk about this, but realizing that Sasuke was not going to take no for an answer, "Not really…It was just that the whole thing was just a really bad idea from the start. I mean, we started going out right after four people I knew really well got…" Naruto sighs, "well, murdered, and I had just, you know, killed the ones who did it and it was just not a good time for me to get into a relationship."

"I see," Sasuke says quietly.

"And it didn't really help that we were so different," Naruto says, looking down at the copies of Orochimaru's business papers, "I don't think it would have worked out even if I hadn't been having nightmares every night about….well, yeah."

Naruto looks over at the pink jacket and the sumi-e painting, and while Sasuke follows his gaze, he doesn't say anything.

"Put those back in the envelops now," Sasuke says suddenly, getting to his feet. Naruto scowls, but complies, and throws him the manila envelope. Sasuke catches it and puts it in his jacket

"Hey are you leaving already?" Naruto questions, frowning a bit.

"It's late and the longer I'm off Oto's radar, the more likely it is that I get caught," Sasuke says pulling the thick material over his head.

"They seriously care what you do in your free time?" Naruto asks, stretching out his back.

"If it's screwing you they do," Sasuke replies humorlessly, leaving his bedroom and towards the door. Naruto gets up off his bed and follows him, leaning against the corner of the doorframe that separates his bedroom from the hallway that leads to the door.

"I'll see you later," Sasuke says, unbolting his many bolts.

"I don't understand why you don't just call," Naruto says rolling his eyes.

"I don't call because my phone was given to me by Oto," Sasuke replies.

Naruto clears his throat loudly, "Hey, you going to leave without giving me a goodbye kiss?" he asks, fluttering his eyelashes revoltingly.

Sasuke turns and advances towards him, grabbing him by the front of his white undershirt and kisses him roughly. Naruto brings up his hand to cup his face, but Sasuke grabs it and slams it against the wall, using his body to force Naruto against it with a thump.

Naruto's breath hitches and he feels his eyes lower, heat pooling in his gut.

"I," Sasuke says softly, against his lips, "have got to go."

Naruto's eyes fly open, but Sasuke has already released him and is moving away.

"Tease," he accuses, rubbing his wrist where Sasuke grabbed it, "I'll get you for that."

"I'm sure you will," Sasuke smirks, undoing the last of the bolts and opening the door.

Only to come face to face with Yamanaka Ino, her hand poised to knock.

They all stare at each other for a few seconds, the time it takes for Naruto's blood to run cold and Ino's mouth to fall open slightly.

He knows that there's no way to hide what this it, because it's exactly what it looks like. He's wearing only his undershirt and boxers and it's nearly three o'clock in the afternoon. And if that weren't enough, he's pretty sure he has fresh hickeys all over his neck again.

"What?" Ino manages to say, eyes swiveling between him and Sasuke, "What?"

Sasuke turns to look him, jaw tight, and Naruto gives him a helpless look.

"I've really got to go," he says, while Ino states at him like he's a ghost, "You deal with…this."

Then he walks right past into and turns the corner, out of sight.

Ino watches him walk away and then Naruto grabs her and pulls her into his apartment.

"What the hell's-" she starts, gaping at him, "Why…that's…You slept with him?"

"Ino, calm down," Naruto says, "Look , just let me expl-"

"You had better explain!" she nearly shouts, "What the hell, Naruto? He's a fucking yakuza!"

"Yes, I know, but-"

"You know when I said you should get laid all those times I didn't mean with-And since when are you gay?"

'Ino, just wait a second! It's not what you think!"

"Then what exactly is it?" she asks, glaring at him, "What could you possibly say that could make this ok?"

"He's been giving me information, alright" Naruto blurts out, "For, like, two months now. He's helping me bring them down. But we've also been-"

"Sleeping with each other?" Ino finishes, looking disgusted, "Yeah, I caught that part. That's…a little weird. I never thought of you as…that type of person."

"If it makes you feel better, neither did I," Naruto says uncomfortably.

"So he's helping you?" she asks after a fee seconds if uncomfortable silence, "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Naruto says confidently, "I can show you some of the papers if you wan-"

"That's okay," she says, rubbing her temples, "Wow. I think, I think I need a drink."

"It's yours," Naruto says, "But Ino, you really, really cannot tell the rest of ANBU about this, okay? I just…I'm not really up for them knowing about it, you know."

She still looks pretty shocked, but nods.

"As long as you're sure," she says, clearing her throat, "It's just…wow."

Naruto goes to get her the drink he promised her then and then they sit down at his kitchen table and she stares at him in a really awkward way. Eventually, though, she starts asking about how Sasuke is in bed, and he knows everything's as back to normal as it can be.

"Hey, why are you here, anyway?" he asks her about half an hour later.

She pauses, "I…You've seen Kiba since, like, Wednesday, right?" she says in an uncharacteristically nervous manner.

"Uh…yeah, he kind of works for me," Naruto replies, frowning in confusion.

She studies him carefully and then cracks a smile, "Er…it's nothing. I was just going to…I'd better go, okay?"

"Alright," Naruto says, unsure as to why she's acting so skittish,. He stands up and gets the door for her and she turns around one more time before she goes.

"Look, Naruto, I promised I wouldn't tell," she says earnestly, "But maybe you should. I mean, what if he's really not…I just don't want you to get hurt and this sounds really risky."

"I'll be fine," Naruto reassures her, "Really. But you know how they'd be. I'd just be…and I don't want to go through that right now, okay?"

She nods, still looking a bit worried.

"Hey, Ino," he calls after her as she leaves, "Thanks for not being weird, you know?"

She rolls her eyes, "I'm just wondering why I didn't see it before with all those different orange shirts you own."



He's wide awake all of the sudden and gasping for breath. It's one a.m. in mid March and he's soaked in sweat, scrambling to sit up in bed.

Once, again he finds himself in the familiar position of waking up in the middle of the night with the realization that Sai and Sakura-chan are dead, they died in one of the worst ways to die imaginable, and that they are never, ever, coming back.

Sasuke is asleep beside him, but Naruto knows he won't be for long if he stays like this so he grabs onto the backboard and attempts to push himself out of bed, not fully trusting his shaking legs to support him.

"Mgh, what the hell?" Sasuke says sleepily from next to him, "Naruto, what-"

"Go back to sleep," Naruto says, hating how weak his voices sounds, '"Just, I can't-"

"Hey," Sasuke says, sitting up and gripping Naruto's shoulders tightly, turning him towards him, "Are you cr-"

"Just stop!" Naruto says, glad that it's so dark that the only light coming into the room is coming from a dim streetlamp in the street below, "I can't, I can't, I can't…"

"Oi, what the hell is go-?"

"Nothing," Naruto rasps, all his energy spent on trying not to fall apart, right here, right now, "Just-"

Sasuke grabs him, wraps one arms around his neck so hard that it hurts and pulls Naruto's head into his shoulder and Naruto lets him do it and just cries.

"They're dead," he gasps between sobs, "They're dead and they're never coming back and it's all my fault. If I had only done what she said, just left it alone, they wouldn't gone after them, they wouldn't have had to die like that-"

'"Don't," Sasuke says roughly, putting his other hand on Naruto's waist, nearly an embrace, "Just don't. Naruto-"

"-and I wish I could just say how sorry I am," Naruto chokes, squeezing his eyes shut in an effort to stop the tears, "I wish I could just see them one more time, just so I could say goodbye properly. It wasn't fair they had to die like that, they were so young and the forensics said it took them hours to finally-"

"I know, " Sasuke says tightly, "I know, so just don't, please don't…"

Naruto can't seem to stop crying, just like all those years ago when he was called into the police station to identify Sakura-chan and Sai's remains. He always tried to hide his tears, at first because he wanted to be alone, and later, because some part of him is humiliated that he can't stop grieving even though everyone else around him has.

For whatever reason, though, this time is different. It is somehow more than just grief that spreads through him; it's like he's being crushed from the inside out.

And finally, he realizes it is because he knows that Sasuke understands exactly how he feels and somehow that makes it so much worse.

"Are you sick?" Sasuke asks him.

It's morning now, and Naruto's lying on his back with his arm over his eyes, while sunlight shines through his dirty windows, warming his face.

"No," Naruto says with a laugh, "Just feeling really stupid."

"You were already stupid," Sasuke replies, and Naruto can hear him move closer, "Personally, I don't see any changes"

"Is that your own special, socially-retarded way of trying to make me feel better?" Naruto asks, still not moving his arm from the safe position over his eyes.

"That depends," Sasuke says without skipping a beat, "Is it working?"

Naruto lets out a huff of laughter, "Yes," he says sullenly.

"Good," Sasuke says, and Naruto removes his arms from his face to peek up at him.

Sasuke is looking at him with an odd expression, sort of like he's struggling to keep his face blank. He looks away suddenly and Naruto isn't sure quite what to make of it.

"What?" he says, and Sasuke merely shakes his head.

"I have to go," he says, voice cold all of the sudden.

And then, without any other comment, he turns and walks toward the exit.

"Hey, what the hell?" Naruto nearly shouts, sitting up so fast that his head spins and leaping out of bed.

He turns the corner to find Sasuke jamming his shoes on, the bolts on the door already undone.

"I've got to go," Sasuke says coldly, not looking at him.

"Okay, sure," Naruto says, feeling pathetically needy, "But when will I see you again?"

Sasuke doesn't answer, but shuts the door in his face and leaves Naruto staring at the closed door.

"Asshole!" Naruto hisses and then throws himself back onto the bed. He holds the pillow against his face and groans.

He doesn't see Sasuke for nearly two weeks after that. He goes to his apartment, but every time no one's there and he can't really afford to stick around that long.

He keeps replaying the entire morning over in his mind, wondering what went wrong, if he freaked Sasuke out. If he really drove him away.

But Sasuke didn't leave until long after he cried so hard. He was normal, nicer than normal actually, until he looked at him and…and then he left. Naruto can't stop thinking about it.

In that moment, what did he see, that made him take off so quickly?

After a while, he starts to wonder if Ino was right about the whole thing. Could it be possible that he was being used? Tricked? It doesn't really make any sense for Sasuke to be a spy, because ANBU hasn't really done anything since the toba, and therefore he's had nothing to tell Sasuke.

He tries not to think about why it matters to him so much. Sure, Naruto likes him, but if he dwells on this fact he starts to wonder what Sasuke really thinks of him. They're not in a relationship, at least not in the traditional sense with dates and movies, but he certainly cares for him, cares more than he would like to admit. But they've never talked about what they are. What this is and where it's going. It's easy to see why; Naruto's never thought more than a few weeks in advance in his life and Sasuke's an uncommunicative bastard, but the longer he thinks about, the more he realizes that this is an obvious oversight on his part.

To make things worse, he still can't shake the feeling that he's been used.

"Look, Shikamaru, what's the point?" Naruto complains from behind the counter, organizing a container of lube in brightly covered packages and rolling his eyes at Kiba as he talks, "You said yourself that nothing's happened. What's the point of having another meeting?"

"It's a good habit to have," Shikamaru says, voice crackling as a result of Naruto's ancient phone, "Besides Temari keeps saying that you seem down lately and I figure it's easier to placate her than humor you."

"Whipped," Naruto mutters and Kiba grins at him, "But seriously, I got work to do, you know."

"It's five hours tops," Shikamaru says shortly, "Get over it."

Naruto groans, "Oh, c'mon, Shikamaru…That jerk, he hung up on me!"

"Seriously, man," Kiba says, leaning up against the counter, "We haven't seen you in, like, months."

"You see me every day," Naruto grumbles.

"Yeah, but they don't," Kiba says, holding up his hands, "C'mon, when's the last time you've gone anywhere?"

"You're right, it's been ages," Naruto agrees, wiping some dust off the register absentmindedly, "But, seriously, I'm a small business owner and tax day is coming up. I'm drowning in paperwork right now. Maybe later, okay man?"

He turns away then to get rid of a kid in the back corner that is definitely not allowed to be in here and pretends that he doesn't see Kiba's hurt look.

He tries to do work, he really does, but he has so much trouble concentrating that eventually he heads out for a walk at about nine p.m.

It's a nice night for a walk, it's warm, but not humid with a light breeze and all the cherry trees in the area have started to bloom, making the air fragrant and sweet.

But despite the beauty of the night, Naruto is not unaware of the fact that he has come to hate this town.

He finds himself walking along the river, watching the moon glint off the water, when he hears a gun cock.

"Don't move, Uzumaki," he hears Ukon say, but the threat is unnecessary as he has already frozen in his tracks.

He turns his head ever so slightly and receives a small shock at the sight of Ukon, Sasuke, and the yakuza lawyer, Juugo.

"It's over," Ukon snarls, "You're finally going to pay for the murder of my brother."

"Am I?" Naruto asks, looking towards Sasuke, voice empty.

Sasuke's expression is cold and despite all the time he's spent with the man, Naruto's can honestly say he has no idea what he's thinking.

"What are you doing?" the lawyer hisses to Ukon, "I just got you out of jail, now you're going to go right back in again?"

"Oh, don't worry," Ukon say through gritted teeth, "I know people who can get rid of a body, and they owe me a favor."

"Do we really have to do this right now?" Sasuke sighs, not even glancing at Naruto.

He sounds exhausted, and Naruto resists the urge to yell something melodramatic like "Why haven't you called me in two weeks?"

"Too much work for you, Uchiha?" he says instead, stiffening up.

"And what is that supposed to mean, exactly, Uzumaki?" Sasuke responds, looking him in the eyes for the first time, his left hand twitching slightly.

"Shut up, Uchiha, he's mine," Ukon butts in, raising the gun slightly so that it lines up with Naruto's face.

Naruto swallows.

"You," Ukon, starting to shake, "I'm going to kill you slowly."

"Then you're much more like your brother than I thought," Naruto says bitterly, "He also had a penchant for torturing people. Like my friends."

"Shut up about my brother!" he shouts, his voice probably carrying several hundred meters.

Juugo winces, and Sasuke's jaw tightens and he turns to eye Ukon warily.

"Or what?" Naruto spits back, feeling stupidly fearless, "Gonna kill me?"

"Uzumaki!" Sasuke grits out and all three of the other man turn to stare at him.

"Yeah?" Naruto swivels towards him, eyes blazing, "What could you possibly have to say to me?"

Ukon and Juugo both look between them, confused, and Sasuke narrows his eyes for a second before he clears off every trace of an expression from his face.

"Since you're going to die, I figure I should tell you," he says, casually, reaching a hand backwards, "that I'm in love with you."

Naruto barely has time to process what this means before there is a loud shot, and Ukon lets out a horrible scream, falling to the floor and clutching his shoulder. The gun slips from his fingers and Sasuke's foot is colliding with his head and he keels over unconscious.

"Right then," Sasuke says, breathing heavily, turning the gun towards Juugo.

A small pool of blood is spreading out in front of Ukon, and Naruto starts feeling dizzy. "You have two choices," Sasuke continues, pointing the gun deftly at Juugo's astonished face, "You can either back me up and say that Ukon here, tragically did not check the safety on his gun and shot himself completely on accident and risk Orochimaru cutting off his support for your daughter's treatment or you can tell him the truth and never see you daughter again, in which cause Orochimaru will surely cut off his financial support for her medicine anyway."

"What-" Juugo starts, gaping between Naruto, Sasuke, and Ukon's unconscious body.

"Choose," Sasuke says harshly, jabbing the gun at him.

"Sasuke," Naruto whispers, starting to feel sick, "He's bleeding a lot."

"And who's fault would that be/?" Sasuke asks, which doesn't make any sense at all.

"Okay, okay," Juugo says, holding his hands up defensively, "But as soon as he wakes up Orochimaru's going to find out that-"

"That won't be a problem," Sasuke says, "Because after tonight Orochimaru will be behind bars."

Juugo gawks at Sasuke for a few seconds and then swallows visibly, "Alright, " he says, a look of resignation coming over his face, "But we'll need to take him to the hospital."

"You do that," Sasuke delegates swiftly, "And you," he says turning towards Naruto, "You need to go home."

"Wh-What?" Naruto says, looking up at him in shock, "What just…You just shot-"

"He'll live," Sasuke says grimly. He grips Naruto by the shoulders and shakes him.

"Listen to me," he says, coming close to Naruto's face and talking quickly, "You need to get out of here. It's unlikely, but there's a chance that someone might've heard that shot." "Get out of here?" Naruto repeats blankly, "And leave you here with a gun and an unconscious yakuza? No way, you just saved my li-"

"Keep the pressure on," Sasuke tells Juugo, who has taken his tie off and is trying to stop the flow of blood is, kneeling by Ukon's limp body.

Then he grabs Naruto by the arm and pulls him across the street and behind a foreclosed office building.

"Look, Naruto," he says, pushing him against the wall, "I can't see you anymore. You can't be a part of this, because if I get one little tiny bit wrong, I'm dead. You might think you've pissed off Orochimaru pretty bad over the years, but if I turn him in and the charges don't stick, I am dead."

"What," Naruto gapes, looking into his eyes, trying to figure out his motivations, "What, do you think I'm just going to let you do this all by you-Mmmgh"

Sasuke presses himself flush against his body, arms wrapping around his neck, fingers digging into his shoulders frantically, and Naruto thinks it's probably the most desperate kiss he's ever been a part of.

"I'm not good for you, Naruto," Sasuke says, softly, against his mouth, "Go home."


But then Sasuke is ripping himself away, and his button up shirt is whipping around the corner. And then, of course, Naruto's stomach decides to turn unpleasantly, and he empties his guts all over the pavement. And by the time he feels strong enough to stand up on his own, Sasuke, Juugo, and Ukon are gone.

It's only then, too, that he remembers that Sasuke said he loved him.

"Mgh, what?" he says, seven hours later when Shikamaru calls him at five o'clock in the morning, "Why're you calling?"

"The police just raided five Oto safe houses all over town," Shikamaru blurts, sounding more shaken up than Naruto's heard him in years, "They arrested everyone! All that they had left! Not only just the thugs, but all the midlevel brains behind the operation and Kabuto and Orochimaru."

"They've got enough evidence then?" Naruto asks, wide awake now.

"There's no way Sarutobi Asuma would make an arrest if he wasn't absolutely sure that they had a chance of throwing them in the can," Shikamaru says, sounding almost giddy, "I don't know how they got it, but…well…just, wow."

"Yeah," Naruto says quietly, thinking more about Uchiha Sasuke than Oto, "Wow."

He doesn't see Sasuke for weeks after that. It makes sense, though, because he's an important witness in a yakuza cause, so they've probably gotten him hidden away somewhere. Bail is not set, so they don't have to worry about any yakuza stirring up trouble and in the weeks before the trial, slowly but surely, the people of Konoha start talking to them again. Shimura Danzou even comes to visit, though mostly to ask if they knew anything about the damning evidence that the police got a hold of.

ANBU, Ino, Shino, Temari, and even Hinata go out to celebrate, Naruto actually takes off work, and they go and spend an entire night hanging out at a karaoke box as if they were teenagers again. Naruto feels younger than he's felt in years and so ridiculously thrilled, that the only thing he could think of to wish for is that it didn't all have to come at such a high price.

He thinks a lot about Uchiha Sasuke, too. What he feels for him, what's probably the wisest course of action, and most importantly what he really wants to do. It's hard because Naruto's never been good at articulating his feelings, even to himself, and usually by the time he does, it's too late. Because of that, though, he wants to get it right this time, wants to do what he should of done so long ago, but even after these decisions, he still doesn't real how deep he's in, until he and the rest of ANBU sit down in that courtroom in April on the first day of the trial and watch Uchiha Sasuke walk to the stand.

Kiba's eyes bug out, Neji's mouth drops, Shikamaru goes very stiff, Chouji lets out a gasp, and Naruto is in love.

"You knew," is the first thing out of Shikamaru's mouth after court is adjourned and they exit the courthouse amidst a flurry of reporters and new crews.

Naruto opens his mouth, but can't think of anything to say and then closes it. He had to tell them sometime, anyway.

"I did," he says finally, as they get out of the crowd and sit down in a nearby park.

"What?" Kiba says, staring at him like he barely knows him, "Why didn't you say anything?"

Naruto shrugs his shoulder, looking out over the greenery of the park and the streets and skyscrapers beyond. It's been ages since he's been in downtown Osaka and it all seems so big and foreign, just like the last few weeks of his life have been.

"I wasn't sure, you know," he says, truthfully, "I didn't want to bring up your hopes, just in case it fell though."

It's half the truth anyway, but his epiphany in the courtroom is still fresh in his mind and it's childish, but he kind of wants to keep Sasuke to himself.

"Right," Shikamaru says harshly, "You're sleeping with him, aren't you?"

Naruto feels his heart drop into his stomach region and he gapes at Shikamaru in astonishment.

"What?" Neji says, looking nearly as surprised as Naruto feels.

"What the hell are you on about?" Kiba chokes, looking bewildered.

"Oh, don't give me that look," Shikamaru says bitterly, "Do you think I'm stupid? You've been obsessed with him ever since you first met."

"Wh-What exactly is going one?" Chouji asks, looking between him and Shikamaru in dismay.

"He's gotten himself involved with Uchiha," Shikamaru snarls, jabbing his pointer finger at him emphatically, "Did you really think I wouldn't notice with you making those weird faces whenever someone mentions his name and being so goddamn moody all the time.? I had hoped you were just being over exuberant about kicking his ass, but it turns out that you're just almost as bad as Kiba hiding his pathetic crush on Ino after all!"

"You have a crush on Ino?" Naruto gawks, rounding on Kiba, who has gone a light pink color and Shikamaru groans in despair, "Since when?"

"Since ever, you complete moron!" Shikamaru says, slapping his forehead with his palm, '"God, why am I surrounded with incompetents?"

"Who are these incompetents?" Ino's voice comes from behind them, and they all spin around to stare at her.

Ino, who had stayed behind to go to the bathroom is looking rather unnerved at the way they are all staring at her, "Uh, what's going on?" she asks carefully.

"Apparently, Naruto has been sleeping with Uchiha Sasuke and Kiba has a crush on you," Chouji says dubiously, as if he's not really sure whether to trust his ears.

Ino flushes a bit at the last part, but does not exhibit any sighs of surprise.

"Oh," she says, and the that's all? is implied, "I knew that."

"You knewthat Naruto was sleeping with Uchiha?" Kiba exclaims, looking betrayed, "What?"

"But you're not surprised that she knew that you have a crush on you?" Neji clarifies, and Naruto buries his head in his hands and groans.

Everyone is pretty weirded out. Naruto knew this was going to happen, and therefore he tries to tell himself that it doesn't hurt when Kiba gives him odd looks when he thinks he doesn't notices. But whatever, he'll deal with it.

The trial's taking longer than it should, according to Shikamaru. The district started the whole trial as soon as possible because they wanted to get it over with, but despite Juugo's defection, Orochimaru's been fighting hard to avoid the logical verdict. But Shikamaru and Neji are confident that if Orochimaru falls, so will the rest.

The trial is still going on by the time May rolls around, and Naruto still hasn't had a chance to talk to Sasuke. By the time it's finally over, Naruto must've gone over Sasuke's parting words to him in his head a million times, and he barely manages to keep from crying right there in the courtroom. Shikamaru actually does cry, and it's a great day that Naruto will never, ever forget, as long as he lives.

There's partying to do then, and lots of it, but eventually Naruto sneaks out of Kiba's apartment, and takes the subway to a hotel that's famous for hosting witnesses right before and during trials. The clerk gives him Sasuke's room number now that the trial is over, and Naruto takes the elevator up to find Sasuke packing already, with the door ajar.

"You weren't planning to say goodbye, were you?" Naruto asks disapprovingly, leaning against the doorframe, and Sasuke jumps.

"Why are you here?" Sasuke asks him in annoyance and Naruto rolls his eyes.

"Why do you think I'm here, asshole," he says, entering the room, "I'm here to tell you you're an idiot."

"Isn't that my job?" Sasuke asks, halfway through folding a pair of boxers so they can fit into his suitcase, "Did you listen to anything I said the last time we spoke?"

"Did I hear what you said? Yes," Naruto answers, "Did I listen? Not so much."

Sasuke gives a defeated sigh, and Naruto comes to stand next to him, hands reaching out to touch his sides.

"What you said last time," Naruto says, quietly, "the other part…it…it was nice."

Sasuke looks up at him skeptically and Naruto's forced to remedy his statement, "Well, except the shooting part. Don't do that ever again, got it?"

"I'll try not to," Sasuke says wryly and Naruto kisses him deeply, hands coming up to clutch his shoulders and they almost forget to close the door.

"Hey, we can order room service, right?" Naruto says, propping himself up on his elbows.

He looks at Sasuke, really looks at him, watching his every move and slides a hand through his hair.

"It's expensive," Sasuke says, rolling his eyes as Naruto continues to fuss with his hair.

"Well, yeah, but you're not going anywhere anytime soon," Naruto says suggestively, leaning in to kiss Sasuke's ear.

"And whose fault is that?" Sasuke deadpans, though just by looking down Naruto can tell he's not completely unaffected.

"I'll make it up to you, I swear," Naruto says, rolling over on top of him with a wide grin on his face, "Besides, isn't the government paying for this? I say we get room service."

Sasuke wraps an arm around his neck and seals their mouths together roughly. Naruto slides a hand under the sheets and Sasuke moans.

"I-If you really want to make it up to me you're going to have to do better than t-that," he tells Naruto, jerking his head to the side.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Naruto murmurs, kissing down his chest. He throws off the covers, and Sasuke groans and gets a good grip on the headboard.

Naruto just hopes it doesn't break.

Checkout is at twelve so they have to leave soon after that, but they end up just going back to Naruto's apartment and Naruto barely even gets his boots off before Sasuke drags him forcibly to the bed.

"Come with me," Sasuke says softly, hours later, cupping Naruto's cheek.

Naruto kisses him instead of replying, but he's not stalling. Deep inside him, he already knows the answer.

Naruto's just finishing signing the papers when Kiba comes in to stand awkwardly in front of the counter, shifting from foot to foot while Naruto puts them in a manila folder.

"You're leaving, aren't you?" Kiba says in a tight voice and Naruto looks up at him and smiles ruefully.

"Yeah," Naruto says, "I am."

Kiba swallows.

"I can't stay here, Kiba," Naruto says slowly, trying to explain in the best way he can, "It's too…It's too much for me. I had so many good memories, you know, from growing up here, but over the years, I feel like they just got eroded over. It's just too sad, living here. Everyday I wake up and I think about them, and…and I need to be able to not do that sometimes. I need to start over"

"And you're going to start over with Uchiha?" Kiba asks, an edge of hostility in his voice.

"Yeah," Naruto says simply.

Kiba stares at him for a few moment, as if trying to make out what he's thinking, and then looks away.

"I-I think you're right, I guess," he mutters, "You've never been as happy as you used to be after they died."

"No," Naruto agrees, "I'll come visit sometimes, but I can't live here anymore. I don't think I'll ever be able to."

Kiba clears his throat loudly and coughs a few times, and Naruto's touched to see tears in his eyes.

"I've sold the building," Naruto says, gesturing around the place, "I would have given it to you but, one, I really need the money, and two, I think we both know that this isn't your true vocation."

Kiba gives a guttural laugh, "The kennel has been calling me ever since Orochimaru's trial finished."

"Take care of Ino, you know," Naruto adds, and Kiba flushes, "I think she really likes you and it's not going to be easy, but I think you guys are good together."

"Yeah," Kiba says, swallowing again, 'Thanks, man."

He holds out a hand then, and Naruto grasps it. It's not something Kiba would have done even a few weeks ago-he's always been more of a manly-hug sort of guy-but Naruto just shakes it back and smiles.

"Good luck, Kiba," he says and Kiba nods solemnly.

"Thanks, man."

Naruto has one more stop to make before he and Sasuke head to the Shinkansen, and he goes alone. It's a gorgeous day in the end of May; it's warm enough that everything's coming alive, but the rainy season hasn't started yet. He goes and buys some flowers and incense, and washes the graves of all the people he's lost one last time before he goes.

Sakura-chan and Sai have always been the hardest, especially because Sai's solitary grave was purposely placed next to the Haruno family plot, so that they're together. He lays the flowers on the smooth stone and lights the incense, coming to sit down in front of their graves.

"Hey, guys," he says quietly, reaching for his backpack.

He takes out a pink jacket and a sumi-e painting, both encased in plastic and puts them in front of their respective graves by the incense and flowers.

"I'm returning these to you, you know," he says, patting the packages affectionately, "I wanted to keep them, but I can't…I think of you guys all the time when I see them, how much I miss you, how sorry I am that this happened to you, but I have to live my life now. I've met someone, Sasuke's his name and he's…well, kind of a jerk, but we're, we're good for each other in an incredibly fucked up way. O-Oto's gone…they're gone for good, and it's time that I moved on as well. That doesn't mean I'll forget you!" he says quickly, tracing the katakana of Sai's name that's engraved into the headstone, "You, or Lee, or Gai, or Iruka, or Jiraiya. I'll never, you know. I'll always remember you. But I've been sad ever since Iruka died and when you guys…it just got worse. And I need to be happy sometime. Th-That's all."

He wipes his eyes and clears his throat, smiling through his tears.

"I-I never got to thank you guys for what you did for me. For being my friend even though the times when I was a complete asshole. I'll never forget that."

He pushes himself up to a standing position and bows, a tradition that he always never bothered to adhere to.

"I'll come again soon," he murmurs and then walks off down the winding path, around a large conifer tree and out of sight.

He and Sasuke end up getting a place up north in the Akita Prefecture, about an hour's train ride outside of Katagami. It's a small town, with mostly middle-aged couple and few children, but generally a nice and welcoming place (though they were a little wary of his motorcycle at first). Naruto gets a job in a bank, of all places, and Sasuke works part-time in an organic grocery story while he takes classes at the local community college.

It won't be forever, obviously, because eventually Naruto knows he will get the yearning to see skyscrapers again, but it's a great place to take a break. For the moment, it's perfect.

One night, in August, Naruto comes home from works, dumps his boots on the shoe rack and finds Sasuke, as usual, doing homework at the kitchen table.

"Hey, what are you working on?" he asks, rolling up the sleeves of his uniform and coming to look over Sasuke's shoulder.

"Business Ethics," Sasuke says, stretching up to kiss Naruto solidly on the mouth, "An oxymoron if I ever heard one."

"You're the one who wanted to go back to school," Naruto says, kissing his jaw, and then reaching round the back of the chair, wrapping his arm around him with his head right next to Sasuke's ear.

Their apartment is pretty small, smaller than Naruto's old place, and is situated over a traditional candy shop. They've got houseplants at Naruto's insistence, a small couch, a TV, and a cork notice board near the table covered in pictures of Naruto, Sakura-chan, and Sai in high school, Naruto and Iruka, and a Sasuke's family pictures with a young Itachi cut out and then taped back in again.

"Ugh," Sasuke groans, letting his head fall back against the chair, "I never get any work down with you around, do I?"

"It's my sexy uniform," Naruto grins, slipping his hands up Sasuke's shirt, "It turns you on. C'mon, admit it."

"Maybe," Sasuke concedes and the gets up out of the chair to press himself desperately against Naruto, "But it still looks better on my floor."

"Mmm, you don't want me to keep it on?" Naruto says as they finally hit the bed, pulling at Sasuke's clothes frantically.

Sasuke shoves him on the bed and clambers onto his stomach. He gets a hold of Naruto's tie with his teeth and just pulls.

"You," Naruto says breathlessly, ridiculously aroused, "are an evil man."

Sasuke pulls his shirt open and presses open mouthed kisses to his stomach and Naruto pants heavily, closing his eyes and leaning back…at least until Sasuke forces he wrists against the headboard and loops his tie around them, securing them tightly in place.

"Hey," he says petulantly, "I still have the handcuff marks from last week."

"As do I," Sasuke says, shoving his wrists in his face. Naruto attempts to lick them, "Which I why I'm using your tie," he continues, grinding down his hips a bit, just in case Naruto has any other objections. Manipulative bastard.

"Fucker," Naruto gasps as Sasuke kisses down his jaw again, squirming in an attempt to get some relief.

"Patience," Sasuke says in that annoying voice that means he's going to want Naruto to beg.

Fortunately, Naruto knows exactly how to play him, and makes obnoxiously loud needy sounds and moans his names a bunch of times, until Sasuke shoves his tongue down his throat and gets him off just to make him shut up.

They don't have problems with people judging their relationship, because most of the population in the area are naïve enough to believe that Sasuke and Naruto are merely roommates. There's one person who catches on, though, and even then it's probably because she's one of the only people in town that's around their age. Her name is Tenten, and she's a counter girl at the candy shop right below their apartment. Sasuke didn't like her at first (surprise, surprise,) but Naruto warms up to her immediately, as a genuinely nice person, and also someone that he doesn't have to be careful to call Sasuke his "roommate" as opposed to his "boyfriend" in front of.

Despite the fact that Sasuke hates sweets, she invites them back into the break room for tea when nights are especially slow and neither of them are doing anything. It's fun having a new friend, especially when she gives them discounts.

"So," she asks them cheerfully, one of those times when they're sitting down in the backroom, "How did you two meet?"

Naruto lets out an embarrassed cough and glances at Sasuke, who's looking vaguely amused.

"Ummm," he says, bringing up a hand to grasp his neck awkwardly, "It's a really long story."

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