*Author's Note* This is my first Naruto fic rated more than PG… I hope you enjoy. I realize it's one of the most clichéd plots in existence, but I worked hard on it, and hopefully that'll counteract how contrived the situation is.

            They lay side by side, uncomfortable in the silence that pervaded the small room. It wasn't uncommon that they shared a room on these missions, no matter how much they protested and tried to find ways around it. They had to sleep somewhere, after all, and getting them each separate rooms was cost-prohibitive.

            There were four of them, usually. And they could get two rooms. It would make sense to put two in each room, but it never ended up that way. Who was going to put a sixteen-year-old girl in a room with a boy her age? Or even with a thirty-year-old man? It simply wasn't done. It was against those unwritten rules.

            They broke enough of the rules as it was, really.

            So it typically ended up that Kakashi-sensei would share a room with Sasuke and Naruto, leaving Sakura on her own. The girl certainly liked the privacy, and both Sasuke and Kakashi were quiet enough that they amounted to the annoyance of one regular roommate. It certainly didn't hurt that Kakashi-sensei could supervise the two boys, so volatile emotions wouldn't explode in the middle of the night in bloody homicide or something of the like. They had gotten used to that calm control, much as a child knew they couldn't get into the cookie jar with their mother in the kitchen.      

            Yet tonight, mother had retired to the bedroom. And the kitchen was theirs for the taking.

            "Move over! Geez!"

            "…I'm not touching your side. Go to sleep and leave me the Hell alone."

            Silence fell again, and Sasuke burrowed into his thin pillows with a barely audible sigh. Maybe this time Naruto would actually go to sleep. It wasn't as if they had an important reconnaissance mission to complete in the morning, of course not. Kakashi-sensei wasn't out tailing the ninja that had attacked them two days before, he was… out buying snacks and instant ramen. Of course. Sometimes he dearly wished he could live in Naruto's little fantasy world where sleep wasn't necessary and it was perfectly acceptable to sit up and torment one's rival and ally, sometimes foe and sometimes friend, until his head exploded from pure irritation.

            No. He had to be the intelligent one.

            "…Sasuke, if that's your foot, I'm gonna kick your ass."

            "My foot is nowhere near you."

            "Then what's this?!"


            Sasuke found himself a yard away from the bed posed for battle before he knew exactly what had happened. He stared down the fisted hands raised aggressively before his chest, then raised eyes dark with disbelief to Naruto where he sprawled smugly over the bed.

            "You tickled me," he pronounced.

            "Toldja it was your foot." Naruto made a rude gesture with one hand and stole his pillows with the other, grinning like a maniac all the while.

            Sasuke fumed silently, stalking back over to the bed. Naruto grinned at him slit-eyed, arranging his stolen pillows with care. "All mine now," he informed gleefully, flopping over them like a lazy cat in a sunbeam.

            "…Dammit, Naruto."

            "Nyee hee hee."

            Sasuke scowled darkly.  "Would you stop acting like a little kid?" he snapped, grabbing a handful of one pillow and yanking it out from underneath Naruto as sharply as possible. "Last time I checked, you were sixteen, not five. Why don't you ever act like it?"

            Naruto made a futile snatch for the pillow, but gave up almost too easily, rolling onto his back as Sasuke resituated himself on the bed they had grudgingly decided to share. There was quiet for a long time, after Sasuke's huffy outburst, so he closed his eyes, preparing to finally drift off to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long day, after all, and-

            "Hey, Sasuke, don't you like girls?"

            The shock burned in his stomach and throat, sending ripples of fire along every vein. It was a physiological response he was well accustomed to by now; it was fear and disbelief, coupled with a serious urge to vomit and end the swirling discomfort throughout his entire body.

            "Where the Hell did that come from?" he muttered, hoping Naruto was just bored again. If that was the case, then a few insults and maybe some fighting would distract him. If he actually wanted to know… it would take a miracle… "Maybe you should think more about things that are actually important, idiot. We're on a mission, not having a slumber party."

            "But it is important!" Naruto persisted, much to his chagrin. "I mean, yeah, we're ninjas and all that crap, and we have work to do, but we're guys, y'know? And guys think about girls, and… stuff. And you never talk about anything but ninja stuff, and you never do anything but ninja stuff… it's not natural, y'know? 'Cause everybody gets crushes and stuff, I bet even Kakashi-sensei does.  So I thought-"

            "You thought, because I don't chase girls around like some kind of rabid dog in heat, that I'm automatically a queer," Sasuke completed dryly.

            "Well… well…" Naruto screwed up his face in thought, then blinked. "Well, yeah! That is what I'm asking! Are you some kind of- of- you know, one of those guys , Sasuke?"

            The same shock of adrenaline shot through him, somehow made more agonizing by the wide blue eyes that were regarding him with a curiosity that seemed so… innocent, so nonjudgmental, so far out of tune with his words that it almost hurt. Naruto's head was cocked to the side, his body draped carelessly over his remaining pillows, one leg dangling off the bed they were sharing. He was at that unfortunate stage in growth where he was stretched vertically but not horizontally. He was muscled, of course- no ninja could not be- but he was still as gangly and skinny as a teenaged boy could be. So when he sprawled, he sprawled… it was almost a work of art, how Uzumaki Naruto could take up a whole bed.

            "Well?" came the prodding, impatient voice, and Sasuke started out of his reverie. Naruto was eyeing him, and he felt himself swallowing nervously.

            "And if I was?" he snapped harshly, shoving that momentary insecurity back. "What would it matter? I don't have time for… for relationships, or anything. You know that. You should know that better than anybody, it's not like I talk to anyone else." The bitter edge to his words was too powerful to even bother hiding. It was true… who else did he talk to, ever? Even if it was just to call him an idiot, he talked to Naruto at least once a day…

            "You do too have time! If I have time, you have time!" Naruto scowled fiercely. "Heck, it's not like you'd have to chase a girl down. Or a guy, or whatever's your thing, I guess." He looked slightly uncomfortable on the last, but trundled on past it just the same. "I mean, c'mon, Sasuke… we're friends, right? You can tell me!"

            Sasuke sighed, avoiding his eyes. There was no way to get out of this now… if he said no, he'd be lying, in a way… if he didn't answer, it would be a yes by default. So…

            "I don't like girls," he said bluntly. "If that makes me gay, then so be it. But it's not like I run around staring at guy's asses, either. So call it what you want."

            Naruto stared at him for a moment, eyes glazed with confusion. The tightness in his chest was more than uncomfortable; it was as though he was waiting for a judgement on his life, or something similar. It wasn't as though Naruto's pronouncement actually mattered, though… The usual threat of it destroying their fragile "friendship" was null. They weren't friends, in the same sense that boys usually were. Naruto could proclaim Sasuke to be his best friend in the world in one breath, and then swear to strangle him with his own intestines and dance on his grave in the next. And no matter the difference between those two ideas, they were both genuine and true. So even if he were to divulge, say, the terrible dark secret of his love for square-dancing in tutus and coconut bras to Naruto tonight, it wouldn't change anything between them.

            Sometimes, he got the feeling that nothing ever would.

            "But… you gotta like something…" He had the familiar expression of pained irritation that always slitted his eyes and wrinkled his brow when he thought too hard.  Sasuke watched him wordlessly for a moment, only to jump in surprise when Naruto slammed a fist triumphantly into his palm, eyes springing wide and bright. "I know!" he practically sang. "What d'ya think about when, you know, um…" He made vain hand gestures, flushing a dark red. "You know, boys or girls?"

            "When I what?" He knew full well, but there was no way Uchiha Sasuke was going to demean himself enough to answer that question without humiliating Naruto a bit first.

            "When you… you… you know." Naruto scowled deeply. "You know what I mean, assface."

            "Why is it so hard for you to say 'masturbate'?" Sasuke queried mildly.

            "Shuddup and answer the question, fucktard! Or I'm gonna run around Konohakure telling everybody that Uchiha Sasuke is a prissy little fag who likes to wear lacy panties and a tutu while he sings  show tunes in front of a mirror! So THERE!"

            "Go ahead. No one would believe you."


            Sasuke found himself stifling the stirrings of a smile, watching the person he was closest to in the world flail about like an epileptic puppy.  It wasn't something he did often, smiling… it usually made him look either psychotic or gassy when he did, and there was never much call for it. But whenever he did, it always seemed to be because of Naruto. Albeit making fun of Naruto, but… Naruto, nonetheless. Even mocking him was something that Sasuke would have once deemed out of character for himself; informing others of their own stupidity had always seemed to him an overly altruistic waste of time. When anyone else walked across a splintery bridge in their bare feet, he wouldn't bother to tell them a thing; if they got splinters, so what? But somehow, when Naruto did the same thing, it was a prime opportunity to point out how much of a waste of air he could be. And then Naruto got mad. And it was…

            It was fun.

            "Wouldja answer the question anyway?" Naruto was nearly pouting. "What's the big deal, anyway? We're all guys here!"

            "Why are you so insistent on knowing what I masturbate to?" He was avoiding the question, and it was undoubtedly obvious. But Naruto was pressing… more than he would have expected… and to be honest with himself, there was something about the insistence in his eyes, in his voice, in his manner… something that sent his stomach into uncomfortable flips.

            "I'm bein' a friend here!" Naruto protested. "You can't seem t' figure out what you want to put where, so I'm just trying to give you some help! Tell you what-" He assumed a very sober 'I'm-thinking-very-hard-on-your-behalf' face, then nodded firmly. "Why don't you just go in the bathroom and jerk off right now? Then you can come out and share the experience. I'm sure it'll all be very educational."

            "…You're making fun of me." Sasuke could almost feel his face darken, the hands that had been limp at his sides clenching. Of course… they couldn't have anything bordering on a serious conversation without one of them deciding to be an asshole. It was, after all, the natural order of things. So much for the tentative idea that Naruto had actually cared. That the idea of him maybe being gay or whatever he might be was something more than just a cheap joke to alleviate his boredom.

            That was why he'd never bothered to bring it up. Not in the months past when hormones and natural drives blinded most of his logical thought. Not when he was lonely at night and missing his parents. Not when he was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Naruto, that pain in the ass Naruto, was the only one who had any comprehension of who he really was, inside and out- never had he said a word.

            Because Naruto didn't care. Naruto had decided a long time ago that as long as he didn't care about things, they couldn't bother him. If he was a clown to everyone he met, if he didn't care what they thought of him, then it wouldn't matter. If he made fun of everything that made him uncomfortable, it was just a joke. So the minute he said any word about the tumult the other boy had caused in his life, he would know fully and completely, without a shadow of a doubt, that it didn't matter to Naruto.

            It didn't matter the nights he had spent half awake in rooms just like this one, with one hand on the springs so he would know if Naruto stood up from the bed. So he would know if he was going to leave. Those nights he spent in irrational terror that Naruto would get up and walk away, and never come back, none of them mattered. Because of Naruto ever found out how Sasuke was afraid to lose him- him, Uzumaki Naruto! Sasuke was afraid to lose the most annoying waste of air in all of existence!- then he would have to deal with it. And dealing with it would mean that it would become a joke. It would become a joke that Naruto had managed to burrow his way into the coldest spots of Sasuke's soul and made him feel again. Even if it was just anger, irritation, annoyance, loneliness… he had made him feel. He had woken him up from his cold revenge and made him burn for something else, even if it was only to defeat him, to show him that he was a worthless pile of orange fabric and organs and a pathetic excuse for a ninja.

            And if he deigned to mention that every time he touched himself in desperation he saw those eyes, that damned grin, heard that ubiquitous "datteba yo" in the back of his mind, longed for some measure of his cheerful warmth- Naruto would laugh. He wouldn't hit him in disgust like some other guy, he would laugh.

            And that would kill him.

            "Of course I'm making fun of you," Naruto scoffed. "You're acting dumb. C'mon, Sasuke, it's not a big deal. I mean, it can't be anything too bad. Even if it's boys, who cares, right?" He laughed unconvincingly. "Riiiiight?"

            "What if it's little kids?" Sasuke snapped, finally losing the tenuous grasp on his temper. "Or goats? Or old men? What if it's you, Naruto? Would you be so calm about that? Or would you sleep in the tub terrified I'm gonna assrape you in the middle of the night, huh?"

            Another laugh escaped him, this one even more obviously forced. "You hate little kids! And me, honestly. Even ugly girls think about hot guys, y'know. No one thinks about a guy like me." Naruto continued to chortle, eyes slits, but there was a tremor somewhere in his cheek, a slight furrow in his brow. "If you are queer, and you're thinking about me, then you've got some bigger problems than just being a homo, huh?"

            "…Then I guess I do," Sasuke muttered, resigned.

            "Well, you probably- ehhhh?!" Naruto's eyes flew open wide, his jaw dropping almost comically wide.

            So much for dignity, anyway.

            "Then I guess I've got some problems," Sasuke snapped. "No, you know what? I know I've got some major problems. Because only some sort of crazy idiot would like you. But I guess that makes me the craziest idiot, doesn't it? Because from the mandate of some sadistic god on some plane high above, I like you. I really really like you, and I don't know why. So laugh all you want, Naruto. Uchiha Sasuke is a great big queer and he's got a crush on you. Scream it from the rooftops, I don't care."

            The room fell into tense silence, Sasuke's heart pounding in his throat, Naruto's eyes wide and glazed over dumbly. He wanted to take it back. He wanted to snort and mock him for taking it seriously, to tell him it was just a bad attempt at a joke and sweep it all beneath the carpet. It would be so much easier… then they could snipe at each other for a while and go to sleep, like nothing had ever happened. It would be so much less painful.

            But it would be too much like lying.

            "Y-you… you like me?" Naruto repeated, staring blankly. He looked more than dumbfounded, more than stunned… it was as though his entire world had been taken firmly by the shoulders and shaken senseless.

            "Yes. I like you."


            Unable to hold his patience anymore, Sasuke smacked his fist lightly into Naruto's shoulder, his knuckles grazing over the warm skin left bare by the sleeveless shirt Naruto had picked to sleep in. "There's no one else in here, dumbass," he muttered, casting his eyes to the side. "Don't worry about it, anyway. It's no big deal."

            "No big deal? Of course it's a big deal!"

            Sasuke felt his eyes snap to Naruto's face in astonishment, his stomach flipping. Where was the laughter? Where was the mocking, the denial of anything that could cause discomfort? Naruto was staring at him in just as much disbelief, bright eyes wide, jaw still hanging slightly open. "Naruto…" he whispered, suddenly uncertain… suddenly afraid. What if it did matter enough… enough to destroy any semblance of an alliance that had been between them? It had been too hasty, too poorly thought out. He should have waited more. He should have waited and observed, taken some more time to figure out how Naruto thought, how he would react. He should have taken more time.

            But there was no going back now.

            "Well, it's how you feel, right? So it's a big deal, 'cause it's… important, y'know? It's important how you feel, and it's nice that you told me and all, 'cause you never tell me anything important, and I was starting to think you didn't trust me or something. And you're my friend, so of course I'm gonna care! And… and… yeah." Naruto's cheerful rambling faded into stammering, his eyes avoiding Sasuke's face at all costs. "You just… y'know, c-caught me off guard, and stuff. Yeah. I wasn't expecting that."

            "…Sorry." He had no idea what else to say.

            "Don't be dumb, don't apologize." Naruto waved a hand, breaking into an uncomfortable laugh. "Hey, it's kind of a stepping stone, y'know? No one's ever said they liked me before… probably no one ever has… so at least I'm not completely unlikable, huh?"

            "…I bet you wish I was anyone but me right now," Sasuke observed, feeling his tone war between irony and bitterness.

            "Why?" Naruto blinked at him, then after a pause, grinned almost wickedly. "Nah, it's pretty cool knowing the guy all the girls want likes the guy all the girls hate. It's kinda… just a real kick in the pants, if they ever knew." Naruto chortled meanly, rubbing his hands together like a villain from a black and white movie.

            "Don't you dare tell anyone," Sasuke warned, scowling. "I don't care how much of a laugh you'd get out of it. If you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone-"

            Naruto raised his hands with a laugh, face crinkling up in amusement. "I wouldn't, really! Geez, relax and trust me a little, willya?" He paused, then relaxed the impish smile into some expression more serious. "I mean it, Sasuke. You're my friend, y'know? I wouldn't do something like that to you."

            "…Mmmn." Sasuke cast his eyes down, embarrassed for reasons he didn't feel up to explaining to himself.

            Silence fell over them again, but the tension that thrummed between them was enough to keep Sasuke from even attempting to make a bid for sleep. It didn't help in the slightest that Naruto was still sprawled all over the bed like it was his property. No, there was to be no sleep gained tonight. There probably wouldn't have been even if he hadn't been stupid enough to confess his feelings… but this way, it was much more uncomfortable.

            "I should just teach you the Sexy no Jutsu!"

            "Eh?" Sasuke flipped around to stare, baffled, at Naruto. "What for?"

            Naruto grinned, cocking his head. "Seems simple enough t' me. I mean, if you were a girl, I would totally do you."

            He wanted to lift a hand and hit him, hard. He wanted to. But every time he tried to direct his muscles to clench and move… he was limp. He was weak. How pathetic could a man be, to be knocked dumb by something that unthinking, something that was so much of a cruel joke? He'd been perfectly happy to be alone, before he'd met him… where was the difference? Where had he lost himself? Couldn't Naruto see it? How could he be so flippant about something like this, something that shot straight into his most vulnerable soul?

            "If that table over there was a girl, you'd probably do it." The hard set of his jaw hurt, his hands trembling limp at his sides. Bastard. This was important, and he… he…

            "Probably." Naruto's placid agreement shocked him out of the building rage, those bright eyes unfocused in thought. "But it wouldn't wanna do me… probably wouldn't even wanna know me, y'know?"

            "Naruto…" It ached somewhere deep inside to watch him like this, fighting like a man to hide the hurt that he couldn't escape.

            Naruto turned a cheerful grin on him, the expression just barely crinkling his slitted eyes. "But you liiiiike me," he pointed out, somewhat smugly. "So you're not like the table. Right? Right?"

            "…I guess not," he conceded, somewhat unnerved. Naruto's eyes had crept open by now, and were watching him with a level of intensity that wreaked havoc with his heartbeat. To call it strange was an understatement; it was almost like the other boy was sizing him up, making some sort of dialectical judgement.

            "Y'know, if I tilt my head and focus just right, you look like a girl," Naruto informed.

            "But I'm not," Sasuke returned hastily, a certain discomfort building in his throat. "And if you start pretending I am or some stupid crap like that, I won't forgive you. That's not fair to anybody."

            "Who said I was gonna?" With a scowl, Naruto punched him on the shoulder- not hard, but not gently either. "I was just saying. Besides, I know you're not a girl, I'm not stupid. You're… you're just Sasuke."

            "I'm certainly not going to argue that," he muttered, still eyeing him with some measure of uneasiness. His heart was adamantly refusing to leave his throat, beating rapidly and painfully. Every sense he had honed in years of training told him there was something not the same here, something different in Naruto's eyes, something he couldn't identify and yet seemed perfectly in place there, like it'd been there all along and he was just now noticing…

            "And Sasuke is my friend… my best friend… right?" Naruto scooted across the bed a little, mussing the sheets beneath them, to look at him more closely. "And Sasuke won't leave me, ever, even if I make him mad?"

            "If that wasn't true, Sasuke would have left you years ago… stupid." For some reason, it was hard to breathe now… there was a tightness winding in his chest, a subtle pain building beneath his breastbone. He couldn't break Naruto's gaze, couldn't look away from those eyes that were so much those of a child's, and yet… and yet, just as much a man's… There was enough power lurking there, some hidden fierceness, that he was left trembling and hot in its wake… and it held nothing of that terrible chakra that slept beneath his skin, so he couldn't even call that as interference.

            It was Naruto… and that left him breathless.

            "Because if Sasuke left me, I think I'd die." He could feel the gentle whisper of his breath now, curling over his cheek. He could barely breathe; Naruto had backed him into the wall, and there was nowhere else to go. Why was he so close? What was he doing?

            "…I'm not going anywhere." The reassurance was mindless, all of Sasuke's mental faculties being currently focused on the issue of Naruto's face shoved right into his, Naruto's hands on either side of his hips, Naruto's body leaning over his,  Naruto's knee braced between his legs for balance. Physical closeness was never something that had made him comfortable, and it certainly wasn't any better when it was an object of some very strong feelings that was invading his personal space.

            "Promise?" Their noses were bumping now.


            Sasuke's eyes closed of their own accord when Naruto's lips brushed over his, some contentment blossoming under his breastbone and spreading swiftly through his chest. There was something very warm and soft about it, the feel of his dry, boyishly chapped mouth nuzzling over his own, the short puff of breath from his nose as he exhaled against his cheek…

            He still tasted the same as the first time…

            It took more than a few moments for the shock to register, and by that time, Naruto had already pulled back. Sasuke stared dumbly into his eyes, heart pumping painfully, breath coming with some difficulty.

            "…What the Hell was that…?" he managed to whisper after a minute or so, dumbfounded. Naruto… Naruto had just…

            "What? You like me, don't you?" Naruto cocked his head, scowling slightly, like it was nothing to debate, no big deal. "That's what you said…"

            "Yes, it is what I said, and I do, but- but-" He was turning red now. "Dammit, Naruto! Don't just-just go and do things like that! It's not like you want to, so-"

            "What?"  There was enough of a bite to Naruto's tone to startle him, a flare in those bright eyes. "I did it, didn't I? Why would I do something if I didn't want to?"

            Sasuke could feel himself gaping in utter bafflement, staring blankly into the scowling face. Of course Naruto wouldn't do anything he didn't want to, he had always been that way. But… it didn't fit. Naruto was… Naruto wasn't like him. Naruto was one of the straightest guys he had ever known. Naruto liked girls, and that was the bottom line. So he had no place kissing Sasuke. None at all.

            So it didn't surprise him that when he articulated that firm view that Naruto nodded in agreement, shifting to rest on one bent elbow.  "Yeah, I know," he said soberly. "But… I dunno. Shut up."

            "Wha- mmph!" The protest was smothered in the sudden descent of Naruto's mouth, a curiously strong hand taking hold of his chin and holding him still. He struggled, jerking hard in a cornered animal's desperation, heart fluttering in his chest as though it were trying to break free. This shouldn't be happening… he shouldn't let this happen, and yet Naruto wouldn't let him get away… Sasuke jerked his head, but subsided instinctively into a whimper as Naruto's teeth closed lightly on his lower lip, shaking him roughly like a puppy would. The hand on his chin shifted restlessly to his shoulder, squeezing briefly before moving to the back of his neck to lift his face up for easier access.

            "Naruto…-" It was meant to be a reprimand, a demand for release, but it came from his lips a gasp of surprise and guilty pleasure as the other boy's tongue clumsily found entrance, sliding awkwardly over the surface of his teeth before sinking deep into his defenseless mouth. The heat building along his spine was too much to ignore now, the uncomfortable twisting in the pit of his stomach multiplying with every shift of Naruto's hand on the back of his neck, every creak of the mattress beneath them, every gasp for breath as their mouths separated, every time he tried to muster a protest only to be silenced by the renewed assault.

            He had to stop this. Naruto was straight, he'd agreed to that only a few minutes ago. Whether he was doing this just to pass the time, or to get valuable blackmail information later, or worse, just to make him happy… it wasn't fair. It obviously wasn't fair to Naruto, but… it was even unfair to Sasuke. No matter how much of a hormonal teenager he was, he wanted… maybe, something more…

            But he'd be damned if it wasn't hard to pull away from something that felt so good.

            "Naruto- Naruto, goddammit, stop!" He managed to squirm back far enough to put some minimal space between them, more than aware of the flush on his cheeks and the heaviness of his breathing. "This isn't fair… you know it isn't fair, dammit!" Sasuke's chest ached as he drew in a sharp breath, aching to fill his lungs with the oxygen Naruto had effectively knocked out of him.

            "What's your problem?" Naruto's eyes flashed, jaw set hard, the hand on the back of Sasuke's neck tightening its grip. "First you say you like me and you get all pissy about that, then I try t' be nice about it and you get all pissy again! What the Hell do you want, Sasuke?"

            "Don't you dare trivialize this!" he snapped back, feeling his shoulders draw up in a self-protective tension. "The last thing someone wants when they admit vulnerable and irrational feelings is for the other person to shrug their shoulders, say 'sure, I have no actual attraction to you, but you're here, you're easy, and I'm bored, so let's screw!' So unless you can explain this some other way, the next time you so much as touch me I'll break both your goddamn arms!"

            Utter silence followed his words, save the echoes of his harsh breathing. He hurt somewhere deep inside, but remained resolute to his words; no matter how much of a wimpy little femme-boy it made him feel like to say it, he wanted something more. He needed something more. Everything had always been a means to an end… and he couldn't take that anymore.

            "Sasuke…" Naruto's voice was soft, his eyes unreadable.

            "…What?" The angry bitterness would impossible to hold back if he had bothered to try.

            "You are such a fag."

            There must have been a noticeable reaction on his features, because Naruto burst into helpless chortles, his entire body quivering with mirth. A certain impotent rage choked him; here it was, here was the laughter. Always a joke to Naruto…

            "I swear!" There were tears of laughter budding in his eyes. "Such a damn fag… you jump right t' all the worst things, always! I mean, honestly, bitch bitch bitch! Who in their right mind would decide to screw somebody just 'cause they were bored? What are you thinking?"

            "It's not unheard of," he pointed out, seething.

            "Oh, I know that, but- would you jump Sakura-chan if you didn't have any more books to read? No! You're queer, she's a girl, and you don't like her at all! Sure, she's all about you, but where's your benefit? Y' probably wouldn't even, you know, get off or whatever." Naruto was grinning, wiping his eyes merrily.

            Something fluttered in Sasuke's throat. "So… what are you saying, exactly?" he asked carefully. "You just said practically five minutes ago that you were straight. I know for a fact that you like girls. So… forgive a homo and his stupidity."

            "Sure, I like girls. Like 'em a lot!" Naruto's grin didn't waver, but something uncertain glittered in his eyes. "But… heck, who knows, maybe I'm bi, right? That exists!"

            Sasuke stared dumbly, his stomach doing gleeful backflips in his throat. "You don't like me, Naruto," he informed, more hesitant that he would have liked to be. "Don't be dumb."

            "Hey, who says I don't?" Naruto quipped. After a moment, something in his eyes sobered- maybe seeing the fear and uncertain hope in Sasuke's eyes, maybe sensing the rapid gallop of his heartbeat. "I…" His voice softened, falling into a more serious timber. "I dunno about the whole gay thing… who knows, really, but… you're like family… not in some weird incesty way, but just, I… I just love you, y'know…?"

            "Naruto…" It was more of a breath than a word, sighing almost imperceptibly past his lips as Sasuke found himself relenting against his will. "Are… are you sure…?"

            "Wouldn't 'a said it if I wasn't." Naruto's voice was firm, with no room for doubt. He wanted to smile, but his jaw was too weak to cooperate. In some attempt to compensate, Sasuke opened his arms hesitantly, in some form of uncertain invitation. Naruto understood, and latched onto him in a tight embrace with a dazzling smile.

            They were still for a long while, Sasuke catching his breath against Naruto's shoulder, eyes fluttering closed in an uncertain calm. It felt nice, to just hold on like this, to be held like this… Maybe it was something he would never be fully comfortable with, but it could be nice, now and then, just… being close, feeling Naruto's heart beating against him…

            So when the next awkward kiss found his lips, he didn't resist as much; it was hardly in him to resist at all, merely letting his head roll back against Naruto's arm with a shiver. And this time, it was acceptable to kiss back, to close his eyes and sigh, to stretch an arm around his shoulders and pull him just a little closer. It was okay. If Naruto liked him back, if Naruto loved him, then it was okay.

            Because… he loved him…

            It seemed an eternity until their lips parted, the slick tip of Naruto's tongue tickling his lip impishly before retreating. It was impossible to keep his gaze, impossible to meet the sparkling blue eyes, when he knew he was flushed with pleasure, his cheeks stained red and eyelids heavy. There was only so much imagination could prepare someone for, and to feel him so close, and so warm… fingertips wandering idly over the bare skin of his neck, intermittent tingles darting along his spine whenever the flesh was sensitive enough… it was infinitely more than he could ever have prepared for.

            "You okay…?" Naruto was nuzzling his nose, his cheek. "You… look kinda funny…"

            "I'm okay," he breathed, taking some comfort in the observance that Naruto's lungs seemed as starved as his own. "I'm fine… come on, don't stop, huh…?" Once the burning ache in his chest died, once he'd caught his breath enough to stop the room from spinning, he was kissing Naruto insistently, fingers entwining in the wiry mane of hair at the nape of his neck.

            The old mattress creaked underneath them with every movement, every fevered squirm of their bodies, a knee rubbing between Sasuke's thighs as Naruto found purchase against him. It was nearly impossible to avoid pushing back against him, every muscle in his leg clenching in effort. It would be too much, too soon, and yet… Naruto changed position again, the metal springs complaining beneath the weight of his body, and Sasuke had no choice but to allow the sharp intake of breath at the half-dreaded but half-longed for pressure on his groin. Some detached part of him observed, with some amused surprise, that there had been some sound to that gasp; not yet a whimper, but more than a sigh.

            What was he doing…? The hazy state of disbelief was impossible to penetrate, smothering him even as he tightened his arms around Naruto's shoulders, clinging fast to him with a fierceness he feared to even understand. Was it right? Was it right for him, Uchiha Sasuke, to get so involved with someone else when he could barely stand his own company most of the time?

            "You're thinking again." The sharp stab of pain in Sasuke's lower lip came both as something of a call to reality and an obvious punishment, Naruto's teeth gnawing belligerently on the delicate flesh. "Aren't I distracting enough, dammit?"

            Sasuke mumbled his name dumbly, hoping there was at least a minor note of apology obvious in his tone. What was it, about the aggressive glint in his expression, that sent his stomach into back flips? It wasn't that it was unlike Naruto… after all, he remembered those same eyes from their childhood, the brash assertions of his strength, his superiority, even when it meant nothing. Had it affected him like this then? Or had he simply been too much of a child?

            Had four years really changed so much?

            Four years ago, the sensation of Naruto's rough fingertips sliding under his shirt to trace his ribs wouldn't have sent chills along his spine, it wouldn't have made him gasp and arch his back like a cat being stroked.            It had to be the time that had elapsed between them, the countless trials they had undergone side by side. What else made a person love someone else with such illogical fervor, such ardency that seemed to surpass all mundane rationale? For here he was, made dumb and speechless by the emotion he was feeling for… for someone he once hated, someone he would have sacrificed almost anything to be rid of.

            He was even doubting that those ideas had ever been real.

            The flimsy nightshirt was now bunched up enough to expose his ribcage and stomach to the cool air of the room, as well as the exploratory touch of Naruto's kunai-calloused hands. This was almost more than he could endure, just the simple surrender to the awkward, unlearned petting and teasing while his own hands were tangled in the wiry blond hair, unwilling to end the clumsy lock of their mouths. The explosions of breath were growing faster and hotter, both equally desperate for air and the feel of each other.

            Sasuke was only dimly aware of the mumbled pleas that snuck past his lips between fevered kisses, the sounds themselves wordless and incoherent, but nevertheless obvious in their urgency.  It was impossible to form cohesive thought anymore, his entire body heavy and yet painfully alive with  desire. He wanted, so badly, and yet, to put a name on what it was he wanted was impossible. His hands shook, fingertips digging into Naruto's bare shoulders, palms tensing a little more with every passing moment, every deep, wet nuzzle of his mouth.

            "Arms up," Naruto ordered, voice roughened with lack of breath and a fierce passion that wreaked havoc with his insides. His hands tugged at the thin fabric of Sasuke's nightshirt, rumpling it up to his chest impatiently as he tried to arrange his arms to Naruto's satisfaction. The sound of tearing fabric was barely audible over his uneven panting, Naruto's impatience leading him to merely rip off the nightshirt and toss it aside without caring for the sleeve that was now dangling by a few threads.

            "You ripped my shirt," Sasuke protested, arms still flung over his head, thin chest rising and falling with each fitful breath. "That was my only shirt to sleep in- I didn't bring-"

            "So?" Naruto scowled briefly before descending to the exposed flesh of his neck, sucking lightly at the skin over his jugular. The undoubtedly venomous response was swallowed by a harsh gasp, the strangely electric shock arching his spine and cramping one foot, bare toes curling together against the thin sheets. The obvious sensitivity wasn't lost on Naruto, his lips quirking with something of a grin as Sasuke squirmed under the teasing flicks of his tongue.

            It was a feeling of vulnerability he had never quite experienced before, a feeling that every inch of him was open; his flesh yielding to the uncertain touch, fingers curling into the thin fabric of Naruto's shirt as he surrendered to the rough, probing kisses that stole every last ounce of air from his lungs. Surrender… Uchiha Sasuke, adrift in a confused submission to the very person he'd been struggling to dominate for years. Something that should humiliate him, enrage him, and yet… somehow, letting someone touch him like this… letting Naruto touch him like this… It was frightening and new, but he wasn't sure he wanted to let go of it just yet.

            Or ever.

            His hands had managed to work themselves under Naruto's nightshirt, finding a firm hold on his lean shoulders with both his palms. The trained muscles rippled with motion under his touch, the arms that connected latching tight around Sasuke's waist. With the effort vocalized in an impatient grunt, the other boy lifted him from where he'd lain prone on the mattress into a crushing, awkward hug. It was as if even the few inches of space between them had been too much of a barrier.

            Sasuke let his fingers continue roaming over the line of muscle, even while his palms pressed hard to keep from falling back. What nails he had raked over Naruto's shoulder blades in a steady- if hurried- rhythm, knuckles pushing the thin shirt up in waves. In some moment he couldn't pinpoint, their lips had found each other again, blending with a kiss so hard and fierce it hurt. He could feel Naruto's jaw against his, his own teeth cutting into his lower lip. It was rough and painful, and yet the adrenaline that shocked into him with each twinge of discomfort only spurred him in his frenetic exploration of his mouth, his tongue, his lips… hot, wet, deep, and so close…

            Heat melted along his spine, each agonizing glance of enjoyment swirling together into a pulsing ache that was impossible to ignore. Too much… not enough… he felt himself whimper against Naruto's mouth, fingers digging roughly into his back. They were too close, too entangled in each other. Every move echoed through his frame, every push of Naruto's knee and slight rock of his hips… It killed him a little more every time, something scorching inside him.

            With the next slight push of Naruto's legs, his hips surged back in an almost involuntary response. The pressure was too much; the drag of the cloth over his thighs, Naruto's weight on him, the remaining heat of his avid kisses over his neck and chest… Sasuke found his forehead buried in the nape of Naruto's neck, jaw hanging as he gasped for air. Sweat was beading on every expanse of his skin, aching arousal straining impatiently against the crotch of his shorts. He would have been mortified if he couldn't feel Naruto in the same state… but the slickness beneath his fingertips, the harshness of his breathing against Sasuke's ear, the throbbing heat pressing into the inside of his thigh…

            "Sasuke…." The plaintive sound was muffled by his hair, Naruto's impatient driving against him growing rougher with each pound of his heart in his throat… Somehow, the other boy had found that same frantic rhythm, and rocked into him hard with every pulse, their legs tangling together. The tight muscles of his inner thigh clung to Naruto's knee, the friction from the motion and his thin shorts burning over a hipbone.

            It felt good. Too damn good. Each breath had claimed sound, wrenching whimpers from his lips. His head fell back to the thin pillows Naruto had stolen from him what seemed like an eternity ago, eyes tightly shut, matching him thrust for thrust even as his legs threatened to give out. He could feel it… the familiar curling, twisting sensation that betokened release. He should pull away, stop this now, before he embarrassed himself even more, but- he wanted-

            And in that moment, it was over, the delicious explosion raking his body even as he stilled. With a sigh that arose from starved lungs, his head lolled back onto the thin pillows Naruto had stolen from him, what seemed an eternity ago. Sasuke's eyes squeezed shut, drowning in the short burst of sensation, clinging to each last strand as it melted away into pure contentment. Dimly, he felt the body atop him shudder and stiffen, and as Naruto slumped down to lay all his weight half on Sasuke and half on the mattress, he found a tired smile twitching across his lips.

            It would be easy to lay there and analyze the foolishness of what they had just done. To look over the ins and outs, to ponder each word both of them had said, and each movement of their bodies, to wonder what they might mean. To endlessly debate with himself if Naruto would even look him in the eye tomorrow.

            But it was simpler to find Naruto's hand with his own, to echo his earlier smile as he answered Naruto's squeeze with his own. His muscles felt like ramen noodles, so his fingers shook slightly with the effort, and he couldn't help but scowl a little when Naruto snorted against his chest. "Shut up," he whispered roughly, jostling him with what strength he had left.

            "That was weak, man." No matter how tired Naruto was, he had enough energy to tease.

            "Well… you make me weak, I guess…"

            The words came unbidden, but he wasn't sure he would have stopped them otherwise. It was enough of a confession that it would have incapacitated him… but now, laying here like this, after what they had just done, it didn't seem so bad at all.

            "Liking people doesn't make you weak… just strong in a different way, I think." Naruto squeezed his hand again, this time with less force, but somehow more certainty. "Right?"

            His answer was a long time in coming, and when it did come, it had little relevance to the question.

            "Naruto, I… I love you."

            Sasuke listened to the silence for what seemed like an eternity, his heart pounding in his ears. It had been the wrong thing to say, it must have been… What had he been thinking? No, it was better to take it back. But then, what if… didn't Naruto want so badly for someone to love him? What would taking it back mean?


            When he was answered with blissful snoring, the anxiety that had burned him eased into mirth. He would have laughed aloud, but that would have woken Naruto, and the cloud that was closing over his mind had taken both the will and the strength from him.

            Now, it was better to sleep. To sleep with Naruto on his chest, and their arms flung about each other.

            It was much warmer that way.

***                              ***                              ***                              ***     

            He had feared as much.

            Even through the darkness, and with one eye, he could make out the figures entwined on the mattress, sheets flung about as though a tornado had hit them. On one hand, it had been good to leave them alone, to get their hormonal distractions to simmer down for a week or so. On the other, the walk was going to be interesting tomorrow, to say the least.

            And he was not about to sleep in the common room of the inn. A ninja he was, but even a ninja didn't want to sleep on a cold floor when there were beds about.

            Kakashi knocked politely on the next door, smiling cheerfully down at the scowling face that opened the door. "Good evening, Sakura. Were you sleeping?"

            "Evening? Sensei, it has to be past midnight!" The girl blinked up at him incredulously, her hair tousled from sleep. "Is something wrong? What are you doing over here?"

            "Just looking for a place to crash for the rest of the night… or morning, whichever it is now. May I?"

            "Are Sasuke and Naruto fighting again?" She heaved a heavy sigh of frustration, stepping aside and waving him in. "I swear, those two will take any opportunity to be idiots. That's what you get for leaving them alone, sensei."

            "Well, you know what they say. When the cat's away, the mice will… will…" Kakashi waved a hand absently.

            "Play?" Sakura suggested.

            "If that's what you'd like to call it." Kakashi offered a charming smile and stretched out on the smaller of the two beds.

            After all, there was going to be quite the "playing" in the morning when Sasuke realized Naruto had stolen all the sheets.