AN: I live. This has been 90% finished for two years. The last 10% was agony. I wash my hands of it.

Chapter Eighteen: Pigs in Blankets

The sky above was a dirty white and the air held a frozen stillness that promised snow. A day late, Naruto mused, as always.

"Why is it called Boxing Day?" Sasuke asked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them as they trudged over the frozen hillock, their boots cracking the grass underfoot. Naruto was taken aback and stopped suddenly, almost slipping back down the slope.

"Did you just ask me a question about general knowledge?" He asked, grinning in disbelief and catching Sasuke's arm to steady himself.

"I never claimed to know everything." Sasuke replied bitterly. Naruto reflected that his tone often imitated the weather on days like this. They continued their ascent before Naruto answered, his breath swirling out as he lifted his chin from the protection of his scarf.

"I heard it was something to do with bosses giving boxes of presents like food to employees because you didn't see them on Christmas day. I'm not sure… you'd have to ask Iruka."

Sasuke didn't answer but Naruto took care to note that his expression looked thoughtful rather than begrudging. They suddenly reached the top of the hill and surveyed the scene beneath their toes. The twinkling lights of the city greeted them from below and in the distance they could see the coastline stretching along the horizon in a misty grey trail. Naruto instinctively reached for his lover's gloved hand. An unnerving and inexplicable pang of fierce desperation accompanied this action, like time was running out and any moment now the sky would turn black and the burning stars would die and fall at their feet like lumps of coal. But the feeling was quickly forgotten when Sasuke's obsidian eyes turned to meet his own. Naruto upturned his face and their cool lips brushed. The promised snow began to fall.

"What was it again?" Naruto asked, smiling serenely.


"Kimi ga…?"


Christmas day began the way Naruto always felt it should: having had very little sleep, being very excited, and by jumping up and down on the bed of a sleeping loved one screaming, "IT'S CHRISTMAS! WAKE UP!" After this it was appropriate that the CD player be turned on at full volume to the sound of sleigh bells and the lyrics, "When the snowman brings the snow". Following this, Naruto instructed, bacon rashers must be thrown into a sizzling pan, spitting fat and smelling like hunger itself. Sasuke contented himself with the cooking while Naruto forced a Santa hat on his head and sang along loudly, turning on the faerie lights as he danced around in gorilla-feet slippers, sliding across the kitchen floor precariously.

After breakfast they snuggled up on the sofa with a duvet and watched "The Snowman", a new experience for Sasuke who demanded that they then watch "My Neighbor Totoro" as compensation. During this they consumed large amounts of chocolate and felt sick until they sucked on explosively juicy Satsuma segments to refresh themselves.

"My fingers are sticky." Naruto announced when the credits rolled.

Sasuke turned his head slowly to look at him, dragging his eyes away from the scrolling text. Meeting Naruto's eyes a small smirk graced his lips and he reached out to pull the fingers Naruto was holding tentatively away from any surface into his mouth: One by one, gently sucking the sweet citric flavour away. Naruto watched him with a lazy smile.

"What would I do without you?"

Sasuke shrugged and released the clean hand, "Have sticky fingers?"

Naruto sighed with mock exasperation and then adopted a devilish grin, "You are handy to have around."

"Oh no." Sasuke grimaced.

"Yup. I could say you're my… wait for it… hand-yman!"

Sasuke groaned and bundled Naruto up in the duvet, wrapping it around his head and muffling the loud complaints. He straddled the mound of writhing bedding and pinned it down. It eventually stopped moving and Sasuke pulled the cocoon from Naruto's lightly flushed face. The blond pouted up at him, his hair fluffed up manically.

"Old men make puns." Sasuke stated.

Naruto opened his mouth to argue but was brought up short by a Satsuma in the mouth. Sasuke released him and stood up to stretch, revealing a tantalizing rectangle of pale stomach.

"Fancy a bath?" He yawned, scratching his jawline. Naruto, still gagged, nodded enthusiastically. Sasuke gazed at him with amused eyes and then nodded once in return, "Good. Because it's almost midday and we're still in bedclothes. Go run the water while I sort something out."

Naruto promptly spat out the Satsuma, threw off the duvet and scampered up the stairs to the bathroom. As water gushed from the taps he watched his reflection in their shiny, chrome surface bob and distort in a way that made him chuckle without inhibition. He threw in copious amounts of bubble-bath and as it frothed and rose contemplated that it would be the closest thing to snow that he would see that day. He had just turned off the taps and thrown off his t-shirt when he heard footsteps on the stairs. Thinking fast he reached into the bubbles and pulled out an armful that he plastered to his chin before heading out into the hallway to greet Sasuke with a hearty, "Meee-rry Christmas!"

Sasuke raised an appraising eyebrow at his bare, honey-coloured torso, "I've been naughty this year, Santa."

Naruto blew the bubbles from his lips and sidled over to where Sasuke stood holding two mismatching mugs of hot mulled wine, "How naughty?" He asked in suggestive tones.

"Very, very naughty." Sasuke drawled.

Naruto leaned in close, barely an inch away from his lover's lips, bubbles dripping on Sasuke's bare toes. "Then I shall have to teach you a lesson." He growled and pressed their lips roughly together, delighting in the disgruntled cry as he raised his hands to wipe his makeshift beard over Sasuke's face.

"Trust you to ruin the moment." Sasuke groused, passing Naruto a mug and wiping his face on his shirt. Naruto cackled, already starting to remove the rest of his clothing as he sauntered back into the bathroom. Sasuke followed suit, noting the mountainous pile of bubbles floating in the bathtub and spilling hap-hazardously over the edge. Naruto dipped a cautious foot into the water before settling into one end, singing 'Carol of the Meows' and playing with the bubbles as he waited for Sasuke to finish undressing. The dark eyed boy gave him a cursory frown at his song choice as he stripped off his black sweatpants. Naruto appreciated the curvature of his backside before it disappeared into the bubbly depths. They sipped at the mulled wine contentedly.

As Naruto set his mug down on the bathroom floor Sasuke covertly wrapped his arms around his tan stomach and pulled him back between his legs, leaning the blond against his chest and holding him there, resting his chin on Naruto's head.

"So when do you want your other present?" He asked, ignoring Naruto's wriggling. Naruto fell still at the question.

"I hadn't thought about it." He relaxed into Sasuke's embrace as he pondered, "When do you want yours?" He felt the shrug.

"I told you not to bother. I would've preferred if you hadn't got me anything."

"Don't say that! I totally stressed out trying to think of something. What do you get the guy that has everything?" Naruto leant forward to dip his head into the water and wet his hair, "Anyway, I didn't spend anything on it so you can't moan at me for wasting money. You'd better appreciate it, biatch."

Sasuke snorted as he reached for the shampoo bottle, "If you had to apply your meager brain to it then how could I not?"

Naruto nudged his hip with his elbow, "Shut up. No insults on Christmas day."

"I didn't see that in the contract." Sasuke muttered, massaging the citric smelling shampoo into water-darkened blond hair.

"It's in the fine print. After: 'wearing the hideous jumpers that Granny knitted with love' and before: 'taking less than a minute to unwrap a present'.

Sasuke nodded firmly, playing the apt student perfectly while Naruto rinsed his hair in the bathwater. Naruto shifted back into the crook of his lovers arm to kiss the underside of his chin and then moved to get out of the bath. Sasuke took a swift hold of his wrist.

"Where are you going?" He asked gruffly.

"To get your present, asswipe." Naruto huffed, slipping out of the grasp easily and stepping out of the tub. He grabbed for the nearest towel and wrapped it around his waist.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, "I thought today was insult-free."

"Whoops." Came the unconcerned reply from the hallway.

Naruto returned moments later with his acoustic guitar in hand. Sasuke watched him reproachfully as he leaned against the sink and slung the hippyish strap over his damp shoulders.

"You can wipe that look off your face right now. I put a lot of effort into this so you can just shut up and like it." Naruto grumbled, not meeting Sasuke's gaze as he dried out his fingers on his towel and pulled the plectrum from between the strings.

Sasuke shrugged, accompanied by a gentle splash with the movement, "I said nothing."

"Good. Keep it that way." He tested out a basic chord, the acoustics in the bathroom creating a pleasant echo. His fingers found the first chord and he cleared his throat quietly. Sasuke settled back and watched Naruto's face, recording the gentle furrow between his brows, the wet hair sticking to the back of his neck and forehead, and the set of his jaw, determined and serious.

The song started with soft high tones, plucked from the guitar with careful precision and degenerated into low chords, strummed smooth, staccato, smooth in a swaying rhythm. A clear chord rang out for a few beats and hung in the air like cobwebs until it was brushed away with Naruto's imperfect but wholesome voice. Sasuke closed his eyes.

"Waiting… for a breath, warm upon my neck. A voice, tearing from my throat. Hands… heavy. And I keep thinking… I should be hungry…

Keeping… what you know, locked inside your chest. A voice, bleeding from your throat. Eyes… heavy. And I keep thinking… I should be hungry…

I should be hungry… I should be hungry… but somehow I am full."

Slow, fast, slow single notes called out in the empty space as he repeated the phrase. A small instrumental solo followed. And then another extended chord of a deeper tone.

"Full of you."

With his sight focused on the frets of the guitar as the final note faded, Naruto heard the swooshing of the water and felt the hot, wet hands on either side of his face without seeing the burning eyes. His mouth at first and then his insides were enveloped with fire: Acute enough to be pain; absorbing enough to be sleep.

I am being burned. He thought happily.

The doorbell rang just after midday and Naruto answered it while Sasuke pretended to busy himself with tidying the lounge of chocolate wrappers and Satsuma skins. An unconvincing St. Nick with spiky silver hair and a fake beard greeted him with open arms and an equally unconvincing, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" Behind his shoulder an embarrassed looking, tanned, over-sized elf emerged and offered Naruto an apology. Naruto beamed.

"What are you doing here?!" He cried happily and embraced Iruka tightly.

"We come bearing gifts of turnips, turkey and potatoes!" Kakashi-Claus intoned in a prophetic voice, brandishing a sack presumably containing said items. Naruto eyed him warily until his unusually joyous lecturer squashed him into his pillow filled stomach and bellowed, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" Naruto cried with suffocated laughter until he was rescued by a bemused looking Sasuke who took the sack from Kakashi and disappeared into the kitchen.

Naruto watched as his culinary superiors brought together the glorious Christmas roast dinner that spread itself across the dining table. A huge, golden turkey crowned the feast of Yorkshire puddings, mushy peas, roast potatoes, gallons of gravy, pigs in blankets, carrot and turnip, sprouts, broccoli, buttery new potatoes, honey-roasted Swede and then Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and Victoria trifle. The crackers were pulled, the paper hats were worn and the terrible jokes were told to raucous, mulled-wine fuelled laughter.

"Well, this is nice." Iruka sighed with contentment as he sat down in his chair opposite Naruto and next to Kakashi.

"Yes, mother dear." Naruto drawled sarcastically, rolling his eyes and loading his plate with as much as he could reach.

Iruka's eyebrow twitched, "You're always cranky when you're hungry."

Sasuke nodded, "How true."

"This coming from Stress-out no.1 and Mr. Perpetual Gloom." Naruto pouted and indicated with his impaled bacon-wrapped sausage. Kakashi avoided meeting either pair of eyes that gazed at him for back up.

"Shut up and eat." Iruka and Sasuke advised in unison. Naruto didn't need telling twice. There were several minutes of silence broken only by the sound of cutlery on plates and the occasional appreciative murmur.

Iruka was the first to attempt conversation again, "Anyway, all I was saying was that we don't normally have more than the two of us at Christmas do we, Naruto? So it makes a nice change." He realized he'd failed miserably when there was an uncomfortable quiet.

"Wow, nice way to bring down the tone of the evening. Maybe you should be Mr. Gloom." Naruto groaned.

"What? No! I meant…" Iruka flustered while Kakashi patted him on the back.

Sasuke stared at Naruto with an expression impossible to decipher.

Naruto caught his gaze, looked away and forced a laugh, "I know what you meant. And it is nice. Like a little family," He gestured at Iruka and Kakashi in turn and said, "Mum and Dad," and then at Sasuke, "And the incestuous brother."

Iruka looked appalled while Kakashi looked smug. He leaned in to Iruka and said in a stage whisper, "After dinner we should send these two to bed and enjoy some one-on-one time, little wife."

Naruto threw a Yorkshire pudding at his head and wailed something incoherent.

"I second that! Who're you calling little?" Iruka bristled.

Naruto wailed again and threw a roast potato, this time in Iruka's direction.

"Ah! Don't misinterpret me, you filthy-minded toerag!"

"Indeed. I certainly wasn't insinuating that you have a…" Kakashi couldn't finish his sentence as he was being bombarded with flying sprout missiles.

Iruka, flustered, fiddled with his napkin and avoided eye contact, "I think maybe we should all just shut up and enjoy the food."

"Hear, hear!" Naruto raised his glass and dug in, doing his best to ignore the weird, unfathomable intent coming from Sasuke's direction.

After dinner they played Charades and Pictionary on wonderfully achingly full stomachs until they all gave up and collapsed on the sofas and armchairs in soporified states. It didn't occur to Naruto to be disturbed by the arm around his guardian's shoulder, or the way his head lolled against his lecturer's chest. His eyes were drooping and he could muster no strength to force them open as he fell asleep on Sasuke's shoulder.

Afterwards he vaguely remembered seeing the blurred forms of Iruka and Kakashi standing in the doorway of the lounge as they prepared to leave and handing Sasuke two wrapped gifts. He couldn't tell what they were murmuring and their low tones soothed him back to sleep. The next thing he remembered was being hoisted to his feet and then the next moment he was falling back onto his bed. Dark eyes, glinting in the hall light looked down on him benevolently… lovingly.

"Kimi ga… aishiteru."

Naruto was suddenly very awake. He'd heard those words before. Where? When? And then it hit him with an old, great sadness mingled strangely with blossoming joy. His father's benevolent, loving face. His mother's soft, sweet laugh.

Kimi ga aishiteru.

"I love you." Naruto breathed.

Sasuke started and there was a fear in his eyes that chilled Naruto to the core. But suddenly the warmth was back and he wound himself around Naruto's form, breathing deeply into his neck and falling into a dreamless sleep.

"Come on. Let's head back." Naruto said, tugging on Sasuke's arm after a moment of silence as they watched the snow, "I wanted to see 'Stand By Me' on TV tonight and it starts soon."

Sasuke continued to examine the view, little grooves forming between his eyebrows. Naruto tugged his sleeve again impatiently and whined pitiably.

"Hm?" Sasuke grunted and met Naruto's curious gaze, "Right. Of course."

Naruto shook his head and began to lead him carefully back down the frosty hill, "'Sup with you?"

The raven-haired boy shrugged and unconsciously pulled Naruto's hand into his coat pocket with his own to keep it warm. Naruto watched his profile as they trudged and only stopped when Sasuke's expression changed from thoughtful frown to disapproving glare. He looked ahead to see four figures walking at a distance towards them, three of which he recognized and one of which recognized him simultaneously and hailed him with an energetic wave.

"HALLO-OOO!" The one waving called, his pudding-basin hair whipping in the biting wind and snow. Lee, clad in a large, green, wooly sweater grinned broadly and quickened his pace to meet them. Sasuke groaned quietly. Behind Lee, Naruto saw the stoic Neji turning to Hinata and murmuring something in her ear while giving Naruto the evil-eye. Hinata dipped her head and Naruto gulped before he was distracted by an effervescent Lee who grabbed his hand and shook it furiously, "Nice to see you again on this fine day! Did you have an agreeable Christmas? Isn't the weather perfect?!"

The elements chose that moment to blow a particularly forceful gust of wind into Naruto's eyes and they stung terribly as he replied, "Perfect."

The rest of the small troupe caught up to Lee (who continued to babble inanely to a disgruntled looking Sasuke) and Naruto noted that the newcomer stood slightly apart from the rest of them. He stared sullenly into the distance with startlingly green eyes, obvious even under the cover of wild, almost maroon-red hair. As Naruto met Hinata's gaze he flashed a smile but she dropped her eyes sheepishly and blushed.

"Lee, these people probably have places to be. Why don't you wrap this up." Neji intoned pointedly, all the while keeping his odd eyes on Naruto with a look of utter contempt. Naruto bristled and opened his mouth to tell Neji where he could shove it when Lee cut across him.

"Yes! I almost forgot! We're having a New Years party at our house again if you want to come?"

At this Neji's face went through a series of expressions: at first dumbfounded, then comprehending and then about ready to break something (or someone) as he failed to find the words to correct the situation. Hinata's eyes widened in horror as she recognized the fury bubbling behind her brother's eyes. The redhead looked over at him and an imperceptible twitch graced the corner of his mouth. He went unnoticed by everyone.

"We would love to." Naruto narrowed his eyes and grinned slyly at the fuming Neji, "Wouldn't we, Sasuke?"

Sasuke grunted in what Naruto took to be an accord.

"Well, then it's settled! Celebrations start at nine. We look forward to seeing you again, Naruto… Sasuke. Seasons gree-eeetings!" Lee called as he was dragged off by a terrified looking Hinata. Neji stalked off with them without a backward glance obviously still struggling to grasp how the situation had come about. The redhead lingered behind briefly and offered Naruto and Sasuke curious glances. He looked about ready to say something but was hurried along by an angry cry from Neji.


Naruto wiggled his fingers at him in a bemused farewell and watched their backs as they disappeared over the brow of the hill before turning to Sasuke.

"Did you see that bastard's face? That totally killed me. Whoo! Partaay!" He babbled enthusiastically. Sasuke remained stony-faced, "What's up with you, Mr. Moody?"

"Nothing." Sasuke replied with slight hesitation and when Naruto pressed him with a raised-eyebrow he reiterated, "Really, it's nothing."

"I don't believe you. Spill the beans, Uchiha."

"It's just…" He paused and a stricken look crossed his porcelain features, "… I can't shake the feeling that this is the eye of the storm." When Naruto looked confused he continued, "That something really bad is coming."

Again the image of falling stars flashed into Naruto's mind.

'Stand By Me' was just finishing when the doorbell rang. Naruto was about to shout for somebody else to answer it when he remembered that he was the only one in the house for a change. Sasuke had left during the first ten minutes of the film to go out grocery shopping as most of the edible food in the cupboards had been thrown into the dinner the day before. Naruto groaned, stretched and heaved himself off the couch, wondering who on earth it could be. Maybe it's Sasuke wanting help with the shopping, Naruto mused. He stumbled over to the front door, not caring whether he looked presentable, and opened it to the frosty night air and a man on the stoop that was most certainly not Sasuke. He was a good foot and a half if not two feet taller than Naruto, who suddenly felt very vulnerable, and bore the look of someone whose muscles weren't formed for the sake of vanity. A wicked grin with oddly sharp teeth spread across his face. It was not a friendly grin. It was a grin that would make one usher their children to their bedrooms and make sure the puppy was shut in the larder. Oddly shark-like. As Naruto did not have children or even a puppy he didn't have the sensibility to lock the door and close the curtains. Instead he fixed the man with an impious grin of his own and asked, "Can I help you?"

"Blond, mmm…?" The man said in a gravelly voice inflected with a Japanese accent and his grin grew a little larger, a feat Naruto would have thought impossible, "A cute blond."

"Excuse me?"

The stranger shook his head slightly in amusement and Naruto suddenly noticed the bluish tint to his skin which had been hidden by the orange glow of the streetlight but was momentarily visible in the light from the hallway, "I was looking for U- …Sasuke Uchiha. I take it he's not in?"

"…No." Naruto replied warily and something made him add, "He doesn't live here anymore."

The behemoth of a man fixed Naruto with small, yellowy eyes, the shit-eating grin still rigid, and raised a thin eyebrow, "Oh, really?"

Naruto wavered, giving his lie away.

"I didn't think so. Do me a favour, blondie." The stranger said and leaned in conspiratorially, "Pass on a message for me."

Naruto scowled but said nothing as he concentrated on holding his ground and resisting the temptation to move away from those bizarre teeth.

"Tell your boyfriend…" He paused for effect, watching the flicker of surprise in Naruto's eyes, "Tell him that Itachi wants to see him."