Title: Of Pride and Prejudice
Pairing: Nascent, not-really-there SasuNaru
Warnings: A little bit of language, possible OOC, nascent shonen ai, blood, and stuff. Mostly gen.
Notes: The timeline of this entire series is a little vague, but I'm going to pretend that this particular episode happened before Tsunade came and before Orochimaru went on his little rampage in Konoha. Namely, this is after Sasuke acquired the second wheel of his Sharingan (whenever that happened; I forget when), but before Sandaime died. Frequent updates will probably cease from this point on.
Randomly: I really love Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I loved it so much that I skipped eighty pages towards the end just because I had to know if Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth would end up together or not. Dear god, I love Colin Firth. And I need to see Bridget Jones' Diary.
The moron was late.
Uchiha Sasuke, pride of Konoha and last heir of the proud Uchiha clan, leaned back against the door of his rival's apartment and frowned. They were supposed to have gotten together for some late-night training to practice chakra detection and stealth, but his blond teammate had yet to show up.
Sasuke tilted his head and regarded the moon in the sky, did some mental calculations, and estimated that it must have been around ten o'clock already, three hours since Kakashi had dismissed the team, and two and a half since Naruto had left Sasuke and Sakura, yelling something about ramen and Iruka-sensei. Knowing Naruto's gluttonous eating habits, he should have finished stuffing himself over an hour ago.
Sasuke scowled. Something wasn't right. He stood away from the wall and pulled his hands from his pockets, preparing to go into the night-darkened streets of Konoha in search of his errant rival.
The last time Naruto hadn't shown up for a rendezvous, Sasuke had found him huddled in a garbage-infested alley, trying awkwardly to clean a deep gouge in his arm, which he'd claimed he'd gotten from a badly-placed vegetable cart. The dark-haired shinobi had seen enough kunai-induced wounds in his lifetime to recognize the shape of the cut, but if Naruto wasn't going to admit to being attacked, Sasuke wasn't going to ask.
Just as he was about to leap to the roof of the opposite building, he noticed a movement in the corner of his eye. He activated the Sharingan as he turned to look, his night vision sharpening tenfold as the two wheels of his bloodline spun into existence. It took him a moment to recognize the matted blond hair and torn and battered jumpsuit, and yet another before he pieced the observations together to identify the small, lurching figure as Naruto himself.
Sasuke's eyes narrowed. He opened his mouth to call Naruto's name, but the other boy happened to lift his head then and spotted him. A weak grin stretched across his bruised face, the already fading marks darkened by the shadows cast by the moonlight, and he waved a hand in greeting.
"Yo, Sasuke." he rasped. His normally raucous voice was scratchy and subdued, and it obviously took a fair amount of effort for him to smile. Sasuke watched as Naruto painfully limped up the steps, though he was trying hard to conceal the agony his left leg seemed to be causing him.
Silently, Sasuke stepped in front of his rival, forcing the other boy to stop. Blue eyes, wide and ingenuous, pretended that nothing was wrong even as a dark gaze scrutinized his abused form, taking in the ripped and dirty state of his favorite orange jumpsuit, the large, fading bruise along the left side of his face, the deep gouge in the thigh of his left leg, and the ginger way he was holding his wrist.
Sasuke sighed and turned away, wordlessly opening the door to the apartment and letting Naruto hobble in.
Following his teammate into the dark, slightly dank apartment, Sasuke waited as Naruto fumbled for the light switch and began dragging his first aid kit from beneath his bed, pulling out a variety of outdated magazines and dusty weapons along with the kit. He had the faint urge to help the other boy, but seeing as Naruto was making a show of ignoring Sasuke's presence, he decided not to waste the effort of speaking and instead flopped onto the sloppily-made bed, watching as Naruto ditched the kit in favor of disappearing into the bathroom. A moment later, he heard Naruto cursing, followed by a few muffled thumps, and finally, the sound of water running.
Closing his eyes, Sasuke waited some more. He wrinkled his nose as he breathed in the somewhat musty scent of Naruto's coverlet, a faded and worn cotton affair with the stuffing peeking out at the corners and a badly-mended rip along one side. Naruto's apartment smelled like old ramen, sweat, and Naruto's own musk, an odd and familiar mixture of smells to be sure, and one that seemed to lack the distinctive, clean smell of laundry detergent.
A moment later, Naruto reappeared, a ratty, damp towel wrapped around his waist and his blond tresses wet and stuck to his forehead by tiny rivulets of water. He glared at Sasuke for a moment, clearly considering kicking him out of the apartment, but Sasuke merely closed the single eye he'd opened to regard Naruto with and pretended to go back to sleep.
He watched from beneath long lashes as Naruto fumbled with the kit, digging out a pair of bent tweezers and leaning over his wounded thigh intently. Already, the edges of the wound were sealing together, but apparently, Naruto didn't like this, as he grimaced and reached for the kunai he'd put next to him. Sasuke's eyebrow twitched as he watched Naruto grimly slice the wound open again before reaching in with the tweezers and carefully removing bits of debris.
"If you do it that way, idiot, your wound's going to get infected." Sasuke said offhandedly, acting as if it wasn't his concern if Naruto fell over and died. The blond scowled at him.
"No, I won't." he retorted pugnaciously, "I don't get infected."
Sasuke shrugged, sitting up to better watch as Naruto pried at a particularly large and gory bit of metal, a fine sweat beading along his brow as he ineffectually dug at the piece of shrapnel.
"Shit." Naruto swore, as the metal slipped from his tweezers again, remaining stubbornly embedded in the flesh of his thigh. A few tears of pain had risen to his blue eyes, but he ignored them, determinedly bowing his head to the task again. Sasuke sighed and went into the bathroom to wash his hands.
The other teenager was still grappling with the elusive bit of metal when he returned, biting his lower lip hard enough to bleed and swearing in a continuous stream under his breath. Sasuke hunkered down next to him and carefully placed his fingers alongside the wound, holding the edges of the gash apart slightly to give Naruto better access. Naruto grunted in thanks and soon tossed the bloody piece of metal onto the rag next to him.
"What'd you do this time, you moron?" Sasuke asked idly, taking the tweezers from Naruto's trembling fingers and muttering something about ineptitude, covering the fact that Naruto was breathing heavily from the pain of digging pieces of shrapnel out of his leg and getting a hissed 'bastard' in return.
"I fell." Naruto said, cracking a faint grin at the look Sasuke gave him. The Uchiha dug in a little more painfully than necessary for the sliver of wood he was pulling out, causing Naruto to protest. "Ow! You bastard, be careful! I sort of need that leg!"
"Uh-huh," Sasuke replied sardonically, removing the last bit of debris and reaching for the bottle of alcohol to disinfect the wound, "And the ground punched you in the face, sprained your wrist, and gashed your thigh open all at once." (1)
Naruto nodded emphatically. "Yep. It was a mean bit of ground." His grin grew crooked, "I came out on top, though."
Sasuke rolled his eyes and liberally poured alcohol in the wound, holding the other boy down firmly as Naruto yelped and squirmed, tears coming to his eyes at the burning in his leg. Sasuke reached for the surgical needle and thread next, deftly threading the needle with practiced ease before eyeing the wound.
"I don't suppose you have anesthetics for this." Sasuke said, already knowing the answer.
"Anesthetics are for weaklings."
"Right. Try not to scream in my ear, then." And he ruthlessly began to stitch the edges of the wound together.
Naruto nearly tensed, seemed to realize it would make the pain worse, and bit down on the side of his hand – hard – to keep from yelling at the agony. Sasuke contemplated humming and figured that Naruto would suddenly develop a murderous interest in acupuncture and try to kill him with the needle if he did.
After what seemed like hours for Naruto and what was, in all truth and reality, no more than half an hour, Sasuke finished putting in the last stitch. Pretending not to notice how Naruto's hand was now bearing a bleeding semi-circle of teeth marks, he cleaned up as best he could and put away the needle and remaining thread.
He lifted an eyebrow at Naruto, silently impressed that Naruto had managed to keep from even groaning as Sasuke was stitching up the gash. His bangs were even damper than before with sweat, and his eyes were closed tightly, but he hadn't made a sound during the entire procedure.
"Oi," Sasuke poked Naruto in the shoulder, "I finished stitching the wound. Give me your left hand."
Blue eyes opening, Naruto waved his wounded hand at Sasuke, winced at the movement, and kept the appendage still as his rival poked and prodded at it.
"You didn't need to stitch my thigh," Naruto added unnecessarily then, "I heal fast."
Sasuke delicately held Naruto's wrist in the palm of his left hand and gently clasped his other hand over it, a faint thrum of power emanating from his fingertips as he concentrated a thin, steady stream of chakra into realigning the bones.
"I know the extent of your healing abilities," Sasuke murmured absently, "If you don't stitch deep, non-life-threatening wounds like that, it takes longer for your healing abilities to kick in and seal the edges." (2)
Naruto watched him curiously for a moment as Sasuke started to wrap his wrist in bandages, though the sprain had mostly been fixed by the realignment.
"Oi, where did you learn how to heal?" he asked curiously. Sasuke shot him a disparaging look.
"Unlike you, dead last," Sasuke snorted, "I paid attention in class and learned rudimentary healing techniques."
Naruto colored slightly.
"Then why didn't you use 'em on my leg, Mr. Know-It-All-Teacher's-Pet?" Naruto snapped. In all truth and reality, Iruka was much fonder of Naruto than he was Sasuke, but somehow, being teacher's favorite didn't seem to count for much in class. Sasuke rolled his eyes, pulled out a few swabs of cotton, and dampened them with alcohol, poking deftly at the side of Naruto's face as the blond boy winced.
"Because healing wounds requires actually regenerating cells and reconstituting tissue," Sasuke said condescendingly, "Something that's usually left to medic-nins due to the complexity involved in encouraging the right cells to grow and preventing insufficient or extraneous tissue growth."
At Naruto's blank look, Sasuke sighed.
"If you don't do it right," he explained with a great deal of asperity, "You could either bleed to death or grow a tumor on your leg. Fixing minor sprains and twists, like what happened to your wrist, only involves physically realigning the bones to reduce stress to the tendons and letting the body take care of the rest."
"Oh." Naruto said, enlightenment coming to his face like dawn breaking over the horizon, "Why didn't you say so, then? You sounded like one of those boring-ass medical dictionaries Iruka tried to make me read once."
Sasuke just snorted and whapped Naruto upside the head, albeit with a little consideration for Naruto's injuries. As the blond boy groused and complained about Sasuke's poor bedside manner, Sasuke taped a large gauze pad over the side of Naruto's face.
"Eh? What the hell?" Naruto demanded, trying to touch the medical tape as Sasuke impatiently batted his hands away. "It's just a bruise!"
"It covers up half of your stupid face," Sasuke said dryly, dodging the punch Naruto threw at his shoulder. He smirked. "Too slow, idiot." Ignoring Naruto's scowl, he stood up and dusted his hands off together. "Where're your clothes? Your stuff smells like it hasn't been washed in ages."
Naruto's pugnacious expression grew wary.
"Uh, don't worry about it." he said cautiously, "I'll get to it tomorrow or something."
Sasuke went into his bathroom and picked up the pile of discarded garments, making a face at the smell of garbage and worse arising from the tattered cloth. He proceeded to go around Naruto's apartment, collecting random articles of clothing and dropping them all in the dilapidated box serving as Naruto's laundry basket. It wasn't that Sasuke was suddenly suffering from a bout of housewifey tendencies, but he had a sensitive nose and hated it when Naruto showed up on missions wearing dank clothing.
Naruto watched him silently as he went around, his blue eyes serious and opaque, whatever thoughts were going on in his head hidden by long lashes. Finally, Sasuke turned and lifted an eyebrow, holding a hand out wordlessly.
"…I don't have a key to the laundry room." Naruto's voice was quiet and subdued, eerily similar to the tone he'd used earlier outside the apartment. Sasuke frowned slightly.
"You lost it? Why didn't you ask for another one?"
Fidgeting, Naruto scratched at the back of his head, plastered a grin on his face, and avoided Sasuke's gaze as he laughed weakly.
"Ah, I never had one. The apartment manager, uh, doesn't like me."
Sasuke looked incredulous.
"How do you wash your clothes, then?" he demanded. Naruto sighed, realizing he wasn't going to escape the questioning all that easily.
"In the bathtub," he said grudgingly, "With my hands and body soap."
His gaze intent on the floor, he didn't notice the long, measuring look Sasuke gave him. When Sasuke opened the door, though, his head shot up.
"Where are you going?"
"Out." Sasuke said blandly, his face carefully blank. "Get dressed. I'll be back in a bit."
And he left, leaving Naruto to gape at the closed door in incomprehension.
In the hallway outside of Naruto's apartment, Sasuke used the faded apartment map to locate the manager's office and began moving there, his expression unreadable and thoughts whirring through his head.
This was not the first time Naruto had showed up, inexplicably beaten and bloody, with no missions to explain his injuries. Whenever Sasuke asked as to the origins of his wounds, Naruto would just plaster that irritating grin on his face and say that he fell. Sasuke had his own suspicions.
For all that he never showed it, he would have to be blind not to notice the intense looks of hatred most of the villagers gave his blond teammate. The whispers and half-heard murmurs as they walked through the streets together were enough to make Sasuke's hackles rise, but Naruto blithely acted as if he hadn't heard a word the villagers had said, when Sasuke knew he could hear everything he could hear and more. There was some unknown reason that the villagers hated Naruto, and for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was.
Naruto was annoying, yes. Sasuke, himself, was often tempted to beat his irritating rival unconscious for his inane babbling about everything and nothing, for his infuriating tendency to be loud and oblivious, and for his frequent announcements about his future status as Hokage.
Yet, even the Uchiha grudgingly had to admit that Naruto had his good points. He had all the right intentions even when he was being raucous and aggravating. His burning drive and ambition allowed him to bully through any obstacle in his path, compelled him to pick himself up from the ground time after time. He stubbornly refused to admit defeat, something Sasuke found frustrating at times, but which had pulled Team Seven's chestnuts out of the fire more than once. He trusted everyone implicitly, unless they had done something to warrant his distrust, and could make friends with just about anybody under the sun. Naruto had some weird form of empathy that allowed him to sympathize with most, and his characteristic honesty and naïveté drew others to him like moths to a flame.
True, he liked to pull pranks, but even those were few and far between these days, as Naruto grew increasingly obsessed with training and working towards his goal of Hokage. Sasuke knew that Naruto was a good person, and as the person who possibly knew Naruto better than anyone in the world, he could not see why the villagers despised him. He had a suspicion that Naruto's lack of a laundry room key tied in with that inexplicable hatred, though.
He reached the apartment manager's office then and knocked on the door firmly, ignoring the fact that it was almost midnight now and trusting that a decent manager would still be up to receive any late-night complaints from his or her tenants. When a voice called from within, he opened the door and allowed his characteristically stoic features to relax, eyes widening slightly and lips even curving in a slightly sheepish smile that he, admittedly, had plagiarized from Naruto. The entire effect was intended to make him look younger, and from the friendly, but puzzled, expression on the manager's face, he'd succeeded.
"Excuse me," he said politely, "I'm the nephew of Kishimoto-san in apartment 131C, and he asked me take care of his house while he was away this week." Unobtrusively, he'd looked at the list of tenants and, recognizing one of the names as a jounin sent on a mission earlier today, chosen his guise accordingly. He gave way to an embarrassed chuckle and scratched the back of his head nervously, for all that his brain was screaming something about humiliation and dignity. "Unfortunately, he left a huge pile of laundry to do, and no key to the laundry room. I don't suppose you have a spare I could borrow? I'll give it back to you tomorrow." (3)
The apartment manager smiled broadly at Sasuke and rose ponderously from his desk to shuffle through a file cabinet nearby.
"Of course, young man," he said boisterously and riffled through the manila folders before finally drawing a small key out. "Here you go. Just drop it in the box outside my office when you're done."
Sasuke bowed, thanked the man, and left the office, the friendly expression dropping off his face immediately. The manager gave him the impression that he was a decent man, which made the mystery of his not giving Naruto a key all the more baffling.
A stop at the key smith and Ichiraku's later, Sasuke knocked on the door of Naruto's apartment. There was a muffled thud, followed by a pained yelp and some swearing. Sasuke arched an eyebrow and waited patiently. A moment later, a disheveled Naruto answered the door, his eyes smarting with tears as he looked questioningly at Sasuke.
"The hell, Sasuke?" he grumbled, rubbing at his eyes. "Where'd you go? I fell asleep waiting for you."
"And fell out of the bed when I finally returned, like the clumsy dolt you are." Sasuke noted dryly. He hefted the bags of ramen he was holding and smirked at the dreamy expression that came over Naruto's face.
"Ramen!" the blond cried ecstatically, "Sasuke, you're my hero!"
He reached longingly towards the bags, but was neatly distracted when Sasuke dropped a key into the palm of his outstretched hand. Blinking at it, Naruto gave Sasuke a puzzled look.
"What's this for?"
"The laundry room," Sasuke replied, pushing past Naruto into the apartment when it became apparent that Naruto wasn't going to leave the doorway anytime soon. "I took the liberty of making you a copy. I didn't think I could stand it if you showed up to a mission smelling like a sewer again."
He started setting the ramen on the table, half-waiting for the expected comeback, and was discomfited when he heard nothing but silence. Sasuke glanced over his shoulder at Naruto to find his rival gaping at him, blue eyes wide with surprise. He frowned. Naruto automatically scowled back, his surprise melting away as a glimmer of thanks and mischief entered his eyes.
The blond teenager plopped into the chair across from Sasuke, grinning as he picked up a pair of chopsticks and snapped them apart.
"Okay, who are you, and what did you do with Sasuke?" he said jokingly, digging into a bowl of steaming miso ramen. Sasuke snorted, a faint hint of a smile teasing along his lips as he sat more sedately and began to eat.
"He got kidnapped by aliens." Sasuke deadpanned. Naruto chortled.
The rest of the meal continued without further banter, both boys content to sit with each other in companionable silence. Sasuke watched Naruto surreptitiously as they ate. The simple pleasure on Naruto's face made Sasuke feel as if his night's endeavors had been worth it. Later, they might fight and curse each other out, but for now, they were friends, and for Sasuke, that was enough.
Not The End, The End. Just, y'know, the end of this particularly long chapter. Comments and Criticism much appreciated, all you lovely reviewers. I'd give you all Pocky, if I could. Unfortunately, you'll have to settle for another group cyber hug. Hee.
(1) This is an obscure reference to Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness series; specifically, it refers to the first book (the title of which I've forgotten). It happens when Coram asks "Alan" (Alanna) what happened to her after she fights with Ralon, and she stubbornly says that she "fell", refusing to be a tattletale. It strikes me as something Naruto might do in the case of the villagers beating up on him. I figure that Naruto wouldn't be the type to overtly fight back against civilians, and who would instead let them beat him a bit, figuring that he deserved it, in part.
(2) Meh, this is me playing with canon. I know that Kyuubi heals pretty much all of Naruto's wounds, but for the fic's sake, I'm going to say that it has a lesser tendency to heal minor, non-life-threatening wounds, and that Naruto may, in part, be purposefully slowing down the healing as a sort of self-punishment. Our Naruto's not really one to dwell on angst, but he's only human.
(3) Yes, this is a reference to Kishimoto-san of Naruto fame. Yes, Sasuke seems a little OOC, but as a shinobi, I expect he's been trained in subterfuge and disguise.