AN: Hope you like it. SasukeXNaruto. SasukeXSakura. And some NarutoXSakura angst. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to go whoop my bro's ass at a good game of squash. That's right... I play squash.

Disclaimer: The normal gobbledy-gook... I don't own it. I don't dream to own it (That might be a lie but I'm not going to admit it.) And Seeing as I don't own it, I don't profit from it either.

Warnings: Slight OOC. I hate to admit that but regardless... and keep in mind that this is a few years after the Naruto II arc... so our blond kitsune is a bit more mature.

A Price to Pay

I stared at her because that's all I could really do. She made me feel helpless. She made me feel giddy. My IQ dropped exponentially when she was around. God, she was so beautiful and oblivious to the charm she held on me. If I could give her her every whim; pluck the stars out of the sky and give them to her, I would. But I knew that in my heart of hearts, if there was anyone in the world that she would rather have give her the stars, it would be Sasuke.

How I fell in love with her was perhaps my own carelessness. I knew that she was selfish, I knew that she was impulsive and her anger was not womanly at all– but then, what anger was? She didn't have a way with words. She didn't have a woman's charm. She had her charm. A force, an energy that was entirely hers. It wasn't a woman's or a man's. It was just hers. And it filled up the room that she stood in like it filled my dreams. It tantalized my senses and it mocked me, leaving me unfulfilled and aching with the emptiness of it.

I figured that the way to forget her was to find a side to her that was not so charming. A side that would disgust me and would repel me. Like a wart, or ugly feet or something– anything. Unfortunately, my quest to find something undesirable about her made me realize that there was absolutely nothing about her that I didn't dislike. She was flawless and the more that I revealed, the more I began to love her.

Most people think that I hide behind a mask of tricks and stupidity and I do, but when I'm around Sakura, my act turns real and the lines between fact and fiction blur somewhat. She makes me do dumb stuff. It really started out as a way of getting her attention but it became habitual. Eventually, it was all I could really do to get her attention and for that, I cursed myself. I had tangled myself in a web that I could not possibly get myself out of.

I keep recalling her face all bright and sparkly as she saw Sasuke for the first time in three years. I wished that she looked like that when I came into view but I received a grateful smile from behind his shoulder. I should have been thankful really, but I wasn't. It left me feeling empty to the core.

That had been a few years ago. Since then, she had finished her training and was a successful medic-nin. I had heard that she was said to be even more powerful than Tsunade-sama which I could believe if that was what Sakura had intended. When she wanted to do something, she did it regardless what grief it brought her. She did it because she knew that she could. She got better because she knew she had to in order to save her precious Sasuke.

I have sat back on the sidelines and watched as Sasuke has made a mess of things. He was always too selfish for his own good but then, so was Sakura. I know from experience what happened to selfish people when they got together. I had seen it first hand, through the eyes of Jiraiya and Tsunade who had stopped being on civil terms a long time ago. People don't realize how observant I really am. I guess Kakashi had rubbed off on me more than people would know.

I knew that things wouldn't have been stellar between the two of them the moment they hooked up. There was more than one time that I had Sasuke at my doorstep, sullen and angry because Sakura had tossed him out in the heat of her passionate indignation. Sasuke didn't bother to explain it and I didn't bother to ask, I knew I'd get details in the morning from Sakura. Tsunade has been keeping me around to learn the ropes, so to speak. I figure that it has more to do with the fact that she had exhausted her gopher resources and had to resort to desperation, obviously. I always made sure to put too much sugar or too much cream in her coffee just for good measure.

Tonight was one of those nights. I was sitting on my porch with my feet dangling stories above the vacant street. Sasuke lay on my couch, simmering in his anger. I'm sure he wanted me to ask him what had happened this time so he could fling some particularly nasty barb at me but I wasn't feeling in the mood to act out the charade. Let him stew.

I took a deep swallow of the chilled sake that I had kept buried in the back of my freezer for these type of occasions. Most guys our age were already working on their first kid with a pretty little wife in a quaint house. I know that Shikamaru was, so had Chouji and Neji. Dammit, even Chouji was getting some!

"Hey... Sasuke..." I called from the porch, leaning back slowly and feeling my abs bunching as I stopped in mid sit up position and let my head loll back to look at him. Giving him my squinting, fox look that I knew annoyed him, I asked, "How did Chouji get a wife and I don't?"

"Because you are stupid." Sasuke grunted, tearing his eyes from the book he was reading to glare at me.

I let that baleful glare slide off of me and I sat up to take another drink. Chouji's wife was an awesome cook, in fact I had the opportunity to have dinner with them one night and her cooking floored me. She was pudgy, just like him which made it sort of obscenely cute. She had a cheerful, round face, a button nose and a pair of friendly brown eyes. Chouji had said it was love at first sight.

"If I'm stupid then I don't know what you are." I said darkly into my cup of sake before quaffing it.

"What did you say, dead-last?" Sasuke growled. From the sound of his voice, he had been standing directly behind me when I had said it.

I looked up and saw him looming over me, his eyes dark and narrow with anger, "I said that if I'm stupid, then I don't know what you are. Get your hearing checked, you ass."

I saw the blow come but the alcohol had made my reaction somewhat sluggish. I only half blocked it, his fist grazing off of my elbow and scrapeing along my cheekbone and ear. I leaned back as his body followed through with the hit and slammed my knee into his stomach in one sinuous movement. I heard the air push out of his lungs in one satisfying whoosh. "Bastard."

"That's my line." I said calmly as I rearranged myself again and let my legs hang back over the edge of the balcony. I offered him the bottle after taking a healthy swig of it. He eyed it as if I had spat poison into it. "It's from Jiraiya's own stock."

I felt a tinge of self-pity as I realized that I was single, getting drunk in my apartment with the man who was all but married to the girl of my dreams. A man who didn't appreciate her as much as she deserved. A man that was an ungrateful bastard who deserved an ass whooping but had gotten into my liquor instead. How the hell did this happen? It seems that fate is not without a sense of irony.

"You don't deserve my friendship, you know that bastard?" I eyed him with disgust as he took a swallow of the bottle of sake. I was feeling jealous, angry and I wanted to hoard what little good I had from this pompous ass that had taken most of the light from my life. "I came and got your sorry ass when you were getting it kicked by Orochimaru and I helped you kill your brother and what do you do? You steal my woman."

"I didn't steal your woman, stupid. She came to me."

"And if you had a decent bone in your body, you wouldn't have screwed with her. But here you are, sitting on my balcony, drinking my alcohol. You think that you are gonna go back there tomorrow and she'll accept you back."

"She probably will." He smirked at me, handing me the bottle back. "She knows it and I know it. You might as well accept the plain fact; she's crazy for me."

"I should have let Orochimaru have your sorry ass." I snarled, the anger and resentment I felt for Sasuke, flaring anew. God I hated this man so much that I would have tossed him off the balcony if I knew he wouldn't land on his feet.

"I agree." Sasuke said darkly, still not moving from his position beside me.

I wanted away from him and I knew that he wouldn't leave because he derived too much pleasure in making me angry— which I admit, is really easy to do nowadays. At least now I was able to keep the Kyuubi from exploding out and wrecking his face, which was a whim I was contemplating. "You know, I don't know why I put up with your bullshit. I should toss you out on your ass as quickly as she does."

Sasuke padded into the living room, from what I could tell he didn't seem much affected by my words but then, he never had been before. He pulled out a huge bottle of cheap sake and came back out onto the porch and settled down beside me. "Here." He opened it and gave it to me.

"You think you are gonna pay back what you owe me with a cheap bottle of sake?"

"Take it as you will."

I took the bottle and my eyes never left his as I lifted it to my lips and let the bitter, disgusting liquid spill into my mouth and burn a path to my stomach. With the Kyuubi's unparalleled regenerative skills, getting drunk was always an expensive and deliberate task that took many hours. I wasn't worried about getting drunk, I could burn it off in a moment's notice. "You know, if you were going to make the attempt, you should have bought a more expensive bottle. I always knew that you were such a stingy bastard." Jiraiya had a bad affect on me. With the priceless combat skills he had taught me, I also learned to yearn for the taste of fine women and fine sake. There wasn't a night that went by that I didn't curse the old man in some way. Especially on those nights that my body seemed inconsolable to the touch of the girlfriend-of-the-minute and the Kyuubi's taunting laugh ringing in my ears.

I eyed Sasuke as he took his first real swig of the liquor. It was incredibly unhealthy and probably a bit irresponsible, but I'm sure that he had his own reasons for what he was doing. He set the bottle down carefully and grabbed the bars of the balcony railing, looking as if he was about to rattle the bars of his cage.

"You are a son-of-a-bitch, Naruto." Sasuke growled, tearing his eyes away from the rooftops of Konoha to glare at me.

I grinned into the mouth of the bottle, the liquor didn't taste as bitter as it once had. "That's me, you no good bastard."

He laughed, it sounded dry and raspy. Painfully barren of anything humourous. "God, I hate you for what you've done to me."

I found myself curious by this remark. He was already affected by the cheap liquor that he had drunk earlier this evening before he had come here and I suspected that he hadn't had anything to eat today, either. Despite my curiosity, I found myself reluctant to voice it. Somehow, I sensed that if I did, I would be entering the yawning chasm of whatever Sasuke was falling through.

He took another swig and stared moodily out over the village, his eyes were starting to narrow in on the landscape. Had his remark been about his regret of his forcible return to Konoha? I wondered idly on it but still felt a little apprehensive on any embellishment on Sasuke's behalf.

"You know, I wouldn't hate you so much if I knew you were treating her well." The words spilled out of my mouth, unbidden and unwelcomed. I grabbed up the bottle and took a deep swig, abolishing a good quarter of the liquid inside before setting it down.

Sasuke still hadn't bothered to look at me and somehow I felt a spark of hope that he hadn't heard me. I knew that that hope was just a lie, that Sasuke was just assimilating what I had said in the drunken fog of his mind. He was far too gone for rapid witticism– not that Sasuke had ever been good at it. "She nags. She nags and nags and nags at me. I can't stand it. She nags at me from sun up to sun down and when I dream, I dream of her nagging at me." He said bitterly, pouring more of the cheap sake down his throat.

"Then why are you with her?" Somehow, I felt happy by this revelation. Maybe because I had already gleaned some hope in getting Sakura out of Sasuke's clutches.

He laughed as if it was the funniest thing I had ever said. He laughed a laugh that made me shudder because it seemed obscene coming from his mouth. This was a mouth that never ever laughed and had very rarely smiled. Sure, I had heard him laugh once a long time ago when he was caught in the thrall of Orochimaru's power, but that had been a high, shrilly, evil thing that had pricked at my nightmares for years to come. His laughter was one that made me want to laugh with him. It was infectious and warm. I found myself smiling stupidly at his mirth but knowing that I was somehow the butt of his joke. "What?"

"You are so stupid!" He said this between rib cracking peals of laughter. After a while, he had himself under control and rested his forehead against the cool bars. I didn't bother to say anything to him, I was actually losing my patience with him. I stood up and stared down at him. "Don't drink much more. I don't want to explain how you died of alcohol poisoning on my porch."

There wasn't much left in the bottle to begin with. While Sasuke had been trying to get his laughter under control, I had attempted to finish up as much of the alcohol as I could stomach. I left him maybe a mouthful. I speared him with one more glance before walking into the living room and turning off the lights, leaving the television on but the sound down low. If he drops off a balcony, which I hoped he would, at least I'd hear him when he hit the pavement.

I crawled into bed, straightening out my comforter and prying a pillow out from between the mattress and the wall. I felt the alcohol like a warm fire in my stomach, slowly spreading across my skin. As sleep gently took me, I recalled hearing a soft laugh echoing from my open window. I could have sworn it was Sasuke's but then, I was really too tired to care.

Sometime during the night I was awoken by something. I couldn't describe what it was but I had reached for the kunai that I had always kept underneath my pillow. I peered around the room, it was empty and then I remembered that I wasn't the only one in my apartment. Wondering if Sasuke had finally gotten so drunk and fallen of the porch, a tragedy for sure, I pulled myself out of bed to investigate.

I stepped cautiously through the hall with my back against the wall and the kunai up to protect my vitals. Sidestepping, I slid into the room under the cover of shadows and instantly eased up. Sasuke was sleeping on the couch, the bottle of liquor on the coffee table. It had been the door that he had left open, it started banging against the wall in the wind. I sighed with a mixture of relief and disgust for Sasuke's carelessness before closing it. I pulled the blankets that Sasuke had kicked at the bottom of the couch, over him and instantly, his shivering stopped. The idiot would be hurting in the morning. On the table I placed a big glass of water and a few tablets for the headache that would most certainly plague him in the morning. Although I shouldn't have cared, it was habit.

Grabbing myself a glass of water, I trailed back into my bedroom and replaced the knife underneath my pillow. I sat up and watched my fingers through the glass warp as the liquid swirled within. It was a small training habit I had gotten myself into to swirl water in the glass when I wasn't drinking it. This habit came at the expense of many broken glasses and plenty of bandages, but it was worth it.

I was snapped out of my mini-training as the phone rang. I glanced at the clock on my bedside table which blinked two-thirty before I picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Naruto... it's me, Sakura." Her voice was soft and thick, I could tell that she had been crying.

"Hey, how are you?"

"Is he there?"

I let out a slow breath as my anger pricked a bit. "Yes, he is. He drank himself to sleep." I would say anything to discredit the bastard so when opportunity arose, I took it.

"Is-is he... in a lot of pain, Naruto?"

"Sasuke is Sasuke, Sakura. You of all people know this. He's always agonizing about something." I laughed and wondered when there wasn't a time that he wasn't brooding over something or other. Although that statement was exactly true in this case, somehow I sensed that he wasn't being entirely true to his nature. From what I had gathered by our earlier conversation, he just really didn't care about her.

"Naruto..." I could practically hear the tears in her voice as she spoke, "I don't want to love him but I do... I love him so much that it makes me sick inside. I wish there was a jutsu for this, something that would make me forget him. I wish that it was that simple to just leave him and move on."

I sighed, this was the usual conversation every time Sasuke ran out on her, "Listen, I've said this to you before but it's never going to be easy. You've got to be strong. He doesn't deserve you, Sakura. You deserve someone better than him." Someone like me, I mentally added. The first time I had said something like this to her, she had gotten so angry that she hadn't spoken to me until the second time he ran out. The second time I said it, she tearfully admitted it and that had been a drama that lasted a few hours on the phone at the crack of dawn. I had my suspicions that she had been drinking but I never bothered to find out.

"But I can't imagine my life without him. I've lived with him for so long... I can't tell where I begin or end anymore... it all just blurs into him." I sighed again– I had been doing a lot of this, lately. "Listen, I've got a mission tomorrow and I have some sleep before I'm out."

"Oh... okay."

Don't ask my why I had cut our conversation off short. Maybe it was because tonight I was in a particularly selfish mood and didn't want to hear about her problems with Sasuke. What about my problems? What about all the times I woke up with her name on my lips? The smell of her hair and the feel of her body taunting my fingertips.

When I put the reciever down, I looked at the clock and groaned. In another two hours I would have to be up and about, ready for patrol. Hopefully, when I got back Sasuke would be gone. Somehow I doubted it.

"Was that Sakura?" His voice was like the soundtrack to the shadows that hugged the walls of my room. I looked up calmly, suddenly aware that he had been in the room for most of the conversation. Obviously he hadn't had as much to drink as I had intially suspected, either that or he was a light sleeper. By the looks of things, I was willing to bet on the latter.

"Yes." I got back under the blankets and made myself comfortable, showing my back to him to indicate that discussions with Doctor Naruto was over for the day.

"She sad?"

"What the fuck do you think, Bastard?" I snapped, throwing him an angry look over my shoulder.

He stood leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest. "Of course she is... since she loves me so much."

"Whatever, Sasuke." I muttered, hoping that he'd go away so that I could at least get an hour's sleep before I had to be up and moving. When I realized that he still hadn't budged from the doorway, I added, "I've got a mission in an hour so if you don't mind going away so that I can get some sleep, I'd appreciate it."

He was on top of me before I could react. My lower body was still in its original position but my arms and shoulders were pinned against the mattress by his hands. With his face just inches from mine, he whispered just above the rushing beat of my heart in my ears, "I'll give Sakura to you but in exchange, you've got to give yourself to me for one night. And you've got to like it."

Did my ears deceive me? Was I just propositioned by the great Uchiha Sasuke? It took a moment for the reality of my situation to set in. "What the hell are you doing?" I broke his grasp and punched him with all my might, which wasn't much considering that I hadn't put much momentum into the hit.

"Don't make me repeat myself." He snarled before stalking out of the room.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep so well for the remainder of the night.