"All I do is howl at the stars.
I aint got the guts to jump to them."
"Okay, kids! Get moving-we're going to the gym!"
Everyone looked up at Gai-sensei warily.
"Why? Weren't we doing calisthenics today?" Ino spoke up.
"Change of plans. You're with Iruka-sensei today."
Naruto cheered up at that. He'd take Iruka-sensei over Gai any day.
"Y'all taking dancing lessons!"
Naruto's smile dropped from his face as more than one student began to protest.
"What, like- boys and girls?"
"Is this for that stupid Harvest festival-"
"We never had to do dance class before!"
Gai cheerfully ignored it all and began to round up the class like a herd of sheep.
"What a colossal joke." Kiba muttered, as they trudged their way towards the gym. "This is your fault, blondie."
"My fault?" Naruto looked at him incredulously.
"People are taking the Festival seriously this year, and it's all. your. fault." Kiba groused, punctuating each word with a vicious kick.
"Oh, give me a break, I didn't ask for this." Naruto scowled. "How is this my fault?"
"You might have unintentionally started a war, Uzumaki." Shikamaru spoke up from behind them. "Haven't you heard? Class A's candidate is Karin and Class B has Hotaru."
"So?" Naruto felt dread starting to pool in his stomach.
"So you just poked the wasps nest and they're going to want blood."
Naruto tore at his hair. "What does this have to do with me?"
"Rumor has it, Uchiha Sasuke is running as your King."
Naruto stopped dead in his tracks. He had totally forgotten that Sasuke had done that. He spun around and tried to hunt down that familiar mop of dark hair-
"You!" Naruto stomped over, shoving an accusing finger to his face. "This is all your fault!"
Sasuke looked at him impatiently.
"You're blocking the way, dobe."
"You need to drop out of this Harvest King nonsense." Naruto snapped, allowing himself to be shooed inside the gym doors. "You're making it worse. We're having freakin' dance class!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Okay, class!" Iruka-sensei clapped his hands cheerfully from up-front. "Welcome to Formal Dancing 101! I'm sure everyone's excited for the upcoming fall festival-"
Naruto slapped a hand to his forehead.
"So we're taking this opportunity to learn some formal dancing! Everyone grab a partner, we're going to start with a simple waltz."
Naruto glared at Sasuke, pointing a finger.
"Drop out of the race." He warned, turning to walk away.
Sasuke grabbed him by the arm.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Naruto blinked at him. "Iruka-sensei said to find a partner-"
"Yes. So where are you going?"
Naruto's jaw closed with a click as he slowly turned red.
"W-we… we can't be partners!" He hissed.
Sasuke raised a brow. "Why not?"
"Well, that's…! That…" Naruto floundered, realizing he had nothing.
"...It's embarrassing." He finally said.
"We're partners in pretty much everything, what's the big deal?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath about idiots, but Naruto did not protest as he was pulled closer into strong arms when the music began to play.
"One-two-three, one-two-three… The waltz is a three-step pattern that's simple to execute once you've got a hang of it." Iruka-sensei was demonstrating simple steps at the front with a girl in a short bob. "Someone has to take the lead, while their partner follows. Use your right foot to step up-like so-and the left foot follows, switch to the right… that's it. Excellent."
"I'm leading." Sasuke murmured to Naruto as they began to sway to the music.
"Says fucking who-" Naruto gritted his teeth as he stared down at his uncooperative feet. "One-two-shit, wait-"
"Says the one who's done this before." Sasuke muttered, narrowly avoiding getting stepped on. "Relax. Follow my lead."
Naruto concentrated on the gentle pressure of Sasuke's arms around him, directing him where to go, and forced his feet to follow.
"Hey, this isn't so bad-" Naruto began, and then promptly tripped on his feet. "Oof!"
"Dobe!" Sasuke caught him, and then forced his chin up to look at him in the eye. "Don't look down. Focus on me. I got you."
Heat crept up Naruto's face, but he resolutely kept his mouth shut as they tried again. One-two-three, one-two-three.
Soon enough, amidst furtive and occasional jealous looks, they were one of the successful pairs dancing across the room.
Kiba and Shikamaru stood in the corner of the gym, silently watching the pair twirling around in the center. After a few moment, Kiba finally spoke up.
"Are we really not going to talk about the elephant in the room?"
"Well," Shikamaru heaved a sigh. "It's dancing right in front of us."
Kiba snorted so loud, a few girls up front turned to look at him in disgust.
Across the room, Sasuke had suddenly made a half-turn and swept the blond into a spin that caused him to break out in surprised laughter. Kiba made a face at them.
"What will you say if I told you I had seen this coming?"
"I'd tell you to go get your head checked." Shikamaru drawled as he made himself comfortable on the floor. "But then, here we are."
"I didn't plan on telling anyone," Kiba lowered his head, as if about to reveal a big secret. "But actually… I saw them together ."
"Yeah, no kidding." Shikamaru looked pointedly at the dancing pair, who had somehow drawn even closer and were now practically draped across each other.
"No, I mean ," Kiba insisted. "Like before. I saw them together, outside school ."
Shikamaru raised a brow at him.
"So!" Kiba threw up his hands. "They were spending time together, outside school! Those two! I mean, what the hell? Uchiha had Naruto on his back, for god's sake. He was giving him a piggy-back ride into the freakin' sunset."
Shikamaru gave another sigh.
"Kiba, I seriously don't have the energy to deal with your idiocy right now—"
"Uchiha was smiling ."
"Exactly!" Kiba threw his hands up. "I thought the apocalypse was upon us."
"I guess they're for real." Shikamaru shrugged, like the matter was over with. "Let's congratulate Naruto, the poor bastard."
"But I thought," Kiba paused, suddenly sullen. "That he was… you know… with Sabaku."
Shikamaru made a miserable sound and sank deeper onto the floor.
"What? How was I supposed to deal with Sabaku Gaara suddenly making nicey-nice with another human being, huh?" Kiba glared at his feet. "Naruto must have the charm of the devil or something."
"Maybe he does." Shikamaru eyed him. "If he's friends with you."
"Look at that," Kiba stared in mild horror as Iruka forced Gaara to his feet. Naruto had been pulled away from Sasuke and made to partner with the disgruntled red-head.
"Well, I'll be damned." Kiba's mouth hung open as Gaara begrudgingly accepted Naruto's hand and they began practicing the dance steps as Iruka-sensei instructed them. Kiba snuck a look at Sasuke who had been taken over by a bunch of overzealous girls all clamoring for a chance to partner with him.
"Naruto's been good for him." Shikamaru commented, already falling asleep. "Sabaku doesn't look like he wants to kill a cat anymore."
"Maybe he still kills the cat, but now he does it in his basement." Kiba muttered, staring at the strange picture that the blond and the red-head made.
They were dancing—or, at least, attempting to. The blond danced with the grace of a donkey—but he was far too invested in making Gaara participate because like hellwas he going to be exempted from this too.
"Don't be so stiff," Naruto commented, shaking Gaara's hand which was encased in his own. "You're gonna break my hand."
Gaara's jaw tightened and he did not reply, but Naruto gave him another nudge, until he finally relaxed the tiniest bit.
"One-two-three, one-two-three," Naruto chanted, staring down at their feet. "Jesus Fu—don't step on my foot, you're going to kill 'em—ouch!"
Iruka had wandered off after a while, trying to save Sasuke from the gaggle of girls clinging to him. Naruto pretended not to notice, but Gaara did not miss the way his eyes flickered over to the Uchiha's direction.
"…what are you doing?"
"Hm?" Naruto glanced up at him. "I'm trying to two-two-three you into dancing, you lazy ass—"
"Uchiha." Gaara interrupted him. "What do you think you're doing?"
Naruto opened his mouth, and then closed it when he saw Gaara's expression. Instantly, the air between them became heavy, like a blanket was draped over the two of them, cutting them off from the outside world.
"I don't know." Naruto finally said, lowering his eyes.
Gaara gave a frustrated sigh.
"If you're just playing around, find someone else. He's bad news."
"M't not playing around." Naruto mumbled, trepidation creeping into his voice. "Maybe… maybe, I kind of… like him."
"Then stop liking him." Gaara said shortly. "He's no good for you. You don't belong in his world. You're just going to end up hurt."
Gaara's words actually did hurt, and Naruto felt his cheeks begin to flush hot with embarrassment. So he got defensive.
"I can handle myself, thanks."
"You're getting in too deep." Gaara said, and Naruto hated him for being right. Usually, he appreciated the red-head for his honesty. At the moment, he wished Gaara would shut the hell up. "You don't know anything about him—"
"I know some things." Naruto started to become genuinely angry. "I know about his family—"
" Everyone knows about his family." Gaara snapped. "The entire country knows about his psychotic brother who murdered his own clan in cold blood."
Naruto dropped Gaara's hand in shock at those words.
"Oh, did he forget to mention that bit?" Gaara said dryly.
"You're a bastard, Gaara." Naruto whispered.
"And you're a fucking idiot." Gaara pushed ruthlessly. "You don't see how he's playing with you, like something to be thrown away when he gets bored. Do you think you're the first one he's shown interest in? That you're something special?"
"You know nothing about him. And seeing you playing right into his hands like the idiot that you are—"
"Why don't you fuck him already and get him out of your system—"
The heavy sound echoed into the abrupt stone-cold silence of the gym. Naruto's hand was trembling and he stared, almost disbelievingly, at Gaara's reddening cheek. It was instant regret.
"Gaara, I'm sorry—"
" Don't touch me!"
"Whoa! Easy there, Sabaku!" Shikamaru stepped up as Kiba hurried over to help Naruto to his feet. The blond was looking wide-eyed at Gaara, guilt eating at his insides at the look of hurt, disbelief and rage in Gaara's eyes.
Everyone instinctively took a step back, frightened of the intensity of the red-head, like a cornered, dangerous animal.
"What's going on?" Iruka-sensei appeared, looking worried. "No fighting in class!"
And then Sasuke was there, positioning himself between Gaara and Naruto.
"Take this outside, Sabaku."
Gaara snarled at him, looking poised to attack, but Sasuke stood his ground, glaring at him coldly.
"Out." Sasuke stressed. "Side."
Everyone held their breaths, glancing between the war of wills between the two, tension mounting like it was palpable. And then Gaara moved, quick as lightning, grabbing a nearby chair and hurling it across the room, the force of it shattering the chair into pieces. As screams of alarm erupted across the gym, Gaara turned and fled. Naruto immediately moved to follow him but was quickly stopped by Sasuke.
"I have to go after him." Naruto pleaded.
"Later." Sasuke insisted. "He's unstable right now."
"He won't hurt me."
"In his state right now, he'd hurt his own mother." Sasuke looked at him firmly. "Even if he didn't want to."
Naruto felt himself slump against Sasuke. Guilt and frustration made his stomach churn, until he felt physically ill.
"What a monster."
Whispers. Naruto could hear them, like thunder in his ears.
"Did you see his eyes? He could have killed someone!"
"That Naruto better watch his back."
You're wrong! Naruto wanted to scream. This was my fault! Don't talk about Gaara that way!
Before Sasuke could stop him, Naruto ran out the door, leaving a stunned class and a very upset Uchiha held back by Iruka-sensei.
"Stop it, Sasuke!"
"I'm going to kill him!"
"If I don't, Sabaku sure will!"
Kiba stared with his mouth hanging open from his position on the floor. Shikamaru held out a hand and helped him up.
"I think... Sabaku still wants to kill that cat."
Somehow, the entire school knew before the day was through. Naruto ducked his head as yet another group of third years turned to stare at him. It was the last period of the day and Naruto decided to skip it because he had more important things to do like hunt down Gaara —
"Get your punk ass back to class," Kakashi-sensei had said, but did not stop him when he turned tail and ran.
Naruto headed first to the bleachers, where he hoped to find Gaara nursing his wounds—but it was empty. He tried going up to the rooftop next, and then to the Labs. He even peeked inside the locker rooms. After being spotted by Gai-sensei, he hightailed out and ran to the Infirmary.
"Naruto?" Tsuande blinked up at him from her magazine. "What run over you this time?"
"Did Gaara drop by here, by any chance?" Naruto shut the door behind him, glancing around for an occupied bed.
"Should I ask?" Tsunade looked at him warily.
Naruto sighed, inching closer inside and dropping heavily onto an empty seat. Tsunade nudged a cup towards him.
"I don't feel like drinking tea." He said miserably.
"I might throw up." Naruto said honestly. "I did something terrible to Gaara."
Tsunade couldn't help the way her eyebrows rose in disbelief. Somehow, it was hard to believe that the blond could even leave a scratch on the red-head.
"You pulled his pants down in public." Tsunade hazarded a guess.
"I might as well have."
"Talk to me."
"We were in class, okay, and, well… he started talking about weird shit, and… I just lost it!" Naruto rubbed his face. "I mean, yeah, he's a dick, and mostly I'm okay with that—"
"Yeah, okay, I give him shit about his attitude sometimes, but I accept him! His weird tattoo and penchant for black eyeliner and everything."
"But then he just started making all these assumptions, and I… I didn't think it was fair."
"You have to be a little less vague, blondie. I have no idea what you're saying."
Naruto fell silent for a bit, stewing in his thoughts.
"It's about Sasuke." He finally said.
At that, Tsunade sat up, her eyes sharpening as she regarded Naruto more seriously.
"What about Sasuke?"
"He's… I don't know why, or how, but…" Naruto hated that he was beginning to blush. "I, I think we… there's something ."
"…something?" Tsunade said slowly.
"You know, something ." Naruto looked pained. "…we, sort-of… kissed."
This time, Tsunade managed to school her expression before it got out of hand. She simply raised an eyebrow and waited for Naruto to elaborate.
"It was an accident! I mean, it was, the first time—the second one just sort-of happened, also like an accident—"
"…and I slept with him—"
"I mean!" Naruto yelled, arms flailing as he realized what he said. "Not like that ! Ugh, we slept, like, in the same bed! In his house! OH MY GOD!"
I'm not judging you , Tsunade's expression said. But I am.
"What were you even doing in Uchiha's house?"
What Tsunade really wanted to ask was, How the hell did you get him to invite you to that miserable place?
"F-for some homework." Naruto stammered, his face deepening in color. "That perverted sennin made us partners for almost every project imaginable—"
"That's Principal Jiraiya to you, you brat—" Tsunade frowned, squeezing his face. "And? What was Sabaku's problem? Jealous of your new lover?"
Naruto was so scandalized he choked on a violent intake of breath.
"He's not my lover!"
"Neither!" Naruto grabbed at his hair. "Oh my god!"
"So Sabaku's jealous of your new friend ," Tsunade rolled her eyes. "And, what, did you tell him to grow a pair?"
"I slapped him in the face." Naruto replied sullenly.
Tsunade scoffed, waving a hand. "What's a few punches between boys? He probably didn't even feel it."
After a silence, Naruto finally murmured, so softly, Tsunade barely heard it.
"…it wasn't the physical blow that hurt."
Tsunade had nothing to say to that. She simply sat back and allowed Naruto to stew in his silence, waiting for him to speak up.
"I think… he was just trying to protect me." Naruto finally said. "He said… he said Sasuke wasn't good for me."
"Well, personally, I don't think Uchiha Sasuke is good for anyone's mental health—"
"He said I was going to be thrown away."
Tsunade fell silent and glanced at Naruto, expecting an angry expression—but instead, he simply looked sad. Like a boy faced with the inevitability of the truth.
"Look, I was just joking about the mental health part—"
"Sasuke makes me feel… different." Naruto confessed, burying his face in his hands. "I don't understand it. From the very start, he was just… different. And I know I'm a fool for falling for him, I know he's going to get tired of me sooner or later—"
"You don't know that—"
"I do." Naruto sighed tiredly, rubbing his eyes. "Gaara's right. I know he's right. It just… it just hurt to hear it out loud, you know?"
"I know you hold Sabaku Gaara in high regard," Tsunade began gently. "But it doesn't mean he knows everything. He doesn't always have to be right."
Naruto gave a weak laugh.
"He knows me." He said, like it was enough.
Tsunade took in a deep breath and slowly, gently, rested a comforting hand against Naruto's shoulder. Honestly, there was nothing she could say to refute his words. The ugly truth remained that Uchiha Sasuke had a habit of stepping all over other people's feelings. Countless of people, hurt by his inconsideration, by the simple fact that he had shut off his heart to the world.
"Gaara saved me, you know." Naruto finally murmured, gazing down at his hands. "He showed up like a… like a guardian angel, and he took my hand."
Naruto gave a small laugh, glancing up at her.
"Sorry for the melodrama. But I owe him a lot."
"You sure have a way of choosing them," Tsunade finally said.
"But, I'm glad you found each other."
Naruto glanced up at her, hearing the sincerity in her words. A helpless grin spread across his face and suddenly, everything was clearer. Gaara was the one who had stepped into the darkness and found him that night. He was the one who took Naruto's hand and showed him he was not alone.
The least he could do now was return the favor.
"Where are you going?" Tsunade raised her eyebrow.
"To find my nakama !" Naruto called out behind him as he disappeared through the door. After a beat, footsteps came running back and Naruto poked his head inside.
"Don't call me that!" Tsunade yelled as he promptly disappeared again. "Jeez, that damn brat."
Tsunade crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair, listening to the breeze filtering in through the window. Her eyes flicked towards the curtains fluttering in the nearby bed, where glimpses of cotton sheets and a flash of red hair made her smile widely up at the ceiling.