Author's Notes: Wondering why another long lapse in my writing? See profile.
I'm blown away by the love and support of my readers and reviewers. Without you, I would have abandoned Not after the nightmare that was 2015.
Much appreciation to Guest, Thatdragonrider, vickyxoxo24, RamenGirl012607, Nashi-ossu, BettyeK, pennypigeon, gossa, UzumakiNarutoLover, Nalu M, sleepdeprivedsoul, WinterPrayerOfTheMoons, gracializzy, garvitavats, The Flaming Hyperbole, Bretardedness101, magost, Baby-Bri-Bear, apostleofanime, Save Me From Candy, Cutiebeary, Elendil-sama, giselleags, NaraLollipop, Frozen Skies, sasufan, foxydemon420, lunnalovve, Yagya1991, SoulSpirtHeart, Anonymous131, sorry-nonymous, winedark, Sake-Chama, WolfSoulProduction, hmmm, Ellasauras, Kasai, Marute, NotJustAGirlJustMe, SasuKatze, DreamerOfWorldss, ronya-doski, TopGunTears, JadeRiceBall, Kari Saotome, Televisyen, rAiNwAtEr, and dreamlea.
Your feedback is invaluable. I love reading about your favorite parts, analyses, how you relate, and what you've been inspired to try. If I missed answering any in-review questions, please PM me. I can get very disorganized.
Special thanks to sasufan for acting as catalyst to this chapter's conception.
Warnings: Unbeta'd and… different.
This guy had cosmically bad timing. Not that his heart had been doggedly set on food, but dinner was a loyal companion and he had committed to the platonic concept the moment he chose Normal.
It was the But Different that threw him for a loop. Especially when phrased like that. 'I'm going to kiss you.' Who said anything about kissing when there were carbohydrates and protein to break down? Some things were more important in life than body fluid exchange.
Sasuke took a step toward him and all the indignation he had mustered dissipated in favor of dread. Holy shit, no, STOP, his soul screamed as it struggled to detach from its earthly vessel. He backed right out of the doorway and pulled his wrist out of the other's grasp as his body angled itself for a sprint to the elevators. "W-what?" He dredged up enough insouciance for a tenuous grin. "That's… a really bad joke."
Flawlessly poker-faced, Sasuke simply paused to assess the awkward attempt of deflection. With a measured exhale, his roommate apologized, mechanical and faint, "Sorry."
Presuming that the other would follow, he stalked down the hall. Sasuke fell in stride just in time to follow him into the elevator. The silence grew unbearably stifling. Why were elevators depicted as fantastic make-out locations in dramas? There wasn't enough air in this elevator for the both of them. And due to student loans, he couldn't afford a horse and Stetson to chase the other out of town.
This thing—whatever it was—wasn't going to work. Furthermore, he never learned any safety protocols for a case of Life and Bad Choices. Break glass? Pull handle? Oh, that's right. Use the fucking stairs.
As he catatonically watched the digital numbers track the elevator's descent, there was a foreign sensation again the palm of his right hand.
Eyes dilated, he glanced down just as Sasuke's fingers wrapped around his own, giving a gentle squeeze before dropping away completely. Infuriatingly calm, his roommate shifted ever so naturally aside to a respectable distance as the elevator doors opened with a patronizing ding.
Was his mouth open? It probably was. As the other stepped out ahead of him, he found himself staring dumbly at the back of a navy shirt. The doors began to slide close, jostling him out of his reverie. Forearm smacking dully against metal in order to trigger the elevator's motion sensor, he broke into an automatic run to catch up with the retreating figure ahead.
He didn't think he had ever wanted to delve into the other's mind more than at this very second. That hadn't exactly been an intimation that could've been interpreted any other way, right? After all, he couldn't come up with any other reason other than some form of reassurance, and if so, he had to give credit where credit was due.
Maybe Sasuke wasn't the more hopeless one when it came to their relationship.
Watching the chef set his order of noodles into boiling water to cook, he had enough time to reevaluate his reaction. He fucked up. Right?
To release some restive energy, he shifted his weight in lieu of pacing. Even he had enough dignity not to stalk back and forth in the dining hall before a food counter like a caged animal. Bad form. Plus, the likelihood of his roommate bearing witness to his deteriorating composure through some sixth sense like sonar was far too high. No, he planned to stand here woodenly with all the ersatz patience he could muster, thank you very much.
Was he supposed to have fervently jumped at the chance to kiss the guy, maybe swooned for dramatic effect as well? Who does that? Who asks that? Sure, he ran away like a skittish mouse, but fuck, there had to be a better introduction to mutually aware kissing, right?
Actually, taking into account his poor history of initiating romantic gestures, maybe his roommate was onto something, what with asking bluntly with no preamble. So he was supposed to have swooned and had his happily ever after? With what woodland army?
Maybe it was safest to conclude that he ruined a perfectly good opportunity to reconcile all questions and concerns. That didn't seem right either.
Clearly, his brain was buzzing on too much dopamine and too little serotonin, because his thoughts about what the hell he should do now (or what the hell He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Labeled-Boyfriend planned to do now) was reaching obsessive proportions. Unfortunately, understanding the process didn't lessen the suffering. He picked up his standard ramen order (that's right, he had a usual at this fancy dining establishment) and went to join his—what, significant other?—person. Said person already had a speared tomato on a fork, which was oddly reassuring even though he was never a fan of Sasuke's rabbit food.
He was halfway through noodle consumption when he realized he wasn't even tasting what he shoved in his mouth. He carefully chewed and swallowed for the sake of decorum before speaking. "Sasuke."
"Hm?" the other hummed back with enviable nonchalance, like they weren't internally screaming in terror on the most ridiculous emotional roller coaster of their young lives (oh, just him then? Fine). Okay, so the guy had just finished a three-hour exam, but the tiny petty voice in his head wanted Sasuke strung up for mastering the tone of zero fucks.
"I panicked," he blurted out before he could prevaricate or sweep his contretemps under the rug of avoidance. Expecting a jibe about his cowardice or immaturity, he hurried to add, "I'm sorry. I know it—I mean, you—you probably wouldn't, uhm, joke about… uh, things. Like that."
The other's flinty gaze was surprisingly softer than normal. "You're right," Sasuke said with amenable neutrality. "I wouldn't." Then with a muted wince, his roommate admitted, "But I did too."
Stomach flipping and brows furrowing at his roommate's discomfort, he sputtered, "Wait, you… did?"It was a joke?
"Panic." Sasuke quashed any misapprehension immediately with one magnificently limpid clarifier. "Somehow it made sense to aim for 'normal, but different,' but," an aggravated huff aptly conveyed the other's feelings about the nebulous solution, "I don't know how to apply 'different.'"
A rush of unalloyed relief caused an earnest laugh to bubble out before he could formulate a response matching the other's solemn confession. "Oh, good," he replied with a thawing smile. "We're both lost."
He crawled beneath his covers with every intention of getting a good night's rest. Five minutes of deep breathing exercises later, his eyes popped open to stare at the gray-to-orange gradient across the ceiling with annoyance of a foiled plan. He could usually fall asleep in a tree if he needed to. His mind raced. What the fuck. All he wanted was to do the right thing for his body and sleep.
Tamping down frustration with resignation, he inched his cheek away from his pillow to pitch his voice, clear but low, across the room. "Sasuke?"
The one in question turned away from an array of books and papers to observe him with veiled wonder, evinced only by the following rare rhetorical statement: "You're awake."
Hiding a throat-clearing cough by snuffling into the edge of his sheets, he arranged himself onto his back and slanted his head toward his roommate. "What if we mess up?"
"What?" Sasuke's own head tilted slightly in bemusement.
"What if," he repressed his embarrassment and returned his stare to the ceiling so he wouldn't have to see alarming things like doubt reflected in the other's posture, "what if we don't work?" His chest hurt at the very real possibility that they would go their separate ways when their friendship fractured beyond repair. "I don't know what I'm doing."
If things weren't already superfluously seasoned with weighted awkwardness, he watched with growing shock as Sasuke left the desk to traverse the room to his bedside. With a terrifyingly fathomless expression, his roommate asked with lurid formality, "Can I sit here?"
He almost dived under his blankets like a preschooler, the avoidance of proximity practically a knee-jerk reaction now. His entire lexicon also decided to take a coffee break so he had to rely on a tacit hand wave of acquiescence.
"Thanks." The bed frame creaked under Sasuke's added mass. "I don't suppose it would help to reiterate that we both don't know what we're doing."
He might have stopped breathing. That may have been the most words he had ever heard come out of his roommate's mouth in one breath. Jesus fucking Christ, where was the Twilight Zone music? Did he go deaf?
Sasuke heaved an exasperated sigh. "Breathe, Naruto."
And now the guy was psychic? Also, he really should have gotten his head checked at his last physical. Why did he decide this stone-faced, inflection-less mind-reader of inconsistent interpersonal skills deserved his love and attention?
"I just—" He lurched to sitting so abruptly that their heads would have collided if not for Sasuke's uncanny ability to evade his hasty movements. Scrubbing his palms over his worn face, he glowered at how much he just wanted all this to magically work out: to get to that promised point where they were so certainly together, forever, or whatever it was that meant he could get on with his life without worrying that it would come crashing down around him in shards. "Oh, god, I just… I want us to work. So bad." He drew his legs toward his chest, elbows propped on top of his blanket-draped knees. "I don't think you can underst—"
He froze when the mattress dipped further, and his view was obscured by the other's dark figure closing in, fingers curling meticulously along his jaw and ear. Their foreheads met, temperatures both warmer than normal. No, wait, he meant to veer back because no, they needed to stop kissing at shitty times—
"I get it."
Eh? Sans kiss and bewildered, he considered lifting his head to search the other's expression, but relatively speaking, this was by far a strangely comfortable position. He clamped his eyes shut and wished their feelings would reach equilibrium across not one, but two blood-brain barriers via their skin contact.
"We'll figure it out," Sasuke continued with painstaking resolve. "Don't give up on me."
Picture this: sparkling white sandy beaches, endless miles of tan skin clad in scraps of cloth, and free-flowing alcohol and blaring music.
Spring break, bitches!
If you thought all college students ran off to Miami to flash cameras, risk melanoma, and substitute real sustenance with tequila and nachos, you'd be sorely mistaken.
Hah, Sasuke wouldn't survive fifteen minutes under all that sun and surf without cooking like a lobster.
Sitting here in this air-conditioned crypt of a dorm room while most students were away on break was possibly the worst decision he'd ever made. What did young adults do over break besides party, sleep, and maybe deworm orphans in Somalia? He never noticed how much thumb-twiddling time he had until now. He should have arranged some sort of vacation, maybe even gone home for the week, but god damn it if he didn't want to stick around and make sure his roommate didn't have another change of heart while they were apart. Hey, don't judge.
Damn the guy for pulling that classic doki-doki move the other night, and fuck if he didn't mentally put a ring on it.
Shit, he shouldn't have stayed on campus. Sure, it was common knowledge that each person was to remain, well, an individual even in the event of dating. Right now though, he felt like a bored housewife waiting for the husband to come home (and he'd be first in line to rally for all the affronted women in history who were dealt this shitty hand of cards). Was this a textbook example of codependency? Maybe he should dedicate this free week to finding a nearby 5-star therapist on Yelp.
So yeah. Here he was. Waiting.
You know what he could do besides mindlessly surf the internet and marathon TV series? Go to the gym. Genius. These pictures of cats could wait, and moreover, he'd bet a week of meals that the one available person while everyone else was vegging out (roommate exempt) was this guy, who answered his call after one ring.
"Hello!" Rock Lee yelled through the speaker with the exuberance that turned perfunctory questions into motivational statements. Nothing got him to the gym faster than Lee. "It is 2:34 PM, Naruto, and you have missed the prime window of training by about eight hours!"
Good lord, he was going to regret this for the next two weeks, but nothing said interest in one's health like masochistic fitness. Of course, if he worked out more frequently, he wouldn't have such a big problem with lactic acid release or delayed onset muscle something-something. Okay, sometimes he tuned Lee out, but come on! The guy could expound at length even when sprinting. Yes, what the fuck was right. Hell, parkour was child's play to Rock Lee.
Rock Lee liked to entertain children visiting the university with their families by running and flipping off walls and rails and roofs and shit. Now who wouldn't be inspired to go to the gym when Lee promised them Captain America results like that?
After responding succinctly to Sasuke's text inquiring of his whereabouts ('Gym.'), he could focus on more important things—like not wheezing to death while doing burpees. Whoever invented these should be made to do them the rest of their life every fifteen minutes. Good luck getting any REM sleep, asshat.
He really needed to start integrating exercise regularly into his schedule, because only an idiot would try to fit half a year's worth into one three-hour session. Hello. That would be him.
So when his roommate caught him trembling on his back attempting to bench-press an eighth of what he's seen Rock Lee accomplish (to the enthusiastic cheerleading of said friend as spotter), he wanted to cry from relief (he could stop now, right?) and bone-deep fatigue.
"Great timing!" Lee exclaimed, clapping Sasuke on the back, and he saw the most peculiar amalgam of scowl and grimace pass across his roommate's face. "I must go teach the 6 o'clock Strong Dreams Profound Lotus Wild Beauty class!"
With the same unbelievable amount of indelible energy, his friend rolled out of the weight room like a drumming rabbit wearing sunglasses.
"What," Sasuke started while subtly trying to rub away the YOUTH seeping into the abused area from Lee's hand, "is the 'Strong Lotus Beauty' class?"
"Ugh," was about all he could manage, already feeling the tightness in his abdomen from the seventy-six sit-ups he did. Since he couldn't do forty push-ups, he had to do eighty sit-ups, and when he couldn't do those, he had to do two hundred handstands. He had tried to tell Lee that this type of escalation led to the Cold War, but to no avail. "I think it's Lee's original boot camp of weights, meditation, yoga, cardio, spin, and barre."
"Oh," the other replied with a nascent curve of a smile. "I thought it was just a fancy name for Zumba."
"Hah, cute," he huffed back, arm shaking in protest as he took the proffered hand to clamber to his feet, "but you weren't here when he made me do dance sequences." His hips couldn't lie because they were stiff as hell. Running a towel over his damp face, he changed the topic by asking, "What'd you want for dinner?"
With a phlegmatic shrug, Sasuke suggested, "We could go off-campus."
"Okay," he agreed readily with his brain floating in an endorphin-laced high.
It was only after he exited the shower of their room to stand in front of his closet when it hit him. "Oh, shit. Is this a date?" His eyebrows leapt to his hairline as his widened eyes took in his suddenly deficient wardrobe. "I don't have anything to wea— " He cut himself off, only to amend with, "I mean, uh—"
"Whatever you want," Sasuke offered not unhelpfully from somewhere near the dresser.
So that either meant this could be a date and/or he could wear anything including a paper bag. Not a big deal; he could play this cool. He scanned his options for something a teeny bit dressier than normal. Of course, given the eccentricity of the situation, his mouth took the chance and ran with it: "This is the weirdest pre-date ritual in existence."
He thought he heard the other smother a laugh. "Why's that?"
"You know," he motioned to their room, "same room and all. Usually the two people nervously prep in different locations." Wow, they really did do this all backwards. "Their date normally isn't right there to advise clothing choice." So backwards. "I used to imagine buying my date flowers. Or candy."
This time, Sasuke did laugh, and it was both a pleasant surprise and accomplishment. "I like flowers."
"Shut up," he immediately retorted with a wry grin as he straightened the hem of his shirt over his jeans. To think of all the times he flounced around this room half-naked without a care in the world… "I bet you don't even like the normal stuff. You're getting a cactus."
He glanced over, hoping to see the other's eyes bright with mirth, but instead, Sasuke nodded pensively. "I do like cacti."
Damn. Maybe there was hope.
A/N: Feedback always appreciated. /heart