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Title: Reconstruction
Pairing(s): Sasuke/Naruto/Sai triangle
Warning(s): Spoilers up to Manga chapter 337, foul language, sexual situations
Genre(s): Drama, Humor, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Word Length: 24,000 ish
Description: Set four years after the time-skip during Konoha's reconstruction, when Naruto finds that it's not only the village in need of fortification.

It figured that after three long weeks of Sasuke's interrogation, trial, and sentencing, Naruto would wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the shower running.

"Again?" he muttered, rubbing fists into his groggy eyes and opening his mouth in a wide yawn.

Every inch of his body was weary—weary from weeks stuck within the village borders, sitting hour after hour in an uncomfortable chair while endless testimony both for and against Sasuke was recited, recorded, and then deliberated at great length. He thought he'd go mad after the first day, only managing to sit still and endure it from his desire not to miss a single moment, and Tsunade's stern warning that if he ever wanted to be Hokage, he better watch and learn how these things were done.

Sakura's steel grip on his forearm also helped deter the urge to beat some sense into everyone who was voting for the death penalty, even though it should have been clear how much Sasuke had risked to bring them such vital information—not even the Elders could argue that it hadn't turned the war back into their favor before the end.

Naruto got out of bed and stumbled over to the bathroom door, flinging it open. "I hope you're not planning to use all the hot water, jackass."

The shower door slid open enough for Sai to peek his soapy head out and smile. "Hello, Naruto!"

For some strange reason, Naruto couldn't help but smile back, so he crossed his arms to maintain his position of disgruntled authority. He knew better than to ask how Sai got in. "Why do you keep using my shower anyways? It's freakin' weird."

"I like it better."

"Well you shouldn't just show up here in the middle of the night, it's…" He floundered, "It's impolite!" Through the translucent glass, Naruto could see Sai moving back underneath the spray to rinse his short hair.

"Oh," Sai reached to open the door further, showing off more of his wet, naked body. "Was I supposed to invite you to join me? There's room enough for both of us."

Naruto gaped, waving the suggestion away with both hands. "No, no, no! That's not what I meant!"

He darted forward to close the door right on Sai's amused smirk. Sai laughed and Naruto felt his face grow warm from the lewd suggestion; he moved back to lean against the edge of the sink, wishing he'd put a shirt on before barging in. He suddenly felt almost as naked as Sai. He tried to think of something else, and his eyes dropped to the pack leaning against the wall.

"At least you're not getting blood everywhere," Naruto said. Sai's ANBU gear was folded neatly on the closed toilet seat, not a single speck of dirt to tarnish Naruto's floor tile.

"It wasn't that kind of mission."

"Ah." Naruto yawned once more, feeling like he'd never gone to sleep at all. "Well, I'm up now. Might as well make some Ramen."

With a last glance at what he could see of Sai through the steamy shower door, Naruto returned to his bedroom and pulled a white t-shirt over his head, and then made his way into the kitchen and set the kettle on to boil. He'd just poured the water into their Styrofoam cups when the shower stopped. Sai came out three minutes later wearing his own change of pants, but he'd obviously "borrowed" one of Naruto's shirts, since his tightly packed abs weren't on display for once. Plus, the shirt was orange.

"Nice shirt," Naruto tugged on a sleeve as Sai passed him, and Sai flashed him a smile before flicking his earlobe. He took a hasty seat on the other side of the table when Naruto fired a set of chopsticks at him in retaliation, and Sai whisked them from the air with a flourish. They both settled in to slurp the hot noodles before the broth had time to scald their tongues.

It was strange to think of it as a routine, but as they ate together it occurred to Naruto that that's exactly what it was. Sai stopped by after most of his missions, having moved into the proper ANBU a year prior, around the time Naruto and Sakura had made Jounin. He didn't always use Naruto's shower—that was a new thing that Naruto still boggled over—but they did eat Ramen together more often than not, and if they were both between missions they spent a good amount of time sparring first before limping to Ichiraku's with identical bruises, grins, and stomach grumblings.

"How did it go today?" Sai interrupted the train of thought, and Naruto had to pause for a moment to consider the question. The pause was short, as the topic of Sasuke was never really far from Naruto's mind.

"You mean the trial?" Naruto asked, seeing Sai nod and set down his chopsticks. Naruto finished his broth before answering, and then pushed his empty cup away. He clasped his hands behind his head.

"It's over; they gave their decision," Naruto said, remembering how Sasuke's face hadn't so much as twitched when Tsunade read out the final verdict, signed and sealed by the Elders, the Council, and the Hokage herself. "A year of strict probation, effective tomorrow."

"So he'll have guards," Sai commented. "ANBU?"

"At least two at all times," Naruto's brows furrowed. "And he can't carry weapons or fight, or leave the village, or enter any official buildings unless summoned by the Hokage. When the year's up he can apply to be reinstated as a ninja." Naruto sighed; it was going to be a long, long year.

"You're worried about him," Sai said.

"Of course I am," Naruto let out a humorless chuckle. "He's going to hate it."

Sai was quiet after that; Naruto could feel he was being watched, but focused instead on the water spots discoloring the ceiling tile above the refrigerator. It was hard not to replay the moments from the last few days over and over in his mind, such had been the constant stress over whether Sasuke would live or die by Konoha's hand. It had been a much closer fight than Naruto ever would have thought. And he didn't like the idea of Sasuke spending one more night imprisoned, he seemed so… so…

"So what will you do?" Sai interrupted his thoughts once more.

"Me?" Naruto shifted forward in his seat, leaning his elbows on the table. "Tomorrow I'm going to help Sasuke move into his designated apartment. I'm probably going to stick around the village for a while, y'know, make sure he's… comfortable, I guess."

"I see," Sai got up, reaching over to collect their empty Ramen cups and wash the chopsticks. "Mind if I stay here tonight?"

"Really?" Naruto asked, stifling a yawn. Then he shrugged. "I guess not."

Sai fetched his pack from the bathroom, while Naruto went to the storage closet to get out the spare futon. It took a few minutes to kick his gear and laundry out of the way so he could lay it flat next to his own bed, and when he turned around to get some blankets, he saw that Sai was now wearing matching orange pajama bottoms that were obviously just as "borrowed" from Naruto's dresser as the shirt.

"Hey!" Naruto put his hands on his hips, "Those are my favorite ones!"

"I like them better," Sai smiled, not a hint of apology on his face.

"Sheesh," Naruto rolled his eyes, indignant. "You use my shower, eat my Ramen, steal my clothes—just move in, why don't you," he tossed Sai a pillow and blankets, and then turned off the lights.

"Good idea," Sai replied. "How about the end of the week?"

"Ha ha, very funny," Naruto pulled off his t-shirt and tossed it on the floor, then got back into bed while Sai settled himself on the futon. Naruto glared over his shoulder in the dark, smiling despite himself at Sai's sense of humor. "'Night, Sai."

"Goodnight Naruto."

Just after dawn, Sai carefully put Naruto's futon away without waking him.

He didn't have long before he had to exchange his gear and leave on another ANBU mission, but he had enough time for two things. One, he wanted to see the Hokage to discuss something important. And the other…

Sai reached for his pack and took out a sketchbook and pencil, and then hopped on top of Naruto's dresser in silent bare feet, moving to sit with his legs dangling from the edge. He balanced the sketchbook in his lap to get the right perspective. With careful lines, he sketched Naruto as he slept on, oblivious to both the activity in the streets below and the keen eyes memorizing each of his features. Sai studied his profile, captured the curve of his shoulder as gravity tugged it out of alignment, using the tip of his little finger to smudge in the shadow of Naruto's Adam's apple above his collarbones.

Naruto was hardly ever still, and Sai smiled as he worked, quickly recording this peaceful moment around his closest friend before his time was up.

When it was done he redressed in his own clothing, and stepped out onto Naruto's balcony in what he hoped was an expression of resolve before he left to meet with Tsunade, and then his next missions' ANBU captain.

Sasuke slid his index finger along the surface of the kitchen countertop, erasing a straight line in the film of dirt and blackening the whorls of his fingerprint. He looked at it and frowned, rubbing his skin clean on the dark fabric of his pants. He supposed it could be worse. It was actually nicer than he was expecting. He didn't like it.

"Ooo, Sasuke look!" Sasuke could hear Naruto all the way across the ground-level flat, and closed his eyes for a moment, unused to so much noise. "There's a yard back here, and a pond!"

"Naruto! Stop yelling about everything already," Sakura called from the front door on his other side, her arms full of various cleaning products.

"I'm not yelling!" Sasuke heard Naruto come back inside. He opened his eyes to survey the empty rooms that would serve as his residence for the time being, and watched Naruto repeat his earlier investigations, opening doors and peeking into cabinets and generally making a lot of fuss over nothing. The apartment was hardly bigger than what Sasuke remembered of Naruto's one-bedroom in the heart of Konoha, which was obviously nothing to be excited about.

"Well quit being such a nuisance," Sakura dumped everything in the corner of the small living room. "You're supposed to be helping me clean!"

"Alright, alright," Naruto grinned first at her, then at Sasuke, rubbing the back of his neck.

Sasuke turned on his heel and retreated to the other end of the apartment, putting some space between them. When had Naruto gotten so… so…? At least Sasuke was still taller than his former teammate, but he hadn't expected to find Naruto's presence so overwhelming. It hadn't been like this during the trial, or during the last attack on Konoha, or even that fateful meeting at Orochimaru's North Lake hideout. Naruto at fifteen had barely registered in his awareness. But Sasuke was beginning to think Naruto at nineteen was nothing to sneer at, though Sasuke knew he was the stronger ninja.

By far.

Even stripped of rank and weapons.

But right now, it was all too much. Naruto, Sakura, the apartment, Konoha; Sasuke missed the constant, silent danger of Otogakure, although he'd never go back. There was no point.

Sasuke walked into what was supposed to be the bedroom, and found that the walls were solid enough to muffle the voices from the living room, smearing the words into an unintelligible burble. He took a deep breath, and let it out in one long gush, grateful for a moment of peace.

"Would you like the bed under the window? Or across from it?"

Sasuke wasn't startled by the Jounin's sudden appearance behind him; Kakashi, for one, would know the value of a subtle approach. Sasuke looked back over his shoulder, and folded his arms across the shirt he'd been issued before his release that morning, cheap drab fabric to match the institution itself.

"Who was it that arranged for this apartment, Kakashi? You?"

"You don't like it?" Kakashi stepped into the room, one half-gloved hand rubbing his masked chin as he pretended to look around in appraisal.

Sasuke didn't shy away from the issue. "It's not suited for a traitor almost half the council wanted dead."

"You're only on probation, Sasuke," Kakashi met his gaze. "And this is an apartment, not a prison cell."

"Same thing."

"Better view," Kakashi's eye crinkled to show he was smiling, and Sasuke raised one eyebrow in response.

"The landlord didn't want much for this place, since he's hardly ever in the village," Kakashi took slouching steps back towards the doorway, sliding his hands into his pockets. He paused beside Sasuke on his way out. "You've got more friends than you think."

The room felt emptier after Kakashi left, even though Sasuke could hear him calling to Naruto, who suddenly seemed to make the noise of five Naruto's all at once until the sound of multiple pairs of feet thundered to the front door and down the three porch steps. Kage Bunshin, Sasuke quirked one side of his mouth in recognition, shaking his head at Naruto's signature jutsu.

Sasuke moved over to the bedroom window that overlooked the street, seeing Kakashi lean against a lamppost while directing four of Naruto's clones to pick up the mattress and bed frame from the delivery wagon. Not wanting to get caught in the impending traffic, Sasuke moved into the tiny adjacent bathroom with the window overlooking the backyard. He pushed it outward and hopped through, landing on the scrubby grass in an easy crouch.

He instantly sensed movement from above, the ever-present ANBU guards shifting in response to his own change of location. Sasuke was well aware of how old this situation would get, and fast. Still, being outside was better than being inside with Sakura's gentle humming to accompany the swish of her mop, and the general chaos that followed Naruto's boisterous efforts even without the help of his clones—it had been a long time since Sasuke had seen so much orange in one place.

Instead, he inspected the square of yard attached to the back of what he should really start thinking of as his apartment. It had some sun, some shade, and a fence that seemed to be holding up after years of inattention, although Sasuke thought Naruto's choice of the word "pond" was over-generous. The entire puddle could barely reflect more than Sasuke's face and shoulders. One fireball could obliterate it.

It was hard to think of this as home, even as the day waned and the general feel and noises of the surroundings became familiar; he still couldn't say he liked it. Sasuke wasn't sure he remembered what "home" felt like anymore; it was too absurd to try.

"Oi, Sasuke!" Naruto slid open the back door with a thwack, bounding over to him with a pleased grin on his face. Sasuke was mildly surprised to see he'd taken off both shirt and jacket, his blond head darkened with the sweat of intense labor, and glistening in beads on his forehead and neck. Naruto rubbed his forearm across his temple, and Sasuke watched the way his muscles shifted under his skin—but only to note that he'd obviously kept up with some rigorous training.

"Hey, I'm going on a food run—what kind of Ramen do you want?"

Sasuke frowned, trying to remember if he'd ever liked Ramen in the first place. Though with Naruto in charge of food, it probably didn't matter. And was it only dinnertime?

Sasuke sighed, and then shrugged. He really just wanted to be left alone. "Whatever."

The flat answer seemed to make Naruto even more excited. "Oh-ho-ho! Just wait 'till you try the super-deluxe special! You'll love it!"

Sasuke watched him jog back into the apartment, a dazzling mix of golden hair, bronze skin, and orange pants. Better view indeed, he thought dryly, glancing up at the crouched forms of his two ANBU guards, and then down at the puddle Naruto had so affectionately called a pond.

They ate seated around a low table in the living room, the lingering citrus scent from all the cleaning adding a pleasant ambience to the otherwise morose flat. The table was a housewarming gift from Sakura to match the sturdy sofa from Naruto; Kakashi had bartered the new bed down to a reasonable price so Sasuke could use part of his savings to purchase it. He didn't want everything to come from charity.

For the first time since the remaining members of Team 7 had met him at the prison that morning, they weren't making a racket. Sasuke knew it was simply because they were too hungry to talk, slurping noodles to replenish the chakra they'd used while scouring his new place from top to bottom, even though he'd told them not to bother. But Sakura was nearly as bullheaded as Naruto, and Kakashi had his own form of stubbornness to add to the mix, so Sasuke decided it was easier to let them have their way and do what they thought he needed, than it would have been to insist they leave him in peace.

Once he was alone, Sasuke examined the apartment for a second time, tallying the evidence of the day's activities and trying to reconcile the idea that he'd be living right here for the next year. He looked in the kitchen cabinets and found that Sakura had filled them with the basics, along with two or three days' worth of fresh produce in his refrigerator. Kakashi had left him a duffel bag in the bottom of the bedroom closet, with a week of basic Jounin shirts and slacks that might be close to the right size, along with a backpack that held the shirts he'd left behind long ago, complete with the Uchiha crest sewn into the backs. The implication was clear.

Naruto had left him a personalized message scrawled over the bathroom mirror in shinobi grease pencil: "WELCOME BACK SASUKE! 364 DAYS UNTIL I KICK YOUR ASS—DATTEBAYO!"

"You wish, total moron." Sasuke was surprised at how easy it felt to rattle off the usual response, even if Naruto wasn't there to appreciate it. He couldn't help but smirk as he cleaned the message off the mirror, however, and then he brushed his teeth and got into the unfamiliar bed situated across from the window that showed him an unfamiliar night sky. He sighed, inexplicably longing to be underground.

Sasuke's last conscious thought was how silly it was that 364 days didn't quite seem so long if you had something to look forward to.

"Uzumaki Naruto, here to see Uchiha Sasuke," Naruto rolled his eyes and unfastened the kunai holster from his thigh. "Just like yesterday and the day before, and the day before that."

He couldn't help the sarcasm, though the ANBU guard didn't comment when Naruto handed over his weapons, simply passed them to his bird-masked partner. Naruto laced his fingers behind his head and the guard ran efficient hands over his body to make sure he wasn't smuggling anything inside, following the required procedure to the letter.

"This is so stupid," Naruto muttered. "Do you really have to do this every single time, Yamato-taichou?"

"It's my job, Naruto." Yamato replied, his cat-mask tilting in warning. His tone shifted in a different sort of implication. "You should be used to it by now…"

"It's still stupid," Naruto insisted, readjusting his forehead protector and taking back the sack that held two bowls of carry-out Ramen. He held it up and pointed, "Sure you don't need to taste it before I go in there? Huh?"

Without dignifying him with a response, the two ANBU lifted fingers to their chins and vanished back to their post in the empty second floor flat, taking Naruto's weapons with them. Naruto sighed and rapped loudly on Sasuke's door, glaring at the upper windows facing the street. Assigning Sasuke guards had seemed like such a reasonable concept at the time, considering how he was very nearly executed instead, but the reality had transformed into such thorough surveillance that they might as well have just kept Sasuke in prison in the first place, and saved everyone the hassle.

"Oi, Sasuke!" Naruto pounded on the door again, listening for any sound from inside. After another minute of total silence, he opened the door and let himself in.

"Hey, Sasuke!" Naruto's shout bounced off the walls and he flinched at the echo; the apartment was still too empty to absorb much of the noise.

"I'm here with Ramen! If you want any you better come out here!" He glanced at the ceiling above the door, relieved when he didn't find Sasuke hanging from above, ready to attack. He shook himself for being so suspicious.

Naruto went into the kitchen and set the sack down on the counter, peering over his shoulder and seeing no other signs of Sasuke anywhere. He frowned, but wasn't too worried—after all, if Sasuke wasn't here, the ANBU wouldn't be here to harass all visitors. The bastard was just being difficult, so Naruto ignored the fact that he was being ignored, and set out their Ramen anyhow. When he'd found everything they'd need, he arranged their places on the low table and then went off to find Sasuke and shove some Ramen down his throat whether he liked it or not.

Naruto searched the house, surprised when he didn't find Sasuke feigning complete disinterest from his bedroom. Sasuke hadn't hidden from him before… though Naruto knew Sasuke had the skills to hide anywhere, and it wasn't at all reassuring to imagine what new kinds of techniques Sasuke might have learned from Orochimaru. So far, Sasuke hadn't even hinted at them. Naruto found himself checking even the tiniest shadows, dispelling possible genjutsus in every room until the hairs on his arms were standing on end from the game of hide-and-seek that would surely mean life or death in any other situation.

Naruto slid open the back door and was about to step outside, when his former teammate flipped down from the porch overhang to land centimeters from his chest. Sasuke's chin lowered in challenge, close enough that a ghostly breath passed over Naruto's whiskered cheek.

Naruto's blue eyes met that gloating smirk, and before he could think about it he lunged forward and threw his fist at Sasuke's face on principle.

Sasuke winked out of sight and reappeared behind him, making a tsk-ing noise. "No fighting, idiot. Remember?" Sasuke cocked his head and then went into his kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. Naruto gaped at him, furious.

"You asshole!" Naruto clenched his fists and stomped over to the table, sitting himself down in front of a steaming bowl of his favorite food. "I'm doing you a favor here, so quit provoking me!"

"It's too easy," he whispered as he returned, and Naruto thought he saw a flash of red behind the black of Sasuke's eyes as he drank from the glass. Naruto was struck by how tall, dark and deadly Sasuke had become, bewitching in a way that could be called attractive—if you liked that type of guy, which Naruto didn't, probably—but it was clear that Sasuke was still just as aggravating as he'd been seven years ago.

Sasuke sat down across from him, unperturbed. As Naruto watched Sasuke's clever hands pick up the pair of chopsticks, he felt it was ironic that there were plenty of things around that could become weapons, regardless of the ANBU confiscating Naruto's holster at the door. It was more than irritating, so Naruto took a massive bite of noodles before they got cold.

Sasuke caught his gaze, "I thought I told you to stop bringing me this shit."

Naruto glared with his mouth full, chewing back a scathing retort. Sasuke raised one graceful brow and began to eat the Ramen despite his complaint, lifting perfect, meticulous bites to his lips.

"I wouldn't have to bring it if you weren't afraid to go out into town," Naruto slurped some noodles and grinned when Sasuke glared, pleased to get a reaction.

"Who'd want to be seen with you in public anyways," Sasuke sniffed.

"I'll have you know that eating at Ichiraku's with me is now considered a privilege in Konoha, bastard," Naruto pointed with both chopsticks for effect, but found himself grinning at the small signs of progress—Sasuke was starting to act more like himself. Or at least like the Sasuke Naruto remembered.

"Hn." It was all Sasuke said for the rest of their meal, but Naruto felt encouraged nonetheless.

During the long days of his trial Sasuke had sat with perfect posture, not a flicker in his expression to give away his reactions as people argued over the severity of his betrayal, and then argued over a fit punishment. Even the first day out of prison when he and Sakura and Kakashi had taken their fourth member to get basic furnishings, Sasuke had hardly spoken to any of them and stood most of the day by himself in the corner of the backyard as if it were painful to be there, or anywhere for that matter.

Kakashi said not to be too concerned, but Naruto found it more than difficult in those first days to watch Sasuke behave like a hollow shell of the person he'd been when they were Genin, a container just like Orochimaru had chosen him to be. Today, Naruto studied Sasuke while he ate, more than thankful that Orochimaru's plans had been sabotaged before the person sitting across from him was taken over by complete darkness.

Still… it was hard to say how much darkness remained. Sasuke obviously wasn't the same person, though Naruto thought that maybe there were some parts of an individual's essence that were unchangeable.

"Oi," Naruto set his empty bowl down on the table with a thump. "What are we going to do today?"

Sasuke gave him a look that clearly questioned the "we," and Naruto leaned forward. "I'm not going to let you mope around this sad apartment, Sasuke, you need to go out."

"And do what, exactly?"

"I don't know," Naruto rolled his eyes, "Just pick something."

Sasuke's mouth turned down at the corners. "Why don't you go bother someone else?"

"Because I'm here, and we're not going to stay inside this apartment. Period." Naruto crossed his arms in finality.

He watched Sasuke close his eyes across the table from him, the fingers on his bandaged left hand twitching like the tail of a rattlesnake in what probably indicated extreme annoyance. After a silent battle of wills, Sasuke got up from the table and took his carry-out bowl to the trashcan in the kitchen, then turned down the short hall to his bedroom muttering what sounded like "Prison would have been better."

Naruto disregarded the comment as he cleared the table, meeting Sasuke's loathing glance without flinching when he came out with a paperback book in one hand and disappeared through the back door. Naruto crossed to the doorway and found Sasuke sitting against the side of the house with his long legs stretched out in front of him. He was reading a well-worn copy of Kafka's Metamorphosis.

"Oi!" Naruto shouted, and Sasuke looked up at him through his bangs in contrasting serenity.

"What the hell are you doing?" Naruto gestured impatiently.

"Isn't it obvious?" Sasuke inclined his head.

Naruto shook his fist, "This isn't what I meant, you bastard!"

"I'm outside."

"I meant outside in Konoha, asshole!"

"Then you'll have to be more specific next time, Naruto."

"Ugh! Why are you so difficult?" Naruto ground his teeth together.

Sasuke turned back to his book. "I never asked you to bother me, dead last."

"Oh, fuck you!" Naruto flipped him off, becoming even more enraged when Sasuke simply smirked at him.

"That'll be the day," he taunted, voice velvety and suggestive, and completely maddening.

Naruto's jaw dropped, and then he flushed at the underlying meaning of that sexy smirk and unmistakable challenge. Naruto moved forward with a clenched fist, itching to wipe the smugness from the bastard's face when Sasuke held up a single finger.

"Tsk-tsk," he waggled his finger in mock-chastisement. "No fighting, remember?"

Naruto stormed back into the apartment, needing to put some space between them before he pounded Sasuke's head into the wall. Or something similarly painful and satisfying. "I freaking hate you, you asshole!"

"You and the rest of Konoha," Sasuke replied, voice dry as ever.

Naruto stopped his restless pacing and thought about the truth of that statement. It brought him back to the reality of the situation, with Sasuke's probation and even his presence in a village he'd once left of his own free will. For a little while it had felt just like… old times.

Naruto walked back to the doorway, leaning against the frame and looking at the top of Sasuke's dark head while he read. This was the person he'd chased after for years, desperate to return him to his rightful place before the darkness could consume him. Sasuke had seen and done things Naruto would probably never comprehend, but when it mattered, he'd made the choice to save Konoha from destruction when he could have just as easily walked away. It was true Sasuke had gotten what he'd worked so hard for, but he didn't give the rest of them over to the enemy—including the enemies after Naruto—even if he was being a good sight less than friendly at the moment.

Naruto looked out over the tiny yard sheltered from the noise and traffic of the street, and decided not to push Sasuke into the public sphere before he was ready. It was probably a big adjustment, although he might have already been out once or twice on his own—Naruto didn't remember Kakashi bringing over any books, and there were signs in the kitchen cabinets of tea and foodstuffs Sakura hadn't brought over that first night, since she'd been busy at the hospital over most of the last week. Maybe Sasuke needed a different kind of prodding.

Naruto pushed up his jacket sleeves. "Hey, Sasuke. Look at this yard. It's pitiful!" He moved out into the grass and surveyed the areas closest to the fence, glancing over at Sasuke who was watching without comment.

"You can't even see the grass from all these weeds. Jeez. And here I thought you were a genius," Naruto grinned and squatted near what he thought would make a pretty decent herb garden, and set to work pulling out the offensive plants, having learned quite a few years ago how to tell the weeds from the non-weeds.

Sasuke made no comment, sitting still beside the wall in the shade while Naruto set himself the task of weeding the entire yard, using strong hands to pluck out the stones and make the earth ready for planting. He stacked the bigger stones around the edge of the pond, summoning a fist-sized frog to eat the mosquitoes and insects that contaminated the area. Yamato peeked out the second floor window at the spark of chakra, but Naruto waved and pointed at the frog, and the ANBU's shadow disappeared from the glass panes.

It was a good thing Tsunade was exploiting every loophole the sentence allowed her, and Naruto made a mental note to buy her some Sake before seeing her next.

After a few hours, Naruto was sweaty and dirty and ready to call it a day. The yard looked significantly better, and Naruto was happy to let Sasuke decide what to do with it next. But if what Sasuke wanted was to sit outside and read all day long, Naruto thought it should be in a place that didn't look neglected and abandoned.

"All right, Sasuke," Naruto shook his damp hair out of his face and walked back towards the house, his orange jacket slung over his shoulder. The heat made his black t-shirt stick to his ribs, but he tried to ignore it with the thought of a nice cool shower when he got back home. He sat down on the edge of the wooden porch and leaned back on his hands.

"Now that looks more like a yard," Naruto grinned.

"Hn," Sasuke quirked the side of his mouth and lowered the book to his lap. "You should have brought some paint—then you could've fixed up the fence too, while you were at it."

"Ha, ha," Naruto stuck out his tongue. "I think that's going to be your job."

"We'll see," Sasuke tilted his head, looking almost amused. "You might get bored tomorrow."

"If I come back, you mean," Naruto bared all his teeth in a grin. "You're not as charming as you think, Uchiha."

"Tch," Sasuke glared, and then turned away, indignant. "Like you're here for my charm."

"Well I'm not here for your hospitality, that's for damn sure," Naruto laughed and got to his feet. "I'll see you around. Sakura might be by later after her shift."

Sasuke nodded, but didn't comment, so Naruto stretched his aching muscles over his head and let himself out, much as he'd let himself in. He hollered for Yamato—or really it was "Hey ANBU!"—and then he dashed across the village in an enjoyable zigzag around the remaining construction sites until he'd reached his front door.

"Home sweet home," he sighed in happiness as he slipped out of his sandals and leaned his body backward to close the door with a thud. His eyes closed from the relief; it could take a lot of energy to cope with Sasuke, which was as true then as he was finding it to be now.

Naruto took a deep breath—and then opened his eyes immediately and went into the kitchen. His jaw dropped once again, stunned at the sight of a gourmet dinner spread out on the stove and counter, the combination of smells making his mouth water and stomach grumble with intense longing.

Naruto dropped his jacket by the door and held a palm to his tummy while he looked around for the mystery-Chef. He stopped in the living room, finding that everything had been rearranged to accommodate a small easel and a slanted drafting table, containers of brushes and paints all around it. Naruto blinked. He went further into his apartment and pushed open the bedroom door, seeing that a second bed had been added to make an L-shape. All his training gear was neatly organized on his dresser and in the small cabinet at the foot of the bed that had his sleeping cap folded neatly on a pillow.

Not sensing anyone on the balcony, Naruto reached for the closet doorknob when it suddenly opened towards him—he hopped away on instinct, twirling a kunai into his hand as the intruder took a step further into view, hand raised in an offensive taijutsu stance.

"Oh. You're home," Sai straightened up and smiled, rubbing the back of his neck.

Naruto blinked at him, and then put the kunai away. He sighed. "Sai? What's going on here?"

"What," Sai's smile dissolved. "I thought you'd like this arrangement, since there's so much more space." He lifted a hand to indicate the freshly vacuumed rug in the center of the floor, definitely not the obstacle-course that Naruto had left that morning.

"I do… I mean…?" Naruto gazed around at the room that he couldn't quite recognize as his own. He scratched his head.

"And I fit everything into the closet too," Sai opened the door behind him, showing an organized row of orange pants on one side, and a wall of black gear on the other side.

"Well, except for your laundry," Sai pointed at the overflowing hamper in the corner of the room, smiling that disarming smile of his.

"Heh," Naruto scratched his neck in bewilderment, "I guess I am a bit behind…"

"Oh don't worry," Sai moved past him to the balcony and opened the door. "I washed all your underwear by hand, so you won't run out."

"WHAT!" Naruto rushed out onto the balcony and gaped at the clotheslines running diagonally upward from railing to roof, rows and rows of colorful boxer shorts strung up and flapping in the breeze. Naruto pressed his hands to his face in disbelief, glancing back at Sai who was grinning in the doorway like a cat who's eaten a bit more than just a canary, before he started to snatch everything off the line from utter embarrassment.

"I can't believe you did this!" Naruto grabbed frantically at his underwear, not knowing what was worse—that they'd been hanging out to dry all afternoon, or that Sai had washed them in the first place! It was unreal.

"Wait, Naruto-kun!" Sai edged into the melee and grabbed a pair of green boxers with bright yellow swirls. "These aren't dry yet," he insisted, lunging away from Naruto's hand and then ducking underneath the clothesline.

"Give those back right now!" Naruto tossed his armload of undergarments inside the apartment and leapt onto the rooftop to dive at Sai.

"But they'll get dirty," Sai giggled and leapt onto the neighboring roof.

Naruto grit his teeth and chased after him, and soon they were laughing and attacking each other with whatever weapons they had with them, dancing over the village and sparring with the same relentless determination they used on the battlefield. It wasn't often that Sai was with Naruto on missions anymore, but they'd spent the last several years as teammates and thus their games were intense—it was hard to trick someone who knew your techniques inside and out. In the end, Naruto succeeded in stealing his underwear back, and with identical smiles and hunger pangs they returned back to where everything had started.

The food Sai had cooked for dinner was every bit as delicious as it had smelled, and Naruto washed up the dishes afterwards with good-natured cheer. He was now twice as sweaty and dirty as before, and dashed into the shower to clean off the dirt, grass, and now ink that was speckled on his skin, a smile on his face until he had to slip on a pair of boxers that were still damp. Annoyed, he toweled off his wet hair and cornered Sai in the living room where he was sketching a close-up of one of Naruto's houseplants with fine charcoal.

"So what's with moving all my furniture and stuff while I was gone?" Naruto asked, hooking the towel around the back of his neck and blocking Sai's view to be sure he got an answer.

"It's the end of the week," Sai replied, tilting his head and smiling.

"So? What does…" And then Naruto's eyes went wide, remembering the details of their last conversation and looking at the ceiling for the patience to deal with such a giant misunderstanding.

"Sai!" Naruto gestured around the room, "You can't just move in here!"

"I already did," Sai chuckled, and Naruto took a deep breath.

"But I was just joking around!"

"Oh," Sai's face slipped back into his blank, guarded default expression. He set down his charcoal, and folded his hands in his lap.

Naruto sighed, rubbing his face with both hands. "I mean…" he struggled for a way to explain without being rude. "It's not that I don't want you for a roommate, Sai…"

Sai didn't move a muscle. He didn't complain, or argue, or defend his actions, or apologize for the faux pas. He sat and waited for Naruto's judgment on the situation, probably knowing that Naruto didn't have the heart to kick him out, which caused Naruto to slump in a mixture of defeat and resignation. Naruto couldn't deny that the apartment had never looked better, and even putting the underwear debacle aside, Sai had managed to accommodate all their belongings in a way that didn't interfere with either of their interests. In fact, he'd set them both up to benefit from the situation.

"Well… okay, Sai," Naruto started to smile, and felt a flutter at getting Sai to smile one of his rare, genuine smiles. "We'll try it out for a while. But we'll have to set some Rules first."

"Agreed," Sai grinned. "What Rules do you want to set?"

Naruto held up a finger, "One—No hanging my boxers from the balcony. And no washing my boxers either, for that matter."

"If you like," Sai nodded.

"Two—" Naruto held up another finger. "Um…" He bit his lip, trying to anticipate any other issues they might have. Nothing came to mind, so he shrugged. "If I think of anything else, I'll let you know. How 'bout that?"

"Got it," Sai agreed, and Naruto smiled and moved out of the way so Sai could finish his drawing.

Naruto padded back into his room—no, it was really their room now; he'd have to start thinking of it that way—and collapsed into bed. He pulled his blanket up to his chin and drifted off to sleep, his last conscious thought that it might not be so bad to have a roommate after all.

Naruto awoke to the sound of birdsong and the feel of sunlight on his back, embracing him with strong arms. He yawned and snuggled closer to the warmth, lacing his fingers into the hand that curved over him protectively; today he felt like being utterly lazy. He was so comfortable. He might have drifted back to sleep if the sun hadn't decided to greet him with a whisper that sent tingles down his neck and across his bare shoulder.

"Good morning, Naruto."

Naruto was still sleepy, so he didn't exactly want to move, but that one sentence made his eyes open with a pop. His finely tuned ninja-skills allowed him to hold still against the instinct to flee, although he did turn his head backward enough to see that it was indeed Sai lying behind him in bed, shirtless and sporting Naruto's favorite orange pajama pants once more.

Naruto closed his eyes, not because Sai was pale and beautiful, or because he wasn't enjoying they way their bodies fit, in a totally clinical, objective way. He groaned, wondering how someone so smart about some things could be so clueless about others. He was too sleepy to deal with this so early in the morning.


"Hmmm?" Sai whispered against his neck. It was quite distracting.

"What the hell are you doing in my bed?"

Naruto could feel Sai's expression change into a happy smile. "I like it better."

Naruto sighed, and let go of Sai's hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, then jabbed his elbow into Sai's ribs hard enough for him to know he was serious. "I'm not going to kick your ass, this time, but I will now explain Rule Number Two," Naruto made his voice as stern as possible. "No sleeping in my bed!"

"Oh," Sai made the word sound like a pout.

"And Rule Number Three—no wearing my pajamas without permission. Or I will kick your ass."

"Oh," Sai shifted away from him and started to squirm.

Naruto eyed him over his shoulder out of curiosity, and found Sai untying the drawstring and sliding the pants down over his hips—showing off the fact that he was wearing no underwear whatsoever.

"What are you doing!" Naruto sat up in shock, seeing Sai's lips curve into a pleasant smile, before his blue eyes were drawn automatically to the trail of dark hairs under Sai's navel disappearing beneath the waistband.

"I'm taking these off, since I don't have permission."

"Sai! Quit joking around!" Naruto grabbed his pillow and whacked Sai in the face, only partly to hide the blush staining his own whiskered cheeks. Sai laughed and hit him back, but then they both snapped to attention when one of Tsunade's messenger-birds landed on the window sill to chirp a summons.

They exchanged a glance, and Naruto got up from the bed and stretched as he moved towards the bathroom. "I wonder what that old lady wants…"

Clean and dressed, Naruto left Sai sleeping in their room as he headed for the Hokage tower.

It was well past lunchtime when Sasuke had to admit that he was fidgeting. With some effort, he schooled himself to the quiet composure that should have been second nature to him, even in a place like Konoha.

The day had started out like any of the others since he'd been released, except for one major difference. Sasuke glanced at the clock once more, and scowled when his stomach grumbled in the more accurate evidence that lunch was late.

Sasuke refused to consider that it might not be coming.

Irritated, he went into the kitchen and prepared himself some tea, and then set to work making perfectly formed Onigiri. If that person expected him to wait all afternoon for crappy Ramen, he'd be in for a big surprise. It would be his own fault for wasting both the money and the food, taking after their sensei and showing up late. Some people preferred to have schedules. Keeping a routine showed discipline. Any top-rate shinobi would know that.

Sasuke ate on the back porch, another worn paperback from the library beside him. He supposed he'd gotten what he'd wanted in terms of quiet; this part of Konoha wasn't highly trafficked, and this part of the day had most people indoors either working or going about their business. And he wasn't being bothered.

For the first time, Sasuke really considered what he was going to do with himself. So much seemed so pointless… and so much was just too hard to think about at all, even if the memories weren't far beneath the surface. His left hand had been broken so badly by Itachi, forming the Chidori would always cause excruciating pain. Assuming, of course, that he'd ever need or want to use that jutsu again, regardless of whether or not he was technically allowed to use it for the next year.

The bandages he wore on his left arm hid the scars, as well as the black tattoo that wouldn't fade like the one on his neck—his ability to summon as well as use over a hundred serpentine jutsus would remain, even though Orochimaru was as good as dead.

Sasuke knew this year of probation was really a test, a test to see if he could control himself without the aid of a chakra-depleter. Everyone was watching—courtesy of the ANBU guards—to see if he could behave according to Konoha's standards without any incidental deaths, or going berserk from the residual corruption in his chakra. It also gave the good citizens of the village a chance to get used to his presence again. Not that they saw him much as a kid, anyways.

"Such bullshit," he muttered, finishing the last of his food and leaning his head back against the wall.

He read for a while, ignoring the feeling that it was too quiet until he closed the book and sulked, wondering where his usual visitor was, and why he hadn't come yet. Sasuke looked out into the yard where Naruto had done so much work the day before. The area along the left fence looked promising for growing tomatoes; if he got some phosphorous fertilizer the soil would be ready for planting in two weeks. There was even a good spot for herbs.

"Tch," he scowled at the idle thought, shaking it off. It was absurd.

Sasuke went inside and washed his utensils, and then made a decision. He buckled on his sandals and went out the front door, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and walking to the end of the street. If Naruto thought he was being clever by not showing up, Sasuke would just have to show him how wrong he was. It's not like he missed the loud, annoying presence or anything, since Naruto had been over every single day that week. It was just the principle of the thing.

Afraid to leave the apartment, indeed.

Sasuke didn't say a word to the ANBU guards—it was their job to follow him wherever he decided to go, and they were supposed to be strong enough to tail him without being seen or heard. It made his lips curve upward to predict their reactions as he approached Naruto's apartment, since the idiot had always lived close to the Academy and the Hokage tower, two major nerve centers of Konoha and forbidden territory for him. At least for the time being.

Sasuke traveled by roofline once the streets became more crowded, amusing himself by imagining the look on Naruto's face when he arrived. He marked the locations of the shinobi in hot pursuit, and found that his guard had increased by two—a full squad. Sasuke landed neatly at Naruto's front door, and gave it a couple of sharp raps, one ANBU landing on the rooftop in a silent reminder that everything he did was being watched. Sasuke crossed his arms and waited, ignoring the other three guards lurking in the shadows.

He faced Naruto's door with his very best smirk aimed for thorough devastation, but when the door opened, Sasuke knew immediately that things were not going to go according to his plan.

Sai sensed the group of shinobi heading toward the apartment and turned off the teakettle. Tea could wait.

He started to go for his weapons pouch on his drawing table when they surrounded the building; Sai glanced around the room as they landed in formation outside the walls, and then at the ceiling where one of his ANBU comrades had stopped on the roof above the front entryway. The fifth presence felt the strongest, vibrating outside the front doorway in a challenge that was tinged with menace; Sai would have been intrigued if it weren't Uchiha Sasuke standing on the other side. It couldn't be anyone else.

The arrogant knock on the door confirmed the visitor's identity, and Sai pressed his lips thin, glad that Naruto was still with the Hokage so that no one could interfere in this confrontation—Sai had been expecting this ever since the possibility of Sasuke's return to Konoha had become real more than four months ago.

He just hadn't expected it to occur so soon after Sasuke's release from prison.

With a last look around the apartment, Sai ran both hands through his short hair to make it look sleep-tousled, and walked over to the door. He fixed a smile on his face and opened it, leaning comfortably in the doorway and letting Sasuke get a good look at him wearing Naruto's pajamas.

"What a surprise!" Sai inclined his head in greeting, sliding thumbs into his waistband in coy suggestion. "We weren't expecting you to drop by, Uchiha Sasuke."

Sasuke's acting was good; Sai caught only a tightening around the eyes and a stiffening of the neck to show his surprise. Otherwise, Sasuke's black gaze pierced as it had so many years ago, the smirk melting into a scowl, a slight improvement over the blank, indifferent mask.

Sasuke raised a brow. "I can go where I please."

"Naturally," Sai agreed, making sure his appearance was serene in the face of this person he considered to be his biggest rival. Sai calmly stared back, smiling, until Sasuke clenched his fists against his body.

"Are you just going to stand there?"

"Oh, how silly of me," Sai laughed. "Please come in."

He turned sideways in the doorway and allowed Sasuke to pass into the living space. Sai watched him take in the surroundings, the scowl on his face deepening and his steps becoming more angered. Sasuke shot him a glance before charging into their bedroom; Sai followed at a comfortable distance and let Sasuke draw his own conclusions from the bed with rumpled sheets and two pillows, and the one adjacent to it that had yet to be slept in.

Fury was plain when Sasuke turned on his heel and came to stand inside his personal space. "Where's Naruto?" he demanded.

Sai forced a casual laugh, noting that they were the same height and roughly the same build, nearly equal in strength if what he knew of the Uchiha to be true. He didn't step away. "Naruto was summoned by the Hokage," Sai gestured to the sofa. "But you're welcome to wait in our apartment for him to return."

Sasuke didn't move. After the silence had shifted into something tense, Sai continued the conversation to test Sasuke's reactions while he had the chance. He'd done this once before, and Sasuke had refused to acknowledge any tie to Naruto—but Sai was sure this time would be very different. Maybe he could use a nickname to test him…

"It must have been something important. We'd only just woken up when the summons came, and Naru-chan's been gone all day since." Sai scratched his neck, letting his cheeks color in pretend-modesty.

There. Sasuke tried to blink it away, but Sai had seen the cursed Sharingan rise into those eyes for a fraction of a second. It would almost be worth it to get caught in another genjutsu, if only to have the satisfaction of making Sasuke lose that control he was so famous for, famous enough to be released on probation instead of locked in prison or put to death, too dangerous to live if he couldn't be trusted.

Sai decided to push a little farther.

"But I know just what he needs after a long day with the Hokage," Sai laughed, holding out his hand. "And by the way, please call me Sai. In case you forgot from the last time we met."

"I didn't ask your name," Sasuke spat the words, ignoring his outstretched hand.

"But you'd want to know, I'm sure," Sai tilted his head and grinned, resting his hand on his hip instead.

"You're not important enough for me to know."

"Hmm," Sai nodded, ignoring the press of Sasuke's chakra as it grew from the instinct to fight, and watching him twitch with the effort to keep still. "Perhaps. And perhaps not."

Sai made sure to keep his own chakra to a minimum, though the instinct to seek open ground and face off in true ninja battle was strong. Sai went into the kitchen and felt Sasuke following him with his eyes.

"Tea?" Sai held up one of his own finely-crafted, imported mugs, knowing it didn't look likely to be Naruto's.

Fuck you, is what Sai read in those furious black eyes, but Sasuke's verbal reply was a harsh, "No."

"Suit yourself," Sai poured a single serving of tea and came back into the room, where he sat on the sofa in a comfortable, lazy sprawl. He sipped his tea despite the tension, letting it stretch tighter with each second of silence. It was Sasuke who spoke first.

"I'll let myself out," Sasuke lifted his chin, sneering down at him from the center of the room, a maelstrom of suppressed emotion that Sai was only half-pleased to witness.

Feigning concern, Sai threw down the gauntlet in what he hoped to be a devastating blow, a final comment to end their inevitable first confrontation. "Oh, there's no need to be jealous, Sasuke-kun. Naruto's been very well taken care of while you were… away."

Sasuke's left hand clenched into a fist, and then he seemed to realize what he'd done and forced it back open. Without another word, Sasuke left Naruto's apartment and slammed the door behind him, and Sai sipped his tea as the ANBU guards followed and then vanished from the premises.

He sat still for a long moment on the sofa, listening to the silence and considering his next moves. Naruto had insisted on seeing Sasuke every day since his release, and Sai knew that each hour they spent together would only strengthen their bond, which meant that his own bond with Naruto was in jeopardy.

To win, he needed Sasuke to be as rattled as possible, and so today's little surprise visit had actually worked in his favor; he'd been able to confirm some vital things. If Sasuke didn't care for Naruto, he wouldn't have reacted so badly to the sight of him wearing Naruto's pajamas, or the evidence that they were living together. And then when he'd called Naruto by a pet name—oh no, Sasuke hadn't liked that at all. Not one bit.

Sai scowled, remembering Sasuke's arrogance at their first meeting years ago. He loathed everything about the Uchiha, this person who had such unwavering devotion from Naruto and had thrown it all away on a whim. At one time, Sai had intended to help them restore their bond, since he could relate to Naruto's pain at being separated from someone so important. But now Sai had a bond of his own to protect, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure Sasuke's return didn't sever the connection he and Naruto had built-up over the years, the two of them together.

Sai felt that he'd made the right decision by slowly making moves on Naruto over the last, dramatic months, but after today's meeting it was obvious that he was going to have to play an even faster game. Naruto hadn't gotten too angry when Sai had gotten in bed with him—another test—so there must not be any clear understanding between him and Sasuke yet. He'd need to do everything he could to increase his lead before the Uchiha made a serious move.

Sai got up from the sofa and poured out his tea in the sink, pondering how best to shift his strategy. He then went back over to his drawing table, eyeing the well-loved sketchbook sticking out of his knapsack, the same one that he'd used earlier in the week when he'd slept on Naruto's futon. He touched the rounded corners and smooth blank cover, this book he'd carried on Team Seven's missions from almost the beginning, a similar size to the old one that had held images of his brother. This newer sketchbook reminded Sai of everything he'd worked for over the years, and he'd be damned if he let Sasuke take it all away.

Naruto deserved all the love and adoration he could get, and Sai wanted to be the one to give it to him.

Sai went into their bedroom and thought about his possible moves; he'd have to be clever, planning a strategy that advanced him forward while shaking up the competition enough to maintain the lead, all of it needing to be subtle and indirect. He didn't want to scare Naruto in the process. It was a tricky business. And there weren't any books in the library that would help him—he'd checked.

Sai crossed his arms and tapped his chin, pondering all the angles and waiting for the right inspiration to strike. At least he had two more weeks of leave; Tsunade hadn't been happy about his request, but she'd agreed to give him some time off in the end.

In Roots, he'd had no past, he'd had no future. Sai pictured Naruto's mischievous grin, and remembered the feeling of lying in bed together, the comfort of knowing and trusting someone completely—it was Naruto that made his present bearable, and with this thought Sai's brow furrowed in determination.

He would not give up the most important bond he'd ever had.

It was worth another trip to the library.

Naruto woke up early. He had another long day ahead of him at the Hokage tower, now that the war was over and the village politics had settled down enough for the top class at the Academy to graduate.

Today, Sai seemed to be obeying the Rules—no repeat of yesterday morning's awkwardness, even if Naruto had to admit that it had felt nice to have the company… in a way that Naruto didn't want to think about too much. He didn't think about it for long anyhow since the delicious smells of grilled fish and rice lured him up onto his feet, and he yawned and went to see what Sai was up to in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Naruto," Sai turned from the stove and smiled, and Naruto grinned and peeked around his shoulder to see what kind of fish he was cooking. He tried to nab a bite off the skillet, but Sai defended with his usual skill and shoved Naruto into a seat at the table to wait properly.

"I made you some tea," Sai set down a steaming mug, and Naruto eagerly picked it up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Thanks, Sai," Naruto sipped his beverage while his tummy growled. "You know, I can cook sometimes. You don't have to do it all."

"You can cook?" Sai looked genuinely perplexed, and Naruto straightened taller in his chair from pride.

"Of course!" He insisted, "I can cook lots of stuff!"

"Does instant Ramen count?" Sai grinned, and Naruto thumped the table in protest, even though he was grinning too.

"Alright smart-ass, you just wait. I'm going to cook something so good, you won't even know what you're eating!"

"Really, I don't mind cooking," Sai winked over his shoulder, which was the only thing that kept Naruto from tackling him for such an insult.

"Fine, fine, whatever," Naruto shook his head and drank from his mug, letting the caffeine in the tea erase the sleepiness from his body. "I'll let you do all the work then."

"Here you go," Sai smiled and placed the food before him, and they ate in pleasant humor, until Naruto snatched a piece of fish from Sai's plate to turn their breakfast time into a war of whose chopsticks were faster, and who was really the most ambidextrous.

Both plates were clean when they were through, though it was hard to tell who had eaten more.

"That was good," Naruto rubbed his belly.

Sai nodded his agreement. "Will you get to meet your Genin team today?" he asked.

"Oh no," Naruto folded his hands behind his head, "We're still checking out all the kids' profiles, and Tsunade's got us going through extensive interviews. I don't know how Kakashi-sensei ever passed; it's so boring."

Sai chuckled, "Maybe that's why he got stuck with you."

"Hey!" Naruto grinned in mock-protest. "I'll have you know we were the best Genin he's ever had!"

"Aren't you the only Genin he's ever had?" Sai's eyes crinkled shut from his teasing smile.

"Ha-ha, very funny." Naruto grinned, and then jumped up. "Aw crap!"

"What is it?" Sai asked, sipping his tea.

Naruto smacked his forehead. "I got home so late last night I forgot I needed to do laundry. Shit. I'll have to go right now before I meet with the Hokage; I'm out of clean shirts." He got up from his chair and hurried into the bedroom. "And I was hoping to see Sasuke too, dammit. I didn't get to visit him yesterday."

Naruto heard Sai following him, "Actually, Naruto, I did your laundry already."

Naruto stopped groping in his closet for a clean jacket—of which there were none--to look at Sai. "You did?"

"Yep." Sai grinned and pointed to the neatly closed hamper. "Everything inside is washed and dried, ready to be put away."

"Well shit," Naruto laughed, pushing fingers through his spiky hair. "You know, you'd make a great housewife, Sai!"

Sai inclined his head, like he wasn't sure how to respond, and Naruto laughed harder at the sudden image of Sai in an apron, at least until Sai moved forward and Naruto found himself backed into the closet door. Sai braced a hand on the wall, and hooked a finger into the waistband of Naruto's pajamas, tugging once for emphasis.

"A housewife wouldn't have a penis, Naruto," he said, smiling in a way that made Naruto's belly flip.

"Heh, heh, good point," Naruto replied, swallowing. It was difficult not to notice how striking Sai was… or how dangerous it felt to have him leaning like that, devilish and innocent all at once. Familiar. New. Disconcerting.

Naruto let out a nervous chuckle. "Uh, hey! Why don't I do the dishes? Since you cooked and all."

Naruto didn't wait for Sai's answer; he just sidled away from him and went into the kitchen to clean up from breakfast. Sai followed with a grin and sat down at his drafting table to watch him, and Naruto ignored the electric charge in the air while he cleaned up the kitchen and then took a long shower, forcing his mind away from the idea of how many times Sai had been there, wet and soapy and naked. At last, in what should have been a totally normal activity, he opened his hamper to change for his meeting with the Hokage.

But Naruto took one look at his laundry, and his jaw dropped. He was positive it was the first time he'd ever been shocked by the contents without it being his own fault.

He shut his eyes tight, and then opened them again. Everything was black. Pants, shirts, jackets, socks, boxers—even a random flak-jacket. Not a single item was its original color, and Naruto felt his face droop in horrified mourning, closing his fingers around the weatherproof fabric of what was once a bright orange jacket sleeve, pulling it from the rest of the pile. When he saw the true extent of the damage, Naruto thought he might actually explode.

It hadn't occurred to him that it could get worse than the underwear debacle, but he'd obviously been so very, very wrong.

"SAI!" He bellowed, marching into the living room with his ruined jacket and thrusting it into Sai's face. "What the hell did you do to my clothes!"

"Aren't they clean?" Sai moved out of the way of Naruto's flailing arm.

"Clean? Clean!" Naruto growled, "Sai, they're black--everything is black! AND YOU SHRUNK THEM!"

"Oh," Sai looked embarrassed. "I guess… maybe an ink bottle got mixed in…?"

Naruto buried his face in his empty hand, "What am I supposed to do? Everything's ruined!"

"Hmmm… the fabric should stretch… why not try it on?" Sai suggested, taking the jacket and holding it up. "Black looks good on you."

"I guess I'll have to wear it anyhow," Naruto sighed, and slid his arms into the sleeves—sleeves that barely reached his elbow. "There's not enough time now to buy a new jacket before meeting the old lady."

He zipped up the front and looked down to find that the fabric barely covered his ribs; his entire stomach was bare, showing off tanned skin on a muscled torso nearly as well-defined as Sai's. Naruto looked at Sai standing in front of him and thought they could be twins—if it weren't for his blond hair, or the way the normal length zipper warped the front of his jacket into an ugly, wrinkled mess. Naruto clenched his fists, and glared at Sai hard enough to create static cling.

"…Would you like to borrow something of mine?" Sai rubbed his neck. Naruto followed him into the bedroom, and Sai rifled through his side of the closet and pulled out a short-length jacket in his preferred style, one with matching sleeves.

Naruto held it up, reluctant to admit it might fit as he rid himself of the shrunken remains of his training jacket and then put on the borrowed garment. Naruto went to the mirror as he fastened the zipper up to the mandarin collar, eyeing his exposed tummy and twisting his upper body to test how everything felt. The fabric was smooth, the fit snug. Naruto screwed up his face in thought as he turned in all directions to evaluate the overall effect, when Sai giggled from behind him.

"I like it better," he offered a genuine smile, and Naruto met his eyes in the mirror and found himself smiling back. He crossed his arms and turned around to face his roommate with a feral grin.

"You realize I'm handing you the bill for all my new training gear, Sai. And you're never doing my laundry again."

Sai smiled from his spot leaning against the dresser. "Is that Rule Number Four?"

Naruto laughed, and then walked over and slugged Sai right on the shoulder. "Get out of here so I can finish dressing."

"If you like," Sai chuckled and left the room, and Naruto shut the door behind him.

He swung his arms around with a new appreciation for Sai's fashion sense, feeling only slightly ridiculous with his abs on show for everyone to see. Sai, of course, was more than at ease since he clearly thought such displays were normal, at least when he wasn't in his ANBU uniform. It was no wonder he and Ino didn't get along. Naruto didn't really mind the nakedness, since he worked hard to keep in shape… but he did have an important meeting with the Hokage as well as some fellow Jounin, and would much rather have attended in his usual, signature getup.

And he happened to like orange, no matter what anyone else said.

Naruto didn't bother trying on any pants from his hamper, going directly instead to the closet where his last orange garments were hung in a neat row. Naruto finished dressing and armed himself, and then set out for the Hokage tower to meet with Tsunade and the rest of the selected Jounin.

From the shadows of a neighboring building, Sasuke watched Naruto emerge from his apartment and felt his outlook on life sink another ten feet closer to hell, watching as the idiot bounded away with that stupid grin on his face.

It plummeted even further when the limp-haired Sai came into the doorway, picking out his hiding spot and lifting a gloved hand to wave. Sasuke didn't miss the similarities of the two outfits, grinding his teeth at how Naruto and Sai swapped clothing the way they probably swapped spit. Sai turned away with a triumphant smile, and Sasuke flipped off the closed door before continuing to follow Naruto across town.

He couldn't go too far because of the rules—rules which Sasuke was detesting more and more with each minute of his probation—but he could go far enough to see Naruto enter the Hokage tower and then settle in a tree to wait until he came back out. There were things he needed to know before he could put a plan into action, and he'd have to gather the information himself to avoid any further surprises.

Yesterday's was enough.

It seemed there were a lot of things nobody had bothered to tell him, and it made him burn. Even Sakura hadn't mentioned anything about Sai, when Sasuke knew that she'd been teamed with him just as long as Naruto had, and it was also clear how close Sakura and Naruto had become from the few times he'd seen them together. Although Sasuke was relieved—for more than one reason, now that he'd had time to think it through—that she'd found some sort of happiness with Ino in the last several years.

What Sasuke couldn't accept, was that Naruto had chosen his replacement—his temporary replacement—to shack-up with. It made him sick to think of them sharing a bed, even though Sasuke knew he had no official claim on Naruto himself, at least not yet. It had never been declared, before, back when they were Genin… But Sasuke had thought that Naruto would always… that he'd… that they'd…

Why did he even care? It didn't make sense.

"Fuck this," Sasuke turned around and went back to his apartment, denying the fact that he really did want Naruto, even if it defied all sane logic.

The only trouble was that Naruto had chosen someone else.

And Sasuke would never accept being second-best.

Scowling, Sasuke made one stop on the way back to his end of town, daring the ANBU guards to comment as he installed the galvanized steel deadbolt on his front door, since the normal traps and barriers would probably be frowned upon by the higher-ups. But at least there were some things within his control.

It should make them happy that nobody had died.

Naruto scowled at Sasuke's apartment, furious that the bastard wouldn't let him in. He must've put some kind of lock on the inside of the door; Naruto couldn't force his way in without breaking it down, which he was sure would probably violate the terms of Sasuke's probation and force Tsunade to have him banned or something equally annoying. He was irritated as all hell that Sasuke wasn't even answering him.

"Oi Sasuke!" Naruto beat his fist against the door for the tenth time that afternoon. "I'm not leaving until you let me in!"

"Take a hint, moron. Fuck off."

Naruto gaped, trying to process the unexpected response as well as the enraged tone. "What the hell is your problem? Open the damn door!"


"Why not?" Naruto pounded on the wood in frustration. "I didn't bring you Ramen this time, bastard, so you can't complain!"

Naruto waited for a retort that didn't come. He fumed, pacing in a circle on the front steps and glaring upward at Yamato and Genma—or at least Naruto thought it was Genma, even without the senbon—for not warning him that Sasuke was in such a foul mood and might not even let him in. He thumped the door again.

"I mean it! I'm not leaving until you let me in there!"

"Go away."

"What the fuck, Sasuke?" Naruto growled in exasperation. "Are you mad because I couldn't stop by yesterday?"

"Like I'd notice."

"Oh fuck you," Naruto glared at the door, "I was called by the Hokage, and so I couldn't come by until now, okay?"

"I said fuck off."

"Not until you let me in!"

"I don't associate with sluts," Sasuke hissed the last word, and Naruto stepped back from the doorway, shocked.

What the hell? Naruto hesitated; stunned that Sasuke would call him such a thing. He bared his teeth. "What did you say, you asshole?"

"I said that I don't allow SLUTS in my apartment."

Naruto clenched his fists to keep from breaking the door down. "What the fuck are you talking about, Sasuke?"

"Come back when you're not dressed like a fuck-toy—maybe I'll let you in then."

"You fucking bastard!" Naruto screamed in frustration, partly from the embarrassment that his borrowed outfit had gotten him some extra attention throughout the day, which he'd thought had been fun until right now when Sasuke made it into something cheap.

"It was a laundry accident, you jackass!" Naruto smacked the wooden door with his palm. "And like you didn't dress like a gay pirate with an ass-bow for the last four years!"

"FUCK YOU!" Sasuke roared from the other side of the door.

"No, fuck you!" Naruto echoed him. He shook his fist at the whole building, then turned and left while he still had some semblance of composure.

He went directly to his favorite combat-gear store to buy some new orange jackets and a few t-shirts—the full length ones—and then crossed over the village to the Laundromat to have everything washed for the next day. He was still fuming when he passed Sakura and Ino on their way in to do laundry of their own.

"Naruto!" Sakura smiled while Ino looked him over critically. Naruto sighed—for the first time, he and Ino were both wearing tummy revealing outfits. Sakura's smile became a coy smirk.

"Er… Maybe you're spending a bit too much time with Sai…" she said, laughing.

"I'll say," Ino agreed, tossing her long ponytail and rolling her eyes as if she were insulted anyone but her would try to pull off such a revealing look.

"Look, just leave me alone. It's not my fault, okay?" Naruto ran both hands through his hair in agitation.

"What's wrong?" Sakura passed their laundry hamper over to Ino and gave her a quick peck on the lips, and Ino sighed and went off towards the rows of washing machines to give them some privacy.

"I just hate that total bastard!" Naruto yelled, and then took a deep breath to calm himself down. Sakura tugged him over to the corner, waving in apology to the patrons around them.

"What happened?" She squeezed his shoulder in concern, and Naruto sighed and folded his arms across his chest, leaning back into the wall.

"I don't know what his problem is, but he wouldn't let me in when I went to visit him. He called me a slut; can you believe it? Fucking asshole!"

"Well... he's going to be difficult sometimes… especially now." Sakura tried to soothe him. "He wasn't himself last night either when I stopped by after work. Moody and irritable; he hardly spoke," Sakura's brows drew together, her eyes calculating. "It's going to take some time, Naruto."

"I know, Sakura, but…" Naruto went over their last visits in his mind. "He seemed to be relaxing, getting better. Today was so much worse."

"It's only been a week," Sakura reminded him. "Give him a chance. It's not like you two have a smooth history, you know. Maybe he couldn't handle how sexy you are in that shirt."

Sakura eyed his stomach and whistled, and Naruto found himself chuckling along with her. "Right, that has to be it."

Sakura grinned, and pulled him down by the collar to kiss his cheek. "Sasuke-kun will get better as he adjusts. We all have to believe that."

Naruto knew her well enough to spot the tension in her expression, and knew she was just as worried as he was. He gave her a quick hug and then headed back to his apartment, exhausted from the stress. He toed off his sandals and flopped down on the couch, feeling close to miserable.

"What's wrong?" Sai turned around from his drawings, evidently sensing his mood.

"Nothing," Naruto skirted the question, figuring Sai wouldn't be too happy to hear Sasuke's opinion of his clothes.

Sai touched his chin, pensive. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Naruto shrugged. "Not really."

"Do you want to spar?"

Naruto shook his head.

Sai thought for a bit before trying again. "Do you want to go out for Ramen?"

Naruto chuckled, thinking that maybe Ramen would be just the thing. He waggled his eyebrows in mischief. "You buying?"

Sai smiled, "If you beat me there." And then he took off out the kitchen window.

"You're on!" Naruto scrambled off the sofa and followed close behind, a grin on his face and the evening air whipping through his blond hair.

Sasuke pressed his forehead against his front door until he could no longer sense Naruto's chakra.

"Idiot," he whispered into the wood, not completely sure if he was talking to Naruto or to himself.

It wasn't a good feeling when he and Naruto fought, but how was he supposed to bear letting Naruto into his apartment when he was showing off his lover's clothes? Sasuke didn't even want to think about their relationship, much less allow any empirical evidence into the only place that could be considered his. It was too much to ask for him to acknowledge that there was someone else Naruto considered important in his life, when it should only have been him—Uchiha Sasuke. It's what he'd always thought, anyhow.

He hated to be wrong.

Sasuke thumped his fist against the door, and then put on his sandals. He'd follow Naruto and see where he went, testing the "laundry accident" excuse while he was at it, although he wouldn't put it past that Sai to trick Naruto into wearing his clothes, parading him around the village as if marking his territory. Naruto was probably dumb enough to mess up his own laundry, but it felt more satisfying to blame Sai.

Unless Naruto was lying, and he wore Sai's clothes on a regular basis, in which case Sasuke was going to have to beat him into the ground for being with someone else in the first place.

The whole thing gave him a severe headache.

How could Naruto be with someone like that? Sasuke wouldn't be caught dead with such ugly, gross hair. It was ridiculous.

Sasuke picked out Naruto's form from high above the village, not too far from his new neighborhood. Thankfully, Naruto didn't seem to notice he was being followed—he wasn't the type to be suspicious of such things within the village gates—and so Sasuke was able to watch while Naruto entered a clothing store and then headed for the Laundromat with his very conspicuous purchases.

Sasuke frowned at the glimpse of orange jacket he caught as Naruto disappeared through the Laundromat entrance.

Maybe he was telling the truth…?

The beginnings of a stratagem were forming in his mind, and Sasuke stayed crouched beside a chimney until Naruto left the Laundromat and headed back towards his apartment.

Perhaps it was time for Sasuke to take action.

After all, he wasn't the type to give up when he'd set his mind on something.

Naruto paid for his laundry and tucked the receipt into his pocket for Sai, then dashed back to his apartment to change for the meeting at the Hokage tower.

Today was the graduation exam, and Naruto and the other Jounin would be watching the results from surveillance cameras, and then getting their official assignments from Tsunade. It would still be a few days until they met their team face-to-face, but Naruto was excited nonetheless.

Every Hokage had trained Genin during their career, and Naruto was proud to have the chance to follow in their footsteps.

Sai was drawing at his drafting table as usual, and Naruto offered him a quick hello before dashing into the shower and then putting on one of his new t-shirts and training jackets. It felt so good to be in familiar clothing, and Naruto ran the whole way to the Hokage tower, pumped-up and energized for this next phase of his training.

There were Jounin in the group that Naruto only knew in passing, although some were part of the Rookie Nine—Kiba, Hinata, Chouji, Shikamaru. Lee and Tenten were close enough, in Naruto's opinion, and so he considered himself to be in good company. The morning and afternoon went smoothly, as far as Naruto knew, but he couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be an awful lot of whispering going on behind his back. Even Tsunade had given him questioning looks; Naruto was at a loss, and simply shrugged at her.

He never caught anyone directly, but it did seem weird, especially since he was back in his normal attire and the teasing and giggles should have stopped. It made him blush to remember what he'd had to put up with yesterday, as if none of them had seen a little skin before. Hinata had looked ready to faint. And Sai's shirt was far less shameless than some of the stuff he'd seen on missions anyhow.

It wasn't until Kiba caught up with him after they'd been given their assigned files that Naruto learned what all the whispers had been about.

"Oi, Naruto!" Kiba called from the lounge doorway. Naruto turned to see him jogging down the hall after him, several others hanging about the area and watching. Naruto's brows lowered, wary at the collective nervousness.

"What's up?" He asked Kiba, tucking his folder underneath his arm.

"Hey, uh… I got a question for ya." Akamaru loped up to lean against Kiba's leg, and Naruto automatically reached out to pet him.

"Yeah?" Naruto prompted, when Kiba hesitated.

"Er… how's Sasuke?"

Naruto blinked. "Well you know, he's still adjusting to being back in Konoha… but he's okay." Naruto raised his brows, asking for Kiba to elaborate.

"Ah, I see." Kiba scratched the back of his head, looking uncomfortable.

"And?" Naruto put his hands on his hips, waiting for an explanation.

"Well, heh-heh," Kiba cleared his throat. "I just wondered when he became your boyfriend, is all."

Naruto dropped his folder, papers swishing all across the floor around them. "WHAT?"

"I mean, you're wearing the Uchiha crest and all, so we—I mean I just figured…" Kiba gestured to Naruto's back.

Naruto tugged on the shoulder of his jacket and craned his neck to see the back, where he could just make out the colors and shape of the Uchiha fan, where there was supposed to be a red spiral. Shocked into a numb panic, he unzipped the jacket and shrugged it off to see it better—sure enough, right there in the center for all to see was the unmistakable symbol of the Uchiha clan, put there by the only surviving member and Naruto's former teammate: Uchiha Sasuke.

Kiba held up his hands and chuckled. "Hey it's cool, and all, I just wondered. No big deal."

Naruto was barely aware that Kiba had bent down to help scoop up the papers littering the floor of the hallway. He simply stared at his jacket and felt himself getting angrier and angrier—what the hell was Sasuke thinking? And how in the hell had he managed it in the first place?

No wonder people had been whispering all day!

Kiba stuffed the papers back into the folder and held it out, Naruto took it without even looking. "Thanks, er, see ya," Naruto turned in a hurry and left the building, speeding across town to Sasuke's apartment with his blood beating in his ears and only one thought on his mind—he was going to kill that fucking jerk!

How humiliating. The bastard had as good as stamped "Property of Uchiha Sasuke" on him, and Naruto was not about to stand for it. Sasuke could be an asshole, but this was going too damn far. He made it to Sasuke's front door and was so enraged he began to pound on it before the ANBU guards could confiscate his weapons or search him.


Yamato caught his fist mid-pound, and Naruto struggled to pull it free. "Let me go!"

"Settle down, Naruto!" Yamato shoved him into the side of the house while his partner seized the kunai and shuriken holsters, and then confiscated Tsunade's folder. Naruto clenched his teeth at the urge to fight them off, some part of his rational mind reminding him that this was standard procedure and he had to submit.

"Okay, okay, I got it," he seethed, and Yamato moved away enough for him to turn around. His chakra was flaring out of control, but Naruto kept himself from responding to it, meeting Yamato's gaze with steady blue eyes.

"Consider this a warning," the Cat mask tilted forward in displeasure.

Naruto snatched his jacket back from the Monkey-masked ANBU who was standing by Yamato this time, and returned to pounding on Sasuke's door. "SASUKE!"

Naruto heard the bolt being withdrawn, and then the click of the lock. He turned the knob himself and pushed the door open, hard. Sasuke hopped back just in time for the door to miss hitting his face, and Naruto walked right up to him until their chests were touching.

He looked into Sasuke's imperious smirk and growled. "I'm going to kill you!"

Sasuke looked down into Naruto's eyes vibrating with fury, and thought Dear God. Naruto was exceptionally beautiful when he was enraged. Such wild energy. Feral. Lovely. Thrilling. Sasuke had almost forgotten what it was like, as well as how it made his belly tighten with something akin to yearning to have so much of Naruto's power so close to him all at once. Although this time he felt ready for it.

"I'm going to kill you!" Naruto growled, and Sasuke's smirk twitched in mirth.

"Hn," he commented. "I thought you were the one who wanted me back here alive so badly."

"Fuck you!" Naruto grabbed the front of his collar and shoved him back into the wall, and Sasuke let him do it. He raised one eyebrow.

Naruto held up his orange jacket with his other hand. "What the hell were you thinking, putting your crest on my jacket? I've been all over the village today! Don't you know everyone thinks we're together now?"

Sasuke shrugged, unperturbed. "So?"

"So? So?" Naruto gaped at him, and Sasuke drank in the sight.

"Yes, Naruto. So what?" Sasuke scowled, gesturing at Naruto's body. "If you're going to go around flaunting yourself, you may as well flaunt something of mine."

Naruto took a half-step back in shock, then twisted his fingers to get a better grip on Sasuke's shirt. "What the hell is wrong with you? I'm not flaunting anything!"

"Says the idiot who showed up here yesterday dressed like a whore."

"Shut up!" Naruto growled, twisting his collar tighter. "I told you—my clothes got ruined, so I borrowed a shirt."

"And you expect me to believe that," Sasuke rolled his eyes. "You really are a moron."

"It was an accident!" Naruto ground his teeth, furious. "But you ruined my clothes on purpose, you bastard!"

"I didn't ruin your clothes, dead last." Sasuke reached into his pants pocket and withdrew a laundry ticket. He held it up between two fingers. "I just switched them with the identical set that I bought. Just turn in this ticket. They're all fine. Clean and dry by now, and no tampering."

"Are you insane?" Naruto wavered between pleading and yelling, "You switched my laundry so you could add your crest—why would you do something like that? To embarrass me? Huh? Why, Sasuke?"

Sasuke glared in affront. "You're saying that wearing my family's crest is more embarrassing than wearing that limp-haired pansy's skank-shirt?"

"He didn't deliberately mess with my stuff so that people would jump to conclusions," Naruto shot back, "Unlike you!"

Sasuke knocked his hand away, and straightened his collar. "Tell me Naruto. What is it about him? What is it about Sai that you like so much?"

For the first time Sasuke saw confusion in those eyes, and it made him angrier. "Just what is it? The flat, disgusting hair? The fake smile?"

"W-what?" Naruto's voice faltered, and Sasuke grabbed his arm, not caring that both ANBU were watching from the doorway in case things got out of hand.

"Tell me, Naruto," Sasuke hissed. "Why does he live with you? Why did you choose him? Is he better? Is he a better kisser than me?"

"How the hell should I know?" Naruto shouted, exasperated, and it was now Sasuke's turn to gape.

Naruto finally shook his arm free while Sasuke's brain tried to make sense of Naruto's words, shocked at how brutally they wounded him. Did… did he not remember? Did he forget those times? Had they been too young?

Sasuke's heart surged into his throat from the fear that Naruto had forgotten those kisses from so long ago, or worse—that he'd been kissed too often by someone else to be able to remember any longer.

Before Naruto could react, Sasuke reached both hands to cup Naruto's jaw and stepped forward to press their mouths together. Naruto stiffened in surprise, and Sasuke didn't let go; he stepped even closer and felt hands gripping the sleeves of his shirt, shaking and unsure of whether they were supposed to push away or pull closer.

Naruto made a small whimpering noise, and Sasuke tilted his head and slid his hands into Naruto's blond hair, gripping it tight. It wasn't the best of kisses, Sasuke knew, too hard and too fast and clumsy—just like their first one. But even still, he could feel Naruto's racing heartbeat thudding against his chest where their bodies met, and they pulled away flushed and breathless, despite.

Naruto's eyes searched his face, and Sasuke leaned in for another kiss—but Naruto turned his head, and then released the grip on his sleeves abruptly.

"I don't know what the hell you think you're doing," Naruto turned back to face him, still angry, though he seemed more in control than when he'd first arrived. "If I wanted to be kissed, Sasuke, I'd kiss you. So don't do that again."

"Tch," Sasuke crossed his arms. "I have a hard time believing Sai lets you do all the initiating."

"I've never even kissed Sai!" Naruto shouted, gesturing in frustration. "What the hell is your problem?"

"Oh please," Sasuke hissed, "Spare me."

"I've done nothing, Sasuke, and you're being a total asshole, acting like this… this…" Naruto floundered, "Like this… jealous boyfriend—"

And then Sasuke saw the light bulb go off.

"Wait, wait—" Naruto's brows lowered, pointing a finger at him. "It's none of your damn business, Sasuke, but let's get one thing straight. I'm not with anyone."

"That's not what it looked like to me," Sasuke stepped forward, seething. "Sai looked pretty damn comfortable wearing your pajamas and living in your apartment, not to mention dressing you in his clothes." He stepped closer, pleased that Naruto didn't back away. "Or sleeping in your bed."

"Fuck off, Sasuke," Naruto growled, "He's just my roommate."

Sasuke glared. "Does he fuck you to pay his half of the rent?"

Naruto swung a fist at him, but Sasuke caught it. They stood there in a standoff, eyes flicking to the ANBU who were now standing inside the room in front of the doorway, ready to do their jobs.

"You don't know anything about me," Naruto spat the words, simmering in subdued rage.

"I know more than Sai," Sasuke bared his teeth. "I knew you first. I know you best."

"You know nothing," Naruto lowered his fist, and turned his back. He picked up his jacket and walked past the ANBU, who followed him out with unreadable, porcelain masked faces.

Sasuke scowled at the floor.

Sai was peeking into the refrigerator and formulating a recipe for their dinner when Naruto came bursting into the apartment.

"Hello—" he started to greet him, but Naruto cut him off, a whirlwind of agitated movement coming to a halt in front of the table.

"When did Sasuke come by here?" he demanded. "Yesterday?"

Sai fixed his face into his default mask while he tried to figure out exactly what Naruto was upset about. It felt different than yesterday, when he'd been mad about the laundry, but Sai didn't have many of these experiences to draw from. He hoped he got things right.

"Answer the question, Sai!"

Shit, he'd taken too long to think. Sai smiled to try and pacify him. "Not long ago. Yesterday or the day before, I think."

"When were you going to tell me?" Naruto leaned into the table, looking very, very annoyed.

"He didn't leave a message, so I didn't think it was important," Sai answered, clasping his hands in front of him. "Was that wrong?"

Naruto pushed his fingers through his hair, grinding his teeth. "Were you wearing my pajamas when he came over?"

Sai blinked; it was an unexpected question. "I might have been…" he touched his chin in thought, "But I'm sure I had permission."

Naruto sighed, "And did you imply to him that we were…" Sai saw Naruto's cheeks color, and then he cleared his throat. "Er… did you imply that we were, you know… together?"

Sai smiled. "Of course I did."

"WHAT?" Naruto's head shot up.

"I had to test his reactions," Sai explained.

"But why would you do that?" He gestured in disbelief.

"Because I suspected that he liked you in a romantic way," Sai replied, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the refrigerator door.

Naruto's mouth opened, and closed, before he could speak again. "Are you serious?"

"Yes," Sai nodded. "And I was right."

Naruto put his face into his hands and took a deep breath. "Sai… You can't do stuff like that!"

"But I had to," Sai stepped away from the refrigerator, and Naruto lowered his hands to look at him.

"What do you mean, you had to?" Naruto looked bewildered.

Sai paused, choosing his words carefully. He looked down at the floor, and then met Naruto's eyes. "I had to see how Sasuke felt about you, so that I could protect our bond—yours and mine."

Naruto blinked, and Sai moved closer, continuing. "I couldn't find many books to help me, since you're not a girl—"

"—w-w-wait, wait—" Naruto interrupted, holding a hand up, and Sai took it in his as he moved around the table, slowly backing Naruto into the wall.

"—and flowers and candy just didn't seem like the right thing—" Sai slid his free arm around Naruto's lower back.

"—w-wait, Sai—" Naruto put his other hand on Sai's chest, a warning pressure.

"—but I think you'll understand me if I do this."

Sai heard Naruto's head thunk against the wall when their lips met, though the noise Naruto made afterward didn't sound like he was only in pain. Sai leaned forward and held him close, feeling Naruto squeeze his hand and dig fingers into the front of his shirt; his heart fluttered when he wasn't pushed away immediately. The kiss wasn't exactly what he'd planned, but Sai could see that Naruto's eyes were closed, and when he licked Naruto's upper lip Naruto tilted his head and licked him back, soft and wet and tantalizing, offering enough of a taste to make both of them tremble before the kiss ended.

They looked at each other, blushing and awkward. When Naruto pushed against his chest this time, Sai stepped away and rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks pink, "So that's how I feel."

Naruto crossed his arms and moved across the room, still flushed. "W-why didn't you just tell me?"

Sai considered this, tapping his cheek. "I figured it would be easier if things happened in a more gradual manner."

"Gradual manner?" Naruto repeated, "You just kissed me out of nowhere!"

"Well yes, that's true," Sai folded his arms. "But you're leaving out how we live together, and eat together, and share each other's clothes—those are all signs of a significant bond, which you and I have."

"But, but—" Naruto gestured impatiently, "I eat Ramen with Iruka-sensei! And he and I also have a significant bond—so that doesn't count!"

"You don't wear Iruka-sensei's clothes, however," Sai pointed out.

"Of course not," Naruto rolled his eyes, "But that's not such a big deal—I mean, I've only worn one shirt of yours ever, so it shouldn't count either."

"Then why does it matter if I was wearing your pajamas when Sasuke-san came by?" Sai asked.

"Because," Naruto leaned his head into one of his hands, the other wrapped tight across his chest. "It's different with him."

"And why is that, Naruto?" Sai felt himself getting angry, an emotion he wasn't comfortable with yet. "Why is everything different with Sasuke?"

"It just is!" Naruto's brows furrowed, "I can't explain it!"

"Can you try?" Sai challenged. "Because I don't understand."

"Neither do I, Sai!" Naruto dropped his arms to his sides, making fists. "I don't understand it most of the time, but he's my friend and he's still coping with stuff and it's not right to make him think things that aren't true!"

"Would Sasuke learn all your favorite foods and eat Ramen every day just because you liked it?" Sai cocked his head, determined to prove a point.

"If you don't like Ramen you don't have to eat it! I never forced you!" Naruto banged his fist on the edge of the table.

"Would Sasuke have rearranged your apartment and moved in to be closer to you?"

Naruto frowned, "Well… he'd at least ask me first before moving in!"

"Would Sasuke spend hours doing your laundry to be helpful?"

"If he did, he wouldn't have ruined it!" Naruto scowled, eyes sparkling in anger.

Sai smiled, triumphant. "But would Sasuke have thought to ruin it so that you could share more clothing, as well as have the first mishap to overcome after moving in together?"

Naruto gaped, turning red with fury. "Are you saying, that you ruined my laundry--ON PURPOSE?"

"Of course it was on purpose," Sai answered. "I'd never make a mistake like that by accident. And I had already made plans to replace everything."

"Are you serious?" Naruto threw his hands in the air. "I can't believe you! What the hell are you thinking!"

Sai felt a bit defensive. "The book I read in the library said that—"

"—This isn't a book!" Naruto gestured around them, shouting. Sai closed his mouth.

"People don't do stuff like that," Naruto waved his hand, pacing. "You don't ruin someone's laundry to start a fight, fights just happen on their own, and then you have to work through them!"

"Like this one?" Sai asked, and Naruto shot him a look so dark it made him swallow.

"Nevermind," Naruto left the kitchen and stormed into the bedroom. Sai followed quietly, unsure of how things stood or how to get things back on track—this really wasn't like anything he'd read about in the Relationship section of the library.

He found Naruto pulling stuff out of his dresser and stuffing it into a knapsack, and Sai's stomach lurched.

"Are you going somewhere?" he asked, keeping his voice gentle.

"Yeah." Naruto went into the bathroom and Sai heard the cabinet being opened, and then closed.

"I'm sorry I made you upset," Sai said, and Naruto walked past him back into the kitchen, his knapsack nearly full. He didn't say a word.

Sai watched him add some instant Ramen and portable snacks into the knapsack, and then he set it on the table to buckle the flap closed. Sai felt his heart clog his throat in panic.

"I…I'm sorry, Naruto," he said, not knowing exactly what to apologize for. He was devastated when Naruto didn't even look at him.

"Please…" he said, when Naruto slung the knapsack over his shoulder and headed for the door. "Please stay?"

Naruto paused with his hand on the knob, then pulled the door open. "I can't be here right now."

And then he was gone.

"Sakura-chaaaaaaaan," Naruto rang the doorbell for the eleventh time, finally hearing Ino's voice as she came to the door: Just a damn minute!

The door flew open, and Ino straightened up in surprise. "Oh! Naruto, what are you doing here?"

Naruto scraped his sandal along a crack in the cement. "Is Sakura-chan here?"

"Sure," she gestured him inside. "Come on in." He followed her into the entryway, and removed his sandals, nudging them into a row next to theirs.

"Is that Naruto?" Sakura came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands dry on a dishtowel.

"Hi, Sakura," Naruto waved, knowing he must look as pathetic as he felt when Sakura gave him that look, the one all nurses get when there's a particularly adorable child who needs attention. He hated when he was the one getting it, although he had to admit it was cute on her.

"Team Seven business, I take it," Ino smirked at Naruto and then squeezed Sakura's butt as they passed each other. Sakura just missed swatting Ino back, so she threw the dishtowel at her instead and Ino caught it like it happened every time they had surprise company. Ino blew her a kiss, and then Sakura ushered him into their cozy living room where he collapsed on her couch, facedown.

"You've brought an overnight bag," Sakura commented, and Naruto nodded into the cushion.

His voice came out muffled. "Can I stay here tonight?"

"Of course," she laughed, "As long as you can explain how you got kicked out of your own apartment." She grinned, and Naruto groaned, rolling over enough to fold his hands beneath his head.

"I'll tell ya… but can we get drunk while we talk? It's been a really, really, really bad day."

"Hmmm," Sakura considered. "This sounds complicated, and it's my first night off in a while… Do you mind if Ino joins us?"

"Did I hear someone asking for Sake?" Ino poked her head in the doorway, holding up a giant bottle and clinking three Sake cups in her other hand. Naruto met her mischievous grin with one of his own.

"Now where were you all my life?" Naruto winked, settling himself on the floor in front of the couch.

"Screwing your teammate," Ino winked back, flinching when Sakura's fist came at her head and neatly avoiding a nice lump.

"Ino!" Sakura hissed, and Naruto grinned at the distinct flush on said teammate's cheeks.

"And I'll never forgive you for getting her first," Naruto gave Sakura's knee an affectionate squeeze.

Unfortunately for him, Sakura's fist connected with his head in a resounding bonk, and he rolled on the carpet in temporary agony. "Why am I always the one to get hit?"

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Sakura seethed, and Naruto saw Ino pass her the Sake so she could pour. Naruto clambered back up to a sitting position and rubbed his head, accepting his first serving of alcohol and tossing it back in one gulp.

"Now tell me, Naruto," Ino held up her cup in salute while Sakura poured Naruto another round. "What brings you here—is it penis or pussy problems?"

Naruto inhaled some of the drink as it went down, coughing and spluttering. Sakura smacked Ino's leg in rebuke, but Ino only laughed and lifted her cup to her dainty, devious lips, emptying the contents and sighing in bliss.

"No, no…" Ino cocked her head and looked at him, and Naruto could feel his cheeks burning underneath her scrutiny. She nudged Sakura. "Look at the way he's turning red—it's gotta be a guy."

Naruto coughed the last bit of Sake from his lungs, and held out his cup for more in defeat. "Actually, it's two guys. Plural."

"Two, eh?" Ino scooted closer, grinning. She elbowed Sakura to get her to pour the Sake faster. "Then I say fuck them both." Both Sakura and Naruto gaped.

"INO!" Sakura eyed her in disbelief, and Ino waved it away as something trivial. Then she held out her empty cup, impatient.

"What?" Ino grinned, "I bet it's more fun with three guys; I've seen it." She glanced back at Naruto. "So… no threesome, then?"

Naruto shook his head vigorously, then wished he hadn't—he seriously thought his brain was going to implode at the insane idea of having both Sasuke and Sai in bed with him, without anyone ending up dead. He groaned, dizzy, holding out his empty cup.

"I haven't had enough alcohol for this yet…"

The sun was reaching its apex when the sweat began to sting Naruto's eyes, darkening his blond hair as he practiced taijutsu forms in an open field.

He wiped some droplets from his temple and figured they had to taste like Sake, considering the amount he'd drunk last night with Ino and Sakura and the amount he'd worked out of his system so far that morning. He took off his damp black shirt and wiped his face, then trudged over to the nearby river and knelt close enough to sip from the rippled surface, splashing his head and neck to slake the heat of his workout.

Ino and Sakura had been little help in his dilemma, Sakura because she didn't want to take sides and Ino because she was thoroughly biased against Sai—Sai had ruined his chances at her friendship back when he'd just been learning about nicknames. Their first interactions had started out better than anyone would've thought, but he'd ruined it shortly after, and it wasn't an incident Naruto cared to remember often; Ino was scarier than most people knew.

Still, it had been nice to get soused and then curl up with his head in Sakura's lap to spill everything that had happened in the last days with Sasuke and Sai. Of course, Naruto thought it would have been even better if she'd given in and slept snuggled close to him on the spare futon, but Ino was a jealous lover whether she admitted it or not, and while they all went back a long time Naruto knew where the boundaries were. It hadn't kept him from trying, however, which he could only partly blame on his alcohol consumption.

He'd left their flower-filled place early and come straight to this part of Konoha to do some training, something that he'd neglected with all the recent excitement of Sasuke's release from prison, and then being selected by Tsunade to test out a team of Genin. So many things were happening all at once. And… he didn't want to go home just yet.

Naruto sighed, and kicked off his sandals. He waded into the water to a large rock, and sat with his toes dangling, the warm rays of the sun beating down onto his skin to help him sweat out even more alcohol.

"What does your heart say, Naruto?"

Naruto heard the echo of Sakura's voice, and still didn't know the answer. How could he even begin to compare what he felt for Sasuke, with what he felt for Sai? It wasn't easy. Especially since he was still mostly mad at them.

"Neither of them is known for their social skills, Naruto. You can't expect them to go about these things like normal shinobi.

He knew Sakura was right, although he could think of a hundred different other ways the two of them could have approached the subject without messing with his clothes. He was never going to think of the Laundromat the same way again.

Naruto picked up a pebble beside him and chucked it in the water, debating whether or not to continue taijutsu training or go somewhere else and play with sharp pointy objects. Before he could decide his thoughts were interrupted by an all-too-familiar voice coming from behind him.

"Hard at work, I see."

Naruto frowned, not bothering to turn around. He knew who it was. Naruto reached for his sweaty shirt and pulled it over his head before getting up and facing Sasuke. "What are you doing here?"

Sasuke's lips pressed thin, and then he took a deep breath and glanced at the ground. "I just thought I'd see if you …" he clenched his teeth, and Naruto crossed his arms, waiting for him to finish. Sasuke looked back up, meeting his eyes. "I'm going rock climbing."

Naruto looked at him, stunned. Sasuke cleared his throat, and looked to the side, as if he were bored with the whole idea. "You could come along. If you weren't doing anything."

Naruto noted the strap of Sasuke's pack on his shoulder, seeing that he'd come prepared for a lengthy trek. He concentrated, picking out the faint presence of the two ANBU, and knew that if he'd come out all this way even while being followed by the guards he despised, Sasuke was serious. Naruto didn't know what to say.

"I'm going anyway," Sasuke sniffed. "So whatever."

Naruto looked away, considering, then hopped over the water to the spot where he'd left his sandals. Rock climbing was excellent training, and it wouldn't hurt to join in since he had been trying to convince Sasuke to get out more.

"Where were you thinking of going?"

Sasuke folded his arms and smirked, imperious. "Guess."

Naruto scowled, pointing. "Are you going to be a total bastard all day? Because I don't have to go!"

Sasuke turned and put his hands in his pockets, walking away. "Then don't."

Naruto watched him go, feeling stubborn, until Sasuke peeked over his shoulder and taunted him. " /i Scaredy-cat. /i ."

Naruto bared his teeth, knowing he was being manipulated. He found it worse than infuriating that Sasuke could always do this to him. He snatched his own pack from the ground and caught up, slugging Sasuke on the shoulder. "It's a little early for name calling, asshole."

Sasuke smirked down his nose, and Naruto flashed him a taunting grin. "We'll just see who makes it to the top first!"

The rest of the morning and afternoon passed without conversation, both of them needing all their concentration to keep from falling from the jagged cliffs; they ended up far north of the village, scaling the giant rocks where Kakashi had taught Sasuke the Chidori for the final matches of their first Chuunin exam. It was neck and neck for most of the way, muscles straining and tendons bulging from the effort of climbing one-handed, the ANBU guards long forgotten in the salty tang of intense labor.

Every moment was exhausting and thrilling; Naruto hadn't felt so good in a long time.

He was also struck by how familiar it felt to train alongside Sasuke, gauging each other's progress and urging the other forward by seeking strength and climbing to greater heights—although this time, reaching the top of the mountain didn't mean one of them had to die or be left behind… Naruto was enjoying the experience too much to dwell on such things for long.

The sun burned fierce and orange around them, slipping into crimson and purple in a spectacular sunset that heightened the sense of being on the brink of life or death—one error meant falling irrevocably over the edge, which Naruto thought suited them just fine. Neither he nor Sasuke was afraid of the danger, both of them pushing onward without looking back.

The mountaintop glowed in the reflection of the waning light. When Sasuke flipped over the last ridge and offered his scraped, raw hand, Naruto took it and scrambled up after him before they collapsed, panting in the rush from finishing half a day's meticulous climbing, no spare time to rest their bodies in-between base and peak. It was the kind of discomfort every top-rate shinobi relished, and Naruto grinned and laughed with abandon from the joy of a long, hard workout, catching a glimpse of the same joy peeking from the edges of Sasuke's smirk as they untied each other's bound arms.

They built a fire to boil water for tea—and in Naruto's case, Ramen—and after eating they lay on their backs side by side to watch the last daylight fade into the stars. Naruto was content to enjoy the silence before they had to head back, but Sasuke turned on his side, resting his head on his arm.

"Why haven't you had any missions?"

Naruto shifted his head to look at Sasuke, the fire's light flickering over his regal features. He didn't want to admit that Sasuke's release had played a big part in his recent free time. "I… just wanted to stick around for a while. And anyway, Tsunade assigned me to be one of the Jounin sensei to some new graduates. So I kinda have to be close by."

"Ah," Sasuke murmured, brows furrowing in thought.

Naruto chuckled, turning over to face him. "And come on—someone has to make sure you don't go bat-shit and blow up the village or something."

"Tch," Sasuke shot him a glare, and then rolled away from him onto his back. He folded his hands underneath his head, and Naruto watched him, the small fire crackling in the background.

"That would defeat the purpose of passing information to the Hokage revealing Orochimaru's plans, as well as what we knew of Akatsuki," Sasuke said.

"I know," Naruto's face was grim. "But…" Naruto hesitated, not sure how many questions to ask, or how many answers he'd get for his effort. Sasuke's head turned towards him a fraction, and he decided it was worth it to try. "You've never said why you did it. Why you didn't let Konoha get crushed."

Sasuke was quiet for a long time, and Naruto waited for him to collect his thoughts, watching his profile and seeing a bit of the boy Sasuke had once been. "It was never my goal to destroy Konoha."

"So you would have brought us the information anyways?"

Sasuke frowned, and Naruto wondered if he'd pushed too far. Eventually Sasuke turned back over on his side, mirroring his position with only a foot of space to separate them. "I don't know, Naruto." It seemed to be an honest answer.

"So why do it?" Naruto asked, keeping his voice gentle, fighting not to look away. "Why fight so hard to get the proof and then bring it to us? I mean, you were still wounded from…"

Sasuke cut him off, "On a whim."

Naruto opened his mouth to contradict that answer, but Sasuke kept going, his black eyes shifting lower to study the ground between them. "Because it was one of his goals. It was something I could disrupt, even after killing him and achieving my one true purpose. I destroyed him and what his group was trying to accomplish."

Sasuke glanced up, "I didn't do it just so I could come back to Konoha. It's not like I planned what to do after…" Sasuke paused, tense. "Just… I ended up here." The laugh that followed was self-effacing, "Imagine that."

"Sasuke," Naruto whispered, glimpsing the deep, oppressive turmoil that Sasuke was trying to keep hidden, and the relief—or guilt?—surrounding his brother's death. It was a death he'd paid dearly to acquire. Naruto didn't expect to ever fully understand how much it had cost.

Reaching over to touch Sasuke's face was so natural, Naruto didn't consider resisting the impulse, nor did he question the need to close that space between them and press his lips to Sasuke's mouth. Sasuke reacted like he was surprised at the gesture, but Naruto stroked his fingers into the hair on the back of Sasuke's neck and their kiss deepened and grew until their lips were swollen and Naruto felt dizzy from the surge of memories crashing forward with every touch, lick, and groan.

They kissed until the urge to go further was nearly unbearable, hot in their bellies, urgent. Sasuke moved to press him into the ground, and Naruto ran his hands over the muscles and sinews that Sasuke hadn't had the last time they'd fooled around after training—it was obvious that this was a different Sasuke. His shoulders were so much wider, his chakra so much more powerful than before. Magnetic and overwhelming. Terribly beautiful. Strange. Dark.

Everything felt different—so why did it feel so good?

Sasuke licked over to his ear, and Naruto hissed through his teeth, surprised at the intensity of a fully-grown desire—it wasn't like this when they were twelve. Not even close.

He felt Sasuke shifting, his hand sliding between them to reach for the zipper of Naruto's orange pants. Naruto froze. He broke the kiss and grabbed Sasuke's wrist, not sure he wanted to go further than what he remembered from a handful of summer nights in the woods, clumsy explorations between two boys who couldn't decide whether they admired or hated each other, and spent a lot of time jacking-off to relieve the tension. The thought only made Naruto's flushed cheeks even hotter.

Sasuke's brow furrowed as they locked eyes. Naruto was glad the darkness would hide some of his arousal, but his voice was breathier than he'd have liked. "What are you doing?"

"Tch," Sasuke tilted his head and nibbled his ear, and Naruto closed his eyes against his will as Sasuke tried another tactic, grinding their hips together and thoroughly distracting him with the fact that they were both hard.

Naruto let go of Sasuke's wrist so he could use both hands to keep him still. "Come on, Sasuke," he warned, "We're not kids anymore."

"Exactly," Sasuke whispered into the skin of his neck, thrusting once to make a very convincing argument.

Naruto held him tighter, stopping the friction. "It doesn't mean we should do this."

"Why not?" Sasuke brushed their lips together, slow and possessive. "We both want it."

"It's just… not the same," Naruto murmured. "We don't have to rush into anything."

Sasuke braced himself on his elbows, "You didn't complain the last time."

"I knew you better then… we were closer. And we were both upset over Sandaime's death," Naruto slid his arms around Sasuke's back, stroking him.

Sasuke thought for a moment. "You didn't complain in Wave Country. We hardly knew each other then."

"Well it's different now," Naruto turned away from Sasuke's intense gaze, feeling self-conscious. "You just got back."

"It's not that different," Sasuke insisted, and Naruto scowled.

"How can you say that? We're totally different people!" Naruto moved so he could sit back up, facing Sasuke squarely.

"You were a missing-nin, Sasuke, a wanted criminal! You spent years with one of Konoha's worst enemies, and barely got accepted back here with your life!"

Sasuke's face twisted in contempt, "Like you're so innocent, Naruto."

"I never said I was," Naruto clenched his teeth, resting a hand on his stomach. "I've learned to kill without asking questions or torture for information, and how to try to control the demon-fox and what it means when I fail. I've learned to do a lot of things you don't know about, Sasuke!"

"And who does know, Naruto?" Sasuke glared, eyes flickering and dangerous. "Sai?" He spat the name.

"Yes!" Naruto answered without hesitation; it was the truth. "Sai knows about those things, because if he wasn't there with me on a mission he was here when I got back!"

"It was once like that with us—does that mean nothing to you?" Sasuke's eyes whirled red in his anger, and Naruto grabbed his hand to pacify him.

"Of course it does!" Naruto shouted, irritated that they were yelling at each other again. "That's what I'm saying—it's been a long time, and it's going to take work to get that back!"

"Why can't we just pick up where we left off?" Sasuke pulled his hand away and crossed his arms, his eyes fading to their normal black.

"Because…" Naruto ran both hands through his hair in agitation. "Because it's not that easy!"

"Tch," Sasuke looked away, sulking.

"It's…it's like…" Naruto moved closer, searching for a way to explain when Sasuke wasn't aware of how he'd changed in the first place. He racked his brain for a good image, and then snapped his fingers.

"Hey—it's like your backyard!" Naruto pictured it the way they'd first found it. "You can't expect plants to grow if nobody's pulled the weeds. So we shouldn't just jump in the sack because I let you kiss me once in Wave Country."

Sasuke rolled his eyes, "You suck at analogies, Naruto. And we kissed more than once during that stupid tree-climbing training."

"Shut up, asshole," Naruto glared. "I don't know why I bothered to come here—all you do is act like a fucking bastard!"

"Quit complaining," Sasuke scowled, "You didn't have to come, and you know it."

"That's right," Naruto got to his knees and yanked Sasuke closer by the collar. "But I did, because I'm sick of fighting with you, and I'm sick of the weeds!"

Sasuke looked like he wanted to say something, but he pressed his lips into a thin, angry line instead. They stared at each other for a full minute, and then Naruto let go and sat down on the gritty rock surface. The silence stretched, and eventually Naruto lay back more or less where he'd been lying before, watching the stars and fuming. It was getting late, but he didn't want to leave when he was mad; the day had shown some progress, despite the bickering and misunderstandings.

Sasuke got up, and Naruto heard his footsteps move behind them to the small campfire. He watched upside-down while Sasuke added a bundle of sticks to the orange embers, and then blew a small stream of fire to ignite them into a lively crackle. Then Sasuke came back and stretched out beside him, and for a long time they were silent, watching the clear night sky and catching the distant noise of crickets on the wind. In the high altitude, the peacefulness of the nighttime was absolute.

It didn't exactly surprise him when it happened, but he wasn't expecting Sasuke to close the space between them once more. Naruto tucked Sasuke's head underneath his chin, and Sasuke pressed his nose into the warm curve of his neck and held him tight. With the sense that it was just the two of them under the stars, Naruto stroked Sasuke's hair and considered everything they'd been through, as well as what might lie ahead.

"Naruto," Sasuke whispered the word against his collarbone.

"Hmm," Naruto sighed into Sasuke's black hair.

"It's not that I didn't want to think of you after I left," he said, fingers gripping into Naruto's body. "I couldn't let myself. Not if I wanted to kill Itachi."

Naruto didn't stop stroking Sasuke's hair, even though he had no words to reply; he closed his eyes and let the quiet moment stretch as long as possible, knowing Sasuke believed what he said to be true, and knowing it was too late to do it over again and see if things could have turned out differently. And he also knew that no matter how good it felt to lie there with Sasuke, it wouldn't bring back the years that they'd lost.

"We better head back soon," Naruto murmured, wrapping both arms around Sasuke and squeezing gently. Sasuke shifted to prop himself up on an elbow, and Naruto looked up into his eyes.

"What happens when we go back?" Sasuke asked, sliding his other hand from Naruto's shoulder over to his heart.

Naruto glanced away. "I don't know, Sasuke." He reached up and twined their fingers, squeezing. "We try to be friends, I guess. And then we'll see."

Sasuke didn't look happy, exactly, but he didn't try to argue anymore. Naruto was grateful for it. He got up and packed his things back into his knapsack, slinging it over his shoulder.

"Ready?" Naruto asked, though Sasuke hadn't moved from his spot on the ground, hands folded under his head.

"You go on ahead," he said, offering a farewell smirk. "I feel like staying here for a while."

"Alright," Naruto frowned, not wanting to leave him alone, even though the ANBU were still somewhere close by. He flushed, only just remembering that they must have been watching earlier; he wondered how he could bribe Yamato not to tell the Hokage every detail about the day, then sighed in resignation.

"Well… I guess I'll stop by and see you in a couple of days." Naruto smiled, scratching his neck, "Then I can tell you about my new Genin."

Sasuke tilted his head and then nodded, and Naruto turned to the mountain's hiking trail for a speedier descent. He leapt through the darkness in a quick, easy gait, much more efficient than their one-handed climbing had been. He spent the time mulling over several points of the day, and as he got closer to the village, Naruto found his thoughts turning to his other former teammate, Sai.

Sai had definitely crossed over many lines, but somehow all Naruto could think of was the hurt on his face when he'd left after their argument yesterday. He wanted to talk to him, and try to make things right, but he also dreaded the return to his apartment because he wasn't sure what to expect. Naruto squared his shoulders and prepared himself for whatever might be waiting for him, landing at his front door and taking a deep breath.

His night-vision was sound from the long trek back from the mountaintop, so he opened the door to a pitch-black apartment and left the lights off so he could see. There was no immediate movement from inside; he set down his pack and tip-toed towards the bedroom, inching the door open without letting it squeak.

"Sai?" he whispered, peeking his head into the room and finding it vacant—Naruto rushed in when he realized there was only one bed.

"Sai?" he called again, louder, opening the closet to see that the left half was empty. Naruto retraced his steps back into the living room, and now he could tell that the drafting table was gone, along with Sai's paints and brushes, containers and inks, the sofa returned to its original location. Not a trace that he'd ever lived there at all.

Apparently, Sai had moved out.

Naruto sighed, and went to the bathroom where he blinded himself from the fluorescent lights and then stripped to take a long shower. He tried not to think of all the times Sai had used his shower in the middle of the night, just as he was doing now—somehow it made him feel disappointed, which didn't make any sense at all. Naruto rushed through brushing his teeth and pulled on the first pair of pajamas he found, and then settled himself on clean sheets to try and sleep, even though his body didn't cooperate.

The rest of the night was restless; Naruto tossed and turned and finally slept for the last hour and a half before dawn. When he woke up he felt even more tired than when he'd gotten in bed in the first place, and he groaned and covered his head with his pillow, managing to steal a few more anxious minutes of sleep before stumbling out of bed to take a long piss.

He splashed water on his face, noting that he looked about as dreadful as he felt, and moped across his apartment to boil water for tea. He hadn't had to do it for himself in a few days, which annoyed him.

The sun was not his friend that morning, cheerful and vibrant and singeing his retinas every time he opened his eyelids. He managed to make tea, and sat down at the table to drink it with his eyes closed, letting the caffeine do its work while he tried not to miss Sai's cooking… or really just tried not to miss Sai. It had been nicer than he ever would have thought to have him around. So comfortable he almost hadn't noticed.

"Idiot," he chastised himself.

When Naruto found he could stand the natural light pouring in through the kitchen window, he leaned his cheek into his palm and cracked open his eyes for the first glimpse of his apartment without his roommate, or his roommate's things.

And that's when he found the note, right in front of him on the kitchen table.

Naruto picked up the small scroll with his name on it, lying next to a sketchbook that Naruto was pretty sure he'd seen in Sai's knapsack quite frequently over the years. He untied the scroll and opened it, reading:


Thank you for letting me share your apartment; I spent some of my happiest days there with you, even if I made you angry and ruined your clothes. I hope in time you will forgive me, and we can make a fresh start. I have returned to my own apartment, but I shall wait for you each day at Ichiraku's until you're ready to renew our bond. I know I make a lot of mistakes—I have so much left to learn about the stronger emotions—but you are precious to me, and I will do whatever it takes to become a person worthy of your friendship. I don't know if you'll believe my words, so please accept this book as a sign of my pledge.


Naruto put the scroll to the side, and picked up the sketchbook. It surprised him that Sai would give it away; he was so private about these kinds of things most of the time. Naruto felt the smoothness of the cover, and then opened it to the first pages. He blinked.

Naruto was looking at his own face, or really faces—he must have been fifteen at the time—grinning, scowling, lost in thought, listening intently, laughing… They went on and on, every possible expression, and then every possible pose, capturing him in moments while training, sparring, relaxing and running. Naruto turned the pages slowly, watching himself age, observing his clones perform techniques and combinations. It was fascinating to see the progression captured with such talent.

Sai had obviously been studying him; Naruto could see the care and attention to detail that Sai had invested in each sketch. He turned the pages until the very end, where he found an image of himself sleeping in his bed, mouth open and necklace gleaming on the pillow beside him, next to a similar sketch where he was also sleeping. Naruto looked at these images the longest, gathering from the details in the background of the second that Sai had done it while he'd still been living here—he must've sat perched on the dresser while Naruto had slept, peacefully unaware that anyone was watching.

After he was done looking through the notebook, he set it aside and leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. In the back of his mind he was glad there hadn't been anything embarrassing—he'd definitely have been pissed to find that Sai had been peeping on him for the last few years.

But mostly Naruto felt… touched by the fact that Sai had spent so much time drawing him. And if he looked at the last week alone, it was clear that Sai spent a great deal of time thinking about him as well, learning his preferences and looking out for his well-being, all the things you did when you truly cared for someone—if you left out the things he messed up, like the underwear debacle, or the laundry fiasco.

Weeds poking through an otherwise well-tended yard.

Everyone made mistakes, didn't they?

Naruto sighed, and closed his eyes, hating to admit that he really did like Sai's company and that he'd come to look forward to it in the short time they'd shared the apartment. It was nice sharing the chores and having someone to joke around with, especially if that person was the exact right combination of danger and innocence and sex appeal all wrapped into one.

And it hadn't been a bad first kiss either, even if the timing had been less than perfect.

Naruto glanced at the wall and colored in embarrassment, remembering the gentle, solid press of Sai's body and the equally timid, determined way he'd pressed their lips together, like it really meant something to him. It was different to be kissed like that; Naruto couldn't deny that he wanted to do it again. But how exactly should he go about it? Sai was hard to figure out. Especially after all that had happened lately.

At least Naruto knew where to start looking for him; it would make things much easier. Naruto got up from the table and dressed in his usual garb, then sped off in the direction of his favorite Ramen stand. He ducked under the curtains and saw that Sai was already there, seated on the farthest stool and twirling his chopsticks to pass the time. Naruto's belly flipped to see him there, and he put his hands into his pockets as he walked over and sat down beside him.

"Hey," he said, and Sai dropped the chopsticks in surprise. He snatched them back up and set them flat on the counter before him.

"H-hello," Sai greeted him with a smile, although Naruto could tell he was nervous.

Naruto waved the owner over and they gave their order, and as they sat there waiting for the food to come, he was distressed to find that his palms were sweaty, just like it was a date. He wiped them dry on his orange pants, hoping Sai wouldn't notice.

"So," Naruto cleared his throat, "I got your note."

"Oh," Sai straightened on his stool, glancing away, "I see."

"I was kinda surprised you moved out, actually," Naruto turned to see Sai's reaction, suddenly not feeling so confident now that they were face-to-face. Sai's expression settled into his blank mask, which Naruto was starting to understand meant confusion.

"I thought you'd want your space. Was that wrong?"

"Well," Naruto shrugged, scratching his neck. "I was pretty mad… but you didn't have to move out. I just needed some time to cool off."

"Oh," Sai replied, watching him closely and thinking. "So… you're not mad anymore?"

Naruto chuckled, "Well, I'm not as mad, I guess. But I have some more Rules."

"Oh," Sai sighed, folding his hands on the counter.

Naruto laughed at his dejected tone, "Hey, it's not that bad! Look, we'll eat first, okay?"

Teuchi-san came over with two steaming bowls of Ramen, and Naruto grinned at Sai and then they ate. The first bowls went down quickly; Naruto hadn't realized how hungry he'd be after such strenuous climbing the day before, and the irregular meals. Ichiraku's noodles were always perfect, warm and satisfying in his belly.

Naruto watched Sai finish up his broth, gloved hands holding the bowl to his mouth and the usual cropped-shirt showing off his creamy skin and muscled abs. Naruto swallowed, glad that Sai couldn't see him—and then he had a brilliant idea. He flagged Teuchi back over to order seconds, chuckling behind his fingers in mischief.

Sai lowered the bowl when he was done and looked at him in curiosity, so Naruto coughed and thumped his chest, changing the subject. "Okay, so I've been thinking," he began, turning the stool to face Sai.

"You have some new Rules," Sai nodded, listening intently.

"First," Naruto held up one finger, "And this is the biggest one, Sai. We're going to have to be totally honest with each other. So if you don't like something, or I don't understand something, we talk about it."

Sai smiled, "Got it."

"Second," Naruto glanced to see how his Ramen was coming along, then raised another finger. "I don't want you freaking out when I spend time with Sasuke—he's part of my life, even if he's a bastard, and that's just that."

Sai's smile vanished, but Naruto was relieved to see him nod. "Okay."

"Third," Naruto peeked to see Ayame putting the finishing touches on his bowl, and felt his stomach twitch in anticipation. He turned back to Sai, showing three fingers. And then he leered.

"We'll discuss you moving back in later on, if everything goes well," Sai raised his brows as Naruto winked. "But I'm willing to suspend the old Rule Number Two, if you can promise not to mess up any more of my laundry, ever again."

Naruto grinned as Sai blinked, putting together what he'd just said. Sai touched his cheek, which was blushing a deeper crimson with each passing second, "You mean… I can sleep in your bed?"

Naruto laughed, poking Sai in the shoulder, "If you think you can stay away from my laundry!"

Sai swiveled his stool, facing him with an intense look Naruto wasn't quite expecting. "Naruto-kun," Sai touched his own mouth, deep in thought. "You… you said if I don't understand something, I should ask."

"Uh, sure," Naruto nodded.

Sai met his eyes, "Then when I sleep in your bed, do we have to wear pajamas? And do we have to wait until it's night?"

Naruto's jaw dropped, and then he slapped his palm across Sai's mouth, shushing him. He looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had heard, but nobody seemed to make any acknowledgement. "Just… we'll talk about that later!" he hissed, and Sai's eyes crinkled shut in a happy smile.

Naruto took a deep breath to calm himself, wondering what in the hell he was thinking. Naruto glanced over to see Teuchi-san approaching with the second bowl of Ramen, and he took it and thanked him, before turning to Sai a last time. Sai waited while Naruto reached for his wallet and dug out enough to pay for all their Ramen, tossing a wad of cash on the counter.

He held up four fingers, "And now for Rule Number Four." Sai nodded, and Naruto forced his grin away to seem more serious, dropping his voice in semi-secrecy. "No showering with me allowed."

"Oh," Sai's face fell, and Naruto almost felt guilty. Almost.

"Unless you're dirty, that is!" He grinned, and then dumped the entire bowl of Ramen right into Sai's lap.

Neither of them moved for a deliciously awkward moment, and then Naruto sprang to his feet and took off as fast as he could, with Sai close on his heels as he led them on a round-about path to his apartment. Sai didn't hold back, which Naruto thought could mean he was either really angry or really eager, and by the time he reached his apartment door he was breathless from the run and the laughter. Sai pinned him before he could turn the knob.

Whatever Naruto thought he was going to say got caught in-between their mouths when Sai kissed him. Eager, Naruto thought to himself, wrapping his arms around Sai's back and deciding it applied to him as well. He nibbled Sai's lips and groaned when Sai pressed a knee between his thighs—how did he know stuff like that when he seemed so inexperienced with other things?—eagerness quickly becoming urgency the more they touched.

Suddenly, Sai shoved a handful of now-cold Ramen noodles into the front of his pants, smiling in that infuriatingly sexy, disarming way.

"Hey!" Naruto squirmed, as much from the hand as from the cold noodles.

"Now you're dirty too," Sai grinned, and Naruto sighed, grabbing him by the shirt and kissing him soundly.

"So let's go shower already," Naruto chuckled, pushing him away enough to open the door, and then kicking it closed behind them.

He tugged Sai behind him, stumbling into the bathroom where they somehow managed to strip each other's clothing amidst all the kissing and groping, which only intensified once they got into the shower. Naruto found that it actually was big enough for both of them, and also that the hot water didn't run out nearly as fast as he'd thought, which allowed them plenty of time to learn some of the more interesting, intimate details about each other that hadn't quite come up in any of their visits to hot springs on missions.

The explorations continued in Naruto's bed, where Sai took painstaking care to make sure he'd be welcome anytime in the day or night, whether in pajamas or without—Naruto was so well sated he shamelessly fell asleep in Sai's arms and didn't wake up until the next day, a faux-pas he made up for with typical mischievous enthusiasm.

Sai fixed breakfast and they ate in bed in quiet companionship, until Naruto suggested that Sai's sketchbook could use some nudes. The lassitude of the morning quickly deteriorated into searing kisses and roaming hands, pale skin moving against tan in mutual, tender admiration.

That afternoon Naruto was late to meet his team of Genin, but he went with a smile on his face, and the inkling that maybe he'd just figured out why Kakashi-sensei had never been on time.

Sasuke watched from the neighboring rooftop as Naruto and then Sai landed in front of Naruto's apartment, kissing against the door with unmistakable passion before disappearing inside.

The Sharingan surfaced bright and fiery between his temples, and Sasuke let it sit there, menacing, until he turned away from the sight of Naruto's building, and forced the red pupils to recede. He pounded his fist into the ceramic shingles, hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to break anything. Sasuke glared over his shoulder, where Naruto was probably halfway naked by now.

"You may have won this time," Sasuke bared his teeth in a scowl. "But it's not over yet."

He leapt over the ridge and back towards his end of town, forcing his mind away from what was currently going on in Naruto's apartment. As he traveled he readjusted his strategy, finally comprehending that he was going to have to play a much longer, well planned-out game. It was ironic that he had the time to do it.

"353 days," Sasuke murmured to himself, something new to look forward to.

In the meantime, he had a fence to paint.

the end.