A/N: Wow...my first Naruto fic...it feels so monumental. And for my RoyEd fans, have no fear; I'm as obsessed with that fandom as I always have been, and nothing could kill my FMA plot bunnies. But I am also, to a somewhat lesser degree, obsessed with Naruto (and Gundam Wing, and Kingdom Hearts, but those are fics for the future), and so you get this: flangst with ninjas! I couldn't resist - it was one of those deranged fic ideas that hit in the middle of shelving in the library and refused to let me do anything productive until I wrote it. And please, no one flaming me saying this is stupid, Naruto can read - I won't say it's canon, but I've read several fics with this concept, and I think it's at least possible, given Naruto's history and whatnot, that he would not be able to read, at least not very well, and this is supported by a couple of scenes in the manga and anime. So I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: Do I look like I'm fabulously wealthy from creating an internationally famous ninja manga? Or do I look like a poor student who is going to spend the next four years starving on dining hall food on financial aid? I thought so. Naruto isn't mine!
Words on a Page
In a tiny, clean-but-cluttered apartment, Naruto Uzumaki sat at his kitchen table and glared at the plain white envelope whose presence had completely disrupted his morning routine.
Since he had become a genin, almost every day that he wasn't away on a mission started the same. At seven his alarm clock would go off; at seven-fifteen he would finally stagger bleary-eyed into the shower; at seven-twenty he would return to his room to find his clothes and do his Personal Pre-Training Training to Kick Sasuke's Ass, Uzumaki Style!; at seven-forty-five he would leave his room for the kitchen and make breakfast – cereal if he had milk, ramen if he didn't – , and at eight he would lock his door – not that he had anything anyone would want to steal – and leave to train with Kakashi-sensei and kick Sasuke's ass.
But today when he came into the kitchen, the envelope was sitting there, right in the middle of the table, in a little oasis of bare wood where his piles of random scrolls and weapons and ramen cups had been shoved to the floor. And it was so unexpected and inexplicable and just strange that all his thoughts about training and ramen and defeating Sasuke were wiped from his head, and all he could think of was that envelope.
That someone had broken into his apartment in the middle of the night to leave an envelope on his table without waking him was disquieting. The competitive part of him was disgusted that his senses and perception were so weak that someone could get away with that; the shinobi part of him was paranoid, and he spent several minutes examining the envelope and the surrounding area for traps or poisons or hidden seals.
After several minutes of intense scrutiny, Naruto concluded that there was nothing overtly dangerous about the envelope. It wasn't a trap; there were no trip wires, no explosive tags, no transportation seals or curse marks or poisonous residues or inhalants or genjutsu triggers.
It was just an envelope. Which, in its way, seemed even more suspicious. As a ninja, he could understand breaking into someone's house to steal something, or assassinate them, or set a trap for them. But whoever had crept in last night had done it to – leave him a letter?
He dismissed out of hand that the envelope might contain anything ordinary and innocuous. It couldn't be just a letter because no one he knew would do that.
Iruka-sensei would just find him if he needed to tell him something and if he really needed to get in he knew where Naruto left his spare keys.
Shikamaru was too lazy to bother, especially in the middle of the night, when even he couldn't be criticized for sleeping.
Kiba might think it was funny to break into his apartment, but he would've used the opportunity to play pranks and Naruto would've woken up covered in whipped cream or tied up and dangling from the ceiling; prank letters were too tame for him.
If the Hokage needed to talk to him, she would have sent her ANBU guards to get him as she usually did; she didn't care about the sleeping hours of normal mortals.
None of the explanations he could think of involved the envelope containing anything so innocent as an ordinary letter. It could be some strange plot by Itachi to lure him away from the village and into the Akatsuki. It could be death threats from a crazed stalker.
Or, most likely, it could be hate mail from one of the villagers; it wasn't like he hadn't found letters in his mailbox before – "You evil demon brat, you killed my husband (brother, daughter, mother), you're a plague on the village, why don't you kill yourself like we all want you to do" – although this would be the first time anyone had gone so far as to break into his house, at least while he was in it.
At this point, he knew he'd exhausted all his options. The envelope wasn't telling him anything; no matter how much he glared at it, it refused to divulge any hints to the nature of its contents or the identity of its sender. The only way he could learn any more was to open it.
With an irritated snarl, Naruto tore the side of the envelope and banged it against the tabletop. A single sheet of creamy paper slid to the table and lay there, mocking him. Hands shaking, he lifted it up and slowly unfolded it.
Five minutes later he still sat at the table, staring at the letter, glaring at it viciously, trying to force the tangle of lines and curves to resolve themselves into something, significant, comprehensible, meaningful through sheer will. After five minutes he managed to discern the characters of his name at the top of the letter; a few more minutes, and he recognized Sasuke's name across the bottom. The middle, however, was nothing, just purposeless scribbles, just black smears that refused to yield any meaning to him.
Five more minutes, and the apartment stood empty, and Naruto was on his way to the training grounds. If Sasuke's name was at the bottom, he didn't have to understand it to know what it said.
To someone who didn't know that Uchihas did not fidget, Sasuke would have appeared to be doing just that. Although he still leaned indolently against one of the posts of the red bridge, face blank and expressionless, his usual air of calm disdain was lacking. His normally pale face was as white as the clan symbol on his back, his bottom lip was ragged and bleeding from being bitten, and his hand flickered as he threw a kunai knife into the air and caught it repeatedly.
Just as Sakura was about to ask him what was wrong, however, and if it had anything to do with the tardiness of a certain loud-mouthed blonde, she spotted an approaching orange blur; Sasuke, to her shock, made a sound only described as a squeak and – was he actually blushing?
There wasn't any time to actually consider this, though, because almost before she had time to register his approach, Naruto was standing a foot away from Sasuke, eyes dark with rage, bellowing invectives in his face.
"You complete bastard!" he shouted. "You complete and utter bastard! I knew you were screwed up, but this really takes the cake, you know that? What the hell is wrong with you, anyway? I mean, I know you hate my guts, but breaking into my house in the middle of the night for some stupid joke is twisted even for you."
"What are you talking about, dobe?" Sasuke asked, slipping effortlessly back into arrogantly disinterested mode.
"I'm talking about you, bastard, you and your stupid psychotic ass breaking into my house and leaving me hate mail and that's just fucked up, do you know that, it's really fucked up, and I don't know why you would do something like that but it's going too damn far, even for a screwed up, twisted, psychotic evil bastard like you!"
And before Sasuke had a chance to react to those words, Naruto drew one fist back and punched him in the face, the harsh grating of bone on bone agonizingly audible, and Sasuke fell back and Naruto fell with him.
The resulting fight had none of the grace of their customary sparring bouts; it was an ugly, messy, spitting, swearing, biting, rolling-in-the-dirt, yanking-clothes-and-hair-and-limbs, trying-to-inflict-as-much-pain-as-humanly-possible fight, the kind that left its participants on the casualty list for days if it didn't kill them outright.
Kakashi arrived at the bridge to the characteristic chakra swirling of a forming rasengan and the crackle of a charging chidori, and with a stream of furious curses, dived into the fray, emerging with a young ninja dangling by the collar from each hand.
"Haven't you two been warned about using those techniques within the village?" he asked mildly.
Naruto glared at him, twisting and jerking to try to escape his grasp; Sasuke merely grunted and looked away.
He beamed at them. "Now would you like to tell me why you two were fighting? I don't think trying to kill each other was on the training schedule for today."
Another noncommittal grunt from Sasuke. Naruto renewed his struggles, face flushing, almost snarling in anger.
"Why don't you ask that bastard?" he spat. "It's all his fault anyway."
With a particularly fierce jerk, he broke free from Kakashi's grasp and landed on the ground again. He glared at Sasuke for a moment longer before very deliberately turning his back and walking away.
"I refuse to be around that bastard, Kakashi-sensei. I'm going home. Tell Sasuke he can go to hell," he threw back as he left the bridge.
The three of them watched Naruto's departure in silence. When he was no longer visible, Kakashi released Sasuke, although he kept one hand on his shoulder.
"So, Sasuke, are you going to tell me what that was about?"
Sasuke snorted. "Like I know. Does the dobe have to have a reason for doing something stupid?"
Kakashi smiled at him again. "Ah, but you know what I say, Sasuke. A ninja must always look underneath the underneath."
Sasuke glared at him.
"Just think about it, Sasuke."
Sasuke's eyes widened, and his face abruptly turned pale.
"Ah. Figured it out?"
"I need to leave," he said coldly. Kakashi made no move to stop him as he walked away.
When Naruto opened the door, Sasuke didn't give him a chance to slam it in his face; he shoved past him, pushing him into the doorjamb perhaps a bit harder then necessary as he passed, and strode into the kitchen to drop his armload on the table.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Naruto demanded, grabbing his arm. "And what is all that crap?"
Sasuke shrugged him off effortlessly. "Hn. You really are a dobe. Don't you even recognize books and paper when you see them?"
"Shut up, bastard. You don't get to insult me when you just barged into my apartment, uninvited, and made yourself at home, like a bastard, after I told you to stay the hell away from me. And why did you bring books and paper with you?"
Sasuke stared at him levelly. "You can't read, can you?" he said flatly. He braced himself for another punch. When it didn't come, he was surprised.
"Shut up," said Naruto, with none of his previous venom. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"So you can read, then?" Sasuke asked.
"Don't put it like that!" Naruto exclaimed. "It's not like – I mean – I can read some things – it's just the kanji are so hard and –" He scuffed a foot against the floor. "Not really, I guess. Names, a few words, that's about it."
"Hn. I knew it." Sasuke answered.
"So now I bet you're going to lord it over me, right Sasuke? Another way the great Uchiha is vastly superior to the pathetic Uzumaki brat. I'm not stupid, jerk! It's just – I mean – how was I supposed to learn, alright? I didn't have any family at home who could teach me, and then when I got to school everyone already knew how, and none of the teachers wanted to work with me because they all hated me and I tried to learn myself but it just doesn't work, okay? But I'm not stupid, so don't treat me like an idiot!"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow as Naruto finished his rant and collapsed into a chair, panting for breath.
"If I thought you were stupid, dobe, would I have brought all of this?"
"What are you talking about?" Naruto asked him in confusion.
He gestured at the stack of books and papers piled on the table. "What do you think? I'm going to teach you to read."
"Why would you do that?" Naruto asked him, suspicion plain on his face.
"Hn. Someone has to. Having a teammate who can't read is too much of a liability. Besides…"
"Besides what?" Naruto asked.
"Nothing," he said sharply. "Now are we going to do this or not?"
Naruto nodded, but then paused, as though something had just occurred to him.
"You're not going to make me read those stupid little kid books, are you? You know – 'See the ANBU Black Ops Ninja. See the ANBU chase the missing-nin. Run, ANBU, run. Die, missing-nin, die!'" he quoted with a scowl.
Sasuke suppressed the urge to giggle; he remembered sitting in his first class at school, reading those words. "Hn. Do I look as stupid as you? I brought you some action manga to start with, and some Western books that you'll probably like. And Genji Monogatari, but I don't know if you'll like that. It's good, though."
For the first time that day, Naruto smiled at him. "That was…nice…of you Sasuke, to get some books I'd like. Thanks."
Sasuke cuffed the back of his head. "If you want to thank me, you'll let us get to work. I do have other things to do today, you know."
After several minutes of painstakingly copying down characters over and over, Naruto paused.
"Sasuke," he asked hesitantly.
"Yes, dobe?" Sasuke sighed, expecting another request for a ramen break.
"How'd you know?"
"That you couldn't read? It was pretty obvious," he answered.
"It was? Why?"
"Because," Sasuke said slowly, "It wasn't hate mail, dobe."
"Oh," said Naruto, blushing. "Then will you tell me what it says?"
He pulled the crumpled note out from under the pile of books, and, smoothing it out, handed it to Sasuke.
"Fine. But you better remember what these characters mean, because I won't explain it next time."
I love you.
A/N: Sasuke is far, far too much fun to write... Well, as I said, this is my first time writing Naruto, so I'd appreciate any feedback on how I did - did I get everyone wildly OOC, did I horribly screw up basic details, does it just suck, etc. Getting better is always good! So review!