'Twas the Night
It was too damn early for this.
Sasuke shrugged both his shoulders up to his ears and wrapped himself tighter within the blankets in silent protest.
"Come on, Sasuke. You gotta get up," Naruto pressed down on his arm again, shaking him gently but with purpose.
"…one more hour," Sasuke insisted, voice muffled by his feather pillow.
Naruto chuckled, and thumped him on the back. "Any other day, Sasuke, and I'd let you sleep in, but we gotta leave soon if we're going to make the sales. Come on, I'll make some coffee."
Sasuke didn't move when Naruto left the bedroom, but did crack one eye open enough to read the clock on their nightstand and groan. Light wasn't even coming in through the windows yet. Being awake before the sun felt completely, utterly wrong—there was no way he was getting out of bed at such an ungodly hour.
In what seemed to be only a split second later, Naruto shook him and Sasuke jerked and then blinked, unsure what was going on.
"Did you fall back asleep?"
The aroma of fresh, hot coffee met his nostrils, and Sasuke propped himself up on one elbow and rubbed a hand over his face, brushing the sleep-crust from his thick eyelashes. "Yeah. I guess. I don't know."
Naruto sighed and sat down on the bed, his weight causing a ripple through the coils of their mattress. "Here."
Sasuke took the offered cup, sipping before sitting up fully, his hair an unruly, wild mess. He combed absent fingers through it while glancing at the clock a second time, and then scowling in defeat.
"You just had to leave all your shopping to the last minute, didn't you, Naruto," he grumbled.
"Well good morning to you too, sourpuss," Naruto tugged some black hair over his drooping eyes. "I've had constant missions like everyone else and you know it."
Sasuke shrugged, and grunted. Then he closed his eyes and took several gulps of his hot coffee, feeling the lethargy seep out of his limbs, albeit very, very slowly.
"How much time do you need to get ready?" Naruto asked.
Sasuke lifted one eyebrow and let it speak for him.
"You said you'd go with me—are you going back on that now?"
Naruto knew he wasn't a morning person. This was completely unnecessary torture.
"What's the big deal, anyways?" Sasuke argued. "It's the same damn thing every year. A few hours won't make a difference."
Naruto gave him one of those challenging looks, and then frowned. "Nevermind. I'll just go on ahead. We can meet up later, or whatever."
Naruto stood up, grabbing the closest sweater and pulling it down over his head. Flak jackets never did any good this time of year. His blond hair stuck out around his ears, and Sasuke watched as he straightened the sweater over his t-shirt until it was comfortable, and ruffled his hair more or less back into place.
Sasuke set the mug down on the coaster beside the alarm clock. "You'll just be downtown, right?"
"Yeah. I really can't miss the early sales—it's the only time of year the prices will be this low."
"Don't spend too much," he warned.
"If you're that worried, you should come with me," Naruto's lips spread in a grin before slipping back into something restless, and maybe frustrated.
Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"I'll be somewhere in that big department store in a couple of hours, so come find me. Okay?" Naruto came closer and leaned in for a warm brush of lips, and Sasuke lifted his chin out of habit.
"Bye," Naruto said.
Sasuke listened to Naruto get a jacket out of the front closet, and stomp his feet into some boots before exiting their apartment. He reached for the light and turned it off. The room glowed blue from the first whispers of dawn, the air crisp against his exposed skin as he lay there for several long minutes, lost in thought.
Wasn't the eve of Christmas supposed to feel different?
A moment later the front door opened. Sasuke could tell it was Naruto, so he didn't worry when heavy footsteps rushed across the living room and then back to the door.
"Forgot the list! See you later!"
The door slammed behind him, and Sasuke sighed and shifted back underneath the blankets for whatever sleep was still possible at this point. He had a feeling he was going to need it.
Winter in Konoha was usually a wet and soggy affair, but this year's dry wind blew shards of ice over the surface of every living thing. Sasuke hunched his shoulders against the cold, feeling its bite even through several layers of clothing. The white sun burning in its ascent did nothing to help.
Sasuke followed the streaming crowds into the largest department store, glad to pass into a heated building at last. It wasn't the only part of town that was crowded; every year was like this, once most of the village's shinobi made it home for the only two days Tsunade didn't assign missions. The vacation would be brief—so most people would try to make it the best they could, considering.
Sasuke, however, didn't think the smartest way to spend such luxurious time off was deliberately choosing to wake up three hours too early only to rush around Konoha to hunt down the perfect gift for the perfect price. Compared to the swarms of people packing every store, boutique, or corner shop, his opinion was clearly in the minority.
He had to be the only normal person in the entire village.
Sasuke passed through the fragrance counters and rode the packed escalator up to the second floor where he figured Naruto might still be shopping. He spotted him right away, holding what looked like muffin tins and chatting with one of the clerks. Naruto sensed him and looked over, blue eyes glowing; he was in his element, several shopping bags set at his feet while he stood totally at ease among the customers rushing in every direction. Sasuke did not share nearly the same enjoyment he saw on his partner's face.
"Hey," Naruto said, once Sasuke was beside him.
"Hey," Sasuke answered, the sides of their arms touching from the press of bodies around them.
Naruto held up the baking pans for him to see. "I was thinking about Chouji and Ino."
"What happened to getting them aprons?" Sasuke tilted his head over Naruto's shoulder for a better look. "Isn't that what we talked about?"
"Well, but then I thought, you know, what if they don't like the aprons?" Naruto turned to meet his eyes, and shrugged. "I mean we know they like food, so I figured this would be safer."
"Are you sure that they bake, though?"
Naruto frowned. "Well … yeah, Ino bakes sometimes."
"Ino doesn't eat."
"No, no, I mean for Chouji."
Sasuke considered. "Then get Chouji the apron, and Ino the pans."
"Ahhh!" Naruto agreed. "That's perfect."
Sasuke shrugged, and Naruto tucked the pans under his arm and led them to a quieter spot over by the small appliances. He pulled out a crumpled scrap of paper.
"What's left on the list?" Sasuke asked, eyeing the bags Naruto carried in his other hand. He recalled their discussion from the night before, and more importantly, their budget—Naruto could get out of control with these sorts of things.
"I've gotten a lot already," Naruto dug around in his pocket for a pen. "All that's left is Sakura and Shikamaru, and Kakashi and Yamato… and old lady Tsunade of course, and then Konohamaru, and Iruka, and Gaara, and Teuchi-san. And an apron."
Sasuke sighed. "That's still a lot."
"Yeah, but the rest will go faster now that you're here." Naruto tucked the list into his back pocket and turned towards the cash registers.
Sasuke wondered exactly how his presence was helping anything; he felt a strange reluctance to accept responsibility for anyone on the list. It was just stuff, anyhow. A waste, really, of both time and money.
He settled in to wait off to the side, arms crossed. The general décor was blinding, so he watched the zooming paths of shoppers instead, before that too made him dizzy. By the time he'd read all the fine print on the box of an electric mixer, Naruto was done, another bright shopping bag in his hands.
"Let's go get Sakura's present next," Naruto suggested, taking off before Sasuke could respond.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Sasuke followed, making Naruto slow down to his pace rather than hurrying to catch up. They made their way against the flow of traffic up to the third floor, where Naruto took twenty minutes longer than necessary to pick out the exact right color, while Sasuke stood away from the psychotic salespeople and held the bags. The only bit of satisfaction came from the sound of Naruto's pen scratching a line through one more name.
"Alright, is there anything else we need here?" Naruto asked; taking back half of the shopping bags.
"You tell me," Sasuke replied, wanting to leave as soon as possible, and not bothering to hide it.
"I can't think of anything else…" Naruto looked upward, checking his memory and then shaking his head. "No, I think we're done."
"Then let's go," Sasuke nodded for Naruto to precede him on the way back to the escalators, feeling rather claustrophobic. The repetitive in-store soundtrack wasn't helping.
They fought their way back to the ground level exit, where the wind blew even colder despite the sun's illusionary kindness. Two blocks around the corner they ducked into a liquor store, and spent twice as long as before trying to pick out a decent gift for Tsunade that she wouldn't be getting from every other Jounin in the village.
"Can we speed this up at all?" Sasuke pushed his free hand through the front of his dark hair. They'd only managed to buy two presents in the last hour; the odds weren't looking good that they'd finish before dark.
"Hey, we'd be done here by now if you weren't vetoing all my suggestions," Naruto glared, putting the bottle of Grey Goose Vodka back on the shelf.
"Then you need to suggest something that isn't lame," Sasuke sighed, thoroughly irritated.
"Look, we're obviously not getting anywhere here, so let's just forget it," Naruto shifted the shopping bags into his other hand for the time being. "We'll have to go somewhere else."
"Then what are we going to get the Hokage?"
"I don't know, but I'll think of something, okay?" Naruto headed for the door, and pushed it open to let a burst of cold air whip them in the face.
Sasuke stepped out onto the cobblestones right behind him. "I don't want to take all day with this, since you've planned out the rest of the evening too, Naruto."
"Now wait a minute! These aren't only my plans Sasuke, and they aren't only my friends either," Naruto turned up the collar of his jacket with an annoyed flick. "If you don't want to do any of it, then just say so! Otherwise I think we should split up."
Sasuke stood rooted to the spot, appalled. What the hell?
"You're… breaking up with me?"
Naruto twitched in surprise. "What? No—of course not!"
The immediate relief was equally astounding and confusing.
Naruto made an exasperated face. "I meant that we should divide the rest of the shopping so we can get everything done faster, and so you'll stop sulking."
"I'm not sulking," Sasuke replied automatically.
Naruto lowered his chin and glowered. Sasuke shifted his weight onto one leg, uneasy.
"Fine, whatever," he played it off, holding his hand out for half the list. "Just tell me what I'm supposed to get so we can be done with this."
Naruto balanced the shopping bags between his boots while getting out the list and carefully ripping off a blank spot to scribble on. "Here, you take Kakashi, and Teuchi-san, and—oh yeah, what's the name of that cologne you wear?"
Sasuke frowned. "John Varvatos. Why?"
"Get some of that for Konohamaru okay?" Naruto handed him the scrap of paper while Sasuke boggled.
"Naruto, I'm not buying John Varvatos for another guy." He couldn't imagine Konohamaru getting ready for a date, much less dating.
Naruto rolled his eyes, overtly frustrated. "Well he told me he likes the one you wear—so what's wrong with getting him something nice?"
Sasuke clenched his teeth. "I'll find something similar, but I'm not buying the same one." And just when had Konohamaru smelled his cologne, anyhow? It made him very uncomfortable.
"Whatever. You're so weird," Naruto shrugged, tucking his hands into his pockets and then pulling out a small cylinder. He examined it from several angles before brightening in recognition.
"Oh hey! I nearly forgot about this—here, drop this off to be developed, would ya?"
Sasuke reluctantly took the spool of film, eyeing it with suspicion. "What is it?"
"It's from Sakura's birthday. Remember? She had me be photographer when her other camera ran out of film, and she's been bugging me about the pictures. She'll totally kill me if I don't get them to her before New Year's."
"Wasn't her birthday back in March?" Sasuke asked.
"Duh, that's why I have to have those pictures for her tonight!"
Sasuke sighed in resignation, slipping the film into his coat pocket.
Naruto grabbed his purchases and made ready to leave. "If you just handle those couple of things, I'll get the rest. Deal?"
"Fine," Sasuke shrugged, turning towards the bustling sidewalk.
"See you at home then," Naruto thunked him on the chest, and then disappeared into the crowds.
Sasuke took a deep breath, and then set out on his assigned errands with as positive an outlook as he could muster. Thankfully this nonsense only happened once a year.
"Am I forgetting anything?" Naruto zipped his jacket, darting back into the bedroom for the third time in as many minutes.
Sasuke waited by the door as patiently as possible. Tsunade's dinner was probably in full swing, not that he particularly cared if they missed some of it. Knowing their Hokage, the bar would be open all evening, which was his main concern after such a hectic day of shopping followed by the onerous task of wrapping everything they'd bought—all while trying to get ready for the main social event of the year.
Yes, they'd all be dressed a bit differently. Big deal—it would still be the same people they saw every day around the village, in the mission room, or in the Jounin lounge.
"You've got the pictures?" Naruto came back into the room, face expectant.
Sasuke sighed. "Yes, they're in my jacket Naruto."
"Okay, I guess we're ready," Naruto picked up their sack of wrapped gifts and opened the door; Sasuke locked it behind them.
Tsunade always reserved the biggest meeting hall in the Hokage tower for Christmas Eve's festivities. The decorations were spare, but the large open space was warm and inviting, with a mixture of wintry smells to go with the instrumental soundtrack piping through the intercom. At one end stretched the long buffet table half-full of various food dishes, the bar in close proximity. At the other end were an assortment of round tables, where many shinobi were already gathered with their peers to eat and be merry.
Sasuke and Naruto crossed to the smaller tables first, looking through the crowd and greeting those they knew. They draped their coats over the back of some empty chairs to reserve seats. Naruto soon spotted Iruka and waved across the room, and Sasuke nodded his hello as the man came over while he went straight for the bar. The stiff Gin and tonic was soothing to his nerves; he tossed it back and ordered a second, along with a Yuengling.
Sasuke handed the beer to Naruto before standing off to the side, choosing a spot that was somewhat out of the way. Naruto flashed him a grin and chugged a few swallows, conversing with Iruka and handing him a small wrapped package from their bulging sack. From his vantage point Sasuke could see Neji and Hinata slowly making their way over.
"He really gets into this, doesn't he," Kakashi appeared nearby, holding a disposable cup of something pink and fizzy.
"Hm," Sasuke agreed, as they both watched Naruto engaged in animated conversation that naturally drew more people in.
Naruto gave Hinata a friendly one-armed hug in greeting; Sasuke waited for Neji to cross the line in some way, but the Hyuuga shook Naruto's hand only as long as appropriate, even if his eyes weren't completely chaste. Naruto, for his part, exchanged presents with Neji as usual, and then dutifully tasted one of Hinata's gift-cakes and made a big show of appreciation, rubbing his belly and brushing the crumbs from his black sweater. No one could help but find Hinata's blushing adorable.
"By the way, here." Sasuke handed Kakashi a small envelope that contained a gift certificate for the local barbecue restaurant.
Kakashi peeked inside, and then his eye crinkled shut in a happy smile. "Tenzou will be happy it's not for Ichiraku's. Thank you, Sasuke. So thoughtful."
Sasuke shrugged it off. "It's nothing."
"So tell me, what did Naruto get you this year?" Kakashi asked, a teasing lilt in his voice to match the suggestive look in his eye.
"We don't do gifts," Sasuke answered.
"Oh I see," Kakashi commented.
He finished his drink and shook a chunk of ice into his mouth, chewing once and then letting the pieces melt on his tongue. Even more of their acquaintances soon converged from different areas of the room: Chouji and Ino, several members of the Inuzuka clan, and at least one person Sasuke loathed on principle.
"Don't forget there's food, Sasuke," Yamato appeared beside Kakashi, holding out a disposable plate with enough finger food on it to feed all three of them.
"Thanks," Sasuke nodded, taking a mini-Onigiri to be polite, but not feeling all that hungry. Kakashi took the plate from Yamato, and Yamato casually crooked his arm around Kakashi's shoulders.
"Look what Sasuke and Naruto gave us, Tenzou," Kakashi passed him the envelope, and Yamato opened it and chuckled.
"Excellent! Now you have no excuse not to treat me once in a while," Yamato squeezed Kakashi around the neck, teasing.
"But that takes all my fun away," Kakashi gently elbowed him, tilting his head to look Yamato in the eye.
Sasuke sipped his drink and pretended he didn't know them.
"Oh, did you give him our present yet?" Yamato asked, once he realized they'd been mooning at each other too long and ignoring their companion.
Kakashi shook his head. "I thought you wanted to do it."
Sasuke held up a hand, feeling uncomfortable. Gifts were not his thing. "Er… We really don't need anything."
Yamato grinned, catching Sasuke's eye. "You say that every year, Sasuke."
"Just accept it," Kakashi insisted. "And try to enjoy it for Naruto's sake, at least."
Sasuke frowned, but took the recognizable envelope from Yamato's hand with foreboding, and found a gift certificate to Ichiraku's inside, as expected. He managed to resist the urge to groan, but just barely.
"Thanks," he replied, tucking it into his back pocket and glaring at the knowing sparkle in Kakashi's visible eye.
Yamato could be excused, but Kakashi sure as hell knew how many people would be giving Naruto gift certificates to Ichiraku's—they'd be eating Ramen for months. So annoying.
Just then Naruto held up his empty beer bottle and mouthed the word "please." Sasuke sighed, nodding and then excusing himself to refill both their drinks.
And the night was just getting started.
The crowd around Naruto had changed by the time he brought over a fresh beer. Sai was still lingering, and Sasuke exchanged the usual glaring scowl with him as he took back the spot beside Naruto and shook hands with Kiba and Shino.
Sasuke sipped his drink and listened to the small talk, while Naruto kept it going with stories and jokes. Sakura and Shikamaru's arrival was quite conspicuous; everyone in the hall looked over when ten year old Sarutobi Yuuta dashed to the doors shouting Shikamaru's name in an enthusiastic greeting. Sakura laughed and exchanged a hug with the boy's mother, Kurenai, stopping to chat while her husband made his way over to their table.
"Hey, Shikamaru!" Naruto grinned, waiting until he'd taken off his jacket before giving him a warm hug.
"Yo," Shikamaru gave a tired look to the rest of the group, while ruffling the hair of his young, self-appointed shadow. Conversation started up once more, and Sasuke mostly listened and watched until Sakura and Kurenai arrived.
"Merry Christmas, Sasuke," Sakura said, and he leaned down for a brief hug. She kissed his cheek, and shook his arm, smiling. "You look really good tonight! Is that new?"
Sasuke looked down at his white collared shirt, and then shrugged. "No, I don't think so."
"Well both you and Naruto look so handsome!" she tilted her head and grinned, then laughed when Naruto grabbed her in a friendly bear hug.
"Sakuraaaaaa!" Naruto exclaimed, lifting her off her feet for a moment and making her squeal. Sasuke looked over to exchange a smirk with Shikamaru, who then rolled his eyes in a silent moment of total understanding.
"It's so different to see you in civilian clothes," Sakura commented, and Sasuke exchanged a glance with Naruto, who then laughed and scratched the back of his head.
"And you ladies look extra gorgeous this evening," Kiba came closer to greet both Sakura and Kurenai with brotherly affection.
Sasuke felt a tug on his arm. "Hey," Naruto said, stepping closer while the ladies giggled at Kiba's flirting. "I'm going to grab something to eat, I'm starved. Do you want anything?"
"Nothing sweet," Sasuke said.
"Got it," Naruto chuckled. "Oh—and hey Sakura!" Sakura turned at the sound of her name. "Sasuke's got your birthday pictures!"
"Really? You've got them?" She came over squealing as Naruto vanished, and Sasuke sighed. How could pictures from almost nine months ago be so exciting?
"Hang on, they're in my coat," he answered.
He moved to the chair where he'd left his jacket folded underneath Naruto's, and slipped out the thin folder of prints from the inside pocket. Sakura took them over to Shikamaru, and sat on his lap so they both could look through them, Kurenai shifting around the table to strike up a conversation with Shino. Sasuke finished the last of his drink and set the glass on the table, noticing that Sai had finally left the immediate area; he located him speaking with Genma beside Kakashi and Yamato over near the bar.
"I can't believe he finally remembered these! Oh, look at this one," Sakura laughed, thumbing through the prints with a happy smile on her face. Kiba moved behind the two of them to see as well. Sakura continued to flip through the photographs, and then she paused, gasping in surprise and then smiling from ear to ear.
Shikamaru cleared his throat. "Sasuke, did you look at these yet?"
"No," he shrugged, disinterested. "I was there, so I remember."
"You might want to come look," Kiba chuckled. Sasuke hesitated, suspicious, but then moved to stand beside Shikamaru's chair and see what the fuss was about.
"Bet you don't remember this," Sakura inclined her head, holding up one of the photographs.
Sasuke frowned, taking it from her hand. In it, he and Naruto were washing and drying dishes in Sakura's kitchen—or that's what he'd been trying to do, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, when Naruto had swiped some suds and tried to stick a soapy finger in his ear. The candid shot had caught him ducking away and trying to block with a plate, Naruto lunging towards him brandishing a dishtowel and wearing an expression of pure, joyous mischief. Even though Sasuke's back was to the camera, his smirk was just visible on his lips, the random, yet oddly intimate moment captured forever on film.
Sakura giggled as Sasuke felt a flush creeping up his skin, so horrified and embarrassed all at once that he was completely speechless.
"Sakura," Shikamaru nudged his wife in warning.
"Awwww, we didn't mean to tease you, Sasuke," she said, biting her lip to keep from giggling as she reached to take the photos back.
Sasuke wasn't sure he wanted to give them back, so he moved them away from her hand. "Who took this?!" he asked, voice low, glancing around to see who else might have seen.
"Ino probably got a hold of the camera," Shikamaru answered. "See? The next one's of Chouji passed out sleeping on our couch."
Quite irrationally, Sasuke felt like taking back the gifted muffin tins, even if he had to yank them from her hands—the nerve of that woman!
"I can't believe her!" Sakura laughed, flipping through the last shots.
"Ha ha, and there's Shikamaru smoking out back," Kiba chuckled, pointing.
Shikamaru froze, and even Sasuke noticed the sudden iciness in the atmosphere. Sakura turned her torso to look her husband in the eye.
"Shi-ka-ma-ru…" she glared, and Sasuke and Kiba automatically took a small step backwards, recognizing her tone.
Shikamaru paled, but couldn't exactly escape while she was sitting in his lap. "What?" he tried to shrug. "I only had one."
Sakura held his eyes for a tense moment, then put the pictures away and set them on the table, sliding off his lap and adjusting her skirt. "Excuse me," she fake-smiled at Sasuke, then squeezed past him and disappeared into the full crowd to cool off—or to confront her best friend, one or the other.
The three men looked at each other, and Shikamaru sighed, smoothing a hand over his wiry ponytail.
"Bad luck, dude," Kiba thumped him on the back in sympathy.
"Don't worry about it," Shikamaru got to his feet, yawning. "A man should be able to have a cigarette once in a while if he wants to."
"Damn right," Kiba chuckled, rubbing an absent hand over his tummy. "I guess I better go get some food before it's gone," he said, smiling before stepping towards the crowds. "Oh, and that's a great picture of you and Naruto, Sasuke! You should get it framed!"
Sasuke boggled, again, while Kiba winked and disappeared. Then he turned to Shikamaru, who gave him a sympathetic look before putting his coat back on. "You look like you could use a cigarette," he offered, jerking his chin back towards the doors. "I've got plenty."
Sasuke glanced down at the print in his hands, then moved around Kurenai and Shino to retrieve his coat. Escape sounded good. He slipped the photographic evidence back into his inside pocket, which brought an immediate sense of relief. Shikamaru paused to whisper something in Yuuta's ear, then smiled and pressed a finger to his lips, swearing him to silence. The boy grinned but stayed where he was, covering for his "big bro."
Shikamaru led the way outside to a remote area perfect for smoke breaks. Sasuke didn't smoke in general, but somehow the idea of indulging appealed to him. The dry night air was perfect for such illicit activities, and the warm smoke felt good inside his lungs, even if it tickled.
Being away from the crowded hall also helped him to relax. Like him, Shikamaru didn't feel the need to fill the silence with chatter, which was only one of the reasons he and Sakura had become their closest friends over the years. Sasuke finished his cigarette, and Shikamaru lit him another before someone else came to join them.
Jiraiya greeted them with his low chuckle, leaning against the balcony railing on Sasuke's other side. "So this is where you two ran off to."
Jiraiya placed a cigar between his lips, and Sasuke leaned forward so that Shikamaru could reach over and light it for him. Even one-armed and one-eyed, Jiraiya's presence was as cheerful as it was imposing. The three settled back into an easy silence, sharing the camaraderie of wind and ash under the countless stars.
"That Naruto's always the center of attention," the old man chuckled after several minutes, inhaling and then blowing a smoke ring out into the night.
"Hn," Sasuke agreed, dropping his finished cigarette onto the concrete and scraping it under the heel of his boot. He wondered if that meant Naruto was getting into trouble inside, and frowned.
"Jealous?" Shikamaru quirked a smile at Jiraiya, who laughed.
"Nah," he shook his mane of white hair. "He's one of a kind; it's to be expected everyone loves him."
Shikamaru chuckled along with him, but Sasuke remained quiet. His brows drew together, knowing the statement to be true.
"By the way," Jiraiya continued, turning to face him with a sly grin. "Good thinking on getting Tsunade a hangover kit, Sasuke—ten thousand Aspirin sure will come in handy!"
Sasuke wondered how in the world Naruto had thought of such a thing, shaking his head. "Actually it was Naruto who picked that out."
"Oh?" Jiraiya tilted his head. "We assumed it was you." The big man shrugged. "But no matter, thanks anyways."
"Naruto's surprisingly clever with gifts," Shikamaru commented, nodding along with Jiraiya.
Sasuke tucked his hands into his coat pockets, conjuring the image of Naruto exchanging presents with his friends like some absurd, blond Santa. As if reading his mind, Jiraiya turned to meet his eyes.
"So was Santa good to you this year, Sasuke?"
Sasuke blinked, thrown off by the question's correlation to his thoughts. "I … guess."
"Must be nice being with Naruto," Jiraiya smirked, turning to rest his forearm on the railing. "He loves to spoil people with presents."
They both waited for him to say something; it was worse than awkward. Sasuke debated his possible responses, not that it was any of their business in the first place.
"We usually skip all that," Sasuke finally said, prickling under Jiraiya's sudden stare.
"You do? How strange," Jiraiya's eyes narrowed without being rude, though the added calculation was unmistakable.
"It's not that big a deal," Sasuke replied, knowing he sounded defensive.
Why would they bother with gifts when there wasn't anything they really needed? But Jiraiya continued to look at him, which pissed him off though he managed to keep it from showing in his face. Eventually, the old man chuckled and brought the cigar back to his lips.
"I guess every couple's different."
Sasuke scowled. He didn't care if it made sense or not—it was just how things were.
"Maybe they've already got everything they could want," Shikamaru cocked his head as he finished his third cigarette, mirroring Sasuke's earlier movement and grinding the butt under his shoe. "What they have doesn't come in a box."
Sasuke stared at him, the idea uncomfortably profound.
Then Jiraiya laughed, and Sasuke found his skin flushing against his will for the second time that evening, the rush of blood between his ears speeding up with his pulse. He had to look away from both of them, startled two minutes later when Shikamaru laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Let's go in."
The three nodded as they parted ways, leaving the Sannin chuckling as he continued blowing smoke rings. Shikamaru produced a tiny aerosol can to spray on their clothes and get rid of the immediate signs that they'd been smoking, and then they reentered the packed hall to find their other halves. As Jiraiya had pointed out, Naruto was still indeed the center of the hubbub, their round table littered in bits of wrapping paper and empty plates of food, not to mention the surrounding circles of friends and colleagues alike.
Sasuke took his time pushing through the crowd, really watching Naruto for the first time that night. It was strange to see him in civilian clothes—jeans and a blue collared shirt underneath the dark sweater—just as it was strange to be wearing them. His eyes were drawn to the blue cuffs at Naruto's wrists as he gestured and laughed with Konohamaru, their friendship and affection obvious even from several meters away.
Seeing Naruto from this angle, Sasuke thought he understood a little of what Sakura had meant before. Naruto was handsome… only in an idiotic, yet charming way.
Sasuke moved step by step into that outer ring, working his way towards the center until he was within arm's reach of Naruto. Naruto saw him and grinned, moving the rest of the distance so that he could pass over a plate filled halfway with un-sweet things. Sasuke eagerly took a bite of something breaded and delicious.
"Where'd you go?" Naruto asked, curious.
Sasuke finished chewing before he answered, shrugging. "I was with Shikamaru."
"Ah, yeah Sakura was looking for him too," Naruto laughed. Then he leaned in close, touching the back of Sasuke's neck so he could whisper into his ear, "Hey. Let's go home."
Sasuke looked at him in disbelief, something thudding behind his ribs. "Now?" he mouthed, completely surprised that Naruto was the one making this suggestion to him. He'd taken it for granted that Naruto would need to be dragged away before the very end.
"No, no, eat first," Naruto smiled, turning away to say goodbye to the person on his left and begin the long process of leaving the party.
While Naruto methodically worked the room, Sasuke had time to clean off his plate; he was hungrier than he'd thought. He watched as each of their friends offered hugs or handshakes, until all the goodbyes had been said and they both had their coats on. Naruto kissed Tsunade on the cheek, and Sasuke offered a polite wave before they left the room, holding a sack full of differently wrapped packages than the ones they'd come with.
Jiraiya was still outside smoking when they came around the corner on their way out. Sasuke would rather have kept going, but knew Naruto would want to see the man before they left, so he didn't bother arguing.
"Going so soon?" Jiraiya questioned, clapping his good hand on Naruto's shoulder and chuckling.
"Yeah, we've got somewhere else to be," Naruto laughed.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. This was the first he'd heard of any other commitments that evening—what the hell?
"Well it looks like you made out pretty good this year anyways," Jiraiya nodded at the sack of gifts in Naruto's hand. "Get what you wanted?"
Sasuke watched him lean in and whisper something in Jiraiya's ear, hand cupped around his mouth to shield the words from any prying eyes trying to read his lips. Then Naruto looked at him, and winked, while Jiraiya erupted in a belly laugh.
It might have stemmed from the recent awkward encounter with the Sannin, but somehow Sasuke got the feeling they were laughing at him. He looked from Naruto's mischievous grin, to Jiraiya's obvious mirth, and knew one thing—he refused to stand here and be made fun of like this.
"I'm going," Sasuke said, turning on his heel.
"Uh—bye!" Naruto called to his teacher as he rushed to catch up with Sasuke's pace.
"Run along, run along," Jiraiya calmed his laughter enough to speak. "Don't keep him waiting on the biggest date night of the year!"
Naruto caught up with him on the steps of the Hokage tower. "Hey, don't be mad, he was just teasing me."
"What did you say to him?" Sasuke glared, too annoyed to let it go.
"Oh nothing," Naruto chuckled, rubbing the back of his head.
Sasuke turned around to face him head on, and Naruto had to stop short so they didn't collide. "Are you refusing to tell me?"
"No, it's just…" Naruto hesitated, putting his palm on the front of Sasuke's coat to press gently on his chest. Then he thunked him, much as he had earlier that day. "If you really want to know, ask me again tomorrow, but it's mushy just to warn you."
Sasuke frowned at Naruto's renewed expression of mischief, still suspicious, though he rolled his eyes and dropped the matter. At least for now. He seethed for several blocks, heading towards their apartment even though Naruto hadn't said where they were supposed to be going. Naruto hadn't protested yet, simply walked beside him and matched his pace, the warmth of his even breaths fogging in the chill.
When they reached the footbridge over to their side of town, Sasuke stopped, frustrated and angry and cold. "So where are we going now, Naruto?"
"Uh, wherever you'd like," Naruto said, shrugging. "Home is fine too."
"Didn't you just say you'd made plans?"
Naruto laughed, "Oh, well I made that up so we didn't get stuck staying for another drink."
"Oh." Sasuke sighed, relieved. But something was still bothering him, since the annoyed feeling he'd had all day wasn't going away, even with the promise of peace and quiet on the other side of town.
"Why?" Naruto leaned against the bridge's railing, chuckling. "Did you really want to stick around for the mistletoe games or something?"
Sasuke glared his response. He could think of five trillion things he'd rather do than suffer through Tsunade's dinner when the alcohol had turned most shinobi—the single ones especially—into exhibitionists. He'd even baby-sit.
"Or we could go ice-skating," Naruto jerked his chin to the smooth expanse of ice stretching underneath them.
Sasuke glanced over the rails, where the white of the ice touched the hard, frozen mud of the banks. Then he eyed the sack of gifts between them on the bridge. "Are there skates in there or something?"
"Bah, who needs 'em?" Naruto jumped up on the bridge's railing, trotting along the curved edge to where it angled closer to the surface. He flipped and landed neatly on the motionless river, waving an arm in invitation.
Sasuke rolled his eyes out of habit, but as Naruto looked so happy, he felt strangely obligated to join him no matter how spontaneous or idiotic it was. It helped that nobody else was out walking in the cold streets besides them—everyone was either in the Hokage tower, or already at home for more personal celebrations.
He landed beside Naruto's spot, just as Naruto took off in a sprint. Sasuke watched him gain speed and then coast quite far, flailing his arms as he slipped near the end though he regained his balance and swerved to face him in a neat spin. From his new position fifty meters away Naruto grinned and scraped an imaginary line with his toe, challenging him.
Sasuke's lip curled upward. Gathering his chakra he sprinted and leaped, the harsh wind cutting along his cheeks as he slid right past Naruto's line. In retaliation Naruto took off back the way they'd come, running and sliding as far as he could manage to go in dress shoes, since of course neither of them had on ninja boots, not that they would be much better for such impromptu activities.
The sliding game soon became tag, when Naruto reached out to knock him over as he passed him a third time. Sasuke managed to both block and keep his footing, but took off after Naruto to dish out some punishment. And so it went, back and forth, hither and yon, with slips and scrapes and bangs followed by tackles and throws—and Sasuke realized exactly what had been missing from the whole day.
Numb fingers and frozen cheeks were secondary to the preciousness of these carefree moments. No pressures, no expectations, no interfering responsibilities. No ex-boyfriends lurking on the sidelines, jockeying for position. No teachers, no students, no teammates or classmates to get in the way. No rushing to meet a deadline, no decisions to be weighed between items and cost. No fuss about packaging, boxes or bows.
No distractions—just them. Exactly what he'd wanted.
Here in the quiet wintry night, each had the other's undivided attention, and to Sasuke, anyways, it felt nice.
Naturally, this feeling of warmth led to a miscalculation as Naruto skidded near to him, and instead of the intended playful grab, Sasuke got knocked backwards onto the ice from a calculated grappling maneuver on Naruto's part. He did manage to take Naruto down with him, which might not have been so bad… except that Naruto's knee accidentally landed right on his crotch, blasting the wind from his lungs in a smashing blow.
"Oh shit, are you okay?" Naruto jumped up, hovering beside him on hands and knees while Sasuke bit his lip against the excruciating pain between his legs and rolled on his side, wanting to die.
"Sasuke? Sasuke?" Naruto panted from their previous efforts, voice anxious.
"Shut up," Sasuke closed his eyes, curling his head forward towards his knees. "Just… give me a minute…"
"Sure, fine," Naruto moved a bit further away, concerned. "Sorry man, I just didn't think you were going to move that way—"
"Naruto," Sasuke warned him to be quiet.
"Okay, sorry, take your time…"
He knew it wasn't Naruto's fault, he knew it hadn't been on purpose. But damn did it suck to have his balls crushed on Christmas Eve, just when the day had become a bit less bleak.
When the aching subsided enough to move again, Sasuke sat up, the rest of his body frozen through from lying on the ice, Naruto watching him expectantly. If they were twelve, he'd have returned the favor. Instead, however, when Naruto offered him a hand up Sasuke swallowed down his anger and took it before walking over to the edge of the frozen riverbank and hiking back up to street level. No more ice for him.
They didn't talk much during the rest of the trip back, mostly because of the bitter cold and the deep desire to get to their apartment as soon as possible. Sasuke was extremely relieved to make it back inside, achieving the long awaited goal at the end of a day filled with too many things for his liking. Naruto put the bag of gifts in their living room while Sasuke hung up his coat, rubbing his hands together to get some of the feeling back.
"Hey," Naruto said, leaving his coat in a heap on the sofa. "Come here."
Sasuke gave him a look as Naruto dragged him by the elbow into their bedroom, still shivering from the abrupt change in climate. Naruto reached to undo the button on his jeans.
"Watch it," Sasuke twisted his hips to interfere, instinctively pushing Naruto's hands away though his fingers persisted.
"I want to check and make sure you're okay," Naruto let a partial grin show on his lips as he tugged down the zipper.
Sasuke sighed, tense as he watched Naruto pull his shirt out of the way and work the jeans down his hips, worried since his balls were still tender and this seemed like a very bad idea. Sometimes though, with Naruto, any excuse would do.
"How can you want to fool around in this situation?"
"How can you not?" Naruto grinned, sliding a hand beneath his underwear.
Sasuke hissed, reaching for Naruto's wrist. "Your hands are cold, moron."
"So I'll warm them up," Naruto stepped closer, reaching his other hand up Sasuke's back and into his thick hair. "Any further objections, now that we're home alone for the night?"
'Tch. When he puts it like that…' Sasuke tilted his head forward, widening his legs to give him better access and also make sure there would be no further discomfort—accidental or otherwise.
"Just… be careful what you're doing."
"Sure, sure," Naruto fit their mouths together in a long, slow kiss, moving his underwear lower before gently stroking and fondling him into a full erection.
"Did you go out smoking tonight?" Naruto pulled back, humor sparkling in his eyes. "You taste like you had a couple cigs."
"So? You taste like Christmas cake but I wasn't going to complain," Sasuke chided.
"That's a first," Naruto flashed him a grin before kissing him again, eating any of Sasuke's further comments straight from his mouth before they could be spoken aloud. Sasuke slid an arm behind Naruto's neck and held him tight, sucking on his tongue and kissing back until all either of them could taste was the spicy aroma of mutual, urgent ardor.
Naruto's groping made it difficult not to tremble, teasing his cock with long strokes and then rubbing the protruding tip with his calloused thumb. Sasuke groaned against his lips, his hands curled into fists along Naruto's sides.
"Mmm, well you feel all right," Naruto whispered into his neck, nibbling. "No malfunctions so far—"
"—Malfunctions?!" Sasuke shook him, and Naruto grinned, guiding him closer to their bed.
"Well I have to be sure, don't I? This is a serious, thorough checkup, Sasuke."
"Tch," Sasuke sat down on the edge of the mattress, shifting backwards and grabbing Naruto by the front of his sweater to make him climb up beside him. "Then your ass better be prepared."
"Ooooh," Naruto's eyes flashed with equal mischief and lust. He began to slide Sasuke's jeans down over the curve of his butt, pulling them slowly off his legs. "Does that mean we'll be up real late then?"
"What does that matter?" Sasuke kicked off his shoes, and Naruto tossed the jeans somewhere on the floor.
Then Naruto crawled forward between his legs, holding Sasuke's gaze as he nudged the base of his stiffened cock with his nose and grazed the shaft with his teeth through the protective layer of cotton. "Because I made plans for tomorrow."
Sasuke sat up, furious. "You what?!"
Naruto grinned up at him, sliding a pink tongue across the exposed tip of his penis as he slid his hands around the back of Sasuke's thighs.
"Yep. The whole day, just you and me—" he paused, licking into the slit and making Sasuke shiver with need, "And your enormous personality flaw."
Sasuke didn't miss the innuendo. He also couldn't help the flush.
"Tch," Sasuke pushed Naruto's hair into his eyes so he couldn't see the affect of his words, even if they were true. "You have three seconds to put your mouth to better use before I do it for you," he warned, shivering again at the vibrations caused by Naruto's immediate laughter.
But Naruto didn't need to say anything else. His lips and tongue said it all; more than a mouthful. Naruto's hand caressed over his stomach and then pushed so he'd lay back on their blankets; Sasuke complied, but only after kicking off his underwear and making room on the bed for Naruto to "inspect" him properly. He deserved some good head after the incident on the ice, and no one but Naruto could take less than five minutes to make his muscles burn and his back bow from the exquisite tension of holding off orgasm for as long as he could.
"C'mon, Sasuke, don't hold back…" Naruto whispered against his balls.
Sasuke felt the gentle kisses on his most sensitive skin lead back up to the rougher demands on his cock from the roof of Naruto's mouth and the tightness of his throat. Naruto groaned around him, his hands squeezing Sasuke's buttocks before brushing fingertips over his anus to add to the torture.
'No, no, no…' Sasuke panted from being so close, determined not to come before he showed Naruto's ass that he was in perfectly fine working order.
But all Naruto had to do was curve one finger inside him and Sasuke thrashed as he came in sudden, hot bursts of pleasure. Naruto caught and swallowed most of it, and what he didn't he wiped from his chin with the back of his hand, and then licked Sasuke clean. Sasuke threw his arm over his eyes while he tried to catch his breath, his body momentarily limp.
"Heh," Naruto chuckled, propping himself on his elbow and leering. "No malfunctions here either."
"Shut up," Sasuke kicked him away half-heartedly, and Naruto grabbed his ankle and ducked out of range. Then he crawled up beside him and stretched out, undoing the buttons of Sasuke's shirt one by one.
Sasuke shot him a level glare, "And don't think we're finished yet."
"Fuck no," Naruto grinned, leaning closer and waggling his eyebrows. "But now I know I'll be completely satisfied."
Sasuke pushed him down on his back. "As if that's ever been an issue," he retorted, reaching for the buckle of Naruto's belt and giving it an impatient tug.
Naruto grinned and tucked his hands beneath his head while Sasuke worked his fly open, but Sasuke didn't touch him there right away. He slid his hands underneath Naruto's shirt and sweater, scratching his blunt nails across Naruto's chest and ribs while his tongue reached deep into Naruto's mouth to taste the lingering bitterness of his first climax. Naruto pulled him close, hissing when Sasuke's fingers found his nipples or dug into the small of his back.
In no time at all, Sasuke could feel Naruto's throbbing hard-on rubbing against his hip where it poked through the front of his boxers. Sasuke smirked, sucking Naruto's lower lip and biting it with his teeth, enjoying the way Naruto's skin became flushed and splotchy with the desire kindled from such simple touches. His wants and needs were obvious from every shudder and bit-back moan, and Sasuke salivated at now being the one to have complete control of the manner of his partner's gratification.
The rest of their clothes soon joined the ones on the floor. The warmth of the apartment became a sweltering heat in their small bedroom, the friction of mouths, hands and limbs turning unbearable in the joint seeking of physical completion.
Forehead pressed into their mattress, Naruto trembled on his elbows and knees while Sasuke tongued him from behind far longer than any normal person could stand it. He disregarded Naruto's pleas, holding tight to the base of Naruto's hard cock so he wouldn't come the second his lube-covered fingers eased their way inside him.
"Ahhhhhh, fuck, Sasuke, just skip it, just do it, just do it now…"
"You're not ready, Naruto," Sasuke tried to be reasonable, though his body craved it just as much. "You've been the one fucking me lately—"
"—so what in hell are you waiting for?!" Naruto's hands made fists in the blankets, and Sasuke could tell he was both glaring and grinning even if he couldn't see it.
"Tch," Sasuke added a third finger, only because he wanted to be able to do this more than once before morning. But he didn't wait overlong. "Remember you asked for it."
He reached to the string of condoms lying off to the side and tore one off, seeing Naruto's head turn towards him while he opened the package and unrolled the ring of latex down his hard cock. Their eyes met as he added extra lube, the blue of Naruto's hidden behind dilated pupils that begged him to hurry up. Sasuke moved into a better position, and he watched Naruto's shoulders tense with the effort of holding still, the muscles all down his tanned back straining as he pushed the head of his cock forward into hips shifting backward to meet him.
Naruto's thighs shook against his, the heat between their joined bodies making Sasuke dizzy as his considerable girth forced its way deeper and deeper. There were curses flowing from both their lips, the sting of such tightness reminding Sasuke of the earlier accidental pain, though it didn't lessen the sharpness of the pleasure he felt with Naruto here and now.
He folded his body overtop Naruto's, tasting the salt along his spine and moving slow, slow, as slowly as he could discipline himself to move. Naruto arched his back and twisted to share a sloppy kiss before both of them became breathless from the sheer ecstasy of their bodies' movements, first rocking, thrusting, and then pounding a furious and desperate rhythm that echoed their twin cries for release.
Naruto came first, spasms wracking his body and gripping Sasuke so hard and fast he bit his lip and held his breath—and then came right after.
Sasuke carefully pulled out, and Naruto sank face down into their blankets while he disposed of the condom in their bathroom, his legs more wobbly than he'd ever admit. Then he lay beside Naruto and buried his face between his shoulder blades, all set to rest comfortably for a while before one of them got the urge to begin another round. Naruto reached for Sasuke's arm and tucked it around his ribs, and Sasuke was content enough to enjoy the quiet moments of peace while their heart rates returned to normal.
Then Naruto chuckled. "Well, I gue—" Sasuke clapped his palm over Naruto's lips before he could finish his sentence.
"Say the word 'malfunction' one more time and I'll kill you," he warned, though a smirk decided to crook its way into his expression anyhow.
"Never," Naruto promised, shifting downward so that he could rest his head on Sasuke's other arm. Sasuke closed his eyes and took a deep breath, amused that some of his cologne had rubbed off on Naruto's skin.
"…though maybe we should do it a couple more times just to be sure."
"Shut up, moron."
After two more hours of… well… and at least one hour of exhausted, dreamless sleep, Sasuke woke up.
He blinked his eyes open to find they'd left all the lights on, but before he could do anything about it he slipped out from under a snoring Naruto to take a much-needed piss. His whole body ached. Every joint was stiff, and his neck had a crick in it from whatever position he'd been in for the last hour. He washed his hands and stumbled to their dresser, pulling a long-sleeved pajama shirt over his head to match his flannel pants; the temperature had dropped again outside, which meant the thermostat needed to be adjusted as well.
Leaving the bathroom light on for the moment, Sasuke flicked off the overhead light in their bedroom first, then made the circuit around their apartment until he came to the living room. It was long past midnight, but the only sign of Christmas in their home was the oversized sack of gifts, lying right where Naruto had left it leaning against their sofa. The bright colored paper and bits of ribbon sticking out of the top were incongruous next to their standard beige upholstery and carpeting.
Perturbed, he walked over to it and knelt, pawing through the wrapped and unwrapped items inside. He found nothing out of the ordinary, although some of the gifts would probably need Naruto's explanation—why would someone give them a Rubik's Cube? What were they supposed to do with it, really?
He turned it over in his hand, considering what it meant that so many people in Konoha had given gifts to Naruto, and by proxy, him. Nobody else at the banquet had needed a sack to transport either the gifts they'd brought, or the gifts they'd received—Naruto was the only one who had this special place in everyone's heart, just as Jiraiya had said.
"So tell me, what did Naruto get you this year?"
"So was Santa good to you this year, Sasuke?"
Sasuke frowned. Naruto hadn't bought him anything this year—and it wasn't because he didn't want to. Sasuke knew exactly why, because it was his rule: They didn't do gifts. Plain and simple.
But … what if Naruto had really wanted a gift from him? Did he think it was strange that so many people in the village bought him presents, except for Sasuke—who undeniably meant more to him than anyone else?
Sasuke put the Rubik's Cube in the sack with the rest, and turned off the light. He adjusted the thermostat in the hallway on his way to their bedroom, but stopped in the doorway. Inside, Naruto lay spread-eagled across the bed, totally unaware that he was snoring loud enough to rattle the blinds. That detail aside, the light from the bathroom angled across his profile and caught the undersides of his blond lashes, capturing the innocence of slumber where his crown of hair lay tousled on a pillow.
Naruto's turquoise pendant pricked the light where it had slipped across his shoulder. Sasuke's eyes followed the line of his collarbones over and then down his exposed, bare torso, all the way to the first thick golden hairs beneath his navel.
He wanted a camera.
He wanted to save this image of Naruto—who was neither still nor quiet… nor all that innocent in reality—for further reflection.
Naruto was his. This apartment was his. This life, in Konoha, in Fire Country—this life at all—was his: But only because of Naruto, Uzumaki Naruto, this blond idiot who never gave up on him for so many years and ended up giving him so much.
How was it possible? How was it possible for him to deserve anything even remotely close to this good?
Sasuke turned around, blinking the strange moisture on his eyelashes away and rubbing the need for sleep from his eyes. He went in darkness to the front coat closet, and reached inside his pocket to get what he'd put there only a few hours ago. Then he made his way back to where Naruto slept on, oblivious, and tucked the secret photograph of them into the frame of the mirror hanging above their dresser. He'd let Naruto find it later, whenever he got up.
He turned off the bathroom light, and got back into bed, pushing Naruto's leg out of the way so he could have some of the space. Then he touched Naruto's whiskered cheek, smiled, and settled underneath the blankets to go back to sleep.
"Merry Christmas, Naruto."