"So why didn't you change Sasuke's schedule?" Naruto asked Iruka, as the older man kneeled on the linoleum floor of the cafeteria and took pictures of the school choir as they set up for…something.
His eyes didn't stay focused too long on Iruka. Right at that moment, the cafeteria doors were held open by two choir members as a female student carted in a folded up raiser. Lounging on top of it, as if he were king of the world, was a boy.
"Thank you, my loyal subjects," the boy said dramatically, and waved to a few of the kids who had decided to stare. However, a second later he rolled off the raiser and walked beside the girl as she continued to push the raiser further into the room.
"Got it," Iruka muttered victoriously to himself, looking down at his digital camera. On the screen was the image of the boy sitting on top of the raiser and the girl pushing him without any sign of strain. Naruto found his lips tugging upwards into a smile. He would have been just as happy as Iruka if he had been the one trying to take the shot, just managing to capture it before the boy had moved.
As happy as he was for Iruka he needed the older man's attention. "Iruka—"
The counselor cut him off, while aiming his camera at a new set of targets. "I heard you Naruto; I am just trying to think of the best way to explain it to you."
"Why can't you just tell me?" Naruto wanted to demand, but he kept his tone in check as he spoke. He knew he was a little on edge after talking to Ibiki, and that he shouldn't take his frustrations out on innocent people who had no idea what was going on, but it was difficult. He felt trapped. It was like he was stuck in a hole, and though he knew he was safe for the moment, if he didn't get out soon it was going to rain and he was going to drown.
"Naruto," Iruka began, frowning as he took another picture.
Naruto wished he knew what was going on in Iruka's mind. Even if he knew that whatever Iruka was keeping from him wasn't going to be pleasant, he still wanted to know. He wanted—needed—the truth.
Iruka sighed like a man accepting that he was about to be hung. His shoulders rose and shifted down as he took a breath and exhaled. He didn't look any more lax, but his eyes were filled with determination, and the words that came out of his mouth were firm. "Sasuke's schedule is changing, but as it would have anyway. He is a drama student, so he would have been required to help with graduation like any other drama student. However, because there haven't been any reports about altercations between him and his peers, the school board has decided not to force him to visit me. Like you, he misses all of his morning classes, but unlike you he has three afternoon classes. He also does not have take-home finals, though, if he asks, his teachers are required to accommodate him."
"So no one has treated him any differently?" Naruto asked, skeptical and a bit jealous. It was like getting hit on the chest while playing dodge ball; not as bad as getting punched in the gut, but the act still left a sting. He knew he should be happy that people were leaving Sasuke alone, but it did not change the bitter sensation swelling in his heart at the unfair actions of his peers.
"The school doesn't know," Iruka pointedly stated, giving Naruto a curious look, as if asking Naruto if he had any information. "If Sasuke has had any problems with his fellow students then none of the faculty or staff knows, and it hasn't been reported by a student."
"So why not have him talk to you everyday, like me? You know, precaution and whatnot?" Naruto shrugged nonchalantly, but secretly the wheels in his head were turning. While he was jealous of the idea of Sasuke not being treated any differently, he didn't like the idea of anyone picking on the older boy either. It was like a bad picture one paints; it's fine when the painter insults their own work, but when another person does so then it is an act of war.
Naruto knew what it was like to be treated differently, and maybe Sasuke wouldn't care. He certainly didn't seem the type to care, but Naruto couldn't bear the idea of letting someone insult Sasuke and not doing something about it. Sure, Sasuke was rude, inconsiderate, and, and, and…
Naruto internally huffed while he crossed his arms in front of his chest and glared at the ceiling. Okay, Sasuke wasn't that bad. Sasuke had driven him to school, had walked him to school since they started their act, helped a girl escape her pursuer, made sure Naruto was okay after getting in a fight (though he claimed to be forced), and a few other things. He wasn't a complete jerk; he just lacked social skills. Overall, Sasuke was a decent person, so he didn't deserve to be treated like a pariah.
The blonde's thoughts went quiet when Iruka shifted his weight and stood up straight.
He faced Naruto, a serious and disappointed look on his face. "Sadly, the school would rather hold off on forcing Sasuke to change his schedule due to his family's donations to the school."
Naruto's jaw dropped. "You 're kidding, right?"
Iruka shook his head.
And you think you aren't a spoiled brat? Naruto bitterly snapped at Sasuke in his mind. It was moments like these that made him wish he were a telepath. Maybe it was better that he wasn't because he was sure in a few hours he wouldn't be as mad. It made sense that Sasuke's family donated to the school, and because of that the school handled Sasuke differently than… non-donators. However, at that very moment, Naruto wanted nothing more than to strangle the Uchiha for having the annoying luck of being born into a rich family, and thus getting things handed to him on a silver platter.
"I know this must be very upsetting to hear," Iruka said softly, and placed a gentle hand on Naruto's shoulder. The hand gave Naruto little comfort, but his internal rant had a few less curse words in it.
"I'm okay," Naruto said through gritted teeth. "He's my boyfriend," Naruto tried not to spit the word out, but a bit of venom lined his voice as he forced the between his lips. "I'm happy that he doesn't have to suffer through any inconveniences. I just wish I could be so lucky."
"Naruto," Iruka said matter-of-factly. "You are a terrible actor. I suggest instead of trying to conceal your frustration, you show it. I am your counselor, so I am here to listen and not judge."
"Really?" Naruto quirked an eyebrow, something he immediately recognized as an Uchiha trademark, and scowled.
Iruka nodded his head and smiled, giving Naruto's shoulder a squeeze.
"I want to strangle him."
"A little harsh, but somewhat understandable from where you are coming from."
"I want to crush his windpipe and tear it out of his throat."
"Okay," Iruka sounded a little taken aback.
"I want to tackle him to the ground and punch him repeatedly in the face."
"O…kay," Iruka's tone changed from shocked to unsure.
"I then want to drag him over to the lockers, open one, shove his head in it, and repeatedly slam the locker door on his head until he goes into a coma."
"I think that's enough, Naruto," Iruka interjected, having removed his hand from Naruto's shoulder and looking particularly worriedly at the teen.
However, Naruto was on a roll and he wasn't going to stop. "I want to yell at him until his ears bleed. I am just so pissed off. I know this was my idea, but why do I get all of the crap while he comes out smelling like roses? He probably doesn't even feel guilty, while I spend everyday feeling guilty because I have to hide it from everyone I care about. It's so easy for him! It was my idea, but…"
And like that all of the words Naruto had kept bottled up in him ceased flowing from his mouth. He hadn't realized that he even held such a strong sense of jealousy—yes, he knew he was jealous at times, but never so strongly—and animosity towards Sasuke until that moment. Sure, he fought with Sasuke a lot, but it was never anything personal, or so he had thought. All of his fights had seemed more like fights for… dominance, for lack of a better word. Did he really dislike Sasuke so much that he would truly do all of the awful things he said he wanted to do?
It didn't seem possible, because beneath all of the anger held towards Sasuke he knew he also felt some sort of bond. It wasn't the strongest bond; it certainly wasn't friendship, but it was a bond nonetheless. It was the same bond that had him wanting to learn more about the Uchiha. It was the same bond that he felt when he had been at Sasuke's house and the older boy had been kind enough to answer his questions.
However, the burning inferno that had consumed him seconds ago had left him shaky and he wasn't so sure about that bond anymore. He knew he was edgy and so his emotions were heightened, but he didn't think he was that edgy.
"Are you okay, Naruto?" Iruka asked.
No words came to him, and his stomach felt like the hollow trunk of a tree.
He didn't have an answer.
Naruto's stomach remained hollow for the rest of the day. He felt eerily calm as people approached him, even when it was to make a snide remark. He felt as if he had landed in the eye of the storm of emotions within himself, and he probably had, or he was still in shock. He wasn't sure which the better scenario was. He knew at any moment he could snap out of his shocked state or be pushed into the storm of emotions.
He still couldn't believe that he had reacted so strongly in the cafeteria. His only saving grace was that Iruka promised to keep the moment a secret between them. The last thing he needed was to have his friends and family panic because his emotions got a little overwhelming at school.
A little? He heard himself think sarcastically. It was like you were about to have an emotional break down.
Heat rushed to Naruto's face, and he glanced to his side where Sasuke was sitting. The two of them were driving home in silence, though, every now and then Sasuke would make an annoyed sound if he caught sight of the paparazzi in his rearview mirror. For once in his life, Naruto appreciated the silence; it gave him time to think, something he had been doing a lot recently.
Releasing a breath he hadn't known he was holding, Naruto slumped in his seat and felt the heat in his face dissipate. He had been worried that Sasuke would notice his embarrassment and interrogate him about it.
Naruto rolled his eyes heavenward, and felt a bitter laugh rumbled in his chest, begging to be released. What had he been thinking? Sasuke didn't care enough to figure out why he was embarrassed. He might tease Naruto if he noticed, but to actually ask about it? Bleak and doubtful.
A part of Naruto argued with him though. It shoved an unwelcomed memory at him with such force that Naruto had to wince. It was a stupid memory, but he would be lying if he didn't take some humor from it. The memory was of him and Sasuke at lunch the day after Naruto had fought with Kiba. In that moment Sasuke had cared enough to ask Naruto what was bothering him… and then proceeded to kiss him.
Which made Naruto want to stick his tongue out and make gagging sounds.
Okay, so maybe that wasn't the best memory he had of Sasuke, and maybe it revealed more of Sasuke's negative side than positive, but he had taken an interest in Naruto's life once. Who was to say if he would or wouldn't do it another time?
Ack! What was Naruto trying to do to himself? For days he had thought Sasuke was nothing more than a jerk that needed a good fist to the face. Why today was he trying to find all of the good qualities in Sasuke? It didn't make sense! He should be excited and breaking off his deal with Sasuke! Why was he acting so irrational and worrying about whether he stayed friends with Sasuke or not? What was he thinking? Had Sakon hit him in the head too hard? Had he drunk anything suspicious? Sasuke was… Sasuke was…
Naruto frowned and stared at the other boy, letting the back of his head rest against the passenger's side window. He kept staring, not caring that at any moment Sasuke could catch him in the act. His mind supplied him with many words and phrases to describe Sasuke, but he couldn't agree with any of the descriptions.
Another memory came to mind, this memory far more recent. Sasuke had tried to warn him about the media the other day, but Naruto hadn't noticed. He could remember that happy, almost giddy feeling that had consumed him when he realized in the school's office that Sasuke had been trying to be nice to him.
Sasuke was complicated.
He could be very direct about certain things and then indirect about the rest. He had the ability to be nice and kind, but he was only nice when he was mean. He acted like he didn't care but if things didn't go his way then he would become enraged and take it out on people. In a way, Sasuke was a paradox: a challenge and Naruto never gave up on a challenge.
Naruto felt the car slow down and come to a halt; he assumed they had arrived at his house. A quick glance out the window would tell him if his assumption was correct, but he preferred to continue his examination of Sasuke.
He felt a weak smile bloom on his face when he caught a questioning glare coming from the corner of Sasuke's eye.
The other boy put on the car's parking break and shifted in his seat so he was sitting face to face with Naruto. He positioned himself so that his body radiated annoyance and impatience, but Naruto could see the curiosity in the look Sasuke gave him. It was just a simple pinching of the brow, but the small act gave everything away.
"What?" Sasuke took the initiative.
"Just thinking," Naruto responded, feeling calm. The calm he felt now however was different than the one he had felt just minutes ago. The calm he had felt then had been like an illusion. It had been a weak wall separating him from his emotions, and was slowly being chipped away by the emotions it was trying to keep at bay. He hadn't been calm; he had been numb.
What he felt now, this sense of peace, was true calm.
"That can't be good," Sasuke grumbled, glancing to his side to avoid eye contact.
"Why do you try act like you don't like me?" the words slid out of Naruto's mouth as if he were simply breathing.
Sasuke's shoulders tensed and his eyes froze between moving away from glancing over his shoulder to looking at Naruto. He didn't stay frozen for long, but it was long enough for Naruto to know that the next words out of Sasuke mouth were to cover up what he was really feeling. "Didn't we already have this conversation?"
Naruto sighed, silently berating himself for even trying to get Sasuke to talk to him on an emotional level. "Yeah, we've talked about it, but I thought maybe we should talk about it now, since…" Naruto paused. Did he want to blurt it out just like that? Maybe he should try to ease Sasuke into what he was about to say? Then again, it wasn't like what he was going to say was going to be earth shattering.
"We can break off the deal," Naruto blurted.
What? Sasuke's mind tried to catch up with what Naruto had said. He had been prepared for Naruto to whine and try to prove that Sasuke liked him, but he hadn't been prepared for the words that came out of Naurto's mouth. It was as if he had been skating on ice, tried to stop too suddenly, and went flying across the ground. He tried to scramble for his thoughts but they were coming back slower to him than he wanted.
"I talked to my journalism teacher today, and he said that I could pass his class with a different article I wrote," Naruto explained, acting as if he were talking about the weather. Did he not comprehend what he was requesting, and how ridiculous it made everything between them?
They had decided to pretend to date to help each other, though Naruto didn't know he was helping Sasuke with his acting. Their act had fooled more than just their classmates; it had fooled most of the world. They couldn't take back their actions so easily; the damage had already been done. Calling off their deal now would be like choosing to go to the movies after the theater has been burned down.
It was ridiculous, and meant Sasuke had been wasting his time.
"So you want to end our deal?" Sasuke asked, doing his best to control his anger. He felt his jaw clenching, and his fingers curl into his hands, forming fists, and then uncurling. "Do you realize how much time we wasted dating each other then?"
"I wish it was as simple as wasted time," Naruto huffed, not seeming the least bit intimidated by Sasuke's contained rage. It was more than frustrating, and Sasuke could feel a vein in his forehead throbbing. He didn't like this calm Naruto; he wanted the overly emotional Naruto he was used to. He wanted someone to yell at, but he wouldn't allow himself to lose control until Naruto did.
"I'm tired of lying," Naruto said, aggravation lining his voice as his eyes closed, and for a moment Sasuke thought that Naruto may be in physical pain. He watched as Naruto rested his elbow on the dashboard and then place his head on the hand attached to it. Naruto's chest heaved up as he took a deep breath, opening his eyes to reveal tired blue orbs that stared at Sasuke beseechingly. "I don't want to lie anymore, but you're right. Ending our deal now means we wasted our time, and personally, I don't like the idea of giving up just yet. However…" Naruto trailed off, his gaze turning towards the windshield.
Sasuke waited for Naruto to continue, but the blond remained silent. The Uchiha took the moment of silence to sort out his own thoughts.
It sounded like Naruto wanted to continue their deal, which was good, right?
There was no answer for Sasuke's silent question.
If Naruto wanted to end their deal, it would be frustrating, but Sasuke could handle it. He was a perfectionist and wanted a hundred percent in his drama class, but he could settle for ninety percent now that he knew Itachi had never achieved that much.
Oh dear lord. Had he really thought that? Had he really thought he would be okay with a less than perfect score? He was losing his mind, or maybe…
"Just admit it Sasuke; you like me."
Sasuke squashed the urge to shake his head to rid himself of the memory, but it was like a boomerang.
He couldn't possibly be okay with a less than perfect score because he liked Naruto and would rather take the bad score than force Naurto into a fake relationship.
Naruto was frustrating, self-centered, stupid, and so many other things that Sasuke couldn't think of currently; he'd have to make a list of all the things Naruto was later. He even had the gall to stand up to Sasuke when he was obviously wrong. It was migraine-earning, but slightly refreshing.
Sasuke gritted his teeth together, willing himself not to think about things that he knew would only get him in trouble.
He shouldn't even be considering whether he liked Naruto or not. What he felt didn't matter; they were going to continue dating if Naruto's words were anything to go by.
Sasuke eyes narrowed as he stared at the silent boy who was normally so boisterous. He felt like he was teetering on the edge of the cliff, but he didn't feel any fear. He needed to know without a doubt if Naruto was pushing him off that figurative cliff or if he was keeping him around. He couldn't waste time assuming that Naruto wanted to continue with their façade.
"What's your choice?" Sasuke prompted.
There was a pregnant moment of silence, but finally Naruto looked away from the window and answered. "You want to continue to fake date, right?"
Sasuke scowled. Sometimes he really wanted to smack that thick skull of Naruto's. "I have nothing to lose or gain from dating you," he lied with ease, and folded his arms in front of his chest, almost challenging Naruto to try to catch his lie. "I can't get my time back, so do what you want. I don't care what you do, but decide now so that I don't waste any more of it on you."
Even in his prefect bubble of calm and serenity, Naruto could feel a tiny stab of pain in chest that was like a flinch at Sasuke's words. Luckily, his body didn't give any indication that Sasuke's words had stung a bit. It was strange, but in his bubble of calm all of the verbal beatings he had received that day felt more prominent, like bruises along his skin, and yet they were somehow softer; a paradox.
He was tired of deceiving everyone. He had always thought that he was an honest person until the day he came up with the idea to trick all of his peers into thinking he was gay, and all for a stupid article too. He couldn't live a lie anymore, and it left him with a bitter feeling to give up. It was in his nature to be honest as well as determined, and now the two sides warred against each other. However, another part of him, the side that cared about others, had to side with one and that meant sacrificing a piece of himself either way.
"We'll probably kill each other if we continue to pretend," He spoke quietly to Sasuke, who was still posed with his arms crossed over his chest. As the words left his mouth, Naruto saw a slight twitch to Sasuke's shoulder, but nothing else gave away that the boy had heard him. "I wouldn't mind hanging out with you every now and then, though," Naruto added.
Sasuke unfolded his arms and turned in his seat so he was looking out the window. "Then get out of my car," Sasuke responded, his voice cold and emotionless.
Author's Note: It took a few months, but I got this chapter out. I know it's not that long and it ended on a cliff hanger, but I am going to try to update faster; my hope is that this cliff hanger will help me with that. I know that this chapter isn't the greatest, but I hope it was enjoyable and filled with many conflicting emotions.
On a side note, I was going to avoid posting this chapter on Valentine's Day originally, but after rereading it, I felt the somewhat ironic nature of posting this chapter today was humorous.
Fun Fact: Naruto's violent descriptions of what he wants to do to Sasuke come from a conversation I had with a friend two (maybe three) years ago.
Super Special Awesome Preview: The day after a big fight is never fun--it's made worse when you aren't wearing underwear and your pants fall down.