Hi! Mostly in the timeline, but Tsunade came early and Sakura is already learning from her even though Sasuke hasn't left yet (whew, closed that gaping plot hole). More than a one-shot, so the characters might become overly angsty or obtuse at times. I tried to make them be happy, but they refused. As in character (by Masashi Kishimoto-sensei) as possible, under the circumstances.
And no, I have no idea how this is going to end. Should be fun, right? Hajimemasu!
Naruto reluctantly opened his eyes as the morning sun jabbed through a crack in his drapes. They didn't have a mission today, so they would spend all day out at the training grounds, either sparring or learning new jutsu. Probably sparring, with how lazy Kakashi-sensei was. Which meant there'd be no enemy threats to distract him from the fact that he was becoming more and more attracted to his teammate, one Uchiha Sasuke.
Oh, sure, he still loved Sakura-chan, but this felt different to him. It had started a few months ago, when they had been fighting off enemies who had wanted to assassinate their charge on a mission, and Sasuke's shirt had been torn by a knife he had allowed to come too close. Naruto had almost been stabbed by an enemy ninja because he was shocked into staring at the revealed pale chest.
He tried to write it off as simple lust, and after he had dispatched the assailant he had shoved the visual to the back of his head to think about some other time, preferably never. The rest of the mission had gone uneventfully, and it wasn't until Naruto was home and in his bed alone in his apartment that he had once again seen that pallid marble chest in his dreams, and then he had been running his hands all over it.
He had woken with a start, sitting up and pulling his knees to his chest in the darkness of his bedroom, and wondered what the hell he should do now. The bastard didn't have any emotions; Itachi'd killed them all when he'd killed the rest of his family. Anyway, if Sasuke spent all of his time training to become strong enough to beat said sadistic elder brother, he would hardly want to spare time to dally with the town outcast, even if he was his teammate.
Naruto turned over, curling around his pillow so that his back was to the invasive ray of sunshine. He'd had another dream about Sasuke, but this time instead of focusing on his chest, Naruto had been drawn to his black eyes and the remote expression on his sculpted face. Except this time the face had been softened, those eyes had hidden a light, and the mouth had curved at the corners into an actual smile, rather than his usual smirk. The sight had tugged at Naruto's emotions in a way that had nothing to do with sex.
The alarm clock on his bedside table went off, unnecessary as usual, even stupid because it wasn't like Kakashi-sensei was going to be there on time anyway. He slid out of bed and pulled off his nightcap, then paced as lightly as possible across the cold floor to the bathroom, still pondering his dilemma as he began to get ready for the day.
The way he figured it, Sasuke had three emotional expressions: scowl, smirk, and bored. The smile he had seen in his dream must have been a fragment of memory from grade school-before the Uchiha massacre-that he had grafted onto the Sasuke of today. As he shoveled in his breakfast ramen, he wanted desperately to be able to make Sasuke smile like that for real.
He straightened his house up a little before strapping on his gear and heading out the door, locking it behind himself. It was futile, of course; if some drunken villagers wanted to get in to graffiti his walls and destroy his furniture, it was only too easy for them to break down the door. He still felt obliged to make the effort, for the sake of some ideal of normalcy that would never be his, thanks to the Kyuubi.
He took off over the rooftops to the red bridge where his team always met, a little late so that someone would already be there, so that he wouldn't be standing there by himself. The mistreatment wasn't as bad as it used to be, but the glares and the crossing to the other side of the street when he passed still hurt almost as much as the beatings.
The bridge came into sight, and he jacked his grin into place, even though his heart started pounding faster when he saw that Sasuke was also there already, standing next to their pink-haired teammate.
"Ohayo, Sakura-chan!" he called as his feet hit the ground and he jogged the last few feet to the bridge.
She glanced at him and gave him a friendly wave. "You're so noisy, Naruto," she replied, but it didn't have the heat it once had, and he didn't sense any anger. The blank friendliness used to bother him, like she'd never see him as anything other than a comrade, but strangely he was more and more okay with that lately.
"Hey, bastard," he added, hopping up to sit on the railing of the fence on the other side of Sakura and leaning around her to see Sasuke, who was slouched in his usual "I'm way too cool for this shit" pose against a railing post. He got a 'hn' in reply, but that was normal, and it didn't bother him.
He lapsed into silence, staring off into space, thinking about Sasuke's smile as he waited for their sensei to show up. After a few minutes, he realized that Sakura was staring curiously at him. "Eh? What?" he asked.
"Are you feeling alright? It's so odd for you to actually be quiet," she answered.
Ah, shit. He scratched the back of his neck and tried to keep from blushing. "I was just thinking about how cute you look today, Sakura-chaaaaan!" The wrinkle between her pink brows didn't smooth out, but he wasn't going to say anything else. It would only dig his hole deeper.
He had to keep his expression even more under control when his gaze fell past Sakura to their third teammate, who to his surprise was looking over at him with an unprecedented fourth expression, which seemed to be curiosity. A few seconds after Naruto's reply, though, the expression vanished, Sasuke shrugged, and he went back to staring down the river as it flowed under them and off into the distance around the village.
Naruto kicked his legs against the bridge railing, keeping up the expected screen of chatter he had so carelessly forgotten, until their sensei appeared with a loud bang in a cloud of smoke directly in front of Sakura, who didn't react except to cross her arms over her chest, distinctly unamused.
"Maaa, it was so much more fun when you used to jump in the air and shriek," said Kakashi-sensei, but his eye was an arch and they knew he was kidding.
"The most dangerous jounin in the village gets his kicks by scaring genin. Sad, really," Sakura said, heaving an exaggerated sigh. Naruto laughed along with his sensei, and eventually Sakura joined in. Sasuke didn't. No one had expected him to, but Naruto still wanted badly to see Sasuke's smile; hearing a laugh from him might be too much to ask for.
"Alright, team, let's go train. Nothing special today, just sparring. I'll take on each of you, one at a time, and then tell you how you're doing and what you should work on. After that, you can spar in pairs. I'll take Sasuke first, then Sakura then Naruto. Sound good?"
Sakura and Naruto nodded, and Sasuke shrugged, as if to say, does it matter if we think it sounds good?
Team Seven arrived at a training ground outside the village walls, a clearing ringed with trees and floored with grass. Kakashi-sensei led them in stretching and limbering exercises, and then stepped out into the middle of the grassy area and beckoned Sasuke to follow him. After that, Naruto was transfixed.
Sasuke was beauty in motion to watch, and he took the opportunity to stare unabashedly as kunai flashed and bodies blurred, almost too fast to see. Kakashi-sensei may have been more skilled, but his economy of motion wasn't nearly as nice to look at. Naruto stared at the blur that was his "best friend" as he attacked and defended, Sharingan activated to analyze Kakashi-sensei's every move, muscles rippling under his blue shirt and bare legs flexing with contained power.
Naruto surreptitiously checked to make sure he wasn't drooling like Sakura was. It was so rare that he got the opportunity to sit and watch Sasuke; usually they were busy with other opponents, or sparring with each other. He was sure his subconscious was memorizing Sasuke's muscle movements to add to his dreams. He looked forward to it.
*****(short time-skip cuz I'm too lazy to write a sparring sequence)*****
Kakashi-sensei concluded his battle with Sasuke, and then took him aside to talk about what he'd observed; he would never reveal another person's weaknesses publicly, not even to their own teammates. Then he called Sakura in, after letting her warm herself up again. Sasuke seated himself on the grass under the tree next to Naruto, who was again entranced by the fight, though this time for slightly different reasons.
The contrast between Sasuke's and Sakura's fighting styles was enormous, yet both were incredibly effective, and he stared as Sakura and Kakashi-sensei seemed to dance with each other back and forth across the grass, blades flashing and chakra sparkling as Sakura occasionally employed what she had learned from Tsunade-baba.
Then it was over, and Sakura had come back over looking thoughtful as she mulled over the information that Kakashi-sensei had given her. Kakashi-sensei sipped from a water bottle and informed Naruto that he needed a ten-minute break before taking him on. Naruto glanced at the angle of the sun and was surprised to notice that over two hours had passed. No wonder Kakashi-sensei had needed a break, fighting both of his amazing teammates one right after the other.
After a while, Kakashi-sensei strode to the center of the clearing, now scarred with ashes from Sasuke's fire jutsu and rubble from Sakura's amazingly powerful punch, and beckoned Naruto to follow. He hopped over a fallen tree and grinned ruefully at his teacher. "You saved me for last because you need the least chakra to hold me off?"
Kakashi-sensei's eye was serious, rather than the arch of humor he had expected. "It was more for you than for me. You need to be strong so the Kyuubi doesn't gain control over you. It's locked away for a reason. Ready?"
Naruto barely had time to nod before Kakashi-sensei was a blur of motion and he had to defend himself. The fight went by in a blur of seconds, accompanied by the clashing of kunai. He used his kage bunshin, but strategically rather than recklessly as he was accustomed to doing. He knew that Kakashi-sensei could counter anything he could come up with, so he gave it his all, pulling out Rasengan and everything he knew how to do. Kakashi-sensei was momentarily distracted by a sexy-no-jutsu'd shadow clone and Naruto was almost able to nail him in the back but Kakashi-sensei kawarimi'd at the last second and Naruto's knife stuck deep in a log that had appeared in place of Kakashi-sensei's body.
Naruto didn't know how long it took, but Kakashi-sensei eventually called a halt, and Naruto put his remaining kunai away as he tried to catch his breath. He listened as Kakashi-sensei told him about watching his right-hand blind spot and practicing his kunai-throwing skills, but his mind was already flashing ahead to how he might now be able to spar with Sasuke.
"Lunch break," called Kakashi-sensei cheerfully to his team. "After you eat - or not, your choice - I expect you to practice what I've talked to you about, but you don't need my supervision for that. No mission tomorrow either, but I still expect you to be at the bridge on time for a team meeting."
"But you won't-" Sakura's protest was cut off by a loud bang as Kakashi-sensei disappeared into a cloud of whirling smoke. ". . . be on time." She turned to her teammates. "I'm going to find Ino to spar with. You guys always work harder against each other anyway."
Naruto nodded. Sakura would eat lunch, but she always pretended to be on a diet in front of Sasuke, like her self-discipline would make her more attractive to him or something. "See you tomorrow, Sakura-chan!" He waved cheerily, and watched as her gaze moved to Sasuke, who wordlessly lifted a hand. Gratified by the response, she turned on her heel and jogged back toward the village.
Searching through his weapons pack, Naruto extracted the bento box he had packed and dug into his lunch, sensing in his peripheral vision that Sasuke had done the same. "Are we sparring after lunch, bastard?"
"Hn," was the only reply, but Naruto had known Sasuke for a long time, and he was able to decipher his moody grunts, and this one seemed to be an agreeable one. Naruto drifted off into thoughts of what Sasuke would look like if he took his shirt off to spar.
They shared the silence beneath the tree that kept the hot sun off their heads as they ate their lunches. After they finished, Sasuke scooted back to lean against the tree trunk and Naruto sprawled facedown on the grass in the middle of the clearing to digest for a while. The warm sun felt good on his back, so he took off his jacket and used it for a pillow and the next thing he knew, someone was kicking him awake. Gently, though, not like the villagers did if they caught him alone down a dark alley.
He opened his eyes and stared up at Sasuke, who was standing over him, face blank. "Wake up, idiot. Do you want to spar or not?" Naruto smiled in response to this speech and sat up, rubbing his eyes. He jumped to his feet and did a few quick limbering stretches, kicking his jacket out of the way under the tree where Sasuke had been sitting, before he turned to face Sasuke in the middle of the clearing.
The two boys took ready stances, and then Naruto charged first, as was his custom, but he didn't go straight at Sasuke, rather dodging sideways and aiming a kick at Sasuke's legs. Sasuke of course dodged away, but by then their proximity dictated the use of taijutsu only, because neither had time to form hand seals.
As a rule during their sparring sessions, Sasuke refrained from using advanced Sharingan techniques and Naruto kept the use of his shadow clones to a minimum, mostly because he knew it annoyed Sasuke a lot. But he still had to look out for any genjutsu Sasuke might spin, which gave him an excuse not to look at Sasuke's eyes. He was glad of it, because he knew if he met that gaze with his own, he would become lost, and he couldn't afford any distractions. Sasuke's goal was to make himself stronger, so he never fought with anything less than his best.
They fought on even footing for a while as the sun slid down from its zenith, but eventually Naruto's focus faltered and he had to continually force his hands not to linger anywhere on Sasuke's body. Must show him I'm worthy, must show him I'm worthy, he chanted over and over inside his head. If Sasuke acknowledged him as a worthy opponent he might consider him for something else some day, but his attention kept drifting back to the pale column of neck that bloomed out of Sasuke's collar, so in a lull in their fight he called for a break before Sasuke took advantage and seriously injured him.
They sat side by side under the tree, whose shadow now stretched long over the ground of the clearing. It wasn't until Naruto felt eyes on him and looked up to meet Sasuke's once-again curious gaze that he realized he'd forgotten to turn on his chatter autopilot.
"Dobe, is something wrong with you?" Sasuke's voice was emotionless, as usual, and Naruto could tell he'd only asked because the health of a teammate affected him on a mission, too.
The old nickname still stung, even after all this time. Was that how Sasuke thought of him? Was that how he'd always think of him? There was no chance in hell that a genius ninja would voluntarily attach himself to someone he considered beneath himself. If only he had some way to prove to Sasuke that he could be worthy of his attention.
Inside the dank sealed cage in Naruto's mind, Kyuubi stirred and perked up its ears in interest. I smell desperation. Sounds like a job for me. How many pieces do you want him in?
Naruto shook his head, in answer to both the nine-tailed fox and to his teammate. "I'm fine. Ready to go again?" He'd show Sasuke his true strength.
* * * * *(POV change! ooh, exciting!)* * * * *
Sasuke's day started much like any other. People who didn't have his single-minded focus might think him boring or in a rut of some kind, but he didn't care what other people thought. He brooked no distractions, and allowed no emotions to interfere with his goals.
He rolled out of bed just after dawn with a token glare at the sun, did his morning stretching and exercises, and then got ready for a day of training. Caring about his appearance had nothing to do with making him stronger, but he was the only one left to hold up the Uchiha name, and he refused to disgrace their memory by looking sloppy. He drew the line at spending any more time than he had to on his hair, which he toweled off and finger-combed after stepping out of the shower. Naruto said it stuck up in the back, but he had never checked in a mirror to see whether he was serious or not.
Hands in pockets, he strode through the wakening village to the red crescent bridge over the nameless creek. He was early, of course, but he relished the solitude and the last few minutes of silence he would get all day, with a teammate like Naruto.
Sakura showed up a few minutes later and after a greeting and an inquiry after his health, which he answered with a half-wave and a 'hn,' she also lapsed into silence. Telling her he hated girls who talked too much had been one of his better ideas. He could not, however, prevent her from shooting continual furtive glances in his direction.
The sun climbed a little higher into the sky while they waited, until finally Naruto showed up twenty minutes late. It was a common occurrence on training days, but he always showed up on time when they went on missions so Sasuke didn't see any reason to worry about it.
He did become slightly curious when, after Naruto's greetings, the silence continued. Curiosity wasn't an emotion he allowed himself, so he was a little annoyed at Naruto for doing something so out of the ordinary. Curiosity was for people who still had hearts, and Itachi had ripped his out years ago, so he felt the slightest hint of gratitude when Sakura asked Naruto what was up.
His answer was definitely unsatisfactory, but it wasn't like they had a mission or a person to protect or anything, so Naruto could be as distracted as he pleased today and it wouldn't bother him.
It did, though. Naruto started chattering after this, and the silence he had been enjoying so much evaporated like the morning dew on the grass next to the bridge, but now that Sakura had called attention to it he could sense that Naruto's heart wasn't in it. Had it ever been? He'd never cared enough to listen, really listen, to Naruto's chattering before.
He pushed the thoughts away until he could only hear faint echoes of them inside the icy silence of his head. It didn't matter. Just like the random bruises he sometimes found on Naruto when they sparred didn't matter. He wasn't allowed to be curious; he had a goal to accomplish, a family to avenge.
Kakashi-sensei appeared and led them all to the training field, where he proceeded to engage Sasuke in a pitched battle. Sasuke tried his hardest, but as usual he couldn't even come close to beating Kakashi-sensei. It was just as well; the day he had nothing more to learn here, he was leaving.
He was aware of two pairs of eyes following his fight. This was nothing new, as Sakura usually stared at him and Naruto usually watched him for weaknesses to exploit in their next spar, but the scrutiny was unusually intense today. Naruto must be getting desperate to beat him.
He finished his spar with Kakashi-sensei, absorbed his sensei's hints about ways to improve and use his bloodline limit, then paced over to take a seat under the tree next to Naruto as Sakura took her turn. He watched the battle with a minimum of interest, if only so that he would know his teammate's strengths and weaknesses so that he knew how much he could rely on her during missions. She had vastly improved since the chuunin exam, but she was still weak.
After Kakashi-sensei had a break, Naruto went in. Sasuke could sense his resignation to being deemed the weakest on the team, since Kakashi-sensei obviously needed the least chakra to hold him off, but the look on his face was one of pure determination.
The ensuing spar was interesting to watch. Naruto had surprisingly learned a lot over the year they had been a team, and he was using all of it in this fight. Unfortunately, Kakashi-sensei had been the one to teach him most of it, so he could evade whatever Naruto threw at him. Despite Naruto's failure to land a hit on Kakashi-sensei, Sasuke picked up a few things from the vast variety in his repertoire, and by the time Kakashi-sensei called a halt for lunch he was more than ready to give Naruto a shot at beating him. Not that it was likely, but Naruto never stopped trying.
Kakashi-sensei gave Naruto his tips and ended with a warning that wasn't quite quiet enough, something about his chakra and his emotions. Sasuke thought this seemed odd, because Naruto had an unusually large amount of chakra - which was what allowed him to make so many of those annoying shadow clones - so it wasn't likely he'd run out. Oh well, none of his business.
Sakura ran off to gossip with Ino, leaving Sasuke anticipating a good spar after he ate lunch with the still-unusually-quiet Naruto. When he had finished, he leaned back against the tree and meditated while his food digested. Naruto sprawled in the sun, clad in only a t-shirt so that a fading bruise showed clear on his upper arm.
He decided to indulge himself a brief moment of curiosity while he considered Naruto's persistent injuries. Was he just extraordinarily clumsy? Even ninja tripped and fell every once in a while, but Naruto's injuries were too regular; there were always fresh ones before the old ones faded away completely.
Perhaps he had found a sparring partner even better than Sasuke, who could actually land multiple punches on him? Sasuke found this unlikely, since the only people better than him were some of the jounin, and they wouldn't have the time or inclination to spar with Naruto anyway. He just couldn't figure it out, but there was no way he was going to ask. Speculation inside your own head was one thing, but putting it into words would be curiosity, for which he had no time.
Standing, he walked to Naruto and nudged him in the ribs with his foot, being a little more gentle than usual because if there were bruises of unknown origin on Naruto's arms and legs, who knew where else they might be?
He didn't know why he always insulted Naruto. He never bothered with anyone else. He supposed it was because no one else tried so hard to get him to notice them. There were the fangirls, of course, but they wanted his attention for different reasons. Naruto just wanted to be seen as a person, and Sasuke's opinion meant worlds to him. If Sasuke had still been able to feel, he might have been touched.
They sparred for most of the afternoon, neither gaining the upper hand. Rather, both got the upper hand at various times but promptly lost it again as their opponent pulled out some new trick to throw them off guard. This might have gone on all night, but Naruto's reaction time was perceptibly slowing and Sasuke wasn't surprised when he called for a break.
He didn't think Naruto was tired. The blonde's stamina was incredible, and he could outlast even Sasuke if he really put his mind to it, so something had to be wrong with him. The conjecture was solidified in Sasuke's mind when Naruto once again failed to spout meaningless chatter while they sat side by side under the tree.
He studied Naruto, trying to determine what was wrong with him by looks alone, but it was impossible. Finally, he gave in to the forbidden curiosity and asked the dobe what was going on. He focused his senses on the blonde so that despite the once-again unsatisfactory answer, he got something else to think about: a flash of red chakra staining Naruto's regular blue aura. What the hell was going on?
He figured that with Naruto's stubbornness, he would have to break both his legs and arms before he admitted to having a problem, so Sasuke returned to their sparring with increased intensity. If he could answer this question, he could settle that annoying itch of curiosity on the back of his mind and go back to being emotionless again. Life was so much less complicated that way.
It seemed that Naruto also was giving this spar his all, but his desperation made him vulnerable. He was committing himself completely to each attack, which made his recovery time slower, especially if he missed. Sasuke took full advantage of this, so that eventually he had backed Naruto up to the tree and, on a lucky opportunity, grabbed both his arms and pinned them over his head.
He could still see Naruto clearly, despite the fact that the sun had set, and he was shocked to see tears gathering in his eyes. "Seriously, dobe, what's wrong with you?" Again, the insult slipped out. He didn't consider Naruto to be dead last - hadn't for months - but the name seemed to fit in an ironic, going-to-be-Hokage-some-day sort of way.
The response was completely unexpected. The teary blue eyes flashed to red, the pupils narrowing to slits, and Naruto's chakra turned scarlet. This lasted for a few seconds while Naruto struggled to free his hands. When Sasuke let go and stepped back in shock, the red chakra surged then disappeared. Naruto sent a frightened glance in his direction, and then took off running back toward the town at top speed.
Still driven by irrational curiosity, though he told himself it was because Naruto had forgotten his jacket, he grabbed said orange object and ran after Naruto, following the jerky chakra signature which told him that Naruto was crying. He passed through the gates at a jog - no need to alarm Izumo and Kotetsu - and channeled chakra into his feet to scale the nearest building. Naruto was running through the darkened streets, so the fastest way to catch up with him would be by using the rooftops.
He knew where Naruto lived, since Kakashi-sensei would send Sakura and him to visit Naruto when he was sick, as a team bonding "mission," so he could predict the direction Naruto was taking. His jerky chakra signature was easy to follow, and Sasuke didn't even have to look down at the street to know he was catching up to his blonde teammate.
Unexpectedly, Naruto stopped running. Extending his senses as he leapt another rooftop, Sasuke felt the presence of four other people, standing near where Naruto had halted. His signature had gone from jerky to frozen, almost instantly. Suddenly concerned, Sasuke peered over the edge of the rooftop just in time to see one of the four villagers surrounding Naruto send a fist into his nose.
Sasuke stayed where he was, crouched with one hand on the warm roof tiles for balance, and waited for Naruto to destroy these clowns like he knew he was capable of doing. Instead, the other villagers joined in, pummeling Naruto until he fell to the ground and then kicking him.
He was unable to explain the phenomenon that happened next, inside his own body. He felt. That in itself was strange, because he hadn't felt anything since Itachi had lobotomized that part of his brain. He found that his free hand had clutched at his shirt over his chest, and he realized that he felt an almost physical pain centered there.
I have a heart, he thought with shock. I have a heart, and the sight of Naruto being injured is breaking it. As it had at the Wave Country, his body was moving, unfolding, striding down the side of the building as easily as he might stroll down the path to the village, but this time he knew why. Naruto had always told him he was his precious person, and it seemed that he finally knew how that felt.
When he hit the sidewalk, anger like he had only known when faced with his murderous nii-san flooded through him at the close-up sight of the four villagers kicking his teammate. He knew that afterwards he would have to lock away these extraneous feelings again, but for now he luxuriated in them. Someone was going to get their head ripped off and thrown into a dumpster.