Crown & Anchor
This idea hit me like a big, yellow school bus. I had enormous fun writing this first chapter, so I hope you enjoy it!
Chapter One: Hello Baby
It was Monday morning, and Naruto had a hangover that was gleefully drilling away at his vestigial sanity. Also, it was seven, and some bastard was ringing the doorbell. Naruto didn't know who it was, but that didn't matter anyway, because he was going to kick the bastard's ass.
He probably had to get up first, though. And he would. Just... not now.
The doorbell rang again, cheerfully sending a fresh stab of agony through his skull. "Shut the fuck up!" Naruto yelled. Croaked. Whatever. Not near loud enough for anyone to hear him, anyway, much less any idiot standing outside his door.
Naruto rolled out of bed. His head narrowly missed the corner of the bedside table. His shoulder landed on some book--one of Jiraiya's, right.
There was a water bottle. It was half-finished and lying right next to the cardboard box where he kept all his porn. Naruto lunged for it like a cat pouncing a mouse, except that he hit his head against the low frame of the bed.
"Fuck you," he said to it. The bed was undaunted and victorious, having left a small red line across his forehead. Naruto made a face, sat up, and struggled with the water bottle. He sniffed at it. Well, not too bad. It couldn't be more than a week old and anyway, water was water, he had a hangover, and some asshole was still ringing his doorbell.
Fifteen minutes later he was decent, or at least mildly less murderous, and he even had clothes on. Naruto tugged at his hair, like it might make it any less an appealing nesting site for birds, and pulled the door open.
"What," he bit, and stopped.
The man on the other side of the door looked stunned. Poor bastard probably hadn't expected Naruto.
Then Naruto frowned. He didn't know the guy. "Who the fuck are you?" he said, very slowly. The words came out blurry anyway.
The man scowled, like he was trying to force his eyebrows to crawl across his face and attack each other. In one hand he had a piece of paper. In the other was a plastic container. There were donuts in them. Naruto's favorite kind, too, the orange ones with the chocolate sprinkles. Naruto stared at them.
"Go out on a date with me," the man said suddenly. Naruto looked at him. He had very dark eyes.
Naruto squinted at him. "Did we meet last night? Because I was probably drunk. So if I promised you any dates or blow-jobs or anything, I take them back."
If anything, the man's scowl deepened. Naruto watched in fascination. Didn't frowning that much hurt?
"Go out on a date with me," the man repeated. Each word was pulled slowly and painfully from his mouth, like teeth.
"I just told you," Naruto began.
"We didn't meet last night," the man said, looking exasperated, like Naruto was the one being idiotic. "Look. Just... go out on a date with me."
He really was good-looking, Naruto thought. Hair with so much gel it spiked up everywhere like a dead porcupine, a jacket that probably cost as much as Naruto's shitty two-room apartment, eyes that would've been really pretty except for the angry eyebrows. Exactly Sakura's type, in fact.
"Fine," Naruto said. "Meet me today at nine at that coffee place by the river, the one with all those dumb flyers stuck to the window. And give me those donuts," he added.
The man looked slightly stunned, like he hadn't expected his plan to work. He held out the donuts with a dazed expression. Naruto snatched them from him.
"What's your name?" he said.
"Uchiha Sasuke," the man replied.
It sounded vaguely familiar, but Naruto's brain was still pounding like a jackhammer at his skull. Also, he wanted to eat the donuts. "Cool," he said. "I'm--"
"Uzumaki Naruto," the man named Uchiha interrupted.
Naruto wondered if he was a stalker. "Right," he said. "I'll see you at nine." He closed the door gently, which was kind of anti-climatic, but hey. Headache. Anyway, he got donuts.
He set the plastic container on the table. With one hand, he opened it, reaching for a donut. With the other, he reached for his cell-phone, an old flip that was two-and-half years old and covered in cheerful blue-and-orange stickers.
After a moment, there was a click, and then: "Naruto, I'm going to rip your balls off," Sakura murmured sleepily.
Naruto grinned. "Good morning, Sakura. Hey, are you busy today at nine? Because I have this really big favor to ask you...."
Fifteen minutes later, he'd set the stalker up on a date with Sakura, who was really goot at scaring people away. Not that he'd ever tell her that, she'd be heartbroken if knew that the reason she was single was because potential boyfriends tended to be fucking terrified of her, but, well, it was useful. And if anything bad happened, well, there was still Lee.
Contented with life and his breakfast of donuts, Naruto wandered to the bathroom. He squinted at his expression. The mirror was cracked, which made him look like the monster kid from the Fifth Child. Even without the crack, though, Naruto guessed that he looked pretty horrible. Geez, and the guy had wanted to go on a date with him.
Naruto checked his breath and wrinkled his nose. Yeah, okay. He liked to think he was pretty good-looking, or at least that's what Sakura had said, once, back when they'd tried dating. They'd both been busy, and they hadn't seen each other often, which was actually probably the only reason the relationship had lasted as long as it had. As soon as their schedules had started clearing up, things had gone to shit pretty quickly. Naruto had the scar to prove it.
Oh, well, at least they were friends. And, hey! Naruto had just set her up with a total beefcake. Sakura totally owed him.
His cell phone alarm went off. It was officially seven thirty, and a Monday, and Naruto had school and exactly twenty minutes to get ready. He made a final face at his reflection and reached for one of his toothbrushes.
"You're late," Iruka said flatly when Naruto ducked through the door, looking sheepish and ducking around the desks like he was running an obstacle course.
"Traffic," Naruto returned, and held out a plastic cup of cheap coffee. He was a smart man. Iruka glared at him, but then, it was a Monday. Naruto could sympathize. Maybe Iruka hadn't been woken up by a freak stalker, but you never knew what could have happened to someone else on Monday mornings.
"Anyway, I have a free block on Monday mornings, remember?" Naruto said, after Iruka had drained the cup and possibly regained at least a bit of his usual kind congeniality. He turned his body slightly to the left, using it as a shield, so Iruka wouldn't try to get at his own cup of coffee.
"That doesn't excuse your tardiness," Iruka said.
Maybe Naruto should have given him more coffee. "Yeah, yeah," he said dismissively. "You'd never guess what happened to me this morning," he added quickly before Iruka could work himself into a lecture.
Iruka frowned at him, maybe because it was too early in the morning for him to properly process subject changes.
Naruto gave him an expectant look.
"No, I would never," Iruka sighed. "What happened?"
"Some guy asked me out on a date!" Naruto exclaimed.
Iruka frowned. He looked down at his plastic coffee cup.
"It was really weird," Naruto went on, conveniently ignoring Iruka's disbelieving expression. He put his bag on his desk and began looking for the black book where he kept his teaching plans. "I'd never seen him before, but he knew my name and everything. And, uh, where I lived." He frowned. "Think he could be a stalker?"
Before Iruka could answer, Naruto said, "Hey, have you seen my book? You know, the big black one with all the papers stuck in it."
Iruka blinked at him. "Naruto," he said, slowly, "he could have been a spotter."
"Huh?" Naruto said.
"Burglary, Naruto," Iruka said, and sighed, and looked profoundly disturbed when Naruto just waved his hand, his nose still stuck in his bag.
"Nah," he said, "they always check the upscale places, they're more worth the trouble. I should know, I used to--hey! Found it!"
Naruto popped up, prize in hand. He was beaming.
"It's too early for this," Iruka said after a moment, apparently unable to face such unnatural cheer on a Monday. He threw his paper cup into the trash can in disgust, grabbed a seemingly random stack of papers from his desk, and left the teacher's lounge, leaving Naruto to puzzle at lesson notes he'd written down months ago.
When Naruto's phone rang during third block, the class predictably broke out into giggles. Naruto broke off mid-rant, frowned at his pants, and dug for his cell phone. It was an unfamiliar number. He flipped it open anyway. "I'm in the middle of class, but I can--"
"You stood me up."
There was a pause. Naruto finished writing out the word "modernism" on the white board and then put the marker down.
"Uchiha?" he said, incredulous.
"You stood me up," Uchiha said, very slowly. "And who was that--that--"
"What did you expect? I have work," Naruto said, rolling his eyes. "It's Monday, you selfish bas"--he looked out at the expectant class--"person. Anyway, Sakura is perfectly nice!"
"I wanted to go out on a date with you," Uchiha snapped. "Not some pink-haired--"
"Watch it," Naruto said. "Sakura's my best friend."
There was a silence. Naruto imagined he could hear Uchiha grinding his teeth over the phone, and felt the familiar warm, soft feeling he got in his stomach whenever he was pissing someone off.
"Besides, I don't even know you." He tapped a finger against the white board, thoughtful. "Okay! How about this! You have five minutes to convince me, right now, to go on a date with you."
He cupped his hand over his phone and looked out at his class. "You're dismissed, by the way," he said cheerfully.
Konohamaru just looked at him incredulously. "You have a love life?" he said.
Naruto threw the marker at him. The students practically ran out of class, giggling and throwing him constant looks as they left. Naruto made sure Konohamaru was the only one looking back before he flipped the little brat off.
"You have three minutes and forty seconds left," he told the silent Uchiha, once the classroom was empty. "Just so you know."
And then: "Two minutes and twenty-seven."
"I fell in love with you the moment we met," Uchiha said, very suddenly, in a tone that suggested he'd just admitted to committing murder.
"Two minutes twenty-two," Naruto said. "That's great, Uchiha, except that, um, we've never met. Try again!"
"Your favorite food is ramen," Uchiha said, speaking very quickly, like he'd just now realized, hello, two minutes left. "You don't have a favorite kind because there's too many brands and flavors. You hate soda, but you've liked milk ever since you were little. Your favorite color is orange. You hate the rain, and you love roller-coasters."
Naruto sat down. His stomach rolled. "How do you know all this?" he said.
"I told you, I--"
"Fuck," Naruto said, "you really are a stalker. Congratulations, you've just turned me permanently the hell off. Don't call me again. Don't meet with me. I have a friend with the police."
"It's Uzumaki," Naruto said sharply, and hung up.
"Holy shit," he said to the empty chairs surrounding him, and then thunked his head against the table. Then he frowned.
"Hey! I hate milk!" he said, head snapping up. No one answered him. Across the room, a pastel sketch of Albert Einstein looked thoughtfully at him, like he was the answer to the universe's mysteries. He made a face at it. If Einstein wasn't going to give him any clues to Uchiha's fucked-up mind, he sure as hell wasn't going to do the guy any favors.
He had maybe seven minutes before lunch officially started and all the decent food in the cafeteria began to run out. Hm.
He'd started to call Sakura when he noticed the long list of messages in his inbox. They were all from her. Naruto felt dread settle in the pit of his stomach. Shit. Uchiha seemed like a total bastard, and now that Naruto thought about it, he'd been pissed about the little stunt Naruto had pulled. And he'd just sent Sakura to him, like that! He winced, preemptively, and selected the first message.
HES CMPLETELY HOT!
HES SO NICE
OMG NARUTO THX 4EVER
And then, exactly five seconds before Uchiha had called: WE JST SPLIT I HAD TH BES T TIME EVER
Naruto scrolled through the messages again. HES SO NICE came with a picture: Sakura and Uchiha, standing together and looking at Sakura's phone. Uchiha was smiling. It looked nice, but completely unnatural, mainly because Naruto kept thinking about the way the bastard scowled. Sakura was beaming. Sakura's scarf, the one he'd bought her a week before they'd broken up, was wrapped around the both of them.
Naruto had the sudden feeling that the situation had just gotten even more screwed up, and it was all his fault.
Sakura was waiting for him when he reached home. There was food on the table, which made Naruto pause.
She only cooked when she was pissed at him, mostly because she knew she was so bad whatever she made invariable induced food poisoning. Maybe, he thought, he'd interpreted her messages wrong? It'd happened before! And, and, anyway, Uchiha was such a bastard, there was no way--
Sakura punched him. "It's leftovers from lunch," she said, and smiled, putting one hand on her hip.
Naruto carefully checked his arm. It wasn't broken. Good. "Um, right, I just, you know...."
She wasn't listening, though, already pulling mismatched plates from his cupboards. "Oh, Naruto, Sasuke was so nice! I had such a great time." She beamed up at him. "And he's so, so...."
"Um, right," Naruto said, feeling guilty. "Look, Sakura, about Sasuke--"
She turned to look at him. Her eyes were very green, and there was a ribbon in her hair. She was smiling, and, fuckfuckfuck, Naruto had never really fallen out of love with her. "We, uh, don't really get along," he said, stumbling a bit. "But, um, you know, I'm really glad for you."
He smiled, or at least pulled the corners of his up. Sakura raised an eyebrow.
"Wow, Naruto," she said. "That was actually pretty cool." And then she was hugging him. Naruto stared wildly down at her.
She sprang away before Naruto could do anything, actually twirling like some ballerina to the table. "We're meeting up again in a few days," she said, and began scooping a generous helping of shepherd's pie onto the orange plate. "I can't wait."
Naruto slid into the seat. It wobbled under him. "So Uchi... Sasuke was nice, huh."
"How come you've never mentioned him?" Sakura said, looking at him in a way that clearly said she'd caught his slip. "Sasuke said you've known each other since you were seven."
"Oh, right, well," Naruto said. He suddenly felt sorry for his students. He probably had the same deer-in-headlights look they always got when he tested them with questions. "Well, like I said, we don't really, you know...."
"He said you were his closest friend, though," Sakura said.
Naruto stabbed viciously at his shepherd's pie. "Were," he stressed.
Holy fuck, Uchiha was a stalker, and he'd just went and completely fooled Sakura.
There was a way out of this, surely. He could fess up, tell Sakura who Uchiha really was. What if she got hurt? Maybe Lee had taught her martial arts, and okay, maybe she was strong enough that she'd broken his arm once, but....
You are a coward, Uzumaki Naruto, he thought to himself, and made himself smile at Sakura's radiant expression.
The most important thing about the park was that it was a public place, but at the same time, the people were scattered far enough away that they could have privacy, too. Naruto chose a bench a few meters away from the playground, so that if he had to scream or call for help or anything, there would be a shit ton of mothers available to come rescue him. As a teacher, he knew mothers were probably the most terrifying creatures to ever exist. Worse than stalkers, even.
He was dressed in a plain, bright blue jacket and boots. No gloves, but he was regretting that. It was October, and Naruto hated the cold.
When the scarf was dropped into his lap, Naruto jumped.
"You can wrap your hands in that," Uchiha said tonelessly.
Naruto hated to admit it, but Uchiha looked what Sakura would have called damn fine. He wore a red shirt, which always made Naruto look like a walking traffic light, but it fit Uchiha. Wordlessly, Naruto accepted the scarf. He didn't bother saying thanks.
"This isn't a date. Just so you know," Naruto told him.
Uchiha's eyes narrowed, and for a moment Naruto froze, feeling like a caught mouse. There are mothers nearby, he reminded himself. They could tear him a new asshole easily just by talking. God knows they do it all the time to me.
"I wanted to talk about Sakura, actually," Naruto said.
Uchiha looked even more displeased at this, but he didn't say anything.
"You, uh... met with her yesterday."
"Because you tricked me," Uchiha hissed, like it was his fault Naruto had outsmarted him.
"I told you, work," Naruto said.
"It's a Tuesday," Uchiha said. "Or do you not have work to do?"
"What, you don't know my job?" Naruto said. "Damn, so I guess you're not that good a stalker."
"I'm not a stalker," Uchiha hissed.
"Then how the fuck did you find my address?" Naruto hissed back. Fury was bubbling up, hot and heavy in his chest, so that his hands and ears felt like they were burning. He dropped Uchiha's scarf on the bench and stood up. "How the fuck do you know my name? Why do you know my favorite food and color? Explain that, Uchiha."
His words were quiet and furious, but only because there were children nearby, and he was a teacher, and some habits just stuck. Still, he wanted to yell. More, he wanted to punch Uchiha in the face for somehow managing to be such a fucking annoyance.
Uchiha had stepped back, eyes widened. His gaze was fastened on Naruto's face, and his cheeks were tinted red, maybe in anger.
Naruto opened his mouth, snapped it shut. He was breathing too hard. He took a step back, too, and sat back down on the bench, wrapping the scarf around his hands again.
"You really don't remember," Uchiha said.
Something in his tone made Naruto jerk his head up. Uchiha sounded like he'd just been punched in the gut. Or been hit by a stream of bullet-words, maybe.
Not angry, though. Definitely not angry.
Naruto stared, fascinated despite himself. Uchiha sounded like Moegi did, after Konohamaru and Udon had just picked on her again, but his face was perfectly still, like the muscles were marble-frozen. "Remember what?" he said, carefully.
Uchiha looked down at Naruto--no, at his hands. "You still don't like the cold, I see," he said.
"Urgh, you freak," Naruto said, and dropped the scarf. "Look, would you please just stop being such a creep and just tell me what the fuck is going on?"
"It's fine," Uchiha said. "I didn't realize you really didn't remember. We were childhood friends, by the way. You can keep the scarf."
He turned around.
"I don't want it!" Naruto yelled at him, except by that time, Uchiha had walked out of the park and disappeared behind a line of cars. He kicked the scarf viciously.
"Fuck you," he told it, and then looked around guiltily. Luckily, no one was in earshot.
There was a NO LITTERING sign nearby, bright-green and stern. It was the only reason Naruto bent down and picked up the scarf, stuffing it into his pocket. It was soft, and a simple brown, but it looked expensive.
He should probably go back to school. He'd begged Hinata into covering, but....
Damn. Who was he kidding? If he went back, he'd end up snapping at the kids and none of them deserved that, except maybe Konohamaru. Shaking his head, Naruto turned towards home. Ramen. That was what he needed. Ramen and maybe a lot of alcohol, except it was a weekday, and if he started drinking in this mood he wouldn't stop until he was completely shit-hammered.
And he hadn't asked Uchiha to cancel his date with Sakura, either. He'd meant to. Well, maybe Uchiha would on his own. It sounded kind of like he'd given up. And even if he didn't... Sakura was a great girl.
It would work out, somehow.