They're all still Kishimoto's:)
This is a bad idea. Naruto has ignored all the warnings in his mind so far but when the congregation centre door closes behind him, the panic rises like a shock wave and tries to force the cheeseburger back up again.
He's never been here on his own before, back in confirmation school he always had his friends with him. The place seems huge and unwelcoming, even the five metre Christmas tree forgotten in the corner of the room looks a little hostile.
Where the hell is he supposed to go now? There's a stern-looking receptionist behind a desk, guarding the entry to the office corridor like a hellhound. As Naruto steps through the glass doors of the foyer she looks up and smiles at him. The smile is forced, like she suspects him of doing something wrong.
"Hello, dear, how can I help you?" she asks when he reaches the desk. Here goes nothing.
"Uhm, hi." Smile, they love a smile. The lady's face indeed softens a little. Score!
"I'm here to see… uh… Anko. Anko Mitarashi."
"Do you have an appointment?" Fucking shit, Naruto curses in his mind. Isn't the church supposed to be a place for anyone and everyone to come whenever they want and always be all safe and loving and cozy?
"No… I… uh…"
"Naruto? Dear Lord. Did I just see Satan ice-skating to work?"
A strong, warm hand appears on Naruto's shoulder, and he turns around to look up into the smiling face of Jiraya. "It's ok, Anna," the pastor nods to the receptionist who Naruto could swear actually blushes a little. "I'll handle this."
He guides Naruto through the other glass doors into a wide corridor with a lot more doors.
"So, what's up? Come to apologise for all the immature crap you've put us through over the years?"
"Don't you have a confused 14-year-old girl somewhere who wants to know all about the Song of Songs or something?"
"And your body is like a palm tree and I'm gonna grab me some coconuts…"
"Watch it, kiddo!"
"Ok, ok, relax." Naruto is not scared, Jiraya is cool. He might be a little strict sometimes but he's fair and not too uptight. "I need to see Anko."
"Mitarashi? What on earth do need her for?"
"I just need to talk to her about something."
Jiraya lifts one graying eyebrow.
"Look, it's important. Could you just… take me to her?" Naruto cringes at the next part but it has to be done. "Please?"
"Wow. It really must be important. Ok, go on. She's in 109."
"Thanks, old perv!" Naruto runs down the corridor before Jiraya has time to react to the nick name.
The door of room 109 is slightly open but Naruto knocks anyway. Not so much to be polite but to buy himself some time. The chat with Jiraya calmed him down a little but now his pulse is back at 190 and his palms are sweating so bad they slip from the shiny metal door handle.
"Yes, come in."
Anko is standing by the bookshelf behind her desk, trying to keep a huge pile of papers from falling down from the top shelf.
Anko turns around and the papers slide down, scattering all over the floor.
"Oh mother of…" Anko runs a hand through her already messed up hair. "Oh well, whatever." She pushes most of the papers under the shelf with her foot.
"Now. You. Are you here to tell me what happened to the flowerbeds in front of the church?"
"What? No! I had nothing to do with that!"
"Sure. Then what is it that you want?"
Goddamnit. He should've known better than to think Anko might actually be sympathetic and understanding. "I just want to talk. Can I sit down?"
Anko stares at him like he's just grown an extra arm out of his forehead.
"Really. I'm serious."
"O…..kay… Well, sit down."
Naruto drags a plastic chair from the corner to the desk and sits down. Anko takes her place behind the desk and they sit staring at each other. Great. Now what.
"Uhm.. I kinda need to ask you something."
"Ok..?" She sounds less suspicious and more curious now, and Naruto is not sure if that's a good thing.
"But first you have to promise not to tell anyone. Not anyone. You can't tell, it's illegal for you people. Vow of silence or something, I know you have that. And you can't laugh, either."
"I promise. This seems like a pretty big deal."
Naruto sighs. He's chewing on his sleeve again, he knows it's a disgusting habit but he's done it since childhood, since Dad died, and it's comforting in a way he can't explain.
"Do you want a cup of tea or something?"
"No, I hate tea."
Anko laughs. "Figures. You know, camomile tea is a wonderfully relaxing substance, and it's actually legal." Naruto laughs, too. She's clearly trying to make him feel more comfortable, and he's grateful for that.
"No, thanks, I don't need anything. I just… Ok. I'm just gonna say it and then close my eyes and if you don't say anything for like a minute I'm gonna run away, ok?" He closes his eyes.
"There's this guy… We… Uhm… I like him. We've kissed. A lot. I liked that. And we've done… other things… And… I like him more than I've ever liked anyone before and it's just…"
How long is a minute? He's screwing his eyes shut as tight as he can, counting the beats of his heart.
Then there's something warm on his hand. He opens his eyes. Anko is reaching over the desk, holding his hand in hers. She's smiling, but her eyes look almost sad as she lets go and leans back into her chair.
"And your first instinct was to come to church to talk about something like this?" She laughs softly. "You really are something else."
"I didn't come to church, I came to you."
"Why? Wouldn't a friend be easier to talk to?"
Naruto spits out a ball of fluff. "Well, there's Hinata… We've gotten quite close lately. After… you know… but she… I dunno, I just don't think she would… Argh! I don't know! I just felt like you'd know what to say."
"Why is that?"
"Well, you're a lesbian aren't you?"
"What?! I am not!"
"Well, you look like one."
"You cheeky little shit! You know, it's usually not a good idea to insult someone who's trying to help you!"
"So 'lesbian' is an insult?"
"No! That's not what I meant!" She closes her eyes and sighs. "Look. I… Well, I'm not a lesbian. But I know some gay people. Men and women. They're normal people, just like me. They have cars and houses and bookshelves and they get together and break up and sometimes even live happily ever after." She's smiling again. "It might not seem that way right now, but it really isn't such a big deal."
"Try telling that to the other guys. Any of my friends knew they'd kill me before ever changing in front of me in PE again. And I hate the word 'gay', I really do. I don't want to be that. Like, be a fucking hair stylist or something and wear fucking glittery shirts."
"That's not what being gay is, Naruto. What would you say you are, then? Bisexual?"
"No! Fuck I hate all that stupid terminology! I've been telling Sasuke that all the time and you know you sound just like him with all the-" He slaps a hand over his mouth, but it's too late.
"Sasuke?" Anko blinks. "This boy you talked about… is Sasuke?"
Naruto lets his forehead hit the desk. "Fuck! I'm so fucking stupid! I wasn't supposed to tell you that! This is not about him, it's about me." He looks up at her again. "You can't tell-"
"I won't. I won't breathe a word of this to anyone, cross my heart. Don't panic. Besides, I think what you said about him was beautiful."
"You make me sound like a girl." Naruto complains.
"You don't sound like a girl. You sound like someone who really cares about another person. It's rare in this world, Naruto, to find a person like that. Regardless of gender. I might even go as far as to call it a blessing."
They talk for a long time, about Sasuke, about everyday things, about Kiba, about Naruto's mom. They fight a lot, Naruto is amused to notice how similar they are. He points this out to Anko who huffs and tells him to stop being stupid.
"Oh come on, can't you just admit you see a lot of yourself in me and that it makes you feel old."
"Oh, I know it must be shocking to a little kid like you, but life really doesn't end at 20."
"Do you like kids?"
"No, unfortunately most of them are like you."
"Then why do work with us?"
Anko stops joking and actually considers the question. "I guess I believe in equal opportunities. I want every kid to have the same chance at life as those with the perfect families and the best toys. I grew up in a foster home myself and didn't want to believe my life had been decided for me. Then I somehow ended up at the youth centre." She looks at Naruto. "Have you ever considered doing something like that?"
"Me? Hahaha, you're shitting."
"No, I'm not. You actually do remind me of myself. I think you'd be great."
"I don't think so."
"Never say never, I would've assumed you'd learned at least that form this thing with Sasuke."
Naruto thinks about her words. Thinks long and hard. Working with kids sounds like his idea of hell, but maybe…
"Yeah," he smiles after a while, "I guess I have learned that."
"Hi. How's the big city?"
"Ok, I guess. We went shopping and ate at this crazy pizza place where you can get slices of cactus in your pizza."
Naruto laughs softly and Sasuke wishes he could just touch the other boy, smell his skin and kiss him. It's retarded, he's only been gone for two days, but the feeling's so strong it almost hurts.
"I miss you," he says. Naruto laughs again.
"You're such a girl."
"What's their flat like? She already fill it with porcelain kittens and weird posters?"
"Nah, it's very Itachi. All black and white and chrome and a bath tub and the biggest TV I've ever seen. Oh, and he has a mobile phone. Nokia somethingorother. I'm talking to you out on the balcony. I think he's selling drugs or something, no way dad's paid for any of this stuff. Not even for Itachi."
"Damn. You think he'd let us stay alone in there some time?"
"I didn't know you were that into high tech. Or were you thinking of selling the stuff?"
"No but I'd like to get you into the bath tub."
"That's not fair. You can't say things like that when I won't see you for days."
"Hehee, you want me. You sooooo want me."
"Mmhmm, there's something seriously wrong with me."
They're quiet for a little while, Sasuke can hear Naruto breathing.
"Sasuke, I need to tell you something."
"Don't get mad now. It wasn't supposed to go like that but I just… you know I can't always shut up when I should and..."
"What is it?"
"I kinda told somebody… about us. Please don't be mad at me I was only supposed to talk about myself but then I mentioned you by accident and then she just knew and-"
That surprises Sasuke, even makes him panic a little but Naruto sounds so stressed he pushes the feelings away.
"Hey, I'm not mad, silly. Who did you tell?"
"Anko? Uh… why? Did is just, like, pop up in a conversation?"
"I went to talk to her. I just wanted to ask her about… you know… just… Ugh, I was just confused, I've been thinking too much, I guess I'm turning into you, and then I really just had to talk to somebody and she just seemed like the right choice."
"What did she say?"
"She called you a blessing," Naruto says softly.
"Did she? And what did you say?"
"I said homosexuality is against the Bible."
"And then," Naruto continues and now he's laughing as well, "she called me a wise-ass and told me to tell you that you could do better than me."
"No I couldn't."
After the call is over Sasuke stays on the balcony. Karin has a bunch of friends over, they're listening to girls bands and drinking sweet cider and dry wine. Itachi is hiding in the kitchen with some obscure sci-fi book so Sasuke might as well hide on the balcony.
So, it's out now. Their secret forever is not their secret anymore. In a way it's sad, there was something exhilarating about how it was just the two of them against the world. But now it seems more real, less like a dream and more like something that could really be forever, change and grow with them and suddenly Sasuke has a vision of himself and Naruto in an old folks' home, sharing a room and sneaking out with their walkers and wheelchairs for a forbidden cigarette.
He smiles. Maybe reality can indeed be what you make of it.
Itachi opens the door and zips his jacket up before stepping out.
"Who were you talking to earlier?" he asks Sasuke as he digs his pack of Marlboro Lights out of his pocket.
"No one. Why?"
"Because the window was open and it sounded like a bloody Meg Ryan movie to me. Well done keeping something like that a secret from mom. So, who's the lucky lady?"
"There is no lady. Drop it."
Itachi sits down and lights a cigarette. Then he offers one to Sasuke as well.
"Come on, I'm your brother. You can tell me."
Can he really? Sasuke watches the smoke curve up from the red tip of his cigarette and vanish into the cold February wind. Suddenly he wants to tell. Wants to tell somebody, just to see a reaction. So that he'll know what to expect later on, as he really doesn't feel like this is going to go away anytime soon. And Naruto told Anko, and she was fine with it… He takes another deep drag of the cigarette.
"I think I might be…." he stops. Labelling himself is still not easy.
"You're what? Sick? Scared? An idiot?"
Sasuke hears Naruto's voice from that first night months ago. That's what I'd call us if I wasn't one of us. He snorts and inhales too quickly and chokes on the smoke.
Itachi stares at him.
"Uhm… ok. Wait. Just… yeah." He tosses his cigarette out and goes inside, leaving Sasuke coughing and desperately formulating an intelligent speech in his mind. Before he's ready, Itachi comes back with two small glasses of whisky on the rocks. He sets them on the table, sits down and lights another cigarette.
"I can't… you can't give me that…"
"Oh shut up. Dad's bottle maybe cheap but it sure as isn't supposed to taste like apple juice." Itachi clinks his glass against the other one hard enough to make it slide closer to Sasuke.
"Now. You were saying?"
"Here, let me help. It started with: I think I might be."
Sasuke takes a deep breath. If Itachi flips and throws him out on the street he can always go to the police and say he'd made Sasuke drink whisky although he's underage. He downs half of the golden brown liquid in one gulp.
"Gay. I think I might be gay."
Itachi's cigarette stops halfway between his mouth and the ashtray. If this was a movie there'd be cicadas chirping in the background, but all they have is Karin's friends' laughter from inside the flat. Sasuke can't stand it.
"If you want me to just… disappear I can just go and take a bus back. I totally get it and I have the money and.." And I sound like Naruto. He silences himself with the rest of the whisky.
"What? Don't be an idiot. First of all, you wouldn't even find the bus station. Second, I'm not throwing you out." Itachi stumps his cigarette. "Christ… Uhm, don't fly off the handle now, but it really is normal." Itachi sounds like some kind of counsellor and judging from that painful expression, he knows it very well. "I mean. It could be just a phase. I'm not saying it is, necessarily, but…" He rubs his forehead. "I don't know what I'm saying."
"Ok, let me rephrase it. I might not necessarily be gay, but I'm in love with a boy." In love. I'm in love with him. Love. Shit.
Itachi stares at him for a long time. Then suddenly his face melts into a smile. It's unnerving.
"What?" Sasuke snaps.
"It's Naruto, isn't it?"
Sasuke says nothing, but his silence is answer enough. Itachi laughs.
"Oh, god. You know what mom said when you first met him? Your first day of school and all anyone could get out of you was how Naruto climbed the highest tree and how Naruto called the teacher stupid and Naruto this and Naruto that. Mom just went: "well I was hoping for a Nora but I guess a Naruto is fine, too". I guess that's what they call a mother's intuition."
Sasuke's cheeks are burning. At the same time he's a little angry. Why couldn't his mother say something back then and save him from all the mental self-torture? How much easier would it all have been without the unnecessary guilt trips? At the same time, though, he still cannot imagine ever telling his parents. Itachi… is different. Sasuke can't quite understand his relationship with his brother, he's grown up hating him and envying him and it's a shock to slowly notice he might've been wrong. But this Itachi, this normal, nice Itachi who doesn't treat him like a little kid and make everything he does pale in comparison is ok.
"Damn." Itachi leans back against the window sill. "Just… wow. I'm surprised but at the same time I'm really not."
"Me too," Sasuke says.
"So, how long's this been going on then? I meant what I said about Meg Ryan, though I'd never assumed Naruto to be… well, into that kind of stuff."
"Oh fuck off." Sasuke punches Itachi on the arm and gets a nasty poke on the forehead in return, just like when they were kids. "Oww, fucker."
"You didn't answer my question. When did this happen?"
When did it happen? When was the first time Sasuke noticed Naruto was different from his other friends? He remembers the insane jealousy when Naruto met Kiba. His own repulsion when Ino tried to kiss him at confirmation camp. He remembers crying and asking his parents to adopt Naruto when his dad died. He shakes his head.
"I guess it was just after Kiba died."
"Oooh, right. He spent the night before I first brought Karin home. You bastard, I had to listen to mom going on about indecent behaviour under their roof and you just got away with everything."
"Mom yelled at you? At her precious perfect betstest ever son?"
"Hell yeah she yelled. She yells at me all the time. Or she doesn't really yell, but she calls me everyday and complains about everything. How I never visit her and how bad smoking is and how I really should've gone to law school. She never gives up, she thinks she had the perfect plan for my entire life and I have now officially ruined it. You have it easier. You've chosen your own hobbies and clothes and everything since you were a kid, she knows you're not that easy. I listened to her for too long."
Sasuke is more shocked about this than he was about Itachi's reaction to Naruto. How can he not have seen it? And Itachi thinks Sasuke's better off?
"I'm sorry," he says. "I never realised you had to make way for me as well."
"Yeah, well. That's what older siblings are for." Itachi gets up. "Come on, let's go in before all the drink is gone. Sasuke grins and gets up as well. And they do something they haven't done since Sasuke was about four. They hug. And it's not even awkward.
"Let's go out!" Karin's drunk, she throws her arms around Itachi's neck and gives him a sloppy kiss on the corner of his mouth. "I want to go to Diva!" She whirls over to Sasuke. "That's where we met, didja know that?" Itachi's mumbling at her to shut up but Karin just waves her hand at him and focuses on Sasuke. "Uh huh, yes we did. I was there with Maria here" She points at a pretty blonde girl with a cider bottle. "She made me go although I hate the place." Maria shrugs and Karin sighs melodramatically. "And I was soooooo ready to leave, and then your brother walked in."
Sasuke's never seen Itachi this embarrassed. It's hilarious. Karin leans back over to Itachi and pokes him in the cheek.
"And that's when I said to myself, I am not leaving without that man and if he leaves without me, I'll hunt him down and as god is my witness, I'll get him."
Sasuke's laughing with tears in his eyes and so is everyone else in the room. Itachi is trying to keep serious but his cheek is twitching. Karin smiles smugly. "And that I did." She claps her hands. "So! We HAVE to show that place to your brother, honey, we have to!"
"I can't go there," Sasuke laughs, "I'm sixteen, remember."
"Oh psshhh. Who cares. We'll style your hair and you can wear that new shirt and lift your pants up properly and no one's gonna think you're underaged."
All the other girls squeal with excitement and want to start the make over right away. They give him wine and cider and that combined with his overwhelming sense of relief gets him tipsy quite quickly. Then they stumble out in a big laughing mob, Sasuke arm in arm with Itachi and Karin. He does, indeed, get in to the night club, and they dance to stupid songs and Sasuke and Itachi dare each other to go and make the silliest requests to the DJ. When they finally come back to the flat in the early hours of the morning Sasuke is incredibly happy, incredibly drunk and incredibly tired, but before falling onto his bed on the couch he steals Itachi's mobile phone and goes out onto the balcony.
Thank god it's Naruto and not his mother who answers the phone.
"Sas- what the hell? It's like five in the morning…"
"I love you."
"I love you, you asshole, I love you."
"You're drunk," Naruto says, but Sasuke can hear the smile in his voice. "You're drunk but I love you too."