This story was my contribution to sn_exchange on Live Journal. It was written for Metal Hybrid. She gave me~

~Prompt/Scenarios:
1) Sasuke in a higher position of power than Naruto (rank wise) either AU or canonverse, whatever you like! OwO
2) Uhh, closet perv/voyeur/likes his teammate but in denial!Sasuke with Naruto knowing and teasing with a bit of narcissism OR NARUxNARU (kagebunshin) 3
3) British Naruto and Sasuke, or an AU scenario with British Naruto and Sasuke as a foreigner visitng Britain for some official business, free to do whatever you wish with this idea (OwO)

I picked the second one, but Sasuke in denial was kind of hard on me…


I would like to thank Dolphina23 on the beta and for naming this story; I don't know what I would do without her sometimes. Also, thank you to Yuuko Uchiha for holding my hand through the process of writing this.

Everyone else… I hope you like the story. :D


Ride the Wind, Own the Earth


As the name suggested, the Village Hidden in Rocks really was hidden in rocks. So was the entire country. Endless miles of it were as dry as the Wind country was, with vegetation poor, shriveled and brown from too much sun and not enough of fresh water.

Sasuke's team had arrived the previous night. Konoha had sent them in a standard three men team with a team leader, but if that trip was a mission, than it was a diplomatic one. The reason, official and unofficial, for them to be in the Rock village was so Sasuke could offer his formal apology to Tsuchikage. Things had already been settled on the Great Kage Summit several months back. The Cloud Village had been particularly stubborn, with Sasuke being a part of Akatsuki. But Rock also had two tailed demons, and both of the vessels were now dead. The Raikage's brother was alive, but he insisted Sasuke was to apologize to him first. Tsunade had already agreed, so that part had been over with months ago.

In the Rock village, Sasuke was expected to apologize for trespassing on their territory, and helping Orochimaru a few years back to capture a Rock's clan member for a rare earth jutsu.

An entire year had passed since the war. On Hokage's orders, the only way for Leaf Village to accept Sasuke as a part of it was to make sure he was not dragging any bad blood and grudges with him. He had nothing against either Cloud or Rock. Unpleasant and slightly humiliating as apologizing was, it was just a political gesture. No one expected him to actually mean it. Getting it done was a small and reasonable price if, as a result, Sasuke would get something useful to do with himself. But even if he did not think so, it didn't matter. He had to do it, and besides, Naruto thought it was fair. Lately, what Naruto believed was right was what people accepted, what counted the most.

And the presence of someone with that much influence was overkill in the Earth country. Sakura, as Tsunade's right hand, and Shikamaru, one of Konoha's advisors, were more than enough for Leaf to show that it was a serious offer of apology and that Tsunade was standing behind him. Naruto being there assured Tsuchikage that Konoha wanted good relations with Rock more than that was the truth. He was an arrogant leader, so even though the arrival of Konoha's team was days before they even entered the village, he made an appointment to see Sasuke more than a week later. They had to stay and do nothing for more than a week.

Training was strictly forbidden while on a diplomatic mission. Wielding weapons could be seen as a treat and flashy jutsus would compromise their secrecy.

It was stupid, pure arrogance. Maybe they were not at war any longer and would not be in one for a long time but allowing someone like Shikamaru, who was famous for his war achievements and intelligence, to wander around the village and observe things was just stupid. They all were famous for war achievements – even Sasuke.

On the other hand, that was good sign. It meant that people not only were saying they believed that peace was finally there, they were starting to act on it. They were starting to lead their countries with political strategies that were not predicting and anticipating war at any moment.

Regardless to Tsuchikage's pumping as much as he could out of their visit, people were respectful and in a good mood. The Earth Country had been hit by the war least of them all because of the unapproachable position: deadly grounds and rock rains that came suddenly and furiously, whipping out everything in their way. It left people more hopeful and accepting. They had nothing to rebuild, all their buildings were cut in stone anyway, so they were standing tall and earning money from construction material and decorative crystals, while the rest of the world was still in chaos.

They had been offered a stay at the houses of some important people, who eyed Naruto rather hungrily, and in the hotel that had terraces peeking out of a huge rock. Shikamaru and Sasuke wanted to stay in the house of Rocks' most famous clan – not the one Sasuke had kidnapped a member of - to check them out and have a discussion or two on the way the world was rapidly changing. Sakura was curious about the hotel. Naruto wanted to pitch the tents on the river's beach so he could jump in whenever he felt like it.

So they pitched up tents. At least Rock had no problem being talked into lending them tents meant for a longer stay than those they had as standard equipment, and to pick a spot close to the beach's showers. The result: Naruto was happy. That seemed to have made the entire Earth Country happy in turn, because the weather was good – even if a little too hot – and everyone seemed eager to bring them food, probably to make sure they would not continue the rumor that in the Earth country, small rocks were the finest and the only delicates.

Sasuke was not happy at the moment because, despite an argument they had just had that morning, Naruto had once again walked into their tent dripping wet. He was leaving wet footprints on the carpet and wearing only some shorts. After four and a half years, Sasuke almost forgot that Naruto had the decency of a baboon.

Ignoring the annoyed look he got, Naruto complained, "The water's too warm. And it's not deep enough, I can barely swim."

Sasuke answered the same as he had that morning when Naruto had said the same thing – nothing.

"And there's no shade in sight. How do people live here with that sun glaring down on their heads all the time?"

They cover their heads, or stay indoors, Sasuke thought.

It seemed it was a rhetorical question, for Naruto – still completely wet and half naked – sat down on a cushion across the table from Sasuke without waiting for an answer. "What are you doing?"

"Going over the apology." Because there was nothing else to do, he was going over it for the fifteenth time.

Naruto leaned closer to see. "Why?"

Sasuke snatched the papers before some water falling off Naruto ended on it. "You're dripping water all over it."

"Sorry." The sheepish grin worked for Naruto just as well as it did when he was twelve. Only, more people fell for it nowadays. "What does it say?"

"It says that I'm sorry."

Naruto snorted. "Let's hope they won't care you're lying."

He continued to try and see what the written apology said for the rest of the afternoon. Sasuke couldn't blame him, being a 'guest' of the Rock Village was the most boring thing he had to do in his life, but he was unnerved anyway. Having Naruto hover over you was tiring under the best of circumstances, but when he did it half naked...

Sasuke could have tried to get him to dress, but the 'are you crazy' look, followed by 'we practically live on the beach and it's so hot' argument wasn't something he could argue with.

Besides, he wasn't the only one. The only thing Sakura had been doing since they arrived was to change swimming suits. But she was either on the beach or in her own tent, and Sasuke could barely be bothered by that.

Naruto was much more self-conscious with Shikamaru around, maybe because Shikamaru was actually complaining about him leaving wet footprints on the carpet. It was rather unfortunate he was barely ever in.

On the very first night, Shikamaru was invited to 'help' Rock's de-coding team. They didn't need help; they would not be asking for it if they had needed it. It was Shikamaru's reputation they wanted to check out, if he was really that much of a genius. It was much harder to measure exactly how much they needed to see to be convinced without seeing his real potential than to crack the codes they pretended they had problems with. As a result of the careful balancing, Shikamaru actually had something to do . . . outside of the tent.

On the third day of their stay, Sakura dragged them to the local market.

"They have crystals in all colors," She said excitedly, trying to talk a yawning Naruto into coming along. "And they are so cheap! At least half the price they are back at home."

"So what?"

"So you can buy two for one." As Naruto still didn't look all that enthusiastic about it, she added, "You can buy other stuff, too."

"I'll come." Sasuke told her.

She smiled at him and gave it one last try, "I saw several food stands too."

That, of course, got Naruto's attention immediately. He rushed off to put a shirt on – which was a relief – half joking, "Well, why you didn't say so?"

The market was not big, but it was stocked well.

On one side, there were stands for vegetables. The food was transported to the village, much like in Konoha but for different reasons. While in Konoha most of the free ground served as training fields, the food for the Rock Village was being produced higher in the mountains and lower down the river, where soil was softer and richer because there was no way to grow anything on the naked rock.

On the other side of the market was everything else. Some shinobi gear and weaponry, mostly used, could be found there. It would be disgraceful to buy something like that there. There would be rumor traveling the world that Leaf came to buy weapons in Rock in record time, which would be great advertising for Rock Village and a bad advertising of Leaf's blacksmiths. Maybe there would be no war any time soon, but there were still too many people who supported themselves by making weapons.

The home-made clothes were done in pale grays and reddish-browns to match the surroundings. The materials they made it from would be more pleasant to wear, anyway. They were okay to buy, because they were not uniforms, but ordinary wear.

And there were the crystals. The Earth country was earning a lot selling them because of the story that they were helping chakra flow and control. They were mostly made into jewelry. In the Earth Country, people believed that digging holes and cutting crystals with a tool was taking from its power. The only proper way to handle it was to get it out of the rock by digging around it until you had the whole crystal, regardless of the size. To make little sellable pieces from it, they were breaking it off the ground. A little barbaric, maybe, but each shape was coming out unique.

Instead of fitting crystals into the jewelry, it was more common to make metal holders for each piece, by hand. The variations were endless. The prices were enormous, even if Sakura was right and they were lower than back home.

The most common kind were amber brown prisms and blue needles, probably dug up somewhere north, in the mountains. The rarest were transparent. In fact, there was only one stand that was selling transparent crystals, and Naruto had stopped there to look carefully at them while Sakura moved to a place that had crystals adjusted for earrings.

"Those are not for you," The woman selling them said. Naruto didn't seem to have heard her, examining each piece with his hands, so she shifted her gaze to Sasuke. After frowning for a moment, she told him, "Red crystals are for you."

"Why red?"

"Red for chakra with fire affinity," she answered. Sasuke must have showed his surprise, because she shifted the thin shawl she was using to hide herself from the sun to give him a knowing smile. "I've been working with crystals my whole life. By now, it's easy to see."

"Do you have something like this," Naruto asked, showing the smallest piece of transparent crystal. "But shaped like a sheath?"

"Transparent crystals are rare but they have no influence on chakra," She answered, probably thinking that just because they were ninja they had to be there to get the crystals that advanced chakra control. Naruto gave her a blank look, so she looked at Sasuke again.

"He's trying to replace something that had sentimental value," he explained.

"No, I'm not," Naruto denied, glaring at Sasuke. But the woman nodded and bent to reach for something from under her stand. The crystal she gave him as the closest thing she had was too short and it was smutted with pale blue, but Naruto paid for it anyway.

"How about you, dear?" The woman asked Sasuke. He thought about it. Before she determined his chakra affinity so easily, he did not believe the crystals could help. But now, even though it could have been a lucky guess, he thought that there might be something about it. In any case, it couldn't hurt.

He bought a discreet looking necklace with red crystal. Naruto stopped staring at his own necklace just long enough to give him an approving look. Sasuke left him there to find Sakura in the crowd.

***

On the fifth day, they had the opportunity to experience another thing the Earth country was famous for.

In the afternoon, when Naruto asked him once again to go down to the river with him, Sasuke said yes. The day was not as sunny as usual. There was probably rain on its way, but Sasuke would take that any day over a red face and burnt shoulders.

On the wind that was picking up, the warmth of the water seemed like a good thing – until the colder air brushed over their wet skin. Naruto was right; the river was barely deep enough to swim in. The area around the small waterfall was more challenging, and they made a little racing competition out of it. But it was half-hearted at best. They were much too careful around each other since Sasuke 'had come back'.

The sky became too dark very quickly.

After a long dive, Naruto pushed his wet hair out of his eyes. It started to rain lightly. "This is so much better without anyone to crash into underwater. I can't believe everyone got so scared of some rain."

He made as if to dive in again, but Sasuke reacted quickly and grabbed his arm to stop him. Naruto blinked the remaining drops out of his eyes and stared at Sasuke's hand like he had never had anyone restrain him physically before in his life.

"What did you say?"

"Um," Naruto answered, glancing up at him and back at his hand again. "What?"

His voice was not very clear over the sound of the rain that was becoming louder by the minute. Sasuke yanked him closer so he wouldn't have to yell. "About the people being scared of some rain, what was that?"

Naruto frowned, and concentrated with some effort. "It's usually crowded here, because it's the deepest part of the river."

Sasuke turned to the shore. There was not one single person there. Up on the hotel that was looming over the waterfall, the blinds were closed shut.

They were in trouble.

"We have to get out of here."

Naruto widened his eyes in disbelief, "Because of rain?"

Looking around for the closest possible cover, Sasuke snapped at him, "You're forgetting where we are. No one would run inside because of some rain in areas that are as hot as this one is."

The waterfall would have to do. There's always an alcove on the other side of it, no matter how small the waterfall was, from the years of erosion.

"There's going to be rain rocks?!" Naruto shouted over the noise coming from the rain that was becoming hard in addition to the waterfall roaring. "But Sakura is in a tent!"

"No, we have to find cover…" Sasuke said.

But Naruto snatched his arm from his grip before Sasuke managed to finish and started swimming back. There was no way he'd hear it, so Sasuke followed, hoping they would avoid at least the worse of it. The first rocks fell when they were only several steps from the tent. It was enough for quite a few of them to land on Sasuke's – and Naruto's - head.

Sakura was watching the sight with bright eyes from just a few steps inside.

"Oh," she said as they ran inside next to her. "I never thought the rocks would fall through the rain, because it's usually just rocks when the winds bring them from the mountains…"

"What are you doing?" Naruto demanded. "It's raining rocks, we need to go somewhere safe!"

"But," Sakura stared at him and then at Sasuke, who was trying to dry his hair as much as possible before stepping further into the tent. "We are safe here."

Naruto finally took a breath and peered around. "Oh."

"Why do you think they insisted we use their tents? They are much stronger than regular ones." Sakura said, amused with how uncomfortable Naruto was looking. When he started to get red under her stare, she turned to Sasuke. "Why didn't you tell him I was not in danger?"

"I tried."

"You should have tried harder," Naruto muttered.

Sasuke shot back, "No, you should have trusted me to head back first if I thought Sakura was in danger."

"That's not so easy."

"No, no, no," Sakura interrupted, "We are not going there again. I won't let you fight about that. We are over that."

In the silence Naruto was using to glare at Sasuke and Sasuke was using to glare at Naruto, both trying to stay quiet and on Sakura's good side, the pebbles falling outside sounded like the huge rock the hotel was carved in was collapsing.

"Now," she continued when no one dared to go against her. "Go find some towels."

It was probably not the time and place to get into another discussion about when exactly Naruto planned to stop being a hypocrite and argue with the entire world how Sasuke was trustworthy, only to turn around and insist on being there every time Sasuke had to leave his own street. It was a good time and place, though, for Sasuke to try to convince himself that he did not care.

That night, it was impossible to miss when Naruto gasped and jerked up on his mattress. In a night as dark as that one, it was hard to see inside, but Sasuke was pretty sure Naruto put his hands over his face while trying to get his breathing under control. After a minute or so, he looked up.

"I woke you up? Sorry." Neither Shikamaru nor Sasuke moved a muscle, and there was no telling who he was talking to. It was just as likely he was talking to both.

After failing to suppress a sigh, Naruto stood up and walked out.

"You think he's alright?" Shikamaru asked after the steps dies halfway toward the river. So Naruto was talking to them both after all.

Sasuke got up. After they almost broke into another fight that afternoon, Shikamaru was probably a better choice to go and talk to Naruto, but he obviously expected Sasuke to do it.

For once, it was chilly in the Earth Country. The wind was still strong, even though the hard ground had dried hours ago. Naruto was sitting near the beach, on the edge of the concrete block from under the showers. The view of the waterfall was much better there than from their tent, and Naruto was looking in that direction but it was too dark to make out anything.

Sasuke sat down as well. "Nightmares?"

"No... Yeah," Naruto said. "I'm fine, go back to sleep."

At least the dark let Sasuke focus on his voice, instead of being distracted by the false expressions Naruto was used to delivering. He was upset.

"What kind of nightmares?"

He was pretty sure, when Naruto finally turned to him, that he was glaring. Several long minutes passed before he got the answer. "It's just dreams."

"About what?"

There was another long, considering pause.

"About Jiraiya. About the time we spent together." The worst kind of nightmares, then, Sasuke thought. They were the kind where one doesn't wake up to a better reality, but a worse one. "It all starts out so well, we train or just laugh, or travel … And then he turns to me like he expects me to do something. But I don't know what he wants from me, just that he will be very disappointed if I don't do it."

Sasuke said nothing. There was entirely too much pressure on Naruto after the war. The responsibility for the entire world and fixing it probably wasn't what he had in mind when he wanted to be the Hokage. Not that Sasuke didn't know that Naruto wanted nothing more than to be able to do something more. But Tsunade was right; he needed to fill the holes in his education first.

"I should have read about the Earth Country before we came here. I can't believe it didn't occur to me when people started to retreat in masses that it might rain rocks."

Naruto sounded better . . . scornful, but better. He was shivering, though. Sasuke was sitting just close enough to feel it. Was it from the cold wind or not, he had no idea.

But just in case it wasn't from the cold. "It never occurred to me, either. Until it started to rain."

"Heh," Naruto said, and just on the base of the tone of his voice when he said that, Sasuke knew there was a jab coming. "If your brains are my only comfort, the world is doomed."

To show how he was just kidding, probably, Naruto leaned a little closer to poke Sasuke with his elbow. And then he decided to stay there.

"Ahh, you're warm."

Naruto was rarely cold, even when it was cold. That was the safe sign he should go back to bed, so Sasuke took him by the wrist to pull him up. "Probably because I bother to wear a shirt."

They went back together. Shikamaru was still awake and he seemed to relax, relieved that he heard Naruto laughing.

***

The next day, Sasuke regretted bitterly that he went along with Rock's request and left all his weapons on a watch tower carved in a rock three miles to the south, because throwing kunais at Naruto sounded like the best possible way to make it through the day. Early in the morning, Naruto went to help the locals to clear rocks from the roads and the beach. If it was political strategy, it would have been a good one. Everyone knew who he was, everyone was curious. Helping out in such a simple task was a good way for the people to like him, and that was important even in a foreign country.

Later, he came back with a bucket full of rocks. Yet another local belief was that rocks that fell from the sky were therapeutic. Or that it was making the mud therapeutic. People told him about it while he was helping them to collect them. They had said to have someone put them on his back. Without washing them first, he was to add some water so the soil lingering on the rocks would turn back to mud.

Sakura flatly refused to touch the rocks when he went to her tent to ask. Shikamaru bolted out, saying he had things to do. Sasuke ignored Naruto completely. However, a small thing like that would not stop Naruto when he wanted something, so he took off what little clothes he had on until he was just in his underwear and created a shadow clone to help him out.

So Sasuke was left under the same tent with two as good as naked Narutos playing with rocks and mud. He was in hell.

They put up a white sheet in the middle on the floor, where the table usually sat. Naruto spread himself over it. The tent was spacey, but not that much; sitting on his mattress with his back against the tent wall, as far away as possible from them, Sasuke was barely five feet away.

The clone sat just atop Naruto's ass, which was making the entire thing very unsettling. It almost resembled a sexual manner, but all that was heard in the tent were babbles like "Oi, that's cold!" "Shut up, you wuss," and the occasional, "Sasuke, wanna join in? This is fun!"

And it wasn't fun at all. Sasuke gathered his legs close to him, but he couldn't help but watch Naruto… learning how to give rock treatment to himself.

"You're moving too much," the clone scolded Naruto.

"Am not," Naruto answered, trying at the same time to turn around and glare at his replica.

The clone pushed on Naruto's shoulders. "You're propping yourself on your elbows. Lay down."

Naruto let his elbows slide to the sides and ended up resting his head on his hands. For once, the clone managed to put more than two rocks up on Naruto's smudged back. Sasuke watched the muddy water dripping from Naruto's skin to the white sheet under him for some time, before he realized that Naruto was looking at him.

"Having fun?" he asked when their eyes met.

"No," Sasuke answered, wondering why Naruto would think watching him playing in the mud was fun. But his voice came out like he had a sore throat, which earned him a very slow and deliberate smirk. It felt like some challenge, like they were about to fight, so Sasuke's breathing sped up.

Naruto never looked at him quite like that, like he was amused and curious and maybe also a little eager, without a single trace of fear that Sasuke would disappear as soon as he blinked.

"Hey!" the clone yelled. "They fell off again! What are you doing? I told you to be still!"

He pushed Naruto back down. Sasuke couldn't remember seeing him move, but Naruto was halfway up when the clone started yelling. Where was he going? Why was he standing up?

Sasuke leaned back until he could feel the tent wall with the back of his head and waited for his breathing to get back under his control. Then he left the tent. Even the Earth Country's sun was better than staying inside at that point.

After that, staying under the same roof with Naruto was a nightmare. He was wearing that amused smirk all the time, like he could see something different now, like he knew more than Sasuke. Along with it, his stupid habit of walking around half-naked after getting back from the river was impossible to tolerate.

It was also impossible to ignore, no matter how much Sasuke was trying. Naruto was making it impossible on purpose. He knew exactly what to do to keep Sasuke's annoyed glances on him, just the way to sit, walk, stretch and . . . bend.

The unnerving part was, Sasuke was not sure if some other things fleshing up in his mind had always been there, or were new. He was trained to notice things, even among a lot of other things. But he couldn't find a way to be sure if Naruto was wearing his shorts quite as low on his hips before or whether or not his skin had been quite as fascinating, glittering from the water in the sun.

It wasn't long before he snapped. In fact, it only took about one day.

"If you don't stop that," Sasuke said, surprising them both when Naruto leaned way too closely to see the papers on the table over his shoulder. He was kneeling down. Naruto wasn't dripping water at the moment, so all Sasuke could feel along his back where Naruto was refusing to move away from was a heavy presence. "I am going to kill you."

Naruto snorted. "As if."

Sasuke looked up over his shoulder. "What is it that you think you're doing?"

"What?" Naruto said, trying to look innocent and confused. "I'm not doing anything."

By that point, Sasuke was regretting he had started the conversation. It was futile to talk to Naruto. They had only three days left. He should have kept his mouth shut.

"Exactly, you are not doing anything. So why don't you go somewhere else to be completely useless?"

Naruto narrowed his eyes, the fake innocence solidifying into a challenge of some kind. "But, I wanna watch you change color every time I walk by."

What, a dare to admit it? Or a dare to deny it?

"You are suffocating me," Sasuke told him, still bending his head so he could meet Naruto's eyes. "Go outside and play with kids."

Naruto shifted his weight to find better balance, like he was afraid Sasuke would try to push him out. "Nope. I like it here."

"Then sit still. On your side of the tent. Or at least put some clothes on."

There, he had said it. Maybe if he'd done it right away, they would have never slipped this low.

Naruto made a face. "Where's the fun in that?"

"I can see the fun in it," Sasuke bit off. It was already too late. Naruto was forming that smirk again, the unnerving one. The one Sasuke wanted rather badly to cut off his face.

"Liar," Naruto answered, drawling the word. "You know what I think?"

Thankfully, Sasuke had no idea what was going on in Naruto's head, but Naruto needed no prompting to answer his own question. "I think you like me."

His voice rang out for a moment before cutting through. The words fell like thunder on Sasuke's thoughts. Naruto did not just say that, he couldn't have. Wasn't this entire thing between them, the wall of doubts and fear and other peoples' mistakes, hard enough?

There was nothing Sasuke wanted to say to that. For the first time since he had turned, Naruto glanced away for a moment before he added, "Because you sure don't mind everyone else being dressed for a beach."

If that was a real challenge, or Naruto's way to retreat slightly and give him something to say, Sasuke had no idea.

"What are you talking about? There is no one else here. I'm stuck with you."

Naruto crossed his arms over his chest, but he wasn't moving away. "Sakura's here all the time in her bathing suit. And Shikamaru is going down to the river at least once a day."

Pointedly, Sasuke looked lower to where Naruto had his shorts so low. It was a wonder it was staying on him without being stuck there with chakra. "No one is walking around like that."

"Sure they do," Naruto said. Sasuke tried harder to move his eyes from the very light hair Naruto had, low on his stomach, and succeeded. "You just don't pay attention to them the way you do to me."

Sasuke decided that the discussion was going nowhere. There was no use in reasoning with Naruto, not when he was smug and stubborn. They were not more than an inch apart from when Naruto had leaned over his shoulder, even though he had been standing straight for most of the conversation. So instead of answering, Sasuke moved quickly and pulled the edge of Naruto's shorts up. Actions spoke louder than words, right?

Naruto inhaled sharply with the movement, but hadn't done anything to stop the gesture. He hadn't moved away, either, just looking down at Sasuke, eyes darker than Earth's storms.

"Um, guys?" Sakura's amused voice interrupted the staring competition - because that was what it was. "This place is semi-public."

She was standing at the tent entrance, broad smile on her face and eyes on … Sasuke's hands, which were still holding the edge of Naruto's shorts up. With a curse delicious and tempting on his tongue, Sasuke let go.

"That's what I've been saying," he said.

Naruto only gave her a grin that matched her mood well. "I think I need to go back to the water now."

As Sakura was moving further inside, she and Naruto crossed paths. No words were exchanged, as far as Sasuke could hear. He said when Naruto had disappeared outside, "And then he will be back to drip water all over the tent."

"So? What do you care? It's not like it's yours." Sakura answered. "And besides, if you'd stop staring at him, you probably wouldn't mind as much."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, but she was already backtracking, unable to keep the grin off her face. "I think I'm going to join him this time – though probably not for exactly the same reasons. You should come too; the sun isn't so intense today."

The last words she was almost yelling from the outside.

Later, Sasuke checked. She was right; the sun was not too vivid, so he went to the river. There were even more kids than usual. The clouds that hid the sun for long intervals made parents bring out even the smaller children. It would be impossible to swim near the waterfall, and the rest of the river wasn't deep enough to be any fun.

Watching Sakura trying to drown Naruto had its own merits, however.

***

The problem wasn't as obvious while Sakura was around because Naruto was talking to her. Once she went to sleep, all that was left behind her was silence. Naruto had tried talking; of course he had. Sasuke didn't feeling like answering, though.

He also wasn't feeling like proving Naruto's – and Sakura's – point, so he was very careful about where his eyes strayed. It required effort because he was used to giving Naruto a glare whenever he was being a moron. And because Naruto was moron all the time, it was no wonder that not glaring at him was a strain.

Guided by that logic, Sasuke made it through curious questions about his silence, demands and angry shouting. He didn't like seeing Naruto upset very much, but if that was the price to stop the kind of thing that happened earlier from repeating, then it was a low one.

Once Naruto realized Sasuke had no intention of speaking to him without a practical reason behind it, he grew quiet as well. There was both anger and regret behind it. It didn't matter, but the silence was never as good in reality as it was while Sasuke was wishing for it.

Early in the evening, just after Shikamaru dropped by for a quick and awkward dinner and disappeared someplace again – three people came to the tent. They had no visible marks of rank, but judging by the air of confidence and the hair on Sasuke's neck rising, they were jounins at the very least.

The woman walking in the middle had a scroll in her hands. She looked at Sasuke without asking for any official identity confirmation.

"Regarding your plea for the attendance with the Tsuchikage," she stated.

Sasuke remained kneeling on the edge of his mattress. If she thought he needed to get up, she would have to ask him to. There was the difference between showing the authority presence and being rude; it was something he knew well.

"The time and date of your appointment has been changed. Tsuchikage will see you at eight o'clock two days from now." When she said that the date was changed, Sasuke was sure they were going to postpone it. But the Tsuchikage had grown tired of playing, it seemed. "Is that acceptable?"

She asked it, but she barely waited to see him nod in response. It obviously wasn't debatable.

"Ah, finally!" Naruto said when the steps disappeared in the distance. "We are going back home! I was starting to grow mold."

It was good news. Sasuke wasn't enthusiastic enough to let Naruto drag him into a conversation because of it. After a very short silence, Naruto made a frustrated sound that resembled something a wild animal would make. "I'm going to tell Sakura."

This time Naruto knew better than to expect an answer so instead he walked out quickly.

Lost in the planning of what he would say in the morning so he wouldn't sound too cowed, at least two hours passed before Sasuke realized that Naruto was not back yet.

What was a relief at the beginning became a bother soon. It was getting late. Naruto was always there, not only since they came to Rock, but every time Sasuke was out of Leaf. He made a point not to leave him alone for too long, partially because he seemed to be thinking Sasuke's past would come to make trouble and partly because he was afraid Sasuke would run away again. It was suffocating and tiring.

But now, when Naruto had to know Sasuke was upset, he went to spend the night with Sakura?

Alone in the dark tent, Sasuke stood up. He wouldn't go and look for Naruto. That made no sense, not when he had finally gotten some privacy. He should be enjoying it.

But . . . There were other ways to make sure Naruto was with Sakura…

No.

Sasuke turned back, intent on going to sleep but then remained standing, looking down on his crumpled sheets. The last couple of steps were all he heard before Naruto entered the tent some minutes later.

"Sasuke?" Naruto said, approaching his own mattress. "I thought you'd be sleeping by now."

Sasuke was not supposed to be feeling relief because of Naruto being back. But the familiar presence in the room, even if Naruto was completely still and waiting for an answer for the moment, was reassuring. It would have been bad if Naruto had given up just because of that conversation they had.

"I was about to."

"Oh," Naruto answered smartly. "So are you talking to me again?"

Sasuke smirked to himself. What an idiotic question. "No."

"Right."

They both quickly prepared for bed without another word. It was hours before Sasuke fell asleep. In the quiet darkness, knowing that Naruto was also awake, he couldn't stop his mind going back to that afternoon, to Naruto's overconfidence. To the way he'd been walking around, almost naked.

And that picture was a little bit too clear after the entire afternoon of extreme not looking, so Sasuke chased it away and concentrated on his meeting with Tsuchikage.

***

In the morning, Naruto was wearing a shirt. Not that Sasuke was looking at him. But he was wearing a shirt, something Sasuke couldn't remember clearly happening from the moment they had gotten the tent pitched near the river.

Later, when the sun was already high in the sky, Shikamaru was still lying on his mattress, awake and unmoving. That guy had a kind of relaxed motionlessness Sasuke couldn't understand. He could be patient and wait in the tent for a week to get something he wanted – or something he had to do. If it meant accomplishing something, he could probably stand still for days in the same spot. But who in his right mind, with the freedom of choice, would want to spend his every free second just laying down, holding his eyes closed and waiting for things to run past him?

The return of Sakura and Naruto from the beach interrupted his idle pondering over the subject before they were even close enough for him to make out their conversation.

Sakura was saying, "…things we are not supposed to see?"

"No, do you think I'm stupid?" Naruto answered indignantly. "I asked that chick that's been following us around – hey can you believe she was surprised when I talked to her? I think she was not supposed to be seen or something, I swear she was about to cry!"

Sakura interrupted him, mercifully, before even God forgot where Naruto had started, "She told you about the caves?"

They were coming inside while Naruto was answering. "There is a law about not going inside, but that's just for the caves that have the entrance in or near the village – I couldn't find a single one of those."

He straightened and looked around the tent, taking in Shikamaru who opened his eyes and tilted his head just enough to reassure anyone interested that he was not asleep, and Sasuke, who was sitting at the table.

"I'm going to see the monster bats and you guys have to come with me!"

From one of the cooling chests, Sakura took out the jar of homemade reddish colored juice some woman insisted Naruto take on the beach the previous morning. "They are just bats, not monsters."

"They're bigger then me." Naruto defended his view on the thing. "That means they are monsters. And I'm going to see them."

After a very brief glance across to Sasuke, Naruto settled at looking down at Shikamaru, pleading for company.

"No way," Shikamaru said. "I have the day off."

"I'll go," Sasuke said.

If the place really had huge bats, that was something to see. Besides, he'd gotten the exact day and hour of his appointment. It would not be rescheduled; Tsuchikage would not want to look like he was indecisive. But even if he was, Shikamaru was there to take the message. Sasuke needed to get out of the tent for more than an hour at a time.

Naruto grinned wildly. "It's not close, we'll need water."

"Brains, it's what you two need," Sakura muttered, moving out of Naruto's way so he could take his backpack and load it. "Don't you dare hurt them, do you hear me?"

"What if they hurt us?"

"If they try to hurt you," Sakura answered, halfway blocking their exit to be sure they would listen. "And I wouldn't bet against that, you are planning on barging into their territory – then just run."

"I just wanna see them," Naruto said as Sasuke walked around Sakura.

She didn't seem convinced. So Sasuke added, "It's daylight. They should be sleeping. We won't disturb them."

Still not looking very sure, Sakura waved them out.

It took them about two hours to reach the caves. Naruto had his instructions correct, but they were still pretty far into the rocky wastelands that had nothing but occasional shriveled plants and some reptiles. The entrance was a big hole in the ground. Getting down there was blissful relief after the hot sun that was almost directly above their heads.

Naruto picked his way down without consultation and left it to Sasuke to follow. That path was just as good as any other, so he did, but not before glaring in annoyance first when Naruto turned to check why he was being held up.

The floor was very slippery. After the hotness outside, the caves were shockingly cold; the greater the descent, the more the temperature lowered. Several holes they passed seemed bottomless. Naruto leaned over a particularly wide one and directed the light beam from his flashlight down, trying to see before he let a small rock fall freely. It hit the bottom after several long seconds.

"It doesn't seem too deep. Wanna see what's down here?"

"No."

Naruto leaned a little more, his feet half over the abyss, half on the slippery rock. Thinking about how much of a pain it would be to get him up and out if the moron managed to knock himself out while hitting the bottom, Sasuke took his elbow and forced him to step back.

"I'm not going to fall over," Naruto muttered, but he didn't try to return to the edge. He didn't try to step away from Sasuke either, who had to let him go.

"There is nothing down there. Bats roost. We'll find them perched upside-down, so look up."

Naruto grinned and tilted his head to see the ceiling. It was only after more than five minutes of walking before they entered the first chamber that was big enough to take on a colony, but it was empty. Sasuke was starting to wonder if the bats were just a myth. He wasn't about to say that and discourage Naruto. After so many days of constant heat, the chill of the underground was pleasant. Maybe they should've pitched a tent inside one.

Next to a large stalagmite that was rising from the floor in an odd spiral shape Naruto suddenly stopped. Over his shoulder, Sasuke saw them. The bats maybe weren't quite as tall as people, but with their wings spread, they were certainly many times larger than normal ones. If they were blood drinkers, just one of them would be able to kill a person. Even if a bat wouldn't need that much blood, a wound as big as the thing would have to make, with anticoagulant on it, would bleed until the person died.

Sasuke moved back a couple of steps and left his flashlight behind a rock. That would give them enough light to move without disturbing the bats.

When he returned to Naruto, who was trying to see the wing of the nearest animal better, he whispered, "Turn that off."

Naruto half-turned with a frown. "What?"

Past him, several bats twitched. Before he could speak again in that loud voice of his, Sasuke put his hand over Naruto's mouth and whispered even lower than before.

"You'll wake them up." Against him, Naruto shuddered and then took a deep breath. He wasn't really afraid of them, was he? It would be stupid to come all the way there if he was. "Turn the light off and keep your voice down."

Naruto nodded jerkily, so Sasuke let go. "Don't do that."

Naruto's voice was thankfully low, but Sasuke had no idea what is he talking about. He raised his eyebrows in question, but Naruto didn't explain the angry hiss, just turned the light off. They were left in what seemed like complete dark for a long minute before Sasuke's eyes adjusted to it with the help of what little light was left behind. Only after that did Sasuke close his eyes until his sharingan activated completely. It wasn't making the cave brighter, but the difference in the shades was more obvious. As the only thing that moved, Naruto was distinct and the only thing Sasuke could see clearly.

He followed around the stalagmite down into the bigger chamber. Naruto didn't seem to be having any vision problems. His steps were light and sure as he approached the first bat and tilted his head up to examine it. It had a conical muzzle and furry body.

It was just a small thing, but both wings twitched very slightly. Sasuke stepped closer. "Naruto…" he warned quietly.

As if startled, Naruto jerked. "I told you not to do that!"

"It's awake." A glance over the room confirmed some others were also awake. Naruto's outburst, even though lower than it would usually be, didn't help. "Most of them are."

As if the bat understood that they knew it was awake, it spread its wings and set off the ceiling toward them. It was quick. But there was time for a few hand seals, so Sasuke raised his hands, stepping back.

"Do you have a death wish?" Naruto snapped, grabbing his wrist to yank him to the left. "Sakura will kill you."

Sasuke got his hand free, but he followed anyway. They found a fairly wide and deep crack in the wall of the cave and got inside just before the bat managed to catch up. It flew to the narrow entrance, but its wings were too wide. They were safely out of the way.

Some other bats got off the ceiling as well. They were flying in circles around the huge chamber. The racket was high-pitched and annoying as hell. Naruto took his backpack off.

"What are you doing? We need to get out."

"We will," Naruto answered, taking out the half-empty bottle of water before he spread the backpack on the ground, near the wall. "As soon as they go back to sleep."

Sasuke looked out at the huge bats flying in circles. "We disturbed them. I doubt they'll go back to sleep any time soon."

"We didn't hurt them, so they just got a fright. If we sit down and wait, they will go back to sleep."

It was worth a shot. They were big and dangerous, on their own territory, and there was a long, barely familiar path back up. Even without the danger factor, they had disrupted the bats enough. There was no reason to make it even worse.

Naruto sat down on his empty backpack. There was not much room for standing around, so Sasuke took the end of it that was left for him and sat against the wall next to him.

For a while, it seemed like there was no way for the bats to calm down. But the squeaking at long last started fading. It was getting really cold. The wall behind their backs was icy and hard. Naruto, on the other hand, was soft and warm and very close on Sasuke's side. The mixed up sensation made him shiver occasionally.

"Heh," Naruto finally whispered, after a really long silence. "Look at that."

Sasuke glanced at him, but Naruto was looking back at him. He quickly raised his hand and tugged on Sasuke's collar. Frowning, he slipped his fingers further up Sasuke' neck and tugged again. Only this time Sasuke realized it was the chain he was wearing not the shirt that Naruto was after.

The crystal pendant fell against his chest. It was giving off a very soft red light. But he was only trying to show him that the thing was glowing, so why had Sasuke stopped breathing like Naruto had put a kunai under his throat?

Naruto was smiling, poking at the crystal with his finger. He whispered, "It wasn't glowing before."

"Maybe it's from these caves," Sasuke offered. "Some crystals are used to mark the path in the mines because they glow in the dark."

Naruto wrapped a hand around the pendulant and trapped it with the other one. He leaned in to look at the small gap he had left behind. Sasuke could feel his hot breath through the thin cloth of his shirt.

"What are you doing?" he hissed, annoyed. Naruto needed to learn to respect his private space. He did his best to leave lots of room for it, so why couldn't Naruto just… stay away?

"Just trying to see if it would glow harder…" Babbling, Naruto glanced up at him and froze. "Sasuke?"

"What?" Naruto wasn't moving, so Sasuke put his hand up to push against his chest. The loud beats mesmerized him from under his palm, and he couldn't shove Naruto away. What made Naruto's heart hammer like that? They weren't in any danger.

Naruto wasn't moving. Instead, he was staring, his mouth a little open. Sasuke's mind was suddenly overwhelmed by the way Naruto was walking around almost naked this last week, him playing in mud with a clone… with him saying 'I think you like me'. And shit, but he might be right.

Propping himself up on an elbow, Naruto turned to face him better.

Sasuke asked again, not nearly as sharp, "What are you doing?"

"Killing myself, most likely," Naruto muttered. He tightened his grip around the pendant until the chain cut into Sasuke's skin at the neck and yanked him close even while moving forward himself.

Sasuke wasn't stupid. At that point, he couldn't really be surprised when Naruto moved closer with a visible intent to kiss him. He was on his feet instantly, thinking about how odd it was and how many problems would arise with being involved with Naruto in that way…. and how he couldn't remember the last time he had felt so good. He was backing away, not that there was a lot of space for it.

But Naruto followed him, quick and strong, pushing hard until Sasuke was pressed between him and the wall. He hissed, "Don't!"

And then he placed his hands to keep Sasuke's head still as he crushed their mouths together. Sasuke wanted – he had to make him stop, before he fucked it all up. But as he turned his head away, he realized that he was breaking a kiss he was participating in rather enthusiastically.

"What the fuck . . .?!" he demanded anyway.

Naruto groaned and tightened his grip on Sasuke's hair. "Don't do that, don't stop. Damn it, not now!"

He pushed himself closer yet, warm and forceful, looking up at Sasuke with his eyes heavy-lidded and determined. Sasuke was supposed to move and get away. But he couldn't, not when Naruto's hands were slithering lower until he could dig his fingers into Sasuke's hips and force his legs apart with his knees. The motion brought them so close that Naruto's erection was rubbing directly over Sasuke's. It was uncomfortable but it knocked out what little air that was left in Sasuke's lungs with the painful pleasure that shot through him. Naruto had his eyes closed, mouth open, and muttered something softly between the gasps as he pushed to grind them together again.

Sasuke finally moved. He drowned a moan as he kissed Naruto with as much force as he could gather in the situation. Naruto didn't seem to mind the violence; he responded in kind, biting a little and using his tongue a lot. But he never stopped moving.

With the swirls of pleasure rising in his stomach, Sasuke had to thrust back. Naruto groaned, but he retreated, leaving Sasuke to open his eyes, confused and already frustrated for the lack of contact. But Naruto was still there, making good use of his hands. He opened Sasuke's pants with an unsteady hand, slipped his fingers into the underwear he found there and finally wrapped his slightly damp palm over Sasuke's cock.

It was impossible not to make a sound when Naruto moved his hand and at the same time returned to rubbing himself on Sasuke's hip. His breath was hot. It was burning Sasuke's brain whenever it landed over his ear. It made him shudder and jerk to meet Naruto's hand.

Sasuke held Naruto close against him despite the jerky movements he was making. Even despite how much the movement caused Sasuke's skin to scrape against the wall behind him. He let his hand slip lower, from Naruto's back to his ass that was firm and moving… That was all it took for him to come all over Naruto's hand, not quite managing to keep the intensity of the orgasm out of his panting.

Sasuke recovered just in time not to miss the expression on Naruto's face as he followed. A frown of wonder was replaced with an open-mouthed relief, and then there was something wet and hot on Sasuke's hip.

A moment later, Naruto was breathing heavily and shaking on his feet a little. It was an odd sight, but not uncomfortably so. Naruto had shown him fragility before, the reason wasn't all that important. Sasuke let himself slip down the rough wall, not letting go of him. Naruto ended up sitting on his right thigh when they hit the dirt.

"Am I bat-food now?" Naruto asked. He sounded a little nervous, but surely he had realized that Sasuke hadn't exactly been … uncooperative.

Sasuke let his head fall back until there was cold rock to keep it up. "I haven't decided yet."

"Oh," Naruto said. Then he grinned, a wicked, playful grin. "Maybe you'll find it easier to decide after a replay?"

It sounded too fucking good and Sasuke didn't want to let that little thought that was bringing along doubts and fears to trouble him right then. "Maybe."

He felt Naruto shifting closer before there were teeth scraping on his neck. "With less clothes? In a more comfortable place? Without monsters trying to eat us?"

"That last part sounds particularly appealing."

Naruto chuckled and stiffened against him. "Grrh. Sasuke? There's something crawling over my back."

Sasuke couldn't see his back, so he brushed his palm over it. There was something there, warm and hairy, so he grabbed it and threw it to the distant part of the crack in the cave.

"Is it poisonous?" Naruto wondered, watching the large spider disappear under a rock.

"Everything here is potentially deadly," Sasuke told him. "Get off. We should probably head back."

Naruto made protesting noises, but he got up. They both listened. The bats had calmed down in the mean time, but they were likely not asleep, not with the two of them making so much noise.

…Noise that was still echoing in Sasuke's head like it had off the walls just seconds ago. The whirlwind of contrary feelings and physical pleasure had relaxed him for several minutes there, but the tension in his back was crawling back up. Was Naruto even aware of the consequences?

"I don't know… What if they chase us again? I don't want Sakura to punch me," Naruto whispered, peering past the entrance. Sasuke didn't want Sakura mad at him, because, between Naruto and Shikamaru, she was the only one capable of holding a normal, productive conversation without straining herself. But all of a sudden, the cave felt tight and small, and Naruto – about three feet away – too close.

So he couldn't actually deny the attraction any longer. But that would not change the reasons - all the valid reasons - not to get involved with someone like Naruto. He was clingy. There was the teammates' taboo; Konoha management would never allow them to go on missions together if they were involved. Not to mention, it would damage Naruto's reputation. He was already suffering because of insisting to be near Sasuke all the time.

And right then, Sasuke really wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere far away from the crack they were in and from Naruto.

Fuck the bats. Sakura, too.

Sasuke only paused to inform Naruto, "We're going." He was out of the crack and across the chamber almost instantly, using chakra to speed up without making a conscious decision to do it. The bats reacted faster than Naruto, who was shouting something. They flew off the ceiling once again, swift and fast.

They were not faster than him, though. Sasuke didn't stop to pick up his flashlight, nor did he halt to make sure Naruto was following. He was too busy moving and trying not to make a mistake on the path out. It wasn't likely, but better to be careful.

Naruto caught up just before Sasuke entered the chamber to the entrance hole. High pitched sounds of the bats made it clear that they were not giving up. But sunbeams were falling through the hole to the floor of the cave: golden yellow and blindingly bright after being in darkness for so long. It made his sight glimmer blearily, so Sasuke let mostly his instincts and memory lead him up. He stopped to adjust his eyes to the sunshine and his body to the warmth only after he was outside in the empty, rocky desert and a hundred steps away from the cave entrance.

"What the fuck was that?" Naruto demanded from behind him. He sounded really angry.

"It was what we should have done right away."

"What? You agreed that we should wait! I wasn't exactly holding you down!" Naruto said. No, he hadn't been holding Sasuke down. He wouldn't be able to. It had happened with his consent.

"I changed my mind," Sasuke explained it to him patiently. He was sweating already. The day was nearing its end. The sun was low on the west and more orange than yellow. The temperature was certainly lower than it was when they were walking through the desert to get to the cave, but he wasn't that hot. He checked his pants for any stains, but the dark reddish-brown of the native wool wasn't showing anything.

Naruto raged, "You can't just change your mind every five seconds!"

"I don't intend to change it every five seconds," Sasuke told him. "We're moving now."

They had to walk normally, at least for a while. The change in temperature was too big.

"You can't order me around," Naruto informed him grumpily after several minutes, keeping up with the pace Sasuke had set. "I'm not like that team of losers you had."

Team of losers…? He sure acted the same as them. Whining, but following.

"And you can't just ignore me forever, you know? I'm not going to let you."

He's going to do what, walk around naked and sleep over at Sakura's until he had forced Sasuke to talk? Sasuke almost halted at the thought, for once recognizing that particular strain of annoyance that flashed through him. That… would probably work.

"There's no way I'd give up on you. I don't care what Sakura says."

On that, Sasuke actually halted. Naruto's voice was quiet, but clear. It sounded familiar, but in a very bad way.

"Shut up," Sasuke snapped, and moved faster, making speed with chakra again. Naruto probably followed - he had no other option, really, but he wasn't moving close enough for Sasuke to hear or feel him.

When he entered the tent, it was empty. Sasuke was pretty sure he caught a glimpse of Naruto at the village gate, so he took what he needed to go down to the beach without any delays. The water close to the waterfall was refreshing, that part was in deep shade so close to evening.

He had made a mistake. He shouldn't have let that happen. And it was really embarrassing that he'd been caught by surprise. What part of him staring at Naruto's exposed flesh for days was so confusing? He would have to explain before Naruto made a big mess out of everything. It wasn't a conversation Sasuke was looking forward to.

On the shore, people were putting some tables together. Too many people were busying around, excited and in a nervous hurry. Sasuke saw Sakura talking to a local.

"Oh, you're back," she said after she glanced at him. "How was it?"

"Bad," Sasuke said. "What's going on here?"

She grinned, "It's for our goodbye party… What do you mean, bad? What went wrong? What did you do?"

The man who was talking to her moved subtly away. Sasuke kind of wished he could follow.

"There were giant bats there. They woke up and chased us out," Sasuke told her. With the bats, and spiders and Naruto there, her first thought was he was the one who had fucked up? "Considering that Naruto was the one who was flashing light at them, I'd say I didn't do anything."

"Uh huh," Sakura said, suspiciously. "After this last week, you are expecting me to believe that you did not jump him after spending hours alone in the dark together?"

"I didn't."

She still looked suspicious, but he was telling her the truth. As long as she didn't ask . . . "And he didn't jump you?"

… He could keep the conversation up. Crap.

"I can't see how that would be any of your business," Sasuke answered while turning to walk away. She followed. The answer was as good as saying yes, but without actually saying it.

"Ah. I see," Sakura said, catching up with a hidden smile. She was a clever girl, but she was having fun with this.

"No, you don't see. There is nothing funny about it. The Hokage is going to be upset with him. And with me. People already talk enough. He doesn't need that shit." Sakura's hidden smile escaped. She was grinning openly. Sasuke added, "He's clingy."

"A thought so back then, and I'm leaving you alone," Sakura said in a whisper, getting more serious. "He's insisting to spend all the time possible near you already. People don't really have to know anything else."

Sasuke thought about it, back to all the times Naruto and he had spent together after he had came back. The trip to Cloud, this thing now, the way missions worked. That… It could actually work.

"He'd hate it."

"I know," Sakura answered, with a sympathetic half-smile before turning back toward the beach. "I promised I'd help. You're coming, right?"

"The farewell party?" Sasuke asked, looking past her shoulder to the beach that was illuminated by the very last sunshine and several fires that were lit on the tops of statues. He was hungry. There should be food there. "Maybe."

The tent was still empty. Or it was empty again, whatever. Somewhere between him drying off his hair and putting some clothes on, the music started. Or, it was probably meant to be music; the sounds were obviously coming from some kind of woodwind instrument, but it wasn't melodic at all. Underneath it, the chatter was getting louder. There would be a lot of people on the beach that night.

Naruto would be there, and maybe it was better to have that particular conversation in the crowd.

It took Sasuke some minutes to locate him among the people. His sight was not the best in twilight without the sharingan on. Naruto was sitting on the edge of the concrete block near the showers, like the night when he'd had bad dreams. He was there alone, looking like he was sulking. But that was probably only temporarily, what with that group of girls standing nearby, looking at him and whispering to each other.

…Okay, so that particular string of annoyance was not exactly annoyance either.

Sasuke sat next to Naruto, ignoring his surprise, and shot the girls a look. They retreated under it, but they started - sort of - to giggle.

"Are you trying to give them nightmares?" Naruto muttered, but he was frowning at the group himself.

"Yes."

"Oh," Naruto answered, his frown turning confused. "They seemed nice to me."

…And Sasuke was the oblivious one from the two of them? "I didn't come here to talk about some Rock Village girls."

"You changed your mind again?" Naruto bit out, not quite looking at him, but rather in his general direction. Sulking, so close up, it looked more like he was trying to hide sadness.

"No, I took some time to think about it." Because someone had to and Naruto was obviously not that someone.

"So you won't be shooting yourself across the desert again? 'Cause that's kind of hard to follow in these conditions. It's too fucking hot to run around…."

"Shut up, Naruto," Sasuke advised. After all that stupidity, he should be reconsidering the offer he was about to make. But Naruto was inches away, with his shoulders tense and eyes shadowed. Sasuke couldn't shake off the memory of Naruto's mouth on his neck, of all the things they did back in the cave. More to stall until he found the right words than because he thought it was relevant, Sasuke said, "You did not exactly wait for consent."

"Are you saying that I was holding you down?" Naruto gaped. Illuminated only by the fire that was reaching high into the sky already, he seemed somehow spooky. "I don't know if I'm more disturbed with you accusing me of raping you or suggesting that I'm stronger than…"

"Keep your voice down!" Sasuke snapped. "Do you know what kind of consequences this could leave on you and your plans?"

"That's what you came up with after running away to think? I know that already. Sakura keeps saying it. All the time." Naruto ripped his eyes off Sasuke to look over the people laughing and talking, as if it was their fault. "And I don't care! If they can't deal with a small thing like homosexuality…"

"It's not just that. It's worse because it's me."

Everyone knew the story of what Naruto was ready to sacrifice to bring Sasuke back home. People usually took it in one of two ways; they were either impressed by what Naruto was ready to do for a teammate or horrified that he would go so far for someone who was obviously rotten. The second kind would like it even less like this, and the first would not be as thrilled if they thought Naruto was doing it for romantic reasons.

Sasuke wasn't quite clear what did it, but Naruto brightened and shifted closer. They were not far apart to begin with so the movement filled his senses with Naruto's warmth, his smell and the little wicked glint that came alive in his eyes.

"Why, because you were such a bad boy?" Naruto almost cooed at him and snickered. Sasuke shot him a glare, but Naruto shook his head. "I'm sure no one cares about that as much as you think."

"They do." Of course they do. People always love to put their noses where they don't belong and judge. "The point was, you need to keep your mouth shut."

"You keep saying that." Naruto scowled. "It's not as if I'm actually anxious to tell the world I creamed my pants while monster bats were trying to…"

"Naruto," Sasuke interrupted. He leaned in a little a bit more, just enough to let his breath brush over Naruto's ear. He needed to make a point. "I meant, you need to be careful in future."

"Er." Naruto said, shuddering a little. "In the future?"

Sasuke smirked. That was fun. He leaned further in, feeling a few strands of Naruto's hair tickle his cheek. "You have to be discrete. While in public."

Naruto shuddered again and turned his head until he was brushing his nose over Sasuke's. "Like you are now?"

Oh, fuck. Sasuke tried to move, but Naruto was quick when he followed the words with grabbing his forearm. There was no way to get out of that grip without making a scene.

"Thought so." Naruto snickered softly. "The tent is empty now, you know."

Sasuke looked up. Close to one of the tables with food, he found Shikamaru and Sakura talking to the woman that had delivered the message from Tsuchikage the day before. Sakura was gathering her hands into fists, face carefully blank. Whatever it was that they were discussing, that woman was about to lose that argument.

"They certainly seem to be having fun on their own."

Naruto followed his gaze and smiled at the sight before standing up. "I guess I'll go first." He turned to walk away, and halted to throw over his shoulder. "But I'm not convinced about … er, the discrete thing. We'll talk about it later, okay?"

Not waiting for an answer, Naruto walked away. They would probably talk about a lot, and disagree. Sasuke had Sakura on his side on it, it seemed, so it would probably be okay . . . for a while. Eyes closed against the firelight and the commotion, he was too busy counting down the obligatory three minutes before moving to care too much at the moment.

Halfway through the count, Sasuke opened his eyes. No one was looking his way. Naruto was long gone, even if his scent was lingering. It was probably okay for him to follow.

He got up. The raw tones from the woodwind instrument were finally twisting into a pleasant melody as he walked to the tent. The pendulant on the chain around his neck was glowing softly red again. Sasuke plunked it back into his shirt, smirking. Red for chakra with fire affinity, the woman selling them had said.

What a load of crap.


kraj