A/N: I've been typing this chapter, one sentence at a time, in between classes at school. I'm just glad it finished before the apocalypse. Once again, thanks for all the love, support and encouragement during this story's development. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you. I hope you'll find this chapter a fitting conclusion.
Mood Music: Tyrone Wells 'Sink or Swim'
It was a perfect day.
Actually, that wasn't quite true. There were so many things that had this day falling far from perfection. For one, it was a second attempt; there was no getting past that. The first time had been perfect, at least it had seemed that way. No one would have guessed about the deception, instability and plain rot that had been at the core of it all. The first time also had the smiling, if uneasy, blessing of all the families involved. Now, that was certainly not the case.
Unfortunately for Naruto, one thing was still the same—the churning, slightly sick feeling he'd experienced seemed to be repeating on him. He certainly didn't think he would have been feeling this way now, so close to crunch time. Yet here he was, cycling through a gamut of his own emotions, positive and negative, even as he prepared to soothe the other set of frazzled nerves in the room.
"Are my parents here?"
Naruto shook his head briefly and gave a small, sympathetic smile in response to the anxious question. "I didn't see them."
"Yeah, I'm not surprised. It was asking too much. I guess I'm undoing whatever little progress I made with my father, huh?"
"They'll come around."
Naruto's automatic reassurance was met with a jerky nod and another deep sigh. "I need to quit stalling; we should have been out there ten minutes ago."
"It's not like they can start without us. Besides, Ino's ready to burst into song the second anyone shows that they're getting antsy."
This elicited another jerky nod, anxious smile and deep breath; all of which prompted Naruto to lean in closer and whisper conspiratorially, "You don't have to go out there if you don't want to. We can make a run for it."
Finally, a burst of genuine laughter came and the tension in the room lightened. "I'm glad you're here with me, Naruto."
"Where else would I be?" Naruto squeezed the pale hand that slipped into his own. He raised an inquiring eyebrow as calm determination replaced the anxious features. "So then, you're ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be. Let's rock."
With that, Naruto pushed the doors to the courtyard open. The few dozen guests stood and turned eagerly for the festivities to finally get underway. Sakura's attack of nerves was quickly allayed by the figure at the end of the aisle. Lee was grinning wildly and clearly getting emotional already like the dramatic romantic that he was. Sakura smiled back and slipped her hand up into the crook of Naruto's elbow.
"Let's rock indeed."
It wasn't perfect; but right then, Sakura honestly couldn't tell the difference.
"So, are you here for the bride or the groom?"
Neji scoffed at the question as Naruto came to a stop at his table, situated at the very fringe of the party. It was somewhat private, given the sprawling outdoor reception area, sufficiently distant from the hub of the celebration and perfect for when he was ready to slip away unnoticed. However, Naruto had a way of making the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. Neji fidgeted with his wineglass while he watched the blond slide into the seat next to him.
"To be honest, I was here for the potential drama. Politeness dictates that I say I'm here for the groom, however." Neji shrugged and surveyed the happy couple that was waltzing away the night amid the remaining guests. "Consequently, my feelings are vacillating between crushing disappointment and being happy he's happy…which seems to be a theme with me lately."
That last bit of thought sailed right over Naruto's head since he was busy watching the couple in question. "And he only had to propose three times. Definitely can't say someone's holding a gun to his head."
"I never thought I'd see you here." Neji leveled an assessing gaze at Naruto. "Yet here you are, and standing in for the father of the bride, no less."
Naruto shrugged nonchalantly. "Her father still hasn't come around just yet—I'm guessing it will take a grandchild or two. She didn't want to walk down the aisle alone, so I offered."
Neji snorted and took a measured sip of his wine. "Still having trouble letting go of those keys, I see."
"Nothing, nothing at all… I mean, I'd scold you, but it's not my place and I'm pretty sure the relevant authority won't shirk his duties." Neji only smiled when Naruto raised a confused eyebrow at him. "Anyhow, how goes the exciting life of international intrigue and foreign relations?"
"Haven't had a chance to dip into my James Bond arsenal yet, but I'm still loving it. It sounds clichéd, but there's so much I didn't know was out there. I went to Denmark a few weeks ago. Everyone there is so tall, blond and happy." Naruto sighed wistfully. "I felt I was finally among my own kind. For the first time in my life, I blended in seamlessly."
"Really? I thought the Danes were known for their fair beauty," Neji teased lightly and bit back a smile when Naruto sniffed with mock indignation. "How is it you were able to blend in 'seamlessly'?"
"I'll have you know that I'm all that and a bag of chips, even by international standards. You're just 'hating'."
"I'm what now?" Neji asked incredulously. "'Hating', 'bags of chips'? This is what the thrust of globalization brings us? For this we extend ourselves? So our high-powered diplomats can cheekily slip nonsensical urban, western slang into everyday conversations?"
"Don't hate the player, hate the game."
"You see—this is why China built the wall."
Naruto only wiggled his eyebrows and grinned irrepressibly as Neji rolled his eyes. "What can I say? I'm new. Sarutobi-sama is the one involved in the international intrigue. I'm just his understudy. When I get to do something impressive and world-changing, I promise you'll be among the first to know. We can't all hit the ground running the way you do."
"How's that now?"
"Every time I come back home, it seems there's some radical shakeup going on within the Hyuuga Clan. You seem to be working overtime, making things happen."
Neji shrugged at the praise, not really wanting to admit that the radical changes taking place had less to do with him directly and more to do with the domino effect he had set in motion. It was the rest of the Branch House mostly fuelling things now. Still, Naruto was clearly in an impressed and appreciative mood, and Neji was disinclined to change it.
"There's a move on to stop the Sealing ceremonies and allow Branch house members to remove their seals. Naturally, some of the traditionalists are putting up a resistance, but it's only a matter of time."
Naruto's jaw slackened, leaving him gaping at Neji. "Are you serious? That's amazing! How can you be so nonchalant about this?"
"I know it's an amazing thing. Perhaps it's because I've had more time to assimilate it all. I will be keeping my seal, though, along with a few other Branch members."
"Really? After everything you've gone through and everything that's happened, why would you keep it?"
"The seal itself wasn't the real problem. It was the power and meaning behind it, and those seem to be ebbing. Someone has to hang around and serve as a reminder of how things once were, you know. After all, 'those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it' and all that."
"Hmm." Naruto rubbed his chin as he contemplated the stoic young man spouting all these astute words. "Don't want the tattoo removal scars, huh?"
"My skin does not handle trauma well, Naruto!" Neji exclaimed, momentarily succumbing to the sheer horror of the idea. "It takes ages for me to heal! You should have seen my pictures after I went through the Sealing ceremony in the first place. I spent the next two years of my life looking like a Klingon!"
"Yes, well…I suppose living testimonies are vital in a case like this," Naruto said soothingly as he struggled not to laugh. "Keeping the seal is pretty noble of you. It's quite the sacrifice."
"Exactly," Neji murmured as his feathers unruffled. "I'm only thinking of the future of my clan."
Naruto grinned widely as he slumped back in his chair and watched the newly married couple waltzing. "So what's your opinion? Do you think theirs is an 'epic' love story?"
"Lee's lifelong crusade is to be epic. Every thought, action and endeavor is in the aim to be just that," Neji stated drily as he refilled his wineglass. "His ambitions are epic; his exercises are epic, as are his energy drink recipes. I'm willing to hazard a guess that even his bowel movements are epic. If that is what Sakura was looking for, then that's exactly what she's got."
"Heh, well, isn't that just grand," Naruto muttered as he continued to watch the couple.
Neji declined to comment on the oddly expressed sentiment and instead focused on not fiddling with his glass as he sent Naruto another sidelong glance. "So, you're looking well. Professional and personal contentment seem to suit you."
"You make me sound like I'm a Cuban cigar away from a monocle and a paunch."
"No, it was an unreserved compliment. You look good…happy, I mean."
"I guess I am. It's kind of a weird thing to think about and acknowledge, I guess." Naruto chewed his inner cheek thoughtfully. "The weather changes sometimes, but the climate's pretty consistent."
"Indeed," Neji murmured as he rubbed at an imaginary speck on the wineglass. "So it seems all the right decisions were made then—everyone's in the right place, with the right person?"
Naruto blinked at the question and turned to give Neji his full attention. With that, the opening was created for the awkwardness to creep in. The same awkwardness that Naruto had sincerely hoped he could avoid with Neji, but apparently was inevitable. Neji, for his part, almost smirked as understanding dawned on Naruto.
Beautiful and as slow as ever—one day he was going to write an ironic children's book about a sun god who was really quite dim.
"I should go." Neji pushed away from the table abruptly. "I need to get my rest if I'm going to continue perpetuating anarchy within my clan. It looks like the happy couple is about to ditch us all, anyway."
"Neji, come on, wait," Naruto said plaintively, cutting short his ex-lover's departure. When Neji turned to face him again, Naruto could only sigh forlornly. "I just wanted us to be okay and to know that you're okay. I had been hoping things between us wouldn't get…"
"Weird?" Neji supplied helpfully as Naruto groped for the word. He sighed as well when the blond nodded hopefully at him. "I would ask if you're kidding, but I know you're not. Look, I'm okay; I'm better than okay. I feel as if I've found my purpose, and I'm finally doing what I ought to be doing and living the way I should. I'm where I'm supposed to be. So if you're worried that you've ruined life, love and romance for me—then you should, one, get over yourself, and two, know that being with you was probably the best thing that could have happened to me right then. It was far more beneficial for me than it was hurtful. It just took a while to appreciate it. Kind of the way an erupted volcano deposits rich, fertile earth after its crushing devastation of barren farmland."
"Not sure I care for that analogy,' Naruto mumbled bemusedly, "Or completely understand it, for that matter."
"I'm also happy that you're happy, Naruto—you have no idea," Neji continued, smiling gently at the perturbed young man before him. "But it's going to be weird, and the stop-bys, the casual chats, the bear hugs…those things just won't be possible for us for a while. That's just the reality of the situation."
Naruto expelled a short breath of resignation. "I just hoped we'd be okay by now."
Neji would have liked that too; but then again, he had once hoped for a different ending entirely. It was hard for Neji to outline the hard facts to Naruto as he had done with himself. Neji knew that even with all the personal growth and development going on, for Naruto, underneath it all there would still be the boy with all those abandonment issues, trying to cling desperately to every friend he had made and every relationship he had formed. Still, Naruto was going to be fine, even if he had some ways to go, and Neji had to do what was right for his own sake.
"I know happiness, contentment and rightness abound right now; but while you were exactly what I needed back then and despite the fact that I knew it had to end when it did…I still got my heart broken." Neji shrugged matter-of-factly. "I know you're used to it, dealing with Sasuke, but a first-timer like me needs more time to bounce back from a thing like that."
Neji could see Naruto's spine straightening and quickly raised his hands in order to placate the bristling blond. "See, this is what I mean. I shouldn't have said that—I was out of line, and you're immediately going in the defensive. This is going to keep happening if we force this, Naruto."
That mini-demonstration was the persuasion Naruto needed. The entire day had served to show that he was still raw from everything that had happened, and clearly Neji was too. It wasn't right to push anyone into something he wasn't ready for, even if Naruto faced the loss of what could be a wonderful friendship.
"Point taken…" Naruto admitted at last. "I won't let things go quietly into the good night, though."
Neji smiled in spite of himself. "I'm sure you won't. Besides, it would be highly remiss of me to cut ties with a potentially bribable, high-ranking political official."
It was Naruto's turn to grin in spite of it all. "Until next time: take care of yourself, Neji."
"I always do."
Sasuke was sitting up in Naruto's bed, flipping through his newspaper, when he heard the door to the apartment open. A moment later, Naruto was breezing into the bedroom, unceremoniously dumping his tuxedo jacket onto the floor.
"Ding-dong, the witch is dead?" Sasuke asked drily, earning a censorious look from his lover.
"Oh knock it off…" Naruto muttered irritably as he retreated to the bathroom and shut the door. For the next few minutes, there was not much to be heard but Naruto's banging and splashing about, along with the odd muffled curse.
Sasuke barely raised an eyebrow when Naruto finally emerged naked from the bathroom. Instead, he watched with growing interest as his lover stalked over to the bed, slipped in and petulantly yanked the covers over his head. Sasuke remained silent, scratching his chin thoughtfully as he observed the six-foot, fitfully twitching lump on the bed. Eventually, Naruto poked his head out of the covers with a huff and glared pointedly at the man sitting placidly next to him.
"Are you coming to bed or what?"
"Well, yes, since you asked so nicely and such," Sasuke snorted as he rolled off the bed, pulled back the covers and got in. He was barely in bed before Naruto was reaching for him—trying to burrow into Sasuke's body.
It didn't take long for Sasuke to get into the spirit of things. He only muttered a muted "weirdo", even as he arched his body to allow Naruto to tug his pajama pants off. Naruto only grunted in response, choosing to suck on the column of the pale neck as he began rubbing against his lover. Sasuke tangled his fingers in the blond hair and hooked a leg about Naruto's thigh, encouraging the urgent thrusting of the warm body against his. Sasuke yanked Naruto's face to his, pulling him into a passionate kiss as the frottage approached its crescendo. Neither of them was going to last very long, but it hardly mattered. Sasuke knew that at the moment, Naruto was far more interested in simply being close to him.
Naruto gave a soft, shuddering moan as he came against Sasuke's stomach. He eased away slightly, giving himself enough room to grasp Sasuke's erection and start pumping. Sasuke panted harshly as Naruto's pace quickened. He ran his hands up and down the tanned back as his body grew hotter and his orgasm built under Naruto's heavy-lidded gaze.
Naruto leaned forward to suck and nibble along Sasuke's earlobe before whispering sensually into his lover's ear, "Come for me…"
It wasn't a hard request to fulfill. Sasuke's blunted fingernails dug into Naruto's back as he came hard, spilling hotly into his lover's hand. At length, Naruto rolled to the side, and they both lay panting for a while as their bodies recovered. Naruto was the first to stir—he reached for a bunch of wipes on the night table and tossed a few on Sasuke.
"Well…feel better?" Sasuke asked drily while they both finished tidying up. When Naruto only muttered something low and indecipherable as he settled back into bed, Sasuke continued prodding impatiently. "Are you going to tell me what happened, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?"
"It was a nice wedding," Naruto finally conceded. "Went off without a hitch…"
"Well, 'the sun also shines…'" Sasuke stared down Naruto's censorious look unapologetically.
"They got a great turn out too, all things considering," Naruto continued cautiously. "I even ran into Neji at the reception."
It might have been Naruto's imagination, but he could have sworn that a noticeable chill had entered the room. He burrowed further into the bedclothes, even as Sasuke saw the need to toss them off, sit up and turn on his full megawatt stare.
"Oh?" Sasuke pumped so much feigned nonchalance into the word that it became a taut balloon just ready to pop. "How did that go?"
The breeziness of the question was belied, somewhat, by the fact that Sasuke was boring holes into Naruto's skull. Naruto wasn't an idiot—at least not to the extent that he didn't realize he had landed in the middle of a minefield. Still, when caught in the middle of something, one might as well move forward.
"He basically said he doesn't want to be my friend for a while."
Sasuke struggled to be upset. "Oh, well…how do you feel about this?"
"It sucks," Naruto admitted honestly, since Sasuke was no longer trying to skewer him with his glare. "In spite of everything, Neji's a great person. I had hoped we could be friends without the awkwardness."
"So cute that you can still think like that…" It wasn't an ironic statement. Sasuke believed that Naruto's mind was a weird and wonderful thing—even with the occasional misfire. "Not everyone can hit the magical reset button as easily as you can."
Naruto expelled a noisy breath before looking over at his lover. "People do get past these things eventually, right?"
"Some do, some don't," Sasuke responded thoughtfully. "I'm sure Hyuuga will be in a forgiving mood a lot sooner than I'd like. Besides, I'm sure more good than harm came out of this for him—that's got to work in your favor. It will just take a while to appreciate it—kind of like the aftereffects of a hurricane or something."
"What is with all the comparisons to natural disasters lately?' Naruto said in exasperation. "Neji called me an erupted volcano; now I'm a hurricane?"
Sasuke could only manage to snort derisively. "Shows what he knows. You're definitely more hurricane than volcano—maybe even a tornado."
"Not helping, Sasuke!"
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I think I'm a volcano. Yeah, I'm most definitely a volcano."
Oddly enough, that did make Naruto feel a little better. He gave another exasperated huff and stared miserably at the ceiling.
"So what's really bothering you?" Sasuke asked at length, once again breaking into Naruto's brooding.
"I'm still pissed off, Sasuke," Naruto finally admitted. "I didn't even realize how much until I was waiting with her, getting ready to walk her down the aisle. I felt like I was really there just to make sure you weren't the groom."
Sasuke felt a twinge of guilt as his lover sighed heavily.
"I mean, she's my friend and I should have been there for her, feeling nothing but happy and supportive. Instead, I'm up there feeling every emotion possible, and also feeling like a total hypocrite."
Sasuke's sympathy was not about to kick in over his former wife. "I told you that you shouldn't have gone to that stupid wedding."
"She's our friend—"
"Give it a rest." Sasuke rolled his eyes unrepentantly as he went in search of his pajamas.
"Are you really still this pissed off?"
"What you need is a little Uchiha blood in you. We could turn holding a grudge into an Olympic event. Am I still pissed off about the pink harpy buying me like an expensive whore and almost ruining my life? The answer would be 'yes'; yes, I'm still quite pissed off, thank you very much."
"You forgave your father," Naruto pointed out cautiously. "And we forgave each other."
"My father is half-responsible for my very existence," Sasuke responded drily. "We are soul mates. You forgave me because I'm your soul mate. A soul mate, I might add, who allows you to violate him in unspeakable ways on a nigh daily basis. When was the last time Princess Cherry Blossom gave you the okay to bend her over the dining room table and sodom—"
"Okay! All right!" Naruto waved his arms frantically—not wanting the image to sear itself into his brain. "You made your point; it's different."
"Damn right it's different." Sasuke grumbled for a moment before remembering he was supposed to put Naruto's mind at ease. He climbed back into bed and lay close to his lover. "Look, Naruto—it's okay if you aren't completely over it, the same way it's okay if Neji isn't ready to get over it either. It's only human and these things take time."
"Yeah, I guess."
For Sasuke, Naruto's feelings were a good thing on a couple of levels. Not only would it be a while longer before Naruto started forcing him to socialize with Sakura, but it seemed that the desperation to keep friends that sometimes overrode Naruto's good sense and true feelings was not nearly as strong as before.
"It'll be fine; besides, I know you won't rest until everyone is one big happy family again," Sasuke muttered. "Won't stop until we're all holding hands and skipping towards some freaking rainbow, or something."
Naruto grinned widely as he rolled over to hug Sasuke. "Really? Is that what it's truly like in your mind, bastard- skipping and rainbows? Do we all form a circle and sing folksongs to end the day?"
Clearly he had done his job of cheering up Naruto too well. Sasuke simply chose to ignore the light teasing and turned his back on the blond idiot.
"I'm going to sleep now, before I give in to the urge to lodge my pillow in the speech center of your brain."
"I love you, though." Naruto snuggled closer and buried his face in Sasuke's neck.
Then all was peace and bliss until Naruto decided that it was the perfect time to launch into "Age of Aquarius". Sasuke had no choice but to attempt to smother him with a pillow.
Sasuke awoke to Naruto kissing him lightly along his neck and back. He smiled sleepily before turning over to reach for his lover, only to realize Naruto was not lying next to him. Instead, the blond stood next to the bed, almost fully dressed but for his tie and his jacket. Naruto didn't have to see Sasuke's scowl in the darkness of the pre-dawn to know it was there.
"Aw come on, don't look at me like that," Naruto cajoled as he pressed more kisses along Sasuke's jaw-line. "The car will be here in a few minutes. Sarutobi-sama will have my head if I'm late for my flight."
Sasuke only continued to glare halfheartedly while Naruto went about groping around in the dark for his coat and briefcase.
"We'll use video chat the moment we're both free," Naruto continued cheerfully, despite the godforsaken hour. "We can have 'sexy times' online. How does that sound?"
That was Sasuke's cue to roll over and cover his head under the sheets. Naruto gave him one more nuzzle and a playful bite, and with that, Sasuke's lover was out the door.
It would be a while before Sasuke would trust the rickety lift that transported him and his cello to his practice room. He sighed as the ancient machinery groaned itself awake and began chugging up towards the top floor of the rundown building. The things one must do for the sake of art. Being on the outskirts of Konoha, the building and its surrounding neighborhood were dilapidated at best; but the loft was huge, private and the acoustics were lovely. The second he stepped into the spacious room, he was assaulted by Karin.
"Uchiha-sama, you're finally here! We were getting worried about you."
"The only one 'getting worried' was you," Suigetsu amended drily before ignoring Karin's sharp glare.
"My last meeting went longer than planned. I hope you weren't waiting too long."
"As long as you show up, it's fine, Uchiha-sama," Karin gushed. As far as she was concerned, it had been open season with Sasuke ever since his marriage to Sakura dissolved.
"Will you knock off the 'Uchiha-sama' crap?" Suigetsu growled, causing Karin to swing around on him again. "It's not like we're on the clock. We're all equals here, right, Sasuke?"
Before Sasuke had the chance to give his withering reply, Karin was screaming at Suigetsu about his lack of respect, sense and good personal hygiene. With that, the two were off and running with their daily argument. Sasuke simply rolled his eyes and dragged his cello over to Juugo, who sat waiting with his double bass. By then, the squabbling pair had managed to migrate to the far end of the room.
"Those two are incorrigible," Juugo said softly as Sasuke took a seat next to him. "It's crazy that two people can argue like that."
"Yeah, but I bet the hate-sex is off the charts."
Juugo snorted goofily; he was always a little surprised by his boss's perverse sense of humor. Juugo's chortling elicited a small smile from Sasuke. Out of the three, Sasuke had undoubtedly grown closest to Juugo, something which he'd never imagined would happen. Despite the man's brutish appearance, he was a deep and sensitive soul; most importantly, he was a quiet, deep and sensitive soul. Somehow it had worked to form the basis of an unlikely but stable friendship.
"Where is Naruto-san off to this time?" It was easy for Juugo to guess when Naruto was out of town. Sasuke seemed to develop his own personal raincloud.
"Russia," Sasuke plucked at Betsy with a twinge of dramatic moroseness, "Probably pouring vodka over his cereal and sleeping inside a nesting doll like the idiot he is."
"Well, it will give you some time to work on your project at least. How is it going?"
"Ugh, I'm making some progress, but it refuses to be perfect. The suggestions you made helped, though."
"I'm happy to help. Besides it's a lot better than you think it is," Juugo said soothingly, before being distracted by the ongoing battle in the far corner. "Looks like they're going for a personal record today."
"Knock it off and get over here!"
The argument came to a screeching halt and the two violinists jogged over obediently. It never failed to amaze Juugo just how well Sasuke could control the two, no matter how badly they were behaving.
"Have I told you recently how glad I am that you joined the group, Sasuke?" Juugo whispered to his boss while Karin and Suigetsu reached for their violins.
"You may have mentioned it once or twice," Sasuke whispered back before shooting the others a quelling eye. He picked up his bow and kick-started the proceedings. "So, what are we playing tonight?'
Sasuke drummed his fingers impatiently as he stared at the empty chair on his computer screen. He could hear Naruto's muffled voice over his speakers begging him to hang on for a few minutes. A near unforgivable ten minutes later, Naruto finally collapsed in the chair.
"Sorry, sorry… Sarutobi-sama sent over something with one of the aides," Naruto said apologetically before making a ridiculous kissy-face.
"I was about to hang up," Sasuke groused.
"No, you weren't." Naruto's confidence was as maddening as it was accurate. "Besides, I'm all yours now."
"Humph." Sasuke put on a show of being difficult before finally giving in. "How's Moscow?"
"Crazy—I think I may now be in the early stages of cirrhosis. Thank goodness that as a politician, I get a bunch of clones for organ replacement. Don't tell anyone though, state secret."
"Indeed," Sasuke responded drily, "don't overdo it. They'll drink you under the table in a minute and not even get lightheaded. I usually have my secretary give me a few shots of water when I'm hosting Russian clients."
"Thanks for the tip. I'll have to be careful if I ever use it."
"Wouldn't want anyone to think you're shooting blanks?"
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Dork…"
"I have something I want to show you."
Naruto perked up as Sasuke momentarily disappeared from view. "Are we finally going to have sexy times?"
"I don't know how many times I can tell you 'no'," Sasuke muttered as he dragged his cello to the bed. "You're a public figure and who knows who's listening? It's bad enough you suck so much at speaking in code."
"You mustn't be ashamed of our love, Sasuke." Naruto batted his eyes flirtatiously. "Are you going to have sexy times with Betsy instead? I don't mind. I try to have an open mind about these types of things. I'm very continental now."
"You are all types of idiot," Sasuke answered, still muttering as he positioned the cello and set his bow. "Just shut up and listen, moron."
Naruto smiled and snuggled into his chair. He listened attentively as Sasuke began his piece. To Naruto's surprise, however, it wasn't a piece of music he recognized. As the song progressed, he tried his best to guess who the artist might be, but to no avail. He quickly decided to give up and to simply listen. The song had begun slowly, almost hesitantly, but gradually increased in tempo. Sasuke's eyes were closed; he was focused intently on his composition. Naruto leaned forward eagerly, curious about this new, raw sounding music. He blinked when the song ended somewhat abruptly in the middle of a bar.
"What do you think so far?" Sasuke asked at length, fidgeting nervously with the cello. "It isn't finished yet, so don't critique the ending!"
"I don't know that one," Naruto responded softly.
"I know you don't know it." Sasuke huffed impatiently. "That isn't what I asked."
"I like it; you know I do, once you're playing. What is it, though?"
"I decided that our song should be an original, something that really reflects us." Sasuke continued fussing with the cello and avoided looking at the screen. "I've been composing it for a while. It's been difficult—as with all things in which you're involved."
Sasuke could hear Naruto shuffling about over the speakers and absolutely refused to make eye-contact. He knew the idiot was probably making the sappiest of faces and this was embarrassing enough as it was.
"When do you think it's going to be finished?" Naruto asked quietly.
"Hopefully never..." It was an automatic, ridiculous response and Sasuke mentally kicked himself for indulging in nauseating mushiness. Naruto, on the other hand, was loving it."
"I really, really wish I could kiss you right now."
Sasuke snorted rudely in response. "Well, save it... Do you want to hear it again?"
Naruto slumped in his chair while he listened to Shikamaru's summary of the last trip to Prague. Shikamaru sat across from him, talking away, updating their always growing to-do lists. In a few days, the envoy would be off to the Czech Republic and Naruto needed to absorb as much of the information as possible.
"Another week in Europe." Naruto yawned and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I'm lucky Sasuke still recognizes me when I show up."
Shikamaru lowered his tablet and eyed Naruto contemplatively. "About that..."
"It's only a matter of time before your personal life starts coming under serious scrutiny. How do you plan to play it?"
"Play it?" Naruto echoed bemusedly.
"You and Sasuke—you could face problems from traditionalists. Yukito-sama, for one, is in the Old Boy's club and will jump on any chance to discredit someone like you."
"The man buys used underwear out of vending machines!"
"Girls' underwear," Shikamaru pointed out blandly. "Alleged girls' underwear in any event—I'm just saying that being involved in an openly gay relationship will have its own set of complications."
"I'm not hiding who I am or sweeping Sasuke under the rug," Naruto growled, crossing his arms. "You know the hell we went through just to get to this point. I'm not going to run around in rainbow shorts or make out on the platform or anything, but it is what it is."
He was starting to sound like Neji, Naruto realized with some amusement. He sent a pointed glare at Shikamaru, who only shrugged and returned his attention to his planner.
"Don't get all defensive on me; I simply asked how you wanted to play it," Shikamaru said. "I'm your spin doctor, remember? I just wanted to know what I'm working with here."
"Oh." Naruto deflated in a huff and reached for his glass of water. "Um, right, sorry... Well, how's Temari these days?"
Naruto sent a spray of water across the desk. Shikamaru only sighed and wiped the mist off his screen. It was his fault—he should have waited until the blond had swallowed.
"Holy shit!" Naruto had such a way with words. "When did this happen?"
"I haven't had time to work out the conception date yet, but then again, I only heard last night."
Naruto could only blink at the stoic man seated across from him. "How are you not freaking out right now?"
"Ah." Naruto grinned. "I knew she'd make an honest man out of you one way or another."
Shikamaru was finally developing the look of impending fatherhood—that of a deer caught in the headlights.
"I hear you can completely reinvent yourself in America..."
"I wouldn't run." Naruto was grinning diabolically now. "Not with someone like Temari on my tail. She's a dangerous girl: she would find you."
Shikamaru could only imagine the carnage that would follow if he ever attempted to run. He had to smile at the image of a gale-force Temari with a miniature blonde terrorist in tow. It wasn't nearly as terrifying a thought as it should have been.
"Yeah, she probably would."
Sasuke groused as he tried to get comfortable on Naruto's couch. He had taken residence at his lover's apartment during the past month, citing that he needed a place to crash while his marital condo was sold and he acquired a new place. Not that it mattered at the moment—Naruto was once again off in some wretched European country and he was here pathetically sniffing his pillow. He missed the idiot terribly and wished he could fast-forward the three days left on Naruto's trip. He glared at the TV some more until he dosed off. When he awoke, the couch cushion was a lot harder than it was supposed to be.
"Have I ever told you that you snore like a lumberjack?" Naruto asked sweetly as Sasuke blinked up at him in confusion.
"I don't snore." Sasuke sat up and fervently hoped that he hadn't actually slept away the three days—his father would kill him.
"How would you know? You're asleep."
"How are you even here right now?" Sasuke asked suspiciously.
"We were able to wrap things up a little earlier than planned, and several dignitaries came down with the stomach flu." Naruto stretched and slumped further into the chair. "So here I am. Are you going to welcome me home or what?"
Sasuke was happy to oblige. He straddled Naruto and bent his head to kiss him softly. Naruto slid his hands down the small of Sasuke's back and gripped his hips as he deepened the kiss. Sasuke rocked forward and sighed contentedly as he unbuttoned Naruto's shirt—it had been a long week. He broke away to trail kisses along Naruto's jaw-line and suck lightly on his neck. He slid backwards, giving himself enough room to undo Naruto's belt and slip his hand into Naruto's boxers. The blond arched up, moaning as Sasuke slipped off his lap and knelt before him. Naruto lifted his hips, allowing Sasuke to yank off his pants and boxers. He gave a shuddering gasp as Sasuke licked the head of his erection—slowly plunging his mouth down the length of Naruto's cock. Sasuke increased his tempo, sucking harder and faster, enjoying the feel of Naruto's hand twisting in his hair. Before long, though, Naruto's insistent tugging signaled him to stop.
"I don't want to finish out here." Naruto shrugged off his shirt and helped Sasuke to his feet. "Let's go in."
Sasuke was naked by the time he pushed Naruto onto the bed and climbed on top of him. He ground against Naruto, eliciting a ragged moan from his lover. He leaned forward, locking lips with his lover while Naruto slipped his hands down his back to massage his buttocks. They continued kissing deeply, thrusting harder and faster against each other. Sasuke groaned and panted as Naruto squeezed and kneaded him. Naruto flipped Sasuke over onto his back and went rummaging in the night stand for the lubricant.
"Wasn't this practically full when I left?" Naruto fished the nearly half-empty bottle out of the draw and looked at Sasuke quizzically.
"So? Going solo is tricky, and I have very sensitive skin," Sasuke said witheringly.
Naruto only snorted in response as he coated his fingers. "What you have is no sense of proportion. You always go overboard with these things. You could at least record one of these epic sessions of yours."
Sasuke only used his toe to poke Naruto in the gut in an attempt to hurry him up. Naruto smiled cheekily and spread his lover's thighs. "This is as much as you need, Sasuke".
Sasuke's head fell back when the tanned fingers entered him. He writhed and buried his hands in the spiky, blond hair, arching as Naruto's lips trailed down his chest, abs and hips, stopping just short—teasing him. Sasuke hissed while Naruto continued preparing him. "You never feel this way going solo."
"True, but that's what interns are for."
The key to making a joke like that with Sasuke was timing. Just before Sasuke could reach out and rip his head off, Naruto took him into his mouth—sucking voraciously until Sasuke was moaning and panting, his fingers twisting and pulling in Naruto's hair. Sasuke thrust uncontrollably into his lover's mouth, reveling in the feel of the tongue around his manhood and the fingers deep inside him. He convulsed, yelling Naruto's name as he came hotly into his lover's mouth. He lay back panting for a moment, blinking blindly at the ceiling as Naruto slid up beside him and nuzzled his neck—his own hard length pressing against Sasuke's stomach. When he caught his breath, he shoved Naruto onto his back and straddled him. He eased onto Naruto slowly, relishing the feel of Naruto's cock stretching and filling him. He sank down until he was completely filled. He braced on Naruto's chest and started moving, slowly at first but quickly picking up speed until he was riding fast and hard. Naruto moaned Sasuke's name and tugged him down to kiss him feverishly.
"Love you…" Naruto choked out as he kissed and caressed every inch of Sasuke's flesh he could reach. "Missed you the whole time…"
"I bet you did." Sasuke rode him harder, never feeling more powerful and complete. He stroked Naruto's face, pushing the spiky hair back so he could stare into the blue eyes. He watched Naruto's climax build, felt him shatter and overflow inside him and rode out the waves of the blond's orgasm. He collapsed onto Naruto's chest and the two lay heaving and spent for the next few minutes. Naruto was completely wiped out. He had been running on fumes for the past few weeks, and this last bit of physical exertion finally did him in. As Sasuke stirred and rolled off him to clean up, Naruto tried to mount a feeble protest.
"I'll take care of you."
Sasuke ignored him and headed for the bathroom. "Take care of yourself; there should be wipes on the nightstand."
Before long, Sasuke crawled back into bed, and Naruto spent the next few minutes cuddling him and murmuring sentimental, near-nonsensical nothings in his ear. Sasuke smiled gently at the idiot and "endured" it, secretly relishing the whole thing. He could tell Naruto was exhausted too, and soon Naruto wasn't even attempting to form whole words anymore. He just stared—heavy-lidded—at Sasuke, dangerously close to passing out. It was magic-hour, and Sasuke's cue to share some pertinent news.
"So, I closed escrow a few days ago," Sasuke began cautiously.
"Escrow…" Naruto echoed, stroking Sasuke's back as his brain continued its systematic shutdown.
"Yeah, I think I'll move in soon—get my things out of storage and get my space back. I've been like a fish out of water without my home office. Your kitchen has none of the necessary amenities."
"Ungrateful…" Naruto yawned.
"I went over there the other day and I was struck by how much space there was."
"Hmm…" Naruto was fighting to keep his eyes open and follow what was happening, but he was zoning in and out.
"So much space for one person," Sasuke reiterated airily, "and it's even worse when you consider what a minimalist I am."
"Plants." Naruto nodded sagely. "We'll get you some plants, brighten the place right up— make it really homey."
Sasuke blinked and sat up in the bed abruptly, unsettling Naruto a little. His irritation was spiking unreasonably, but he couldn't help it. Naruto was supposed to be amiable and malleable during this time, not off-the-charts obtuse.
"I don't have a green thumb," Sasuke said with a touch of indignation. "Quite the opposite actually."
"Cacti?" Naruto offered helplessly. "You have some that bloom beautifully, and they're still hard as heck to kill."
"I don't want plants!"
Naruto gave up, rolled over and buried his face in the soft pillows. "Well, you're shit out of luck, then."
Sasuke gaped wordlessly at the back of Naruto's head. His eye twitched and he glared some more. In an unthinking moment, he planted a foot in Naruto's side and sent the blond idiot tumbling off the bed in a heap of tangled sheets and flailing limbs. There was deafening silence for a few moments, with Sasuke sitting on the bed, fuming. Soon, a tanned hand stretched up like something out of a zombie horror movie and Naruto slowly rose to his feet, murderous intent rolling off of him in waves.
"Why in the hell…"
Another person would be scrambling to hide as far away as possible, but Sasuke was not thinking of self-preservation. "I'm out of luck? I'm out of luck? How many brain cells do you burn during those international flights of yours?"
"What the hell is your problem?"
"YOU, YOU IDIOT! I'm trying to ask you to move in with me!"
"Then why don't you just fucking ask?" Naruto raged, cowing Sasuke into a sullen silence. "Better yet, tell me to move in. I'm exhausted, Sasuke, and I'm in no mood for your passive-aggressive, riddle-me-this bullshit!"
Naruto got back into bed, thumped his pillows and yanked the covers over himself, nearly upending Sasuke in the process. Sasuke sat for a while in mollified silence, uncertain what do at that point. He leaned forward and, very gently and hesitantly, tapped Naruto on the shoulder. "So does this mean you'll move in, or..?"
"I swear to God, Sasuke!"
Self-preservation finally kicked in and he clapped his mouth shut. He gingerly settled into the bed next to Naruto and, breathing as quietly as he could, went to sleep. He woke pre-dawn and blinked blearily at Naruto's alarm clock. Sasuke yawned and rolled over, right into Naruto, who was awake and waiting for him.
"Hi," Naruto said softly.
"I'm sorry I yelled."
Sasuke huffed—one day he was going to beat Naruto in the apology department. "It's fine… I probably could have handled that a little better,"— he mumbled the rest— "probably shouldn't have kicked you off the bed and all."
"You don't have to wait until I'm semi-conscious to ask me stuff, Sasuke—especially something as important as that. Did you really think there was a chance I would say no?"
Sasuke stared silently at Naruto for a moment, finally shrugging and dropping his eyes to Naruto's necklace. He shrugged and answered honestly, "After everything, I wouldn't want to live with me."
Naruto snorted softly and pulled Sasuke closer. "Now see, that is just one of the many key points on which you and I differ. Me? I wouldn't want to live without you."
Sasuke's eyes snapped up to Naruto's, but having said his piece, the blond was drifting back off to sleep.
"Don't ever kick me off the bed again, though," Naruto muttered sleepily.
"I'll try, but I can't make any promises."
Naruto's eyes flew open and pinned Sasuke with a steely gaze. "I'm not playing with you, Sasuke. Don't do it again…"
Sasuke swallowed and nodded meekly, finally relaxing when Naruto closed his eyes again. Clearly, Naruto was taking his sleep-time more seriously than ever before.
Sasuke settled into his chair in his study and adjusted his graduation picture atop his desk. The Team 7 picture still sat in the lower drawer, but he'd look at it occasionally, and once in a while, even smile at it fondly. They really did have some good times back then, before love, hormones and twisted development turned it all to shit. Naruto still believed it would all be reclaimed, and every so often, Sasuke was inclined to believe him. Naruto was nothing if not persuasive—nevertheless, Sakura was wise enough to still give Sasuke a wide berth. Sasuke's ruminations were interrupted when Naruto burst into the study.
"I come bearing gifts, well, a gift really." Naruto deposited a large cardboard box next to Sasuke's PC and waited patiently for the man to open it.
Sasuke eyed him warily and ripped into the box, revealing a brand new, shiny black laptop.
"Now you can ditch your clunker of a desktop and leave my laptop alone," Naruto explained. "Really, it's embarrassing that a man of your means refuses to replace his worn out tech."
Sasuke only rolled his eyes and booted up the machine, trying his best not to appear too pleased with his gift.
"I tried my best to replicate your precious 'settings' and had Shikamaru retrieve as much as he could off your old laptop. It's not perfect though, but at least you aren't starting from scratch."
Sasuke poked around for a bit—it was wonderful. The laptop was fast and just what he was missing. "I see there is a ridiculously large game folder on it, though. Did that come standard with the laptop?"
"Look, you now have a far better graphics card than I do and it would be a shame to waste it," Naruto said, completely unapologetic. "I'm making a ramen run—you want anything?"
"Miso is fine." Sasuke cleared his throat, halting Naruto's exit. "Thank you…for the laptop."
Naruto made an exaggerated kissy-face and flounced off. "I'll be home soon."
Sasuke smiled to himself and settled in to explore his new toy, in his new home. It may not have been perfect, but right then, Sasuke honestly could not tell the difference.