Title: Still I Rise - #36: reciprocity
Characters/Pairings: Hinata, Naruto/Sasuke
Rating: Pretty standard T, for two battered boys making out and Naruto's omnipresent dirty mouth.
Notes: This chapter's been re-written three times, sat on for a few months, and then re-written again. I kind of hate it, but it's obviously not cooperating with me. I hope you enjoy it, though!

"You two," Sakura grinds out between her teeth while bandaging Sasuke's bruised and bleeding knuckles, "are complete morons."

"But Sakura—" Naruto starts, half plaintive, half biting mad, "he started—"

"Don't you start with me," she snarls, and if she wraps the gauze too tightly around Sasuke's idiot fist, it's no fault of hers. "Do you have any idea what you did? Start a freaking brawl in the middle of a Lincoln Park café, that's what! Demolished it! You both had better thank your lucky stars I was willing to bail you out of jail after that. You owe me." She starts to stomp around her living room, picking up bits and pieces of her first aid kit, muttering all the while.

"Technically," Sasuke intones, his voice flat, "it was still standing when we left."

Naruto snorts, but keeps his mouth shut.

Sakura replaces all the paraphernalia in her oft-abused kit, snaps it shut with a sharp click, and surveys them under drawn eyebrows. They're sitting at opposite ends of her couch, both bandaged and bruised and sporting spectacular split lips. Naruto's still wound tight, arms crossed tightly over his chest, a muscle leaping in his jaw; Sasuke is, as always, the very picture of supercilious boredom, but there's tension in his shoulders and bleakness in his eyes. Neither of them has looked at each other.

Sakura takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly. Idiots. Morons. Emotionally constipated loons. How hard is it to say, "Kiss me, you fool!" and move on with life?

"What I'm going to do," she says, slowly and dangerously, "goes against every single bit of my better judgment. I'm going to go out for about half-an-hour. I'm going to leave you two Neanderthals alone. I expect you two to talk to each other. I expect you two to work out your various issues with each other. And," she glowers, and is satisfied to note that they both sit up a little straighter when they hear the threat in her voice, "I expect to find my furniture to be exactly as it is right now."

She stoops to gather her purse and pull on her shoes.

"You're not going to kill Sai, are you?" Naruto asks hesitantly. "I mean, the guy's creepy, but I like him, so—"

"No," she sighs. "Killing Sai would be superfluous. You two would have exploded into bloodshed at some point or another anyway." She turns to give them one last malevolent look. "Don't break anything, and you two better be BFFs for life when I get back."

She slams the door behind her and walks off in search of her boyfriend and a stiff drink.

The silence Sakura leaves behind is as awkward as it is deafening, and surrounded by it, Sasuke panics. What can he say? What can he do? Everything has gone so, so wrong. He hasn't seen Naruto in years, and of course, the first thing he does is plant his fist in his face—

And then, Naruto exhales, slow and sure, and says, almost conversationally, "How you been, man?"

The utter banality of the question throws Sasuke off. He blinks at Naruto—we just beat the life out of each other at my behest and with no provocation that you could possibly know of, but I'm fine, thanks seems a bit inane—and says, instead, "How do you think I am?" Bastard had a mean right hook, and Sauke's face is aching.

Naruto just shrugs. "I dunno. You show up after four years and punch me in the face, and I gather that's not something you wanna talk about because you're more repressed than the fucking vampire dude my mom keeps ranting about. So, how have you been?"

Sasuke's nostrils flare, but he wonders how to answer the question all the same. How has he been the last four years? How will he find words to describe empty dorm rooms and countless classes, solitary meals and the utter greyness that's pervaded his life? Sasuke is not good with words, so he shrugs. "More of the same. Not bad."

The silence stretches, and then Naruto, who is not good with silences, just like Sasuke is not good with words, exhales again, rubs a hand over his shaggy mop of yellow hair, and says, "Okay, I'll bite. There a reason you developed an unreasonable urge to get your ass kicked?"

Sasuke growls. This is not how he pictured the conversation. This is not how he wanted this conversation. This is not how he rehearsed this conversation. But Naruto is nothing if not aggressive and rude, so nothing has changed, not really, and that's heartening. "Get your facts straight, pansy. I kicked your ass."

Naruto snorts. "Oh, you tickle my stamen when you talk like that, boyfriend—" and then says, quickly, noting the rising color in Sasuke's cheeks and remembering Sakura's glower—"Wanna explain about being engaged to my date?"

Oh, he'd forgotten about that. A different worry begins gnawing at Sasuke's stomach, but he refuses to think about it. "My parents have been trying to get me engaged to some heiress or another since birth. This one turned me down months ago."

Naruto smirks. "Goes to show you she has good taste."

"Can it, moron."

"Make me, bastard. So, back to the subject at hand—"

Suddenly, Sasuke can't stand it, not anymore. How can he explain this to Naruto? Naruto, who has such an intuitive grasp on things, to Naruto, who only has to flash a wide, shit-eating grin to make Sasuke want to punch him and kiss him at the same time? Naruto, who may have forgotten him and moved on and gone on to love another, with that same openhearted, bright blue love that he'd once given to Sasuke?

So Sasuke blurts, "I want—"

Naruto zeroes in on him with unerring accuracy. Yes, Sasuke thinks, he's always known me best. "What do you want, bastard?"

"I want—" he starts again, because there are words, but they're fluttering beyond his grasp, and his tongue is thick in his mouth, and anything that he says now will come out interminably, horribly wrong. So Sasuke does what could go one of two ways: it will either solve all of his problems, or enrage Naruto such that he'll get punched in the face. Again.

He shoves his mouth against Naruto's. The contact is harsh and desperate and full of yearning too anguished to put into words; one of his hands alights on the back to Naruto's neck and the other grips the blond's bicep so tightly, his fingers are going numb. None of that matters, though, because Naruto has gone utterly still. Panic beings to shudder to life in Sasuke's mind-he's never been the one to initiate kisses: Naruto, Naruto and his wide, wide eyes and his all-encompassing smile and his large, rough hands and his sweat-slicked back, would always be the one who would kiss first, caress first, touch first. Respond, Sasuke wants to beg, please, Naruto. I've never done this before and I don't know how.

Tension vibrates in the air for a few moments when blazing blue eyes bore into his, but it melts into—not bliss, not joy—but something marvelously close—when with a hoarse, animalistic sound, Naruto opens his mouth against his. Naruto's arms are around Sasuke now; he vaguely feels a hand cradle the back of his head and one slip under his shirt to paw at his back, but those sensations are infinitely insignificant compared to the wet warmth of Naruto's tongue in his mouth, Naruto's leg between his own, and the knowledge that Naruto has missed this—whatever this searing, beguiling, monstrous, nameless thing between them is—as much as he has.

And just as suddenly, Naruto has shoved him an arm's length away. Sasuke almost whimpers—almost—and registers that Naruto is breathing just as fast as he is. There is some satisfaction in that.

"No," Naruto growls, "not until we apologize to Hinata."

The satisfaction is gone, replaced by a desire to, once again, slug Naruto across the face.

Still, there is some measure of understanding now sparking between both of them, in the solemn, deliberate way Naruto looks him over.

"We'll talk about—" he waves his hand in the air, a vague, airy motion, "well, whatever it is that you want, what I want, when this is done." Naruto gets up, groaning as he stretches overtaxed muscles. He turns, looks at Sasuke over his shoulder, and grins. Sasuke feels his heart kick. "Damn, bastard," he says, his tone laughing now, "haven't had a fight like that in a good long while. We need to do it again sometime. I'll call you in a couple days."

And then, he walks out the door, leaving Sasuke, again, pondering the vagaries of human nature in general and Naruto's moods in particular. There is rhyme and reason to them, and Sasuke will learn that again.

He leans back against the couch, and closes his eyes.

Naruto said he would call.

There's hope.

Hinata gets a call three days after the fiasco in the café. The conversation is short and awkward, which is a new thing—she has never felt awkward with Naruto before. Though, she muses with a half-smile, getting your date beat to a pulp before your very eyes by your ex-fiancé probably has that effect on most relationships.

She takes a huge bite out her brownie (double chocolate, because while her hips certainly don't deserve that sort of abuse, she needs all the endorphins she can wring out of her brain) and steels her nerves for the upcoming meeting: Naruto's coming over tomorrow, and he's bringing Sasuke, and they're going to apologize.

"We promise to behave," Naruto has said, voice tinny in her ear. "No fist-fights this time."

Hinata isn't afraid of fistfights (well, maybe a little) but of other sorts of fights, the sort that cloud out words and leave smarting burns behind. She swallows two sleeping pills that night. She cringes a little bit as she does it, but she doesn't want to be up thinking, not tonight.

Naruto usually prides himself on having thick skin: insults usually bounce off of him harmlessly, and he's gotten into more than his fair share of sticky situations—drug dealers in Cambodia, that was fun, and then wandering into warring clan territory over in Pakistan, that he's not likely to forget-over the last few years, so he can comport himself with ease in virtually any circumstance he could possibly find himself in.

Or so he liked to think. Nothing—not having a gun pointed at his head, or being chased down city catacombs by irate army officers—compared to the discomfort rolling through his system in this tiny, well-ordered living room.

He looks over Hinata again—Hinata who probably isn't his girlfriend anymore. He smiles ruefully; she is too nice to drop the bomb on him. His gaze travels over her bowed head and the small hands clenched around her teacup. Damn, he thinks, and not for the first time. And we never even got to make out.

In any case, Sasuke, with his exaggerated antisocial tendencies, would be of no help. He's already proven it, by glaring hard enough at Hinata to make her flinch, grunting out an apology, and then sullenly staring at his tea for the past ten minutes. And as much as Naruto would like to throttle the bastard and maybe toss him out a window for making an already difficult encounter even more awkward, he's promised that they wouldn't be plowing fists into each other's faces.

Well, not this time, anyway.

So Naruto does the next best thing he can think of. It will probably make Sasuke's panties bunch up something awful and there'll probably be hell to pay later—because, no matter what the bastard thinks of himself, Naruto knows that Sasuke is a creature of habit, and a prissy Sasuke was a pain in the ass to deal with—he does it anyway.

"Hey, bastard," he says, tapping Sasuke's shoulder. "Wanna go wait in your car? So Hinata and I can talk. Can't really talk with you glaring holes in the table."

Maybe the last bit was a low blow, but Sasuke's skin is nearly as thick as Naruto's, and the point really needed to be driven home.

But Sasuke's always been a pretty boy, and even now, when he turns and looks at Naruto, a world of hurt and anger clouding thise black, beautiful eyes and a pout on those lips, Naruto can't help but want to kiss him and lick that frown off.

Damn. Definitely time to end things with Hinata. So he jerks his head towards the door, and says, "Go on. I'll see you downstairs in a few."

Sasuke's eye twitches—and Naruto nearly grins, because Sasuke's always been this neurotic, twitchy mess, and it's so cute—but he gets up, nods at Hinata and stalks out the door with minimal drama. And it might be his imagination, but Hinata seems to deflate as soon as the door closes.

"First off, let me put something on the table now," Naruto blurts, because she's opened her mouth to say something, and she has this awful stricken expression on her face so she's obviously twisted this ridiculous situation to somehow be her fault, "This isn't your fault, Hinata, now way, no how."

She shuts her mouth with a snap, and Naruto takes that as a positive sign to start rambling. "See, Sasuke and I go back, like, way back, dawn of time back. Well, maybe not that far, but like, freshman year of high school. Edgewook Academy. Like, nine years now. So, he's always been this jerkface priss—good for you on turning him down by the way—and, would you believe it, we were roommates. Lemme tell you, it was hell that first year, because he'd always be up in my face about by shit being all over the floor, and what the hell man, no one's as neat as Sasuke is, it's unnatural. Dude irons his underwear."

His monologue has the intended effect, and Hinata starts smiling.

"It go better, and man, we pulled some great pranks back then, something about an elephant and a locally built nuclear reactor, but see, things got a bit—messy—in junior year. Have I ever told you I'm bisexual?"

Hinata's eyes widen a fraction, but she just shakes her head no.

"Yeah, that's the sort of thing that sneaks up on a guy. Spend your adolescence watching good old-fashioned heterosexual porn, and then bam, you start thinking that your roommate is kinda hot." He grimaces. "It's hell for your self-image, you know, when you spend your time charming the ladies out of their panties."

Hinata is smiling almost widely now. Naruto's gut stops clenching. "I don't think you had all that much trouble with it."

"What makes you say that?"

"Well," she says, cocking her head to the side, and suddenly, Naruto finds that he really likes the playful tilt of her lips. He realizes suddenly that they'll do much better as friends, if only because they're people-pleasers, both of them, and he's spent the last few weeks chattering to impress her and she's spent them absorbing that chatter to please him. It's a nasty combination.

But she's still grinning and talking, and Naruto wonders why she didn't do that while they were dating, and then he thinks, well, duh, pressure of a new romantic relationship, stupid. "You're far too well-adjusted to stuff your sexuality into a neatly defined box. I think you would have found that attraction, well, a bit absurd, but still, a healthy thing."

He smiles widely at her. Smart girl. "I blame my mom for that, by the way. Marvelous woman, but she's more socially liberal than your average garden-variety commie. So, anyway, we went out for a year, and then he went to college and I went to college, and that was it."

He can tell Hinata knows there's more to the story, but it's a story he doesn't like to think of too much, so he doesn't say anymore about it. "Until now, when he tried to kill you. I'm guessing there are some lingering feelings, on…both your parts?"

He shrugs. "Yeah. We never really ended it like, definitively, you know? It was just, uh, lots of existential angst on his part and lots of anger on mine."

And, to his surprise, she smiles and shakes her head ruefully. "I guess I should have known." She stands and begins placing used teacups on the tray. Her hands are steady, he notes, but she should have known? What does that mean?

"I don't understand."

She straightens and smiles at him brilliantly, and for an awful moment, Naruto wants desperately to spare her pain by not doing this, but he knows he really shouldn't. He's already in the midst of a break-up scene—a really well choreographed and surprisingly histrionics-free scene given that he's told her he's leaving her for a man—and it's best not to send out mixed messages, especially since he has no plans of carrying on with her.

"I mean," she says, as she carries the loaded tray into the kitchen, and he follows her, "that I've always kind of—well, known, I suppose, that you were pining away for someone."

Either the woman can read minds or she's bullshitting him. "How?"

She begins to wash the dishes, with slow careful movements. "You didn't make it obvious or anything. It was just, I don't know, moments, I guess, when you would be a million miles away, and you'd have such an—such an inscrutable expression on your face. You're not inscrutable, Naruto, so I knew something was going on here, and it obviously wasn't you fantasizing about me. It's kind of nice to know what all that was about now."

"Wait a minute," he says, and takes a hold of her shoulders to turn her around. He lifts her chin with one finger and makes it a point to make eye contact. This is important. "You're telling me that you knew—you knew—that I was in love with some other person and still decided to give it a go with me?"

She shrugs helplessly.

"Okay," he says, "okay, you gotta listen to me on this. I may be the worst person to get relationship advice from, but, damn, woman, you are amazing. I'm still wondering why the hell I didn't sex you up when I had the chance, and I'm telling you, you can't sell yourself short like that. It's stupid. You deserve better."

She blinks at him.

"I don't know what's happened to you to make you think that you don't deserve one million percent of a man's undivided attention, but I'm telling you right now—it's all bullshit."

She nods, a small, embarrassed nod. Her throat works, and but she doesn't say anything. Naruto doesn't want her to; it's enough of she thinks about it. He kisses her forehead, and grins at her. "Cheer up, Hinata. You're brilliant, and I wish it had worked out between us."

She seems gladdened by the shift in conversation. "I do, too."

"Can we still be friends?" he asks cheekily, "which isn't to say I won't fantasize about you from time to time, I'll just do it, you know, discreetly."

She smacks him in the arm with a soapy sponge. "Don't do that. Mr. Uchiha will try to break you nose again."

"Hey, hey, hey. I'll have you know, that bastard's been trying to break my nose since he found moldy pizza in his sock drawer way back when. He's never succeeded, but he's a pansy that way."

She giggles, and they banter, and Naruto finally relaxes through-and-through. Hinata's good people, he thinks, and they make plans to meet up with some of his friends for drinks later in the week—she's slightly horrified, of course, but he talks her into it, because Sakura and Ino have been chomping at the bit to meet her—and leaves with a smile on his face.