Title: The Losers Game
Disclaimer: I may not own the series, but I do own the right to make medical decisions for other people. Probably.
Summary: Sasuke's inconsiderate capture and return to Konoha upsets the momentum of Team Kakashi. SaiNaru
Warnings: Boys with special feelings for other boys.
A/N: I sincerely apologize for the long wait. I had writer's block like you wouldn't believe. I have never rewritten something so many times before. Sasuke kept trying to take over when the story isn't about him. He just likes the limelight.
Sakura waved as Naruto and Sai walked up. Sai was his usual self. Naruto seemed edgy. She didn't ask, because that wasn't exactly atypical. Sai had probably said or insinuated something that Naruto considered a threat to his manliness. Such as telling everyone that Naruto posed naked in his apartment.
These days though, those things bothered Naruto less and less. Like when the temperature got cold in winter, you eventually got acclimated. She checked her watch. It was nearly noon. Kakashi had told them to show up at 10:30. He would arrive shortly.
When the two boys stopped, Sai leaned against a tree, closing his eyes and Naruto chewed on his bottom lip, glancing around distractedly like he had something on his mind. Sakura assumed that something was probably being guarded by ANBU about a mile and a half away.
"Anyone know what we're doing today?" she asked.
Sai smiled without opening his eyes and shook his head.
"Figures." They had all wordlessly agreed some time ago that Kakashi probably didn't plan most of their training in advance and made up whatever exercises they were going to drill that day on the spot. Sakura was often of the opinion that it was inspired by whatever action scene he may be reading in one of his books and had his team act it out to satisfy part of his perverse pleasure. When it came to Kakashi, Sakura felt most things were perverse.
They waited in companionable silence for a few more minutes until their team leader showed his masked face.
"It's noon," Sakura said when he showed up.
"Ah, yes. Sorry I'm late, I was chopping wood for this beaver that…,"
"Liar!" Naruto yelled, effectively cutting off the rest of the excuse.
Kakashi ignored him and launched into the explanation of what they were going to train on.
Afterwards, when they were sweaty and painted over in red mud from the very recently remodeled riverbank, they collapsed on top of a low hill to catch their breaths.
"That was good, but we will still need to work at it a bit," Kakashi said as he stood in front of them, flipping a page in his book. Sakura was convinced he was reviewing the scene in his book and comparing it to what they had done.
"Where exactly was the fault?" Sakura asked.
"The initial execution is shaky and the timing overall was consistently off because these are new drills. Your teamwork, as always, was excellent and allowed you all to recover most of the time, but imperfect drills will get you killed if your enemy reacts quickly enough."
"You said this maneuver works well against Stone shinobi?" Naruto asked.
"Yes. It's aimed at disrupting their standard team cell structure. They typically have two men that run point that are generally skilled at taijutsu, a sensor or medic right behind them and someone strong in genjutsu at the rear to form an inverted triangle with the weakest fighter in the center."
"Which is why I attacked from behind or the side, Sai from head-on or the side, and you just went head-on," Sakura added, listing the variations they had used.
"I get that. I was just wondering if we're expecting to have to use it in the near future," Naruto replied.
Kakashi flipped another page. "No current reports indicate an increased threat from Lightning Country, but you should always expect the unexpected. Politics like to change and it's good for you to know how to counter all of the hidden villages' basic shinobi cell structures. You never know when it'll come in handy."
"Yeah, I guess," Naruto shrugged.
"Are you three going to visit Sasuke again? After you shower, of course," and Kakashi bothered to look at them as he said the last part.
Sakura looked at the other two. Sai grinned. Naruto was fiddling with a blade of grass at his feet. She made a split second decision.
"Actually, Naruto and I had plans. We'll visit Sasuke tomorrow."
Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow, but he didn't say anything. Sai smiled creepily. No matter how much Naruto coached him, it was difficult for the artist to form a natural looking smile.
Sakura lifted her straw out of her glass and began tapping it against the side before she spoke, looking directly at Naruto.
They were at a small café along Konoha's main market street, sitting outside in the late afternoon sunlight, sipping on tall glasses of lemonade.
Naruto sighed and leaned back in his seat, fingers twitching on the arms of his chair while he gathered his thoughts. Sakura had an uncanny ability to tell when something was on his mind and needed to be addressed.
"It's Sai," he said finally.
"What else is new? What did he do this time that is in grave violation of normal?"
"He kissed me."
He got some small satisfaction when Sakura dropped her straw as her mouth fell open. To her credit, she made a wonderful recovery of blinking a few times before resuming her previous composure.
"Did you, eh, well… did you like it?"
"I was shocked. I'm still shocked, so I haven't really worked that out."
"What did you do?"
"I pretty much just stared at him and he had his weird little Sai-smile on his face and he started sipping his tea and reading scrolls so I stared at him for another minute before he pointed out that my tea was getting cold so I drank some of it and scalded my tongue because it wasn't that cold and then I read some scrolls." Naruto collapsed back into his chair, deflated.
Sakura raised an eyebrow.
"What premeditated this action?" she asked, a certain crispness entering her speech as Naruto recognized her analytical side taking over. It was the same professional tone she used with her patients during examinations and her teammate couldn't help but admire the way she pushed her personal opinions aside in favor of dissecting the cause of the issue.
"We went over to his place before training today to go over some scrolls and he just, well…" Naruto gestured vaguely.
"I see," Sakura said, and the straw was back in her hand again, tapping the glass. "Have you noticed any other unusual behavior as of late from him?"
At Naruto's look, she corrected herself, "Unusual for Sai, that is."
"Sometimes I can't tell what's unusual for him."
"True," she sighed, "Can you chalk it up to just Sai being Sai?"
"As opposed to…?"
"Him being interested in you."
When Naruto's face turned a shade off of normal, she rolled her eyes and set her straw down on her napkin.
"Naruto, have you considered that Sai might think of you as something more than a friend?"
"I, uh… no, not really. I was trying to figure out how this way his way of commenting on my manhood or some other way of teasing me."
"Well, teasing might not be the incorrect word for this…" she said mostly to herself, then focusing her eyes intensely on him again, "You are the only person I know who can be kissed and not consider that the other person might be interested in you."
Naruto felt it necessary to squirm slightly under her scrutiny.
"Well how would I even going about finding out if he's interested or not?"
"You could ask him."
"Is there a way we can find out where I don't have to do that?"
"What happened to the boy I knew who used to blurt out his questions without regard to how people would react?"
"Jiraiya started hitting me upside the head," Naruto deadpanned.
"Ah…" she said, unbeknownst to him, a few of her private questions were just answered. "Well," she continued moving on, "I would assume that Sai's latest rampage of weird is probably related to Sasuke's return. I think it may be his way of 'marking his territory' so to speak. I hope it's just you he feels the need to do this with."
"Marking his territory? Are you serious?"
"If you have a better idea, feel free to voice it."
"Why wouldn't he kiss you too, then?"
"I would suppose that it's because the relationship between Sasuke and I wasn't perhaps as, uh, ambiguous as it was between him and you."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Just that," her hands fluttered helplessly for a moment before she went on, "you and Sasuke have always had a unique bond. It was very close and maybe Sai feels threatened by that."
"You just insinuated that Sasuke and I were gay together."
"Of course not! Not at such a young age, anyway. If he had stuck around it would've been a few years before feelings developed to being recognizable as…" she trailed off at the look on Naruto's face.
"You really think that's what would have happened?" he said the words slowly and dangerously.
"In Sasuke's case, I certainly wonder… You know you were the only one he ever really connected with," and here Naruto could detect the slightest scabbed over hurt, "The thing is Naruto, if Sasuke was ever going to have feelings like that for someone, at the rate he was going, it would've been for you."
"So you think Sasuke is gay."
"How did we get talking about Sasuke's sexuality anyway? I thought we were talking about you and Sai."
"My point is Naruto, that I think Sai was reacting to the bond that he sensed between you and Sasuke in own weird little Sai way. You obviously mean a lot to him. You mean a lot to both of them in one way or another. What you need to do now is figure out how it is that you feel. Also, you should ask Sai just what exactly he meant by that kiss and then immediately come and tell me. I do mean immediately."
"Why is that?"
"I like to be kept in the loop," she said, taking a sip of her lemonade.
Naruto tossed a flat stone at the pond, frowning when it sank without skipping. He had never been able to get the angle right on the toss, even with countless hours training how to throw weapons correctly to assist him.
He hated when Sakura was right, which of course, was all the time. At least when it came to Naruto. Especially his personal life. She was quite opinionated about it, too. He supposed that it was like having a bossy older sister. He felt like she was older, anyway. Not that he'd ever tell her that, because she would definitely take it the wrong way and physically hurt him. She could be so touchy sometimes.
He sighed and tossed another rock, watching it plunk deep down into the water as soon as it hit the surface. When Kakashi appeared next to him and skipped a rock easily, Naruto didn't flinch, but he did feel a swell of annoyance. He wouldn't doubt it one bit if Kakashi had copied how to do that.
The copy nin flipped a page of his book and skipped another stone across the water's surface. Naruto huffed and gave up.
"What is it, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Ah, I couldn't help but notice you seemed preoccupied during training."
Naruto shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"Sakura drug you away." Which was something she had a tendency to do when Naruto needed a pep talk and they both knew it.
"Sakura and I already talked about it."
"So there is something the matter?" Kakashi asked, his visible eye sliding over to look at Naruto.
"Sai… he… uh… he's Sai."
"So he made his move?"
Naruto stumbled a bit before looking at Kakashi with wide eyes. "How did you…?"
"I thought it was pretty obvious," he said, flipping another page. There was a stark silence for a moment broken by a slight giggle as Kakashi read something that made the exposed portion of his cheek flush slightly. Naruto thought the jounin's choice reading material was probably why he had ever jumped to the conclusion that Sai would have moves to be made, never mind that he happened to be right.
"I think those books have broken something inside your head."
The other man gave him an annoyed look before sighing resignedly and putting the book carefully into his pocket.
"When two young people have special feelings for each other, it's only natural for them to want to act on these feelings. Especially when there is competition for the heart of…"
"What are you talking about?" Naruto yelled, face crimson and eyes ridiculously round and wide.
"Ah, eh," Kakashi put up a hand as a sign for Naruto to calm down. This took a moment.
Finally in a very high pitched voice that soon got louder and stronger, "Do you and Sakura talk about this stuff behind my back? Why does everyone think I'm gay? Do I radiate gay? Do I have an ad for mansex on my back?" Frantically he tried to look at his back, grabbing his jacket in an effort to get a better look. Naruto disliked it when he felt something threatened his manliness, which happened more often than he liked to admit. Mostly due to Sai.
While this was an amusing visual, Kakashi felt the need to place his hand on Naruto's shoulder to return his former student's attention to their sad attempt at a heart to heart.
"It's not you," Kakashi said, "it's that you tend to form very gay bonds."
This was not the right thing to say, judging by Naruto's baleful expression.
Recognizing that he was perhaps doing more harm than good, Kakashi decided to keep his mouth closed. He was skilled in many disciplines, but he supposed teenage love maybe wasn't one of them. He wondered if he should reread all his Icha Icha books and see if he couldn't glean some new nuggets of wisdom that previously went unnoticed.
"Ah well, if you and Sakura have already discussed this then there is no point in hashing it up more than she already has, now is there?"
This was true. Sakura could examine this particular subject far more thoroughly than the rest of them, which did not attest to much.
With those parting words, Kakashi flitted off to destinations unknown, but Naruto highly suspected it was a bookstore.
"So here's what I'm thinking," Naruto said, barging into the small apartment a few days later, "you're insane."
Sai blinked and considered bringing up that he had passed his last mental exam that Roots members were required to submit to biannually, but thought better of it. Naruto was already pacing through his home, his shoes haphazardly kicked off just outside the front door that he hadn't closed. When he was like this, he didn't take Sai's well reasoned arguments nicely.
"What brings you to this conclusion?" Sai decided that it would be best to start at the beginning than to remark that if anyone did appear to be acting irrationally, it would be Naruto. He had long ago learned that those kinds of observations only served to incite his teammate further.
"You kissed me."
"I find nothing insane about that."
This made Naruto pause dramatically mid step before slowly turning to face Sai with somewhat larger than usual eyes and an open mouth. There was a blush creeping across his cheeks that helped to accentuate the blue of his eyes, in Sai's opinion, but then artistically minded people did pay more attention to color.
"What do you mean that's not insane?" Naruto exploded, hands flying up past his head to match the volume of his voice. Sai wondered if his neighbors would complain about the noise later.
"Why would it be? You're attractive and if I am not mistaken, attractive people get kissed."
Naruto's face turned a deep red color that reminded Sai of heatstroke. He was about to offer Naruto a glass of water when the blond spun on his heels and marched out the door. After a moment, he came back to clumsily grab his shoes and sputter something incomprehensible at Sai that the artist couldn't begin to decipher.
Naruto never responded well to reasoned arguments.
Sasuke sat awkwardly between Naruto and Sakura, feeling like there was something going on that no one was willing to talk about. Kakashi, on Naruto's other side, was predictably saying nothing of value and focusing primarily on his book -which was new and had yet to be dog-eared. Sai was smiling in a manner that Sasuke found particularly disconcerting on Sakura's other side and was listening to her prattle on about whatever is was she was talking about.
He had a long-ingrained habit of automatically tuning her out which he was beginning to realize wasn't always necessary anymore. She hadn't once looked at him with large, doe-y eyes or tried to make useless declarations of her feelings since he had been back. She had been pleasant, if somewhat reserved. When he found himself sizing her up as a potential opponent he knew she had changed -he never would have taken her seriously before.
"So I was running through the seals when Shizune burst in slamming the door against the wall. It startled me so badly I put in this huge burst of chakra, made the tiger seal instead of the ox seal and blew this gigantic hole in the opposite wall! Tsunade-sama was really mad at first but then when I started explaining what happened she was more interested in the technique that I accidentally created and forgot about the explosion, more or less. She spent the rest of the afternoon pushing off paperwork to try and refine it!" Sakura giggled. "Not that she wouldn't take any excuse to push off paperwork," she added, taking a sip of her tea.
Sai smiled at her in a very friendly way that Sasuke disapproved of on principle, mostly because he disapproved of Sai as a person.
Naruto was leaning further and further away from him, and when he glanced over to see why, he saw him trying to peer over Kakashi's shoulder while commenting that the book series was really boring and pointing to various lines of text as support for his argument. Kakashi looked annoyed. If Sasuke was still twelve, he would have shot out that most books were boring when one couldn't read.
Instead he thought it silently to himself.
It was then that Sasuke suddenly became aware that he wasn't in the middle of one conversation between Naruto and Sakura, which had quickly become the norm for him. While Naruto harassed Kakashi, Sakura was essentially fielding Sai. Naruto didn't even look over at Sasuke's other side.
That was when he caught Naruto glancing past him to Sai, who caught the look before Naruto quickly turned his head back to Kakashi. Sakura suddenly piped up a little louder, launching into another story and hijacking Sai's attention, for the most part. Sai did give Sasuke a quick look that the Uchiha couldn't read before he appeared to focus solely on his femals teammate.
So. He had been right about Sai. If nothing else, he had a good solid reason for disliking the artist. Also, Sakura was a mother hen. He glanced at her and tried to think of the word he had once heard Karin use in reference to Suigetsu… cockblock. Yes, Sakura was a cockblock. Although he suspected that it was an attempt to help give Naruto a little time to come to terms with having a pervert for a teammate.
Except that Naruto had a pervert for a sensei on multiple occasions… Maybe the difference lay in perving around Naruto rather than trying to perv on Naruto.
Sasuke mentally stopped himself right there and decided he really didn't want to muse on who was and wasn't attempting to molest Naruto. He told himself he didn't care about the inner-workings of Team Kakashi or any of its individual members' personal lives, because they seemed determined to live a soap opera. He remembered he used to often feel as though Naruto and Sakura were trying to drag him into one drama or another and how the world was going to end because someone forgot to bring extra kunais or brush their teeth. Disturbingly, he found a small part of him missed that.
Albeit a very small part.
They probably still acted like it was the brink of the apocalypse when Kakashi showed up late. The thought made him slightly wistful.
He had a sickening feeling down in the pit of his gut that leaving Konoha again was going to be harder than he initially thought.
There was a very loud and insistent pounding on Sai's front door the next day that precipitated the arrival of Naruto in his living room, glaring at him. When Sai politely inquired after the reason for Naruto's visit, his teammate decided the appropriate response would be to shove a finger in his face and sputter, "You… you… arghh!"
Sai calmly took hold of Naruto's wrist and pulled the hand away from his eyes. He was somewhat concerned about losing his vision due to a completely avoidable accident.
"Is this about your penis being too small?"
There was a funny twitch on Naruto's face that made Sai think something had broken before Naruto punched him.
It was a few minutes before the bleeding stopped and Naruto calmed down. He still glared, though. In Sai's opinion, it was part of his charm.
"Sakura says I need to talk to you."
Of course she does. Sakura was full of that good useful advice that people like Sai and Naruto desperately needed but rarely ever took. Except for now. Apparently, Naruto's method of problem solving in regard to his own personal life was not working for him. He was the sort of person who could fix everyone else's problems, just not his own.
Or Sasuke's. Sai personally thought there was no fixing that.
"What would you like to talk about?" Sai put on his best listening face and turned to Naruto to show that he was paying attention. He had read in a book that most communicating was actually nonverbal and that it just as important, if not more so, to appear as though you were paying attention as it was to provide verbal responses.
Naruto barely paused at Sai's awkward attempt to appear human because he was so used to Sai being weird at this point that it was hardly noticeable anymore.
"You kissed me."
Sai was well aware of this, having been present when it happened, so he failed to see why Naruto felt it necessary to point it out.
"Yes, I remember."
"You already asked me that yesterday."
"You didn't really give me a good answer," Naruto said, scratching at his head.
"I thought my answer was perfectly adequate," Sai said, smiling.
It was at this point Naruto realized he had reached a stalemate.
"So how's the Sai dilemma going?" Sakura asked, vaguely aware of the fact that the most important topic of conversation in her life was Sai's most recent weirdness.
"I tried talking to him, but… how do you have a successful conversation with Sai?"
Naruto was probably the only person in existence who would be capable of such a feat if it were possible. Still, she understood where he was coming from.
"Well, maybe talking isn't the answer. Since it's Sai and he has trouble… socially," she coughed slightly here, "maybe what works with other people isn't what you need to do."
"So what do I need to do?"
Sakura leaned back against the railing of the bridge. "Find a way to send your message that he can't possibly mistake."
Naruto leaned back next to her, blowing air out sharply from his bottom lip up into his bangs. "How do I do that?"
She shrugged. "Naruto, if there's anyone who can do it, it's you. There are few people who are going to know him better than you. I'm sure you'll figure something out. Besides, with Sai there isn't really a right or wrong answer ever. It's just finding a way to communicate that he won't confuse," she said, smiling as she finished.
Naruto grinned back at her, feeling better. "Thanks, Sakura-chan!"
He supposed that was the older sister type of thing to cheer him up.
Which he would never say to her face.
Sasuke drummed his fingers on the arm of the couch, unable to concentrate on reading his latest library book and ignoring the ANBU guards that had pulled the coffee table away so they had a surface to play cards on. The past few weeks had seen the advent of a few more pieces of furniture in the apartment which had sadly been exciting. Konoha was boring, it always sort of had been. Boring in the sort of way that meant you were safe and secure.
He felt generally smothered by it.
That point noted, he still slept better knowing that he wasn't suddenly going to be attacked and killed in the middle of the night, even if he was just a glorified prisoner.
He had already been here for several months, and the plans he had been in the midst of before his capture had all fallen to ruin. Who he was meeting, who he was targeting, the few acquaintances he had were all constantly on the move and likely hadn't thought much about him.
His life in Sound had been fairly anonymous. The only thing he was expected to do was train. He liked that. No one cared that he had been the poor Uchiha orphan. No one cared, period. He reveled in the absolute self-reliance.
Here though, he had what he would call friends because he couldn't think of a better word for them. They came and visited and drug him out of the apartment and talked around and occasionally to him. It was kind of nice. It was also kind of annoying.
Naruto and Sakura were angry at him, he could tell. They probably wouldn't admit it, but they were. They hadn't forgiven him for leaving and they probably hadn't forgiven him for coming back and upsetting their world. Kakashi was deeply disappointed, but he could tell that unlike his peers, his former sensei at least understood. The jounin was probably used to people coming into and disappearing from his life, which Sasuke suspected was why Kakashi didn't hold that same anger and resentment.
Still, there was a part of him that liked the fact that his old team would come by even if they did bring Sai with. Although there was this gulf between them now, he could see it slowly closing the longer he was here. If he stayed, they'd be on the same side of the cliff again before he knew it and maybe if that happened, he could push Sai off that cliff.
If he left, he'd be on that craggy peak alone and exposed to the storms that always gathered on the horizon.
Sasuke sighed lightly to himself. He was tired. Living the way he had wore down on him. He was attacked so often that he barely even noticed it, albeit it was part of Orochimaru's training regimen. He almost felt like he could sleep through an assassination attempt, body whirling through his own techniques and take out the enemy before he had even woken up. There were times when he had been half asleep and when he woke up in the morning wasn't sure whether or not it had actually happened until he'd see the bodies and register the smell of blood and fresh death that filled his room.
He was used to it.
But he knew he could get used to Konoha again, too.
"Sai," Naruto said when his teammate had opened the door to his apartment to see that for once, the blond had not barged in yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Can I come in?"
Sai opened the door wider and stepped aside by way of answering. Naruto walked a few feet into the apartment and turned around to face the artist, who shut the door behind them.
"Look, I'm not always great at talking. Not when it gets all personal. For myself, that is. I'm not good at me personally…" he stopped, roped his thoughts back in and tried again, "Sai, I guess I mean this," he grabbed the front his teammate's black shirt and pulled it close to his chest, lips smashing awkwardly against another set.
After a moment he pulled back and to his surprise, saw Sai blushing lightly.
"What do you mean 'I see'? You're the one who started all this! You kissed me first! Mmph!"
Sai decided to keep Naruto's rant at bay, lest his neighbors come complain about the noise later, and kissed his teammate again.
After a moment, Naruto stopped flailing and gave in. Another moment and they separated.
For a minute or two they stared at each other before Naruto asked, "So now what?"
"I have a book that…"
"I don't care what your book says."
"Are you sure? It's quite interesting. It's called The Complete Kama Sutra."
A/N: I have no idea how Stone shinobi teams are formed. Also, finally, finally done! Yay!
I would imagine that Naruto and Sai would stumble awkwardly through a relationship given their backgrounds, but I'm optimistic about it. As for not definitively wrapping up Sasuke staying or leaving, it's because I was trying to convey the feeling of essentially a soldier coming home after being at war and even though being away sucked, you get so used to the life that when you do come home you just want to go back. Adjusting to being home can be a lot more difficult to adjusting to being in a combat zone and a lot of soldiers do turn around right away and go back again for that reason. So I left it open-ended because there is a lot of flip-flopping on those decisions.
Also, I kept trying to write this chapter, but the only thing my fingers wanted to type were Madara!Crack and he had NO place in this story. Incidentally, be on the look-out for "The Madara-Itachi Family Act" soon-ish.