EDIT: Sorry, I just had to upload this again. After rereading the fic I felt incredibly ashamed of the rushed, awkward pacing. I was hurrying to get something out to you guys, and I ended up sacrificing its quality. I promise this won't happen again.

Again, I have to acknowledge my reviewer Sunny, who just won't stop sending me the most thorough and encouraging reviews I have ever recieved! XD Seriously, Sunny, you are awesome. I think your critique made me the happiest person on the planet for a good solid 24 hours. :-)

I made some major revisions to Chapter 2. If you're too lazy to read it, the only thing you really need to know beforehand is that there is a fountain of angels in Sasuke's front hallway.

And now, I'd like to introduce some more reinvented characters, served á la Rakaboyi. Buon appetito!

Naruto's heart hammered against his ribcage as he frantically fumbled with the lock. Before he could slide the bar from its cage a solid weight slammed into him, and he cried out in pain. Sasuke had Naruto pinned bodily against the door, one arm locked firmly around the boy's waist and the other pressed against Naruto's fingers, splaying them upon the door lock.

"Get off! It hurts!" Naruto said loudly, and Sasuke hastily clapped his hand against the boy's mouth to muffle his voice.

"Quiet down!" he hissed.

"Sasuke, are you in there? Who was that?" Tenten's muffled voice came from outside.

"Listen to me," Sasuke whispered harshly to the boy under him. "You don't know the extent of the Uchiha family's influence. We have men working in the police force, men working in the ministries, men working in the business sector. You go out there and misconstrue the situation to my girlfriend, then you can rest assured that I have the means to search every trash bag in Konoha City to hunt you down. Is that clear?" Naruto nodded, shivering at the man's emotionless promise of retribution. "Good. Now put on this shirt. Go into the kitchen and grab the garbage bin, and clean up whatever you can from the floor. You are the house boy that I just hired on Wednesday, understand?"

Naruto twisted his head to shoot the man his most venomous glare. "Bastard," he hissed. He violently shrugged off the man's slackening grip and stalked into the kitchen without a word.

Sasuke sighed in relief as soon as the boy was out of sight, his shoulders visibly relaxing. He straightened his tie and smoothed out his suit, then opened the door to greet his expectant girlfriend.

"Good morning, Tenten!" he greeted, feigning an expression of pleasant surprise. "I didn't expect you to be coming."

"Well, Coach cancelled practice this morning, so I decided to pick you up and drive you to work…" Tenten explained, distractedly peering over Sasuke's shoulder. "But Sasuke, what was that sound I heard earlier? I heard a thud, and then someone yelling."

"Oh, that?" Sasuke chuckled. "That was my new cleaning boy. Naruto, come over here and greet my girlfriend, Tenten."

A sullen teenage boy appeared in the hallway, holding a basket filled with tissues and paper scraps.

Tenten regarded the boy a bit skeptically. "Why is he wearing a dress shirt?"

Sasuke beckoned Naruto over and clapped his hand on the boy's shoulder amicably. "You see, we had a bit of a squabble this morning. Naruto was supposed to come and start cleaning at five o'clock, but he had gone to a party with his girlfriend that lasted until six in the morning. Naturally I was very…displeased." Sasuke placed the slightest emphasis on the word, knowing that the implication was clear. "But Naruto now knows that such behavior will not be tolerated in the future."

Tenten stifled a giggle as the boy turned to Sasuke, his eyes fuming. "I'm sure your cleaning boy isn't happy with your arrangements," Tenten noted. "Look at him, he's practically blowing steam out his ears."

"No, there's nothing wrong," Naruto said hastily, glancing at Sasuke's cooling expression. "Sas – Mr. Uchiha is a good employer."

"Oh, give me a break. I'll bet he paid you to say that," Tenten laughed, waving Naruto's statement away. "Sasuke, be a little more considerate. The boy doesn't even look like he's out of high school, and you're making him come to your house and pick up your trash at 5:00 in the morning. Hell, back in those days my mom had to drag me down the stairs at 7:00 to barely make the bell," she added, winking good-naturedly at Naruto.

Naruto couldn't help but grin in response. So this is Tenten, he thought. To his amusement he noticed that she was wearing the exact style of track wear that Neji and Gaara had been groaning over the night before. But Tenten had an overall pleasant personality – she pronounced her syllables in a quick, intelligent manner, and her face exuded a boyish confidence. Naruto instinctively knew that she was type of girl Sasuke would hate.

"But you know how I am about people coming into my house when I'm not present," Sasuke had been protesting, his voice light. "And at nighttime my schedule is always open-ended to allow for some variability in my company's deadlines. The morning is the only time I can be certain that I'll be home."

"You and your insecurities," Tenten said with a groan, sharing another knowing look with Naruto. "Learn to trust people a bit more, Sasuke. Not everyone is going to barge into your life and try to ruin it."

Sasuke's lips twitched at that statement. Little did she know, he thought sardonically.

"Well, Naruto, it's been good meeting you. I'll have to drive Sasuke before he's late for work. But on the way, I'll do a little collective bargaining with Sasuke on your part." She grinned conspiratorially, shaking Naruto's hand. "See you soon! Let's leave, Sasuke."

"You let your girlfriend drive you to work?" Naruto whispered tauntingly as Sasuke brushed past him.

"You'll shut that little mouth of yours," Sasuke ordered, towering imperiously over him in the doorway. "And while you're in the house, you'll keep your hands to yourself. I have kept all items of value under lock and key. But if you try to tamper with anything, consider yourself a dead man…or rat." His eyes swept over him dismissively, and he followed Tenten to her car. Naruto locked eyes with Sasuke's mistrustful ones as the vehicle began pulling out of the driveway. When Tenten wasn't looking, he lifted his middle finger at the man in farewell.

Sasuke gazed pensively through the window as the car passed through Chitose Park. He caught sight of the ice cream vendor he and Naruto had visited the night before, setting up his stand for the day.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Tenten said, glancing at Sasuke's silent figure. He was always a quiet one, but this morning Sasuke seemed distracted and inattentive. That in itself was surprising to Tenten, who rarely witnessed Sasuke in a state of agitation.

"I'm just thinking over my presentation for this morning. The company execs weren't too happy with the latest commercial concept that Promotion had been working on for ages," Sasuke said offhandedly.

"So it wasn't the boy from this morning that's gotten you all muddle-headed?"

Sasuke laughed derisively. "Why, that little br – boy? He couldn't penetrate the average person's mind if he tried."

Tenten flashed him a shrewd smile. "Normally you would have praised that boy to high heaven, whether you liked him or not."

Sasuke leaned his head against the cushion of his seat, smiling tiredly. He could really never get past Tenten's razor-sharp sense of intuition. "Tenten, dear, I think it would be best if you stopped driving me to work."

Tenten frowned. "Why?"

"I really wonder if it sends the wrong message. People might think I'm a hopeless boyfriend, making my girlfriend go through the trouble of driving me places."

Tenten shook her head vigorously. "No, you see, that is exactly why I should be driving you. You tell those people to go to hell, along with their outdated notion of gender roles."

"But really –"

"I mean, seriously! Women are perfectly capable of doing things on their own."

"I understand-"

"Sometimes I just don't understand why people think it is perfectly okay to peg the female species as some kind of…some kind of social parasite!"

"Yes, but –"

"And the men! God, sometimes I just can't tolerate them! Do you remember nationals? There was that one sportscaster – remember how he started pitching a fit when one of the most competent female pole-vaulters I have ever known was able to clear thirteen feet? Remember when he had said it was a fluke? God, that made my blood boil." Tenten sucked in her breath angrily.

"Yes, Tenten, I remember," Sasuke said resignedly.

"It's time for people to stop shitlisting strong women. I can't even begin to talk about…" Tenten's indignant voice faded away as Sasuke shut his ears off and began to mentally recite his speech for the morning.

When Sasuke and his girlfriend had driven off, the first thing Naruto did was jump into the fountain of angels with a triumphant whoop.

"Bet the bastard does shower in here," he stage-whispered to a nearby angel frozen in a perpetual crouch. "Tell me, is he pale all over?" He threw back his head and let out another delighted cackle at his own antics.

"I'm Sasuke Uchiha, the richest person in Konoha," Naruto boomed pompously to the empty room, flipping back his wet hair dramatically. "I'm so filthy rich, I built a fountain inside my house so I could jack off to holy figures in privacy. Am I right?" Naruto elbowed the angel's muscled torso.

Naruto jumped out of the fountain, landing on the marble floor in a large puddle of water. "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am Sasuke Uchiha! I could fly hiiiigher than an eagle," Naruto sang loudly, his voice reverberating against the vaulted ceiling. "'Cause you are the wind beneath my wings."

He laughed and sprinted towards the living room, his wet pants flapping loudly against the tiled floor. He reached the end of the house and threw open the French doors leading to the sea. An icy burst of salty air buffeted him with a thunderous impact, nearly toppling him over.

"L'Cheim!" he cried above the roar of the ocean, raising his fist skywards. He skipped down the deck stairs and ran barefoot through the snow-covered beach, barreling straight into the freezing water. His body screamed in agony as the subzero ocean water torched his limbs like liquid fire. Naruto laughed.

"Hey you, kid!" A voice yelled from behind Naruto. A brown-haired man standing on the deck of the neighboring house stood in a bright-red parka, waving furiously at him. "Are you fucking crazy? Get out of there!"

Naruto saluted him cheerily. "Yes, sir!" He tried to get up, but his legs had lost feeling.

"Fucking teenagers!" The man swore loudly and raced down the steps. "You can't keep them from acting like dumbasses!"

He quickly ran into the water and grabbed the boy by the shoulders, moving him onto the beach. "Christ, you're not even wearing shoes! You wanna die or something?"

"No sir. I'm loving life!" Naruto shouted back brazenly.

"Loving life, this bambino says!" The man slapped the back of Naruto's head. "You think you're some hippie or something? Smoking the good stuff?"

"No drugs," Naruto affirmed.

"Then you're even more messed up in the head!" the man yelled, smacking the back of Naruto's head with more force. "You thought it would be a fantastic idea to take a little dip in the water, didn't you? No harm done, right? Just a little hypothermia, possibly lose a couple of fingers, and – oh, just maybe – death! Now wouldn't that be a funny experiment to share with all your little friends at school?"

Naruto laughed, but it caught in his throat as his teeth began chattering violently.

"God, you're halfway there!" the man cried, unzipping his parka and wrapping it around Naruto's shoulders. "Thank your lucky stars I saw you from the window before you dropped dead."

Naruto was ushered into the man's house and immediately plunged into a bath of warm water. The man's wife, a tall blonde woman, fussed over him with maternal warmth.

"Hot chocolate," she cooed to him as she poured handfuls of water over his hair. "I'll make you a nice mug of hot chocolate, hon, to warm you up."

"Ino, you're coddling the kid," the man said from the doorway. "He needs to realize that for every action – stupid ones especially – there are consequences."

"You don't tell me how to take care of a child, Kiba," Ino snapped. "I've been raising one for fifteen years."

"You're not everyone's mother!" Kiba shot back.

"And you're not Captain of the ANBU Force at home," Ino retorted. "So leave work at work." She turned to Naruto and smiled kindly. "What's your name, sweetie?"



"Uchiha." Naruto bit his tongue after the name slipped past his lips.

"Oh that's right, he was right in front of the Uchiha's mansion," Kiba recalled. He peered at Naruto suspiciously. "You don't look anything like them, though. The black hair and black eyes."

"I'm not a blood relation," Naruto said quickly. "I married into the Uchiha clan."

"But how does that work? Your surname shouldn't have changed."

"God, Kiba, learn how to pick up on social cues!" Ino said exasperatedly. She lowered her voice so as to sound less offensive. "He's obviously saying that he's gay, honey."

"A fairy Uchiha? Really?" Kiba mused. "I wonder how that slipped through. They're the most tight-ass conservatives I've ever met."

Ino squawked indignantly. "That's it, you vulgar son-of-a-bitch!" She wheeled her husband out before he could make any further crass comments.

Naruto sank lower under the bathwater as he listened to the couple bicker passionately outside the bathroom door. He bit his tongue again, chastising it for its disobedience. In the space of a few minutes he had just splattered mud on the reputation of the most powerful clan in the city and put himself smack in the center of it. And he had talked to the head of the police department, of all people! Now they could match a face to a name, in case Sasuke decided to follow through with his previous threat of vengeance. He had just made himself a sitting duck for the Uchiha's private intelligence agency as well as the entire ANBU force. "I'm dead," Naruto moaned, splaying his fingers on his face in dismay.

As if on cue, Kiba burst in and declared emphatically, "So you've finally come to your senses? That's-a-boy! Hon, make some of your hot chocolate for the poor kid!"

After changing into one of the man's large T-shirts and a pair of sweatpants, Naruto was invited to join the family for lunch.

"You need meat on that frame, kid," Kiba announced to Naruto from the kitchen, flipping a large pork sausage on the griddle. "What has the Uchiha been feeding you? Wheatgrass and other fancy-schmanzy rabbit food?"

Naruto smirked slightly at the jibe. He pulled out a seat next to a stocky brunette boy a few years younger than him. "Hey," the boy greeted Naruto generically.

Naruto nodded back.

"Food smells good," the boy said, sniffing. "Doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Naruto agreed.

"My dad's the best cook in the city," the boy said proudly. "If he didn't go into the police force he would have started his own restaurant. I've never had Italian food better than Papa's. Even the restaurants in Ledachi don't compare."

Naruto didn't know much about Ledachi in the first place, so he settled with a noncommittal response. "Hmm."

"You're not much of a talker, are you?" the boy observed.

"Not really."

"What is this, some kind of interrogation?" Ino tutted as she began laying out forks and knives onto the table. "Chouji, you're making our guest feel a little uncomfortable. Why don't you start with our traditional family greeting?"

Chouji groaned. "Ma," he complained. "That's so old-fashioned."

"Nonsense," Ino replied with a wave of her hand. "Ready?"

Chouji mumbled in protest before he reluctantly began. "Quando la mare cresce…"

"…e la luna splende," Ino sang, twirling a fork in the air. "Con noi, bevi il mare…"

"Y mangi la luna!" Kiba placed a plate of steaming spaghetti topped with onions, sausage, and tomato sauce in front of Naruto with a grand flourish of his arm. "Buon appetito."

Naruto's hands trembled a bit as the scent of basil and fresh tomatoes wafted from the spaghetti. Momentarily forgetting the family sitting around him, his tongue darted out instinctively and lapped at the sauce. The acid tang of the tomatoes balanced in perfect symmetry with the creaminess of the feta cheese. Aromatic notes of garlic and herbs floated sensuously above the base ingredients, and the meaty essence of the sausage chunks seeped into the mix. It was heavenly.

But he suddenly noticed that the room had gone silent. He stopped licking half-way and sat up quickly. He cast his eyes down in shame, looking at his plate with flaming cheeks.

Kiba burst out with a lusty roar of laughter. "There's an animal living in this kid!" he said proudly, thumping Naruto on the back. "Uchiha's been holding him on a leash, it seems. Here, get your fill while you can!" He took the saucepan from the kitchen and ladled hearty spoonfuls of sauce onto Naruto's plate.

Ino giggled. "Now I see why Sasuke likes you so much." She winked suggestively at Naruto, who began to splutter in horror.

Chouji groaned. "Ma, don't be disgusting!"

"You and your homoerotic fantasies," Kiba said scornfully. "Save them for your bathtub reading."

After lunch, Ino announced that she simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to go shopping with Naruto. "I've never gotten enough feedback from the opposite sex," she pressed. "Won't you come with me?"

"You can say no, son," Kiba said encouragingly. "She's always wanted to play the role of a fag-hag."

"Shut it, Kiba," she shot at her husband. "I only wanted to bring him because his boyfriend has such good fashion sense. Naruto must get dolled up all the time! Isn't that right?" She turned to Naruto pleadingly.

"Sure," Naruto heard himself say. "I'll go with you."

And so Naruto found himself walking down Ledachi for the second time, his arm linked around Ino's. "So maybe my husband was half-right," she admitted, squeezing his arm chummily. "I've always wanted to walk down Ledachi like this, arm-in-arm with a fashionably gay man." She laughed. "My husband would pitch a fit if he saw us. But that makes it all the more exciting, doesn't it?"

Naruto couldn't help but return the older woman's cheeky grin. Even though the lines on her face were tell-tale signs of a woman past her thirties, she retained all the childish exuberance of her teens and the sensuous charm of her twenties. Her long ponytail swung like a bullwhip with every dangerous tilt of her hips, bound to strike and reel in any unsuspecting male in the vicinity. Naruto knew that his position, intimately sheltered under the woman's maternal umbrella, was envied by anyone who walked by. He quickened his pace as Ino's brisk steps pulled him forward.

"How about this one?" Naruto suggested, pointing to a shop displaying full-length gowns in satin and lace.

"No, I'm not looking for something that fancy," Ino said, giggling. "But I'm definitely in the mood for sexy. How about we stop at Dior?"

Naruto nodded quickly, wondering what exactly "Dior" was.

Dior was the name of a clothing store, which Naruto soon discovered as the pair walked into a building with a baby-blue façade. As Ino pulled open the door for him, Naruto froze in the entrance. Multiple pairs of mascara-lined eyes fell on him simultaneously.

"What's wrong?" Ino asked.

"Nothing," Naruto muttered, and slipped his arm in the familiar cradle of Ino's elbow. Somehow, sharing the same space of the richest women in the city was an intimidating prospect. He felt the gazes of the women in the store smolder through the clothes on his back. They were accusing him of stepping past a line, of crossing into their immaculate, perfumed bubble. Even though he had washed twice in the past few days, he felt as if the dirt from his past seventeen years surfaced from the depths of his flesh like fingerprints under a blacklight.

"May I help you?" A shop girl approached them, clad in a tight-fitting purple dress and dangerously high stilettos.

"We're only looking around, thanks," Ino assured her.

"Well, if you find anything in particular, don't hesitate to call me," the girl responded, her eyes lingering on Naruto. She smiled at him coyly.

"Sure," Naruto felt obliged to say. He shrank into Ino's reassuring figure, feeling entirely out of place. The girl smoothly turned on her heel and strutted away with a slight sway of her hips.

Ino nudged him knowingly. "It's too bad you're not interested in women. She would have been a fine catch."

Naruto felt bewildered. The girl had been flirting with him? Only moments ago he had feared that he would be booted out of the store!

"Yeah, she was pretty," Naruto agreed tentatively.

Ino laughed. "The sign of a true gay man," she said. "Talking about beautiful women as if he was commenting on the weather."

But I'm not gay, Naruto thought desperately. He had to clear that up before Sasuke caught wind of his blundering lie. "Ino, I'm sorry, but I want to tell you that –"

But Ino had already moved on to the nearest rack, pulling out a blouse made of sheer fabric. "Is this too provocative, you think?"

Naruto sighed. "It looks fine," he commented weakly.

Within the next half-hour, Naruto stood behind Ino as she selected various shirts and dresses, attempting to insert helpful comments in whenever necessary. But Ino was not easily fooled. After placing the seventh shirt on her breast for Naruto to examine, she said, "You're not really having fun, are you?"

Naruto shrugged. "I really don't shop." Ever.

Ino smiled in understanding. "I should have realized. You're a pretty young boy, after all."

"Sorry," Naruto apologized, feeling slightly guilty.

"No, no," Ino said, shaking her head vigorously. "I practically forced you into going on this trip. Why don't you wait outside the fitting room while I try on some of these shirts, hon?" She squeezed his shoulder good-naturedly and guided him to the row of curtained stalls in the back of the store.

As Naruto lingered near the fitting area, the shop girl from before sidled up to him.

"Shopping with your mom? How sweet," she said conversationally.

"She's not my mom." Somehow, Naruto found the girl incredibly irritating. He knew her type well – they were the girls who walked by on the streets with a leather purse in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, mimicking the adults they hated and yet so desperately wanted to be. And like their elders they would goggle him contemptuously, as if he was responsible for ruining the illusion of glamour and beauty in the city.

"Oh," the girl said. "Your aunt then?"

"No," Naruto said, smirking. "She's my lover."

"Her?" The simpering look slipped from the girl's face, replaced with an expression of horror. "But she looks like she's forty!"

"And she has a body just as good as yours." Naruto looked the girl up and down dismissively. "I would know." His mouth stretched into an obscene smile.

"You're sick," the girl hissed. "You could have just said you weren't interested." She stomped away in disgust and wounded pride.

"Did you say something?" Ino popped her head out the curtain, her hair slightly tousled and a bra strap dangling from one shoulder.

"Nope," Naruto assured her. "One of the girls was just checking up on us."

When the two paid at the cash register, the shop girl avoided eye contact with Naruto. "Your total will be 345.96," she announced smoothly.

"That's not too bad," Ino said in relief, fumbling through her purse in search of her credit card. In her hasty search, a few brightly colored packages of condoms tumbled out.

"Whoops," Ino said, her cheeks faintly dusting with color as she retrieved the condoms from the floor. "That's embarrassing."

The girl's eyes bugged out in disbelief, glancing in Naruto's direction in horror. Naruto turned his head quickly, stifling his laughter.

"I have to apologize," Naruto told Ino later in the car.

"What happened?"

"I told that girl in the shop that you were my girlfriend."

"You did what?" Ino laughed incredulously. "And she actually bought it?"

"Well, at the cash register…"

Ino gasped. "The condoms." She buried her head into the driving wheel. "Nooo," she moaned dramatically. "I can never show my face there again."

"I'm sorry," Naruto repeated, fidgeting a little.

"No, I totally deserved it," Ino said, laughing. "You must have been bored out of your mind. Besides, I still have to repay you for accompanying me."

"That's not necessary," Naruto said quickly. "I don't need anything."

"We won't go shopping again," Ino assured him. Suddenly a beeping noise sounded from the passenger seat. She fumbled through her purse with one hand and pulled out a slim black device, flipping it open. "Oh, shoot. I forgot about that meeting today." She turned to Naruto with an apologetic smile. "Guess you're going to have to take a raincheck on our follow-up date."

Ino drove Naruto back into the neighborhood, bypassing Sasuke's house to park in the Inuzukas' driveway. "Before you go home, I'm sure Kiba and Chouji want to say good-bye," she explained. "By the way, when did you move in?"

Naruto shook his head. "I don't live here. My house is…on the other side of town."

Ino clucked her tongue in dismay. "Well, that's too bad. We were hoping to get to know you guys well. Unfortunately, Sasuke Uchiha is a bit of a recluse. We never see him outside, enjoying himself like the rest of the world. It's good to know he gets out once in a while," Ino said, smiling pointedly at Naruto.

Naruto opened his mouth to clear up the situation once more, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to break character. "I'll be sure to visit you again," Naruto promised.

"You'd better," Ino said jauntily. "Now scoot, kid. I bet Kiba's cooking up a storm now that you've stirred up his creative juices."

Indeed, when Naruto opened the front door a robust aroma collided into his nostrils at full impact.

"You're back!" came the booming voice. Kiba poked his head out of the kitchen to glance at Naruto standing in the foyer. He was wearing a black apron dusted with flour, reminding Naruto of the pizza tossers standing in the window of LaSalle's.

Chouji's face appeared from behind his father. "You got lucky," he told Naruto. "Papa's going to make his world-famous beef bourguignon. He only does it once a year."

"And my rosemary bread," Kiba added boastfully, slapping a thick piece of dough between his floured hands. "Can't forget the pan marino."

Within the next hour Naruto's tongue salivated agonizingly as the scent of rosemary, olive oil, and beef bubbling in red wine filled the house.

"Look at him," Kiba said, chuckling as Naruto breathed in the scents as if they combined to form an exquisite perfume. Kiba circulated the air in front of Naruto's face. "Just take it in, kid. The torture of waiting is what makes the meal so delicious. Isn't that right, son?"

In the kitchen, Chouji shrank from the pot at his father's raised voice, his finger stuck guiltily between his lips.

"Since some of us can't wait any longer," Kiba said pointedly, "I think we should start setting the plates."

As three hearty bowls of soup and a hunk of steaming bread were placed on the table, the Inuzukas and their guest sat down eagerly for dinner. Kiba gripped Naruto's hands before he could reach for his spoon. "Now, wait. You have to eat this properly," he explained. "There's a ritual that every respectable Italian follows."

He tore a chunk of bread and sopped it in the soup. He held the morsel in front of Naruto, who took it from Kiba's hands and bit into it.

"That's good," Naruto said in surprise. The chewy bread retained the juices like a sponge, squeezing out the meaty essence as he crushed the thick, savory crust between his jaws.

"What did I tell you?" Chouji said proudly.

"He's an amazing cook," Naruto agreed wholeheartedly. "The soup is just the right thickness. It balances well with the carrots and onions."

"Well, well!" Kiba boomed happily. "We have a little connoisseur on our hands."

"But I always compliment your soup, too!" Chouji protested to his father, hurt.

"Son, you can't hog all the attention. Naruto deserves some credit too," Kiba reasoned diplomatically. "I guess you can call us the great creators. We are the ones who bring every dish to life. But every great creator needs a great critic - otherwise, where is the audience to enjoy our art? That is Naruto's role." He grinned at Naruto. "You're indispensable, kid. The Konoha Times needs people like you. Someday we'll see your name under the Food and Drink section."

"The Konoha Times?" Naruto scoffed. The sardonic effect was entirely lost, though, as Naruto's face broke into a hopeful, foolish smile.

Naruto had only meant to stay for thirty minutes more, but when he attempted to excuse himself Kiba and Chouji had somehow persuaded him to sit down and chat for a while longer. As the three lapsed into an easy conversation, Naruto found himself falling comfortably into the role of Sasuke's lover.

"He's a quiet man," Naruto told Kiba confidentially, his voice dropping in fitting reverence. "He enjoys the simple things in life. It's something that I've always found attractive." As he grew bolder, he even began to insert petty details about Sasuke's life: the man only ate eggs and toast in the morning, refused to befriend straight men, and was a chronic shop-a-holic. The Inuzukas soaked up Naruto's details in rapturous awe, building a picture of the elusive man who only appeared on money magazine covers and in televised conferences.

By the time the sun had set Naruto had eaten three bowlfuls of Kiba's soup, his once-loose waistband cinching uncomfortably around his midsection. He glanced at the darkening sky. Naruto knew that Sasuke would be returning soon, and the man still owed him a favor.

"I think Sasuke is waiting for me," he said apologetically to the family. "It's time for me to leave."

Kiba and Chouji expressed their dismay in exaggerated sighs and clucked tongues, tempting him to stay a while longer with the promise of dessert. But Naruto gently pushed away their pleas, and they relented.

"Don't go swimming until spring!" Kiba shouted behind Naruto as he waved goodbye. "I won't be outside to save your ass next time!"

When Naruto crossed the beach and walked up the steps leading to Sasuke's porch, he realized that the French doors were still flung wide open. "Oh, fuck," Naruto whispered. He quickly shuffled in and shut the doors behind him, fumbling blindly against the wall for the light switch. He recoiled in shock as his foot splashed into an icy puddle of water.

Horrified, Naruto's eyes followed the trail of water that ran down the length of the hallway to the front entrance, a reminder of his gleeful fiasco in the fountain. Naruto calculated that the entire mess would take at least an hour to mop up. To make matters worse, Sasuke was bound to show up from work at any time. Kiba was right, Naruto thought bitterly as he ran to the upstairs bathroom. There are always consequences for stupid actions.

He grabbed a folded pile of towels from a bathroom closet, rushing back downstairs to throw them on the path of footprint-sized puddles in the hallway. In one sweeping move he pushed all the soaked towels into a collective heap, scooping the dripping bundle into his arms and dumping it in the bathroom sink upstairs. Surely Sasuke would notice the mess, but Naruto knew that his irritation would pale in comparison to his reaction if he found out that Naruto had jumped into his prized fountain of angels.

Next, Naruto set about looking for the heating controls in the house. His search proved fruitless, for he realized that he would have to scan the walls of all twenty-five rooms in the house for the device. "Fire should do the trick," Naruto muttered to himself as he returned to the kitchen, turning up all four burners on the gas stove.

In quiet triumph Naruto dragged himself to the living room, collapsing on the softest couch. The day's events, as exciting as they were, had sucked his emotional and mental reserves dry. The image of Sasuke's contemptuous face from the morning briefly flashed in Naruto's mind. He snorted, a sardonic smile settling on his face as he drifted into a weary slumber.

Naruto woke an hour later to a foul smell, reminiscent of rotting egg. What the hell? he thought groggily, sitting up. As his senses began to surface from the fog of unconsciousness, the offensive odor swelled threefold, drowning his nostrils in its overwhelming intensity. His head began to spin, and bile rose up in his throat in warning. He clapped his hand over his mouth and dashed to the nearby fountain of angels, leaning over to vomit all three bowls of Kiba's beef bourguignon into the basin.

Somewhere in the midst of his body's turmoil he vaguely heard the click of the front door, followed by brief staccato taps of leather shoes crossing into the threshold.

"Naruto?" It was Sasuke's voice.

The jets of water shooting from the outstretched hand of the fountain's tallest angel turned crimson.

Huh. My characters keep on ending up finding themselves in compromising situations.

So, how about that Italian Inuzuka family? I always imagined Kiba as one of those Italian men (and I'm not at all alluding to the characters in Jersey Shore). And Ino - I mean, duh. Blonde bombshell, mafia wife.

I want to apologize about breaking my weekly update streak. It was working so well because I was on vacation, but now classes have thrown me back into the boxing ring. I have the next chapter planned out, so you can hopefully expect it soon.