Written for summer 2010 SNexchange.

The bedsheets rustled, waking Sasuke, making him blink unsteadily into the darkness. The sun hadn't yet risen. In fact, out the window, he could see the moon, a quarter of it shadowed.

"I should get going," said Naruto as he got up from the other side of the bed.

Sasuke didn't answer. He wasn't pretending to sleep. He knew Naruto knew he was awake.

"I'll, um, see you in a few a hours when we drive to the airport, yeah?" Naruto's forced laughter made Sasuke cringe, and, unconsciously, he gripped the sheet winding round his hip.

"Sasuke." Naruto sat heavily on the edge of the bed again. There was a pause. A silence. A sign of hesitation before a hand reached out and lightly stroked his bare arm in an attempt to offer comfort. Sasuke yanked his arm away, stony eyes focused on a spot beside his tall dresser where the light from the moon cut across one of the drawer's brass knobs.

He heard Naruto's resigned sigh. The bed groaned. Sasuke shut his eyes, counting the creaks in the floorboards. Counting them silently in his head until he heard the door to his studio flat open and close.

First Kiss

Everything with them started and ended in a fight. At least, that's how it was in the beginning. The month was December, days before Christmas. They'd spent the last two weeks avoiding each other over insults neither could even remember. They'd gone to a movie with a group of friends. Sakura had sat between them. They'd stuck Sasuke with the popcorn much to his distaste. He hated all things greasy. It was one of those romantic comedies. The type with the conveniently happy ending. The ones where you don't bother to ask: Yeah, but what happens after?

As they exited the movie theater, the air was crisp and chill - but refreshing. Snow fell, descending so slowly it looked like stop-motion photography. Naruto, Sakura, Kiba and Ino stood on the edge of the curb leading to the parking lot. Naruto had his tongue wagging out as he tried to catch a snowflake.

Sasuke remembered thinking: How stupid. What an idiot. Who gets excited about snow?

Then the group scattered. All in their early 20s, it seemed their tolerance for spending time with one another had reached its limit. A movie was enough. A dinner and a few drinks was enough. It was no bother to Sasuke. He didn't particularly care one way or the other if and when they got together like they once had at university. The person he saw the most was Naruto. Sakura was a close second.

While standing under the theater's awning with hands stuffed in his jacket pockets and gaze drawn toward the sky, Naruto called to him, already vigorously wiping the snow from the car's windshield. Sasuke took his time in walking to the car, observing the criss-cross of footprints that muddled the ground of white. Against his better judgment, he'd agreed to take Naruto home since it was on the way to his own apartment. Had it not been on the way, he wouldn't have bothered no matter how much Naruto whined. Things had been rocky between them for some time. An awkward tension that began the second they walked into the same room.

By the time he unlocked the car door with his key fob, Naruto had cleared the snow from the windows, the hood, the trunk, and the mirrors. He hadn't even been wearing any gloves, just using the cuffs of his brown leather jacket.

They got into Sasuke's car, and, immediately, Naruto fussed with the heat, turning it up on high and pushing the defrost button.

Sasuke thought about saying 'thanks,' but found it too hard to visualize himself saying it. It'd feel like he was trying too hard. Thank you for clearing the windows? No way. So stupid. Thank you for turning on the heat and knowing I'd need the defrost? Impossible. So he said nothing. Naruto turned on the radio, humming quietly to himself as he chose to stare out the window rather than try to make small talk. He didn't know if he should be offended or grateful.

The snow had become heavier - a fuzzy scene of white like on a broken television set. A snow plow passed them, sending a wave of slush against the side of the car. The radio played a Christmas song, prompting Naruto to voice the lyrics aloud. The heater was doing its job and soon the compartment of the car felt warm and comfortable.

"Are you smiling?" Naruto asked cynically.

Sasuke kept his eyes on the road, driving well below the speed limit.

"No," he answered.

"Weird. Because I could've sworn you were smiling. My mistake."

The drive to Naruto's house, obviously, took longer than expected. Sasuke parked next to the curb and let the car idle. He glanced at Naruto, waiting for him to get out, wanting nothing better than to go home, take a hot shower, and sleep.

"Naruto?" he questioned, setting his hand on the gear shift and squeezing it.

Naruto turned his head and attempted a nervous smile. Sasuke arched an eyebrow in impatience.

"I've been thinking - " Naruto started to say but abruptly cut himself off and looked out the front windshield. He pressed two fingers to his lips.

After some time, he made another attempt. This time opening his mouth, eyes on Sasuke - but nothing followed. With a huff, Naruto faced forward and put his head on the dashboard, groaning in frustration.

Perhaps, had Sasuke been a better person, he would've offered encouragement. He would've been like one of those characters in that romantic comedy, asking: What's wrong? You can talk to me!

That wasn't him, and nothing about this scenario was particularly romantic or funny.

At least until Naruto roused himself from making an intimate acquaintance of his dashboard only to suction his lips to Sasuke's.

Sasuke had been too shocked to react as fingers threaded through his hair. A thumb made gentle circles at the back of his neck as Naruto's mouth moved against his. Sasuke had no idea when he'd closed his eyes. No idea when he'd put his hand on the front of Naruto's jacket and pulled him forward.

When they parted, Sasuke's eyes fluttered open. Naruto hadn't moved very far. Their foreheads were pressed together.

"Why did you do that?" he asked.

Naruto bit his lip, looking worried. He shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't know how to say what I wanted, so I thought this would work better…?"

"I should get going." Sasuke, gently, pushed Naruto away, avoiding any eye contact.

"Oh. Okay."

The seatbelt unclicked, and a new Christmas carol - O Holy Night - started playing. The snow fell in patches across the windshield. The wipers swished lazily, breaking them apart.

Naruto opened the door, stopping when he had one foot out on the pavement.

"Sasuke? If it's weird or whatever, pretend it never happened. I just thought - "

"Good night, Naruto." With his left hand, he gripped the wheel; his right hand tightened tensely on the gear shift, eager to put it into drive.

"Yeah, uh. G-good night." Naruto finally shut the door.

Sasuke drove, mind completely blank until he reached the lot of his apartment complex. Car in park, he clicked off the defrost, watching the wipers. He touched his fingers to his lips. A minute later, he turned off the ignition and, in contemplative silence, marched the steps up to his apartment, snow crunching loudly beneath his sneakers.

The airport was relatively small. Not many people were walking around, and some of the kiosks and shops hadn't even opened yet. Most of their gates were drawn shut except a tiny news stand where Naruto had bought a pack of gum. Their friends had passed out in the seats near the boarding area, waiting for their 8 a.m. flight to Hokkaido. Sasuke and Naruto had wandered off on their own, snagging a table on the lower level near the food court.

Morosely, Sasuke watched Naruto munch on a bagel he'd brought from home. He'd offered some to Sasuke, but it was refused.

"You're staring at me." Naruto raised his eyes, dark circles underneath.

Sasuke looked away, watching an old janitor with silver streaks in his hair as he slowly mopped the parkay flooring.

"Are you not speaking to me this morning?" Naruto asked.

Tearing his eyes away from the old man, Sasuke met Naruto's gaze, not for the first time wondering at how much Naruto had changed since they'd first met - eyes a little deeper in their blue, not nearly reflecting as much light as he remembered.

"I've nothing to say," he answered.

Naruto sighed and, warily, peered around as if making sure no one would hear. "Don't be like that," he said snappishly and brushed the crumbs from his bagel over the side of their table.

All Sasuke could think about was the elderly janitor mopping the floor.

"I thought it'd be weird, y'know, if they picked us up at your place."

"I get it," Sasuke replied.

"I don't want to fight the entire trip." Naruto leaned forward, propping both elbows on the table. Sasuke found his eyes wandering to the tease of skin the loose shirt collar revealed.

"You have a funny way of showing it," Sasuke said. He grasped the edge of the table, curling his fingers underneath, finding more interest in the veins on his wrist than the current path of this conversation.

"Right," Naruto drawled. "Awesome. What's next? Are you gonna refuse to sit by me on the plane?"

Sasuke replied dryly. "I'm surprised you want to. Someone might start a rumor."

Naruto glared at him. "You are such a bastard." He shook his head and stood. "I'm going to the bathroom."

Sasuke watched him stalk off, feeling a twinge inside him that told him to move. To follow. To fix. But he didn't.

The minutes ticked past, and Sasuke stared askew at nothing in particular. Goosebumps had risen on his skin. The air conditioning in the building seemed to be overworking itself.

Another five minutes must have gone by when Sasuke was approached by a little girl with short pigtails. A few steps behind her, the child's - Sasuke assumed - mother was rapidly speaking in Korean into her mobile phone.

The girl couldn't have been any older than five or six. She hedged nearer to Sasuke's chair, fidgeting with the hem of her pink skirt and itching at the left knee of her black tights.

"Hi," she said. She had a tiny plastic bottle in her hand she kept shaking like a maraca. "I'm Nagisa. Are you alone?"

Sasuke frowned as the little girl glanced anxiously over her shoulder at her mom.

"Didn't your mother ever warn you not to speak to strangers?" he asked her, folding his arms against his chest.

"Yes. Where are your friends?"

"Somewhere else," he answered, growing more uncomfortable.

"I like your hair." She smiled brightly, and her innocence annoyed him. She was missing one of her front teeth. "My mom put mine in pigtails, but sometimes she tugs my hair too tight, but I think they're pretty. Do you think they're pretty?"

"Of course they're pretty!"

Naruto approached from behind. He crouched next to the chair and tugged playfully at one of the pigtails.

"I love a stylish girl." He winked at her.

The girl looked from a nearly-effervescent and chipper Naruto to Sasuke as if confused.

"I'm Nagisa," she repeated and handed the plastic bottle she'd been holding over to Naruto like it was a piece of precious treasure.

"Hello, Nagisa-chan. I'm Naruto. And what's this?" He took it from her carefully. As Naruto was crouching, he used Sasuke's armrest to keep balance. Their hands brushed. Sasuke didn't move his, but Naruto jerked his fingers away.

"They're my bubbles!" Nagisa declared excitedly and snatched them from Naruto to remove the cap. She pulled out the plastic wand and blew through the circular end, dispersing tiny bubbles into the air. "Do you wanna try?"

"I'm not sure if I can do it. It's been years since I've blown bubbles." He took the wand from her and purposely blew too hard, sending a spray of water flying.

Nagisa let out a high-pitched squeak. "No, no," she said, tugging at Naruto's shirt. "iThat's/i not how you do it! You blew too hard!"

"Did I?" Naruto glanced at Sasuke, smiling at him conspiratorially. "Maybe Sasuke'd like to try?"


"Sasuke's no fun like that," Naruto explained. "He's too cool for bubbles. That's what happens when you get old."

Nagisa nodded somberly in understanding. "Yeah. My mama is like that, too, sometimes. She doesn't always have time to do bubbles."

Naruto paid the middle-aged woman - still chatting on the phone - a brief glance. "Are you going on a fun trip with your mom?"

Nagisa tipped her head, watching Naruto correctly blow through the wand this time and sending a barrage of bubbles in her direction. She giggled and tried to catch them in her hand.

"No. Not fun. She's going for work and couldn't get a babysitter for me."

"I see," Naruto responded sympathetically. "That's too bad. My friends and I are going camping."

"With tents and everything?" she asked.

"Yes, with tents and everything. Even marshmallows."

"I love marshmallows!" Nagisa grinned, bouncing up and down. "Is he your friend?" She pointed at Sasuke.

"I'm his boyfriend," Sasuke answered before Naruto could respond. He sneered when Naruto glared at him.

Nagisa looked puzzled as her lips parted in wonder.

"He's kidding," Naruto said, looking at Nagisa and conveniently missing the way the corner of Sasuke's mouth twitched in irritation. "But, yes. We're friends."

"Oh. Your friend doesn't like blowing bubbles."

"No, he certainly doesn't. He doesn't like many things," Naruto replied, releasing another spray of bubbles that floated over Nagisa's head.

"Not even you?" she asked.

Naruto hummed ambiguously in answer, cocking his head. Weakly, he smiled at her. "Thank you for letting me use your bubbles. I was a bit nervous about flying, but I think that helped me relax."

"Are you scared of flying?" asked Nagisa, toying with her pigtail. "I think it's easy! I never get scared!"

"Well. I guess I'm not as brave as you." Naruto gave the small child's head a pat. "You should get back to your mom. Looks like she's off the phone."

Nagisa tapped her chubby fingers on the table, danced to the side a little, but turned toward them again, squeezing the metal edge as if she couldn't get herself to leave.

"Um. You're cute," she blurted, blushing and dancing around again.

Naruto appeared shocked at first but then broke into a gruff series of chuckles. "Thank you," he said. "I think you're cute, too."

"Okay, well. Bye!" She sprinted toward her mother without looking behind.

Naruto stood up beside Sasuke's chair. Sasuke had watched the entire interaction with a strange, choking sensation in his chest.

"You're good with kids," he said softly. "You want them some day. You'd be a good Dad."

Naruto looked down at him, startled, mouth opening to speak, but suddenly his phone went off. He answered it, probably not aware of it when he pushed Sasuke's hair behind his ear.

Sasuke shuddered and closed his eyes, opening them only at the sound of Naruto's voice.

"They're boarding." Naruto started for the escalator.

Sasuke studied the motion of the other man's broad shoulders, the muscles as they moved and flexed beneath his shirt, and the well-defined arms. The longing, however strange to him, hit harder than expected. He shook it off as he made to follow.

The entire way to the boarding area, they never came closer than a few feet in distance to one another. He was left considering that he'd recently become rather accustomed to seeing nothing but Naruto's back.

The Fight

"Shut up. No one's going to come in here." Sasuke put a hand on either side of Naruto's waist as he pushed him against the wall of Sakura's bathroom.

Naruto squirmed as Sasuke snuck fingers underneath his shirt and pressed them into skin. Sasuke nuzzled his neck, fingers eagerly moving to skim Naruto's right side.

"Someone's ah - " Naruto stifled a groan by biting his lip. He leaned his head against the wall. "Someone's going to notice we're gone."

"So what?" Sasuke murmured as he covered Naruto's throat with kisses.

Naruto put a hand to Sasuke's chest and tried to push him away. Sasuke clutched onto the other man's arm and growled.

"Sasuke," Naruto whined. "C'mon."

Sasuke wound his arm around Naruto's back, raising his head and meeting his boyfriend's stubborn gaze. "What is the problem? What are you so afraid of?"

Naruto narrowed his eyes, wincing when Sasuke's fingers started to dig into his skin. "I'm not afraid. I'm just not ready to tell them." He nodded in the direction of the bathroom door, where less than 20 feet away several of their friends were gathered in the living room, celebrating Sakura's new-found employment with an advertising firm.

"When are you going to be ready?" Sasuke removed his hand from underneath Naruto's shirt. "How long is it you want to wait?"

Naruto's eyes flitted nervously toward the door when Sasuke had raised his tone of voice. He sighed, looked to Sasuke again, and tenderly cupped the side of his face.

"Just gimme a little more time."

Sasuke snorted in disgust and turned his head, leaving Naruto's fingers to hang awkwardly in the air. "It's been two months, Naruto."

Naruto tilted his head and closed his eyes, rubbing his hand over his mouth. Sasuke backed up until he was against the sink counter. Naruto opened his eyes and stared at him anxiously.

Naruto removed his hand from his mouth. "I know how I feel about you," he said. "Like, I totally realize how much this sucks, but I'm not ready for everyone to know."

Sasuke folded his arms against his chest. "I'd never pegged you for a coward before. Is this really what you want?"

"Of course it's what I want!" Naruto blurted. "But what do you want me to do? They're not gonna get it, Sasuke! They're not! And I just don't wanna deal with the pressure when we don't even know ourselves what's going on - "

"You don't know," Sasuke interrupted him. "You're scared. At least own up to it."

"What the hell?" Naruto came toward him, hands on either side of Sasuke as he grabbed the counter's edge. "Why? Have you told your family? Like they're gonna be so fucking pleased to have a gay son?"

Sasuke shoved him away. "Fuck you. Don't drag my family into this."

"Uh huh. See. It's not as easy as you seem to think it is. For you, or me."

"Whatever." Sasuke's hand was on the doorknob. "You need to figure it out." He glanced over his shoulder. Naruto stood with his hands on the sink counter, head bowed. He looked over at Sasuke, angry and confused. But Sasuke didn't have the patience for it tonight.

"Sasuke," he said pleadingly as he opened the door.

Sasuke stood a moment in the doorway, feeling the other man's eyes on his back.

He ignored it, however, and stepped into the hallway. Loud shouts of laughter were coming from the other room. Sasuke adjusted the collar of his shirt, his clothes a bit ruffled. He buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and when he entered the room, music playing in the background, he smirked and pretended nothing was wrong, something which had become a habit.

Their kayak landed first. Sakura and Ino were still upstream quite a ways. Kiba and Shikamaru were at the campsite, making preparations for dinner. Assuming they managed to catch anything while fishing. Naruto jumped out of the kayak, guiding it to the shore and being careful to avoid the cluster of nearby rocks.

"That was fun, wasn't it?" Naruto looked behind and grinned at Sasuke. The sunshine hit his hair, capturing every one of its pale highlights and making his eyes glint such a clear, cobalt blue.

Sasuke rolled up the legs of his cargo pants as he stepped barefoot into the water, unsnapping his life vest.

"The current started to get a little rough at that midpoint though. I hope Sakura and Ino will be alright." Naruto stretched his arms above his head. He'd already gotten a significant amount of sun. His cheeks and shoulders were red.

"Didn't you put on any sunblock?" Sasuke asked. He walked over to Naruto, the water slapping at his calves. He took hold of Naruto's chin and turned his face to assess the damage.

"Are you worried?" Naruto pushed his bangs away from his face. There was a nice breeze blowing in from the northeast.

Sasuke smirked, drawing closer. He toyed playfully at the soft hair on the nape of Naruto's neck, running his fingers through it.

Naruto's gaze flitted nervously to the side, but Sasuke drew his attention back to him by giving the other man's hair a tug. He sighed, watching the unease brooding like a storm in Naruto's eyes. "Are you always going to have that deer in headlights look whenever I touch you in public?"

Naruto narrowed his eyes and scoffed. "I do not look like a deer in headlights."

"Right. Because I don't know your body well enough by now to know when it's tense."

Naruto grabbed the wrist holding his chin and pulled it away. "I just don't wanna make our friends uncomfortable. I doubt they'd be too thrilled to find us with our hands all over each other." He scrunched his nose. "You know how I feel about PDA."

"I know how you feel about PDA with me," Sasuke said.

"Don't start. Please."

A noise from behind them made Naruto jump. Sasuke glanced over his shoulder to find that Ino and Sakura had caught up to them. They were both laughing. Right away Naruto left his side to assist them and offered his hand as they stepped out of the kayak and tied it to the dock.

"That was brilliant!" Sakura cried, pulling the rubber band out of her hair and mussing it. The humidity had given some wave to the ends. Naruto was busy helping Ino with securing the knot so the kayaks wouldn't detach and float downstream.

Sasuke kept his eyes on Naruto as the other man put an arm around Ino's waist. Sakura caught up to him, and so he was forced to drag his attention to her.

"Did you two have fun?" she asked.

Sasuke nodded. "It was relaxing."

"I see. Is... everything okay?"

Sasuke studied her in the afternoon sun. Her eyes were filled with worry and concern.

"Everything's fine," he answered as Naruto and Ino approached them, both smiling as they talked to one another. It struck him how good they looked together. And maybe, just a little, it annoyed him at the ease with which Naruto had touched Ino so casually.

"What's up with you?" Ino asked him as she snatched a rubber band from Sakura and used it to tie her hair into a ponytail. "You look more grumpy than usual. Wasn't that supposed to be a relaxing, peaceful adventure for the both of you?"

Instead of waiting for Sasuke to reply - not that he deemed one necessary - she asked Naruto his thoughts on the matter.

Naruto gave him a strange look and shrugged. "You know him, Ino. He never goes anywhere without sucking the pleasure out of every occasion. Even the ones meant to be fun."

Though Naruto had apparently meant it as a joke, the group went silent, and two pairs of eyes landed on Sasuke. He did his best to show no reaction. Even to himself, he tried to deny that had any effect on him. He stuck his hands in his pockets and announced he intended on heading back to the campsite to see if Kiba and Shikamaru needed any help.

As he walked toward the sunflower-lined path that led to the campsite, behind him he clearly heard Naruto's vibrant laughter. The painful pinch to his palms was the first indication at how he'd dug his nails a little too deeply into his skin.

The Me Now Is Happy

The bed sheet slithered down the slope of Sasuke's back, pooling around his hips. Naruto pushed back, nearly tearing the sheet as he buried his face into the pillow. Sasuke groaned as he leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Naruto's shoulder blade. The bed creaked. Naruto grunted as Sasuke thrust at a near violent pace inside of him. Naruto's fingers reached for the back of Sasuke's thigh, pulling him in deeper, suffocating him. Sasuke reached around and fisted Naruto's cock. Naruto called out his name in a raspy, appreciative groan and seconds later he was spurting out into Sasuke's hand. Naruto collapsed on the pile of pillows beneath his stomach as Sasuke continued to move, one arm supporting himself on the mattress, the other gripping Naruto's bicep tight enough to leave bruises. Naruto squeezed around him, and Sasuke came with his eyes shut.

So as not to crush Naruto, he rolled off of him and onto the other side of the bed, where he stared up at the ceiling, a hand on his chest. Naruto raised his head from the pillow, cheeks full of color as he grinned.

"Do you like that little trick I learned?"

Sasuke stared at him impassively. "Is this another trick you learned on the Internet?"

"Yep," Naruto admitted proudly. "I can teach you if you want. Y'know, for the next time."

Sasuke snorted and turned on his side so that he could face Naruto. He gently caressed Naruto's forearm. "I need a shower."

"Yeah, you do. You're all sweaty, and for some reason it stinks like sex in here."

"Imagine that," Sasuke drawled, smirking as he pushed Naruto's damp bangs from out of his eyes.

Naruto studied him affectionately. "You know what I like?"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I like that it hurts a hell of a lot less now than the first time we did it. Do you remember that? I thought I was getting a broom handle shoved up my ass. What about you? How was your first time, Sasuke?"

Sasuke rolled to his back again. "You were there. I'm sure you remember."

"I do," Naruto said, sounding pleased. "I remember it quite well, thank you. It was the hottest fucking thing I've ever seen."

"If you expect me to take that as a compliment - "

"Oh it is," Naruto replied and leaned over to punch him in the shoulder. "You know in relationships when - "

"So you're willing to refer to this as a relationship?"

Naruto glared. "Shut up for a second and don't ruin the moment. I was gonna say, you know in relationships, like, I dunno, when it changes in the future. I mean, not that we're at a point where we've talked about a future - "

"We'd have to acknowledge we're in a relationship first."

"I said shut up, Sasuke." He took one of the pillows and threw it at Sasuke's head, but Sasuke caught it and dropped it on the floor.

"Fine. What were you going to say?"

Naruto stifled a yawn with his hand, his eyes watering. "Just that, you know, whatever happens in the future, the me now is pretty fucking happy. With you, I mean."

Surprised, Sasuke didn't respond at first as it hadn't been what he was expecting, but he reached over and covered Naruto's eyes with his hand.

"You don't believe me?" Naruto asked quietly.

Sasuke rubbed the arch of Naruto's eyebrow with his thumb. "I didn't say anything."

The girls had gone to bed after complaining about the mosquitoes. Kiba and Naruto had run off somewhere, presumably for a late-night swim. Sasuke sat on a large log near the crackling campfire; Shikamaru was hunched over, sitting on the cooler as he attempted to read by firelight. Sasuke slapped at yet another mosquito that landed on his knee. There hadn't been much conversation. The crickets managed to do a good job of filling the silence.

Sasuke raised his eyes when a sopping Naruto returned accompanied by a relatively dry Kiba. Naruto was soaked though, his wet shirt and shorts clinging to his skin.

"You bastard," Naruto grumbled, shoving Kiba. "I'm already starting to chafe."

"Better be careful." Kiba tossed his head back and laughed. "You're gonna end up with a rash on your balls, and I ain't gonna be the one to itch them for ya." He winked at Sasuke. "I'll leave that to your tent-mate."

Naruto merely laughed as he wandered nearer the fire. Neither one of them had spoken since that afternoon except to be polite, though Sasuke would have been just as fine to go without even that much conversation. He rubbed his hands over his thighs, watching as Naruto took his shirt off and rung it out, but not before slapping Kiba in the side with it.

Shikamaru looked up from his book at the noise, expression bland and tired. He stood and announced that he was headed for bed despite Naruto and Kiba harassing him to stay a little longer. Sasuke felt inclined to follow suit. Naruto barely glanced his way, so caught up was he in discussing the Tigers' embarrassing loss to the Giants the other day.

Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, Sasuke got to his feet, staring into the fire and the pool of ash piling up beneath the wood he'd helped Shikamaru and Kiba gather earlier in the afternoon. Vaguely in the background, he heard Kiba say he was going to take a piss in the woods.

Sasuke waited until Kiba was gone before he went over to Naruto, who was busy digging his toes into the dirt. His shorts and shirt were laid out beside him, waiting for them to dry. Naruto had his head down, hands clasped together between his knees as he sat in one of the folding chairs.

Sasuke cleared his throat. "It's convenient that your boxers remained dry."

Naruto looked up at him, the flames creating shadows in his eyes. Little flickers of orange and red shining in their depths. "They aren't."

"Take them off."

Naruto snorted. "You'd like that wouldn't you. Shall I just walk around naked for your enjoyment?"

Sasuke studied him critically, rubbing his forearm as he gazed up into the night sky, which was filled with an army of nameless stars. "Are you happy?" he asked suddenly without taking his eyes off the sky.

"What do you mean?"

Frowning, Sasuke lowered his gaze, staring intently at Naruto. "You have to ask?"

"Sometimes, yeah." Naruto scratched under his chin and stretched out a leg, bringing his bare foot close to Sasuke's sandal. "You can be awfully vague, and I'm not a mind reader."


"So what's up?"

"I think," Sasuke paused, dabbing his tongue across his bottom lip, feeling something similar to ice dropping into his stomach. "We need to talk."

"What about?" Naruto asked, but there was no doubt in Sasuke's mind he knew.

"I need you to decide if you want to be with me," Sasuke said, voice barely audible above a couple snapping sounds of the fire. "Because I am tired of this shit."

Naruto fidgeted. He kept rubbing his hands together, locking and unlocking his fingers.

It seemed a long time before Naruto answered him. "I know."

They were quiet a while, and soon Sasuke could hear Kiba returning, grumbling curses under his breath. Naruto refused to look at him. Sasuke didn't know what else to say. He thought he'd reached his limit a long time ago, but for Naruto, he'd held onto something a more optimistic person would consider to be hope. But now, whatever he'd been holding onto - whatever had given him the patience he'd needed to be with Naruto for the past nearly five months - it was all crumbling. And maybe he was beginning to hate Naruto for making him feel as foolish as he did right now.

His parting words were: "Decide before we head back home. Or it's over."

Sasuke went inside the tent and undressed for bed, lying atop his sleeping bag for some time and staring at the ceiling. He was awake an hour later when Naruto crept inside and got ready for bed. Sasuke pretended to be asleep as he listened to Naruto drag his sleeping bag to the other side of the tent.

The Beginning

Sasuke had done a lot of two things in the past week since Naruto had kissed him in his car: brood and avoid. He avoided Naruto's calls, he avoided any public places, and he tried to find as many projects as he could to do around the apartment. It gave him time to discover how amazingly difficult it was to get the grout in his shower to be white again and that he could be far more comfortable at home if his DVD and book collections were organized alphabetically. He'd also picked up an extra shift at his brother's business while he searched for a new job.

But, as cliché as it sounded, it all came to a head on New Year's Eve. Sasuke had been tired. He didn't want to venture out despite the dozens of voice messages he'd received about the usual group going out for some drinks and a generally gay time. In fact, he'd been planning on going to bed. He had no interest in visiting the shrines, no interest in watching as other countries obnoxiously celebrated the transition into the new year on TV.

When he left the apartment to take the trash to the Dumpster, it was as he was going down the stairs that he stopped in his tracks after coming face to face with the very person he'd been avoiding. The scene was very similar to that earlier night. The snow was falling, layering the earth in white, so pure and new it seemed to sparkle under the light of the moon.

Naruto was looking up at him, bundled in his puffy black and orange winter jacket, ski cap covering his ears. He had one gloved hand on the railing and one foot on the first step.

"Hi," he said.

Scowling, Sasuke clung more tightly to the trash bag. Naruto took another step up.

"Uh. I just wanted to make sure you weren't dead or anything. You haven't, um, really been returning my calls, and, yeah - "

He went up another step. They were only two steps apart now.

"You know. I told you if it was weird or whatever, that you could forget it happened. I kind of got caught up in the moment because, um, y'know, we'd been fighting a lot and - " Naruto scratched the back of his neck. "I'm rambling. You're making me ramble."

"What is it you want?" Sasuke asked harshly.

Naruto exhaled, his breath visible in the darkness. "I don't know! Okay, I dunno. I thought maybe you'd know. I'm the stupid one, right? But yeah, I dunno. I tried to figure out why we're fighting all the time, and I didn't wanna fight with you anymore because I thought we were drifting apart and - " He sighed, looking in the direction of where they both heard a car door slam.

"I need to throw this away." Sasuke passed him on the steps, but stopped when Naruto called his name.

"Can we at least go inside? To talk. About this. Us? Whatever."

Sasuke slowly turned. "Us?" He shook his head. "Since when is there an us?" He started down the stairs again, but Naruto grabbed him by the shoulder and forced Sasuke to face him.

It was dark mostly, except the moonlight that reflected off the snow. There was no one around, and from this angle, it was unlikely they'd be spotted from any of the windows. Naruto captured Sasuke's face in his hands, and when Sasuke didn't punch him in the face or violently pull away, he took it as permission to kiss him.

Sasuke had no idea why he returned it or why that pleasurable burning sensation decided it wanted to unfurl within his stomach at the feel of Naruto's lips against his. There was a hint of cigarette smoke coming from Naruto's jacket as if he'd only just left a bar. In a hurry. To reach Sasuke before the clock struck midnight.

The trash fell onto the step, forgotten. He grabbed the front of Naruto's coat as he felt the other man's fingers sliding through his hair, tipping his head so that their lips fit together in a way that widened their mouths and allowed their tongues to touch. The electricity there snapped instantly, surprising in its intensity, but also perfectly comfortable because it was Naruto. Someone he'd known for a very long time. Someone he trusted.

And so. Sasuke invited Naruto in, and out of all the ways he'd expected to ring in the New Year, this had been at the very bottom of the list.

On Sunday morning, they had gathered their packs and the equipment they'd rented from the campgrounds. The sky was overcast, and as the group waited for the bus, Sasuke felt several drops of rain hit the top of his head. There was a strange tension. Everyone - excluding Kiba - had been relatively quiet. It could have been because they'd had to wake early, collapse their tents, and gather all their belongings so they'd be able to catch a bus that would get them on time to the airport - but Sasuke knew better.

For a long weekend, it hadn't felt so long though it should have. He hadn't slept well the past two nights since he'd thrown an ultimatum at Naruto. They didn't speak much and there certainly hadn't been any type of physical contact between the two of them. The closest they'd come to one another was last night when they'd gone to bed in the same tent.

It wasn't something either was hiding well. It showed more in Naruto's behavior than his own as he'd always been accustomed to and extremely good at hiding his anxieties and his disappointments behind a mask of indifference. When the bus came, they all got on, stowing away their luggage at the front and grabbing seats in the back. Naruto sat near a window, and maybe it was out of habit that Sasuke sat next to him. But Naruto leaned his head against the glass and shut his eyes. Sasuke watched him for a while before resting his head on the seat. The rain began to patter harder against the windows. The sound was so soothing it enticed Sasuke into a sleep racked with restless, truncated dreams.

It was Naruto who woke him up by shaking him on the shoulder when they'd arrived at the airport.

They checked in without incident, and somewhere along the way, the six of them had paired off. Naruto walked by his side in silence, his hands shoved inside his jean pockets. The collar of his plaid shirt was folded askew and Sasuke had the urge to fix it. They were near some payphones when Naruto stopped walking. He was looking down at the stark tiled flooring.

"I can't."

Sasuke shifted, and Naruto raised his eyes to look him in the face; there were tears in the corners.

"I'm so sorry," said Naruto. "But I can't."

Sasuke's mouth parted, but it seemed as though no breath passed between his lips. He really had no idea what to say, so the best he could come up with as he bit his bottom lip and glanced away from Naruto was a choked, "Okay."

Naruto covered his face with his hand. "We can... still be friends though, right? We can go back to how it was? I just - "

"It's fine." Sasuke licked his tongue across his teeth.

"Sasuke," Naruto pleaded and Sasuke knew very well how much Naruto wanted to be able to touch him right now. To come closer, and maybe had he, Sasuke would have been willing to salvage this wreckage of a relationship. But Naruto remained where he was, looking utterly helpless.

"It's over then," Sasuke said quietly, and he walked away.

When they boarded the plane, seats got switched around. Naruto sat by Kiba; Sasuke sat next to Shikamaru. He heard the girls questioning Naruto about the strange arrangements, but he didn't wait to hear the reply. Sasuke took out his headphones, rested his head near the small plane window and made the best attempt he could at blocking everything out.

A few hours later, they arrived home and went their separate ways, Sasuke and Naruto included. Sasuke'd felt numb since they'd disembarked and retrieved their luggage. He didn't utter a single word to anyone in parting, and no one seemed too inclined to interrogate him about it.

As he entered his apartment, he dropped his backpack by the door and slowly pulled off his shoes. He looked around, and it suddenly seemed so small and so empty and so quiet. Up until the last five months, that might have been something he'd want to seek out - the solitude. He sat down on the edge of the bed, staring down at his lap where his hands were clasped. When he looked up again, the first thing he noticed was a black and white framed photograph Sakura had given him as a present. It was just a photo of he and Naruto playing one of those stupid games at a local carnival. He never knew why she'd dared to give him a copy, nor did he know why he'd actually wanted to keep it on the desk for display.

Sasuke got up and walked to it, eyes roving over the photograph with a detached sort of fascination. He reached for the simple wooden frame, running a finger along its squared edge before setting it face down on the desk.