Chapter 22

Things were starting to get weird. Like, really weird. Naruto had the sinking feeling that he was always being watched. Though no matter where he looked, it didn't seem like people were really paying any attention to him at all.

"So, Naruto, are you excited for the competitions coming up?" Sai asked casually, draping his arm around his shoulders, earning him a glare from Kiba.

Naruto beamed up at him, "Well of course! I've gotta show how awesome I am and beat everybody!"

"Ya right," Kiba snorted with a smirk. Naruto whipped around to face his best friend.

"Hey! I really can do it! Why does everyone doubt me so much!?" he pouted cutely, sincerely hurt by the lack of confidence his friends had in him.

"Oh I dunno. Maybe it's because you're such a kid? A small fry? Maybe because you're cute and girly?" Ino snickered, poking him in the ribs.

Naruto pouted even more and sulked, "That's so not fair. What happened to the pedestal you all put me on for beating an entire gang and saving Sakura-chan?!"

Sakura smiled warmly, "Well I don't doubt you, Naruto… I believe you can do it!"

Naruto clambered over to Sakura's side and wrapped his strong tanned arms around her in a hug. "Thank you Sakura-chan! At least SOMEONE appreciates me and my talents!" Naruto stuck his tongue out at the rest of the group. Everyone chuckled at Naruto's childishness.

That was when Neji came over to their lunch table and leaned in behind the unsuspecting blonde. "Hey, Naruto-kun…" he murmured into his ear.

Naruto froze and blushed immediately. "H-hey, Neji…"

The Hyuuga smirked and moved back a little when he saw the death glare coming from Kiba and Sai. "Since it's Friday, Naruto, I was wondering if you'd like to come over to my place tonight to hang out?" he offered oh-so-smoothly.

The poor blonde could only open his mouth and stammer, "I-I… uh…" His blush only grew as he looked back and saw how close Neji's face was to his own. Those silky lips parted in a teasing smile, those gorgeous eyes intelligent and sparkling, that perfect hair, that firm body…

"No," Sai and Kiba answered in unison. All eyes turned to the boys. Kiba shifted uncomfortably with all the attention. He was only here 'cause he had to protect the idiot that was drooling over there! But Sai had his own reasons.

"He has to work tonight," the dark haired boy answered. Neji glared only briefly at the interruption then straightened himself and put his hands in his pockets casually.

"Well, I hope that we can hang out soon, Naruto… I'd like to spend some time with you before the school year ends."

Naruto could only close his mouth and nod, the blush only spreading up to his ears. With a superior smirk, the Hyuuga left the table to see to other matters.

"Naruto, what the hell was that?" Ino demanded with a knowing smirk on her pretty face.

He only shook his head and looked away, fidgeting. "I dunno… he makes me nervous. My mind just shuts down when I'm around him… and when he goes around being all perfect like that… It's just hard ok!?" he answered defensively.

Sakura and Ino chuckled and the guy's just face palmed.

It wasn't usually in his nature to be possessive. He wasn't the jealous type. Neji had never claimed anything for longer than a night so he felt jealousy was unneeded and complicated things that could be simply resolved. At least, that's how it usually was with the Hyuuga. Until Naruto came along that is. That bright ball of energy had hit a nerve Neji didn't know he had. Neji wanted to possess him. He wanted to claim the tanned boy as his and fend away any and all who threatened to take him away.

Over the past couple days Neji had been watching the clueless blonde. The more he learned about his target, the more he wanted him and the more protective he felt. That's why, when he saw them in gym class racing each other, he damn near hunted Sasuke down for being the cause of irritation for his blonde. How dare the Uchiha treat the poor wounded boy like that? If it had been Neji, he would have been there in a heart beat to carry the boy away and make him 'feel better'…if you catch my drift!? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge…)

Despite the incident in gym class, Neji had started noticing Sasuke's behaviour more as well, considering him (but not really) a threat. A rival. Sasuke seemed to be paying more attention to Naruto; observing from afar. And at times the prodigal Uchiha seemed confused… especially that fateful gym class day when Sasuke had stopped cold at the hint of a blush on Naruto's cheeks…

But enough of that! The dark haired Hyuuga was going to put a stop to Sasuke's thoughts… Naruto was his and no one else's! And that was why Neji had decided to go and talk to Sasuke about him encroaching on his territory.

It was lunch time and Neji usually took lunch elsewhere with Tenten but today he was on a mission. Aside from stopping to chat and shamelessly flirt with his favourite blonde, Neji zeroed in on the black spiky hair and pale skin of the Uchiha. Of course he was, as usual, surrounded by his tacky fan girls and was doing his best to ignore them. Neji couldn't help but notice that Sasuke was facing Naruto's table and that sent an uncomfortable feeling through his gut.

He didn't like that. Lately, all the teenager had been feeling was uncomfortable and foreign things, all thanks to Naruto.

"Excuse me, Uchiha… may I speak with you? Privately," Hyuuga asked politely, eyeing the group of pouting girls. Ew. He would never understand that at all…

Sasuke glanced up at Neji, his own competitive blood boiling within him not backing down. "Of course," he ground out through clenched teeth. With a wave of his kingly hand (because he was a King here), the girls sulked and left his side so Neji could sit down.

Neji lifted his own perfect hand and examined his nails nonchalantly as he struck up conversation. "You know I'm gay, right?" it was a rhetorical question, but Sasuke hn'ed none the less; "You should also know that I always get what I want. There hasn't been a target yet that hasn't given in to me."

"What's your point?" Sasuke growled, not liking where the conversation was going.

"Well… you just seem to be paying close attention to Naruto lately. I wanted to make it clear that despite all your efforts, he is already eating out of my hand. You stand no chance," Neji stopped examining his hands to look Sasuke dead in the eyes.

Sasuke was confused. He frowned, "What in the world would make you think I was interested in that idiot?"

Neji smirked and moved to the side so they both could look at the Uzumaki. Currently, said teenager was flailing his arms about, gorgeous blue eyes wide and a bright smile on his tanned face as he told some kind of fascinating tale to the group at the table. "He's hard not to notice…" Neji admitted as looked back at Sasuke. "But lately, you've been paying closer attention and you've been less of an Ice Queen towards him… And the stunt you pulled on the track the other day, tripping him so he would land on top of you," Neji shook his head. "Just pitiful."

"That was not me. He tripped over his own shoelaces," Sasuke huffed. It wasn't like he wanted Naruto to fall into him like that! Sasuke would never do such an embarrassing thing to himself! That was just ridiculous.

The Hyuuga stood and brushed imaginary wrinkles from his clothes, "Just keep your filthy paws off, Uchiha… that boy is mine. He's not even your type." Then the bell rang so Neji sauntered off to his next class, graceful and poised as always.

The Uchiha was left to ponder and fuss over the angering thoughts his rival put into his head. He wasn't interested in Naruto that was for damn sure. He was too annoying and stupid. But why would Neji say he wasn't his type? Sasuke didn't think he had a type. He didn't have a preference or anything because he never looked for anything. But now that Neji had brought it up, it started making the brooding teenager think about it. Even if Naruto was Neji's, hypothetically, did that really matter to Sasuke?

His onyx eyes turned back to Naruto who was shoving Sai off of him as they wandered down the hallway and a strange feeling twisted in his gut. That same damn feeling he got when Itachi raided the fridge for Sasuke's saved food. Why? Why did he feel like he was on the brink of losing something? This was the second time that stupid feeling came up recently and it had nothing to do with his food…

And even worse than that; recently all he had been doing was considering different possibilities of things he never would have given second thought to! Like debating on whether Naruto was his type or not! What in the HELL was the world coming to?!

Sai and Naruto walked to work after school that day. Despite the awkwardness that was between them due to the unresolved business about the kiss, they still found time to joke around and be friends. That's all Naruto wanted.

"So how do you feel about Neji?" Sai asked out of the blue. "I mean, obviously you like him… but enough to date him?"

Naruto flushed immediately, thinking of the dark haired boy. "I'm not sure. I really like him. He's a great kisser and he's so kind…"

"But…" Sai prodded.

"But…" Naruto shrugged, "Sometimes I feel like he only sees me as fresh meat, you know?"

Sai nodded, feeling like his chances grew just a sliver. "Maybe he does. That's certainly the way he looks at you!"

"You think so?" Naruto pouted, hoping that it wasn't true.

Sai nodded and wrapped his arm around Naruto's shoulders again and pulled the boy close. "But I don't see you that way."

Naruto tensed immediately and pulled away as they got to Refined Sushi. "That's really nice of you, Sai. But I do hope that-"

"Is that Gaara-kun?" Sai asked suddenly, tilting his head as he saw the familiar red head talking with their manager.

The boy gasped and froze in mid step, his heart sinking immediately. It was indeed Gaara. What was he doing here? And what was he doing talking with his manager? The manager looked up at the pair and stopped talking suddenly. The Gaara looked over his shoulder and spotted them as well.

"Ah, Naruto… I forgot you worked today," Naruto's ex smiled guiltily.

"What do you mean, you forgot he worked today? How do you know he works here at all?" Sai questioned suspiciously, moving closer to him and the manager.

The blonde finally snapped out of it and approached cautiously. "What are you doing here, Gaara?"

His manager moved forward then with a guilty smile on her face, "Naruto… Gaara is uh…he's my brother."

All brain function ceased. Over load. Shut down. Reboot. "What?"

"Temari is my sister," Gaara confirmed with a smile.

"Oh..." Naruto nodded, like it somehow made sense. But it didn't. "Wait, you are Gaara's sister? How come you never told me?! Is that why you would never tell me your name?" he demanded, starting to feel panicked. Betrayed. How could they lie to him like that?

"I didn't think it mattered… you needed a job and I gave you one," Temari explained, hands on her hips. "You didn't need to know anything about me to work here."

"Th-that's… that's how you knew I was here…" Naruto guessed. His heart started beating a mile a minute. Just when he thought he could forgive Gaara and maybe start trusting him again, he goes and does something like this?! How dare he?!

Gaara bit his lip and stepped towards Naruto with his hands out, "Naruto, I didn't do this to hurt you. I was just so worried tha-"

"No!" Naruto stepped back, tears in his blue eyes, "No, Gaara, you can't do that! After all you did to me… I ran for a reason… I ran to get away because I was hurt and betrayed. I forgave you, Gaara and then you do this? You still keep tabs on me? Were you trying to get me back after that? How could you do this again?! You've exposed me and…" Naruto couldn't take the hurt anymore. He couldn't go through this again.

He pushed Sai out of the way and ran back through the doors with his eyes closed, tears stinging as they fell down his face. He ran outside and…right into someone who was on their way in.

They stumbled but the person he ran into managed to stay standing and caught Naruto before he fell. The stranger had his arms around Naruto and held him firmly but gently. "I-I'm sorry, I-I wasn't looking…" the poor teenager tried to wipe his tears away and sniffle, straightening himself, the strangers' arms still around him. Eventually he looked up and immediately tensed.

Uh oh…

"S-Sasuke…You…" he looked up into those onyx eyes. Sasuke looked just as shocked as Naruto was but he didn't get a chance to say or do anything.

"Naruto, wait!" Gaara called as he ran through the restaurant doors, followed by his sister, Temari. Then the awkward situation was forgotten as Naruto turned to face his enemy.

Sasuke did not understand what was going on. He was only here to meet up with his brother. Itachi had picked this restaurant as their meeting place again despite Sasuke's protests. The bastard just wanted to see Sasuke uncomfortable. So he was not expecting the reason for him not wanting to come here to come barrelling out and into his arms, and crying no less.

Then Gaara came after the boy and Sasuke felt an unwelcome and unexplained feeling of protectiveness and anger. He really didn't like Gaara; they had a rough past as well. But clearly not as rough as his relationship with the boy still in Sasuke's arms.

There was a beat of silence as Gaara took in the fact that Naruto was in Sasuke's arms and pressed against him and not even trying to leave that spot and registered the fact that Sasuke wasn't pulling away either. But the issue at hand was more important.

"Naruto, please, you are misunderstanding the situation…" Gaara pleaded, his sea foam green eyes wide and desperate.

"Gaara… how can I misunderstand? It's pretty clear what you were doing…" Naruto started shaking. With cold or with anger or with sadness, he wasn't sure. The only thing he knew though was that Gaara had hurt him terribly for a second time and Sasuke's arms around him somehow, for some inexplicable reason, kept him grounded and feeling safe.

The red-head shook his head, "If you would just let me explain…"

"Then explain, Gaara! Do tell! Why in the world would you use me? How could you think that was ok? And for the love of all things ramen, please tell me why you would keep tabs on me behind my back?" Naruto demanded. He took a deep breath and sighed. Then he whispered, "What happened in Suna?"

Oooohhhh…. The tension. The drama… the romance… Will we finally find out what happened to Naruto in Suna? What else will we find out? Stay tuned for more!

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Love you all,

TLC