Hello from the other side of... nearly seven years? Ugh. Yeah, I left any semblance of this fandom long long ago. But then I got a review 10 days ago, and it made me go dig up that epilogue which had been languishing one scene in for all that time, and I finally banged it all out. Sorry for all of you who waited so long, and thank you to all of you who actually bother to check this update out after so long. This I think marks the longest single fanfic I've actually completed as of today. Whew.
Enjoy at long last!
Sasuke's mouth was warm.
Naruto jerked back so violently that he fell against the wall of the tent and it came tumbling down on top of him. He sat there for a moment, the poles and fabric all collapsed on his head, and cautiously licked his lips. No, he concluded, he did not have something really tasty stuck to his face. Plus Sasuke had said he loved Naruto. Maybe he'd gone crazy. Well, for him it wouldn't really be going crazy, it would just be increasing in craziness. Because he was already crazy. Crazy in love.
Oh god did I just think that, Naruto thought, and fought his way out of the wreckage. Apparently he'd been sitting there for a while, because Sasuke was already sitting with Kakashi, stirring some sort of gross oatmeal stuff in a pot hanging over the fire.
"–dumbass knocked it down while he was having a nightmare," he was saying, and Naruto took a moment to wonder if that was really all that had happened. Then Sasuke met his eyes across the campfire; the other boy's whole body jerked before he quickly looked away. Okay, maybe it wasn't a dream then.
Holy crap, it wasn't a dream. Oh geez.
Naruto laughed loudly, trying to act normal. "Hahahahaha! Yeah, it was really scary, all the ramen in the world turned into vegetables. Hahaha. Ha. Is that breakfast? I'm really hungry. That looks awf – um, great!"
Kakashi stared at him. Sasuke dropped his head into his hands. Naruto served himself a bowlful of the oatmeal and ate very loudly and messily even though it tasted disgusting.
They arrived in the small town shortly before noon. So far, Naruto had managed to avoid Sasuke virtue of the fact that running and private discussions didn't mix well. If he'd wanted to say anything, he would have had to broadcast it to the whole team. And while he'd never had any qualms about loudly asking Sakura out in front of anyone and everyone, this was a little different. Or a lot different. Sasuke different.
Naruto didn't want to talk to Sasuke right now. His mind was running an endless loop of what the hell what the hell and it was keeping him quite busy. Sasuke couldn't possibly love Naruto. He had very recently made a big deal out of that fact.
Naruto winced at the thought. He should have expected that, probably, but he just hadn't seen it coming and it had hurt when Sasuke had said he didn't love him. Almost as much as it had hurt to be asked to stop saying it himself. He'd really gotten into the habit, after all. It was hard to resist, sometimes, especially when they were alone and getting along so much better than they ever had before. And Sasuke knew – well, everything and he didn't even mind. There weren't words for what that meant; 'I love you' was as close as he could get, and sometimes he just wanted to grab Sasuke and shout it at him.
But Naruto had been holding himself back, resisting the urge because he didn't want to push Sasuke too far. He knew his friend wasn't used to people getting close, and from the way he'd been acting it was pretty obvious that he felt really bad about it, but he just didn't love Naruto. He'd made himself accept that, because what other option was there? Their current friendship was more than Naruto would ever have anticipated, anyway. To want even more felt kind of greedy.
But then again, it wasn't like Naruto had ever cared about being greedy before.
Somehow though, he didn't think eating twelve bowls of ramen in one sitting or even declaring that he would be Hokage one day could ever equal Sasuke looking him in the eye, and saying he loved him (with a grin). That wasn't mere greed; that was so far out of the realm of possibility that despite knowing it had just happened, Naruto couldn't seem to comprehend that it had really happened.
Then again, Sasuke's face was kind of convincing. Naruto slowly settled into acceptance as the day passed: going from complete shock and disbelief during their remaining morning trek into town; to a dawning sort of oh-crap-it's-true feeling as Kakashi talked to their client, an old man with a paranoid nature and a seriously creepy love for pottery; and finally, sliding into complete belief and amusement as they walked through the market buying supplies for the long (civilian-speed) trip back to Konoha.
Naruto and Sasuke had been put in charge of buying food – together, because Naruto was better at haggling but Sasuke would pick appropriate supplies rather than just ramen. Sakura had been delegated to help their client pack his pottery for the journey, because he wasn't quite done yet and they left tomorrow, and also she would not break any of it. Kakashi had said he was taking care of "miscellaneous other matters."
Naruto didn't know what 'miscellaneous' meant, but he bet it had something to do with porn.
Anyway, the point was that he was now walking through a crowded market with Sasuke, and it was hilarious. He couldn't believe he'd never noticed before. Had this even happened before? It couldn't have. There was no way Sasuke's face had always gotten this red whenever they touched. The crowd kept shoving them together, it wasn't like there was any choice involved in the continual bumping (totally no choice, it wasn't like he was doing it just because he thought it was funny), but Sasuke's face flushed brightly every single time, his scowl deepening the longer they shopped, his shoulders hunching defensively.
After about half an hour of this, it stopped being funny and started getting uncomfortable. Naruto stopped accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Sasuke, but there were still all the really accidental times that he couldn't help. Sasuke looked… well, kind of miserable. It was making him feel really guilty, but he wasn't sure what he could do. They really couldn't hash out their personal matters in the middle of the marketplace (yes, even Naruto knew that much).
"…Here," he said, and tossed a tomato at Sasuke's face. It was caught easily, but for once Naruto hadn't been aiming for a splatter so he didn't mind.
"Put this back in the bag, don't mess around with our groceries," Sasuke said, frowning. He held out the fruit, only to flinch back when Naruto reached to grab it.
He curled his hand around both the tomato and Sasuke's own hand, and pushed them back at his friend – whose face had turned the same color as the fruit the moment their fingers had touched. "No, that's for you! I got an extra for free cause the grandma runnin' the stall thought I was cute."
Sasuke twitched violently. "L-Like anyone would think that."
Naruto's grin widened, but he tried to bite it down. "Um, shut up. Asshole. Anyway, tomato's your favorite so chow down and quite moping!"
Sasuke did not rise to the bait. Instead he stared at the tomato, thumb slowly rubbing the polished surface. After a moment, he glanced up. The blush had completely left his cheeks.
"Why are you giving this to me?"
Naruto felt his heart skip a beat. "Uh."
Sasuke stared straight at him. Why the hell wasn't he blushing anymore? His eyes were really dark and for some reason that kind of made Naruto want to swear.
"…Because. Like I said, it was extra. And you're being really annoying." Wait, that was insensitive or whatever, right? Naruto scrambled to rephrase. "I mean! When you're in a bad mood it makes me feel bad."
Crap, that was even worse. It sounded so sappy, and it wasn't even normally true. Just now, since he felt responsible for Sasuke being so mopey. But Naruto had a feeling that he wasn't going to be able to get any more coherent, so he just left it at that.
After a long pause, Sasuke took a bite out of the tomato. His lips tipped up a little at the corners, and he chewed and swallowed without ever looking away from Naruto.
"Hn," he said.
"Ahaha, that good huh!" Naruto cried, then spun around and started walking away as quickly as was possible in the crowded market. His cheeks felt really, really warm.
…So that was where the blush had gotten to.
That evening they ate dinner at their client's home before heading off to the inn where they would spend the night. Naruto ambled over to walk next to Sakura on the way.
"Hey, Sakura-chan, can I talk to you?" he asked quietly. "Like, right now? It's really important."
Her green eyes narrowed at him. "Why?"
Naruto shuffled a little closer, and muttered, "I can't really talk about it around other people."
Now she looked intrigued. "Well… okay."
Raising her voice, Sakura announced, "Naruto is going to show me a clothing stall in the market so I can do some shopping before we leave."
Then she grabbed his wrist and tugged him along, completely ignoring that her own excuse would have required Naruto to be the one leading her, and the fact that, as Sasuke sourly pointed out, "It's already getting dark, the market's closing!"
"Now, now," Kakashi scolded absentmindedly. "Let them have their little date."
Sakura snapped, "It's not a date!" but she didn't stop or let go of Naruto's wrist until they had turned several corners and found themselves in a small, empty park.
"Whoa, how'd you know this was here?" Naruto asked.
Sakura just shrugged. "Ichinose-san told me." At his blank expression, she added, "Ichinose-san. You know, our client?"
"Oh! Right, him." Naruto grinned as his teammate rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. Still, that was all, where once she would have smacked him and stormed off by now. They got along so much better now – ever since Kakashi had assigned them those scrolls to work on.
When Naruto had approached Sakura to ask her for help, he hadn't really expected her to agree. And at first it seemed like she wouldn't; but then she'd gotten a thoughtful look on her face, and asked him to show her what was going wrong.
The jutsu had fizzled uselessly, the clone actually melting instead of exploding. Sakura's eyes had gone wide the first time she saw that, and she'd gasped in what seemed a little bit like awe.
Then she hit him and yelled, "You can't just throw chakra at it, numbskull!"
Still, she'd started helping Naruto out after that, and the more time they spent together, the better they got along. It was nice to hang out with Sakura, especially since Sasuke was so busy getting his super-special training with Kakashi that he hardly even got to see his best friend during the day. Naruto was more than a little jealous of that – which probably was what tipped the scales until he became truly friends with Sakura. He'd been whining about the unjustness of it all, when she had interrupted him, a devious smile on her face.
"Maybe we should prove that we can do just fine on our own then. Let's see if we can't surprise Sasuke-kun with what we've learned!"
With this common motivator, it was easy to get along. And they got so into it actually, so focused and having so much fun, that Sakura forgot all about finding Naruto annoying. For his part, he forgot all about wanting to date her. He didn't even remember that as a possibility, until they met up with Sasuke and Konohamaru in the market the evening he'd finally mastered his new jutsu. Dinner with Sakura was just a celebration of that, and it was even her suggestion. He didn't consider it could even be taken any other way until Sasuke freaked out about it.
And, weirdly enough, Naruto was fine with that. It was hard to explain, since he'd always pursued Sakura so hard before. But now that she was actually his friend, Naruto didn't really want to push for more. He was happy with what they had now. And there was no one else he'd ever ask for Sasuke advice. Well. This kind of Sasuke advice, anyway – if it weren't related to kissing and stuff, he'd totally go to Iruka, but it was just too weird to think of anyone asking his old teacher for romantic advice.
Whoever did something like that had to be pretty pitiful.
"So?" Sakura asked, snapping Naruto's attention back to the present. She had an eager gleam in her eyes, and leaned in close. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Ahaha-um…" Naruto scratched the back of his head. For all that he really wanted Sakura's advice, suddenly he felt kind of embarrassed about actually asking the question. Still, he'd never been the type to back down from a challenge, so he screwed up his courage and blurted: "What does it mean when a friend kisses you and says they love you!"
"I." She blinked. "Um. It means they love you? Naruto that's – really not a hard question."
"Y-yeah, but see he doesn't love me, he just told me that."
Surprisingly, this explanation didn't seem to clear anything up for Sakura. She blinked a few more times, squinted at Naruto, then put a hand to her head in what looked like pain.
"I – I don't even know where to start," she mumbled. "This isn't hypothetical? Who would ever – wait, he. And he just said he didn't, what, h– oh my god, SASUKE?!"
Naruto jumped three feet in the air at her sudden screech, landing in a wary crouch. Abruptly, he remembered that Sakura was once co-president of the extremely violent Sasuke Fan Club.
Holy crap, I'm an idiot, he realized.
"What the hell did you do, Naruto?!" She demanded, arm jerking forward to claw into the collar of his shirt before he could even think about dodging. One-handed, she lifted him onto his tiptoes and shook him. "How did – are you – he's GAY?!"
"I – I dunno!" Naruto exclaimed, terrified for his life by now. "I'm sorry! Forget it ever happened!"
"HOW COULD I FORGET SASUKE BEING IN LOVE WITH YOU?!"
"B-but he's not!" Naruto screamed defensively back. "He's definitely not, he told me to quit even mentioning it to him!"
"That I love him, duh!"
Sakura dropped him. Somehow, despite all logic and reason and possibly gravity itself, Naruto landed on his head. Scowling, he rubbed at it as he scrambled back up to his feet. His newfound friend was just staring at him.
"I have no idea what's going on here," she whispered in what seemed like complete horror. "You love Sasuke? You've told him that?"
"Well, yeah," Naruto snapped. "Iruka basically made me, said he needed some real affection or whatever. He was such a jerk about it too. And then he finally asked me not to say it anymore so I stopped, even though I really didn't want to, but then he just said it to me and that's not fair! Plus he kissed me!"
Sakura took a long, deep breath. She shut her eyes. Took another slow, slow breath in, then let it out.
"Naruto," she said very, very quietly. She smiled just a little and opened her eyes. "Start at the beginning, please."
His entire body broke out into a cold sweat.
"Okay," Naruto squeaked.
It wasn't supposed to be a big deal, in the beginning. Really, it was mostly Iruka's fault. Pretty much entirely his fault, actually; he'd sat quietly next to Naruto at one of their usual ramen dinners as Naruto told him all about what Team Seven had been up to lately. Which wasn't that much really, mission-wise, since Kakashi had gotten so katana-shy after the Wave mission. Even though Naruto stood firm by his assertions that it had all turned out fine and they'd done the right thing staying and they'd totally handled it just fine, he could admit to himself that facing Zabuza and Haku had been a bit terrifying sometimes. He'd much rather be prepared before another fight like that. He never wanted to see Sasuke crumple like that again, dying to protect him – and he hadn't liked what followed after either. He could have lost himself completely to the Kyuubi and he wouldn't have cared, for a moment there. If that was the alternative, then ages of basic practice and teamwork exercises was just fine by Naruto.
He didn't actually say that outright, or anything, but maybe it was the fact that he'd spent so little time relaying his new ninja skills and so long talking about the way Sasuke had actually laughed at one of his jokes (just a tiny little huff of air, you had to know what to look for, but he totally had) and how they had spent an hour and forty minutes arguing over whether that one cloud looked more like a pork bun or a tomato.
Anyway, Iruka looked over at Naruto with that fond smile of his. The one that made him feel all warm and embarrassed and happy.
"You should tell Sasuke how you feel," he suggested. "It would probably do him some good to hear it. It's been a long time."
Naruto hadn't gotten what he meant, right away, and the following conversation didn't really clear things up. Iruka just went on about social skills and grief and different ways of acting out, with all these significant looks at Naruto scattered throughout. He threw out phrases like "emotional intelligence" and "coping skills" and "cracking his shell" and none of it really made sense but the last part made Naruto want to eat nuts.
But before they separated for the night Iruka ruffled his hair and smiled down at Naruto.
"Hey, stay out of trouble," he grinned. "I don't need to worry about you any more than I already do, okay?"
It made him feel so warm.
Naruto had made plenty of people worry in his life. But when Iruka said it, he meant he'd be worried for Naruto, because he cared about him. Because he actually liked him and wanted to know what was going on in his life, and always paid for his ramen no matter how much he complained.
Because, as shaky and weird and overwhelmed as it made Naruto feel, Iruka loved him. Thought of him as some kind of little brother or something, maybe, he didn't know exactly. But he knew none of his old teacher's students got this kind of treatment but him, knew that Iruka had been willing to die for him, and to keep talking to him even after he didn't.
Which got Naruto pondering to who else had been willing to die for him, even if he hadn't wanted to talk about it at all (or much of anything else really) afterwards. And somehow, he couldn't fall asleep for ages that night, kept spinning it around in his head until finally it clicked. What Iruka had meant.
It was all pretty simple after that.
Sakura smacked him in the cheek.
Naruto knew she wasn't really angry anymore, because even though it stung, he didn't go flying under the force of the hit. Still, it wasn't like he was going to not loudly complain until she threatened to hit him again, much harder this time.
"You're so mean to me, Sakura-chan," he whined, and they exchanged grins.
He was pretty sure she wasn't going to murder him at this point.
"You're an idiot, Naruto," she answered. "I mean… letting Sasuke feel genuine affection from someone he's already proved he cares about is actually really sweet and clever, but that wasn't even your idea. Why the hell was harassing him with love confessions your way of doing that?"
"Because Sasuke's the idiot!" Naruto protested indignantly. "He doesn't even know how to have fun, there's no way he would've got what I meant if I didn't tell him outright! And then he never told me to stop or anything. And – and he's been happier lately, right? I mean, he's been smiling more and doing that little stupid laugh thing –"
Sakura puffed air out between her lips in an exact imitation of that stupid laugh thing, because she got it. Even if she practically worshipped the ground he walked on, she understood what a dumbass Sasuke could be. Everyone on the team knew it.
"Yeah, exactly!" Naruto grinned. "And he was spending more time hanging out with me and talking to me. I made sure no one else ever heard so he wouldn't get embarrassed… Plus I like telling people I care. It's – I know it feels really nice to hear."
"Yeah, but would you go around telling me you love me all the time?" Sakura's expression was a lot softer now, some mix of affection and guilt or something. "I mean, if you didn't want to date me. You can see how that'd look, right?"
"I don't want to date you anymore though," Naruto said. It was the first time he'd admitted it out loud ever since he'd realized, but the words didn't feel as shocking as he would've expected. But he definitely didn't want her to feel snubbed, so he rushed out a reassurance: "I do still love you though! You're still totally amazing!"
Her face went bright red.
Then she seemed to… deflate, or something. She laughed a little bit, and looked at the ground, then up at the darkening sky.
"Yeah, I guess you wouldn't get it. Poor Sasuke," she muttered.
"Poor Sasuke nothing, he's the one who told me to stop then turned around and said it himself!" Naruto was kind of glad to have that to be indignant about. He wasn't really sure he could've handled this whole situation without it. For how much it sucked to know that, as much as he thought they cared about each other – even after the Kyuubi reveal - Sasuke still only saw him as a more casual friend, at least that rejection helped now.
Though Naruto had no idea what the hell it was even about if Sasuke wanted to date him.
"Yeah, what was that about, anyway?" Sakura asked. "If he never asked you to stop before then, something must've happened, right? Did – did you kiss him?"
"No," Naruto said, puzzled. "I've never – I mean that one in the Academy didn't count – but I guess now I – does it count if someone kisses you or do you have to do the kissing?"
Sakura just groaned.
"I did hug him that one time," he remembered, after a moment. "He did kinda run away. But it wasn't even after that, it was… this one time, he did something really nice. So I told him I love him, and it looked like he really got it. You know? I thought – he didn't hit me or run away or try to light me on fire or anything so I…" he trailed off, thinking of that day in the woods. He'd been the one to run away that time. He still didn't really know why. Just, Sasuke's eyes had gone so wide, and he'd let Naruto get so close, hadn't moved at all except for that one little shiver, he'd looked so blown away. He'd even leaned after Naruto a little bit when he stepped away, like he wanted to follow or something. It had seemed for a second like maybe he'd been about to say it back, and Naruto had gotten that warm-chest feeling. Except it wasn't like with Iruka, it had been so strong – warm-everywhere instead, so overwhelming that it made him kind of want to hide. That, or to push his luck and get even closer, to wrap himself all around Sasuke and tell him a million more times, just to try and express that feeling. That probably wouldn't have been a good idea, so it was good that he had left instead.
"That was the last time I said it," Naruto realized. "A couple days later he up and told me he didn't love me, and he didn't want to hear me say it to him anymore. That I'm his best friend and he didn't want to mess it up or something. Best but not that great, I guess," he groused.
"That's the nicest way he's EVER turned anyone down!" Sakura screeched, patience apparently evaporated once more. "How did you not realize he's in love with you after that?!"
"But he just said he didn't –"
"SHUT UP, NARUTO. OH MY GOD."
She stomped off and punched a tree with a frustrated shout. It caved in a little around the impact, and a branch fell off and crushed a nearby bench, but at least she seemed a bit calmer when she came back.
"Naruto," she said firmly, "You're my friend, and Sasuke is my friend, and it's pretty clear at this point I don't have a chance with him if you're his type."
"Shut up. So – at least I want you both to be happy, okay? You need to tell him how you feel. And – and kiss him back and then tell me all about it. All about it."
"Wait, I'm supposed to kiss him?"
"YES, YOU IDIOT. YOU –" She reached out and grabbed his coat again, yanking him so close that he could smell her breath. "I know you can't see the look on your face when you're talking about him, but doesn't the fact that you suddenly don't like me anymore mean anything to you? The way you're obviously still hung up on him rejecting you even though it's way nicer than he's ever been to me – or me to you, and you never cared then. Just think about – did you like the kiss?"
Naruto felt a little dizzy. In his defense – she was talking really fast. And she kind of smelled like the katsudon they'd had for dinner.
"I mean, it was over really fast," he said.
Sakura just stared him down.
"I don't know. It – it was warm? And, uh, my teeth didn't hurt this time, it was sorta… soft… I guess. He smiled at me first though, like a real one with teeth and everything, it should've looked super weird but really it was just kind of nice. And then he just, y'know, whispered that – I don't know, how am I supposed to know if I liked it? I thought I was asleep or crazy or there was something on my face, and now he's blushing all the time and it was kind of funny at first but now I'm just – maybe I liked it? I don't know, Sakura!"
"Then kiss him again," she ordered firmly, "and find out."
Naruto stumbled back into the room he was sharing with Sasuke and Kakashi, feeling dazed still. Sakura was so scary. Absolutely incredible, sure – but just as absolutely terrifying.
The lights were off, which was a bit overkill in Naruto's opinion, since it was barely dark out, but everyone had been making a big deal about getting an early start tomorrow so he guessed it made sense. He didn't exactly mind, anyway. The idea of talking to Sasuke right now was just… weird.
Talking to Sakura had helped a lot, but also had made everything much worse. Naruto felt like he maybe understood a little better how Sasuke had started thinking of him as someone to date, but trying to do the same was. Boggling.
He snuck into his futon, trying really hard not to think about how close Sasuke's was, close enough for sure that he could, say, climb over Naruto in the middle of the night again and kiss him again and there wouldn't be a tent to knock over this time and what the hell did he think about that?
It was just hard to linger on. With Sakura, Naruto had never had problems daydreaming. He could sit around and concoct fantasies all day about dating her, walking through town with their hands linked, exchanging sweet kisses above the Hokage monuments (his monument, it usually became), her being impressed by his ninja skills, giving her flowers to see her smile, eating her homemade lunch.
None of that was gonna happen with Sasuke.
The guy was practically allergic to even just friendly touches, at least in public. He'd been a lot more lenient lately, but more like letting Naruto put an arm around his shoulder and not shrugging it off until the second minute. Not so much handholding level. He constantly scoffed at Naruto's skill (which, okay, wasn't really different from Sakura), was absolutely definitely without a doubt the kind of person who would kill any plant he received within less than a day, and had no clue how to cook. Naruto knew that through painful camping experiences. The only old standby that left was kissing on top of the monuments, and that – that one was also –
He just couldn't think about it. It made him feel all weird and nervous and sweaty. He kept wondering if Sasuke would be more like that confident, smiling persona he'd had right before the kiss, or if he'd be all blushy and snappy like he had ever since. Except then he remembered that moment in the market, when he'd gone all calm and thoughtful or something and just looked so intensely at him, which was – god – maybe even scarier than Sakura? His heart was pounding just thinking about it, he felt a horrible uncharacteristic urge to run from the room.
Naruto pushed his face into his pillow and groaned, wriggling around in frustration. He had no idea how he was gonna fall asleep like this! If only Sasuke had been awake then maybe he could have just – just gotten it over with, somehow…
(He remembered again the kiss that had woken him, early that morning. Tried to smother himself a little more, feeling very similar to when Sasuke would test his fire jutsu in Naruto's general direction.)
Morning came, and with it a truly grumpy Sasuke.
He woke Naruto up with a kick in the backside that sent him rolling across the room and through the open door into the hallway. Then, when Naruto tried to ask what the hell his problem was, he scoffed with such vehemence that he actually choked a little – and Naruto attempting to check that he was okay was met with an utter death glare before he snapped that it was time to leave and he stomped away.
Apparently, he'd been supposed to wake Naruto up before breakfast, but he hadn't because he was busy being a huge jerk, and so Naruto was forced to amble along for the entire morning listening to Ichinose bragging about his high-quality vases and fretting about them being stolen or broken in an unending stream of chatter. At least by lunchtime Naruto's stomach rumbling sometimes tuned him out.
Sakura and Kakashi were busy with some kind of training discussion so they weren't any help. And Sasuke had volunteered himself for scout duty so he basically wasn't even there, but when he was he ignored Naruto so hard that it was clearly a personal insult.
"I think you were wrong," he quietly confided to Sakura over lunch. Stopping to eat, however briefly, was at least one perk of civilian pace. It meant he had time to whip out the emergency instant ramen he'd bought in the market yesterday, and cook it up real quick over a small campfire. He'd kind of been planning to save it for a really disgusting gruel day, but he needed it now. For motivational purposes. "I think maybe he actually hates me and yesterday he was just embarrassed that he misspoke before."
"Naruto," Sakura hissed, shoving him away. "I'm trying to mourn the death of my greatest love here, could you not hang all over me and make watching this even worse?"
"Hey, idiot," Sasuke snapped from clear across the field they were taking their break in. "Your ramen's boiling over."
"Thanks a bunch, jerkface," Naruto shouted back – before realizing that meant his noodles were going to come down the sides-!
One slightly dirty lunch later, they hit the road again for a long afternoon of more of the same. That night during dinner, Sasuke volunteered to take first watch, and Sakura spoke up right after for second. Which would've been fine, normally, except today it didn't feel so much like Naruto was getting to sleep sooner after not sleeping practically at all last night, but more like everyone was mad at him for some reason. He hadn't even done anything!
"This is so stupid," he sulked, scrubbing hard at the pot. Ichinose had taken over the dinner prep, bragging about his cooking skill being second only to his talent in pottery. Naruto thought he'd probably go broke once they got to Konoha if that were the case, because he'd burnt the beans and now they were all crusted to the bottom. Not to mention, he'd made basically only beans. And Naruto was gonna be in a tent with him for hours. Just. Great.
"Oh, I agree," Kakashi mused right next to his ear. He lowered himself down to lounge against the riverbank and politely waited until Naruto hauled himself out of where he'd fallen into the water in shock, before continuing: "Puberty is frankly imbecilic. That's why I skipped it."
Naruto spat up a weed.
"But, you know," his sensei went on thoughtfully, "Sasuke's little spate of jealousy is rather cute, in its own way. He's almost like a real boy. Never thought I'd see the day..."
"Whaddaya mean, jealousy – wait, you know –"
"Oh please Naruto, just because I don't care about your love-life doesn't mean I haven't been aware of it long before either of you," Kakashi sniffed. He sounded offended, for some reason.
Naruto's brain whirred at top speed, then somewhere between 'how long exactly' and 'you totally do care or you wouldn't be talking about it' something got stuck and five horrendous words fell out his mouth:
"I already know about sex!"
Kakashi straightened up slightly.
The forest was quiet around them. The last word seemed to echo, sex… ex… ex…
"Aww," his teacher finally cooed, after a long moment. He reached out and patted Naruto's head fondly. "You're adorable. No wonder Sasuke thinks Sakura fell for your charms."
"Shut up!" he jerked away, nearly falling back into the water. "You – shut up!"
Kakashi actually chucked his chin, humming infuriatingly before turning to stride back towards camp. He tugged a familiar book out of his back pocket as he went – but rather than ducking his head to read it, he simply held it up past his shoulder, waggling it at Naruto.
"If you ever feel the need to increase your vast reservoir of knowledge… don't even think about touching my books."
So, as usual, Kakashi was mean but after a few hours it became clear that he'd actually been helping. Sort of. At least part of it was definitely just to amuse himself – but Naruto bolted up from a deep sleep with the sudden realization that Sasuke was jealous.
Well, that, and Ichinose was farting real bad.
He stumbled out of the tent with a cough, to find that he hadn't actually been asleep that long – the moon wasn't too high yet, so it couldn't have been more than a couple of hours. Kakashi was bunked down with the pots, in the wagon where Naruto suspected he'd hidden actual comfortable bedding, but it wasn't immediately apparent whether Sasuke or Sakura were in the other tent. The sentry was nowhere to be seen.
Naruto sighed, and trudged over past the sleeping mules to the big oak overlooking their little camp. As he slowly walked up the trunk, he closed his eyes and tried to think.
Sasuke was jealous of Sakura. It seemed kind of obvious now, but for some reason it hadn't clicked right away. (In Naruto's defense, the conversation with Kakashi had been so embarrassing to linger on so he'd tried to distract himself.) Of course, if he were really in love with Naruto, he wouldn't like to see him sneaking off with her or whispering in her ear at lunch; this totally explained what a dick he'd been lately. No one liked seeing someone they loved fawn over somebody else. Naruto knew how that felt from personal experience. With the same people involved, even. He'd been jealous of Sakura being in love with Sasuke for so long... He completely got why that would make anyone mad, especially a jerk like Sasuke who had no idea how to act normal. It was just that no one had ever been jealous over him before. He hadn't even considered it being a possibility, especially since it felt so obvious that he didn't like Sakura anymore. But, it wasn't like he'd ever told Sasuke that.
Maybe that would be a good place to start…
"You're about to walk straight into a branch, dumbass," Sasuke said. Naruto froze, and opened his eyes to see – yup, a big branch right in front of him. His friend crouched on top of it, leaning over the side to glare at him.
"Oh, thanks," Naruto said. He stuck his hand up without thinking, and had just about long enough to remember Sasuke hated helping people, before Sasuke gripped his wrist and yanked him up to join.
He let go immediately, and even scooted farther away along the branch, but. Naruto looked down at his arm and thought about that automatic way Sasuke had reached to help him. When he looked up, Sasuke was watching, dark eyes unreadable in the sparse moonlight.
His fingers felt tingly.
"I'm not in love with Sakura anymore," Naruto launched straight in, and had the rare pleasure of seeing his stoic teammate do an actual physical double-take. He nodded first, then kinda hitched halfway through and wound up in this… befuddled fishface.
Naruto snickered, and Sasuke reverted right back to his usual scowl, but more of a confused one, not the actually-angry look he'd had all day, and it was such a relief. He'd missed him. It had only been a day, and only a few months ago this wouldn't have been any different from normal, but their normal had shifted so much recently that not having Sasuke at his side had been just as bad as his hungry stomach. Worse, maybe.
"Ever since we started hanging out to work on that jutsu stuff, it kind of made me realize that I actually like having her as a friend more," he explained. "I didn't tell anybody about it because… I don't know, I didn't think anyone would really care. But when Kakashi told me you were jealous –"
"Damn you Kakashi," Sasuke hissed, hand darting to his kunai pouch and eyes gleaming Sharingan red for a half second down at the roof of the wagon. Then he straightened, made a weird little cough noise, and haughtily proclaimed: "I wasn't jealous."
"…Sure," Naruto said.
"Maybe you should tell Sakura that, though," Sasuke said after a moment, still making a valiant effort to sound unconcerned. He actually even shifted to lean back against the tree trunk, crossing his arms over his chest. "So she doesn't get the wrong idea."
Was this what Kakashi meant when he'd called Sasuke cute in that condescending way? Probably not, but there was definitely something about watching Sasuke be so incredibly wrong while pretending like it didn't even matter to him at all. That tingling feeling was spreading, a warm flush fizzing further through his body with every word out of Sasuke's mouth.
"What? Don't look at me like that," he snapped, and Naruto's smile felt so wide. He had a feeling that if the light were better, he'd definitely see being seeing another one of those huge blushes.
"I already told her yesterday," Naruto said. Normally he'd argue that he wasn't looking at Sasuke like anything, but – he probably was. He felt like he was. More of a fond look than whatever Sasuke probably thought, but not worth the argument either way. "She doesn't care. She told me to kiss you and tell her all about it."
The reaction was even better this time. Sasuke almost fell off the tree. Naruto had to take a step forward and grab his arm to help him balance.
"Wh-what the hell are you talking about," he kind of wheezed. Naruto probably should have answered, but he'd gotten distracted looking down at his hand on Sasuke's arm. He thought about the way Sasuke had pulled him up so easily, and wondered if maybe after all…
Definitely not in the middle of town, but maybe the middle of nowhere?
So it turned out Sasuke didn't yank away or light him on fire if Naruto tried to hold his hand. He did freeze up, and didn't really grip back or anything, and his palm was kind of sweaty and not really that exciting to hold – but Naruto's heart started pounding anyway.
Oh, wow, he thought.
"…Are you making fun of me?" Sasuke demanded. When Naruto finally looked up, his face was visibly darker even in the poor lighting, but he still wasn't trying to take his hand back. "Is this some kind of revenge?"
It could be. It definitely could be payback for when Sasuke stomped all over his feelings just because of some stupid misunderstanding. Naruto knew if he laughed or something right now, it would definitely hit Sasuke as hard as that blunt rejection had hit him.
Except he wouldn't wish that kind of feeling on anyone, let alone his best friend, and he was starting to wonder if it had been a misunderstanding after all. Naruto thought he should've known first if he was falling in love, but… Iruka saying to tell him how he felt, Sakura telling him to kiss him, even Kakashi saying 'either of you' like he knew something about Naruto too, not just Sasuke… Maybe they all had a point. He wasn't completely sure, yet. Just mostly.
"No, I want to try it," Naruto decided.
"You want to try making fun of me?"
"No, I – can I kiss you?"
Sasuke stared at him like he was a lunatic. Then he slowly pulled his head back, until it pressed all the way against the bark.
God, it was just like Sasuke to suspicious about something like this. Even though they were still holding hands. What a weirdo.
"Just – c'mon! Aren't you supposed to be in love with me or something? Let me kiss you!"
"…Fine," he said. "I guess you can kiss me."
"Thank you," Naruto said, then leaned up and –
"Wait. Um. Just… give me a minute."
"You're the one who was begging to kiss me. What, do you have cold feet now or something?"
"Shut up! I've never done this before, okay! I need to figure out the best way!"
"I'd never kissed anyone else before either," Sasuke said smugly, like that meant anything. He'd had the advantage, Naruto hadn't been expecting it. Hadn't been standing there holding his hand and waiting for him to make a move, staring at him. Goading him.
"Shut up! For all I know you spent the whole night figuring out what to do! Gimme a break!"
Sasuke's gloating subsided, replaced by a suspicious silence. Naruto's eyes widened as he realized, he totally had. He'd sat up for hours maybe, trying to figure out the best way to confess and maybe how was going to kiss Naruto and maybe he even planned out that weird smile, he'd sat and agonized over it just like Naruto had last night –
Naruto leaned in and kissed Sasuke, right as he opened his mouth to finally retort.
It – okay. Yeah, it wasn't that awesome.
But maybe that was just because he'd banged their teeth together, and Sasuke's mouth was open so it had gotten Naruto's lip all wet too. He pulled his head back and wiped it off with the back of his free hand, squinted to reassess his target, and then reached up to hold Sasuke's head still, just to make sure.
"Don't even start," he warned, then tried again.
Slower, this time. A little more carefully, and once their mouths actually touched Naruto slowed down even more, made sure he was pressing forward gently but firmly. And that… that made a difference.
Sasuke's lips were warm. That was the same as before, and he probably should've expected it – his palm was hot in Naruto's too, sweat collecting between their palms. As soon as their mouths touched, he'd started squeezing back, and his grip was uncomfortably tight, but Naruto didn't mind. He kind of liked that Sasuke felt like he needed to hang on so tight.
He liked all of it. Definitely. This was a lot better. They weren't even really doing anything, just standing there with their faces smushed together, but somehow that warm-everywhere feeling was back, his heart was racing like he'd been practicing taijutsu for hours, he was just staring cross-eyed at Sasuke's nose, and he wanted to stay like this forever.
Except then Sasuke moved his mouth a little bit, and Naruto felt an actual shiver run down his spine – but a good one. His eyes fell shut and he moved his mouth too, and then they were actually kissing. Really, actually, kissing. Sasuke reached up to fist a hand in Naruto's shirt, tugging him closer, and he stumbled to close the remaining distance between them, hand slipping from Sasuke's cheek to grab onto his shoulder. Then he had to grab onto the trunk instead, because Sasuke had kind of… flopped, not putting up any resistance at all so Naruto's hand on his shoulder had sort of shoved him off the branch instead. Just a little.
Luckily they were still holding hands. Naruto tugged him back up, then finally let go. His fingers were sore from how hard Sasuke'd been gripping them.
They stared at each other, breathing hard.
"I win," Naruto said.
"No way," Sasuke fired back immediately. The clouds must have shifted sometime during the kiss, because the moonlight was brighter on his face now – Naruto could properly see that he was smiling. Not that huge grin from the other night. Just a small curve. He breathed out hard and swallowed before adding, "That first one was terrible."
"Oh, well if we're gonna be like that, then the first time in the Academy sucked too!" Naruto snapped.
"That was you too," Sasuke pointed out dryly. His smile was getting wider; a little lopsided, but Naruto was pretty sure he could see a hint of teeth. He beamed back.
"No way, that was all your fanclub's doing!"
"Fine then," Sasuke conceded, "then it doesn't count. Your first one was still way worse than mine."
"…Whatever. The second was way better."
He heard Sasuke swallow again.
"I could beat it," he said quietly. "If I kissed you again."
Naruto took a sharp breath in. He wasn't sure why that felt so shocking, given what all had been going on up till now, but – he felt dizzy.
Sasuke waited, but when Naruto didn't respond, he stepped closer anyway. The smile faded away from his face, replaced by an intent expression. He licked his lips.
"Naruto," he said, and reached out to touch his cheek, making him jump. "I'm going t–"
"WAIT. Wait, wait, wait – " Naruto stumbled over his words, unsure at first how to put it… then he realized just how stupid that was, and relaxed into the familiar words: "You know, I love you, Sasuke."
Sasuke's eyes fell shut for a moment, then opened slowly.
"Yeah, idiot," he said so fondly it made Naruto's cheeks burn, "I kind of guessed from all the kissing."
"You did not, you thought I was dating Sakura like five minutes ago – wait, stop," Naruto cut himself off again as Sasuke leaned in once more. He felt all – jittery. "Wait, I need to ask –"
"Do you want to go out for ramen when we get back to town?" he rushed out eagerly. "And then we could to the Hokage monument after."
"Hell no." His gut didn't even have time to lurch properly before Sasuke continued: "Teppanyaki. And why would I want to visit the Hokage monument? We see it every day."
"Not from the top you don't, it's a great view. It's a great place to kiss," Naruto explained.
"How would you know, you've never kissed anyone else," Sasuke said with a certain satisfaction, then leaned in a third time as he said, "Okay, we'll go."
"One more thing –" Naruto shoved him back, and this time he actually groaned in frustration.
"What now," Sasuke muttered grumpily. Grumpy because he wanted to kiss Naruto and kept getting interrupted. It was such a new type of grumpy. It was Naruto's favorite by far.
"Do you wanna be my boyfriend?" He didn't even really need to ask anymore, he was pretty sure, but he really wanted to see Sasuke's reaction.
"Ugh," he said, like he was disgusted. He averted his eyes, then his face entirely, like if Naruto didn't see the way he was smiling it wouldn't count. He nodded just a little. "Hn."
Naruto didn't know whether to melt in place or do a flip or something to get all this giddy energy out. He couldn't believe he hadn't understood before now. Sakura was so smart. He had no idea how he was going to describe this to her tomorrow without getting murdered (by her or by Sasuke, either one was possible). Actually, she was up for the next watch so it would probably happen way sooner than then, but none of that seemed to matter because…
"Can I kiss you or not?" Sasuke demanded. Sasuke his best friend. Sasuke who he'd been in love with for all this time without even knowing, Sasuke who loved him back.
Sasuke his boyfriend.
"Yeah, what's taking you so long?" he laughed.