Written for the Reader Appreciation Club back in May.

The French doors had been flung open, bathing the room in light, somehow making even the old, peeling paint on the walls seem fresh. Sasuke had arrived first to the cottage and, with two copies of the script set out in front of him on the ottoman, gazed outside, appearing slightly disgruntled. He reclined in the chair, hating the world and its obsession with uncomfortable, modern furniture. In this sort of setting, shouldn't it be more rustically styled? But no. The chair was low-set to the floor and at an angle, so he either had to hunch forward awkwardly or slide backward like at the dentist's office.

At that moment, he heard the front door slam and knew right away it could only be Naruto because of the sudden loud bang on the tiled entrance of the foyer after he dropped his luggage. Naruto came strutting into the room, brimming with so much energy he was practically percolating. Of course, he went immediately to the French doors and stood, watching a flock of sheep in the neighboring field as if they were something amazing to behold as opposed to the noisy, smelly animals they actually were. Sasuke didn't get it, but Naruto had a thing for nature, so whenever they "got away from the city," he would reserve these sorts of places out in the countryside for his actor friend.

When he grew tired of the sheep, Naruto turned around to acknowledge him, offering a bright, charming smile that was so much a reflex on his part and so sincere a display of his genuine happiness to see him, that Sasuke couldn't help but react to it as much as he attempted to hide any traces of pleasure from his expression. His heartbeat sped up a little and he had to wipe his palms across the fabric of the chair, but Naruto didn't seem to notice.

"Hey, Sasuke," he said, his tone casual and suggesting he felt at ease here, which meant Sasuke had done his job in finding a decent weekend getaway. Naruto, already heading in his direction, picked up one of the scripts and nosed through it, probably reading the marks Sasuke had made about potential inflections and maybe where Naruto could have more liberty with the dialogue.

Naruto looked handsome today, as per usual, even in a pair of jeans, a jacket, and a scarf loosely wrapped around his neck. He still had his sunglasses on, and Sasuke should've known better than to suggest he take them off when Naruto had that look of concentration. The skin between his pale eyebrows wrinkled, the corners of his mouth were turned downward, and his eyes passed over some of the lines, his lips moving every once in a while. But then he broke into a grin again when he rolled it up in his hands and took a seat on the ottoman, Sasuke moving his legs just in time to avoid being sat on. He scowled.

"Now, don't make that face. I just drove for what was supposed to be a two-hour trip, but with traffic coming out of the city, it took me nearly four hours to get here."

"Oh, you poor famous actor," Sasuke drawled. "I feel so sorry for you."

"I'm not that famous," argued Naruto, taking off his glasses and revealing striking cobalt blue eyes that matched the cashmere sweater under his jacket. "And don't act like I'm one of those actors who lets fame go to their head! God knows I'll never be able to so long as I keep you around." He gave Sasuke's thigh what was supposed to be a friendly pat, but Sasuke's leg twitched and he grabbed Naruto's wrist.

Naruto looked taken aback for a second but quickly hid it and shrugged it off. "Should I bother to ask why you're so crabby today?"

Sasuke let go of his wrist. "Because you're late and because you asked me to meet you here to help go over your lines, which meant I had to take a day off from my job."

Frowning thoughtfully, Naruto unzipped his jacket. "Well, sorry. I just..." he paused, and while Sasuke had been staring outside at the wind chime, he looked back at his long-time friend, idly aware of the proximity of their legs and how their knees were nearly touching. Naruto fidgeted, his eyes shifting to the rolled up script in his left hand and then to Sasuke again. "I'm nervous because I've never done off-Broadway before, and when I rehearse lines with you, I feel comfortable. Like, I can get into the role faster than working with a coach or assistant."

"Lucky me," Sasuke deadpanned.

"Okay," Naruto enunciated slowly, putting his hands on the ottoman's edge and leaning back. "Since I inconvenienced you so much, what do you want to do? It's nice out, wanna take a walk? Or we can get in my car and go out for dinner first? I don't want you to think I'm just using you, Sasuke."

Breathing in through his nose, Sasuke took a moment to collect his thoughts and subdue his current feelings. "No. Nevermind. You asked me here to help you with work, and I know you have a schedule to keep, so..." He stalled when he saw the way Naruto was looking at him: happy, excited, appreciative. Sasuke wet his lips. "Let's work through some scenes. I've read over it twice."

"Okay, good! I've read it several times, too. I've got it memorized and all, but rehearsal starts on Monday, and I haven't had a chance to meet up with the other actor."

"Sounds good to me, but Naruto..."

"Hm?" Naruto was playing with a ring on one of his fingers. Sasuke noticed.

"Is that from a new girlfriend?"

"What? Oh, this? Ha, no." He swatted Sasuke's knee with the script. "You think I have time for a relationship? C'mon, y'know me."

"I'd like to think I do. I'd just never noticed it before."

"Ah, a friend and I went to Tahoe the other weekend and there were some street stalls. Thought it was cool, so I bought it."

"I thought you didn't like Tahoe," said Sasuke. "I thought the crowd was too pretentious for you."

Naruto sighed, and, gazing at the carpet, scratched the back of his head. "Y'know, Sasuke..."

"What is it?"

"Er. Nevermind." He shook his head. "But, after we go over this for an hour or so, I want to take you out. To dinner or somethin'. You and me. Like old times, yeah?"

"Old times?" asked Sasuke, his fingers drumming on the chair arm. "We're not kids anymore, Naruto."

"I know that, jerk. You're so damn difficult sometimes. I'm sayin' I want to spend time with you and not with you just helping me out with the lines or whatever. I miss you, you..." Sasuke raised an eyebrow, waiting for the dramatic conclusion as Naruto searched for the right word, "Bastard!"


Naruto stood up and slipped out of his shoes, jacket and scarf. He threw them in a messy pile onto the sofa. "Look at you smirking like that. I swear you get some sort of twisted pleasure out of messin' with me."

Sasuke hadn't realized he'd been smirking and stopped. "I figure it'll help you warm up for some of these scenes. This play is a bit," he glanced at his script copy, where it had fallen onto the floor, "darker than what you usually do. Wouldn't you say?"

"I guess so, but my agent thinks range is important. I mean, I do, too. I don't always wanna be cast in the same roles, like in romantic comedies or action flicks. I've done serious stuff, but never anything really, y'know, intense. Like Heath Ledger in Dark Knight? And to be doing it every night? Twice on weekends?"

"I'm not even sure if you can go dark," Sasuke murmured.

"I can do dark," replied Naruto stubbornly. "But do you mind if I close the doors and draw the blinds? I wanna really feel like we're in their apartment. The scene where they have the fight."

"That's fine. I'll get a glass of water in the meantime. Do you want anything?"

But Naruto was already busy closing windows and doors and shutters and drawing blinds. He knew he had time to grab some water and when he returned, Naruto would, no doubt, be in character. It was a... strange experience to say the least. Ever since they'd been in high school, Naruto had always earned the lead in in the drama club's plays and musicals, so it was no surprise to anyone that he'd become an actor. It was a surprise, however, just how far he'd come, in regards to both actual talent and fame. Sasuke, for a while, had felt that Naruto kept him close because, well, who could you trust in Hollywood? Not your manager or your agent always, so why not trust the friend you've had since way back, who remembered you as the guy who got suspended for mooning the principal at a football game or the time Naruto had stolen a key so that they could use the school's pool late at night for a party. He'd seen Naruto through it all - relationships that had fallen apart, the beginning of his career when he went through rejection after rejection, and then when he started to become more famous and all the people in his life who wanted something from him began to swarm like roaches out of the woodwork.

But fame had never gone to Naruto's head. He was the same old Naruto around Sasuke, probably because he knew that if he ever tried to act like he was something better than anyone else, all because he got paid more than God for a few months on location with some gorgeous, outgoing actress, Sasuke would be there to put him in his place again.

When Sasuke returned to the living room, he could already feel the transformation in Naruto, and, after having done this so many times, he knew how it worked. In fact, sometimes it made it easier for him to slip into whatever role Naruto needed from him. He'd gone over the script twice, and, not that it was meant to be a boast, but after the first time, he'd already had it memorized. From the actions the screenwriter had intended to both Naruto's dialogue and the dialogue for the other role.

The entire play was about two men. One of which was an emotional wreck. This was Naruto's part. He'd seen a lot and had a traumatic experience in his childhood, where he'd been molested at 12 and, though he tried not to blame his past on why his current life was falling apart, the man's friend (the part Sasuke would be playing) understood. Everything Naruto's character tried always failed, no matter how much effort into it he put. He couldn't hold jobs or friendships; his relationships always fell apart. The only relationship he could keep was the one he had with Sasuke's character: a roommate. However, when both agreed to rent the two-bedroom apartment in a pretty run down area of town after responding to an online ad for a sublet, what neither had realized was they'd been neighbors for a couple of years when they were kids. Right around the time Naruto's character would've been going through the sexual assault every night, and, while the two of them had played together, never once had Naruto's character revealed what was happening. But now Sasuke's character knew because it had been his father who'd done it. A man who had once been a pastor, but after his wife left him, started to drink and get into drugs.

It was all very gritty, and the script had gone into detail to such an extent at times that even Sasuke had become uncomfortable re-reading certain parts.

As he went to pick up his script, he saw Naruto didn't have his in hand, and, obviously, didn't need it. He was sitting on the floor, his back to the couch, one knee drawn to his chest with an arm folded over it. When he heard Sasuke come in, he put his forehead down on his arm.

Even though he didn't need it, Sasuke kept the script in his hand. His eyes were on Naruto all the while, watching his body language, knowing exactly how that character felt. How his felt after coming home from his job downtown. This character was supposed to be in love with Naruto's character but not fully aware of it yet, even though he was constantly wanting to make the other character see what a good person he was, that it wasn't his fault his life had turned out like this, and he just wanted to fix it all for him even knowing that he couldn't, and also, he was supposed to carry this tremendous guilt that it was his father who had made the person he loved feel this way.

Somehow, just by Naruto sitting there like that as his character had been written in the script to do, Sasuke could feel the scene unfolding in front of him. There was a tension suddenly between them, as if a wall had been built, and Sasuke was looking at Naruto through a clear partition. He felt a wave of helplessness come over him, observing Naruto as he rubbed his fingers together. When he looked up at Sasuke, it was on instinct that he took a step forward.

Naruto's fingers were still rubbing together. "Hey," he greeted, his dull eyes lighting up barely at seeing him.

"Hey. Have you..." He stepped closer to Naruto (but no, not Naruto - it wasn't him any more). "Did you go out at all today?" he asked and stuffed his hands into his pant's pockets.

Naruto smiled faintly, his character obviously lying. "Yeah, of course. Had that job interview today."

"Oh, well." Sasuke took a seat on the edge of the ottoman and slid the script to the side. "Maybe it'll work out this time, huh?"

"Sure," Naruto said and, let his crooked leg stretch out before moving to sit cross-legged and planting his elbows on his knees. "Yeah. You're right. It's really gonna work out this time, I think. Yeah..."

"Alex," he said slowly and licked his lips. Sasuke folded his hands in his lap, staring at them. "I'm thinking that, maybe you need some help. Maybe you need to talk to someone before - " He looked up at the same time as Naruto.

Naruto's eyes were wide, and he cast Sasuke a distrustful look. "Why? You think any of those other experts have been able to fix me?"

"No, I know," Sasuke said, trying to calm him down while waving a placating hand. "I just... Goddammit, Alex! It fucking kills me to see you like this!" He rose to his feet and approached Naruto.

"Don't come near me," Naruto shouted, making him stop in his tracks. He held his hands up in front of his face, blocking Sasuke from coming any closer. "I fuck up everything, you know? I always have. I always will. I don't know what's happened to me, Sam. I just don't fuckin' know anymore!" He hugged his knees to his chest and hid his face.

"Alex, wait," said Sasuke and went to kneel beside him. When Naruto tried to push him away, he grabbed his wrists and held them. "I'm tired of this fucking bullshit!"

"Oh fuck you, Sam!" yelled Naruto. "You think I fucking like being this weak? You think I like being this mess you always have to clean up after? You think I don't know because I'm this way everyone runs the moment they see me for who I really am?"

"Bullshit," Sasuke repeated. "That's bullshit and you know it! It has nothing to do with who you are and everything to do with their lack of compassion, their fear. They don't know how to help - "

"And you do?" Naruto snapped at him, his anger so ferocious, Sasuke took a step back.

"Yeah, I do," Sasuke growled, recovering himself. His fists were at his side, tight and shaking. "I fucking do know how to help you, if you'd just let me! If you'd stop pushing me away - "

"Very convenient. That must be very fucking convenient when the reason I'm like this is - "

"My fault," said Sasuke. "It's my fault."

"What? No, I wasn't going to say that - " Naruto was getting to his knees as Sasuke walked toward the door, pretending it was the window his character was supposed to approach in the script. "Hey," Naruto called to him in a soft, almost fearful voice. "It's... I've never said that. Never! It's not even... shit, I'm doin' it again, aren't I? Blaming all my shortcomings on that, when it's me. Fuck!" Naruto slammed his hand down on the floor. "I'm," his voice broke. "I want to be stronger than this, Sam, and I - "

Sasuke could hear Naruto get to his feet. He heard his footsteps as he came up behind him and felt it when Naruto rested his head against his back. Naruto gripped the sides of his shirt, wringing them tightly. Sasuke thought he felt something warm and wet soak through the fabric of his shirt... was Naruto that into this role, he was... crying for real?

"You are strong," Sasuke said in a low voice. "You're the strongest person I've ever met in my life, Alex, and what you went through was not your fault, and if there was anything I could do to erase those memories from your mind, I would fucking do it in a heartbeat! I should've known what was happening. When we were neighbors. When we played together. I just... why the hell didn't you tell me?"

Naruto's body started to shake against his. "He said he'd hurt my Mom if I told anybody what he was doing to me."

"Did he ever tell you he'd hurt me if you said something?"

Naruto didn't answer.

Sasuke turned around and grabbed him by the arms. "Did he? Did he ever threaten you that he'd hurt me if you said anything?"

"It.. It doesn't matter, okay?" Slowly, he looked up, eyes pleading. They were red and wet with tears.

"I asked him about it. I asked my Dad. I went to visit him in jail, but I didn't tell you about it."

"You...you went to visit him…?"

"I went because I wanted him to know what he'd done, how he destroyed someone's life, how he made the person I cared for most in the world doubt himself, made him feel like he was nothing! That," Sasuke let go of Naruto's arms to cup his face, his thumb gently brushing across the arc of his cheekbone. "That the person who made me feel so much, that the person who means everything to me... thinks he's not worth anyone's love."

"What are you saying, Sam?" Naruto struggled, he put his hands to Sasuke's chest and tried to push him away, tried to escape, but Sasuke wouldn't let him.

"I'm saying he tried to make up all these excuses for why he did what he did. God, his lies were so exquisite I almost wept! I wanted to kill him! I would have, too, but I knew you would've hated me! For having blood on my hands, you would've turned away from me, when it's you I want to know what happiness is, how much you deserve if you'd just let me - " Sasuke stopped speaking, watching Naruto's eyes search his, he pulled him forward and kissed him on the mouth.

They weren't supposed to go this far into the script. In fact, the kiss wasn't even supposed to happen there, but... he had said those lines and Naruto had looked at him like that, and he felt it suddenly. All those times Naruto had come to him after broken relationships or after being rejected so much in the beginning, after thinking he'd never become what he deserved to become...

When Sasuke drew away, Naruto looked shocked at first. The scene ended there anyway and the lights on the stage would've cut out and faded to black before the beginning of the next scene.

A slow grin began to spread across Naruto's face. "Shit, that was great, Sasuke. There wasn't supposed to be a kiss there, but maybe I can talk to the writer because I think I like that a lot better than the way it is now."

Sasuke's hands fell away from the sides of Naruto's face. He looked somewhere else in the room, at that ugly, uncomfortable chair he'd been sitting in while waiting for Naruto to show up.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I should've kept the script in my hand. I must have forgot it took place in the third scene of Act 2."

"No, no." He put a hand on Sasuke's shoulder. "Like I said, I think that's great! That's why I love doing this stuff with you. You improvise as well as some of the best actors I've worked with."

Sasuke lowered his head. "Thanks."

Naruto left his side and shuffled about, opening all the blinds and windows and the French doors again. He stood in the entrance leading out to the deck and breathed in deep. "Wow though, what a rush that was. I was really feelin' it but only because you seemed so into that part. Damn. They should've had you audition for Sam. You're probably way better than the guy playing him."

Sasuke didn't know how to take this praise. He watched the way the sunshine outlined Naruto's body, painting him in a light so bright it was almost difficult to look at him.

"It was nothing," said Sasuke quietly. "I just thought about what it would be like to have feelings for someone who always thought themselves unworthy for so long and would be completely oblivious to it when around someone who actually did love them in a sincere sort of way."

Naruto turned to him, grinning still. "Ah, is that so? Have you ever met someone like that in real life? I guess that's the way to go, eh? Method acting at its best."


"Want to go for a drive now? And then we can go to dinner and you can tell me all about this person you're talking about. I can probably use it for material when we start rehearsals."

Sasuke looked at his friend, and then, slowly, turned around and picked up the discarded scripts, setting them on the table behind the leather sofa.

"Yeah," he said. "Dinner sounds good."