The next morning, Naruto woke up before Sasuke. It was December 31st, the morning preceding New Years' eve. Naruto lay in bed for a few minutes, allowing his eyes to adjust to the light and wiping the sleep out of his eyes. The green glow of Sasuke's clock informed him that it was just past eight.
As gracefully as was possible for him, he gently lifted Sasuke's arm from his stomach and placed it by Sasuke's side. Sasuke was breathing deeply; he didn't snore. He looked like he was still in a deep sleep. It wasn't much of a surprise. Ever since Sasuke's suspension, he'd been catching up on all the sleep he'd missed in the past couple months.
Naruto tip toed out of the bedroom and made his way to the stairway. Sure enough, Itachi was already three steps down the stairs. Naruto jumped, emitting a choked scream as he noted Itachi's appearance, the long-haired Uchiha looking rather guilty himself for whatever reason.
"Are you okay, Naruto?" Itachi asked, tilting his head. Ferret was slinking between Itachi's legs, peering back at Naruto in concern and confusion.
"Yeah, it's just… I'm honestly used to ninjaing around you for the last two months, so alarms are going off in my head when you're nearby. It feels kinda weird to wake up and just be like, 'Oh, hello person I've been hiding from for two months! Good morning!'"
Itachi glanced back at Naruto, giving him a strange look before shaking his head with a smile. Social etiquette apparently wasn't Naruto's forte, and his so-called "ninja"ing left something to be desired. Though to be fair, it did say something that he'd never actually spotted Naruto in his house before yesterday, even after all this time.
"Good morning, then, person who's been hiding from me for two months."
Naruto chuckled, scratching the back of his head. So, Itachi could take a joke.
"It's kinda cool I don't have to sneak around anymore though. And plus you seem like a really cool guy, from all Sasuke's told me about you."
"Only good things, I hope."
Naruto peered both ways before approaching the stairs.
"Dude… I'm pretty sure he'd murder me for tellin' ya this, but he idolizes you. He looks up to you like crazy!"
Itachi looked away temporarily, appearing to analyze the opposite wall. This was a mannerism he'd apparently passed down to Sasuke, who frequently did the same when flustered.
"There are better role models one might choose…"
"I dunno, you're pretty rockin' from what I've heard, but…holy shit, you could get in so much trouble!"
Naruto appeared as if he'd finally taken in Itachi's location, part way down the stairs.
"Sshhh," Itachi hushed Naruto urgently.
"Sasuke goes fucking ballistic about those stairs! You have no idea!"
"Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure I do."
Yesterday night, by using the stairs, Itachi had successfully encountered the homeless boy covertly occupying his house in his brother's room for two months, and then he shared with his brother that he had known this all along. Sasuke didn't say anything about the fact that Itachi had used the stairs unattended. Itachi assessed that this was around what it would take for him to sneak a stair trip without Sasuke bitching at him for it, and he didn't see something of that gravity reoccurring any time soon.
"You really shouldn't, you know."
"I'm fine with the stairs," Itachi rebuffed. "Sasuke worries about me too much."
"He said your doctor doesn't want you to go alone either."
"It's a legal issue. They just don't want to get sued on the off chance I fall."
"Tsk, tsk, good sir," Naruto replied, crossing his arms and shaking his head with mock pomp. "Tsk, tsk."
"Please don't tell Sasuke," the man answered with a prolonged sigh. "I'd rather avoid his nagging this morning."
Naruto grinned. This sounded like quite the role reversal to him. Ever since Itachi had become sick, Sasuke was finding himself in the caretaker role.
"Alright, but you really shouldn't do that. Cuz no offense, but I think I'm gonna side with the medical professionals on this one."
Itachi bit his tongue, frustrated that he hadn't managed to recruit Naruto onto his side. Great. Now he'd have two brats to dodge, though he recognized that Naruto was only acting out of concern.
"And I gotta help you down now too."
Naruto quickly moved up to Itachi, glancing at him on the now uncomfortably narrow stairway.
"So, uh… How do I do this?"
"Walk a few steps in front of me and catch me if I fall. But basically just watch me."
Naruto grinned, making his way around Itachi and Ferret.
"Easy as pie."
Itachi took one steady step after the next, still a little slow. It didn't help that Ferret kept trying to run between Itachi's legs almost every time his legs separated. At one point, Naruto offered Itachi his hand, which Itachi gladly took.
"So like… They cut you open pretty bad, huh?"
Naruto's typical diplomacy had gone into play.
"Did you get a scar?"
"Sweet," Naruto grinned. He looked left, then right, as if there was anyone other than Sasuke in the house. "Can I see?"
"Later, maybe," Itachi answered, quite tolerant of Naruto's questioning. This seemed to be another difference between Sasuke and his older brother. "It's gauzed up right now."
Now Itachi was taking Naruto's arm occasionally, aiding his descent. Naruto was also of the belief that Itachi really should not be handling these stairs himself, but stubbornness appeared to be a family trait.
"You can see one of mine. Check this baby out."
Naruto stopped on the stairway to lift up his shirt to show the deep and long gash on his upper back, Itachi pulling his head back in mild surprise.
"How'd you manage that one?"
Itachi figured it was safe to ask, considering how eager Naruto was to show it off.
"I was ten, I had my skateboard, and I was at the tallest slide in the county. Use your imagination."
"Brilliant," Itachi deadpanned.
"Thirty-seven stitches. I shit you not."
Itachi wondered for a moment why someone wasn't watching Naruto, but he knew it would be a bad idea to ask.
"You're making me feel insecure, Naruto," Itachi told Naruto with a teasing smile.
Itachi had finally reached the bottom of the stairs, and they both walked towards the kitchen. Itachi didn't need his help anymore.
"No way, bro. You earned your stripe, like a tiger or some shit. I was just some kid with a skateboard and a really stupid idea."
Itachi moved over to the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of apple juice. He was craving some coffee; his medication had made him groggy. But he knew that his stomach would wreak vengeance upon him very shortly if he succumbed to temptation. Ferret was meowing loudly, causing Naruto to ready some moist cat food Sasuke had bought for her. For just a second, Ferret finally stopped following Itachi. Before Itachi came him, Naruto had thought that the way Ferret clung to Sasuke was ridiculous, but Naruto wondered if Itachi was even capable of shaking Ferret for a second if the cat wasn't eating or sleeping.
"Ah, but the scars with the fun stories to tell are the not so glaringly obvious ones of course," Naruto smiled wistfully. Itachi believed that he was mostly likely thinking of his face.
"Don't fret about it too much," Itachi answered steadily. "It grants you an air of mystery."
"Mystery, huh? Why'd I want that?"
"Because mystery interests people. You strike me as the type who takes pride in being interesting."
"How come?" Naruto asked, pouring himself a glass of orange juice.
"Because you're extremely bizarre, yet strangely charismatic."
Itachi thought Naruto would appreciate a straight answer, though he was admittedly more diplomatic than his younger brother. "Charismatic" was Itachi's polite way of stating that Naruto was a people pleaser. Itachi could tell that Naruto was no pushover, but he yearned for liking and respect from others.
"Thanks, I guess?" Naruto laughed, glancing at the contents of the refrigerator. He took out a cartoon of eggs. "Hey, I can make some eggs for ya. How do you like them?"
Naruto had actually gotten decent making scrambled eggs, since Sasuke had been around. Their conversation on the stairway must've awoken him, Sasuke's steps announcing themselves as he moved down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"Well, that's a shame, cuz all I know how to do is scrambled."
"Why'd you even bother to ask him then, idiot?" Sasuke asked, crossing his arms.
"Good morning, Sasuke," Itachi said.
"Because what if he'd said scrambled? I could've known how to make all the eggy things in the world for all he'd have known!"
"How about you just offer the man scrambled eggs, or better yet let me make him hard-boiled?"
Sasuke was too busy bickering with Naruto to respond to his brother's greeting. Even knowing how important Naruto was to him, Itachi wasn't surprised that Sasuke shared that sort of dynamic with him. It seemed just like his brother. Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Sasuke, why is your older brother so much nicer than you? Did you get the asshole gene or something?"
Itachi chuckled, after which Sasuke sent his brother a quick glare.
"My brother hasn't had to deal with your dumb ass since summer. His patience hasn't been depleted like mine has."
Naruto got out a pan and sprayed it with Pam, turning on the heat.
"Oh bullshit, Sasuke. You've been an asshole from day one."
Naruto cracked one egg over the black Teflon.
"Make me some eggs," Sasuke requested dully.
"And how many eggs would thou deign to consume, thy royal highness?"
Naruto cracked six more eggs. He figured that any extra could be saved as leftovers. Soon enough, the three of them were eating at the table. Naruto's eggs had become increasingly fluffy and of a better consistency; he appeared to be mastering the art.
"These are some good eggs, Naruto," Itachi complimented.
"No, they're just fine."
Sasuke quietly ate his food. The sight of Itachi and Naruto interacting was strange, given what lengths he'd gone to in order to prevent the two from meeting. And here they were, eating breakfast together in their pajamas as if it were any other day. The situation seemed both unfamiliar and strangely natural all at once.
"So, you guys got any New Years' resolutions?" Naruto asked.
"Hmm…" Itachi thought for a moment. "I'd like to get straight A's this year and find a new job. That, and I want to be able to run eight miles in an hour again. What about you two?"
Ferret, long finished with her meal, leapt up on Itachi's lap and curled into a ball. Itachi absentmindedly pet her, scratching softly behind her ears.
"Me?" Naruto asked. "Well, I'd love to get into a decent home and start up school, get good marks. It's gonna be tough, because I'm so far behind, but if I could make it into sophomore year by September, I'd be really happy."
The younger Uchiha was still quietly eating.
"What about you, dickboat?" Naruto asked. "You're being awfully quiet this morning. Even for you it's a little creepy."
Sasuke was groggy and a little conflicted about their current conversation. Itachi and Naruto were carrying along just fine without his input. He was glad they were getting along so well. He also believed that New Years' resolutions were bullshit. Couldn't you make a resolution any time of year? Why did it have to be this rather arbitrary day based on some meaningless astronomical event? Whatever the case, he'd go along with it.
"I want to keep my GPA up and join the basketball team next year. I also intend to run for student body president again."
He'd been considering this for the past month or so, but this was the first time he'd voiced these ambitions to anyone. Sasuke knew that running for president this time around might be difficult, as he now had a reputation as a troublemaker to overcome. True, he was popular and well-liked, but was that enough to get him elected into a position that required such responsibility? Nonetheless, he'd proved to be quite the competent president in the past.
"Heh!" Naruto answered. "How is it that all of our goals have to do with school? We're a bunch of nerds."
Still, he felt like a bit of a lame horse compared to the two brothers. He would be a year behind Sasuke if he was lucky, and he was almost a year older than him. Not to mention that both of the Uchiha brothers were geniuses. No matter. He'd catch up.
"The basketball team?" Itachi asked, smiling. This had been one of Sasuke's hobbies in the past, though their father had sometimes tried to discourage him. Sasuke had been a skilled player, and he'd always enjoyed the game. "I'm glad to see you get into that again."
They'd need Sasuke after losing Suigetsu; that much was certain. It had been two years since he'd been on the team, so he was bound to be rusty. Anyhow, that was what summer was for. He needed something to keep him busy anyway. Sasuke merely nodded.
"Just don't push yourself too hard. I know you've done this all in the past, but it might be difficult to readjust to."
He could read into his brother's words, which would have probably been the same had Naruto been present or not. He was wondering if Sasuke was emotionally ready to take on the same level of responsibility he had adopted before their parents' death.
"It won't be a problem. I know what I'm getting myself into."
Itachi nodded, saying nothing more on the matter. They finished their meals quickly, Naruto offering to do the dishes himself. Itachi wouldn't allow this, however, stating that it was good exercise for him. After all, how could he run eight miles next year if he couldn't even wash the dishes? Naruto and Sasuke were both equally inefficient at talking him out of it.
"Sasuke, would you be able to change my wicks after I clean up?"
"Sure," Sasuke answered.
"Change the whats?"
"My wicks," Itachi answered. "They had to staple my surgery site together, and they put gauze pieces between each staple so…"
"Like…gauze…inside your body?" Naruto asked incredulously.
"And Sasuke changes them? Not a nurse or somethin'?"
"A nurse trained me," Sasuke told Naruto.
"That's…" Naruto's reaction was temporarily stunted, his expression lagging several minutes before it was dominated by enthusiasm. "So awesome! Can I see?"
"No," Sasuke answered curtly. However, his response was thwarted, as Itachi spoke directly over him, "I don't see why not."
Sasuke groaned and rolled his eyes, wishing Itachi would stop being so damned agreeable.
Before venturing into Itachi's bedroom, Sasuke scrubbed his hands judiciously. Itachi lay on his back, his head rested neatly on the pillow as Naruto sat at the foot of the bed, kicking his legs leisurely. Sasuke had to apologetically lock Ferret out of the room so she would not interfere. Cat hair somehow didn't seem very conducive to the healing process.
"You're not squeamish, are you?" Itachi asked.
Ferret whined loudly from behind the door, her disappointment at being parted from her owner clearly obvious.
"Hah!" Naruto chuckled. "You're funny."
Sasuke strapped on the gloves again, readying his supplies on the bed stand. He sat next to Itachi, who pulled up his shirt and inched down his loose sweatpants to reveal the full extent of the gauze. Naruto tried not to make his curiosity too obvious as Sasuke gently removed the gauze, finally revealing the wound. Naruto's lack of impulse control, however, quickly rendered his endeavors futile.
Itachi arched his brow, but Sasuke, who had honestly been expecting a reaction like this, merely rolled his eyes.
"That is…the most badass battle scar in the history of battle scars."
"Thank you, Naruto," Itachi responded, halfway sincere. "I'm flattered."
"I mean… Maybe not the greatest," Naruto qualified, flipping his right hand over to gesture. "I mean, no offense, but mine are better. But it's still pretty wicked."
Naruto glanced over at Sasuke, eyes narrowing as he smiled at him mischievously.
"Dude, Sasuke, you must be so jealous of us."
Ferret continued interrupting conversation with her rather pitiful meows. She was certainly persistent.
"I have no need for more scars," Sasuke responded evenly. "I'm starting now, Itachi."
Sasuke removed Itachi's first wick, and then another. Naruto inconspicuously glanced at Itachi's face out of concern, but he seemed to be taking it well. Itachi's breathing hadn't even changed. It certainly looked painful, though Sasuke was probably making this as easy on his brother as possible. Naruto could hardly believe that Sasuke was doing something like this.
"Hmmm…" Naruto trailed, resting his chin on one of his hands while watching Sasuke's deft movements. "Yeah, you do have some, but none as cool as ours. I mean yours are more like you fell off your bike, or got grazed by a kni-"
Sasuke flashed a foreboding glare at Naruto, silently ordering him to hold his tongue. His readiness to get into fights over the past year, some of which were indeed dangerous, had landed him a few quick trips into the ER for stitches and other such remedies. Some of the wounds were…perhaps a little worse than Itachi had been made aware of. And of course, Sasuke had decided that Itachi didn't need to know of every single time someone had pulled a knife on him. He didn't want to bring up the past right now or make Itachi feel any more worry over him. Naruto quickly rerouted himself.
"But Itachi and I have like…DEATH WOUNDS. That shit's metal."
Itachi smiled faintly.
"I don't know if I'd refer to this as a death wound."
"You did nearly die," Sasuke mumbled, now half way through the wicks. Despite Naruto's talkativeness, he was glad Naruto was there to distract his brother.
"Hm… It's borderline. 'Swhy mine are way better," Naruto beamed.
Naruto, now closely observing Sasuke's actions, went silent. The wicks were all out now, and it was time for insertion. Sasuke took one wick after the next and confidently and quickly inserted it into Itachi's wound. This was his fourth time doing this alone, and he'd gotten exponentially quicker and better with practice. The most Naruto had ever seen of Sasuke's caretaking abilities was the day Naruto moved in with him, when he had treated Naruto's wounds from the assault.
"Dude, Sasuke, look at you. You're like a pro here. You'd make a great doctor already if you didn't have total shit for bedside manner. Oh! You could be a surgeon!"
Sasuke grunted, not allowing Naruto to distract him. He was reaching the last wicks, which were the most painful and required the most concentration.
"Hey…" Naruto asked quietly. "Can I try one?"
"Fuck no," Sasuke shot back.
Itachi sighed, "Language, Sasuke…"
"It's only a profanity if someone hears you," Sasuke answered with a snarky tone, repeating his brother's logic from a couple weeks prior.
"Yeah, and there is a someone," Itachi answered, gesturing over to Naruto.
Sasuke crinkled up his nose in distaste.
"Have you even been listening to half the words from this kid's mouth?"
He had finished replacing the wicks, now placing another patch of gauze over Itachi's wound and affixing it with medical tape.
"Kid?!" Naruto shouted back. "I'm one year older than you! You don't get to call me a kid!"
"I'll stop calling you a kid when you stop acting like one."
Naruto laughed at Sasuke.
"That's a riot, coming from someone who's not even old enough to get a driver's license."
Sasuke seemed to visibly bristle at Naruto's comment.
"You wouldn't know the difference between a gear shift and a parking brake if your life depended on it."
Itachi chuckled quietly at their bickering.
"You're both kids," he added, very slowly sitting up. Sasuke offered him a hand. "Enjoy it while it lasts."
"Easy for you to say," Naruto grumbled, crossing his arms.
What Naruto wouldn't have given to be eighteen at this moment... It would have made everything so much easier. Itachi appeared a bit guilty, temporarily, for his oversight. He realized what a bind Naruto's current age was putting him in currently. Even Sasuke, though not to Itachi's knowledge, had recently been burdened by his age. Both Sasuke and Naruto had been forced to age beyond their years in their own ways. Then again, so had Itachi. There was voluntarily "helping out," and then there were actual obligations. Itachi had far more than his share of "adult" responsibilities.
"But, I guess you're right," Naruto conceded, noticing that Itachi's mood seemed to have shifted. "Never made a single mortgage payment in my life, if ya can believe that."
Naruto's mention of the mortgage payment reminded Sasuke of the cash he had stowed away in his desk. He had about four thousand dollars stuffed away currently, but he'd only give Itachi two currently. Between Naruto's work at the labor center, Sasuke's odd jobs, and Sasuke's supposed work at St. Magdalene's, it was plausible to raise that much during the time Itachi was sick. The rest he'd have to edge in steadily so as not to raise suspicion.
"Itachi, I haven't given you the money Naruto and I earned."
"Sasuke, that's…not really necessary. You both earned that money, so you should get to…"
When they opened the door, Ferret bounded up to Itachi, gladly reunited with him yet again.
"Don't even bother," Sasuke interrupted. "You're taking the damned money."
"Preach it!" Naruto interjected.
"At least Naruto should…"
"No way, dude. Nuh uh. Think of it as rent money."
"Just a sec," Sasuke signaled to Itachi, who glanced into Sasuke's well-kept room as Sasuke quickly grabbed about half of the money stuffed deep into the drawer.
"Naruto…" Itachi stated. "Where have you been sleeping? Please don't tell me my brother's been making you sleep on the floor. We can make a nice bed for you on the couch."
Sasuke, rummaging through the drawer, paused abruptly and staring at his desk for several seconds as shock caused him to lag. Why hadn't Sasuke seen that coming? Sharing a bed with Naruto just seemed so natural that hiding the fact didn't even occur to him. He'd left the door wide open. Naruto starting laughing, and even a stranger could have realized it was rooted in awkwardness. Shit, why did Naruto have to be so expressive?
"We take turns," Sasuke answered calmly, albeit after a brief delay.
Sasuke had no doubt in his mind at that point. Itachi had figured it out. Sasuke's eyes met Itachi's. At that moment, both of them were aware of the other's knowledge. Itachi knew Sasuke was lying, and what's more, Itachi realized that Sasuke knew he would never buy the lie in the first place. Sasuke believed that Itachi wouldn't resent him for it. He wondered if Itachi would let it slide and allow Sasuke to come to him on his own timing. How long would this be an unspoken understanding between the two of them?
"Well…" Itachi sighed. "I suppose that's decent, but Sasuke, it really is proper etiquette to give the guest the bed."
"Hey," Naruto replied. "It's one hell of a lot better than a sidewalk, so I ain't complaining."
Sasuke walked towards Itachi, formidable wad of cash in hand. He grabbed Itachi's hand, forcing the palm upward, and promptly shoved the money into it. Itachi stared down at his hand in disbelief.
"Most of it's from Naruto. The labor center and Magdalene's both pay in cash, so…yeah… Merry belated Christmas."
Itachi glanced up at them, looking from one to the other and back with his mouth hanging just slightly open.
"Speechless doesn't suit you," Sasuke told him.
"Thank you. You've both surprised me."
Sasuke hoped that Naruto wouldn't let on that they were hiding something – mainly the fact that a sizable portion of the bills resting in Itachi's hand was drug money, and that this was only half of the cash in Sasuke's desk. But Naruto kept his cool, and Itachi seemed to be buying it. It almost made Sasuke feel guilty.
"I told you I'd take care of you."
The house had gone dark hours ago. It was coming up on eleven, and Itachi was showering to watch the ball drop. He told Sasuke that a new year was a clean start, so he might as well take the sentiment literally as well as figuratively. Ferret waited outside of the bathroom, curling against it. Sasuke was perusing a calculus book in his bedroom, out of mere curiosity and a willingness to prepare himself for math class next year. Sasuke left the door of his bedroom open as Naruto approached Ferret, loudly ruffling a bag of Ferret's treats. Ferret's head perked up in in interest.
"Psst! Ferret!" Naruto whispered.
Naruto was kneeling about ten feet away. He still had the feline's attention, yet she seemed entirely reluctant to move.
Her white and bushy tail, occasionally interrupted by grey spots, swished from one side to the other. Ferret's head returned to the door.
"Tstststs. Ferret!" Naruto whispered, wrinkling his fingers.
"Dammit, Ferret! Get your snotty ass over here!"
"What are you doing?" Sasuke sighed.
"What's it look like? I'm tryin' to play with Ferret!"
"So then why don't you just go up and pet her?"
"Well, that wouldn't be much fun. I'm tryin' to get her to do something good so I can give her treats."
Sasuke's eyes parted with the text, staring at both Naruto and the cat knowingly.
"You're jealous that Ferret doesn't follow you around like she does us."
"What?!" Naruto shouted, waving his arm emphatically at the ridiculousness of the accusation. "That's silly! I'd never be jealous of that!"
"No, it's not… I mean it's just that she's never come to me after I introduced her to you again, and…"
"So you're jealous," Sasuke volunteered for him, returning to his text.
Naruto pouted, puffing out some air before he decided to take the plunge.
"Well… Aren't you?"
In that, Naruto had basically admitted the fact. How silly, Sasuke thought, to be jealous of over a cat's affections.
"Why would I be jealous?" Sasuke asked, starkly ceasing his reading.
"She used to follow you around just like she's doin' with Itachi." The cat had returned to her pining, staring once again at the bathroom door and meowing. "But now it's just Itachi, Itachi, Itachi for her…"
"That's not true," Sasuke answered, sounding somewhat bothered.
She had been neglecting Sasuke lately, the younger Uchiha thought. But she'd always been Itachi's cat. Besides, Itachi had resided near university for several years preceding Ferret's "death." Maybe the cat was making up for lost time.
"Okay, okay. It isn't true. No need to get all sensitive."
"I'm not being sensitive," Sasuke hissed, rather annoyed with Naruto's implicit accusations.
"I'm not jealous over a goddamned cat. Unlike you, my ego isn't that fragile."
"My ego isn't fragile! Are you insane?!" Naruto shouted back, flailing his arms towards the last sentence.
"How insecure do you have to be to feel rejection pains over a cat?"
Sasuke was trying to retain his sense of aloof smugness, and he wasn't doing a bad job.
"Oh," Naruto responded bitterly. "And I suppose you have none."
"I don't need to have any," Sasuke answered cockily, crossing his arms. "Ferret likes me every bit as much as she does Itachi."
Naruto merely sulked at Sasuke, appearing somewhat uncertain.
"Right, whatever. I'm gonna get somethin' to eat."
Naruto closed up the cat treats and left them by the stairs. Sasuke waited to hear Naruto's noisy and sloppy footsteps descend the stairs. Naruto was in the kitchen now. Sasuke heard the microwave. It was just Ferret and him now. So getting up and looking, from side to side, he walked over to the stairway, exactly where Naruto had been sitting.
"Ferret…" he whispered, only to be ignored.
"C'mon, Ferret. Psh. C'mon."
That at least got Sasuke a solid but rather bored "meow" until Ferret decided to favor the bathroom door again. Somewhat disgusted with himself, Sasuke grabbed and opened the cat treats. He knew Ferret could smell them. He ruffled the bag noisily, just as Naruto had earlier.
Ferret meowed at him once more, looking more interested now, her eyes on the bag as her tail completed several full swishes. Sasuke moved forward a few steps in an attempt at compromise. He took out a treat now, in Ferret's full view.
"Psh, psh. C'mon Ferret."
He'd caught the cat's attention, but she just wouldn't move. The shower stopped, and Sasuke realized he wouldn't have much time.
"Ferret, come here. Come."
Ferret gave him a low and rather frustrated meow, as if irritated that Sasuke wasn't walking directly up to her and literally hand feeding her. What, would she want him to chew it for her next? Ferret had become spoiled in remarkably little time. She still refused to move. It appeared that the feline had developed something of a princess complex.
Sasuke stared at the cat wordlessly for a moment in annoyance before speaking under his breath, "Frigid bitch."
Of course, just about now, the door had to open, Itachi moving out with his gauze replaced and a towel around his thin waist. He wouldn't have been able to hear Sasuke from the shower. Itachi glanced, perplexed, from Sasuke, to the cat, and then to Sasuke again.
"I didn't just hear you verbally abusing our cat, did I?"
Ferret quickly trotted up to Itachi, purring as she rubbed herself against Itachi's warm leg. Sasuke gave her a sour look at her all too obvious affection towards his older brother.
Sasuke sighed, "I'm trying to train her, and she's being frustrating."
Itachi stared at Sasuke incredulously. Ferret was nearly as old as Sasuke was, and thus much too old for training.
"Sasuke, you're not…jealous because Ferret's been showing me so much attention lately, are you?"
Wasn't this the definition of injustice? It had been Naruto who had been out in the hallway trying to attract Ferret's attention for a solid five minutes. Sasuke just ventures out for a few seconds, and now suddenly he's the jealous one?
"Naruto's jealous, not me," Sasuke rebutted, though this did nothing to explain why Sasuke had gotten so peeved when Ferret hadn't listened to his calls.
"Sasuke, she's just showing me extra attention because I'm new. I'm sure she was latched onto you before I came home."
This was true, of course, but still…
"Why are you trying to reassure me?"
Of course, this had to be the time Naruto walked back up the stairs again.
"What's goin' on?" Naruto asked.
Naruto looked over, noting the bag of cat treats still in Sasuke's hand. And now Sasuke was the center of everyone's attention, naturally. Naruto grinned widely.
"You were trying to get Ferret to come, weren't ya, Sasuke?"
It wasn't like Sasuke could deny it, with Itachi probably having overheard a good portion of this exchange.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sasuke snipped.
"So you are jealous!"
Why was he being cornered again when this had all been brought up by Naruto? Why was everyone trying to reassure him, as if Ferret's disobedience were some immense emotional trauma to Sasuke? Naruto was the one getting his feelings hurt, not him.
"Why does everyone think I'm jealous about this stupid cat?"
"Sasuke, it's okay…" Itachi offered.
And then there was a jingle of Ferret's collar and a warmth that rubbed against Sasuke's leg. It was Ferret. Sasuke bent down to scratch Ferret behind the ears, the cat butting her head into Sasuke's palm.
"Well, there you go."
"As if I care," Sasuke grumbled under his breath.
Itachi walked towards his bedroom.
"I'm going to get dressed. I'll be down in about twenty minutes."
Sasuke and Naruto curled up on the loveseat, covering themselves in a thick blanket. Sasuke brought down an extra one for Itachi, which he'd probably need. Each rested his head at the opposite end of the furniture, their legs intertwining. They flipped the channels, finally agreeing upon one for the night's broadcast. They chattered, commenting on how strange it felt to be leaving 2012 behind. Naruto complained that he probably wouldn't be able to write the date correctly until February.
Sasuke, of course, made certain to zip up the stairs the instant he heard movement so that Itachi couldn't descend them alone. As the days proceeded, Itachi became increasingly steady. However, both Naruto and Sasuke agreed that at this point, it was best for someone to be there to catch him. It didn't take long for Itachi to reach the lower floor. The interruption had also given Naruto and Sasuke opportunity to position themselves in a much less…intimate manner.
Itachi sat in the lounge chair, gladly accepting the blanket Sasuke had folded on the seat. Sasuke made his way into kitchen to prepare some popcorn. He'd waited for Itachi so that it would be hot for all three of them. Sasuke knew that Itachi had always liked New Years', and Naruto could go for just about any holiday. In fact, he'd decided it necessary to give Sasuke an extra kiss on National Parfait Day. Sasuke didn't even know how Naruto was aware of some of these obscure holidays, though he supposed gracing daily had probably exacerbated Naruto's habit.
"Sasuke!" Naruto exclaimed happily, wasting no time in shoveling the popcorn into his mouth. "I wouldn't think you'd be so festive!"
"I thought that if I kept your mouth busy, I wouldn't have to hear so much of your yammering."
Itachi started eating as well, hungrier than he'd let on.
"This is good popcorn," Itachi commented.
It was brand name Orville Redenbaucher, a luxury the Uchiha brothers hadn't experienced for a while. They could find popcorn for as cheap as a quarter, but it tasted like Styrofoam. Of course, Sasuke had bought the popcorn with other intentions in mind, though he'd still be up for said movie night, even though Suigetsu ended up nulling the agreement. He'd just wait for Juugo to get out of the hospital first. It would be too awkward to watch a movie with Karin alone. She'd probably try to cuddle with him or something. Gross.
"It's Orville, but I found it at the dollar store."
Gangnam Style was playing over the television now, a recap from earlier that night. Apparently Psy had come on just before 11.
"Dude, Gangnam Style, seriously?" Naruto asked, squinting his nose.
"I'm a little surprised to see it myself," Itachi admitted.
"Some guy singing a song in Korean at Times Square for New Years… If this isn't like…the tip top of global fame, I don't know what is."
"If this were my claim to fame, I'd prefer to remain in obscurity," Sasuke grumbled.
"C'mon, it's catchy," Naruto answered, his voice chipper.
"It's annoying as sin," the youngest of the three sighed, grabbing a small handful of popcorn.
Naruto was quite obviously excited, which naturally made Sasuke skeptical.
"What," Sasuke answered, more a statement rather than a question. The latter would imply that he was actually interested in the answer.
"We should totally learn the Gangam Style dance."
"How about you learn the dance and just never show me?"
"You're such a stick in the mud! Itachi, will you learn the dance with me?"
"Sorry, I can't…" Itachi sighed. "You know…stitches and all."
"You are so full of shit," Sasuke cut in.
Of course, Itachi was just trying to be polite, which tended to be one big difference between the two brothers. Sasuke really didn't care whom he offended. Itachi had a little more social grace than that.
The viewing now cut to the current broadcast back from the recap, which was Taylor Swift. This time, the group's opinion was rather unanimous.
"Fuck, not that bitch…" Naruto griped, holding his head in his hand.
Yet they all suffered through it, for the sake of tradition. However, that didn't mean they couldn't turn the volume down and drown her out. Ferret was cuddled up with Itachi.
"Kinda weird to think 2012 is over, huh?" Naruto asked.
"Yeah. We'll be out of holidays until Valentine's," Itachi answered.
"No. Naruto can't go more than a couple weeks without celebrating some forgotten and pointless holiday. He'll find something."
"January 11 is Amelia Earhart Day," Naruto pitched in helpfully.
"Do you actually memorize these?" Itachi asked.
"A few of 'em. I mean, I guess a day doesn't have to be a holiday to be special, but it's kinda cool when it is."
Itachi smiled faintly at Naruto. He seemed to be a boy thoroughly intent on being happy, a chronic optimist, as well as the type who would relentlessly pursue a goal to its end. Itachi had always been the type to suffer silently. He'd stuff away his true feelings, because he was needed. He had to be a responsible adult. But from what he could assess, Naruto's happiness was sincere, despite everything. Itachi could be composed, logical, and mature. He knew how to avoid depression and fear. Happiness, however, had proved difficult for him to grasp.
"Do you really celebrate them?"
Sasuke was wondering why his brother was actually intrigued by this.
"Hmm… Kinda. Secretly. I think about it for a bit in the morning and sometimes say somethin' to someone if they're around. Now it's usually just Sasuke I pester," Naruto replied with a grin, ruffling Sasuke's hair.
Sasuke grunted, rolling his eyes as Train took the stage, singing "Imagine." It was a mellow song , one that Sasuke had always liked. He did, however, find it to be a bit rosy for his tastes. It was only five minutes now until the ball would drop. The three of them were silent, other than the munching of popcorn, just listening to the song and staring down at the five minute countdown. It wasn't until the minute hand hit two that Itachi finally spoke up.
"You know, I won't be offended if you two kiss," Itachi stated quietly.
Naruto, who had just taken a swallow of popcorn, began to choke loudly, coughing as the food particles went down the wrong way. Sasuke's eyes, meanwhile, broadened without his permission as he quickly sat up straight in his seat.
"What?" Sasuke asked, though he wasn't sure why he was even surprised.
"When the ball drops."
Unconsciously, Sasuke shifted away from Naruto.
"Why would you say such a thing? Why would I want to kiss him?" Sasuke asked, gesturing over at Naruto derogatorily.
"Yeah!" Naruto chimed in, partially recovered. "Why would he want to kiss me? Wait…"
Naruto trailed off, finally figuring out the basic implication of what Sasuke had previously said. Meanwhile, Itachi was simply staring at Sasuke with what Sasuke had deemed his "who are you fooling, little brother?" expression he tended to wear in situations like these. It made Sasuke want to retreat into his skin.
Of course, he couldn't fool Itachi. Last night, Itachi had asked Sasuke whether he'd done all of these things for Naruto out of love. However, this didn't necessarily mean a romantic love, but when Itachi noted the lack of bedding on the floor, and then the look Sasuke had shared with him… There was absolutely no way he didn't know.
"Wait a second! What makes ya say kissing me would be so bad? I mean…hypothetically."
"Your breath stinks."
"It does not!"
He'd have been lying if he'd said that kissing Naruto tonight hadn't occurred to him. After all, one of the few times he'd ever seen his parents openly affectionate was the dawn of the New Year. He felt embarrassed even admitting it to himself, but he had been looking forward to it.
"And even if I would, it's just some cliché tradition anyway," Sasuke remarked.
"All I'm saying is that I'll be fine no matter what you choose to do, so don't worry about it," Itachi responded.
"Everything's 'cliché' to you," Naruto griped.
"People tend to be cliché."
"I'm not cliché," Naruto asserted, smiling.
"No, you're just a sap."
"Would you shut up about shit being cliché and sappy? Look!"
After Naruto spoke, he pointed towards the television, which showed only one minute remaining until the New Year hit. "It's almost 2013! Don't bring it in bein' a sourpuss."
"Naruto's right, Sasuke," Itachi agreed. "C'mon, this is the one holiday we've always spent together as a family. Just relax and enjoy it."
Sasuke sighed, understanding where Itachi was going. It was the only holiday where, without fail, both of their parents were always able to get off work and celebrate with them. Even last year, Sasuke and Itachi had found a way to be together. However, New Years of 2012 was the only year that no one had kissed.
"Fine already," Sasuke conceded. "I even made resolutions, remember? Does that make you guys happy?"
"Quite," Naruto answered with a grin.
"Oh shit!" Naruto cheered. "It's almost here! It's coming!"
Itachi was merely lying back in his chair and petting Ferret, smiling. Soon enough, the crowd on the television was announcing the time for them.
"Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven."
The popcorn was untouched. With each number, Naruto seemed to lean closer into the screen.
"Six. Five. Four."
Itachi had begun to silently mouth the numbers. Naruto seemed hardly able to contain himself, rubbing his hands together excitedly as the countdown continued.
Despite himself, even Sasuke felt a slight stirring, perhaps he should say, in his chest cavity. He probably only cared because everyone else seemed to, but did there really need to be a logical and honorable explanation for his rather modest excitement? It was enjoyable and perhaps better left unquestioned.
Sasuke glanced over at Naruto one more time, just to see the look on his face as the countdown drew to an end. Naruto was easily pleased and easily excited, true. But seeing him like this, especially considering their situation, was refreshing, and… Really Sasuke just liked seeing Naruto so happy.
However, just as Sasuke turned to face Naruto, Naruto turned to face him. He pulled Sasuke into him by the collar, planting a firm kiss on his lips. Sasuke tensed up, his eyes wide, witnessing his brother, on the other side of the room, smile and look away as the crowd on their television cheered.
"Happy New Years!"
Sasuke didn't pull away. He allowed Naruto to kiss him for as long as he pleased, even with his older brother present. This only ended up being for about four or five seconds, but it seemed much longer to Sasuke. Sasuke felt his cheeks grow hot, and he realized that he was blushing. He knew that, during the rare times he blushed, his pale skin tone tended to make it more obvious. He hoped that the room was dark enough so that Itachi wouldn't notice.
It was so unlike him to care what anyone thought about him, but this was Itachi, after all. Itachi always seemed to be the exception to this rule. It was one thing to speak of some comfortably generalized love, see a room without extra bedding, and share a knowing glance. But he'd… actually kissed another male right in front of his brother just now. Yet he was still glad to be here, celebrating this holiday with the two people who meant the most to him.
Sasuke turned to face his brother to check his brother's reaction, but Naruto quickly tilted Sasuke's face back towards him. He smiled at Sasuke, but it was more serene and perhaps more resonant than it usually was. Sasuke smiled back, very modestly. Sasuke's face had to be bright red by now; he was sure. Naruto kissed Sasuke once more, his hand against Sasuke's cheek. Sasuke felt so shy, but he reciprocated nonetheless. As Sasuke leaned into Naruto and rested his hand on Naruto's thigh, the couch creaked. The sound caused Sasuke's body to freeze.
"I said you guys could kiss, not make out," Itachi teased.
Sasuke quickly separated himself from Naruto and looked over at his brother, who seemed perfectly comfortable in the situation. Sasuke tucked a chunk of his hair behind his ear, hoping that no one could distinguish this awkward silence from any of Sasuke's other silences. Itachi began to chuckle under his breath, shaking his head at the lovers' awkward motions. It had been a while since Itachi had seen Sasuke let another individual under his harsh exterior. Frankly, it was about time.