A/N: I posted this on lj a while back, but then I was hit with the sudden urge to post this here too though I haven't been active on this account since 2007. Wow... It's been a while. Enjoy!
Nara Shikamaru was languidly attempting to work out the mechanics of a bear mask and two pieces of string for Chouji (troublesome, he sighed inwardly) when a loud wail drew his attention to the other side of the room.
"I won't put that on, Iruka-sensei, I won't!" came the petulant cry, catching in Uzumaki Naruto's throat when Iruka plucked the back of his t-shirt to prevent him from running away. Foiled, Naruto slumped forward and puffed out his cheeks for all he was worth.
This wasn't a very well thought out plan either, for with a single firm poke of his finger Iruka deflated the mutinous eight-year-old's cheeks and quickly gripped his arms before he tried anything else. "Naruto," he said wearily, "We've spoken about this, haven't we? "
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. It was the argument following Iruka's announcement last week regarding the Academy's annual school play, all over again. This time, their year would be putting up a medley of several children's fairytales, and Iruka had gone through the list of roles, before finishing off with, "The three bears: Chouji, Kiba and Lee; and Goldilocks: Naruto."
"But Iruka-sensei, I still don't see why I should be Goldilocks," said Naruto grumpily, looking around pointedly at all the girls scattered about the greenroom.
"Well you arethe smallest of the lot," he said wryly, tapping the side of his nose. "And your hair is just the right – oh all right, all right," he said hastily when Naruto's face started to scrunch up again, "Well, you remember where I promised to take you if you did this? I hope you know that won't be happening unless you —"
"But you never said anything about that before!" Pointing an accusatory finger, Naruto squinted at the mop of curly golden locks in his sensei's hand as though it had personally offended him. "That's cheating!" He stuck his tongue out at him for good measure.
Iruka surveyed the boy for a few moments, then sighed resignedly. "All right," he said at last, seeming to have come to a decision. "If you put the wig on," he went on, leaning in conspiratorially, "Instead of just the one time, I promise to take you…"
His voice dropped at this point, but Shikamaru was fairly certain his mouth formed the words Ichiraku's and every day for the rest of the week. At any rate, Naruto instantly let out a delighted whoop, "Really, Iruka-sensei, really?" and enthusiastically jammed the golden wig on his head – and everybody knew that if there was one thing that could make Naruto agree to pretty much anything in the world, it was the promise of ramen.
Distracted at this point by a particularly loud crunch as Chouji breezed his way through his sixth pack of crisps for the morning, Shikamaru was about to return to the aggravating bear mask when his eyeballs were arrested mid-swivel by a curious sight.
Namely, Uchiha Sasuke staring quite fixedly over the shoulder of one of his fangirls at something across the room.
Now what made the situation curious wasn't by any means the staring – in fact, you'd be lucky to find Uchiha Sasuke at any given moment not staring moodily at some far-off point in space while his fangirls gabbed on and on at him. It was the look on the pale Uchiha's face – not his trademark indifferent-yet-intense gaze which could be described as asshole-ish or the coolest thing ever, depending on whom you asked; not even that icy glare he had perfected with years of suffering the idiocy of the lesser mortals who surrounded him. No, it was more like…
Frowning and crossing his arms, Shikamaru decided the best way to describe Sasuke's expression was… constipated.
Yes, that was it, wasn't it? As though he'd just been made to swallow something exceedingly distasteful, Sasuke's mouth was twisted and pursed up, yet his eyes were intent, ever so slightly wide and strangely… soft.
Just like that moment of vulnerability when all you wanted in life was to pass that dump, if only it would stop being so bloody difficult about it? Yep, definitely constipated.
Coupled with the fact that the target of said expression was a certain blond dobeon the other side of the room, the whole situation was peculiar enough to set the cogs in Shikamaru's brain working.
And when the cogs in Shikamaru's brain set to work on figuring out things you were hiding, that's when you started to get very, very nervous.
So what exactly had prompted the Uchiha to ditch his usual glare in favour of this… whatever that face was supposed to convey, or rather to hide? Shikamaru turned to regard Naruto, noting for future reference Hinata's blushing gaze on the hyperactive blond. Of course, Hinata was always blushing and gazing at Naruto, but maybe her cheeks looked just a little bit pinker than usual?
Well. Back to Naruto then. Shikamaru looked him over with a touch of annoyance. This problem was turning out to be more troublesome than it was worth, and he couldn't wait to solve it already so it would stop niggling at the back of his mind, as unsolved problems always did.
"Girls!" came Iruka's voice suddenly, addressing the gaggle mostly surrounding Sasuke. "Kurenai wants you in the next room for hair and make-up, run along now."
The words 'hair' and 'make-up' making small amends for the tragedy of parting from Sasuke, the girls withdrew without too much of a fuss, bidding goodbye to their ice-prince as they left.
"See you later, Sasuke-kun!"
"Will you go out with me, Sasuke-kun?" Always that one girl trying to spring the question when he wasn't expecting it.
"Huh." Shikamaru glanced around; it was Ino. She had stopped in her tracks to look at something over by the window. Something, which turned out to be… Naruto. Really, what was it with people staring at Naruto today? "Is it just me," the blonde mused, "or does Naruto look…sort of cute today?" She gave herself a little shake, as if hoping to rid herself off whatever had possessed her to think so. When it didn't work, she tilted her head to scrutinise the boy.
"He looks like he's washed properly for the first time in his life…and even brushed his hair nicely," she observed. It still stuck up in every direction in that ridiculous way of his, but in a tamer way, maybe? Shikamaru scowled, giving up on his last shred of pride and inched closer to hear the rest of her commentary. "Bet Iruka-sensei made him do it for the play! And the silly goggles he wears on his head are off, too. Hmm." She nudged shy little Hinata in the ribs. "I think I might actually understand what you see in him now!"
"I-I…" Stuttering and blushing even harder than before, Hinata bowed her head and hurried out of the room.
"Ooh, is that the dress he's got to wear?" said Ino, as Naruto held up a frilly white dress and gulped hugely. "Cute outfit, Naruto!" she called loudly. "Should go perfectly with those pretty golden locks of yours!" Giggling as Naruto broke out into a sweat, too flustered to even reply, she left the room with a wink and a wave.
Glancing back at Sasuke, Shikamaru saw him making a great show of poring over his script. Iruka had had no choice but to make him the narrator because the girls had jumped at him like vicious leeches every time he'd tried to assign the boy a role, demanding to be cast opposite him.
What Ino had said, though… It pained his soul to admit that she might have inadvertently handed him the final clues to the puzzle, but the more Shikamaru stared at Sasuke, the more little things came to his notice, like the way his eyes weren't really looking at the piece of paper he was holding, trained instead on something further away. Something blond, blue-eyed, and flouncing about with a bright golden wig.
Could it be? Could there possibly be more to Sasuke's feelings for Naruto than what met the eye?
Come to think of it, Sasuke had always been given to staring just a little too long and hard at Naruto – of course, most of the time that was because of Naruto trying to wind him up some way or the other, but still… No one got to Sasuke like Naruto did.
Especially when he was all washed-up and cute-looking, apparently.
Shikamaru couldn't hold back the smirk that spread across his face. Sasuke sounded exactly like his very own fangirl brigade! It was the ultimate irony, really. He leant over, intending to share his findings with Chouji, when someone cleared his throat rather loudly behind him.
At the sound, a number of heads turned to look; over by the window, Iruka had become very red and flustered all of a sudden.
It was Kakashi. The silver-haired jounin, one eye turned up in an inverted U, put down that book of his you never saw him without. "Sasuke," he said, tilted his head to the side as he addressed the boy, "Iruka and I have some urgent business to attend to at once," he said cheerfully. "Perhaps you'd like to help Naruto out with his costume?"
Two things happened at that moment: Iruka jumped at least three feet in the air, and dived behind his chair to put every bit of distance between himself and the newcomer, squawking, "Eh-heh-heh…whaaat?"
And elsewhere, Sasuke's glare had returned.
"Hn." He put his hands in his pockets and squared his shoulders – his usual stance had returned, too. "Why is it my problem if the dobe can't manage something as simple as buttoning up his own clothes?"
"Temeeeee!" screeched Naruto, jumping up and down and windmilling his arms, the effect somewhat ruined by the frilly white dress he was currently in.
"Oh, I do believe he needs a bit of help with the wig, ne?" said Kakashi, who had suddenly seemed to materialise next to Iruka. "Be good, boys! See you!"
And with these parting words, he grabbed a stunned Iruka by the elbow and steered him out the door.
There was a few moments' silence after that, then –
"Well?" Naruto demanded of Sasuke, hands on his hips and looking uncannily like a harried housewife. "Didn't you hear Kakashi-sensei? You're supposed to help me!"
"Tie your own pigtails yourself, usuratonkachi," returned Sasuke coolly, pulling out his script again.
"Hmph! Whatever, it's not like I need your help anyway, you useless teme, I'll just ask someone el-" Naruto looked around at the room hopefully, but suddenly everybody had become extremely interested in their costumes, scripts or fingernails.
Turning back to Sasuke, Naruto glared at him as if it was all his fault, visibly seething. Then his shoulders slumped. He looked away, seeming to be waging a war within himself. Finally, flushing and looking anywhere but at Sasuke, he held out a bunch of bobby pins in his hand. "The hair won't stay on without these," he admitted grudgingly. "And they just keep falling out."
A long pause followed the little speech. After a long moment, Sasuke deigned to reply. "So you can't do it yourself."
Naruto gritted his teeth. "Well...no."
"And you need my help."
More gritting. "Y...es."
There was a long pause. Then... "Hn." A familiar smirk had appeared on the Uchiha's pale features as he ambled across the room to where Naruto was standing.
"Turn around," he ordered, taking the pins from his hand. "Dobe."
"Teme," Naruto muttered, clenching his fists, but he turned all the same.
Placing a hand on Naruto's head to hold up the wig, Sasuke started to pin up the golden curls one by one, murmuring instructions to him to face this way or that as he did. The mid-morning sun was high in the sky, but their bowed heads hid their faces from view for a long moment as they stood there by the window, uncharacteristically quiet.
For some reason, Shikamaru started to feel uncomfortable looking at them. Like he sometimes felt when he came downstairs in the morning to find his parents at the kitchen table, sitting close to each other and looking at each other as though they were the only two people to exist in the world. He didn't know why he was reminded of that all of a sudden, but it had just burst unexpectedly into his head.
Giving himself a shake, he looked away from the troublesome scene, and looked down at Chouji's neglected bear mask again. It seemed almost welcoming now, with its inoffensive button-eyes, and brown-painted fur.
It didn't last long though - a slight movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye not long after, and he looked up. Sasuke was done with fixing the wig to one side of Naruto's head, so he'd shifted to stand in front of him.
His face had been hidden in the shadows as he'd been working so far, but his new position threw it into stark relief.
Shikamaru's eyes threatened to pop right out of his skull.
Sasuke was blushing.
Blinking to make sure it wasn't just a figment of his imagination – but really, who would even think to hallucinate such a thing? – he looked again, and again, and again, yet the splashes of pink colouring his pale cheekbones simply wouldn't go away.
Naruto hadn't noticed - his own head was still bowed, and... did his white frilly dress have a pink collar on it too or was that his... neck?!
"AH, YOUTH!" Jumping out of his skin, Shikamaru nearly toppled over as he whipped around on wobbly feet – not exactly behaviour befitting a ninja-to-be, but there was a limit to how many rude shocks you could suffer in a day!
It was Lee, of course. "Oh, the pangs of new love!" he cried out, and Shikamaru was starting to think he was just randomly shouting out impassioned phrases again, when he pointed a trembling finger at the pair by the window. From where he stood, Naruto had his back to him and Sasuke was facing him directly... perfectly placed to display to him the identical blushes colouring their skin. "New love in the springtime of our youth!" Shikamaru watched in horror as Lee's eyes caught fire and Sasuke and Naruto stilled, too stunned to react.
"Sasuke-kun, fair long-haired maiden – you have inspired me, and I wish you both well!" And with these words, he bounded back to the door from where Guy-sensei had been watching him with undisguised pride, and latched onto his idol's leg as unbridled tears streamed down both their faces.
"Wh-what are you talking about?" Shikamaru knew the voice to be Sakura's as it floated in from the corridor.
"Sakura-san!" At once, Lee leapt up and out into the hall to address his crush. "Go out with me, Sakura-san, and we can experience for ourselves the joy Sasuke-kun and his long-haired love have found!"
"Eh? Long-haired who?" Shoving poor Lee out of the way, she poked her head into the room where a familiar situation was playing out with Sasuke and Naruto glaring at each other, the hostility so thick you could almost feel it crackling between them. (The wig had been long since discarded on the floor. They hadn't been quite so successful with their blushes though.)
"Just as I thought!" announced Sakura brightly. "There are only boys here, Lee. You must have been seeing things!"
"But-but... Sakura-san, I saw it! With my own eyes!"
"He's right, you know." Sakura stared up at Guy-sensei's words. He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. "It was beautiful."
Sakura looked back into the room and frowned at Sasuke for a moment. Then she turned away, the frown depending into a scowl. Running her fingers absently through her own short pink hair, she walked away without a word.
Shikamaru returned yet again to Chouji's mask. Outside, Lee was having a meltdown of some sort in the corridor; inside, the dulcet tones of Sasuke and Naruto bickering had started up again. He let out a heartfelt sigh. Troublesome.