Disclaimer: Naruto does not in any way belong to me, it's the property of Kishimoto, etc.


Renewal


Sasuke turns on Madara- Obito- that man. He doesn't examine how easy it is to transfer the hate that he had fostered (festered) for Itachi for nearly a decade to another.

He is sick of being manipulated and pushed around the board like little more than a pawn. That an Uchiha (or two) should be behind this whole disaster is-

Sasuke doesn't know what the Uchiha stand for, anymore. He remembers what his parents taught him and what Itachi's actions showed him but neither of those seem to measure up to the truth.

Shinobi are not nice people; the Uchiha did not ascend to greatness by being weak and kind. (That, his father would confide late in the evening when he deigned to give Sasuke a scrap of his attention, was the prerogative of the Senju.) Shinobi make a living killing others.

Sasuke is under no illusions about what it is to be a shinobi; he's not a naive idealist like Naruto or an immature romantic like Sakura. (But what does he really know of them, or they of him? It's been three years since they made up Team Seven.)

Regardless, there must have been 'good' people in the Uchiha, once. The previous generations said no to Madara and sided with Konoha. They chose peace over war. Good people who made good decisions for the good of everyone.

Itachi was good. (But isn't goodness weakness? Itachi's love of peace was used against him and look what became of it.)

The fact remained, though: Itachi might have killed most of the clan, but Sasuke killed the rest of it.

Tsunade and the other four Kage offer him parole. He killed Danzo (though no one was actually all that upset about it) and tried to capture the Raikage's brother, but he also had a hand in taking out (resurrected) Madara and the cousin who was impersonating him. Things even out.

It doesn't hurt matters that Naruto (and Sakura, and even Kakashi) is advocating tirelessly on his behalf. Sasuke doesn't know how he should feel about Naruto's seemingly endless determination - exasperated? Amused? Something else entirely?

Maybe, Sasuke thinks, if he returns to Konoha he'll be able to figure out how the elusive 'good' Uchiha saw the world. Without his brother's shadow hanging over him.

(He doesn't really know how to live without vengeance. His halcyon childhood days are nothing more than hazy memories. But he can learn, can't he?)

Tsunade places restrictions on him (not he wasn't expecting any less): S-rank criminal or not, he's still officially a genin; he will not leave Konoha for a year; after that year, he will not leave without the supervision of Kakashi or some other suitable jounin; he will not be without supervision of one of his teammates (or Sai, or the recently-recovered Yamato) at any time, until such time that he is deemed trustworthy.

Sasuke narrows his eyes a little at the last injunction, but bows his head in acquiescence.

xx

Living with Naruto is... trying.

It isn't really anyone's fault. Living in a two-bedroom apartment with anyone for such an extended period of time was the problem, not the identity of that company. Sasuke can understand why Tsunade thinks it a necessary precaution, but spending his entire day with Naruto at his side is grating.

Sasuke gets Naruto to ask for an appointment with Tsunade, correctly assuming that a war hero will have greater pull than a former criminal. A few hours later, Tsunade's receptionist shows them into the Hokage's office.

Sakura's standing attentively behind Tsunade, noting down her master's words.

"Ah, Naruto. Sasuke," Tsunade says, pausing noticeably between their names. Her tone is distinctly cooler on his name as well, but Sasuke simply inclines his head. "I'm busy, so this better be good, brat," she adds, words aimed solely at Naruto this time.

"Uh, actually, Sasuke wanted to ask you something, I think," Naruto explains, grinning sheepishly.

Tsunade settles her gaze on him, clear and sharp. "Oh? What is it."

Sasuke returns the stare evenly, determined to remain civil no matter the opposition she puts forward. "I want to move back into the Uchiha district," he says without preamble.

"Impossible," Tsunade says calmly. "You need to be in the company of one of your teammates at all times."

"I'm aware," Sasuke replies. "The clan head's house is more than large enough to house myself and my team."

Tsunade leans forward. "No one besides the Uchiha has ever lived within the district," she points out.

"I'm aware," Sasuke repeats, with exaggerated patience.

"Tch. Did you even ask your teammates?" Tsunade asks, but she obviously knows the answer to her own question. Naruto is gaping at him, and Sakura's cheeks are decidedly pink, though it doesn't make her stare any less intense.

"I understand that it's protocol to get approval for a proposal before moving forward with it," Sasuke answers coolly. "If they don't want to, I'll think of another alternative."

"I'll do it," Naruto says, though he sounds bewildered.

"I just got a new place, so... thanks, but I don't think I will, Sasuke," Sakura says.

Sasuke nods at her. To be honest, he only wanted to relocate himself and Naruto. It would be awkward to have two teammates hovering over him all the time. Though perhaps Sakura's presence would have diverted the almost suffocating attention Naruto is constantly paying him...

"I think we can safely assume neither Kakashi or Yamato will want to move in with a pair of teenagers, so now it's merely a question of logistics..."

Sasuke blinks, a bit surprised at how easily the Hokage seems to be capitulating.

"Of course, you'll have to do some serious maintenance. Only your portion of the clan head's house was kept up; after you left, no care was given to the house at all. To say nothing of the state of the other houses within the district."

Sasuke nods. "I'll commission some D-rank missions to help with things," he says. Loathe as he is to admit any more outsiders into his family's compound, he doubts he'll have much time to manage the repairs himself. Kakashi told his team (Naruto and Sasuke, now) that they'd be starting missions tomorrow.

Tsunade studies him for a long moment.

Sasuke stares right back.

"Very well," she says, finally.

xx

The replacement that Danzo produced to keep an eye on the remnants of Team Seven is completely unwelcome. The unfortunate part is that Naruto, Sakura, and even Kakashi seem to have accepted him.

The first time they meet properly - a day after Tsunade agreed to let Sasuke live in his ancestral home - Sai smiles at Sasuke, so blatantly false that it sets Sasuke's teeth on edge.

It's enough to distract Sasuke from his annoyance with the Hokage. She would assign Team Seven the D-ranks that he'd commissioned the day before, wouldn't she? Irritating.

"I hope we can become friends, traitor," he tells Sasuke.

Sasuke restrains himself from punching the bastard in the face, barely. Sakura does it for him anyway, and Sai sails an impressive distance away before landing lightly on his feet.

Naruto gives a weak laugh. "Eh, he's always like this. Sai doesn't really know how to act around people," he tells Sasuke. "Don't take it personally."

Sasuke grunts. "I won't."

"I don't see what the problem is," Sai says, approaching them despite the murderous aura that Sakura is giving off.

In spite of himself, Sasuke feels a grudging bit of respect. If that much killing intent was aimed at him from the deceptively delicate Sakura, he'd- well, Sasuke himself wouldn't stop coming, but lesser men surely would.

"If you're allowed to say rude things about me, why can't I give him a truthful nickname, dickless?" Sai finishes, this time smiling at Naruto.

"What did you just call me-!?" Naruto screeches, going from sheepish to furious in less than a second.

Sasuke glances at Kakashi and Yamato (Tenzou, Orochimaru called him; his only success at implanting the Shodaime's DNA into another person, and even that success was flawed), but the two jounin don't seem terribly surprised by the rapidly escalating argument between Naruto, Sakura and Sai.

"Yeah, they're always like this," Yamato tells him, noticing his gaze.

"... Great."

"You'd know what they were like if you hadn't left the village, traitor," Sai says, demonstrating remarkable agility as he dodges Sakura's fist. Of course, the alternative would be getting pummelled into the ground, so Sasuke supposes that's decent incentive to move quickly.

Sasuke's fingers twitch, longing to close around the hilt of his chokuto. He flinches when Kakashi clasps his shoulder, using the few inches of height that remain between them to loom over Sasuke.

"Try not to let Sai-kun get to you," he drawls. "He's rather possessive of the few friends he's made."

Sasuke sneers, shrugging Kakashi's hands off. "Whatever." He stalks off in the direction of his old house; the entire purpose of the expanded Team Seven being here is to clean it out, after all.

xx

It's strange, being back on a genin team with Naruto again. Sakura tags along on their shitty D-ranks sometimes, but she has her work cut out for her at the hospital and as Tsunade's aide. Kakashi stands by, ostensibly to supervise, but really he's reading his stupid porn.

Sasuke grits his teeth and moves from room to room, first cleaning out the bedrooms where he and Naruto stay in the guest wing, then a bathroom, the kitchen, the living room. He stays away from Itachi and his parents' bedrooms, though.

Naruto uses shadow clones to help them, but not too many.

"Who knows what other crappy missions Tsunade-baa-chan would assign us if we finish this one too quickly," he confides to Sasuke, grinning.

Sasuke can't disagree with that sentiment.

And sometimes, when Kakashi sighs and drawls a (sarcastic but no less welcome for it) well done at them after Sasuke and Naruto complete yet another round of yard work, or housework, or shopping for groceries, Sasuke feels- content.

Or Sakura will smile, swift and devastating (which is fitting, he thinks) when Sasuke allows Naruto to drag him to Ichiraku's for a 'team supper', and Sasuke will find himself thinking that Tsunade's restrictions maybe aren't that bad.

Rarely - because Sasuke is reticent as ever, and Naruto is more reserved in his own way around Sasuke than he ever used to be - Sasuke will grumble a complaint, finally fed up with the menial, pedestrian missions that Tsunade hands out to them at least twice daily. It's a waste for shinobi of his and Naruto's calibre to be reduced to this level. Naruto will laugh in response, and point out that there really aren't that many missions around for people of 'their calibre' anymore.

Sasuke admits to himself that he missed this, Kakashi's aloofness and Sakura's sincerity and Naruto's enthusiasm.

He allows his lips to curve up in a small smile in response, and they seem to understand, even if he never outright says it.

xx

The first chuunin exam sneaks up on him. There are little signs of course - more genin practicing on the training grounds, an increase in communication with the other villages - but Naruto makes no mention of it.

It's not until he practically runs over a team of fresh-faced children excitedly discussing the upcoming event that he realizes.

As soon as the trio of genin have ambled out of earshot, Sasuke turns to Naruto.

The blond plasters a smile onto his face, too slow to hide the apprehensive expression he'd been wearing a moment earlier. It's worse than Sai's fake smile because at least that emotional retard doesn't really know any better.

"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Sasuke demands, narrowing his eyes.

Naruto chuckles, nervously. "Well, I didn't want to take it this year because, you know, everyone knows me from when we beat up your asshole relatives," he explains, rubbing a hand at the back of his head.

Sasuke scowls, irritated for reasons that he can't properly identify, not that he cares to in any case. "So?"

"So- you know, then the people we face wouldn't be trying so hard! They'd probably forfeit, and I don't want to get handed a promotion like that," Naruto explains earnestly. "I want to earn it!"

"Getting promoted is the next logical step to becoming Hokage," Sasuke points out flatly.

"Well, Tsunade-baa-chan still has a couple of years in her! Yeah! And in the next cycle, maybe people won't remember me as much!" Naruto says, obviously thinking of the excuse right on the spot.

Sasuke glares at him, silently conveying how idiotic he thinks Naruto is being.

Oblivious as always, Naruto continues, "And, uh, it's in Kumo anyway. But the next one's going to be here, I made Tsunade-baa-chan promise, and Bee-san is going to work on his stupid brother for sure, so we can take it together."

And then Naruto grins at him. It's stupid, the way he sets himself up like this. Like he's a puppy just waiting to be kicked.

The sarcastic remark that Sasuke was about to make about prospective Kage not insulting their future peers dies on his tongue. Sasuke just grunts and stalks past. "I wouldn't just forfeit to you, dobe," he mutters, glancing over his shoulder.

Naruto's grin widens, incandescent.

Sasuke has the eternal Mangekyou, so he doesn't have to worry about going blind, but he looks away anyway.

xx

They've finished restoring the clan head's house (minus Itachi and his parents' bedrooms) and have moved on to the surrounding houses when the second chuunin exam rolls around six months later.

As Naruto promised, the exam is being held in Konoha. Almost a year after the war, the restoration effort after Pain's attack is nearly finished.

Kakashi is unyielding when Naruto (with Sasuke's silent but wholehearted support) tries to beg off their missions to train in preparation.

"The two of you train in the evening anyway," Kakashi points out, not even deigning to put his porn away and at least pretend to give them his undivided attention. "At least this way those poor kids will have a chance."

"They won't even have a chance then," Sasuke says, disgruntled.

Kakashi looks up, visible eye curve upwards. "Then there's no reason for extra training, is there?"

Sasuke's eyebrow twitches. Lazy bastard. But he did walk into that one.

"Kakashi-senseiiii," Naruto whines.

"Chop chop, children," Kakashi says patronizingly, merciless. "A lot of the other genin teams are cutting back on missions for training, and Konoha isn't going to repair itself."

Sasuke bites back a groan.

xx

A boy - Daisuke - from the class after theirs gets assigned to fill Sakura's spot. He's a medic too, although he isn't as skilled as Sakura.

Most medics aren't, Sasuke supposes.

Despite being just a year younger than them, Daisuke follows Naruto and Sasuke around with disconcertingly literal stars in his eyes.

His team was going to take the next exam, before the war started. His teammates didn't survive, and the team he got assigned to after the war failed the first portion of the previous exam.

Sasuke finds his presence to be even more annoying than Sai's, but he tries to put up with it for the sake of the team.

Naruto is so fucking nice to him all the time that Sasuke's cold shoulder (which, admittedly, isn't that different to how he treats Naruto and Sakura...) probably doesn't even register on Daisuke's radar.

xx

The first portion of the exam is similar to the written test they did last time Sasuke took a chuunin exam. The questions are impossible for the average genin, though Sasuke learned all this and more under Orochimaru's tutelage. He amuses himself with trying to sabotage the other teams after filling out the minimum number of required questions.

They pass, and another of Konoha's deadly training grounds - not quite as infamous as the Forest of Death - is the stage for the second part of the exam.

Other teams of Konoha genin try to latch on to them, but Sasuke's cold glare is more than enough to scare them off.

"You don't have to be so mean, Sasuke-kun," Daisuke scolds.

"They don't have to be so weak," Sasuke retorts, fed up with the childish form of address. They certainly aren't equals, much less friends. "We're already carrying you through this exam, and now we're supposed to carry those weaklings too? The point of this exam is to weed out those who aren't ready for promotion."

Daisuke flinches. "If that's how you feel then I guess you don't need me," he snaps, stalking off.

Naruto sends a disappointed look his way, which only serves to irritate Sasuke further. "I'll go after him," he says, hurrying off before Sasuke can tell him not to bother.

"Hey, where'd Naruto-nii go?" a vaguely familiar boy complains a few moments later.

Sasuke glares at him, but the boy glares right back. After a moment he places him - Sarutobi Konohamaru. "He went after our teammate." He can't quite keep the sneer out of his voice on the last word.

Konohamaru scowls. "Well where-"

Sasuke teleports away, not in the mood to deal with the little Naruto-wannabe. He lands near Naruto's chakra signature and wanders over, putting up a mild genjutsu that gives anyone who meets his eyes the impression that his eyes are red.

The assembled genin give him a wide berth after that.

"-don't know why he has to be so cold," Daisuke's saying sulkily. "I get that it's a joke that you and him are taking this exam, but-"

"-don't worry about it. It's just how he is," Naruto says.

"It's not like I'm trying to take Sakura-san's place! But I don't want to be a burden to you, either. I have been training, you know," Daisuke continues bitterly. "Do you think I want people to say that I got carried through this exam?"

"He's just annoyed that we have to take the exam at all," Naruto explains, articulating Sasuke's thoughts better than Sasuke thinks he himself could have done. "It's- well, we're obviously jounin-level, but we still have to follow the rules, and he understands that, but it still rankles him."

Sasuke clenches his fists and stalks away, ignoring the way the kids part in front of him. When is the stupid exam proctor going to arrive? He just wants to get this over with.

He doesn't know what he thinks about Naruto knowing his thoughts better than himself.

xx

The three of them make it through the second part of the exam unscathed. Any teams that they come across hightail it out at top speed, and Sasuke can't be bothered to chase them down.

The point of the exam this time is to make it to the bunker. The first six teams that arrive will advance to the next round, to a maximum of three teams per village.

Sasuke grits his teeth at the relatively slow pace they set - Daisuke is by no means slow, though compared to Naruto and Sasuke he might as well be - but the three of them are still the first team to make it through.

xx

Daisuke gets knocked out in the second round of the tournament a month later. Naruto and Sasuke face each other in the finals.

Their match, Sasuke discovers, is the event that the assembled spectators have been waiting for. It's strangely reminiscent of the other time he participated in the chuunin exam, except the jinchuuriki he'd been pitted against then was Gaara.

Neither of them really go all out. Sasuke isn't interested in giving these people a show and Naruto seems to have learned some subtlety.

"Looks like you can't beat me," Naruto taunts, dodging a fireball. "You should just forfeit, teme."

Sasuke raises an eyebrow, undeterred. "I told you I wouldn't, didn't I?"

Naruto's eyes widen in surprise, and he barely gets a hand up in time to block Sasuke's kick.

"Dobe," he adds, smirking, as he plows a fist into Naruto's gut.

The clone disappears in a small cloud of smoke that obscures Sasuke's vision long enough for Naruto to get a kunai to his throat.

"Winner: Uzumaki Naruto!" the proctor announces.

Naruto laughs, and Sasuke can't find it in himself to be annoyed by this outcome.

xx

Sasuke really, really should have refused Naruto's offer to go out for drinks, but the blond's stupid insistence that 'we only make chuunin once, teme!' had been too annoying for him to ignore. He'd just known that Naruto would complain about it for days if he hadn't capitulated.

He'd thought that it might even be a bit entertaining, but after the first ten drinks (imbibed in rapid succession, thanks to the Kyuubi's regenerative abilities) things went downhill fast (as the rate of consumption outpaced Kurama's ability to purge the alcohol from Naruto's system).

A few other people that Sasuke recognizes are at the bar - including the girl Sasuke defeated in the semi-final and Daisuke - but so far they've kept their distance.

Which is just as well, because who knows how Naruto's reputation would suffer if they saw what a pathetic drunk he was.

"'m really glad you're back, Sasuke," Naruto says, slurring only a little bit. He's hooked his arm around Sasuke's neck and probably would have fallen off his stool right now if not for that fact.

Sasuke grimaces at the waft of alcohol on Naruto's breath and attempts to manoeuvre him back onto his seat. The tactic is met with limited success; Naruto is improbably clingy.

Or maybe Sasuke shouldn't be so surprised; Naruto did spend how many years chasing after him?

"I'm really glad you decided to get drunk in less than an hour," Sasuke shoots back, sarcastic. He tries to ignore the way Naruto's breath ruffles his hair against his cheek. The heat he's feeling is probably just from the overcrowded conditions within the bar.

Naruto laughs. "C'mon, Sasuke! Did you even have anything to drink yet?"

Sasuke pointedly downs his cup of sake.

"That's, what, your second drink?" Naruto pulls back slightly, to pout at him. "Laaame."

"Maybe I don't want to make a fool of myself," he says, elbowing Naruto into the side. "Dobe."

Naruto reels away, laughing.

Sasuke feels his eyebrow twitch; Naruto's laughter doesn't sound quite right. Why did he think agreeing to drinks would be a good idea, again?

He's distracted by this thought and doesn't notice Naruto's retaliatory shove until he's slipping off the stool and nearly knocking the person standing behind him over.

"Hey, watch it!" a man snaps, rounding on Sasuke. He looks to be in his late thirties. Flak vest, so chuunin at least. Recognition flashes in his eyes when he catches sight of Sasuke's face, but if anything that seems to make him angrier. "Damn traitor," the man adds, grabbing Sasuke's collar.

Or trying to. By this time Sasuke has his feet under himself, though the room is a bit shaky. He's had a bit more than two drinks, though certainly not as much as Naruto. His reflexes aren't dulled enough to stop him from dodging instinctively.

"Hey, sorry," Naruto breaks in, that sheepish (brittle) smile on his face again.

The one Sasuke hates.

Damn it, maybe he did have too much to drink.

"You're not the one I want an apology from. Uzumaki-san," the man adds grudgingly, recognizing Naruto too.

"It was my bad," the blond insists, rubbing a hand over the back of his head as he steps between Sasuke and this asshole.

Sasuke could take him, and the two friends that are gazing at him with less than friendly intent. Sasuke could take this whole bar, Naruto aside.

"He's the one who hit me," asshole snaps back.

"Ah, let it go," another man says, uneasily. "They just made chuunin, Sakamoto, I think they deserve to celebrate."

The man that Sasuke knocked into - Sakamoto - doesn't look appeased. "I don't know why they let this Uchiha bastard come back. That whole clan was rotten."

Naruto catches Sasuke's fist a moment before it smashes through Sakamoto's face.

"I think," Naruto says, smile gone, "that you're the one who owes an apology, Sakamoto-san."

Sakamoto looks from Naruto's hand - shaking faintly, because Sasuke's still pissed enough to keep pushing, even if his initial blind fury has calmed enough to stop him from taking another swing - to Naruto's eerily serious face.

"The fuck I do-"

"Is there a problem?" Daisuke asks, appearing at Sasuke and Naruto's side.

Sakamoto's gaze darts to him. "This Uchiha bumped into me."

Daisuke tilts his head, a look of concern sweeping across his features. "Ah. Are you all right, sir? I'm a medic, so if you received any injury - from, ah, Sasuke-san bumping into you - I can heal you," Daisuke says earnestly.

Someone laughs, and by the time Sasuke realizes that the entire bar had fallen silent, the laughter has spread to most of the patrons. Some of them are obviously drunk enough not to have a firm grasp of the proceedings, but most of them are sober enough.

Sakamoto's face reddens as he splutters indignantly.

"Let's just go, Sasuke," Naruto says, fishing his stupid toad wallet out of his pocket and settling their tab. He pulls Sasuke out of the bar and into the cooler night, leading him a block away from the bar. They lean back against a wall, just breathing, not saying anything.

Sasuke unclenches his fist, belatedly noticing that Naruto hasn't relaxed his grip. He glances at the blond, whose brows are drawn low as he contemplates the closed storefronts across the street from them.

Sasuke wants to do more than break Sakamoto's nose for putting that expression on Naruto's face.

Naruto grins and Sasuke realizes he said that aloud. He feels like he should be more embarrassed about this fact than he actually is.

"Haha, whatever," Naruto says, shrugging it off. "Let's just go home."

They turn towards the Uchiha district, which would be a few minutes' run from their current location if they took the rooftops. Taking the rooftops is probably considerably riskier than usual given their current state.

Sasuke can just imagine what a disaster it would be if one of them slipped and broke something.

Using the streets of Konoha, factoring in the speed they'd be able to muster without falling down or making fools of themselves, it would take about half an hour.

"... I still have my place," Naruto remarks, sounding pleased that he remembered this fact. "It's just for a night, right?"

"Right," Sasuke agrees, starting off.

"'s the other direction," Naruto says, tugging.

"No, it's this way," Sasuke says, pulling back.

"It's my 'partment," Naruto pouts. "I know where it is. Teme!" he adds, almost as an afterthought.

Sasuke frowns. This makes sense, but he knows that the apartment he lived in for... less than a week is this way.

"Come on," Naruto says petulantly.

"It's this way," Sasuke insists stubbornly.

"No, it's this way!" Naruto whines. "Like I said, it's my apartment!"

Sasuke scowls and digs his heels in.

xx

They make it to Naruto's apartment, somehow.

The fact that Naruto has forgotten his key stumps them for a good five minutes before Sasuke remembers a handy jutsu that Orochimaru had taught him in case he ever needed to break and enter.

"That's a forbidden jutsu," Naruto says conversationally as they stumble inside.

Sasuke rolls his eyes, then regrets it when the room spins that much more. "Like anyone with something valuable doesn't trap their place anyway."

"True," Naruto concedes, kicking his sandals off clumsily.

Sasuke manages to do so with a little more dignity, which is to say he doesn't nearly knock himself out banging his head against the wall as he flails about trying to get his sandals off.

"I didn't knock myself out," Naruto whines, stumbling over to the couch and flopping down on it.

Oops. Sasuke must have said that aloud again.

"Yeah, you did," Naruto agrees.

Damn it. Sasuke scowls, and, for lack of a better idea, follows Naruto to the couch.

"You're cute when you pout," Naruto says. "Like it better when you smile, though."

"I'm not pouting," Sasuke says scathingly, shoving Naruto over so he can slump onto the couch as well. Then the rest of what Naruto says registers and he feels his cheeks heat. Damn it, he never blushes.

Naruto hums, swaying closer so that his cheek rests against Sasuke's shoulder. His eyes are very, very blue. "Hm. Cuter when you blush."

"Shut up," Sasuke mutters, looking away. He'd walk away if he thought he could manage it with something approaching dignity. Or without falling flat on his face.

"Hey, Sasuke. It's not a bad thing. Hey. Sasuke," Naruto says, one arm flailing in the general area of Sasuke's head. "Hey. Hey. Sasuke."

"What," Sasuke snaps, turning back because the alternative is probably getting hit in the face.

Naruto grins at him, pleased. "Just wanna try something, ok?"

Before Sasuke gets a chance to reply, Naruto leans up, closing the distance between them.

His mouth, Sasuke realizes distantly, tastes like the ridiculously bright and sweet shots Naruto had been downing at the bar, but it's not- unpleasant.

Naruto is kissing him.

Sasuke shivers as Naruto licks into mouth, his hands settling possessively at Naruto's waist although he doesn't really know what he's doing. He tries to copy what Naruto does, which seems to work if the sounds Naruto's making are anything to go by.

Naruto finally pulls away, leaving Sasuke gasping for breath. He drops his forehead against Sasuke's shoulder and begins to laugh, genuine and happy.

Sasuke blinks, but it's nice to hear Naruto happy. Eventually, Naruto's laughter stops, and Sasuke finds himself hoping that Naruto will kiss him again.

Naruto makes a noise and presses closer to Sasuke.

"... Naruto?" he asks.

Naruto snuffles in his sleep and wraps his arms around Sasuke's waist.

... Seriously. Fucking seriously?

Sasuke bites his lip to keep from voicing his frustration, probably in the form of a scream. He squeezes his eyes shut, but no, when he opens them again Naruto is still out cold.

Carefully, Sasuke manages to extricate himself from Naruto's grasp and staggers to his old bedroom. He falls asleep almost as soon as his head touches the pillow.

xx

Sasuke wakes up with a splitting head. His mouth tastes like death, and he can barely open his eyes.

When he does manage to open them, he wishes he hadn't. The light filtering through the window is blinding. He closes them again immediately.

Sasuke manages to doze off after that.

Naruto wanders in at some point and places a glass of water and a painkiller on the night table. "For when you wake up, teme," he mutters, apparently unaware that Sasuke is at least semi-conscious.

Conscious enough to be incredibly jealous that one of the perks of housing Kurama seems to be an immunity to hangovers.

Sasuke would curse Naruto if he had the energy to do so. But then Naruto closes the blinds and leaves the room in blessed semi-darkness and Sasuke decides that maybe Naruto isn't so bad after all.

He clumsily drinks some water and takes the pill before dozing off again.

When he wakes up next, feeling moderately more alert, he can hear voices coming from the front of the apartment.

Wincing, Sasuke sits up gingerly. His mouth still tastes disgusting, and he gulps down the rest of the water. Halfway through, he suddenly remembers about last night- about kissing Naruto- and he nearly chokes.

Only nearly, though. Sasuke sets the glass aside and stands. Thankfully, the room only spins a little bit. His steps are silent out of habit, and the door is partially open anyway so he slips out and ghosts down the hall.

Naruto and Sakura are sitting at the kitchen table.

Naruto's face looks so very guilty. Sakura's back is to the hall, but Sasuke can see her holding Naruto's hand on the tabletop.

"-it's ok, Naruto," Sakura's saying gently. "I'm not mad at you for hitting on Sasuke."

Sasuke's seen enough. He's heard enough.

He was stupid to think that Sakura wouldn't eventually get worn down by Naruto's persistence, that Naruto would give up his childhood crush. He'd chased Sasuke for more than three years, after all. How long had he been crushing on Sakura?

Sasuke turns on his heel, calmly returns to the bedroom and jumps out the window.

xx

Naruto's apartment is on the second floor, facing the alley. Sasuke lands lightly and stalks off.

He doesn't try to decipher the emotions churning within himself; he latches onto his fury (the familiar) and ignores everything else.

Naruto and Sakura are allowed to do whatever they'd like together, with or without him, Sasuke savagely tells himself.

(But if that's the case, why is he so angry?)

He practically runs someone over on his way to the Uchiha district and bites back his instinctive snarl of watch it, because really it's his own fault. Everyone else had just been giving him a wide berth when they'd seen the thunderous expression on his face.

"Ah, Sasuke-san-"

Sasuke blinks, looking down at Daisuke in surprise.

Daisuke smiles, politely not remarking on Sasuke's disheveled and obviously hung over appearance. "Sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going."

"...No, it was my fault," Sasuke says grudgingly, remembering how Daisuke had stepped in at the bar the night before. "Congratulations on your promotion, by the way," he adds, noticing that Daisuke is wearing the vest.

Daisuke brightens, his smile widening into something real. Fuck, why is Sasuke surrounded by people who smile for no reason. He doesn't even really like Daisuke, although the medic was more tolerable after Sasuke snapped at him before the second stage of the chuunin exams. "Thanks! You too, of course. But there was never any question of your promotion, was there?" he remarks, good-natured.

"Not really."

"Haha! So modest," Daisuke chuckles. "Anyway, I'm going to be late for my shift, so I'll see you around, ok?"

Sasuke grunts. "Later," he mutters. Then, because he can just imagine Naruto's disapproval if he finds out Sasuke spoke to Daisuke and didn't thank him, he calls, "Daisuke, wait."

Daisuke pauses, looking faintly confused. "Sasuke-san?"

"Thanks," he says. "For last night."

Daisuke blinks, surprised. Sasuke supposes he deserves that. He's not someone who gives apologies or thanks lightly. "Of course. Even if it was only briefly, we were a team after all." He bids Sasuke goodbye again and hurries off in the direction of the hospital.

Team, huh? Sasuke's mouth twists, his thoughts returning to Naruto and Sakura as he continues towards to the Uchiha district.

xx

"Traitor," Sai says, popping up at his side as he reaches the main gate to the compound.

Because clearly Sasuke wasn't having a bad enough day already.

"Sai," Sasuke says shortly, his stride not faltering despite the fact that he didn't sense Sai's approach. His lingering hangover and- whatever is going on with Naruto and Sakura were distracting him. "What are you doing here."

"Monitoring you, in my capacity as a member of Team Kakashi," Sai says, and if he hadn't been an emotionally-stunted Root operative, Sasuke would have thought Sai sounded smug and then he would have had the perfect excuse to deck the artist in the emotionally-stunted face.

"A replacement," Sasuke retorts, trying and failing to rein in his anger.

"I prefer to think of myself as an improvement," Sai says serenely, his eyes forming identical arcs as he smiles.

Sasuke doesn't bother hiding his killing intent. "Leave," he snarls.

"I already told you, traitor, I can't. Someone has to keep you under surveillance at all times. I can call Naruto or Sakura, but I believe Kakashi and Yamato are on a mission outside the village."

Spending time with Naruto or Sakura (or worse, both) right now would only enrage him further; while he can barely stand Sai, the former ANBU is the best alternative. He turns on his heel and heads deeper into the abandoned Uchiha complex, not particularly caring if Sai follows or not.

xx

"I don't get it," Sai remarks, after Sasuke has taken a shower, changed, and had two hours of knocking out the decrepit, decaying walls of a house backing on the Nakano.

He feels a little better, but not enough to make a conversation with Sai seem appealing. He's not sure that will ever happen.

"What," he says anyway, more out of reflex than anything else because if he ignores Sai, Naruto or Sakura will look at him with such disappointment.

Except neither of them are here. They're probably too busy with each other.

Sasuke shuts down that train of thought. Damn it, how could they condition him to care about ignoring annoying people without him noticing?

"Why are you angry?" Sai asks, seemingly earnest. "Naruto and Sakura-"

"-are welcome to do whatever they want," Sasuke interrupts harshly.

Sai tilts his head slightly, eyes narrowed. "Then why are you angry."

Sasuke grits his teeth. "I'm not angry," he snaps.

Sai raises an eloquent eyebrow, a habit that he has picked up recently. Sasuke hates that he knows his replacement well enough to notice.

"Shut up and help me finish this," Sasuke adds, turning away.

"If you'll answer another question," Sai says, making no move towards him.

Sasuke narrows his eyes, reminding himself that Kakashi and Yamato are out of the village and he's just made chuunin and killing Sai - hell, maiming him - would not do anything to help Tsunade's trust in him. "Fine, what is it," he grounds out.

"Why haven't you done anything about the master bedroom and the second bedroom in the main wing of your house?" Sai asks, sounding a mixture of bored and curious.

Sasuke stiffens. His mind obligingly conjures up images of rare mornings spent lying between his parents when he was a small child, watching dust motes float in the sunlight and falling asleep in Itachi's bed waiting for the then-genin to return from missions.

"That's- none of your business," Sasuke snarls, aware that he took too long to reply, aware that his hands are clenching and relaxing compulsively.

Sai hums, non-committal. "Then I guess you'll have to finish this yourself," he observes.

Sasuke pretends that they're still talking about knocking out walls. He's always been rather good at pretending, except for the times he's not.

xx

Kakashi returns the next day. He offers Naruto and Sasuke a transparent apology for missing their 'big day' - but claims he knew they were going to get a promotion anyway.

Sasuke is inclined to agree; failing either of them would have been a joke at best. He just grunts in reply to Kakashi's words and demands to know what their next mission will be.

"Yeah," Naruto agrees, "we're chuunin now so... C-rank missions at least, right?!"

"Hm, well, let me just check the mission that I picked up when I was making my report earlier..." Kakashi makes a show of pulling out another mission scroll and hands it to Sasuke.

It's the damn cat mission again.

"Seriously," he says, feeling his eyebrow twitch.

Kakashi smiles at him. "I'm a bit tuckered out from that last mission," he remarks. "The two of you can handle this one on your own, right? I mean, you're chuunin now," he adds, falsely earnest.

"This better be a joke, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto shouts, pointing a finger at the jounin's chest accusingly.

"... No?" Kakashi tries. "The duties of chuunin are no joke."

Sasuke grits his teeth. "Let's go," he says curtly to Naruto, stalking past their beaming teacher.

Naruto falls into step beside him, grumbling under his breath. "Can you believe this, Sasuke?" he complains. "Seriously, what is the point of getting promoted if you have to do the same shitty missions! There's gotta be innocent little genin out there better suited to catching this stupid cat."

"Hn."

Sasuke agrees, but he's still pissed at Naruto. He tries to tell himself, as he'd told Sai the day before, that Naruto was welcome to date who he liked, and that he should be happy that the blond was finally going out with the girl he'd been pursuing since their Academy days. Maybe if Sasuke repeats it enough, he'll be able to convince himself. It's worked in the past, after all.

And Sasuke is honestly glad that Sakura has gotten over him - she is a close friend, notwithstanding the scene that Sasuke had unwittingly stumbled upon yesterday - but he does wish that she had found someone else.

And what the hell did Naruto think he was doing, drunkenly coming onto Sasuke when he was dating Sakura? Though it seems that in this, as with most things, the consequences were rather mild when it came to Naruto's transgressions. Sakura apparently hadn't even been upset.

"-suke? Sasuke?" Naruto sounds confused, and a little bit hurt. He must have been talking while Sasuke was absorbed in his own thoughts.

"Hn?"

"What's wrong?"

Sasuke glances over, taking in the knitted brows and the thoughtful pout of Naruto's mouth.

The memory of that brief kiss two days ago suddenly overwhelms him; Sasuke feels his cheeks heat at the remembrance and quickly turns away. "Nothing's wrong," he says, but his voice is hoarse and anything but casual or dismissive.

"Is it- about- the night we got promoted?" Naruto says, coming closer. "Sasuke, I-"

"Yeah, it is," Sasuke snaps harshly, remembering Sakura's hand over Naruto's. He pauses, glad that the street they're on is out of the way, and deserted apart from the two of them. He turns to glare at Naruto, ignoring the fading heat in his cheeks.

Naruto looks stricken. "Look- Sasuke, I'm sorry," he says, his stupid blue eyes wide and beseeching.

Sasuke clenches his fists. "You should be."

Naruto actually flinches. His expression closes, eyes dimming. "Yeah," he says, his gaze focussed on some point above Sasuke's left shoulder. "Sorry if I offended you with what I said." He sucks in a breath and looks briefly at Sasuke's face, before returning to his vacant stare. "I guess I should be glad you took pity on me and didn't beat me up after I passed out for calling you cute."

Sasuke stares at him.

No mention of the kiss- And did Naruto really think that Sasuke was enough of an asshole to beat up an unconscious person? Besides, Sasuke might have been annoyed by the remarks but- Naruto's words had evoked a different reaction from the revulsion Sasuke experienced when the fangirls of his youth had idolized him. Or even the more sophisticated (though equally as subtle, which was to say not at all) attempts by Karin to garner his favour.

"Of course I didn't," he manages, the anger draining out of him abruptly. Confusion has taken its place.

Naruto shakes his head, an obviously forced smile appearing on his face. "Look, sorry," he repeats.

"Stop apologizing," Sasuke snaps, the anger surging up again with the appearance of Naruto's fake smile. Dimly, he's aware that he's contradicting himself, but he doesn't really care. "Just- shut up about that, ok? I don't know why you did it in the first place." Surely Naruto would have been happy enough with Sakura, why did he have to go and kiss Sasuke? Even if it seemed that he didn't remember that much.

Naruto's smile falters, but remains stubbornly fixed. "Right. Right, ok. Let's just put this behind us, ok? We were drunk, stuff happened that won't happen again, the end." He shrugs. "Ok? Let's go catch Tora."

Without waiting for a reply, Naruto turns away and starts up the street.

Sasuke glares at his retreating back, wondering what just happened.

xx

Much to Sasuke's annoyance - it's not like he actually agreed to what Naruto had said, after all - Naruto stubbornly persists in acting like nothing happened.

Except his smiles are almost always forced these days, apart from when they're around the rest of the expanded Team Seven. He seldom laughs.

Sasuke wants to ask him what the hell his problem is, but he finds himself uncharacteristically hesitant to bring up that night. Naruto doesn't remember the kiss. What does that mean? And he's dating Sakura now - Sasuke isn't quite selfish enough to try and break them up.

His annoyance makes him more curt with Naruto, who responds by trying even harder to pretend that things are fine. This only serves to make Sasuke even more irritated. It's a vicious cycle and Sasuke can recognize that - but he's at a loss about how to break it.

"Your dynamic isn't what it used to be," Kakashi remarks about a month later, his eye narrowed at the two of them.

"Maybe if we had more challenging missions that would change," Sasuke snaps. They've only done one C-rank since reaching chuunin, and it left a lot to be desired, in Sasuke's opinion.

"Maybe," Kakashi says, in a tone that really says I doubt it.

"Maybe if we had a better teacher!" Naruto says pointedly.

"I doubt it," Kakashi deadpans. He pulls out his porn and a scroll with one hand, an impressive display of dexterity. "Here's the next mission."

"The fucking cat again?" Sasuke snarls, recognizing the tattered scroll even without his Sharingan. It's a testament to how often the damn cat goes missing that the mission office keeps a scroll detailing Tora's retrieval on-hand.

"Maybe," Kakashi says brightly, like a man dangling a carrot in front of a horse, "you'll beat your own very impressive record this time!"

"I hate you, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto says bitterly.

xx

Sasuke's reading a scroll from the Uchiha archives in the front room when Naruto walks in, shoulders hunched, face dejected.

(He's alone before Naruto shows up, which should really be the first clue that this isn't quite right, but he never seems to notice.)

"What's wrong?" Sasuke asks, putting aside the scroll and going over to Naruto.

Naruto turns tear-filled blue eyes to him. "S-sakura-chan broke up with me," he says. Uttering the words seems to break some dam within him, and Naruto suddenly starts sobbing. "Why, Sasuke?" he asks despairingly, pressing his face into Sasuke's shoulder.

Sasuke overcomes his shock in a few moments and hesitantly wraps his arms around Naruto. Comfort, be it verbal or physical, is hardly Sasuke's forte, but he rubs Naruto's back soothingly and murmurs some words and before long Naruto's heaving sobs have subsided.

"Sorry, Sasuke," Naruto murmurs, his cheeks still damp with tears as he pulls back from Sasuke's embrace. He looks- vulnerable.

"Don't be," Sasuke says, pressing his forehead against Naruto's. He smiles. "Seriously, I don't mind."

Naruto sniffles but manages a weak, sincere smile in return. "But still, I shouldn't drag you into this..."

"There's no place I'd rather be than by your side," Sasuke declares, shifting to stay in Naruto's sight as his eyes try to move away.

Naruto flushes, embarrassed. "Sasuke-"

Sasuke throws caution to the winds and presses forward the scant inch to kiss Naruto. His eyes widen, then flutter shut as a moan escapes him.

Sasuke hasn't shared many kisses - his first kiss, he realizes with some amusement, was that day they were assigned to Team Seven - but he's been thinking about that drunken kiss they exchanged with greater frequency than he would willingly admit.

This kiss far outshines their last one. Sasuke licks into Naruto's mouth, a bit surprised that he doesn't taste like ramen, eagerly seeking more of Naruto's pleased noises.

Before Sasuke realizes it, they're splayed out on the couch, clothes probably discarded on the floor, Sasuke can't really remember. Naruto has one callused hand wrapped around their erections, his grip lubricated by sweat and gathering pre-come.

"Sasuke," Naruto says, supporting himself with one arm as he leans over the Uchiha. "Sasuke."

Sasuke shudders, arching, wanting to taste Naruto's mouth once more as he tumbles over the edge.

Sasuke wakes up with his sleep pants sticking to his skin, damp with sweat and come. His body is heavy, sated and yet not. Shame and disgust twists in his gut - how desperate is he that he's dreaming of such a scenario? How pathetic is he, pining after someone who, interested in him or not, is already committed?

It isn't the first time he's woken in such a state either. He glares at the expanse of his ceiling as if it holds the answers to escaping his predicament. All he sees is the progressively lightening room as the sun rises. He doesn't fall asleep again.

xx

"Naruto," Kakashi says one night after a mission. "Aren't you eating dinner with Sakura tonight?"

Naruto blinks. "Oh, yeah. Hey, you want to come, Sasuke-"

"No," Sasuke says curtly, stalking past. He has no interest in playing the third wheel.

"Oh," Naruto says quietly. "Then-"

"Sakura's not going to be pleased if you're late, Naruto," Kakashi says.

"Like you're one to talk about being late, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto shouts, diverted.

Sasuke ignores them, continuing in the direction of the Uchiha district.

A few moments later, Kakashi falls into step beside him; Naruto's gone. Sasuke figures something's up the second he notices that Kakashi's hands are conspicuously empty of porn.

"Nice evening, isn't it," Kakashi says.

Sasuke doesn't bother hiding his eyeroll. "What," he says, impatient for his great and wise teacher to reach the point of this conversation.

"I said, nice evening-"

"What do you want," Sasuke clarifies, annoyed.

"Hm. There are a great many things that I want," Kakashi remarks. "The majority of them are out of my reach. I'm sure you know, but I'm the only survivor of my original team."

Sasuke sneers. Yes, he knows that sob story. Kakashi killed the girl, Obito killed their sensei and Sasuke killed Obito.

"That's why I'm so glad that my pupils are still alive and kicking. Emphasis on the kicking, especially for you, Sasuke-kun."

"I didn't survive for your sake," Sasuke says, his temper flaring even further at the diminutive form of address. "And it was no thanks to you, either."

Kakashi doesn't outwardly react. "Of course not. An avenger lives only for revenge, after all."

Sasuke is getting tired of this conversation very quickly. "Get to the point," he snaps.

"I thought," Kakashi says, slowly, "that you were growing up. Moving on. Living for something other than revenge, now that you've killed everyone you feel is responsible."

Responsible for what, the jounin doesn't clarify. Sasuke doesn't know if he'd be able to say, either.

"So?" he prods, as the silence stretches.

"Well, I've been wrong about my students before, after all," Kakashi says, with an air of finality.

Sasuke stiffens. What the fuck. Who is Kakashi to- "Fuck off," he snarls, before that train of thought can go too far. "I didn't ask for your opinion."

"Hmm, no. You didn't, did you?" Kakashi muses.

Sasuke grits his teeth. It's a sign of how shitty his life's become that he actually wishes Sai were here in Kakashi's place. At least his words are only calculated to hurt the surface - he isn't socially adept enough to see through most people's emotional facades.

"Have you considered that maybe I don't want to see any more stupid kids miss opportunities because they're too blind to see what's in front of them?" Kakashi asks.

"Have you considered that I don't give a fuck about what you want," Sasuke snaps back.

"The thought had crossed my mind," Kakashi agrees. "But as I said, I thought you were changing." He shrugs, producing his Icha Icha from his weapon pouch. "It turns out I'm not a terribly good judge of character after all."

Sasuke seethes all the way back to his house and he pointedly closes the door in Kakashi's face.

But he's still awake, turning Kakashi's words over in his mind when Naruto returns home and Kakashi leaves.

Was Kakashi seriously telling him to get between Sakura and Naruto? After everything he'd done to hurt them? He didn't regret his actions; they were necessary, after all - but they also rendered Sasuke undeserving of Sakura and Naruto's regard. It's better this way, isn't it? If Naruto and Sakura can be happy together, then Sasuke can... live with it. He'll learn to. Eventually.

If he tells himself that often enough, it'll probably even ring true one day.

xx

Naruto gets called out of the village for some diplomatic thing or other with Kumo. Sasuke isn't terribly interested in the details - the only one that interests him is that Naruto will be going with the Konoha delegation to meet the Raikage in Kumo.

Sasuke isn't annoyed about being left out, though it would be nice to travel further than ten miles outside Konoha's walls once and a while. But A doesn't seem to trust Sasuke - little wonder why - so Sasuke stays behind in Konoha.

He'd been a bit worried that Kakashi would take the opportunity to continue that vague, upsetting conversation they'd had before, but he doesn't.

Without Naruto around to shout at Kakashi and call him on his bullshit, Sasuke finds himself even more easily annoyed by his sloppy habits. Knowing that it's all (well, mostly) a facade doesn't even help.

"Well, here's me," Kakashi remarks, about three days after the Konoha delegation left the village. He stops just in front of the gate to the Uchiha district.

Sasuke glances at him in disbelief. "What?"

"Sai and Sakura are waiting inside! I have a mission outside of the village today."

Sasuke scowls. "Let me come with you," he says, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm chuunin now but we still just do shitty D-ranks-"

"Have fun with Sai and Sakura!" Kakashi says brightly, and teleports away.

Sasuke feels his eyebrow twitch in irritation. It's bad enough that Naruto's out of the village and leaving him alone with Kakashi, and now Kakashi's ditching him for Sai and Sakura?

This was clearly arranged; if Kakashi knew to alert Sai and Sakura to be here because he knew Tsunade would assign them another mission to restore the district, then what was the point of going all the way to the Hokage's tower in the first place?

Except to annoy Sasuke, of course.

Grumbling, he follows the faint but familiar signature of Sakura and Sai's chakra. They're lingering in front of his house-

Kissing.

Sasuke stares, frozen, standing at the corner of the street.

He always thought that punching Sai would be somehow more satisfying, but he's too furious to really register the satisfaction. He hadn't even realized what he was doing before his fist connected with Sai's face.

The competitive side of him notes that Sakura's punches usually send Sai flying a lot further.

"What the hell are you doing!?" he snarls, rounding on Sakura. He doesn't punch her, because she's a girl (she'd probably punch him if he admitted that) and also because he did actually like her.

"Wha- Sasuke, what's wrong?" Sakura's cheeks are dusted with a blush, but she doesn't seem- guilty. Just embarrassed.

What the fuck is going on here?

"You-"

"He thought you and dickless were going out, Sakura," Sai explains, dusting himself off. He spits out a bit of blood, looking otherwise unaffected. "And that you were cheating on dickless with me just now."

Sasuke should've charged a Chidori before punching him, damn it.

"What?! Is that true?" Sakura demands, her blush deepening. She looks more angry than embarrassed now, though.

Sasuke takes an apprehensive step back before he can stop himself. "Uh," he says. Then he rallies and turns to Sai. "You didn't tell me otherwise," he accuses.

"I tried, but you wouldn't listen," Sai says. "Showing you was easier."

"You knew that he thought that?!" Sakura demands. "Sai!"

"I just told you why I didn't tell him-"

Sakura spins back to Sasuke. The temperature seems to drop several degrees. "So you do like Naruto back?"

Like... Naruto. Back?

Sasuke stares at her blankly. Naruto... likes him?

"So you've been acting like a dick because you were jealous and you thought Naruto was going out with me," Sakura continues, her voice dangerously calm.

Too out of sorts to properly think his words through, all Sasuke can offer is a confused, "Well, yes?"

In the ominous silence that follows, Sai helpfully remarks, "You might want to run now, traitor."

Sasuke casts an incredulous glance at him - it's all Sai's fault, after all - and as a result he nearly loses his head when Sakura reels back and punches him.

As he sails through the air, Sasuke finds himself wondering how Sai puts up with this all the time. Sakura hits really hard. Well-honed instincts have him landing in a roll and emerging relatively unscathed, smarting cheek notwithstanding.

After taking one Sharingan-enhanced look at Sakura's face - murderous is the only word that comes to mind to describe her expression - Sasuke follows Sai's advice and runs the hell away.

xx

"Wow," Yamato says, surveying the present male members of Team Seven. They look like they've been on a battlefield. "Do I want to know what happened?" He glances at Sakura, who is exuding an aura of smug satisfaction and is remarkably spotless.

"Yeah, Tenzou, you should definitely ask," Kakashi says sarcastically, his noticeably slurred words betraying the fact that his face must be swelling beneath his mask.

"It's a trap, sempai," Sai says gravely. How he manages to enunciate properly is a mystery to Sasuke - but then again, he gets punched in the face by Sakura on a regular basis, so he's probably used to it by now.

Sasuke ignores them all, although he can't ignore the steady throbbing of his jaw. Sakura only managed to punch him twice more after the initial blow, but it still hurts.

"I beat them up because they're idiots," Sakura says, smiling.

"Hm, you know what, I don't really want to know the details, actually," Yamato decides, nodding. "So, why'd you guys call me here?" he asks, blatantly changing the subject.

Sai, Sakura and Kakashi all look at Sasuke. After a moment, Yamato does the same.

"I want to remodel my pa- the master bedroom. And the second bedroom. Of the main house," Sasuke says. He figures it's about time, even if he maybe isn't completely ready.

Yamato glances at Kakashi. "I forget, did you or did you not teach your students basic etiquette, sempai?"

Sasuke huffs. "Your Mokuton would be a great asset in this endeavour. I would be honoured if you would consent to aid me, Yamato-san." He even manages to keep most of the sarcasm out of his tone.

"I certainly didn't teach them that much," Kakashi says, surprised.

"All right, since you asked so nicely, I'll do it," Yamato says, smiling. It's about as genuine and heart-warming as Sai's smile, which is to say not at all.

Sasuke possibly needs to re-examine his life choices because despite his efforts he's still surrounded by people who smile without meaning it.

"Thanks," he says anyway, and is a little surprised to find that he actually means it.

xx

After Yamato helps Sasuke remodel his parents' and Itachi's rooms, the expanded Team Seven helps him move his things into Itachi's old room, and Naruto's into Sasuke's childhood room.

"You could just move everything into the master bedroom," Sai points out. "It's probably going to happen anyway, assuming you're not stupid enough to convince yourself that Naruto is going out with another improbable individual between now and then."

"Fuck off," Sasuke says, without any heat.

"Rude," Sai says. Then, looking at Sakura, who's arranging Naruto's knickknacks on the shelf, he adds, "Are you just going to let him get away with speaking like that to me?"

Sakura pretends not to hear him.

"Stop teasing each other, you two," Kakashi says absently. He's got a box of clothes at his feet, which, upon inspection, is the same box that he picked up when they first started moving things. He's reading his porn, of course.

Lazy bastard, Sasuke thinks, then is appalled at the fondness that accompanies the thought.

"Stop slacking off, sempai," Yamato says, rising out of the floor with another box of the random things that Naruto has accumulated over his life.

"I'm the commander here," Kakashi says loftily. "I'm supervising."

"I don't think that word means what you think it means," Yamato says mildly.

Sasuke puts a pin in the wall, behind the door, and sets Naruto's wall calendar on it. Before he'd left, Naruto had circled a day, about a week and a half from the current one, and written return to Konoha! on it in his usual chicken scratch.

Sasuke doesn't know if he can wait a week and a half.

"Huh, he wears boxers," Sai remarks, from the vicinity of where they'd placed Naruto's dresser.

"Sai!" Sakura snaps, sounding scandalized. "Don't go through Naruto's underwear drawer!"

"White with little red hearts," Kakashi says approvingly. "Classic."

"Sempai, that's hardly appropriate," Yamato says disapprovingly.

Sasuke sighs, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. No, he doesn't know if he can wait a week and a half, especially not with these clowns masquerading as teammates.

xx

"You look like you went two rounds with Sakura-san," Daisuke remarks absently as he gently examines the blossoming bruises on Sasuke's face.

"I did," he says.

Daisuke blinks. "Oh. Wow. Most people can't walk after sparring with her."

"I'm not most people."

"That's true," Daisuke agrees, grinning. "Hm, there's nothing broken or even fractured, but if Sakura-san is the one who inflicted these, I'm not sure it's my place to heal them."

It figures that Sakura would have her fellow medics toeing the same line she has her teammates toeing.

"Hn. I expected as much," Sasuke says. "I came here to invite you to a welcome back party for Naruto."

Daisuke looks surprised. "Really? Ah, I mean, thank you, Sasuke-san. I would be happy to attend, if my shifts at the hospital don't prevent it."

Sasuke nods. "It's next week, at the main house in the Uchiha district, if you can make it."

"I'll do my best," Daisuke says.

"Thanks." Sasuke stands, mutters a goodbye, and walks out of the examination room.

He still has more people to invite, and since he isn't all that fond of making small talk with the various acquaintances he and Naruto share, he figures he should try to do it all in one day.

xx

Sasuke entrusts the decorating to Sai - he's artistic, after all, he'll probably be able to manage something that isn't too offensive to the eyes, right? And Sakura looks proud of him when Sasuke suggests it; he isn't sure how to feel about that, but he has a suspicion that if he dwells upon it too long he'll only end up annoyed. So he accepts it and moves on with the planning, happy to delegate. He's never planned a party before, and after the tiresome day he'd spent wandering Konoha inviting people to the event, he was hardly looking forward to the other aspects.

Fortunately, Ino and Sakura are more than willing to arrange most of what's left - refreshments and snacks and any number of things that Sasuke really doesn't know anything about and would probably forget.

He's a little surprised that Ino is so willing to help him - most of his yearmates ignored him at best or were obviously hostile at worst - and Ino was no exception. However, none of them had openly refused to show up to the party that Sasuke was planning, and actually talking to them wasn't the trial that Sasuke had been expecting.

Then he overhears Ino saying, I knew he favoured blondes, to Sakura, which really just explains everything. Sasuke rolls his eyes, but if that's what she wants to tell herself - well, she could even be joking, as far as he knows. It's not as if he and Ino were ever close in the first place, anyway. He's not going to go over there and explain all the reasons why he likes Naruto, and how his hair colour really has nothing to do with it.

Like isn't even the right word, but Sasuke... He doesn't think he's quite ready to acknowledge the depth of his affection for Naruto.

So the party comes together, and it's not as much of a pain as he thought it'd be. Sasuke finds himself speaking more in those couple of days than he probably has since- he can't even remember when.

xx

Tsunade still looks at him like she's just waiting for him to betray Konoha (again) but she agrees to Sasuke's request easily enough.

He's kind of regretting making the request now, though.

"Focus, Sasuke," Kakashi says. "You're the one who wanted to be out of the village when Naruto returned."

Sasuke scowls, but his thoughts return to Naruto soon enough. Has he returned yet? What if he's delayed?

"If you start sighing like a lovesick teenaged girl, I am not going to stand for it," Kakashi tells him.

"I'm not going to start sighing," Sasuke snaps. "This isn't one of your shitty porn novels."

"I don't know if you're mature enough to be in a relationship if you don't appreciate the literary masterpiece that is the Icha Icha series," Kakashi says.

"Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you," Sasuke says. It's rhetorical, he doesn't actually want to know. "Can we please just run the patrol and get it over with?"

"I don't know if these old bones can keep up with you."

"I'll carry you. Piggyback, like that time with Gai-san that Naruto was telling me about."

"I'm going to kill that brat," Kakashi says mildly. "If you agree never to mention that again, I'll do it."

"Done."

xx

The lights of Sasuke's house are dark when he and Kakashi walk up, except for one illuminated in the back of the house. The door opens before they can touch it, dim light spilling onto the stoop.

"Oh, good. You're just in time," Ino says, and grabs Kakashi and Sasuke by the front of their vest and shirt respectively, hauling them inside with a strength that belies her size.

Sasuke kicks the door shut behind them and straightens, stepping away from her. Now that they're inside, he can hear excited whispering from the front room and smell a mixture of aromas that he assumes is from cooking.

"Naruto isn't here yet?" he asks, peering around in the semi-darkness for any sign of him.

"No," Ino sighs. "Apparently there was some delay and they arrived a few hours later than expected. But Sakura sent a mesage they should be done briefing Tsunade-sama soon. They might be on their way here already."

"Hn." Sasuke frowns. "Why are the lights off?"

Ino shoots him a disbelieving look. "Seriously? We're going to surprise him. It's not a surprise party if you don't hide and jump out when the guest of honour arrives!"

Sasuke can vaguely remember participating in such an activity when he was younger and the clan was still around. It was for an older cousin, if he recalled correctly.

"If you say so," he says, when it becomes obvious that Ino seems to be waiting for some sort of response.

She sighs again and shakes her head pityingly. "So, you'll meet Naruto in the entrance when he gets back and lead him into the front room, so the rest of us can surprise him, all right?"

"I think I can manage," Sasuke says, but he's too preoccupied with anticipating Naruto's imminent arrival to be irritated by her patronizing tone.

Ino nods. "Everyone on the guest list that you gave me is here, except Sai and Sakura," she adds.

"Great," Sasuke says. He's a little surprised, to be honest. While no one had outright said no to his invitation, not all of them had said yes either; and some hadn't seemed particularly keen to attend.

"Excuse me," Kakashi says, speaking up for the first time. "I don't suppose there's any way I can sample some of those tantalizing hors d'oeuvres, is there?" He smiles charmingly at Ino.

"Absolutely not," she says briskly. "And put the porn away, sensei. You'll be getting a front row seat into the awkward courtship rituals of almost-adults, isn't that better than something you've probably memorized by now?"

Sasuke wants to protest the 'awkward', but then decides that it would be way too much trouble. He should be irritated that Sakura told pretty much the whole village - well, she'd told Ino and Ino had told pretty much the whole village, which was more or less the same thing - about his feelings for Naruto, but the villagers' attitude as a whole seems to have softened towards Sasuke in light of that information.

"I've witnessed more than enough awkward teenage courtships in my lifetime, thank you," Kakashi says haughtily, pointedly raising the book in front of his face. Never mind that it's far too dark for him to be able to make out the words, especially with his Sharingan covered.

"I suppose someone of your advanced age would have," Ino sniffs.

Sasuke snorts, even as Kakashi sends Ino a wounded look. "Shouldn't you be hiding?" he prods, in spite of his amusement.

Kakashi cocks his head. "You know, I think we should. If I'm not wrong, I'm sensing Sai's approach." He ambles off towards the front room, porn firmly in hand.

Left alone together, Ino gives Sasuke a hard look. "You know," she says, pursing her lips, "you're kind of a dick, Sasuke."

He raises his eyebrows at her. He's overheard her calling him much worse, but never to his face. "That didn't seem to bother you before," he remarks.

Ino tosses her head impatiently. "I was young and ignorant," she admits, unashamed. "I know better now. And I guess you're not all bad, you did come back, after all."

Sasuke stares at her wordlessly, uncertain of what to say to that.

"But, S-rank former criminal or not, if you break Naruto's heart... I will end you. And maybe I can't take you alone, but I can guarantee the rest of the Rookie Eleven will help me. Sai would pitch in, I'm sure. Kakashi-sensei and Yamato too. Not to mention Tsunade-sama. And that's just Naruto's close acquaintances," Ino says casually, like they're making small talk over tea. Her eyes are flinty, reminiscent of ice.

"... I understand," Sasuke says, a little stiffly. How strange it is, to remember the outcast that Naruto used to be. Now it seems as if the whole of Konoha loves him. Not that Naruto doesn't deserve it - he does, and more - but the contrast is... striking. "But you should know that I have no intention of doing so," he adds, narrowing his eyes at her.

Ino smiles, the atmosphere lightening imperceptibly. "Great, that's just what I wanted to hear!" She nods and walks away, leaving Sasuke alone.

Briefly. Sai opens the door a moment later, shutting it just as quickly behind him.

"Uchiha," he greets him, smiling his fake smile.

Not traitor? Sasuke almost asks, but decides he doesn't want to know the answer. "Sai," he answers, inclining his head slightly. He imagines that Sai was listening at the door before entering. Shinobi in general have little qualms about eavesdropping, and surely Root operatives have even less.

"Naruto and Sakura should be here soon," Sai reports without prompting. "Tsunade-sama informed me that she would be stopping by later and that there had better be sake."

"There might be sake," Sasuke says doubtfully. To be honest, he has no idea what sort of food and drink is going to be offered.

"I went the liquor store with Sakura and we bought several bottles," Sai agrees.

"Great," Sasuke says, not quite knowing what else to say to that.

"I couldn't help but pause outside the door when I sensed the delicate nature of the conversation beyond it," Sai begins, after a few moments of silence.

Sasuke rolls his eyes, exasperated rather than annoyed.

"And, upon hearing what the dumb blonde was saying, couldn't help but agree wholeheartedly," Sai says, smiling.

"I'd better not be getting some variation of this conversation from everyone here," Sasuke mutters.

"Well, Daisuke-kun probably wouldn't feel familiar enough to broach the subject," Sai says.

Sasuke can't tell whether he's joking or not. Before he has the chance to ask, Sai walks past him and disappears into the depths of the house.

Sasuke resorts to peering out the front window periodically, staring down the street to where Naruto should be appearing soon. Naruto and Sakura, he amends, but it's not like Sakura has been absent for two weeks.

Finally, an eternity later - relatively speaking; it was probably less than fifteen minutes, really - Naruto and Sakura turn the corner and begin walking up the street.

Sasuke immediately presses himself against the wall, out of sight. Then he takes another look, activating his Sharingan so that he can dissect Naruto's appearance in the darkness. He very carefully doesn't think about how pathetic he's being.

Naruto looks tired but pleased. He and Sakura are discussing something, but Sasuke doesn't bother reading their lips. It's probably not important. A small smile is playing across Naruto's features, and he laughs briefly at something Sakura says. A surge of (irrational, he now knows) jealousy flares up, but he pushes it away, returning to his position out of sight of the window. It wouldn't do to reveal that he's been lurking by his own front door waiting for Naruto's return would it?

The pair of them are close enough that Sasuke can feel their presence, and he can hear their voices faintly, then their footsteps just outside.

Sasuke opens the door before either of them can, making his hiding by the window pointless. He doesn't even care.

"Sasuke!" Naruto's smile strains, becomes forced. Sasuke feels guilty that he is the cause of Naruto's unease. Nevertheless, Naruto does seem to perk up at the sight of him.

"Naruto," he says, stepping over the threshold. He doesn't even spare Sakura a glance; he's barely even aware that she's there, two paces to Naruto's left. "I missed you," Sasuke says, moving closer.

Naruto looks surprised, almost painfully so. Then he breaks out into a big grin. "Yeah? I missed you too." He drops the heavy pack he'd taken on the mission with him and kneels down to start rummaging through it. "Listen," he says excitedly, tossing aside dirty clothes and other debris. "I found you this awesome-"

"Naruto," Sasuke says again, certain that whatever Naruto has found for him, it will indeed be awesome when Sasuke has attention to devote to it. Dimly, he registers Sakura slipping past him into the house. She closes the door behind herself with a quiet click, leaving him with Naruto.

"Eh?" Naruto glances up, confused. His eyes widen, then narrow, when he sees Sasuke's face. "You're acting... weird," he remarks, standing again. There's a strange look on his face, one that Sasuke doesn't recognize and cannot decipher.

"I... have been. I want to apologize for my behaviour before," Sasuke says. He's been rehearsing this in his head, everything that he wants to say to Naruto, but all the formal terms have gone from his head now that he's finally in front of his best friend again. "I think there was a misunderstanding. That was my fault. And then you misunderstood, and I didn't think to correct you because of what I thought had happened."

Naruto stares at him, unfathomable.

"I- That night, when you... you called me cute." He's glad for the darkness, which hopefully hides the flush he can feel in his cheeks. "I didn't dislike it. In fact I did like it. And what happened afterward." He's been thinking about their last kiss a lot, actually, but the memory never fails to leave him... distracted.

"... Afterward?" Naruto asks, tilting his head. There's a little confusion in his expression now, and hope, and Sasuke's heart swells. For all that Sakura had basically told him that Naruto liked him, he'd still been uncertain.

"You kissed me, and I liked," Sasuke says quickly, far too proud about the fact that he managed to utter the words without stuttering.

Naruto's staring at him blankly now, mouthing kissed over and over, as if he can't quite believe it.

"But the next morning I found you in the kitchen talking to Sakura and I thought - from what was being said - that you two were dating."

"We're not," Naruto says immediately, shaken out of his stupor. "She's going out with Sai."

"I know that... now. I didn't before. After you left, I found out, and Sakura enlightened me about a few things," Sasuke explains vaguely.

"With her fists," Naruto concludes, filling in the blanks.

"... Yes," Sasuke mutters, looking away.

Naruto laughs, brief and happy. Then he locks gazes with Sasuke. "So you... like me back?" There's that look again, like a little puppy just waiting to be kicked and told no.

"Yes," Sasuke repeats. "Yes, Naruto I li- I love you, I think."

Almost before the words have left Sasuke's mouth, Naruto's in his space, stumbling a little as he forgets about the backpack at his feet. Sasuke's back hits the door with a thump, and he automatically settles his hands on Naruto's hips. The blond grasps at Sasuke's shoulders, steadying himself with another bright laugh.

"Love," he repeats, with something uncomfortably close to reverence. Then, "Sasuke," before he presses their mouths together.

It's better than the drunken kiss, better than all the kisses that they'd shared in Sasuke's dreams, because his mind isn't clouded by alcohol or twisted by his own perception of Naruto. This is all Naruto, pure and bright and eager.

Time blurs, then, until someone knocks rather pointedly on the other side of the door.

Naruto pulls back regretfully, his lips red and slightly swollen. Sasuke follows blindly, but Naruto keeps him at arms' length. Sasuke would be hurt, except for the way that Naruto's gaze is focussed on Sasuke's mouth. He licks his lips, enjoying the sharp intake of breath that the action earns him.

"I think Sakura-chan's waiting for us," Naruto says slowly, making it look like a supreme force of effort to raise his eyes to meet Sasuke's.

"Hn," he says. Damn the party, they can wait. Or better yet, go home and leave him with Naruto. Yes, that sounds like an excellent plan.

Sakura pulls open the door and Sasuke staggers back without its support. "Come on you two," she says, fondly exasperated. "Are you going to let the ramen go to waste?"

"Ramen! I smell Ichiraku ramen!" Naruto says, tangling his left hand in Sasuke's right and dragging him deeper into the house.

Sakura smirks at them and Sasuke's momentarily blinded by the flash of a camera as she snaps off several pictures of them. He can't seem to stop smiling despite the annoyance of it all.

"In the.. front room?" Naruto draws up just past the threshold. Sasuke regains a bit of his presence of mind and fumbles for the light switch.

"Surprise!" shout most of Naruto and Sasuke's shared acquaintances, rising from various positions behind the accumulated furniture.

Naruto looks flummoxed.

Sasuke laughs and bumps their shoulders together, tightening his grip on Naruto's hand. "Didn't you say something about ramen?" he says.

"Mm, in a minute," Naruto says, pressing his temple to Sasuke's. "Did you... plan this for me?"

"Yeah," Sasuke mutters, embarrassed. He's acutely aware of the many pairs of eyes on them, but tries to ignore it. "Well, Sai did most of the decorating and Ino and Sakura did a lot of the planning but it was my idea."

Naruto grins at him. "No one's ever planned a party for me before," he confesses, looking surprisingly shy.

"Their loss," Sasuke manages.

"You see? I told you this would be better porn," Sasuke hears Ino say triumphantly to Kakashi.

"You mean better than porn, right?" Sakura says. Sasuke imagines she's frowning. That's her frowning voice.

Then Naruto leans in to kiss him and Sasuke doesn't bother listening to the rest of their conversation.

xx

omake (Sakura catches Sasuke after he realizes that Sakura and Naruto aren't dating)

"You're an idiot. You're all idiots," Sakura tells them.

Sasuke, jaw too sore to take any further beating without serious damage, just nods dutifully.

"Yes, Sakura," Sai agrees.

"Don't patronize me," Sakura says.

"Yes, Sakura-"

Sasuke winces as Sai goes flying through the air again. Now that he knows how much Sakura's punches hurt, he has a new appreciation for what Sai goes through every time.

"Hey," he says, following Sai's arc through the air with his eyes, "did you get Kakashi in on this too, asshole?"

"And don't call my boyfriend an asshole," Sakura says sweetly.

"I meant to say Sai."

Sakura narrows her eyes at him, clearly not fooled by the transparent lie.

"Kakashi-sempai is very knowledgeable on matters of the heart," Sai says gravely, diverting Sakura's attention. Why he keeps wandering back despite the punishment Sakura's meting out is beyond Sasuke. "He has memorized the manuals on matters of the heart."

"Please tell me you're not talking about his porn," Sasuke says, hating the pleading note in his voice.

"I'm talking about his porn," Sai says, mercilessly oblivious. Obliviously merciless.

"Are you saying Naruto and Sasuke's love lives are the same as poorly-written porn?" Sakura demands.

Sensing the change in mood with his well-honed social instincts (ha, ha... ha), Sai says, "No?"

"Wait," Sasuke says, before she can destroy Sai's face. "Shouldn't you be beating up Kakashi too? He must have known what was going on, ass- Sai just said so."

An unholy gleam enters Sakura's eyes. "You're right," she says. "And he's not as emotionally retarded as you two. He knew better."

She disappears, presumably in search of their erstwhile teacher.

Sasuke and Sai relax.

Sasuke can't even find it within himself to resent that last remark. Maybe Sai isn't so bad after all. He's got balls to be going out with Sakura, anyway. Sasuke hadn't realized how terrifying she was before this.

"Nice save, traitor," Sai says, destroying any goodwill that Sasuke had been building up for him.

"Just shut the fuck up."

Blessed silence.

"... Want to go watch Kakashi-sempai get beaten up by Sakura?" Sai offers.

"Yes," Sasuke says, without hesitation.


A/N: Written for the multifandom gift exchange on lj (multifan_exchange).