The Burning Mines

VI: Frictions and Life Stories Part II


The party was over.

Sasuke had tried to find Naruto after he'd come to senses. But he found the familiar blue truck driving away just as he'd dashed outside of the bar. Later he'd been stopped by Shikamaru, who had demanded what the hell Sasuke had told the blonde inside, but Sasuke had refused to answer, trying instead to find Kakashi. The insufferable man had been nowhere to be found for almost half an hour, but as soon as people began collapsing on the ground and heading on home, he'd found his mentor in the corner of the other bar, swapping spit with a woman who was much younger than he was.

Sasuke'd generously pulled Kakashi away, demanding to be taken home.

And so here they were.

"Sasuke, do you have any idea what some of these people are saying?" Kakashi was slurring, putting his hand on his forehead. "Koko tells me that Chiya told her that Mimi saw you fighting with Naruto in the opposite bar." Kakashi yawned. "Just tell me that's not true so I can sleep peacefully tonight.

Sasuke didn't look at his mentor, only glared ahead. He remembered how fast news travelled in the country side. "Forget about it."

They were on their way to Kakashi's truck now. He'd parked very far from the festivities, so as to avoid any accidents with any inebriated individuals, but he was probably regretting it now.

Kakashi was squinting ahead, and looking very lethargic. "Forget about it, huh? I guess something happened after all." He muttered, sounding disappointed.

"Nothing happened that the idiot won't forget in the morning." Sasuke replied angrily. "You should have seen how fucking drunk he was and—" he turned to Kakashi, eyes narrowed. "And why didn't you tell me Naruto was an alcoholic?" he demanded.

Kakashi stopped walking, his eyes widening a bit. "He actually told you? Well, that's a surprise. I didn't think Naruto knew it himself…"

"Shikamaru was the one who told me." Sasuke's voice was low, and his mind still reeled over the fact that Naruto of all people—

"Shikamaru told you?" Kakashi sounded genuinely surprised.

"He thought I already knew because I was living with Naruto – but what the hell, Kakashi?" Sasuke growled again when the gray haired man walked ahead of him. "Why didn't you tell me? As if the idiot would have been able to keep that from me for long—"

"Idiot this, idiot that," Kakashi complained waving a tired hand. "It's because I realized a long time ago that you didn't have Naruto's best interests in mind." He tried to explain, sounding serious. "You even confirmed it yourself with your little…anti-hotel scheme. Only Naruto's close friends know about his little problem. As far everyone's concerned you're not Naruto's friend, nor are you there for his best interests so…" he trailed off, and Sasuke huffed behind him.

"Of course I'm his friend – at the least." He insisted, catching up to the older man. "I'm enough of his friend to get angry that he's reduced himself to—"

"Reduced." Kakashi interrupted, chuckling a little. "Did you say that to his face?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. He stopped walking and looked at the brunette knowingly. "You did, didn't you? Chiya threw some words at me that I couldn't believe. Idiot. Degenerate? Tell me Sasuke, what kind of friend says those things to someone—"

Sasuke sighed angrily and threw his hands in the air. "I suppose me insulting him is worse than his drinking problem, is that it?" he asked accusingly. "Just because I'm the bad guy, trying to force a little reason into his dense skull is a sin—"

"Reason?" Kakashi interrupted, disbelieving. "Sasuke, you probably made him feel like shit tonight. At the worse time too." He added lowly. "With his new position at the mines he can't afford to be seen in that kind of situation. Humiliated like that, in front of the people who work for him." he sucked his teeth and shook a disappointed head. "After all these years you're still the same, Sasuke. People think that Naruto was the brash and erratic one because of his antics. But Naruto did them with people's feelings in mind. Always. But you?" The man scoffed. "You do things in complete disregard of them."

"Fuck you, old man."

Kakashi only shrugged. "Yeah, yeah, fuck me. It's my fault you're this way, anyway. Or at least my fault I didn't try to change you." He was walking ahead again, towards his truck. "We're the same, Sasuke. No regard for other people's feelings…" he trailed off, sounding sad.

Sasuke hissed and rolled his eyes. His mentor was obviously drunker than he was. "Just take me home." He demanded. "And I'll fix things with Naruto."

"You being there won't fix anything."

"Look," Sasuke began, annoyed. "I didn't mean to hurt him, all right? I was…angry." He explained lamely. "And still drunk, if I might add. Naruto knows how I get. He shouldn't have taken it so personally."

"You're so right, Sasuke. It's Naruto's fault he got hurt."

Sasuke didn't have to look at the man's face to know that he was rolling his eyes. The car was only several yards away now. "I'll drive." He said, walking ahead.

"No you're not. And you aren't going back to Naruto's house either."

"What?"

"He'll need time to recuperate, gather his bearings. The last thing he needs is you exacerbating the damage you've made—"

"I live there, Kakash—"

"No, you don't, Sasuke." Kakashi said, sounding angry for the first time. "You don't live anywhere – not in this County. Your home is in Sound now. Everything you had here? Gone. No longer yours. You've made sure of that."

Sasuke clenched his fists. "Well you helped me."

Kakashi lowered his head. "Yeah…Yeah, I did." He shook his head again. "Get in the car. I'll take you back to Naruto's in the morning."

"Early." Sasuke requested hastily. "Naruto left the house at like 5:30am this morning. I want to apologize before he leaves." He finished softly.

Kakashi looked up from over the car. His response was another sigh. "Can't I just take you to the mines in the morning—?"

"No. Face to face. No one else around. That's how I want to apologize."

"You said Naruto would be too drunk to remember…" his mentor murmured, sighing.

Sasuke pleaded with his eyes.

Kakashi's response to that didn't come for a long time. Finally he tapped the car hood once, before opening the door and getting inside.

Sasuke didn't need to hear his answer.

He knew he'd gotten his way.


Gaara was a strange driver.

That was the first neutral thought Naruto had after the torrent of curses and screaming he'd had in his head for the initial ten minutes of driving.

Honestly, Naruto thought. Shutting his eyes and breathing out once again. How could that man have so much power over him? After all these years. It was ridiculous.

Naruto hadn't felt this...sour in a long time. And Shikamaru. His prodding and repetitions didn't come close to what Sasuke could do but the fact that he'd told Sasuke about his…his problem.

Which wasn't a problem in the first place, Naruto huffed to himself, crossing his arms and glaring at the incoming and passing roads. When had his drinking ever come in the way of his work? When had his drinking ever come in the way of helping out his friends? Fucking never. He drank more than the average. That didn't make him an alcoholic. That made him a good holder of liquor.

A few years ago…

A few years ago he would have needed a drink just to get out of the house.

But not anymore.

He wasn't like that anymore. He had more control. He knew there was a time and place for everything. He hadn't blacked out in a year. He was good.

So how dare he.

How dare Sasuke tell him he was a fucking

Naruto gritted his teeth.

How could he had fallen in love with such an asshole? Thinking back Sasuke'd always been like this. But a quick fuck and a few sweet nothings and Naruto was fine and dandy wasn't he?

The blonde scowled. Maybe Sasuke was right. About him being a push-over. A degenerate. Only an idiot could have fallen in love with such a—

"Asshole." Naruto seethed, closing his eyes and banging his head on the head rest. A few more deep breaths and his eyes were open again. His fingernails dug the skin on the inside of his elbows and he chewed the inside of his mouth in an attempt to calm down. He would have to if he was going to make it to work tomorrow, if he was going to plaster that smile on his face and pretend to have no idea what the fuck anyone was talking about when they asked him what had happened on between him and a certain brunette last night.

The blonde sighed and looked to his left.

Gaara.

He was a strange driver.

Naruto squinted at him.

The speed limit was 45. He was going 30.

Who went under the speed limit? Maybe the limit was thirty in Suna…

Naruto's eyes dimmed a bit, remembering how he'd screamed at the redhead earlier. Gaara didn't deserve that. He was the last person he should have screamed at. Gaara was half the reason for the enjoyable part of the night.

Compared to Gaara's throat Naruto had the esophagus of a three year old. The blonde's mouth had been bleeding after the sixth shot of Whiskey, but Gaara swallowed everything like water.

He bit back a smile, remembering their little contest.

Then he shook his head. The redhead deserved an apology.

"Gaara."

The man behind the wheel looked at Naruto once, before he looked back at the road.

"I'm…I'm sorry if I'm bein' so bitter." He apologized, exhaling. "It's just…" He stopped, trying to find a way to put his thoughts into words.

He couldn't.

"That man..." Gaara began when Naruto trailed off. "He rub you wrong." He hesitated like he wanted to be careful with his words. "I understand that feelin' when someone rub you wrong. That…angry feelin'. You don't gotta apologize." He never took his eyes off the road.

Naruto gave him a small smile. "Sasuke did more than just…rub me wrong." He muttered, looking out the window. "That bastard chewed me up." He gave a small laugh. "That was so humiliatin'."

"Sasuke…" Gaara was saying, eyes dimming in the distance. "Name sounds familiar."

"Yeah well he's supposed to be some hot-shot in the city so, I dunno." Naruto shrugged. "I suppose people all over the place have heard of him…" He couldn't hide his bitter tone.

They were approaching Konata already.

"Just turn left there." Naruto pointed. "The house is the only one in this little area. Away from everythin' else."

Gaara did as he was told, keeping the same speed.

"Why you drivin' under the limit?" Naruto asked grinning a bit. "You afraid of drivin' in the dark or somethin'?"

Gaara pulled up in front of the house before he answered the blonde. He put the truck on park. "You didn't put your seatbelt."

Naruto blinked. "What?"

Gaara took his hands off the wheel, and nodded to the hanging fabric on the side of the blonde's head. "Was drivin' slow 'cause you didn't put on your seatbelt."

"…oh." Naruto replied lamely. He laughed once. "You just all kinds of considerate and nice, huh?"

The redhead's mouth moved, before he seemed to think better of what he was going to say and turned to look ahead again. "Ain't as nice as you think I am."

Naruto didn't know how to respond to that. Gaara's words sounded low even with the loud silence around them. They sat in the car with only the stars giving the road light. Even the crickets were quiet tonight.

"You should head on inside." The redhead said suddenly, taking off his seatbelt.

The overseer sat up in his own seat, raising his eyebrows. "Where you goin'?"

"Back." Gaara replied simply.

"Back?" Naruto repeated, disbelieving. "You mean back to the bars?"

"No. I don't live far from the mines."

Naruto shook his head. "What the hell, Gaara? That'll take you at least an hour by foot."

Gaara stared at him. "I like walkin'."

Naruto gave a short incredulous snort. "Yeah, well there's no way I'm lettin' you walk back." he finalized, leaning forwards and rummaging in the glove compartment. He took out a strange looking bottle. "Been savin' this for a special occasion." He said, closing the glove compartment and opening the car door to step outside.

"What's the occasion?" Gaara asked, getting out of the car as well. His green eyes followed Naruto to the tail end of the truck, where he hopped inside.

Naruto smiled back at him and waved him over. "The special occasion? Well, I have a guest." He replied, grinning. "And I really don't feel like goin' inside that house right now. Even for a cold one." He raised the strange bottle. "Come on, join me."

The redhead stood outside of the truck for a moment, his eyes guarded but not so much that Naruto couldn't see the confusion in them. Finally he stepped forwards, and hopped into the back of the truck. He made it look easy, given how tall he was. He sat on one side while Naruto lounged on the other, still grinning.

"Come on, Gaara. Relax." He said, toning his grin down to a smile. He opened the steel cap of the bottle, and a strange smell descended upon them. "This thing look fancy but it's just beer." The blonde explained, showing Gaara the label. "Jiraiya…he was kinda like a teacher of mine, he gave me three of these. First time I'm drinkin' it."

"We just got done drinkin'…" Gaara pointed out lowly, watching Naruto take a swig.

"What? You scared imma drink you under the table again?" he asked, smirking at the redhead when he was done.

Gaara put his head down, but not before Naruto saw the amusement in his eyes. "Didn't really look like you were drinkin' anyone under the table to me…" he murmured.

Naruto chuckled. "Here." He said, handing the bottle over. "Have some."

Gaara looked at the bottle almost warily, before he took it, and took a sip as he was told. "It's sweet." He said, softly, looking down at the label. He looked at Naruto with a strange half smile that wasn't really a smile at all. Just the intention of one. "I like it."

Naruto grinned, taking the bottle back. "You like it, huh. Sasuke hates sweet things." The words left his mouth before he could stop them, and he bit his lip afterwards, and ducked his head. Damn.

Gaara was quiet on his end for some time. He shifted a bit. "Sasuke." He said softly. "What's he to you…?"

Naruto peeked from behind his locks of hair, and gave the man lopsided smile. "He's an…old friend." His voice was light. "Ha. More than a friend. He was my fiancé."

Silence from the redhead.

But Naruto was more concerned with the sudden and highly inappropriate sting in the side of his eyes. He clenched his teeth subtly and blinked hard to keep the pesky tears at bay. He had his smile ready when he looked back at the redhead. "That bother you any?" he asked. His smile faltered a bit, at the thought of losing this man's friendship over his past. But Naruto threw that thought away a moment later. If Gaara didn't want to associate with someone like him it would be his business. "You don't gotta pretend it don't. I know plenty of people who can't stand to be around me—"

"No."

Naruto paused, blinking at the redhead. Gaara was looking at him with eyes that didn't look scared, or particularly disgusted.

"You and…that man. That kinda thing. Seen a lot of it at the prison. Don't really bother me no more."

Naruto searched Gaara's face, his mouth parted infinitesimally. "But it…used to bother you?" he guessed softly.

Gaara's didn't look away from Naruto. "Only heard a little about that kinda thing. But I didn't think it existed before I went to jail." He confessed. "And I didn't understand it when I saw it. I reckon I still don't…" he trailed off, looking off to the side. "But I ain't gonna judge you for it. 'Specially not when you didn't judge me for bein' who I was."

Naruto stared at the man. "Huh." He tried not to break out in a smile, and only handed over the bottle again. "Well that's very…mature of you, Gaara Sabaku."

"Prison can do that." Gaara replied, taking the bottle and having another swig.

"Yeah, well I'm sure a few years in prison still won't change the minds of some of the town-folk here." Naruto complained bitterly, taking the bottle back.

"You'd…have it a lot worse in Suna." Gaara murmured. "Konoha is…a good county. With good people. Nice people."

"Yeah." Naruto agreed half-heartedly, his voice solemn. "Nice people."

Gaara looked to the blonde then, eyes a little less guarded than they were before. "Some people nicer than others." He added softly.

One didn't have to think hard to know who he was referring to.

Naruto bit back his smile, and lowered his head. "Hmm."

There was silence between them for a few minutes, with just the sound of them passing the bottle back and forth and the small winds that caressed the night sky.

"You ever just…lay back at night and look at the stars?" the blonde asked suddenly, looking up.

"Almost every night."

"Yeah?" the blonde turned back at the redhead, eyes questioning.

Gaara didn't meet Naruto's eyes. "Ain't a stranger to sleepin' outside." He confessed.

"…Hmm. Well most times I rather sleep outside than be in that damned house." Naruto said lowly, looking back to glare at said house. "Hate that place, I'll tell ya."

"It looks nice from here."

Naruto chuckled. "Looks nice. But I feel like cryin' every time I'm in there…People keep sayin' home is where the heart is. But what happens when your heart is ripped out in that home, huh? Nobody ever talks about that."

"That man…he did that? Ripped it out?"

"…Yeah."

And the silence was comfortable despite the admission. Winds blew through both their hair, and the crickets were finally coming out, one at a time, to chirp in the darkness.

"You..." Gaara began, surprisingly the one to break the silence. "and that man…Was it love?" he asked, his voice almost hesitant at the word love—like he'd never used it before.

Naruto looked up, eyebrow raised at the tone. But the man wasn't really looking at him, only eyeing the metal by his feet.

"I'd like to think…" Naruto began, voice soft and floating in the night. "…that I don't love him anymore. That I'm…better than that."

Gaara stayed silent for some time. "I don't know…much about that kinda thing." His voice was as quiet as Naruto's was, as if neither of them wanted to disturb the song of the crickets. "But I find it hard to believe…that someone as nice as you… was with someone who called you the things that man did tonight at the bar."

A small laugh was startled out of Naruto. "Ha. Yeah…?" He put the bottle down. "And the funny thing is, it ain't like he changed or nothin'. Sasuke was always like that. Hmmph." His laughter turned into soft little sad things. "But…I wasn't good enough for nobody till' I met him, you see." he confessed.

When Gaara didn't respond Naruto licked his lips. "Nobody remembers…but it was him who got me all these friends. He was popular 'cause his daddy was rich and his maw was pretty – even when she got sick. All the girls loved him." Naruto smiled again, and put a lock of hair behind his ear. "Nobody ever cared about little ol' me. That…scrawny little orphan boy whose parents abandoned him…Who gives a damn about anyone like that? But the day came when I punched Sasuke in his face. And I guessed everything changed after that."

Naruto paused then, to sigh heavily and look to the sky. When he looked back down he couldn't face the redhead from some reason. Talking about all of this made him self-conscious. He wondered if he should just stop.

"Why?"

Naruto looked up, blinking. "Why? Oh. Punchin' Sasuke? I dunno." He admitted softly. "Don't remember…Probably 'cause he was such an annoyin' show off. Maybe he said somethin' I didn't like…We butted heads a lot after that. It was like…a huge rivalry, ha. Everyone knew my name then. Uzumaki Naruto, troublemaker who wouldn't leave the precious Uchiha the fuck alone. Started actually makin' some friends though. With people who like…hated Sasuke the way I thought I did. Kiba…Chouji…Shika…" Naruto smiled nostalgically.

"But time passed and Sasuke and I…found ourselves alone a lot. Started sharin' secrets. I knew about his family and he knew about my lack there of. I…I guess I fell in love with him along the line." Naruto exhaled shakily and gave Gaara an apologetic smile. "I don't even know why I'm bein' emotional right now. But…I feel so pathetic thinkin' about it. And when Sasuke kissed me for the first time – and we weren't even drunk – I don't know why but it was like the happiest moment in my life." Naruto laughed then, and he could feel chunks of his heart breaking as he did.

"It was weird – for me." he continued, despite the fact. "Feelin' like somebody accepted me for the first time. Feelin' like I was worth it to somebody. And Sasuke wasn't a pussy when it came to tellin' people about us, either. He had a fuck-all attitude about the whole thing. Us against them. Even when shit got pretty bad between us and the town-folk he stayed with me. So you could imagine," Naruto sucked his teeth. "You could imagine I thought we was gonna last…. Stupid, I know. And it did last a while…that feelin'. But Sasuke started applyin' to college. I didn't think he would since he'd held it off for four damn years, but that's what he wanted to do." Naruto shrugged. "I told him he could go anywhere, that I'd just do whatever he needed me to do. But he started gettin' all secretive in spite of my support. Stopped talkin' me. Didn't even tell me why.

"And Kakashi," he said, looking up suddenly. He still didn't like the way the man's name felt around his mouth after all these years. "Kakashi used to be real nice. He likes men too even though he tries to hide it – and he was there for me and Sasuke when we was havin' problems. But after a while he stopped bein' there for me. He always wanted to fuckin' see Sasuke." Naruto couldn't keep the anger from his voice. "Anyway next thing I know, I get a note and Sasuke's gone. Went to the city. To fulfill his dreams. Said I would only get in the way." Naruto picked up the bottle next to him and took a swig before he handed it over. He'd said the last part off-handedly, as if it didn't bother him anymore.

Gaara took the bottle but didn't drink. "He left you."

Naruto shrugged. "Yeah, he left. And you know what? Good. After tonight I don't even know why I was with the bastard. But forget all that sad stuff." He declared loudly. "Tell me something, Gaara. Somethin' about you. Somethin' with a happy endin'." He laughed nervously. "Sorry for makin' the mood all sour."

"…I don't have stories with happy endings..." Gaara replied quietly. "And that man did you wrong. By abandonin' you."

Naruto bit his lip. "Well maybe I deserved to be abandoned." He replied. He looked at the untouched bottle in his companion's hand, and tapped the metal of the truck to keep occupied.

"Someone like you don't deserve to be abandoned."

The blonde ducked his head. Gaara was only trying to be nice, he knew. "Someone like me…" he repeated with a murmur. "And what do you know about someone like me, huh?" he asked softly, with half-lidded eyes.

Gaara hesitated. When he opened his mouth to retort, Naruto interrupted him.

"My partner remembered your bounty." He said suddenly, desperately trying to change the subject. "Said it was over ten thousand."

Gaara blinked, caught off guard, before his eyes dimmed, and he shifted. "It was twelve thousand."

Naruto paused in his reaching for the bottle and stared at Gaara. "That's a lot of money for one man." He whispered. "What d'you do? Rob a train car and kill everyone inside?"

"…"

"It got anythin' to with you "not bein' as nice as I think you are"?" he asked softly.

Gaara lowered his eyes. "You don't know the things I've done." he murmured. "But that bounty ain't got nothin' to do with the bad part of me."

Naruto swallowed. Gaara wasn't looking at him, instead eyeing the metal of his truck very seriously. He'd never seen the man look this off-standish. He tried to cut a bit of the tension with a soft laugh. "If that bounty ain't got nothin' to do with that then what d'you do?"

Gaara raised his eyes to look at the blonde. They were expressionless, but Naruto thought he was wondering why he hadn't backed off yet. "I killed the mayor of my town."

The blonde blinked.

That was…

"Why?" He imagined what it would be like if someone had killed Sarutobi.

"'Cause he was fuckin' my sister."

"…Oh." Naruto hadn't been expecting that. "He…he didn't treat her right?" he asked cautiously. He'd known plenty of over protective family members in his day.

"He was her father."

Naruto stilled. What?

He was her father.

His sister's father.

Therefore…his father?

"He…he your father too?"

"Was." Gaara answered curtly. "But dead now. The way he should be."

Naruto swallowed. So Gaara was a murderer after all. He'd known all along but…it felt real now. And a mayor who would have sex with his own daughter? Hell, Naruto would have murdered him too. But still…Naruto didn't think he'd ever have a drink with a murderer…especially in his own truck. Despite everything he suddenly felt the need to be slightly more cautious around the man. "So…when you killed your father…you ran?"

"No."

"Then why the bounty on your head?"

Gaara seemed to hesitate. "I just…pretended to run. So they could set the bounty. Was hopin' it would be enough to get my sister back on her feet." Gaara glared at the ground. "She wasn't right with my father around and she became worse when he – died. Was gonna let them set the bounty so I could go back home and have my sister bring me to the police so she could collect the money. Start a new life."

Naruto felt his chest press on his heart. Who was this man to say he wasn't as nice as Naruto thought he was? Letting a bounty fall on his head just so he could give the money to his sister? It was almost poetic.

"Did it work?" he had to ask.

"…I was gone a few months. When I came back she'd already hung herself."

"Wh—" Naruto nearly choked. "She…Oh, Gaara." he sympathized. "I'm so sorry."

"She…thought I'd abandoned her."

"Fuckin' hell, Gaara. " Naruto's voice broke. "You let me talk about my stupid problems when you've—"

"Your problems ain't stupid." Gaara interrupted, looking up and staring at the blonde. "Nothin' about you is stupid." He shifted then, looking a little tired and almost annoyed. "Now…I've enjoyed your hospitality. But I'd much like to be on my way now—" he was standing up on the truck.

"Huh? Wait. Gaara, hold on." Naruto pleaded, standing too. He put a hand on Gaara's arm. "Stay. Stay with me."

The redhead stared down at him.

Naruto offered a smile. "The house is right here. We can go to work together in the morning. I won't bother you for the rest of the night if that's what you're—"

"It ain't that."

"Then what's the problem?"

The taller man hesitated. "Don't wanna…impose." He confessed finally. "Don't have anythin' extra with me…"

"Aww, come on, now." The blonde chided, laughing. He was glad he could cut a bit of the tension with the sound. "Let me take care of you tonight. Least I could do, since you kept me company all night."

Gaara looked like he wanted to say something, but he sighed instead. "I should be thankin' you…" he murmured.

"Yeah, well thanks can go all around. So will you stay?"

Gaara looked warily down at the blonde.

Naruto put his hands to together and made his eyes big and wide in his plea.

Gaara gave up before Naruto could even go full force. "I 'spose."

The blonde beamed, surprised that the redhead was so easy to convince. "You 'sposed right. Now come on."

He hopped out of the truck with ease, and made his way towards the house. He heard Gaara follow behind him, steps less rushed than his were. When he reached the door he found it open, which was no surprise. Sasuke didn't have keys so he wouldn't have been able to lock it behind him, and Naruto rarely locked his door anyway.

The thought of the brunette didn't anger him as horribly as it would have five minutes ago. Who cared about petty little love quarrels when the man behind him was going through something much worse. A guilt that was probably eating him inside.

Naruto turned around to give Gaara a weak smile before he opened the door. "Come on in. Welcome to my humble abode." He gestured for the man to step in before him.

Gaara paused like he was surprised he was allowed to go in first, before he finally did as he was told.

"Don't mind the…mess." Naruto mumbled, glaring at the mess Sasuke made on the coffee table and couch. He remembered Sasuke being quite the neat-freak back in the day so the fact that he would disrespect Naruto's home by leaving it in such a state made something prickle in the back of his neck.

"I'm sorry you gotta see the house like this." Gaara was in front of him and looking from left to right. Naruto couldn't tell what he was thinking from his body language.

"It's nice."

Naruto's following laugh sounded like a relieved exhale. "Yeah? But all the dust—"

As if on cue, the man in front of him sneezed.

"Aww, shit." Naruto went in front of the redhead, hands raised in apology. Gaara only looked a little ruffled, but his eyes were dim as if he was expecting another sneeze.

"I'll get you a tissue." The blonde declared, going into the kitchen. It was so embarrassing, he realized, to have such a messy and dusty house when he had a guest.

"It's fine." Gaara said. His voice was low but clear, so maybe he wasn't going to sneeze again.

"Yeah, well I'm gettin' you a tissue anyway." Naruto mumbled, looking around his cabinets for said tissue. He knew he had a box of them somewhere. He closed one cabinet and went back to the counter, rummaging a bit when he heard a chink.

"You dropped somethin'."

Naruto waved a disregarding hand. "I'll pick it up later," he said distractedly, squinting. Ah, there was the tissue. Behind the wooden knife stand.

"Here."

Naruto jumped, startled when Gaara was suddenly next to him. The man took a step back, realizing their sudden closeness. "Sorry."

"Ha – Naw, i-it's okay." The blonde eyed the thing Gaara was extending towards him. It was the engagement ring Sasuke had given back to him the other night. It must have been what fell. He sighed a little, but couldn't find it in himself to reach for it. "Oh. That thing. It's garbage."

Gaara stared at him, then looked at the ring.

Naruto handed him a tissue. "I'm serious. Throw it away. Or you could pawn it if you like. It was expensive once upon a time so I figure they'd give you a lot for it."

Gaara eyed the ring a little. "Pawn it." He repeated lightly.

"Yeah. Pawn shop's in Gracetown. The owners are freaks so they'd probably go hog crazy for some of that steel."

Gaara looked at him then at the ring again. "Okay."

To Naruto's surprise, the redhead put it on.

The blonde couldn't help but choke a little. "Ha…u-uh…why the ring finger?" he asked warily. It was strange seeing the ring like that. On a different man's hand.

"Middle finger too big." Gaara replied simply.

"Middle finger too…" Naruto laughed a little. "Oh. M-makes sense, I guess." The smile he offered was a little forced. He was hoping Gaara would put it in his pocket so he wouldn't have to see it. But the man would pawn it soon enough so he wouldn't have to worry about seeing it much longer.

"Let me show you to your room." he said suddenly, putting his hands together. "It's dusty but the bed's like heaven if you ask me." he gave a thumbs up. "You'll sleep like a baby in it. And I'll wake you in time to get ready for work. Promise."

Gaara nodded at him, looking a little out of place. "You don't gotta worry about me wakin' up in time…" he murmured.

"But I want to."

The redhead stared down at him. "Okay."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "You know for an outlaw you sure give in easily." He joked, punching the man's arm lightly.

Gaara's faint eyebrows rose a little, but he offered no rebuttal, only proving the blonde's point.

Naruto put the knuckle of his index finger in his mouth, lest he laughed too loud. He gave his companion a knowing look. Gaara only lowered his eyes.

"Ha, come on." The host said, sparing his guest. "Let's get you upstairs."


It was 6:00am when Sasuke was pulling up behind Naruto's truck in front of the blonde's house. He sighed in relief when he saw that the vehicle was still there.

He'd overslept. Most of the night had been with him moaning and tossing because of how incredibly painful the swelling of his eye was. Naruto had got him good. But it seemed he'd woken up just in time. He'd tried to wake Kakashi, but the man wouldn't even budge. So he'd taken it upon himself to just take the man's car and drive to Naruto's place himself.

He got out of the (stolen) vehicle now, and made his way to the front door. It was wide open this time, and the brunette raised his eyebrows at that, before cautiously stepping inside the house.

He paused.

Clean.

The house was clean.

Or at least – the living room.

Someone had accumulated all the dust and put it in an area behind the couch, and someone had ruthlessly wiped down every surface until it shone.

That person was coming down the stairs, forehead sweating with a broom and dustpan in each hand.

"Naruto."

The blonde started, gasping and pausing suddenly on the stairs. Blue eyes went over to the brunette who stood in the doorway. He exhaled heavily, eyes rolling. "Damn it, Sasuke; you scared me." he said, coming down and going about whatever he'd been doing. He went behind the couch and gathered the dust into the dust pan.

"Why are you cleaning?"

Naruto didn't pause in what he was doing. When the dustpan was filled he straightened his back and went to the trashcan in the kitchen. "'Cause this house is a God damned mess, that's why." He replied, disregarding.

"But you've never cleaned before." Sasuke countered, annoyed for a reason he didn't understand. "Even when we were together."

Naruto visibly paused in emptying the dust into the trash, before he seemed to pull himself together and set the broom and dustpan aside. He took off the strange white apron like thing he had and set it on the kitchen counter. He then turned on the kitchen sink and washed his dirty hands and sweating face with the water.

Sasuke sighed when he realized the blonde was ignoring him. "Listen – Naruto…"

"I'll be headin' to work in a minute." Naruto interrupted going back into the living room. He had a small towel in his hand and was wiping his hands and face. He looked around the living room as he did, inspecting it. Sasuke saw that the papers and things he'd had scattered around the area were stacked neatly on the coffee table now, and the suitcase he'd brought stood neatly next to the loveseat. "Your eye looks bad so I'll drive you to the doctor's—"

"Naruto." Sasuke growled, incredulous. "We're not doing that again."

His ex blinked. "Doin' what again?"

"We're not going to pretend nothing happened last night."

Naruto paused, before something like a disbelieving grin appeared on his mouth and he lowered his head. "Okay then. Have it your way." He murmured.

"I'm not trying to start trouble." The brunette insisted, walking up a bit, but the couch and coffee table separated them. "Last night…I…I said some things."

Naruto's face was closed now, and he wouldn't look at Sasuke. He only continued to wipe his already dry hands with the towel.

"I wanted to say that I was sorry." Sasuke confessed finally. "I'm sorry, all right? I shouldn't have confronted you. Not like that."

Naruto's solemn look never left his face, so the half smile that appeared on his lips was almost heartbreaking. "You're sorry." He repeated, voice flat.

"Yes." Sasuke insisted. "I am. I was…drunk."

Naruto's laugh would have sounded mocking if it weren't for the sadness in his eyes. "Drunk, huh? Well I was drunk too but I didn't go around makin' people feel like shit—"

"Look," the taller man interrupted, already annoyed that this was going to take more effort than he thought. "You know how I am. You know that apologies aren't easy for me. Just accept it, please."

Naruto looked away, and his eyes went to the ceiling before it went to the floor again. The emotions he was trying to hide were clear on his face. The painful nostalgia. The longing. The sadness. No doubt he was having memories of just how difficult it was for Sasuke to say sorry.

"You know I'm being genuine when I say this, Narut—"

"Do I?" the blonde interrupted, voice on the offensive, and raising an eyebrow at his ex. "Do I, Sasuke?"

"Yes, you do. You know I mean it. I'm sorry for screaming at you like I did. I know you've been having…a hard time." Sasuke hesitated. "I heard you last night. Screaming about all the people who've abandoned and failed you—"

"Sasuke, please," Naruto began, sounding tired and raising a hand. "Just stop. None of that matters. My life ain't got nothin' to do with that, and has nothin' to do with you. Anymore. Soon as this funeral is over I'm hopin' you walk out that door and I never see you again, so just—"

"You don't mean that."

Naruto paused, eyes widening a bit. Sasuke wasn't prepared for the anger he saw in them a moment later. "Then what do I mean, Sasuke? Huh? Tell me that the fuck I mean, 'cause it seems like everyone in this God damned town thinks they know me better than I fuckin' know myself—!"

"Naruto?"

Sasuke started, and looked at the stairs. His eyes went wide at the man he saw walking down.

It was the redhead from last night. He wore a button down that Sasuke recognized as Naruto's. It was much too small for the man.

"You…you brought him home with you?" he asked, disbelieving. And he didn't want to understand the feeling that pulled at his intestines just then. He almost felt like he wanted to vomit.

"Sasuke—"

"Did you sleep with him?" Sasuke interrupted, turning to blonde accusingly.

"Sasuke." Naruto hissed, eyes wide. "Nobody slept with anybody – " he shook his head. "And why the hell am I even explainin' anythin' to you? You don't got a right to know where I've been or what I've been doin—"

"I'm not going to stay and pay three thousand dollars in a place I'm not even welcome if you're going to bring men into—!"

"Then LEAVE!" Naruto screamed suddenly, voice so loud it seemed to shake the very walls. "It ain't free and you ain't welcome so why the hell you still here, huh, Sasuke?! What the hell is your deal?!" he asked, and his voice was almost desperate. His anger was so sudden that the brunet was caught off guard. "You act like you got some kinda say in all of this. You don't. I ain't makin' it hard for you for no reason. I want you gone."

Sasuke clenched and unclenched his fists. He felt his face heat up with his emotions, and the words he said next were clipped. "I don't want to leave."

Naruto's exhale was exasperated. "I don't understand you." His voice broke a little as it ended with that huff. He was breathing hard, like he'd just ran a marathon. His eyes stared wide and accusing at the brunette.

Sasuke was breathing hard too, if only because his emotions were reaching that high again. He had to work his mouth for a while before he could say anything. "You know why I'm here." He whispered.

A strange short burst of incredulous, sad laughter left the blonde's lift. "What? You gonna say you still love me, or soemthin'?" he asked bitterly.

Sasuke clenched his fists. Half of him screamed at his mouth to deny it, deny it. But was there even a point in lying now? "You still love me too." he accused softly, and his voice was a breath.

Blue, angered eyes softened then, in surprise. Naruto's mouth twitched like it wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words. Finally, he took a step back, blinking rapidly at anything but Sasuke's face. His face tightened into a strange grimace and he visibly swallowed. "You take yourself to the doctor." he whispered breathlessly, making his way to the door.

Sasuke felt like someone had suddenly shut off the lights in his head. "Naruto—" he began, but the blonde was already out the door, slamming it behind him.

"Naruto!"

He was about to follow, when he remembered his company. He turned back to the redhead, who was looking at him with eyes so passionless they looked like they were painted on. "What the fuck are you looking at?" he hissed.

Was this the type Naruto was into now? he thought, glaring. Tall and murderous looking? No doubt a fucking foreigner.

The redhead ignored his question and made his way towards the door.

Sasuke clenched his teeth after him. "What are you his Beau?" he spat as he followed the man with his eyes. "His fucking squeeze to dangle in my face, a piece of ass he'll feed off until he finds another damn miner he can fuck?"

The man paused with a hand on the doorknob. Sasuke couldn't see his eyes but his shoulders seemed to tighten somehow. "I don't understand…" the man began, and his voice was low and deeper than Sasuke remembered. "what he saw in you." he finished lightly, before he opened the door.

"Wha—"

But the door was already closing behind the redhead.

He heard the sound of a truck roaring and driving away.

Sasuke wanted to scream.


End of Chapter

Authors Notes:

Hope you liked it! In the process of writing for LFFB I ended up mapping out the chapter, so I just wrote it to get it out of the way.

Hmm, questions:

1. Should I cut Sasuke some slack?

2. Is it believable that Gaara would be so...accepting of Naruto? Considering his background and his default-heterosexuality?

Anyway, until next time. I'll be working on LFFB in the meantime - it's coming along, so no worries!

P.S: Sorry for any grammatical errors; I know they're in there!