Main Characters: Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto
Warnings: For those of you who already know me and my writing style, I say expect the unexpected. What's the point of warnings again?
Genres: General, Drama
Notes: Well hallo there again! I broke my oath not to write another Naruto story in the next one-thousand years, but what can I say? When I've got the itch, I've got the itch. However, don't expect anything as heavy and detailed as 'Sin' (because God knows I'm not doing that again). This is going to be a short story with a simple story line; more like a slice-of-life thing.
Enjoy and as always, I cherish and appreciate your feedback.
I got me a car and I got me some gas,
Told everyone they could kiss my ass
- Glenn Frey
Dusk – in somber shades of gray and slate – descended on the monotonous landscape broken only by an endless path of asphalt created by Man. The twin yellow lines dissecting said asphalt mocked mercilessly, while he struggled to remain on his lane despite the safety of knowing there was no other vehicle in sight should he decide to stray and tempt Fate.
Strong fingers clenched the steering wheel as the first rumble of thunder echoed beyond the mountains. The steady breeze – which once attempted to cool sweat-drenched skin and clothing – had now become a whiplash of wind that sent mini-whirlpools of dust and debris like some frantic child's play. Long black hair slapped his cheeks and forehead with every gust, forcing him to finally press the button to raise the windows with a muffled curse at the inconvenience.
Headlights were switched on as gray and slate made way for a worrisome inky blackness shattered only by the brilliant flash of lightning that brought his surroundings to sharp relief. Eventually, the first heavy drops of rain began to pitter patter upon his car where they soon resonated like deafening hailstones. He hunched even closer to the steering wheel and flipped the wipers on.
Goddamnit, he thought morosely. This is going to be a bitch to get through.
Nervous childhood memories of crawling beneath thick blankets - and his older brother's warmth for safety - had him wincing and seeking distraction in the form of the radio. Unfortunately, being this far up North provided local stations that seemed to favor enka music and talk shows that bored him to death. He had played and overplayed the songs in his iPod playlist, so there really was nothing left to do but grit his teeth and deal with Maruyama Misao's 'enthralling' discussion about the Japanese military in the late 18th century.
"…and so," the famous historian drawled (he could almost picture the old man hunched over the desk in the radio station with a pipe stuck in his mouth and several archaic books and scrolls placed before him) "…the shogunate of the Tokugawa era produced several important events in our hallowed history. Let us begin with the great leader Toyotomi Hideyori. During the siege of Osaka -"
He changed the station, and this time he had to deal with a series of high-pitched female voices engaged in a chorus of a song he couldn't quite place though he had a feeling he ought to know it. A traditional folksong perhaps? Something he might have heard as a child from his mother or grandmother?
I can't remember…
Shrieking song aside, the rain was now officially a downpour making visibility next to impossible. He crawled a little beneath the speed limit just as he noticed the approaching headlights of what might be a truck…and a speeding one at that. The driver didn't seem to give a damn there were other occupants on the road as he raced past; delivering a wall of water that almost sent the car off road.
Oh how he would have loved to give the bastard the middle-finger in salutation, but one, he was sure the fool wouldn't notice and two, it was raining too hard to risk opening the window again. No point getting soaked because of some inconsiderate asshole.
With another muffled curse, he righted himself and drove on; his brief homicidal thoughts soon replaced with a familiar apathy he had come to develop during such tiring journeys. He knew he ought to be used to these by now, after all being named 'Best Salesman of the Year' twice in a row was nothing to sniff at. It took a lot of skill to be able to convince the locals that the products he sold were going to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Though he was sure that his good looks were half the reason most customers were willing to accept him in the first place, he still took pride in being able to sweet-talk his way into getting any deal. You just had to know how to worm your way into their hearts without making it seem like you were trying too hard.
"I don't know how you do it, Sasuke," his boss's booming voice suddenly filled his mind. "You're a natural at this!"
Natural? He gave a snort of self-derision. Doubt it.
Who would have thought that the sullen teenager with a penchant for keeping to himself or (wrongly accused of) being anti-social, would decide to take such a career path? He sneered at the memory of his 'coming out' to the family over dinner; of how everyone had gone slack-jawed as he made the blunt announcement. Yes, dear Father, Mother, Brother. He was going to ignore months of tedious studies at a famous university to become a traveling salesman.
He was going to start from the lowest rung in the industry and work his way to the top, and for the past three years he had devoted himself to that cause; more to prove to his father that he could survive in the real world without his meddlesome interference. The transformation – if you could call it that – to becoming more of a 'people person' had been hard to swallow at first. He had to learn how to smile without appearing cynical or jaded. He had to know the right words to use and mannerisms to adopt when dealing with specific demographics. He had to believe in the products he sold even if they were pieces of crap he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy. Funny how in the end, the pieces of crap ended up becoming bestsellers…
(humans are so gullible)
A sudden beep jarred him from his thoughts. His GPS was picking up a gas station about five miles ahead.
Yes! Thank God.
He sincerely hoped it at least had a good restroom where he could wash up a little and get something hot to eat. His last stop was almost eight hours ago – and that didn't include several bathroom breaks along the side of the road when the coast was clear. God knew he could use a working toilet right about now.
Perhaps the knowledge of potential nourishment (and relief) made the drive seem even shorter than it was, for in no time, the sight of familiar gas pumps made him feel ten times lighter. Unfortunately, as he drew closer, he realized that it was hardly a well-established rest station but more of a mini-convenience store that must have been erected half a century ago. There were no other cars there – well besides a dented blue truck parked on the right and several other rusted hunks of metal which had no plans of seeing the road anytime soon. He groaned in dismay as he pulled up to a pump (there were only two) for he had noticed the small outhouse on the left. To get there, he'd have to make a mad dash across the cluttered yard and still risk getting soaked by the rain.
Fuck it all to hell and back.
"Well sitting here and moaning about your situation isn't going to help, is it?" he muttered with a slight shake of his head.
He could make out someone in the shop and as he stepped out of the car, he grimaced as raindrops fell upon him despite the steel awning that protected the pumps. Damn. He knew he should have purchased an umbrella at the last town he stopped. He settled for grabbing his overcoat from the cluttered backseat, pulling up the collar and running into the building as fast as he could manage it.
The door chimed loudly as he did so – almost startling him with its weird bird-like chirp. He was immediately assailed with the smells of incense and stale beer heightened by an interior (though warm) that was claustrophobic with everything the shop owner could manage to squeeze into its narrow shelves and aisles. From an array of colorful tissue packets to large gallons of motor oil, this shop seemed to have it all including a small fish tank with live tiny fish (or perhaps bait) swimming in morose circles. There was a refrigerator with cold beverages and a section devoted to frozen fountain drinks from a machine that looked in need of repair. A gamut of cheap snack foods beckoned but considering it was interspersed with a variety of lewd girly magazines, boxes of condoms, and several lubricants, he wondered if he ought to skip out on the snacks and settle for drinks alone.
"Rainin' like crazy out there, huh?" came the raspy Kansai-heavy greeting which forced him to pay attention to the proprietor. The man was barely tall enough to see over the overcrowded counter, though he more than made up for it with a Mad Hatter-style head gear which sat askew on thinning straw-colored hair. Piercing black eyes studied him despite the warm smile on his weathered visage, and Sasuke had no doubt the store owner must have a hand hovering over a weapon of some sort beneath the counter…just in case.
"It's crazy indeed," he agreed with a wan smile. He reached into his coat (and sure enough the older man seemed to stiffen a little) to withdraw a leather wallet. He pulled out a wad of cash and placed it on the grimy counter. "To fill up my tank. You can keep the change."
The proprietor ogled at the number of bank notes, but nodded briskly and made it disappear with an efficiency that did not surprise Sasuke. His smile was now a bit more genuine. "You just help yaself ta whatever ya want, son. I've gat a microwave ya can warm up some san'wiches or even make yaself a cup of ramen while ya wait. Outhouse is outback. Ya might have ta get a lil' wet, but that's awright, eh?"
The salesman maintained his polite smile and would have said something else, when a set of headlights outside caused both men to turn at the same time. Another person was stopping by…or not, for only one person leapt out of the vehicle before it backed away and onto the highway again. They watched as the figure dashed beneath the awning, seemed to shake himself a little like a wet dog before letting himself into the store.
"Whew…sucky weather, eh?" came the cheerful greeting as white teeth flashed against lightly bronzed but scarred skin (how else was one to explain the 'whiskers' on either side of his face?). The newcomer – who looked about Sasuke's age - took off the black wool hat to reveal the rest of his shocking blond hair, which only made warm blue eyes look even more prominent. From his get-up (worn red sneakers, slightly baggy jeans, a print-tee shirt of some obscure rock band, an army jacket that had seen better days, and a rather heavy-looking backpack), it was clear that the newcomer was a hitchhiker of some sort.
Typical, Sasuke thought dismissively. Guys like him were a dime a dozen on the highways.
"Ya said it, pal," the shop owner was replying with a matching grin. He didn't seem too perturbed by the new guy as compared to his wariness with his first customer; something that didn't escape the salesman's observation. "But knowing this kinda weather, it should be stopping pretty soon. Passing thunderstorms always happen in these here parts anyhow. Be right back, kid. Gotta go fill up this Mister's tank."
"Sure thing!" the blond replied with a two fingered salute.
"Excuse me," Sasuke interjected as the store owner reached for an umbrella and was about to make his way outside. "I was wondering if I could make use of your…umm…"
For some reason suddenly requesting to use the outhouse with the newcomer around seemed embarrassing. It wasn't as if the man was eavesdropping, for he had already made his way to the other end of the shop in search of something to buy.
"If ya mean the outhouse, it's all yours. I've gat me a spare umbrella ya can use," the older man offered as he dove behind the counter again, but only to produce a large black umbrella for the salesman's use. "It's clean if that's what yer worried about. My daughter come by early in the day to flush it an' all."
"Thank you," he muttered. He hadn't wanted to know the details, but it at least reassured him that he wouldn't encounter anything unsightly out there. He followed after the store owner, but not before stealing a quick glance over his shoulder at the hitchhiker who was now browsing through the selection of girly magazines with what looked like Pocky sticks in his mouth. Sasuke wondered why the store owner wasn't worried about this guy stealing anything and making a run for it, or worse if he had a weapon of some sort and planned to rob the store once he was back on the road.
Geez, relax. He's not the first hitchhiker you've encountered in all your years of traveling. You've picked up quite a few and not all of them were homicidal maniacs. This one doesn't give off that vibe either. Perhaps that's why the store owner was comfortable enough to leave him to his devices. Besides, it's none of my business what happens. I just need to relieve myself, get some food, and hightail it out of here.
The umbrella was little comfort to the pelting rain, and by the time he reached the outhouse, the hem of his pants and shoes were soaking wet. The pitiful exterior lighting (two weak light bulbs) did not exactly help to make his trip easier, and he had to maneuver over growing puddles (almost slipped a few times) before clutching the handle of the outhouse door and yanking it open with more force than necessary.
His wild (and vivid) imagination had conjured up the horrors of an overflowing toilet and no bathroom tissue, snakes and frogs and God knew what else lurked in these places, but to his surprise, it was rather…passable. Definitely not a five-star hotel, but it was relatively clean, didn't smell like several other restrooms he had the misfortune of visiting before, and there was a roll of tissue and an inbuilt (albeit crude) sink to wash one's hands when done. His only hope was that he didn't fall into the toilet as he had heard some people had the tendency to do. The last thing he wanted was for his obituary to read:
"Young Promising Salesman Found Dead in Toilet Miles Away From Nowhere."
Oh the shame it would cast upon the great Uchiha legacy.
He lowered the magazine, but only just enough to make out the two figures outside. The store owner was filling up the tank of the nice-looking black Honda, while its owner was having a hard time dealing with the rain before disappearing around the corner. Speaking of said 'owner', the blond wondered if he was going to be lucky enough to hitch a ride with a guy like him. After so many miles on the road, it was sometimes easy to tell a person's character at first sight. Besides, you had to be able to do that or you might end up in some weirdo's car or truck and end up being violated or worse – dead!
Not this guy though.
He didn't give off any weirdo vibe, but he wasn't exactly radiating 'come-hitherness' either. That pale face – with dark eyes that looked even darker thanks to the slight bags of weariness around them – and full but firm lips that indicated that he wasn't one to mess with, told a tale of a guy who had been on the road for a long time. It was clear the dude was probably a salesman, but he must be paid well because that black overcoat he was wearing wasn't the cheap kind.
"A well to-do salesman," he murmured and chewed off the rest of the chocolate-flavored Pocky. He allowed his gaze to return to the pictures of the naked women lying across the Hot Rod, and tried to conjure up ways to sweet-talk the salesman into hitching a ride. He was only going up to the next town, so the man didn't need to worry about him hanging around for too long. Besides, he would promise to be quiet if the salesman needed him to be that way throughout the trip.
Satisfied at his inner pep talk, he made his way to the counter to pay for the items he had purchased – just in time too for the proprietor was returning with a song on his lips. Someone must have gotten a huge tip for his services tonight, that's for sure.
"Ya ready, kid?"
The blond grinned and shoved the magazines and snacks a little closer. "Just about. The rain still heavy?"
"Looks like it's easin' up a bit," the older man said with a chuckle. He rang up the items and stuffed them into a plastic bag. "Ya gonna stay here 'til ya get another ride?"
"Was hoping the kind mister would help me," the blond confessed. "You talk to him? Did he sound…normal?"
There was a bark of laughter before the proprietor nodded. "About as normal as ya can be. He ain't much of a talker though, but that shoulda bother you none. You just wait outside and see if ya can talk 'im into lettin' ya ride. Might be a while 'til another car comes aroun' ya know."
The blond sighed and crossed his fingers. "I know. I've been on the goddamn road for almost a week."
A tight expression crossed the younger visage before it was quickly replaced with a half-smile. "You could call it that, old man. As they say 'home is where the heart is', eh?"
"Ya said it, kid. Oh….looks like he's done." They turned to see the silhouette of the salesman walking across the yard. "Ya gotta use it?"
"The outhouse?" He paused a bit. "Might as well."
"I'll see if I can talk 'im up into agreeing to take ya," the older man said with a playful wink, which earned a laugh from the blond.
"Thanks, Mister. Much appreciate that. Tell him I'm as clean as a boy's scout."
However as the door chimed in opening, the young man decided to take the initiative. He might as well make a good impression while he had the chance. If for some reason the proprietor was unable to cajole the salesman into agreeing, he could be stranded here for goodness knew how long.
"Hey," he greeted with a smile that he hoped was welcoming.
The dark-haired man – who had been shaking out his legs as if hoping to get rid of something clinging to them – looked up with a raised brow in bemusement.
"I know this is going to sound really forward of me, since we just met and all, but I was hoping…wondering if I could hitch a ride with you? You can just drop me off at the next major town we get to, and I promise to be on my best behavior." He gave a slight salute, hoping he hadn't pissed off the other man with his daring, though the expression on that face didn't give anything away.
The salesman straightened up and seemed to glance at the store owner, who must have done something in return, for those dark eyes fell back on the blond to scrutinize him with an intensity that would have made anyone else blush.
"I don't pick up hitchhikers," came the eventual flat statement that made something heavy fall in the pit of the blond's stomach.
Great. Now he really was going to be stuck here if he didn't amp up the charm.
"Listen," he implored. "I'm honestly not a bad guy. Look…I can show you my license if you want." As he spoke, he dug into the army jacket to pull out a ragged black wallet, from which he withdrew a government-issued identification card. He held it out to the salesman, who at first seemed reluctant to touch it, before it was finally taken to be examined.
"As you can see, I'm not an alien," the blond said with a smile, though the store owner did the laughing for both of them at the corny attempt at a joke. Sasuke shrugged and returned the license.
"Doesn't prove anything, Uzumaki Naruto," he said – the name rolling off his tongue so easily one would assume he had known the other for years. "I've picked up someone who tried to convince me he was a saint and halfway through the journey, he tried to rob me."
"Them damn kids," the store owner retorted. "Ya don't know who ta trust."
"I promise not to rob you, and you're welcome to search me if you want," Naruto stated firmly; this time holding the dark eyes prisoner and not letting go. He had to prove himself to this guy. If he didn't make it to his destination by the end of the week, he was toast. "But then again…"
Sasuke's brow shot up at the pause and now wary expression on the other's face.
"…I'm putting my life into your hands as well," the hitchhiker said carefully. "For all I know, you could be some pervert or homicidal maniac who's simply putting up an act, and once I'm in your car, you try to do something weird to me."
"I take it you've had your share of such encounters?" Sasuke asked, not in the least bothered by the false accusation. If anything, the corner of his lips seemed to quirk in amusement.
"You don't want to know the half of it," came the weary reply as he ran fingers through his hair causing the already damp spiky locks to stand even more on end. He sighed and took a deep breath. "So? Am I in? I wanna know if I get to stand outside for the next couple of hours…in the pouring rain…probably end up getting pneumonia…while you drive off in your fancy car enjoying the heater on full blast and probably -"
"If you're trying to make me feel guilty at the notion of leaving you behind, don't bother," the salesman interrupted curtly as he made his way over to the next aisle to begin searching for something to eat. He paused for a long minute before looking up from the row of congealing rice cakes. "However, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, Uzumaki-san. If for one second I realize you're going to be a pain-in-the-ass, you're out. Is that understood?"
Naruto grinned and nodded firmly; his heart fluttering with gratitude so intense, it made his knees weak. He might make it after all!
"Thanks so much!" he gushed as he began to back out of the store. "I'll be right back after taking a quick dump! Don't leave me, okay?"
He dashed out – umbrella/protection be damned – to make use of the outhouse. He only hoped that the salesman wouldn't change his mind and decide to bolt the scene before he was finished. This was definitely one ride he sure as hell didn't want to miss.
The proprietor had been nice enough to let him keep the umbrella, which he tossed into the backseat along with his coat and the bag of snacks he purchased. He set the bottle of fruit juice in the cup holder, tore open the packet of Kani Pan (his guilty pleasure), took a bite of the sweet bun and sat back to wait for his new burden to appear.
Why the hell did I agree to this? he thought morosely, while studying the continuous trail of tears made by the rain against the window. I could just start the car and leave if I wanted to…
And perhaps he would have, if it wasn't for the memory of that face lighting up with such genuine relief.
He really hadn't been kidding about the story of the hitchhiker that tried to rob him a few days ago. The teenager had looked positively sickly; coughing up a storm and sucking him in with some sob story about having to get to a nearby hospital because of his heart condition. However, barely two miles into the ride, Sasuke found himself dealing with a switchblade at this throat and the 'sickly' kid suddenly becoming a wild-eyed psycho desperate to ransack his personal belongings. Surprise at the attack was immediately replaced with fury at himself for falling for the oldest trick in the book. His adrenaline had kicked in then, causing him –not so much to fear for his life – but to make sure the bastard paid for being such a con-artist.
He could still hear the deafening screech the wheels of his car had made as he spun the steering wheel so hard, it sent the kid slamming against the dashboard and the switchblade flying out of his hand. Sasuke stopped the car, hardly gave the younger man time to recover, reached across the moaning figure, opened the door and shoved him out angrily. When the teenager appeared to want to cling on and fight back, Sasuke went for his last resort; a stun gun that effectively finished the job. He tossed out the bastard's backpack and nearly ran him over with his attempt to get as far away from the scene as possible. Perhaps a part of him wished he had run over the kid's legs. It would at least prevent him from even thinking about robbing the next poor sucker he came across.
"Sorry for taking so long," came the sudden breathless greeting as the passenger door was opened and the hitchhiker…eh…Uzumaki Naruto lumbered into the seat while struggling with his huge backpack and bag of purchases at the same time.
"You can put your luggage in the back," Sasuke recommended when it seemed like Naruto was going to strangle himself with the straps of the bag. "Here…give it…"
"Oh thanks, man."
It was a hassle and with the bag nearly taking off Sasuke's head in the process of trying to help, both men finally managed to dump it in the already crowded backseat. Naruto craned his neck around to whistle at the array of boxes, documents, shopping bags, and luggage.
"Ah! You work for Iwata Electronics?" he queried as he read the inscription on one of the cardboard boxes. "They make the coolest PC Games, don't they?"
"I don't work for them anymore," Sasuke corrected tightly as he began to pull out of the gas station. He groaned inwardly for he could already sense that this guy was going to be the talkative kind, though Naruto was currently rummaging through his shopping bag to pull out a snack – Baby Star Ramen – and a bottle of orange soda.
"Want some?" came the predictable offer as the bag of chips was waved beside him. "They taste great."
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Ah. All right." A pause and then a mumbled, "You're missing out though."
With the flip of the windshield wiper, headlights, the annoying sounds of enka ricocheting from the radio, and Naruto happily munching on his ramen-flavored chips, Sasuke was back on the road with thoughts of where he could stop for the rest of the night. According to the GPS the nearest motel was almost fifty miles away – a two hour trip in normal weather – and considering it was only eight in the evening, it would be a relief to snooze off in a bed instead of sleeping in his car again. Speaking of which –
"Where are you stopping?" he asked aloud. "I mean what's your final destination?"
There was a heartbeat of a pause before the quiet reply. "To be honest, I'm going to Yokohama." Another pregnant pause and then a hesitant, "Is…is that on your way?"
Sasuke kept his expression neutral despite the sinking feeling in his stomach. Figures they'd have to end up going to the same place after all. Was this what they called Fate? What if he lied and said he wasn't going there? What if he dropped off Naruto in the next town and somehow they both ended up in Yokohama at the same time? It wasn't exactly a large city and it was likely they could cross paths eventually. So then what? How would he explain his appearance there should Naruto accost him?
Thinking too far ahead already, aren't you? He chided himself as another flash of lightning had him giving an involuntary wince. The rain might have been dissipating at the gas station, but it appeared he was driving right along with the path of the thunderstorm. It was getting heavier again.
"I asked if it was on your way," Naruto queried again to jerk him out of his thoughts. So used to being alone most of the time, it was quite easy to forget he had company.
"Yes," he finally replied in a tone that was non-committal. He didn't want to give the blond the impression that they were going to the same town, but it didn't stop him from noticing the expelled breath Naruto released.
"Lucky me, huh?" Naruto said with a light laugh. He lifted the bag of the chips to his face and tried to let the remaining crumbs fall into his mouth. Unfortunately – as it almost always happened – they failed to find the opened orifice and the crumbs landed on his jacket. With a muffled curse, he began to flick them off…but then paused to look at his companion with a sheepish look. "Sorry about messing up your car -"
"You'll be the one to clean it when we stop at the next station," Sasuke stated without skipping a beat. Apparently this decision warranted no discussion or debate as evidenced by the stony expression on the driver's face. Naruto hid a smile by drowning the rest of his soda, while wondering what he had gotten himself into. This guy was gonna be one hell of a traveling companion that's for sure.
For about half-an-hour, there was silence broken only by the now static-ky sounds of Yui Ishikawa – a famous enka singer – wailing about the loss of her long lost love. Naruto fidgeted in his seat; the warmth of the heater making his army jacket insufferably hot. He stole a glance at the salesman – whose name he still didn't know – and envied how comfortable he looked in his pale blue dress-shirt. Again, he couldn't help noticing that the material was of fine quality, though it looked wrinkled as if slept in. Perhaps thanks to the rain, the black hair he had once presumed flat; now seemed to be spiking up at the back as it dried. However, there was something about this guy's facial features…structure…profile…whatever it was, that was eerily familiar. Naruto felt he ought to know who he was, but was unable to place it at this time.
Maybe it will come to me later…when I get to know his name that is.
"Mind if I take off my jacket?" he finally asked when he could bear it no longer. He was beginning to sweat a little, and short of darting out a tongue to lick the beads of perspiration forming on his upper lip, he was just about ready to strip down to his birthday suit.
He was rewarded with a brief side glance that was filled with an unspoken question. Naruto chuckled and patted himself. "Sorry, pal. No gun or switchblade to surprise you with. I'm just boiling inside this damn jacket. If I don't take it off soon, I'm gonna turn into a puddle."
Sasuke gave a light grunt of (dis)approval before focusing on the road again. He had to crane his head away a little as Naruto's arm shot out in his direction, and after some odd contortion of limbs, the atrocity of a jacket was finally discarded to join the never ending pile of junk behind them.
"Phew! Much better," the blond sighed in relief as he tugged down the slightly damp tee-shirt and grinned at his silent companion. When Sasuke refused to look at him, he sank back against the seat with a light pout and 'enjoyed' the boring view before them. Normally, he wouldn't have minded the silence, but at the same time he felt he needed to keep himself occupied with this particular driver. He wished he could reach into his backpack to bring out the latest copy of Otakuzine since he doubted Mr. Proper here would appreciate him ogling at the girly magazines in the bag between his feet. Talk about being in even more of an awkward situation.
Come to think of it, Mr. Salesman wasn't the first guy who didn't like talking much on the road, why the very first driver he had hitchhiked with was some guy who was so into Zen and Feng Shui, that the idea of talking and interrupting the natural 'flow' of the road was a big no-no. He had been forced to listen to the monotonous chants of Buddhist monks for over an hour, while thinking of ways he could rip out his ears at the mental torture inflicted upon him. He couldn't leave fast enough when they came to the next stop; lying that this was actually where he meant to end his journey and thanking the weird guy for being such a great companion. Not.
And then there was the lesbian trucker who would not shut up for one minute. Naruto had always been called a parrot on acid by friends, but damn if the dyke hadn't trumped him in that department. She was either talking on the phone with her buddies, or questioning Naruto to death about everything and anything. In the end, Naruto had to bail way before his hopeful stop, unable to deal with her antics and hoping to God he never got to meet another crazy woman like her anytime soon.
It was one of the reasons his trip was taking much longer than he had planned. It was why his promise to be at Yokohama practically hinged upon this guy beside him. If he played his cards right, he would try not to piss off the salesman too much so he could get to his destination. He had wasted enough time as it was –
(just hope that it's not too late)
"Do you mind if I asked you your name?" he finally asked after the silence became too oppressive. So much for trying not to piss him off. He wouldn't be surprised if the salesman told him to shut the fuck up and to mind his own business.
However, and much to his surprise, he was rewarded with the immediate appearance of a business card, which must have been whipped out from the front pocket of his shirt. Naruto accepted it and read the neatly printed words on the white rectangular paper.
"Madara…Sasuke?" He looked up with a raised brow. "Your name is Madara Sasuke?"
Twin dark brows creased. "Is there a problem with the name?"
"Oh no, no," Naruto said quickly with a wave of his hand. "It's a strange last name, that's all. So what do you want me to call you? Madara-kun? Madara-san? Sasuke-kun? Sasuke-san? Oh and you can call me Naruto by the way. Just Naruto."
There was an endless pause as Sasuke's lips tightened for a minute before he replied as if pained to even do so. "Sasuke is fine."
"Cool! Nice to meet you, Sasuke."
"Whatever," came the mumbled reply as he leaned forward to change the radio station again. Frustration mounted with each button pressed until he gave up as it fell upon a relationship doctor trying to assist a troubled married couple.
"Oh, so you like listening to shows like these?" Naruto asked.
"No. There's nothing else to listen to."
"Ah." Another pause. "Well…I've got some cool music in my playlist we can check out."
Sasuke raised a brow, eyed the tee-shirt Naruto was wearing – a look that clearly spoke volumes and which Naruto was quick to pick up.
"Oh, I'm not a fan of this band if that's what you're worried about. This was the cheapest tee-shirt they had at the shop and I needed something new to wear." He chuckled and motioned towards the back. "I think you're gonna like the music I have. Let me grab my iPod."
Before Sasuke could protest, Naruto was unbuckling his seat belt again and now turning around – so much so, he was practically on his knees on his seat – to rummage through his bag. Sasuke burned at the man's inconsideration, while sincerely hoping that a patrol car didn't suddenly appear from nowhere to give him a ticket for some obscure traffic violation. Another rumble of thunder had him nearly careening into the opposite lane, and this impromptu motion caused the blond to almost collide into him, as well as allow the already baggy jeans to slide a little lower down his hips. Sasuke didn't mean to look, but how could he avoid the sight of cartoonish boxers peeking over the top of the jeans? Luckily, Naruto finally found what he was looking for and spun back around to collapse into his seat with a satisfied grin.
"Tadaa!" He waved the white device before Sasuke's face, before turning it on to scroll through his playlist quickly. "Now please tell me you like Gackt. You can't tell me you don't love him. Everyone loves him. It's a requirement I'm sure. I have some of his classics here especially the best one of all…Crescent." He gave a lovesick sigh. "Have you listened to it?"
Sasuke felt the lie slipping out of his mouth before he could control it. "No."
And man what a lie it was, for in his teenage years, Gackt had been his goddamn life. He must have purchased every CD that genius ever recorded and had even been to three of his sold-out concerts. He hated to admit that he had even gone as far as trying to model himself after the famous singer back then; the haircut, the moody swagger, the dark clothing, the jewelry –
(someone just kill me now)
…in short, he had been given the nickname 'Gakuto no Futago' in school; something that made him swell with smug pride back then. His only regret was that he never got to see Gackt up-close-and-personal. It wasn't as if he didn't have the opportunity, after all he had won tickets to meet the singer backstage after a show, but when he had noticed a certain girl in his class feeling depressed at not being able to attend due to an illness, he caved and slipped the tickets into her locker after school one day. Let her at least have the pleasure of making one of her dreams come true even if she'd never know the kind angel to grant her wish.
"…about L'Arc-en-Ciel?" Naruto was saying; eyes still glued to his playlist. "Surely you'll like that band."
"What's with you and nostalgia music?" Sasuke asked. "I thought you would be more into the current sound."
"Bah. All current music stems from these guys," Naruto argued with a huff. "You know back in high school, I always wanted to be the next lead singer of the group. I figured if Hyde ever went into hibernation…or you know accidentally got run over by a passing truck, I'd fill in."
Sasuke stifled the chuckle that almost escaped his lips at that mental picture. He eyed his companion for a moment before asking carefully. "Can you play an instrument?"
"If you mean the guitar, yes, both acoustic and electric," came the smug reply that sent an immediate pang of envy through Sasuke's heart. He sucked at playing those, which was weird considering his parents had forced him to sit through tedious piano lessons as a child. One would assume he'd have an affinity for any other musical instrument.
"Then how come I don't see you lugging your guitar around?" Sasuke asked with a light sneer. "I thought struggling musicians like you would never part ways with their livelihood."
"I had to sell them," came the reply tinged with barely concealed regret, though Naruto shrugged his shoulders as if to convey that it had been no big deal.
There was a tense minute of silence, in which Sasuke struggled between the desire to know more about Naruto's decision to sell something he clearly must have loved, or to pretend as if he hadn't asked the question in the first place. He settled for clearing his throat and nodding toward his radio.
"You can plug in your iPod there," he invited as watery twin headlights before him heralded another lonesome companion on the highway. "Just make sure it's in the Aux setting."
"I do know how to play an iPod in a car," Naruto replied with faint amusement. "But thanks anyway for the reminder."
For an enjoyable hour or so, Gackt became the soundtrack of their journey, and though Naruto hummed and tapped his fingers against his thighs or nodded his head to the songs he already knew by heart, Sasuke died a little more inside as he realized how much he would have longed to do the same. He knew all the lyrics to the songs he had memorized like the obsessive fan boy he had been. His fingers were clutched tightly around the steering wheel to prevent them from tapping in time to the infectious beats, and even he couldn't stop the flush of color that came to his cheeks when Gackt would go into his soulful romantic love songs. Luckily, his torture was relieved when L'Arc en Ciel finally took over with their much louder punk-like sounds, and he could breathe again.
However, Naruto was clearly in his element this time around because he seemed to completely forget he was with someone else in the car. His fingers began to strum an invisible guitar, which showed Sasuke that the blond really hadn't been pulling his legs with that story about owning one. When Naruto finally couldn't hold it in and belted out the chorus along with his idol –Hyde – in the background …
(damn. He really could be a lead singer of a band with those pipes)
"Sorry," Naruto gushed breathlessly at the end of the song. "I couldn't resist. That's one of my favorite songs. My band and I used to perform it a lot…just to warm up you know."
"You were in a band too?"
"We weren't that famous," Naruto explained with a sheepish look. "In fact, we…eh…pretty much sucked for the most part."
Sasuke gave him a bemused glance, but Naruto was intently scrolling through his playlist again, though the shades of color on his cheeks told a different story.
"Let me guess," Sasuke deduced wryly. "You and your friends formed a band in high school, thought you were going to be the next L'Arc en Ciel, probably performed in some school competitions or festivals, got a couple of gigs during the weekend, but could never get far because you were not as great as you all assumed you were. Am I close enough?"
Naruto burned at the insinuations and sat up a little straighter. This guy had this way of talking that really made everything seem like it was beneath him, and he felt he ought to defend his boys at least.
"It wasn't as if they couldn't play," he began to explain. "And yeah, we did form the band because of a school competition, but they really did try to get better. None of us ever went to some fancy music school to become experts. We played because we enjoyed it, and we did our very best and…"
And it got them nowhere. He couldn't really tell Sasuke that besides Kiba – who was a kick ass drummer all things considered (and to make matters worse, he got scouted and accepted into a much better local band), Chouji – their bassist – had sucked big time. No matter how often Naruto tried to teach or encourage him to practice on his own, Chouji had absolutely no desire to better himself in that department. Shikamaru, the second lead guitar player, was no better either. Oh, he was good when he was in the mood, but otherwise, Shika would have rather spent his time doing something else. So with two non-committed members, it really had been a burden on Naruto and Kiba to keep the band afloat.
"You wouldn't understand," he finished lamely as the memory of Kiba sharing the 'good news' about his new gig, still ate him inside.
"Maybe I won't," Sasuke agreed quietly. "But from what I've seen and heard, I don't think you should be so quick to give up on becoming the next Hyde."
Naruto gave a bitter smile. "Thanks, but it's a little too late for that now. Where I'm going, I won't have the time to even think about music for a while…if ever." He began to untangle the wire to the earphones. "Sorry, but…do you mind if I just listen to the music on my own? I apologize for forcing you to listen to something you didn't want to."
Sasuke would have loved to say that he didn't mind at all, but Naruto was already unplugging the device to hog the music to himself. He snuggled closer to the window and closed his eyes effectively shutting Sasuke out and leaving him in deafening silence.
Selfish bastard, came the errant thought as he turned on the radio again, though he kicked himself inwardly for not showing more appreciation for music that had entertained him tremendously. Was it really Naruto's fault for assuming otherwise? Anyway, maybe it was better this way. They could each do what they wanted and not be forced to have stilted conversation. Except for one little problem -
/Where I'm going, I won't have the time to even think about music for a while…if ever. /
Just what the hell was waiting in Yokohama for Naruto? And why in God's name did he want to know that now more than ever?
Two weary hours later, signs of civilization came in the form of more cars on the road and the welcoming neon-stained signs of motels and eateries. Thanks to the rain, traffic was at a snail's pace, and by the time he pulled up to the motel it was just past midnight. Exhaustion now literally seeped into his bones. He found a good parking space in the lot and with a heavy sigh, sank back on his seat, closed his eyes and allowed aching muscles to finally relax – or at least they would after a good hot shower.
Unfortunately, a light snore from his left slapped him to reality quickly. He looked at the blond who was still fast asleep and marveled at how Naruto could literally tuck himself into a ball despite all the bumps encountered on the road. Whenever Sasuke slept in a car, his limbs and joints would ache like hell once awake. He wasn't sure he could manage being this comfortable, and he wasn't sure if waking Naruto at this point was a good idea. Besides…did the blond even have any money to afford a motel room? If his clothing, possessions and meager snacks purchased were any indication, either Naruto was extremely frugal or really didn't have enough to sustain him until he got to Yokohama. Sasuke contemplated the idea of leaving the other man in the car, but a warm bed beckoned and even if he got a single room, Naruto could always sleep on the floor. That was much more comfortable than the car, wasn't it?
"Oy," he said aloud; reaching out to shake Naruto's shoulder gently. When the blond didn't budge, he shook him harder. "Wake up, Naruto. We're at a motel."
"S'all right," came the mumbled and groggy reply as the blond snuggled even closer to the window. "I can sleep in the car. Don't worry about me."
"As much as I'd like to do that, I don't trust you well enough to leave you in here. Come on. You can sleep on the floor with the blankets. At least take a damn shower or something."
When Naruto remained silent, Sasuke cursed beneath his breath and let himself out, but only to move to Naruto's side, where he yanked the door open and sent the other man tumbling out to wet asphalt with a loud yelp of pain.
"Hey!" came the cry of righteous indignation. "Whaddaya do that for?!"
"Get your luggage and wait on the veranda for me," Sasuke commanded tightly. "I'm going to pay for our rooms. Got it?"
"But I said -"
"You're getting your own room!" Sasuke snapped impatiently; suddenly deciding that sharing a room with Naruto might prove to be a pain-in-the-ass if he was going to be this argumentative. "And if you're worried about paying me, do so by taking my car to the station next door, fill the tank and clean it first thing tomorrow morning. Deal?"
But Sasuke was already on his way to the front office, leaving Naruto kneeling on the wet ground with a slack-jawed expression. Even the now light rain pelting on his shivering flesh couldn't stop the suffusion of heat to course through him at Sasuke's generosity. He felt a ridiculous lump forming in his throat for he couldn't really remember the last time anyone had offered him a motel room all to himself. Sleeping in stuffy cars, bus stations, and dirty floors for a week now seemed inconsequential to the pleasure of a warm bed and a nice shower.
By the time Sasuke returned, he was sitting on his backpack with a grateful smile as the keys were tossed toward him.
"You're in Room 613," Sasuke explained. "On the second floor. I'm going to be right next door. You can start heading up there if you want. I have to get out my stuff. Oh and they'll deliver something hot for you to eat apparently. They have a menu in their rooms, so you order what you want."
The lump returned, but Naruto managed to nod firmly. "Thanks," he began in a voice that sounded too thick as he clutched the key tightly. "I really appreciate it."
"Here's some money for the gas and cleaning," Sasuke interrupted as if unable to bear to listen to Naruto's words. "There should be some extra for you to use as you want -"
"Look I don't really need -"
Dark eyes met slightly panicked blue ones. "Don't think I'm doing this out of charity or pity, Naruto. We're both tired and we need to rest. I'll see you in the morning."
He watched as Sasuke jogged out into the rain again and toward the car, his head (and heart) still confused as to why this guy was doing so much for him. The money in his hand was more than enough for all he was required to do, and it made Naruto wonder just what kind of a salesman Sasuke really was. As he trudged up the steps, it occurred to him that he really didn't know anything about his handsome dark-haired companion. All he knew was that Sasuke no longer worked for Iwata Electronics, so how would that explain why he was driving such a great car and with so much cash to spare?
"Not unless he works for the…mafia?" Naruto mused aloud as he let himself into his room…and promptly forgot the troubling thought of traveling with a possible yakuza at the most beautiful sight in the world.
It was only a narrow twin with an ugly-patterned blanket which he dove onto and began to roll around like a kid thrown into a pile of candy. He hugged the two fluffy pillows to his chest and moaned in bliss. He leapt up and paced around the small room; admiring the simple furnishings (a wooden desk with a lamp and a chair, a television set, a tiny closet to keep this personal belongings, the bedside table and another lamp) before flinging open the door to the bathroom where a shower stall awaited his filthy body.
Thank you, sweet Baby Jesus!
Thirty minutes later, he felt like a new man; squeaky clean, freshly-shaven, and in nothing but a pair of boxers while gorging on a bowl of yaki udon on his bed. On T.V was a horror movie that was probably made in the early 80s. The special effects were atrocious, but it was entertaining at least.
(Un) fortunately, the intoxicating high experienced from his new surroundings slowly began to wear off, and an hour later, he was curled beneath the blanket barely able to keep his eyes open. With the volume of the T.V. now lowered, the sounds from the 'outside' now filtered in. He knew Sasuke's room was directly behind the headboard of his bed, but from the silence emanating in that direction, it was clear the other man was probably already fast asleep. Could one blame him? He must be dead tired from all that driving. Naruto wouldn't be surprised if the guy slept 'til noon the next day.
If that was the case, then he was going to give Sasuke one hell of a surprise come morning. He was going to make sure that car was so clean, he'd think he just bought it anew all over again. It was the least he could do to show his sincere appreciation.
Sasuke, for his part, was less exuberant with his celebrations once he situated himself in the room. He wasted no time in stripping out of his clothes and perusing the comforts of a shower he wouldn't have minded being under for the rest of the night. When he felt more human, he ordered dinner, set out his clothes for the next day before tackling his business obligations.
Browsing through his phone, he winced at the number of missed calls and emails he had to respond to. For the next hour – and even when dinner arrived – he worked on his laptop; responding to orders, dealing with some disgruntled customers, or setting up appointments for future investments with potential businesses. Being a salesman was a little more involved than simply going door-to-door. You had to know (and believe) in the products you were selling, and at Yokohama, a brand new line of kitchenware was the main attraction. He did his best to study up on rival competitors in the market, but the weariness of the day finally caught up to him. It was now almost two in the morning, and if he hoped to get a good head start, he'd have to get at least six hours of sleep or he would be a wreck on the roads (no pun intended).
It wasn't until he was about to collapse onto the narrow bed, did the gleam of his car keys on the desk remind him of what had transpired earlier with a certain blond.
Ah fuck. Forgot to give him the keys.
He knew it was a possible risk trusting Naruto with them and believing he would actually clean the car and not decide to take off with it, but call it a salesman's hunch. Sasuke had a feeling Naruto wouldn't dare do such a thing. His decision to shell out the extra cash for Naruto's room and extra spending money should be more than enough to keep the blond in his debt for a while. He knew it was a roundabout sleazy way of gaining the other's loyalty, but in Life, one had to play the right cards to get ahead.
With a heavy groan, he grabbed the keys and let himself out of the room. He came to a stop outside Naruto's door, a hand lifted to knock on it. However, leaning closer, he could hear nothing but the familiar whirr of the heating system and perhaps the low sound of the television. Naruto was probably fast asleep and Sasuke didn't have the heart to wake him up for something so trivial. He would have liked to slip the key beneath the door, but there wasn't enough space to do so.
In the morning then, he decided as he made his way back to his motel room with a barely controlled yawn. When he comes asking for it, I'll give it to him.