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Smoke curled around Sasuke's head, a cloud that had dipped just a bit lower than those hovering and threatening rain. Sasuke inhaled, the taste and texture of tobacco so different than the hectic smoke of burning buildings and clothes, the smoke of battles past, almost soothing in its normalcy. Dropping the stub to fall amidst the scattered collection at his feet, Sasuke patted his pocket, frowning as an empty pack crinkled beneath his seeking fingers.

 

There was late, and then there was this.

 

Sasuke leaned back against the station wall, fingers entwined behind his head. He shouldn't be surprised- not when Naruto was involved. Even the simplest, most common of activities seemed to somehow go awry as soon as that man entered the picture. Sasuke had more than enough first-hand experience of the phenomenon to last him three lifetimes.

 

He smelled the train long before he heard it, a hint of coal carried in the humid air. If anything his posture became more relaxed, showing no external evidence of the anticipation that wanted to twine, cat-like, through his expression.

 

Instead he settled his features into that combination of bored and aloof that was tailor made for making Naruto's blood boil.

 

Naruto could stand for a little infuriation. After all, he had just made Sasuke wait for hours under a sky that seemed intently interested in a downpour. Not that Sasuke had been worried about anything apart from the threatening bad weather. There were few things that could be considered a threat to Naruto, and Konoha still considered Sasuke to be at the top of that list.

 

The train came to a halt with a scream of protest, steam and old parts. Equally ancient doors hissed and howled in objection as Naruto forced them open and bounded with unsurpassed energy onto the platform. Sasuke watched from one half-opened eye as Naruto scanned the empty platform, as excitement was smothered beneath narrow-eyed affront.

 

As if Sasuke would have neglected to meet him.

 

Naruto saw Sasuke leaning down in the shadows of the station proper and scowled, most likely irritated with himself for not anticipating Sasuke's location.

 

Sasuke had positioned himself perfectly to take in every detail as Naruto approached. There was a slight limp to taunt Naruto about, a faint speckling of grey amidst blond hair and a tangle of lines creasing through crow's-feet and the ancient remnants of dimples. Lean and lanky, Naruto still moved with the casual assurance of someone who knew what the world had to throw at him, and was pretty damn sure he could take it.

 

"Does your village know where you are?"

 

Naruto snorted at Sasuke's question, shifting his worn backpack with a sort of aborted shrug. "Probably."

 

"You are by far the worst Hokage ever."

 

"As if you would have been any better."

 

Old rivalries slipped to the surface, glittering in eyes and on the edge of toothy smiles, and then Naruto broke the moment by cracking his old hellion's grin. "I am sure Sakura has already thought of hundreds of ways to kill me when I get back, even though she seemed perfectly ok with holding down the fort while I slipped off." Naruto leaned forward and hauled Sasuke into a rather undignified hug. "It's been too long. Missed you, bastard."

 

________________________________

 

Sasuke's apartment was a mix of familiar and strange. There was a weapons rack settled neatly in a corner, beside a bookshelf, but the rest of the place was so mundane as to be distracting. A button down shirt and pair of slacks were thrown over a chair in the kitchen. A half full mug of cold tea sat beside a plate holding the nibbled remains of toast, a few paperback novels were laying here and there amidst mail and bits of paper bearing Sasuke's particular scribbled handwriting. No matter how often he visited, Naruto couldn't stop trying to peer around corners, under tables, trying to find where Sasuke had hidden his old life and persona. Naruto tossed his backpack onto a comfortably worn sofa and raised an eyebrow at the sight of a coaster on the coffee table.

 

"Quit that- you're giving me a headache."

 

"I come all this way, have been here long enough to take off my shoes, and you are already bitching?" Naruto's experienced roughened features softened with a smile. "You haven't changed a bit."

 

"You have." The words slipped out before Sasuke could stop them, their tone tricking him into acknowledging the investment he had placed in Naruto over the years, the comfort taken from narrowed eyes and protruding tongues, all the punches and kicks and irritation.

 

Naruto was by no means an expert in subtlety, but he had the presence of mind to hold still for once, to avoid backing the issue into a corner kicking and screaming. And it was there Sasuke noticed all the little differences and dignities that had settled into Naruto. It was in the way he tilted his head ever so slightly in inquiry as opposed to launching into a tirade, in the straight posture and interested eyes, the way he took in the situation, weighed and tasted it, before reacting.

 

There was a lean elegance to Naruto that had never been there before, a contentment and confidence that had nothing at all to do with proving himself. Sasuke's stomach did a little flip, part envy, part attraction. It had been awhile but…

 

But Naruto's arms were just as warm as he curled Sasuke into another embrace, adapt at reading the lack of emotion in Sasuke's face, looking instead to the little things like the way Sasuke worried with his left thumbnail when bothered by something. "I still want to punch you at least once a week. Does that help?" Naruto's breath tickled against Sasuke's neck, a pleasant counterpoint to the taunt in his voice. "Little changes, little things. They don't matter."

 

"If I am about to agree with something you just said, it matters." Disdain colored Sasuke's words, but he allowed himself to relax against Naruto-familiar steps in an almost unfamiliar situation, falling back on antagonism and irascibility. Naruto smelled the same- a salty perfume of sweat, metal, and ramen. Sasuke took a deep breath and moved away, having taken a touch of comfort without being comfortable with touching. "I would ask you what you want for dinner, but it would be a wasted effort."

 

Naruto's toothy smile was all agreement and anticipation, and that, at least, coaxed a crooked smirk from Sasuke's lips. "I'll pay."

 

And that startled a laugh. Sasuke shook his head at the skewed situation. "Changes, Naruto. So many changes."

 

"Job perk. If I'm buying, I get to pick the location, right?"

 

____________________________________

 

Every now and then when Naruto visited it turned to this- a skewed sort of nostalgia getting out of hand. It was never clear who instigated the first touch, whose face flushed first as pupils dilated. Naruto had thrown some money on the table, eyes never leaving Sasuke's, and they had both stood. Sasuke led the way through quiet evening streets, their urgency a counterpoint to the tenor of the town around them.

 

There was always that slight hesitation as Sasuke moved to unlock the door, the huff of impatience from Naruto. Push and pull through the door, scattering papers from the stand just inside, tracking dirt across pristine floors as first Naruto then Sasuke led the way.

 

Salt and beer, and just a bit of something sweet. Naruto's lips were chapped and rough, but the hands holding Sasuke in place were gentle. Fight or flight was a demanding inclination, and Sasuke was having trouble denying a rare instinct to run. It was exactly what he wanted, familiar smells teasing nostalgia, calloused hands gripping his, and as it was exactly what he wanted he couldn't get away from it fast enough. It never ended well, pursuing his wants. He was better off being left with what he deserved.

 

"Try it and I will bite your lip." Naruto's eyes were open and intent as he pulled far enough away to speak.

 

No one knew him better, could read him better than Naruto. Sasuke snarled slightly, lips curving in sublime displeasure, and then kissed Naruto back, employing all the weapons at his disposal. Tooth and nail and tongue were the tools of that nights work, standing just inside the door of Sasuke's apartment, dinner still on their breath and history in their eyes.

 

Naruto undressed Sasuke with uninhibited joy- a kid opening the present he had always wanted. Sasuke's body language dared Naruto to touch, and Naruto was all too happy to comply.

 

There were scars neither of them remembered, alongside the timeline of battles remembered. Sasuke traced a finger along Naruto's hip, along the faint ridge of a scar, remembering inflicting it. Goosebumps shivered to life as Naruto flinched away with a grumble of "ticklish."

 

Changes. Settling his head next to Naruto's on the pillow, hands entwined Sasuke contemplated the changes in the two of them that allowed this to be.

 

"You overthink your breakfast choices, don't you?" Naruto huffed a sigh, trying to settle down to sleep.

 

"When did you get so…" At a loss for the proper word Sasuke frowned.

 

"Wise?" Naruto flashed a drowsy grin. "Always have been. You just started listening."

 

Sasuke frowned. Changes. He noticed them about himself- the way the sharp edges of every option had softened over the years, allowing the removed deliberation he had always pretended to possess. The way he no longer flinched at the smell of pine needles and decaying foliage, the warm smells of home. They were defined by their choices, the two of them, and Sasuke, Naruto's head pillowed on his arm, had a hard time justifying his own.

 

It had been self-serving, at least initially. He felt he had nothing to gain from going back to Konoha, especially since Naruto was so damn set on seeking him out no matter where he went to ground. But as Naruto became comfortable enough with their change in situation to complain, planting his face into the side of Sasuke's thigh in frustration, Sasuke's motivation had shifted. Naruto had a lot to prove as a new Hokage- he didn't need to prove that Sasuke belonged back home.

 

The little apartment removed from the ninja villages and all their politics and privacy had become home of sorts anyway. Occasionally Naruto passed through and muddied the floors and Sasuke's sense of purpose, but that too brought with it a sense of home.

 

Naruto rubbed his face against Sasuke's neck, doing his best to grind stubble into the sensitive flesh there. "Less thinking, more sleeping."

 

"I can't possibly be keeping you awake. I'm not making any noise."

 

"You're tense. You're not supposed to be tense around me."

 

"Anyone with half a brain is tense around you."

 

"I choose to take that as a compliment. Now. Sleep."

 

Sasuke dutifully closed his eyes, concentrated on relaxing, and was shortly rewarded by Naruto's open-mouthed snore.

 

Naruto was always so tired when he visited. Tired, but happy.

 

Sasuke almost missed the hectic ninja life. Almost.

 

______________________________

"Tell me about Konoha."

 

Naruto looked up, a noodle hanging out the side of his face, eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Honest? You actually want to know?" Naruto too Sasuke's silence and raised eyebrow as the not too subtle urging to get on with it that it was.

 

Sasuke half listened to tales of Sakura's temper and Neji's missions, what he focused on most was the way Naruto came alive talking about Konoha. Here was a Hokage who honestly loved his village. It sparkled in wide eyes and rolled off each vowel.

 

This was Naruto, arms gesturing wide with enthusiasm as he spoke, filled to the brim with every emotion that made up the human experience. It was at the same time soothing and distressing to be in his presence, and Sasuke leaned forward and basked in it like a sun-starved flower reaching for light.

 

He wasn't homesick, just working on rebuilding the bridges he had burned. Every careful visit from Naruto, every time Naruto returned home unscathed and smiling was another plank in the construction. Trust was hard to regain, but Sasuke was patient, even if Naruto wasn't. Eventually…

 

Eventually he would make the decision to take that plunge- pack his bags and follow Naruto back. Eventually. For now it was enough to smirk as Naruto almost capsized the remains of his lunch as he launched into a story arms first.

___________________________________

Naruto hated packing- there was a finality to it he was unwilling to acknowledge. His face screwed up into a scowl he shoved the last dirty shirt into his backpack and stood with a grunt. Sasuke was polite enough not to point out Naruto had left a shirt hanging off the side of the bed. They both knew why it was there, and were both too belligerently independent to draw attention to it. Sasuke would fold it carefully later, most likely grinning at the odd grass or blood stain, before setting it somewhere visible. Just in case.

 

"Well."

 

"We should probably head out or you'll miss your train." Sasuke watched Naruto make one take one more visual sweep of the room, probably memorizing the little details as much as checking for misplaced personal effects.

 

They left in silence, made small talk as they walked to the train. They must have looked uncannily normal- two friends walking in the morning, a lean, lion of a man somewhat battered by an active lifestyle and his slender shadow nodding politely at all the right conversational points. Sasuke had callouses on all the wrong parts of hands that had become more comfortable wielding a pen than kunai, and while he hadn't gone soft, not by a long stretch, he still felt the accidental scholar to Naruto's rough and tumble athletic appearance. It was a strange counterpoint to years long past, where he had been leading, and Naruto had been fumbling along behind him. He was sure Naruto would have something snide to say about that particular observation, but it was inarguable that Naruto had quite the habit of turning up wherever Sasuke went. Always had and, it seemed, always would.

 

A slight hip check from Naruto pulled Sasuke's attention back. The station was a placid presence- it was a bit too early for the usual crowds and chaos. Naruto rolled his shoulders, unnecessarily shifting the weight of his backpack around while digging for something appropriate to say.

 

A smile spread across his face, an expression that set off innumerable warnings in Sasuke's brain and gained his full attention. Naruto scratched the side of his head, tilted it to the side ever so slightly, and spoke words that had become an infernal tradition.

 

"Come back with me."

 

Even knowing those words were coming Sasuke missed a breath as his lungs seized and stomach clenched. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and take Naruto's hand, to be hauled up off the platform and onto the train. But he was the dark spot on the Hokage's already strained background, another demon for Naruto to fight.

 

It was fine, a visit every now and then, whenever Naruto could break free. It was acceptable, the quiet life and long days. His pillow would smell like Naruto for a little while yet, a smile would hang on the edge of his expression long after the train pulled away.

 

"You really are the worst Hokage ever." Sasuke allowed himself a crooked grin as he pushed Naruto towards the train. "Think it through, Naruto. Leave your skeletons in the closet- don't set them out for everyone to see. Your position doesn't need the challenge of my being there."

 

"So you will keep on hiding." There was disdain in Naruto's voice, swirled with the frustration.

 

Once, Sasuke would have scoffed at trying to explain the complexity of the situation to Naruto, holding tight to the assumption that he wouldn't understand. Changes. "Things change, but sometimes not fast enough." It was more musing out loud than an actual answer, but it fit. It hadn't been near long enough for the village to forget him, for time to soothe over the worst offences.

 

The pout was one hundred percent vintage Naruto, proof that while things may change, the core always survived. It was encouraging and amusing to watch Naruto's face pull down, his lip to push out, the way he flared his nostrils ever so slightly. Sasuke couldn't help but laugh.

 

A laugh that was free of anything but amusement, startling in its honesty. Naruto's pout dissolved and shortly a smile hung in its place. Naruto slapped a hand onto Sasuke's shoulder, gripping for an instant, and then he stepped back. "I'll visit again soon."

 

"Your village is going to get better at catching you."

 

"I will have to get better at being sneaky."

 

Sasuke stepped back, mirroring Naruto's need to move out of the intimacy and vulnerability of a hard question and equally painful rejection. "That'll be the day. Every Nation will quiver in fear." A slightly disparaging curl of the lip, challenge glittering in his eyes.

 

"They can't do anything worse than what Sakura usually threatens." A challenge and a promise to be back, and then Naruto was boarding the train, battered backpack slung over one shoulder.

 

And Sasuke was left on the platform, a crooked smile on his face, hands shoved in his pockets, watching as the train carried Naruto back to the world he wasn't quite ready to rejoin.