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Growing pains

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It was a beautiful day, the sun shining down warmly and casting a glimmer across the glass high-rise buildings. A rare gem in the chilly autumn season Tokyo was currently experiencing, even rarer that it occurred on the weekend. Sasuke blinked, coming out of his daydreaming and focusing back in on the laptop screen in front of him. Even as rare as this beautiful day was, Sasuke was no slacker. He always studied on the weekends, and this was no different. The library was notably emptier, which didn’t bother him as he was of the opinion the quieter a workspace, the better.

He squinted at the small black text, chunked up in paragraphs on the screen. Remembering himself, he put his glasses back on, having removed them a short while ago to rub the crust from sleep out of his eyes. It was approaching midday, and Sasuke had been at the library since opening hours, a typical 9:30 on the weekends.

“What a surprise, look who I found. At the library, no less!”

Straightening upon hearing the familiar voice, Sasuke twisted in his chair just in time to receive a dull thump on the head. Scrunching his face up, he glared at the other who sat casually as ever on his study space, on his desk.

“How can you look at all those numbers and statistics all day and not get a headache?” Naruto asked, shaking his head as he looked down at the business textbook he had lying open on the desk.

“I listen to you all day, don’t I?” Sasuke retorted back easily, Naruto spluttering in disbelief.

“Please! Being in my presence is a privilege, not a punishment. I bet people would pay to hear me talk to them all day long.” Naruto preened, looking absolutely confident in this assumption.

Sasuke rolled his eyes, “I’m sure. If they wanted someone to voice for an alarm clock, you’d be first choice. It would be so annoying you’d get up just to get away from it.”

Scoffing, Naruto pushed at Sasuke’s neat pile of notes lightly, “Bastard, at least I have some freaking intonation in my speech unlike someone.

“What do you want, idiot?” Sasuke sighed, glaring sideways at the other whilst rearranging his pile.

Jumping to attention, Naruto sprung to his feet and tugged at the back of Sasuke’s chair, “I’m famished. Come and grab a bite with me.”

“I have to study.” Was Sasuke’s terse response, not even glancing at Naruto as he read through the next thick block of text.

Naruto snorted, cracking his neck side-to-side and causing Sasuke to wince, “Yeah, so do I. Then I realised, it’s Saturday and I don’t really give a fuck.”

“Some of us don’t stop working just because it’s the weekend.” He said, clicking down the page and making a note to himself to continually change where he sat at the library. It would throw Naruto off for a longer period of time, at least.

“I know that. Although some of us know when to stop and have a break before our head explodes. You, Sasuke, are not one of those people.” Naruto accused, pointing at Sasuke with one eyebrow raised. He looked utterly ridiculous, and Naruto had never been any good at acting serious.

Shaking his head unfazed, Sasuke turned back to face his screen, “I’m fine. Go and eat by yourself.”

His eyes narrowed furiously when he saw a tanned hand reach out and shut his laptop screen.

“Naruto,” He seethed, with the blonde in question leaning against his desk looking unimpressed.

Naruto rolled his eyes as if dealing with a petulant child, “Don’t you think I can tell when you haven’t eaten? You get all prissy and start with that holier-than-thou crap.”

“I’m not hungry.” Sasuke ground out through clenched teeth.

Blinking once, blue eyes widened and Naruto suddenly backed off, “Oh, well that’s too bad.”

He watched suspiciously as Naruto turned to leave, and at the last second the blonde swivelled around, swiped Sasuke’s laptop and ran like a madman towards the library exit.

“See how hungry you are now!” Naruto called over his shoulder and Sasuke was positively livid.

“Naruto! Get back here right now, moron!” Gathering his books and papers, he haphazardly shoved them in his bag – something Sasuke hated to do but this was no time to be particular.

Slinging his bag over his shoulder across his chest and giving the desk a quick once-over to ensure he didn’t forget anything, Sasuke took off after Naruto with an intent to tear the blonde apart. He caught sight of blonde hair disappearing at the end of the long hallway leading into the library and Sasuke followed. When he finally caught up with Naruto, they were in the on-campus café and the blonde was already standing in line, Sasuke’s laptop tucked under his arm innocently.

Just as Sasuke took a threatening step in his direction, Naruto turned his head and a mischievous smile took over his face.

“Ah, there you are. Finally decided to take a break, eh?” Smiling, he had Sasuke’s laptop tucked under his arm like it was some sort of melon fruit.

Seething, Sasuke stepped up to him, “Give me the laptop. Now.”

Naruto tapped his finger on his chin, seemingly considering Sasuke’s request, “Hm, I think I’ll hold onto it a little longer.”

“No. Now. Right now, and maybe I’ll consider not beating you half to death.” Sasuke warned, his anger spiking at Naruto’s obvious indifference to his threats.

Naruto shrugged, “Sorry, but no can do. Why don’t you take a look and see what to order while we wait?”

Composing himself with will power that had taken years to build, Sasuke breathed in and out. Temporarily suspending his anger, he settled for a silent coldness as he stood in line beside Naruto. His arms were crossed and his eyes pasted to the menu board in steady avoidance of the annoyance at his side. Resigned to his fate, he tossed over the idea of a chicken salad sandwich or a sweet chili chicken wrap for lunch. Admittedly, eating something would increase his brain power and help him to study more efficiently, though he refused to acknowledge this as Naruto’s idea in the first place.

“I hate you.” He declared, not wanting to see the victorious grin painted on Naruto’s face.

“Pfft, hate how much you love me, more like!” He laughed, loud and vibrant as always, and Sasuke felt his irritation subside.

*

After a satisfying lunch (Sasuke had made a good choice with the sandwich), Sasuke reclaimed his laptop and in return gave Naruto a solid punch to his chest. Despite coughing and rubbing at the area, the idiot had the audacity to grin at him triumphantly. They then parted ways, with Naruto having a meet up with Sakura next and Sasuke needing to resume his study session.

Sasuke honestly never thought of all career paths, Naruto would choose paramedics. It was a demanding course that required meticulous study and knowledge of the human body. Yet Naruto took to it like a duck to water. He was getting decent grades, enjoying the course and worked hard.

Whereas Sasuke was certain anyone could have guessed his career choice – business. Of course, as his father was a businessman and so too would Sasuke become a business man. Itachi had discarded the notion he was expected to do the same, and was currently somewhere in Spain doing something. Sasuke didn’t know, didn’t care. His older brother had disappeared from his life when he was no older than thirteen years old, and his father didn’t mention him except when he warned Sasuke not to follow in Itachi’s footsteps. No worries there, he had no intention of becoming anything like his brother.

And of course, Sakura was studying to become a nurse. Her ultimate goal was to become a doctor, but she wasn’t in a rush to get there. Whilst Sakura was in her final year of study, Sasuke and Naruto still had another to go. Since their courses had similar and shared subjects in them, Naruto and Sakura studied together more often than not. Sakura liked having a person around to test herself on, and Naruto enjoyed the company more than anything else. The guy was hopeless when it came to studying by himself most of the time, Sasuke remembered back in high school all the late nights they had spent cramming for the next day’s exam.

Back in their second year of university, currently now at the start of their third, the trio had decided to move off-campus together. Sasuke had done the math (naturally), and it worked out cheaper for all three of them to live together in a small share house than each of them living on-campus.

Another detail which had come into that, was the fact that Naruto wanted to move in with his girlfriend. Naruto and Sakura were officially together. Finally, Sakura had accepted Naruto’s feelings as genuine and honest, and Naruto was still completely in love with her. She too, had confessed her love just last year, and the two of them were happier than any couple Sasuke knew. The look in Sakura’s eyes was different now when she saw Naruto, brighter and happier.

Even though Sasuke had said it was financially wise to move off-campus, he was hesitant at sharing a house with the couple. When he had expressed his doubts towards the living arrangements, the two of them had done everything to convince Sasuke otherwise. Settling himself into a study cubicle and unpacking his laptop and worksheets, Sasuke remembered back to when they were desperately trying to persuade him.

“It won’t be awkward at all!” Naruto stated flippantly, which had done little to sway Sasuke. The blonde was so thick-headed, he hardly ever registered an awkward situation even when he was a part of one.

“We won’t do anything to make you uncomfortable, Sasuke. We promise.” Sakura said in earnest, smiling encouragingly at him.

His response was a raised brow, clearly letting her know that he highly doubted the probability of this being true. Remedying her approach, Sakura pressed her fingers to her lips, humming while her mind was running through what to say next. For his part, Naruto only made stupid begging faces at Sasuke, tugging at his arm and pinching his cheeks and just generally being Naruto. Just as Sasuke was about to lose his temper and throw Naruto on the ground, Sakura brightened and straightened her posture with purpose.

“I know! We can put together a list of rules for shared house living!” Sakura suggested chirpily, and Sasuke resisted pulling a face. Sakura and her goddamn lists.

“Right, right!” Naruto nodded, clearly approving of the idea.

“Yeah! Like, one of them would obviously be no sex while Sasuke is in the house.”

“Yeah, of cour – wait, what?”

Naruto faltered, blinking uncertainly at her, “You’re joking right, Sakura?”

Naturally, she slapped his arm soundly, “Idiot! Stop thinking with your dick for a second and think of Sasuke!”

Bemoaning, Naruto fell back against the couch as if he lost all will to live, “He’s such a house rat, though. He’ll always be around!”

“Your intervention is really convincing me. Please, go on.” Sasuke drawled sarcastically.

“Another would be separate showers, and let’s not forget limited PDA in front of Sasuke.” Sakura murmured thoughtfully, as if Naruto hadn’t interrupted at all.

“What the hell?!” Naruto cried out, like a wounded bear.

Sasuke interrupted the quarrelling couple, holding up his hand, “Look, I appreciate it. I just don’t think it will work out.”

“Shut up, Sasuke. Can’t you see all the sacrifices we’re willing to make for you? Show some gratitude, jerk.” Naruto dismissed him, like he hadn’t just whined that living with Sasuke would be the greatest inconvenience in his life to date.

“Why do you want me to live with you both anyway?” He questioned, genuinely curious of their answer.

Generally, couples moving in together liked to do so alone. Sasuke couldn’t figure out why either of them would want him intruding on their space. It wasn’t like he would be offended if they did, he was used to being alone. Sometimes, Sasuke preferred it and it felt like he was meant to be alone more than anything else.

“As if we’re gonna let you buy your own apartment and hole yourself up there like some pre-mature hermit.” Naruto immediately responded, waving his hand as if to wipe away the idea and Sasuke felt his eyebrow tick.

“What Naruto means is, you’re our friend Sasuke. We started university together, and we should finish it together.” Sakura’s voice was warm and gentle, as she placed a hand on Sasuke’s shoulder and smiled at him.

“Exactly. We’ve been in this together for too long to part ways now. Sad to say it, bastard, but you’re stuck with us.” Naruto sung, coming out of his hopeless slouching on the couch to give his smile to Sasuke. He swallowed, not sure what to do with all this affection being thrown his way.

“Plus, if we all live together then we get more free vouchers in our mail! They distribute those things per capita y’know!” Naruto persisted, his own personal touch of what he called ‘sweetening the deal’.

Sakura sighed and rolled her eyes, elbowing Naruto in his ribs but she was smiling. Rubbing at his chest, Naruto grinned and started laughing, and Sasuke couldn’t hide his smirk.

“Aha! The bastard smiled! Well, more of a smirk, but doesn’t matter – we’re in!” Naruto declared, pointing at Sasuke before throwing an arm around his shoulders and bringing him in for a half-hug.

“Moron, get off.” Sasuke grumbled, trying to pull away from the warm embrace but Naruto only held on tighter.

He heard Sakura’s giggle and then felt her hug his arm and he sighed.

Later when it had encroached on evening, Naruto caught him again. This time he was alone. Sakura was probably at her part-time job at the coffee shop, Red Bean. He’d have to go there again next week, since it had been a while since his last visit and whenever Sakura was on shift she gave him free coffee – sometimes a complimentary fruit-filled muffin on the side. More so for the coffee however, since Sasuke couldn’t function without it and they did really good coffees there.

“Hey, Sasuke,” Naruto greeted, voice breezy in the quiet of Sasuke’s room.

The latter looked up, waiting for Naruto to speak so he could get back to work. Sasuke was going through his lecture material for tomorrow, sitting at his desk in his room. Something made him stop, however, when he caught Naruto’s gaze as the other waltzed over to him. Perhaps it was how serious Naruto looked, or the way he was standing, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets.

“Are you really going to live with us?”

A bit surprised at the question, Sasuke put his textbook down and faced Naruto properly. This is important to him, he realised. Naruto was funny about things like this. He would come off as being all about the fun and the games, but underneath he had his own reasons and meaning.

“I don’t really have much of a choice, do I? Even if I bought my own place, the two of you would be over enough it would practically be the same as living together. This is easier, and financially smarter.” Sasuke argued, using his innate logic to disguise the true intentions he held in mind.

Naruto stared at him for a moment, before a grin melted across his face and he ruffled up Sasuke’s hair playfully.

“You’re damn right, Uchiha. Glad to see you’re finally wising up.” Sasuke grunted and pushed Naruto’s hands away and out of his hair. It was already prone to messiness without that idiot intervening.

Prancing over to Sasuke’s bed, Naruto flopped down and made himself right at home on the soft covers, “Because you know with us, you’ll never be alone. I won’t let you, even if you want to.”

Sasuke paused, the meaning of those words leaving him temporarily voiceless for a few seconds. Of course, he understood now. Why he hadn’t realised it sooner, Sasuke couldn’t guess. Perhaps because sometimes he forgot the past he and Naruto shared, what that meant and how much it still means to the both of them even now.

“I already know that. You can’t go a single day without pestering me.” He replied, pulling his book closer to him and trying to focus on the text and not the unsteady beat of his heart. He felt Naruto’s smile on his back, and allowed himself a small quirk of his lips as a peaceful silence bloomed in the room.

That had been a year ago, and the arrangement they had remained the same.

*

The annoying thing about being friends with a couple you had already been friends with, was the way they would constantly attempt to set Sasuke up with girls. As if they felt they had to compensate, since they were so happy in a couple so obviously Sasuke should feel that happiness too. Personally, he thought they felt guilty sometimes when they were doing ‘couple things’ and Sasuke was inadvertently left out. It really didn’t bother him, but it bothered them and when it came to those two, they could never sit still when something could be done.

Perhaps Sasuke might have welcomed the efforts on his behalf, if they had been setting him up with the right gender for a start. Although, really he could blame no one but himself for that. Nobody, not even Naruto and Sakura, knew about Sasuke’s preferences. It was something he had struggled to accept for months himself, he couldn’t imagine how the two of them would feel. Especially Sakura, considering she had been in love with him ‘supposedly’ all those years ago.

Yet, Sasuke was filled with a twisted guilt every time it was inevitably brought up.

“Sasuke, you really should start dating. I know it sounds weird coming from me, but I think it would be good for you.”

“Bastard, I get you a hot date and you blow her off because you had laundry? Are you fucking retarded or something?!”

Every time his answer was the same. Not interested, don’t have the time, relationships are more trouble than they’re worth. Usually the two of them wouldn’t nag him too much over it, but lately it was coming up more and more.

When it came from Naruto, it made Sasuke more uncomfortable than anything else.

Sasuke knew why. He had known since the end of last year, when he’d experienced the biggest realisation that it was almost painful in its revelation. Whenever people joked that Sasuke must be jealous that Sakura had chosen someone else, he would bite his tongue and smirk indulgently, letting them believe it.

Having had enough introspection in the early hours of the morning, Sasuke got out of bed and stretched his limbs. Tying a knot across his dark blue dressing gown, Sasuke stepped into his slippers and pushed open his door, starting to head downstairs for breakfast. He was halfway down the stairs when he heard the voices of Naruto and Sakura in the kitchen. Although he was a bit surprised they were both awake relatively early, Sasuke continued walking down the stairs. Once he reached the bottom, however, he stopped to a standstill.

Standing at an angle where he could see into the kitchen yet they could not see him, Sasuke stared. The two were standing at the stove, assumedly in the mood for a hot breakfast. That wasn’t what Sasuke was staring at though. Naruto had his arms wrapped around Sakura’s middle, as she stood in front of the frying pan flipping eggs. She giggled cutely when Naruto turned his head, his nose brushing against her neck. Then he was kissing along her neck chastely, his back muscles flexing as he bent over her and that was when Sasuke noticed he was shirtless.

His mouth suddenly went dry, his eyes involuntarily lowering to the defined, tanned chest. For a moment too long, Sasuke was unable to remove his gaze, watching intently as the toned abs stretched and flexed whenever Naruto moved his body. Sakura was wearing one of his t-shirts, and didn’t appear to be wearing anything underneath.

The implications of that were too much, too soon. Sasuke felt his throat constrict, and his palms began to sweat. Turning on his heel, he ascended the stairs and when he reached his bedroom, he closed the door and kept his light off. Breakfast could wait a little longer.

*

“Damn, morning class is always such a shit,” Naruto groaned, sculling a glass of orange juice in one go and making Sasuke gag.

Naruto had a four-hour block of classes on Thursdays, with a nine am start. Most of Naruto’s classes started at either nine or eight in the morning, and soon he’d be on placement where he’d have overnight shifts that would surely be hell. It was moments like these that Sasuke praised himself for sticking to a relatively calm business degree.

“Don’t swear at the table, you Neanderthal,” Sakura chided, nibbling at the chocolate chip pancakes she had made for herself and Naruto this morning. Kindly, she prepared a couple of plain ones for Sasuke to eat, well aware of his distaste for sweet things.

“Are you kidding me? This guy has said at least three different naughty words so far this morning! Where’s his scolding?” Naruto grumbled, taking his plate and glass up to the sink and washing them up quickly.

“He was in pain, so it’s acceptable,” Sakura offered, earning a disbelieving gawk from Naruto.

“So what? Just because of a stubbed toe? He still said them!” Naruto complained, and Sakura shook her head at Sasuke as if to say ‘he’s hopeless’.

“It was painful enough that I couldn’t stop myself. You say vulgar things so needlessly,” Sasuke commented dryly, turning the page of the morning newspaper. Naruto rambled exasperatedly in the background to himself, of which Sasuke could make out, ‘human brains have no logic’, to which he decided to ignore him from then on.

“I’ll see you later, beautiful,” Naruto said, grabbing his backpack and slinging it on his back as he readied to leave.

“I can’t wait for that,” Sakura replied, smiling sweetly at him as she stood from the table and wrapped her thin arms around his shoulders.

“I was talking to Sasuke, y’know,” Naruto teased, causing the hairs on Sasuke’s arms as he sipped at his tea.

“Oh, come on! Not again!” Sakura huffed, stamping her foot and playing along. Sasuke wondered how he hadn’t gotten cavities from living with them yet.

“Alright, alright. Sorry, you know you’re my number one.” Naruto cooed at her, regaining her favour and they kissed goodbye. Sasuke ate his pancakes, his gaze locked on the newspaper for some time.

“Adios, my favourite people!” Naruto called, to which Sasuke raised his hand in a silent wave without looking up and Sakura shooed him out the door.

As soon as Naruto had walked out, Sakura threw her back against the closed door and faced Sasuke with an expression not unlike one of a woman possessed. Sasuke covered his wince by straightening in his chair.

“Sasuke, I need your help! I really messed up!” She pleaded, throwing her hands in front of her chest and pressing them together tightly.

After wondering what the hell was going on, Sasuke decided it was best to be direct.

“What?”

Whining in frustration, Sakura flew away from the door and trudged over to the him, plopping down in a chair. She looked positively morose, that Sasuke put down his paper and gave her his undivided attention.

“I forgot today was our anniversary.” She admitted, in a small voice.

Sasuke was momentarily confused, then it all clicked together. Naruto had been telling him the other day about his big surprise for Sakura for their one-year anniversary, and today was the big day.

You forgot?” Sasuke couldn’t keep himself from asking. If anything, Naruto was the one who was more likely to forget dates. But then, Sasuke supposed the idiot would never forget the day when Sakura finally said yes to him.

“Don’t look at me like that! I feel bad enough already,” Sakura truly did look miserable, and Sasuke let out a sigh of his own. Why did he always have to end up involved in situations like this?

Sakura mussed her hair messily, a quirk when she was stressed or anxious, “It’s just with all the placement I’ve been doing, being so busy and all, the days just run together and it completely slipped my mind.”

“I don’t have anything for him.” She looked ready to cry, her eyes filling with tears and Sasuke spoke up before the waterworks were upon him.

“Sakura,” Sasuke muttered exasperatedly, rubbing the bridge of his nose irritably, “Instead of complaining to me why don’t you do something about it?”

“But I don’t have any idea what he would want!” She wailed hopelessly, dropping her head in her arms and Sasuke barely restrained himself from getting up and leaving her to drown in her misery.

No, he was Sakura’s friend. He wouldn’t let her make a fool of herself like this. More importantly, Naruto was his friend too and he didn’t want to see the moron hurt on a day that obviously meant so much to him.

“And you assume I do?”

“You’re his best friend, Sasuke. He tells you all the random shit that I don’t want to hear. He must’ve said something! He’s always wanting something.”

She rolled her eyes at her boyfriend’s materialism, but to his credit most of the time Naruto didn’t actually get what he said he wanted. He would just pine about the loss of it for a few days and then get over it, moving onto the next thing.

“There’s a hoodie downtown he’s been obsessed with, he sent me a picture the other day,” Picking his phone up from the table, he flicked through his picture messages from Naruto until he came across what he was looking for.

He showed it to Sakura, whose eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning, “Oh, it’s kinda nice. I actually think it would look good on him,”

“He didn’t tell me which store it’s in, but since it’s a picture on their website it has the store’s name in the corner,” Sasuke pointed to the bottom right corner.

“Blue Bird,” Sakura read aloud, then grinned happily, “I know where that is! I can drop by there on my way to class later on!”

“Congratulations on your anniversary,” Sasuke inclined his head, and Sakura turned her dazzling smile towards him.

“Thank you so much, Sasuke! You’re literally the best, you know that?” She hugged his head to her chest like a kitten and giggled. He sighed, but was relieved everything worked out.

“Don’t mention it,” he mumbled, and she released him from the hug and took his plate and empty mug up to be washed.

“You don’t have to do that, Sakura,” he protested, making to stand, but she hushed him and already had them in water before he could move.

“It’s the least I can do, really!” She smiled, and he stared at her for a short moment before letting her do as she wished.

Later on in the afternoon, after an intense but productive study session, Sasuke started packing his things for an overnight trip. Seeing as how it was their anniversary, Sasuke really didn’t think he could be a third-wheel tonight, and he didn’t want to. Sakura came in, having just returned from uni and shopping, with a bag from Blue Bird hanging from her hand.

“Oh, are you going somewhere, Sasuke?” She asked, walking over to where he was preparing his things to go.

“I’m going to stay with Karin tonight.” He said, throwing clothes into his overnight bag.

Tilting her head to the side confusedly, Sakura furrowed her delicate brows, “Why would you do that?”

Upon hearing the question, Sasuke deemed the only appropriate response as looking Sakura straight in the eyes and giving her a pointed look, before his eyes raised just above her head to the doorway where her and Naruto’s rooms were.

Bright red bloomed across her cheeks, and Sasuke nodded once he was certain his message had been conveyed. Covering her mouth and coughing awkwardly, Sakura stuttered for a while before managing a small ‘Th-Thank you for being so considerate, Sasuke’, and then she vanished from his doorway.

Once she was gone, Sasuke stopped his packing and glanced at the doorway. Get a grip, he told himself. It wasn’t like Sasuke didn’t know what would happen tonight, he wasn’t a fool. Despite his discomfort with it, he would not deprive the two of doing…what they would do.

Having finished packing fifteen minutes later, he took his stuff downstairs and readied it by the door. He sent Karin a text to let her know he was on his way, grabbing a quick drink of water for the ride over.

“Hey, Sasuke,” Naruto greeted as he suddenly waltzed through the door, and Sasuke wished he hadn’t drunk his water so quickly.

The smile on Naruto’s face was gorgeous, and it seemed his entire being was lit up and glowing with happiness. Even if she was not in the room, his smile was for her. It always was.

“You left the expired milk in the fridge again.” It was Sasuke’s automatic response, and Naruto’s smile disappeared to be replaced with a panicked expression.

“Are you serious?! Damn, I thought for sure I had gotten rid of it this time.” He cursed, glaring at the fridge as if it was his enemy.

“Don’t worry, I’ll buy some more tomorrow.” Sasuke said, walking over to where his bag and laptop were situated, near the exit.

“Where’re you going?” Naruto questioned, lifting an eyebrow.

“Spending the night at Karin’s place. I know you two have plans.” Sasuke explained, for the second time that day.

Unexpectedly, Sasuke caught a hint of a blush on Naruto’s cheeks. Well, maybe the idiot had some modesty at all.

“Sasuke, this is why you’re my best friend,” Naruto professed, placing a solemn hand on Sasuke’s shoulder, “You get the little things that I don’t have to say, like how I’m going to be scoring all night long consecutively and I think that’s beautiful.”

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. Nope, the idiot was still as shameless as ever.

Slapping him on the back good-naturedly, Naruto grinned cheekily, “Thanks, bastard. I owe you a free lunch, okay?”

“You mean free lunch as in anything under ten dollars, I assume?” Sasuke summarised, to which Naruto shot finger guns at him.

“’Course! I’m only a uni student after all.” Naruto grinned at him brightly and Sasuke couldn’t find it in himself to fight back.

“Have a good night,” Sasuke said in parting, to which Naruto winked and then he was out the door.

*

Finding an easy park in front of Karin’s apartment block, Sasuke slung his laptop case over his shoulder and hefted his overnight bag out of the passenger seat, slamming the doors shut. The warmth of his car vanished to be replaced with the chilly night wind, and he made haste over to Karin’s single unit. Just as he raised his hand to knock, the door suddenly flung open and standing in it was the figure of a very happy Karin Uzumaki.

“Sasuke! It’s about time! What took you so long anyway?” Pouting, Karin didn’t wait for an answer as she pulled him in for a warm hug.

“Nice to see you too, Karin.” Sasuke sighed, not bothering to return the hug – it only encouraged Karin to hold onto him for longer.

“It’s been way too long since we hung out just the two of us! Come on, we have so much to do!” Sasuke opened his mouth to tell her not to make a fuss, but didn’t get the chance as he was hauled inside the apartment.

Karin was Naruto’s cousin that had relocated to Konoha two years ago, just as they started university. As soon as she laid eyes on Sasuke, she was completely smitten. She would chase him everywhere, follow him on campus and hang out with them under the pretence of spending time with her cousin who she loved dearly.

Naruto had laughed outright at that. His relationship with Karin, whilst it was a good one, was not one where she would deliberately hang out with him in any circumstance if she could avoid it.

“So, not that I’m not totally thrilled having you here, but you didn’t really say why you needed a place to crash tonight. Mind elaborating?” She said, placing a mug of green tea on the coffee table and sitting cross-legged on the floor across from him.

Sasuke stared at her, then stared down at his mug.

“It’s Naruto and Sakura’s anniversary today.”

Instantly, the easy going smile she had on her face vanished. Sighing, she rubbed at her temples and placed her own cup down on the coffee table with more force than necessary.

“That stupid jerk, always so inconsiderate.”

Karin was also the only person in existence that knew. It wasn’t that Sasuke had told her. No, if Sasuke had it his way then nobody would ever, ever know what he truly felt deep down. Unfortunately, Karin had figured it out all on her own, and no matter how Sasuke had consistently denied it over and over she didn’t believe him. Eventually, Sasuke gave in and told her, confirming what she thought all along.

Sasuke rolled his eyes at her over exaggeration, “It’s their anniversary, Karin. Besides, neither of them told me to leave. I decided to leave myself.”

“Sasuke, how can you keep doing this? It’s killing you, I know it is.” She narrowed her eyes at him, somehow more penetrating through the lens of her glasses.

“You know, if you just told him–”

“No.”

She groaned, putting her own mug down a little too roughly, “Dammit, won’t you even let me finish?”

This was what Karin tried to do every time the issue of Naruto and Sakura came up. She would tell him to express his feelings, and Sasuke would politely tell her to mind her own damn business. Sasuke never wanted Naruto to know. His friendship with Sasuke was perfect, and the brunette was determined not to put that in jeopardy over anything. He wouldn’t be so selfish.

“I’ve already told you, I won’t do it.” He said petulantly, turning his head to the side as he drank his tea so he wouldn’t have to meet her scrutiny head on.

Karin sighed heavily, shaking her head, “I just don’t get what you’re so scared of–”

“I am not scared, Karin.” Sasuke shot back, his prickles coming out at the accusation.

She threw her arms up, at a loss, “Well, I don’t know what any other explanation could be.”

“It’s complicated.” Sasuke bit out, to which Karin scoffed.

“Look, he’s your best friend. Don’t you think he has a right to know? I mean, Naruto cares about you a lot–”

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“Ugh! You’re impossible, you know that?!” Karin yelled in frustration, pinning Sasuke with a glare over the rim of her glasses.

Silence settled between the two.

When Sasuke finally broke it, his voice was calm, “He’s happy with Sakura.”

Karin’s eyes widened, and she leaned in a little closer. As Sasuke looked up, she felt her eyebrows furrow at the look on his face.

“I don’t want to ruin his happiness anymore.”

Karin’s heart melted, and she sighed softly, “Oh, Sasuke.”

“You make him happy too.” She whispered, and Sasuke smirked, but his eyes looked sad, and within their ebony depths she saw the words he couldn’t say.

Not the way she can.

Chapter Text

When Sasuke returned home the next day, he wasn’t surprised to find a note on the fridge and feel the absence of his two housemates. It appeared that Naruto’s big romantic gift for his anniversary with Sakura paid off, Sasuke recalling Naruto’s uncommon anxiousness about the whole thing.

“Do you really think she’s gonna like this? What if I’ve messed up here big time?” Naruto frowned, his teeth digging into his bottom teeth worriedly.

Sasuke exhaled, stopping once again during his game of Sudoku. He liked to train his brain whenever he wasn’t overloading it with new information, and it was also a habit he’d picked up from his father. It was increasingly hard to focus on it however, with Naruto moaning and groaning his woes right into Sasuke’s ear. Deciding participating in conversation would lead to its end faster, he spoke up.

“Idiot, why are you questioning it now? It’s done, you can’t just go back on it.”

“I know, I know that! It’s just, what if she freaks out and thinks I’m pushing it?”

“You’ve been together for a year, what more is there to push?” Sasuke muttered, feeling it was all too simple and Naruto was overcomplicating it as usual.

“Don’t say that! Don’t you know that relationships aren’t so black and white, bastard?” Naruto growled, and Sasuke didn’t offer up any counter argument. It was too troublesome, and Naruto would only say he was inexperienced – yet still asked his advice, like this.

“I’m sure Sakura will see how much thought you put into this. It’s really obvious to notice when you use your brain, it’s not a common experience for us,” Sasuke shrugged, leaning back in his chair and paying no mind to the glare Naruto was aiming his way.

Consolingly, Sasuke shifted more towards him and said, “Look, just go with your instincts. It’s never let you down before,”

“Hey, thanks. That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me all week,” Naruto smirked at him, shoving at Sasuke’s shoulder light-heartedly.

Turning thoughtful, Naruto turned the envelope over in his hands and stared down at it. Then, nodding once, he glanced back up to Sasuke and smiled confidently.

“I’m definitely gonna blow her away,” he said, ever so sure of himself that Sasuke offered a lilt of his lips in return.

Setting the note down, he went over to the jug and made to prepare some fresh coffee. A discount weekend getaway to one of Tokyo’s more prestigious hot springs and adjoining spa centre was definitely the way to blow any girl’s mind. The trip lasted from midday Friday (today) until Monday morning. Seeing as how Naruto had no classes on Fridays, and Sakura only had a two-hour lecture early in the morning, they could make such a trip. Unlike Sasuke, who alternatively had a two-hour lecture to look forward to at one o’clock, and then another hour of tutorial classes at five in the afternoon.

It would be a quiet weekend for a change.

*

Just before his housemates returned, on Sunday, his father called.

“Sasuke, how are you?” he asked, his bluntness familiar and comforting to Sasuke.

“Alright. I have an essay due next week and I’m just proofreading over it,”

“You can send it to me later, I will read over it for you. It’s always beneficial to have a second set of eyes check your work,” his father offered, and Sasuke widened his eyes.

“There’s no need for you to do that, I mean, I can get Sakura to check it. I know how busy things are,” Sasuke was rambling, knew he was rambling, but couldn’t just stop. It was how he was with his father, always striving to prove himself and stand proudly on his own.

“It is busy, but I can make time for my son,” he replied, and a flutter of happiness struck Sasuke’s core and his lips curled up.

“I’ll send it in an hour or so. Thank you very much, dad.”

“Not at all,” his father brushed him off, and Sasuke could sense he was feeling slightly embarrassed so he didn’t push it.

“How are your friends?”

“They’re good, I guess. Since it was their anniversary last week, they’ve gone on a celebratory weekend away. Got the house to myself until tomorrow morning,”

“You must be enjoying the quiet, for once,”

“You can say that again.”

“Have you any plans for yourself, recently? Plans with a certain someone?”

Sasuke kept his true sexuality hidden from everyone, but there was one exception to that. Well, now two, since Karin had figured him out last year. But before that, his father had been the first and only person alive to know. It had been a confusing time back for him, in high school. When it was only his father and him, Sasuke couldn’t hide anything from him. It had simultaneously been the most frightening and liberating experience. Gaining his acceptance, whilst something Sasuke could have lived without, was a gift Sasuke treasured each and every day. It felt so comforting that one person supported him, the way he lived, and it was not just any person. It was his father, who he loved more than anyone.

Despite how his father accepted him, it had taken a while for him to understand everything about what ‘being gay’ meant. Nevertheless, he persevered and took an interest in Sasuke’s personal life, constantly reminding him he was ready to meet anyone, should Sasuke have someone special. It was amazing. All Sasuke was missing, was that someone special.

“Unfortunately, no. I haven’t really had much time to socialise and get out, much,”

“That’s not good. Studying and self-improving is of course important, Sasuke. But, so is mingling in society once and a while. Try to do something at least once a week,”

Of all things, Sasuke was most definitely not used to a lecture from his father telling him to be more social. It was laughable, compared to how he viewed his father in his childhood as this scary, overarching figure that could not possibly respect him when he was in Itachi’s shadow. When Itachi left, all they had was each other. There were bumps in the road along the way, and many setbacks, but they managed. In his life, Sasuke was most satisfied with his relationship with his father. It was one of the most valuable things to him.

They continued talking together a little longer, his father catching him up on his work and the state of things. Despite how his father didn’t run his own business, he had helped in creating it. Uchiha Enterprises was well known for manufacturing designer sportswear, encompassing all attire but with a sharp focus on footwear. It had been the grain of his father’s first idea, his first ambition for the business world.

After his mother passed, his father hadn’t been able to cope with running the business by himself any longer, as it had been a joint family business through and through. His father never accredited himself solely for Uchiha Enterprises’ success – he had been the biggest supporter of his mother’s role in the business. However, he had a trust fund set up in Sasuke’s name, and his father said if one day he wanted to take over the business, then all he had to do was express his interest and present his resume. Working in his family’s business was Sasuke’s ultimate dream. Before he could achieve that, though, he would truly work his way up in the business world, and bulk up his resume so he would be chosen not because he was the co-founder’s son – but because he would have only the best skills and knowledge that would make him the number one candidate for the job.

At the end of the day, Sasuke knew he had made the right choice to put all his efforts into his future career. It was the natural path for him to take. Yet, as his gaze traversed the empty chairs and quiet stillness of his house, he felt a pang of loneliness. When he thought of smiling blue eyes and laughter that always warmed his skin, he bit back the misery nipping at him.

He would never admit it, but on Monday morning when he heard the familiar click of the lock and their laughing voices, he was relieved. But at the same time, he wasn’t. Because the reality of his situation hadn’t changed, but he held small comfort in the fact that even if he felt lonely – he wasn’t alone. 

*

Sasuke was sitting at his favoured bench in Konoha Park, his iced tea he had bought over the halfway mark and well and truly dwindling down to the dregs. Tapping at his leg, Sasuke felt a fresh wave of irritation wash over him, drenching him in a foul mood. He had received an email from his lecturer that his afternoon class had been cancelled for the day, meaning he had the afternoon off. Usually, he did his cardio exercise with Naruto before he went to class, but no that he had no class and no Naruto, he felt time burning away so quickly.

He was so annoyed with the blonde, because Naruto couldn’t even let Sasuke know if his plans had changed or he was running late. So, Sasuke had been stuck waiting for him for roughly forty-five minutes, and he was about ready to give up and go home. If he had known Naruto was going to flake out on him, he could’ve had a free afternoon for himself.

Suddenly, his phone buzzed against his thigh and he picked it up. Glancing at the caller ID, he frowned when he saw Naruto’s name. Irritably, Sasuke accepted the call and pressed the phone to his ear, speaking before Naruto could.

“Where are you? You’re over half an hour late, and don’t even think about giving some stupid excuse.”

“Uh, hey, Sasuke. I, uh…I’m sorry, I…”

“Naruto? What is it?” Sasuke’s tone sharpened at the unexpectedly soft voice of his friend, almost quiet. Something wasn’t right. When Naruto was quiet like this, Sasuke knew something wasn’t right.

“I’m kinda, at the hospital right now.” Naruto said, reluctant.

“What happened? Are you alright?” prompted Sasuke, standing up from the bench and taking a few steps forward, away from the noise nearby.

“Oh, no I’m fine. It’s-it’s mum,” Naruto said, a tremble in the voicing of the last word.

Sasuke felt his chest constrict painfully, and in turn his grip on the phone tightened.

Naruto went on to explain, his lack of certainty palpable as Sasuke could imagine him pacing up and down the halls, “Sh-She was in a car accident and-and now she’s in surgery,”

“What hospital?” asked Sasuke, spinning on his heel and walking out of the park to where he had his car parked. His half-empty iced tea forgotten, on the bench.

There was some shifting on the other end of the line, then Naruto answered, “Saint Senju’s.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Sasuke said resolutely, prepared to say more if Naruto should fight him on this.

“Okay, drive safely.” Naruto said, then Sasuke was listening to the dial tone.

Shit, things must be bad.

“Naruto,” He called his name as soon as he recognised the blonde hair, striding through the pristine walls of the hospital.

Naruto looked up at his name being called. When he saw Sasuke, he stumbled to his feet and started making his way over to him. As soon as he was there, Naruto enveloped him in a tight hug, which Sasuke didn’t try to stop. In fact, he lightly hugged Naruto back, but it wasn’t a long hug and soon they were parted again. They took a seat on the uncomfortable chairs, Sasuke not minding the fact he was still dressed in his exercise attire.

“Did you call Sakura?” he asked, wondering where the pink-haired girl was during a situation like this.

“Uh, no. No, I don’t think I did.” Naruto mumbled, not really looking like he was paying much attention.

Taking Naruto’s phone out of his limp hands, Sasuke pressed the circular button and noticed three missed calls from Sakura. Glancing at the blonde, Sasuke was about to ask him if he knew his girlfriend was calling, but one look at his face had Sasuke changing his mind.

At that moment, Sakura’s face flashed across the screen – she was calling again. Deciding to do the right thing, Sasuke pressed accept and put the phone to his ear.

Sakura’s voice crackled through the line in a flustered rush, “Finally! What have you been doing!? I’ve been trying to call you for–”

“It’s Sasuke.”

She paused, confused, then asked, “Sasuke? Why do you have Naruto’s phone? Is he there? Let me speak to him.”

“We’re at the hospital. Kushina has been in a car accident.” He answered, turning his head to the side and lowering his voice. Nurses were brushing by them in a steady flow, always moving from one room to another.

“Oh my god,” Sakura breathed into the phone, as if her voice had been sucked from her lungs.

A moment of silence, then, “How is she?”

Crossing his legs together at the ankles, Sasuke leaned back in the hard, worn chair and rolled his shoulders, “In surgery, at the moment. We’re just here waiting.”

“Sakura, you need to get down here.” He added quietly after a beat, glancing over at Naruto and his pale face.

There was rustling on her end of the phone, and Sasuke registered the sound of a pencil hitting the ground and Sakura’s muffled cursing, “I will, I’m going to leave now. I just have to let my lecturer know it’s an emergency, since this class is compulsory.”

“Is he okay?” she asked, worry bleeding through her voice.

Sasuke suddenly found it hard to swallow, “Not really.”

“I’ll be there in under twenty minutes. See you soon, Sasuke.” With that, she hung up the phone and Sasuke pulled his away from his ear, staring down at the black screen.

“Sakura’s coming soon.” Sasuke said, hoping to get some sort of response out of the blonde as he returned him his phone.

It did. Naruto slowly turned his head to the side, looking at Sasuke with wide eyes, “B-But her class, it’s compulsory–”

Sasuke was quick to cut in, “Idiot, this is an emergency. Of course she can leave, she will work it out with her lecturer. Don’t worry about that right now.”

“You’re more important, Naruto.” Sasuke assured him, and was surprised when he felt Naruto take his hand in his, holding it weakly.

He didn’t say anything, but Sasuke saw the tears spilling down his cheeks even as Naruto kept his head low. Sasuke tightened the hold, giving the warm hand a squeeze. He was relieved to feel a light squeeze in return.

Seventeen minutes later, Sakura came rushing forth towards them.

“Naruto!” She called out his name, and the blonde lifted his head and looked around until his eyes locked on her.

“Sakura,” His voice was scratchy, his eyes bloodshot.

Crouching down in front of him, she began combing through his hair tenderly and looking at him with the utmost concern in her eyes.

“Your class,” He started, but stopped when she shook her head firmly.

“I need to be here, with you. I’ll sort everything out, don’t worry, neh?” Her hand then stroked down the side of his face, as she gathered him in her arms and hugged him closely.

And then, they all played the waiting game. Sasuke had had to step out for a while, due to a call from his father that had intended only to be a brief check-up but turned into a longer conversation due to the news Sasuke had. His father wasn’t particularly close with Kushina, as in didn’t hold weekly dinners or met with her on a regular basis. He did, however, consider Kushina one of his friends, as well as an important familial figure to Sasuke. Countless times, she had looked out for Sasuke when his father had been inundated in work or was away from his son. For that, he would always be grateful to Kushina.

Hearing such tragic news caused him great concern, as Sasuke could tell from all the questioning his father did over the phone. Whenever he was worried or anxious, his father asked too many questions. It was one of the very few tells Sasuke had learned about him over the years. He tried his best to reassure his father, even though he himself felt upset. The phone call ended with Sasuke promising to update him on Kushina’s progress when he knew more and his father urging him to take care on his way home. It was oddly comforting.

When he returned, it was to a scene of cliché sweetness, yet none the less tragic. Naruto had his head rested on Sakura’s petite shoulder, his face turned into her neck. Sakura was trailing her fingers delicately through his hair, her lips pressing to the top of his head and silent tears falling down her cheeks. A trip to the bathroom would distract Sasuke from irrelevant thoughts, and clear up his foggy mind before he returned to them.

Another hour and a half later, a doctor wearing surgical scrubs appeared in the hallway and was, unlike the last five or six of them, heading their way. Naruto was the first on his feet, with Sakura and Sasuke not far behind him.

“How is she? Is my mum alright?” He demanded, almost threatening in a way but it was only the nerves and the stress of it all. Just as Sasuke was inseparable from his father, Naruto had no one he loved more than his mother.

“There was some internal bleeding, but we’ve managed to stem the flow and we’re giving her some blood transfusions right now,” the doctor said, pulling down the mask to speak, “She had some fractures in her right arm, but they are only minor. She is stable, now. We’re confident she will make a full recovery.”

In chorus, the trio breathed a sigh of relief. Kushina was okay, she was stable and her chances of recovery were great.

“Can I see her?” Naruto asked, his hands trembling at his sides and his eyes wandering to the room his mother was in.

“Of course. Family only, please.” The doctor advised, and Naruto sharply turned to look at Sasuke.

Clasping his hand in Sasuke’s, Naruto stepped forward and stated, “Sasuke is family.”

The doctor furrowed his brow, “It says here that Kushina Uzumaki only has one living relative, that being her only son. If I’m not mistaken, this is you Mr. Uzumaki.”

“Naruto, it’s okay,” Sasuke attempted to change his mind, he didn’t want to cause conflict.

“Shut up! Mum would want you in there, she would say the exact same thing!” Naruto heightened his voice, in that way he did when he was determined on making a point.

Repressing a sigh, Sasuke eased his hand out of Naruto’s and decided to be frank. It was the best way to talk to his best friend in any situation, really.

“I know, but you’re her son.”

Sasuke watched blue eyes blink open wide, the rims red from tears that have been trapped inside for too long. Placing a hand on his shoulder, Sasuke left it there for a short moment, a light grip as a means to show his support.

“She’s your mother, go and see her. Don’t leave her lonely.”

“We’ll be right here waiting for you, Naruto.” Sakura said tenderly, smiling at her boyfriend and nodding her head once. She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze, which he returned right away. Then, with a meaningful look towards both of them, he mustered a watery smile before nodding and walking into his mother’s room. Once he was gone, Sakura turned to him.

“Why did he call you, and not me?” she asked, not upset or accusing, just confused.

“He wanted one of us here, it obviously didn’t matter to him which one.” Sasuke slickly replied. That was the least of his worries at the current moment, he didn’t know why Sakura brought it up now. Then again, he never really understood women at all even in the best of times.

She nodded, taking a seat and teasing out the tangles from her hair, “Yeah, I guess our names are pretty close together in his contacts.”

Sakura didn’t elaborate further, but Sasuke interpreted her thought process right away – that Naruto had meant to call her, and his finger had slipped and thus explaining why Sasuke was there first. Narrowing his eyes, Sasuke swallowed back his ire and deigned not to reply. Sakura was a good person, no doubt about it – but she could be so cruel sometimes, and not even realise it.

When Naruto came back out, he had gained back a lot of colour.

“She was only awake for a few minutes, then the drugs took her under. I was just so glad to see her, and hear her voice. She even smiled at me, like nothing was wrong.” Naruto chuckled wetly, wiping at his eyes.

“That’s great, I’m so happy for you Naruto,” Sakura smiled caringly up at him, rubbing his arm tenderly. Sasuke allowed a faint smile to cross his lips, and felt a spark of victory when Naruto saw it and his own smile hiked up a few centimetres.

“Now, let’s get you home.” Sakura said, wrapping her scarf around her boyfriend snugly. The wind had picked up during the time they were inside, the weather dropping down to just above freezing.

Suddenly, Naruto’s face broke and he frowned, pulling back from the two of them, “I can’t leave.”

Sensing he was going to put up a fight, Sakura intervened straight away, “You’re not staying here overnight, Naruto.”

“I can’t leave my mum here all alone! I’m not going anywhere!” he yelled, eyes a mixture of fierce protectiveness and childish fear.

It was Sakura’s turn to frown, “She’s asleep, she’s not going to wake up until tomorrow morning.”

“That’s not the point!” rebutted Naruto, quick off the roll.

Sasuke eyed their exchange, ever the passive observer. All the potential scenarios he considered in his head only lead to a bad outcome in his situation. When those two got into a serious argument they wouldn’t stop until they were separated from each other and spent a decent amount of time apart. At a time like this, Naruto wouldn’t survive having his precious people away from him. Sasuke sighed through his nose. Honestly, in his lighter thoughts he mused that they suited each other very well. Stubborn fools should go together, no?

Sliding his hands into his pockets, Sasuke stepped up to them and drew attention, “Go home, idiot.”

“S-Sasuke?” Naruto reeled, as if just remembering his presence.

“Tomorrow morning we can wake up early and go to the hospital as soon as you want. Now, you need to rest. Your mother would say the same thing.” Sasuke shrugged, experience teaching him that level-headed indifference was the most effective way to diffuse any high tension exchange.

Now, Naruto was staring at him like he hadn’t seen him in years, “Sasuke,”

Then it was like Naruto collapsed against him, embracing Sasuke tightly and pressing his face against his neck, “Thank you.”

Swallowing past the lump that had suddenly gotten lodged in his throat, Sasuke lifted his arms to wrap around Naruto’s waist. As much as he was strong for Naruto, the day had taken its toll on him as well. He had been truly scared, not only of losing a precious person like Kushina but also the fear of what it would do to Naruto. His mother was his only blood family he had left, nothing bad could ever happen to her.

“Tomorrow you have to see her too. She was asking where you were.” Naruto mumbled, his lips against Sasuke’s neck but Sasuke was far too emotional to get caught up in that right now.

“I will.” Sasuke somehow made his lips work, despite how wobbly they were feeling.

“We will. Together.” Naruto corrected, and gave him a final squeeze before letting go and standing upright once more.

With that, the trio left the hospital, with Naruto in between Sasuke and Sakura as they braced the chilly late afternoon wind.

*

The next day, Sasuke had driven himself and Naruto to the hospital to arrive just past nine am. He had gotten little sleep the night before, and he was almost certain Naruto had no sleep. Sakura had been sleeping when they left, but she had been up the entire night sorting out her university issues and taking the necessary time off and gaining what extensions she needed, providing evidence and such. It was ridiculous, Sasuke mused in his more rebellious thoughts, that so much effort had to be put in to prove that a tragic event had taken place just to maintain a passing grade. As if the stress from the trauma of the accident wasn’t enough.

“Let’s not wake her, she barely sleeps as it is,” Naruto had advised whilst shrugging on his coat and grabbing his wallet.

So they had departed, made a quick detour for Sasuke’s daily morning coffee and Naruto got himself a hot chocolate, and made their way over to St Senju’s.

When he walked into her room, Kushina was awake and already smiling at them.

“Morning, mum,” Naruto leaned down over her, wrapping her in his arms softly and holding her for longer than he usually would.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” she replied, patting Naruto on the back reassuringly, soothing in a way only a mother’s touch could be.

Sasuke took a seat at her side, drinking his coffee and reveling in the calmness that had overtaken him upon seeing her awake and relatively well. When they broke the hug, Kushina turned her head over to look at him.

“Sasuke, dear,” she smiled up at him, sweet as she always was even as she looked white as paper and as fragile as a porcelain doll.

“Yeah,” he said, was all he could manage. His throat was closing up on him, dammit.

“I’m happy you’ve come to see me when I’m like this,” Kushina reached over weakly, brushing against his hand and he enveloped hers in his without hesitation.

Kushina Uzumaki, Naruto’s mother. She was the closest thing Sasuke had in his life that was close to a mothering figure, seeing as his own had died when he was very young. Had been killed, was more accurate, but Sasuke tried not to think about it when he could help it. The memories only seared him, painful and precious to his heart.

“My dad wanted me to send you his warmest regards and he sincerely hopes you will make a fast recovery,” Sasuke said, finding it hard to look her in the eyes when he felt so vulnerable, “If there is anything he and I can do for you, for both of you, we’ll do it.”

“Please tell him thank you very much, I feel like I’m fully recovered hearing that,” she grinned up at him, her smile tired around the edges but no less bright or beautiful.

“As long as you can look out for this one the same you always have,” Kushina inclined her head in Naruto’s direction, “Then that would be more than enough, dear.”

“Hey, come on,” Naruto spoke up, a pout taking over his lips, “I’m not that bad y’know, mum. I can take care of myself,”

“Oh, really? The big boy who can look after himself but wouldn’t leave the hospital yesterday without getting scolded by your girlfriend and then your best friend?” Kushina rolled her eyes, sharing a look with Sasuke that almost brought a smirk to his lips.

“Dammit, Sasuke! You told her!?” Naruto’s accused, his voice practically screaming ‘traitor’ towards the other.

“Not Sasuke, dear,” Kushina interjected, and Naruto froze on the spot, realizing who it could only be. Sakura, of course.

Though not as close to Naruto’s mother as Sasuke was, it didn’t mean Sakura care for her any less. In fact, she was strikingly similar to Kushina in many ways – to name a few, fiercely independent, low tolerance for idiots (i.e. Naruto), and very intelligent. The two were fond of each other, and had formed a good relationship even before Naruto and Sakura had become a couple.

“She’s very worried about you, and Sasuke too. I can see how tired you look,” Kushina squeezed his hand, and Sasuke was amazed at how much strength that flowed into him from such a small gesture.

“I-I didn’t mean to make you guys worry for me,” Naruto mumbled, crossing his arms and casting his gaze downwards, “It’s just, it’s mum and–”

“You don’t have to explain it to me. I’m not as slow as you are, idiot,” interrupted Sasuke, earning an outraged look from Naruto but he continued, “I know better than anyone how stressful it is. Just don’t neglect yourself in turn, or you’ll be the one stressing everyone out,”

Raising his head, Naruto’s eyes met Sasuke’s across the room, and in light of the early morning sun, shone brilliantly blue. Sometimes, they needed no more than a look between each other to understand what the other wanted to say. For a long time, Naruto had been very in tune with Sasuke’s innermost thoughts and feelings. However, Sasuke had a certain feeling buried so deep inside him not even Naruto would see it. For as long as he could, Sasuke would keep it that way.

“You’re right, damn. I’m sorry,” Naruto admitted, rubbing at his face and shooting them both an apologetic grin. His smile was one that was very hard to turn away from, Sasuke spoke from experience.

“That’s my boy,” Kushina beamed, lifting her arm towards her son and within moments Naruto was by her side, her other hand clasped in his. When they smiled together, Sasuke would often compare it to watching a supernova.

Then, Naruto reached over the bed and caught Sasuke’s hand, his grip tight but his hold so warm. Sasuke’s eyes widened, and he fought the tears tingling in his nose. It was at times just like this one when Sasuke could fool himself into believing they were their own little family. Kushina doting on him, and scolding Naruto, even though she loved him more than words could describe. He and Naruto, and no one else. It was them against the world. At least in these small hours, it was.

Chapter Text

After two weeks and a half weeks passed, Kushina was deemed heathy enough to leave the hospital and continue her recuperation in her own home. Due to this, Naruto had decided he would stay over with her for a week, just to look after her and make sure she didn’t strain herself.

“I’m telling you, I’ll be fine sweetheart,” Kushina protested, being helped by Sakura out of the taxi car as Naruto exited from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, and I said I know you, mum,” Naruto rolled his eyes, popping the trunk and pulling out his bags, along with his mother’s bag she had kept at the hospital. Sasuke moved over to help, hefting Kushina’s bag over his shoulder and letting Naruto take care of his own.

“You’re as stubborn as those little horses, just pushing forward without worrying if the load you’re carrying is too heavy,” the four of them walked slowly up the driveway, to Naruto’s childhood home.

“You brat! You dare speak to your mother like that, eh!?” Kushina growled over at her son, raising her arm threateningly and squeezing a tight fist. To his credit, Naruto’s only sign of fear was the loud swallow her words elicited.

“I-It’s for your own good! Just listen to your son, geez! I’m not a kid, anymore,” grumbling, Naruto moved up in front and inserted his keys into the locks.

The door opened, and he stepped aside, “Ladies, first,” he bowed jokingly, making Sakura giggle and Kushina couldn’t hold back her smile.

“Sasuke, you too,” Naruto turned to him, expression serious.

Scoffing, Sasuke strode past and pushed roughly into his shoulder as he passed by into the house, “Idiots are the last to enter, I think you meant.”

Sakura helped Kushina into the living room, sweeping her away before she could offer with helping to unpack her things or fix them something to eat. It didn’t take long between Naruto unpacking his mother’s things and Sasuke heading to the kitchen to fix them all a cup of tea. Setting the four mugs down on the coffee table, Sasuke took a seat on the single seater lounge whilst Sakura sat beside Kushina on the wider one.

“Isn’t Naruto taking a while?” Sakura asked, sipping at her tea and casting a glance over to the stairwell.

“You know how much of a slowpoke that boy can be,” Kushina rolled her eyes, but it was good-naturedly.

“But the tea’s going to get cold, after Sasuke made it especially,” pouting, Sakura looked down and Sasuke stood.

“I’ll go see what’s taking him so long,” Sasuke said, and any lingering irritation disappeared at seeing the Sakura’s face brighten. Even Kushina seemed a bit more at ease, giving a nod in his direction.

As Sasuke climbed the stairs, he realised he could hear no noises coming from anywhere. Being the uselessly loud person he was, Naruto very rarely did anything without creating some level of noise. Which meant, that Naruto wasn’t doing anything. Quickening his pace, he reached the top of the stairs and turned down, heading for Kushina’s room. Pushing the door open, he saw the suitcase laid at the end of the bed, and Naruto standing in front of the window. He hadn’t heard Sasuke, so clearing his throat, the latter kept his face blank as Naruto startled and turned to see him.

“What’s taking so long? The tea’s ready,” he said, staring directly into those sapphire orbs.

“Oh, Sasuke,” Naruto gave a small smile, then turned back to the window, “My bad, I’ll come down now.”

Raising his eyebrow, Sasuke didn’t leave but approached closer, so he was standing side by side with Naruto.

“What are you doing?” asked Sasuke, glancing sideways and forward again before Naruto could catch him looking.

“Y’know, just thinking about stuff that-that I really shouldn’t be thinking about,” Naruto gave a self-deprecating chuckle at the end of his sentence, fake smile tugging at his lips and making Sasuke more aware.

Ever since the death of his father, Naruto had wanted to change things. To become someone in society who prevented what happened to Minato from happening to anyone else, that no one else should go through the pain Naruto and his mother both went through. It was why he’d chosen to pursue a career as a paramedic – so he could get to someone who needed his help as fast as possible, without wasting a single second. All Naruto wanted was to give everyone a fighting chance, to save them until they could get to the hospital. He honestly could have become a doctor if he had wanted to, and Sasuke recalled an old conversation before they all entered university, that he had eavesdropped on.

“Naruto, you do realise you have the skills and the aptitude to pursue something more if you so wished,” Iruka, their high school guidance counsellor.

Sasuke had been passing by, but hid behind the partially opened door when he heard Naruto’s name.

“Like what?” Naruto asked, and Sasuke heard the doubt in his voice.

“Like getting into medical school. Like becoming a doctor, a surgeon, whatever you want,” Iruka explained, the terms making Sasuke stiffen. If Naruto wished to pursue any of those careers, he’d have to leave Tokyo to do it. Maybe even transfer overseas…

“Thanks, but that’s not for me. I’m gonna become a paramedic, the best one around,” Naruto replied, and Sasuke felt a flutter of relief whoosh through him.

“Are you sure that’s what you want? I just don’t want you to limit yourself because you don’t think you’re capable. Because you are, Naruto. Don’t underestimate yourself.”

Iruka had always held a particular liking towards Naruto. It wasn’t obvious, not something that the students gossiped about or anything like that. Yet, Naruto was one of the very few that Iruka actively chased after when he didn’t make his scheduled appointments, or they hadn’t seen each other in a while.

“I know, I don’t. I could probably do more, but that’s not my thing,” Naruto shifted, and there was rustling inside – probably picking up his backpack. Sasuke hid himself further behind the door, masked for when Naruto would exit.

“I wanna stay in Tokyo and go to uni here. I’ve gotta try my best after all, if I want to follow Sakura and that bastard after high school’s done.”

With a small laugh, Naruto said goodbye and breezed out of the office, and Sasuke watched him go from his place behind the door.

Naruto was never intelligent in the conventional, Sasuke mused. It had taken a while for him to really see it, but Naruto used his head in different ways. Not thinking of the most logical strategy or some form of dumb luck, but relying best on his instincts. Despite how he wouldn’t admit it, Sasuke agreed with Iruka. If he truly wanted to, Naruto could choose any of those career paths. He was not limited in the way that Sasuke and Sakura were, by restricting themselves to one area they were exceedingly talented in. Naruto was good at anything, as long as he applied himself and had a goal he wanted to achieve.

Yet, when he thought back to that incidental moment, Sasuke’s heart was immediately at ease when Naruto said he would stay. In hindsight, Sasuke could have realised his feelings a lot sooner, if he paid attention to his reactions to things like that. He could survive being apart from Naruto, but it didn’t mean he wanted to.

“Your birthday is coming up soon,” Sasuke said, as way of changing the topic. He had been friends long enough with Naruto to know when he wanted to talk about his father, and when he wanted to only mention him in passing. It was something that was just understood between them, just as Naruto did when Sasuke’s mother came up in conversation.

“Hah, yeah,” Naruto tucked his hands in his pockets, smiling out at the sky, “Can’t believe I’m hitting my terrific twos, finally!”

“You mean terrible twos, right?” Sasuke countered, earning a laugh from the other.

“No way, not for me, man,” Naruto smiled, and Sasuke felt his unease fade away.

“Just remember to act like a 22 year old, and not an actual two year old after that,” Turning on his heel, Sasuke began heading out of the room.

Naruto’s heavy footsteps followed behind him, “Geez, stop lecturing, will you? You sound like an old man enough already.”

They returned downstairs, and enjoyed the lukewarm tea.

*

“I think we should all plan a surprise party for Naruto,” Sakura said, her hands clasped together and her voice hushed with excitement.

She, Sasuke and Karin had gathered together in their apartment, taking the chance to talk freely without worrying that Naruto will overhear. It was almost the end of the week, which meant his birthday was drawing closer and soon he’d return home. His mother was recovering well, but she and Naruto had some weird genetic ability to heal themselves more quickly than the average person would.

“Do you think so?” Sasuke asked, not willing to expand further on the thought and giving Sakura a chance to explain.

“Of course! It’s been tough for him lately, that’s why surprising him with a party full of people who love him will be perfect to cheer him up!”

“So, you mean just a friends party? I don’t think Auntie can handle hosting a full on party so soon,” Karin offered her input, to which Sakura nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, definitely! We can let him spend the day with her and then when the evening comes around, surprise!” She threw her arms out at her side, green eyes sparkling as if imagining the surprise coming to fruition.

“Alright,” Sasuke assented with a nod, and Sakura beamed.

“That dummy always has loved surprises, especially when he’s the one being surprised,” Karin agreed, then smirked, “But we can scare him a little when we say ‘surprise’, right?”

Sakura laughed and Sasuke shook his head. They then spent the remainder of the afternoon planning out the nuts and bolts of the party, and allocating roles. Sasuke was going to handle the food and the cake, Karin was in charge of calling up all of Naruto’s friends and inviting them, and Sakura would deal with the decorations and bringing Naruto to the apartment.

Lightly slapping her hands on her knees, Sakura stood, “I think it’s time we took a break. I’ll get us some coffee!”

“Thanks,” Karin said, and Sasuke inclined his head to indicate gratitude.

As soon as Sakura was out of hearing vicinity, Karin turned on Sasuke. He barely repressed a sigh. Somehow, he knew this was going to end up happening at some point.

“Do you think it’s a bit much? He’s an idiot, but Naruto might not be up for a surprise right now,” Furrowing her brow, Karin frowned in thought, “Maybe we should think of something else.”

“You’ve always had a problem with the way Sakura does things. If you don’t like it, say so,” Sasuke drawled, rolling his eyes and wishing he was somewhere else. The library, specifically – where chatty people were a non-existent species.

“Hey, don’t put words in my mouth! I like Sakura, she’s my friend,” Karin pouted, then leaned in closer and lowered her voice, “It’s just that she doesn’t know him like you do. I think it’s weird you let her act like she does.”

“They were friends for three years before becoming a couple, Karin. It’s not like she knows nothing about him,” Sasuke shrugged, not wanting to drag out the conversation.

“And you’ve been best friends with him double that. Your point?”

“Just get on with it. The party’s decided, and Sakura’s right. That idiot loves being the centre of attention, so this is what he needs right now.” Sasuke said, a tone of formality in his voice, just as well since Sakura re-entered the room with their coffees ready.

“Now, where were we?”

*

“SURPRISE!”

Everyone shouted, and Karin had her wish fulfilled, as Naruto jumped out of his skin like he was having a heart attack. She cackled wickedly in the background, and Sasuke couldn’t help but smile. Sakura had her hand pressed on Naruto’s back, soothing him. Naruto’s eyes fluttered about the room, his eyes landing on every single person that had come to wish him well. Then, his face cracked into a megawatt smile, and only he and Sakura would see the tears clinging to blonde eyelashes.

It was a bubbly evening, upbeat music flowing around the apartment and laughter heard in every direction. Sasuke noted it was just like him, for Naruto to come around to each person and have a chat with them before the night ended. He truly was grateful for every friend he had.

“So, who was the mastermind here?” Naruto’s happy voice would be easy on anyone’s ears, but Sasuke pushed the thought aside in favour of paying attention. He, Sakura and Karin were now Naruto’s targets, the people he’d saved to talk to until last.

Karin made a sly face, bringing a finger up to her lips, “We’ll never tell. It could be any one of us, and you know how bad you suck at guessing games.”

“Aw, come on! It’s my birthday, don’t I deserve it?” Naruto winked at Sasuke, who really struggled not to notice how his heart rate quickened.

“Come on, you know! Teamwork is the answer for everything, don’t you remember?” Sakura said, eliciting laughs from everyone in the group, even if Sasuke’s was the quietest.

“Well, thanks so much, guys. Best family I never had,” Naruto smiled, and looked like he was glowing under the sparkling fairy lights.

The rest of the party went by in cheerful time, no one getting overly intoxicated or ruining anything. Sasuke had made sure the alcohol supply was only limited, and weak. He would do anything for Naruto, but he would not deal with drunk randoms in his home. It was fine regardless, since Sasuke had always believed drinking alcohol didn’t equate to the amount of fun that could be had.

When the last couple of people had left, Naruto turned from the door and looked at Sasuke. Nodding towards the balcony with a hopeful light in his eyes, Naruto didn’t even have to say anything as Sasuke’s feet carried him over there. His present for Naruto was tucked snugly inside his cardigan. They took a seat on the cushion bench, and stared up at the stars together. For a while, it was just quiet between them, the sounds of crickets and distant traffic the only thing to be heard.

Then, Sasuke cleared his throat, tried calming his fraying nerves, and spoke.

“Happy birthday,” Sasuke dropped the present in Naruto’s lap, already looking away out at the stars in the sky.

The wrapping paper crinkled and cracked, the sticky tape squeaking as Naruto hurriedly pulled it apart. He had always been so impatient when it came to gift-giving, even when it wasn’t his gift. Sasuke remembered all the times Naruto had given him something, and he’d taken immense pleasure in delaying the unwrapping process for as long as humanly possible. If Naruto would even glance at Sasuke’s gift, he’d glare at him and move away, taking even longer to open it. When it came to Naruto’s own gifts though, Sasuke let him do as he wished. Had to let the idiot have some fun, sometimes.

“This is,” Naruto lifted the item up in front of his face, his eyes alive and engaging, “a DVD?”

He then turned that inquisitive gaze upon Sasuke, and the latter hated the way his heart beat faster from such a simple act.

“It’s a compilation of all the short films we made in high school,” Sasuke explained, clearing his throat and attempting to sound as stoic as he usually did, but he could hear the embarrassment seeping into his voice.

Being more than halfway through their university degrees, Sasuke had reminisced of their high school lives, and how quickly the time had flown by. Knowing Naruto, he was certain a gift of sentimentality would speak more, and mean more to him rather than a materialistic gift. So he’d gone through all of the old footage they’d collated throughout their high school years, and compiled it into a DVD. This way, Naruto could watch it wherever he was if he ever felt like remembering easier times.

“I see,” Naruto muttered, and that was when Sasuke chanced a glance up at the other’s face. His onyx eyes widened.

Naruto was smiling down at the disc, his fingers gliding over the glass casing covering it. Not being someone who appreciated excessive cheesiness, Sasuke hadn’t created a fancy or cute cover for the disc. He’d just placed some white cardboard inside the casing cover, writing a single word in black marker over it: ‘Memories’.

“Thanks, Sasuke. This is awesome, really awesome,” Naruto’s smile upgraded to a grin, sunny and bright, “You can be thoughtful when you try! Even more awesome!”

“Idiot, shut up,” Sasuke glared at him, but it held no substance. Naruto could clearly see that, for his smile hadn’t dimmed in the slightest.

“What are you two doing?” Sakura’s voice echoed from the doorway, her footsteps coming closer until she had sat herself down, cross-legged and on Naruto’s other side.

“Look what Sasuke got me,” Naruto immediately pushed the DVD into Sakura’s hands, a buzz of eager energy, “It’s a DVD of all the videos we made together in high school!”

“Oh, wow!” Sakura’s voice brightened up, and Sasuke glanced over to see her smiling happily down at the case. He suppressed a startled flnch when excited green eyes raised and locked onto his.

“This is amazing, Sasuke! Did you do this by yourself?” She looked at him in admiration, a look Sasuke hadn’t seen directed at him for quite some time.

He shrugged, trying not to look as uncomfortable as he felt, “It was nothing, anyone can burn a DVD or CD these days.”

“But this is really special!” Sakura protested, and naturally Naruto followed.

“Yeah! You must’ve gone through all of ‘em when you were editing and stuff,” Naruto’s smile grew wider, and he threw an arm around Sasuke’s shoulders and gave him a half-hug.

“Hey, let go!” Sasuke tugged at his arms, but Naruto wouldn’t move a budge.

“Aww! Sasuke, you love us after all! What a considerate friend, we’re unworthy!”

“Exactly!” Sakura chirped, giggling over Naruto’s shoulder and Sasuke wanted to disappear.

“Stop laughing, you two.” He groused, only making them laugh more.

It was when he was with the two of them like this that Sasuke could forget about his feelings. Nothing had changed, they were just three best friends – trying to live and support each other in this crazy world. When they all felt the same happiness, the innocent joy shared between true friends. No couples jokes, no odd man out, just friends. If Sasuke thought of it that way, then he could face the reality that he would forever be stuck at the ‘just friends’ level. It stung, but was better than nothing,