“I enjoy your company very much.”
Naruto blinked, his chopsticks falling loose in his grip. They slipped, making the broth splash him when they fell in the bowl, but he found himself hardly fazed.
Sai was sitting on his left side, staring at him with his lips upturned just the slightest. His ramen had long since been passed over to Naruto, the bowl empty except for a few drops of broth left over.
He blinked again, shaking his head. “Huh,” he said, turning back to his bowl slowly. “Thanks, I guess.”
Sai’s smile twitched. “Is the ramen good?”
That got Naruto back on track, his blue eyes burning bright.
“Well, duh,” he grinned. “Ichiraku’s ramen is the best ramen!”
He could hear Teuchi chuckling in the background as he prepared another bowl. Ayame stood alongside him but it was a slow night so she wasn't working. Instead, she was watching Sai and Naruto, a tender smile on her lips.
“Of course,” Sai agreed.
“Hey! You better not be being sarcastic,” Naruto grumbled.
“Of course not.” Sai put out a few more ryo on the counter, waiting until Ayame took notice and grabbed them. “Two more bowls of pork ramen, please.”
“Hmm,” Naruto mused. “So you're actually gonna eat something?”
“You really should, you're way too skinny.” Naruto slurped up another noodle. “I can practically see your bones every time you dress up for a mission.”
He tilted his head. “It's called being lean,” he said.
“Nah, you definitely need to just eat more.”
Sai wondered if this was what it felt like to be cared for. Was Naruto worried about his health?
Teuchi set two more fresh bowls down in front of Sai, who gave his thanks and then offered the bowls to Naruto once more.
“I don't really like ramen,” Sai admitted.
The comment seemed to be considered unimportant in the face of more food.
“You bought this for me?” he asked, already scarfing down the first bowl. Sai nodded, and Naruto had barely finished swallowing his mouthful before speaking again. “What exactly are you getting out of this?”
The suspicious tone and squinting made Sai frown. “Getting out of this?” he repeated.
“Yeah,” Naruto grumbled. “What do you want?”
“Want,” Sai said blankly. “I'm confused.”
“What else is new?” Naruto muttered under his breath. “You just did me a favor, so you gotta want something. What is it? New paints, another notebook… do you want me to do your bidding for the next week?”
Sai’s brow furrowed even deeper.
“I'm sorry,” he said, and while it was bemused it was for once sincere and not just polite. “Is this not a date?”
Sai’s eyes widened and he moved to pat at his back, only to stop when Naruto held up a hand and backed away.
“Did I get that wrong?” Sai asked. “Is this not a proper date?”
It wouldn't be the first time Sakura or Ino had used his obliviousness against him. Ino always said the way he acted innocent was so ridiculously endearing, it made it hard not to play jokes on him.
Sai still didn't know exactly what she meant by that, but he did know that friends often joked with one another.
“Why…” Naruto coughed. “What makes you think this is a date?”
“Oh,” Sai said, seeming to regain courage. This, at least, he knew a bit about. “Because I like you. This is what people who like each other do.”
“Did Sakura put you up to this?” Naruto asked, sounding annoyed.
“Ugly did tell me about dating, but - ”
Sai didn't have a chance to finish his sentence before Naruto stood up, confusing him enough that he didn't think finishing up was worth it.
The blond was rummaging through his frog wallet (Gama-chan, Sai recalled from one of the boy’s rants), and at first Sai had no clue what he was looking for, not until he slapped down a ton of ryo.
It was just enough to cover the ramen.
Sai looked at it and made a sound. He wasn't quite sure what he was trying to convey.
“Stop listening to Sakura, already,” Naruto grumbled. “You don't have to do anything you don't want to.”
There was that word again. “But I do…”
Naruto was already ducking underneath the curtains of the stand, on his way out.
“I did want to do this.”
But by then he was gone.
When Sai told Ino what happened, her face had lit up with fury.
“That idiot!” she growled. “Sakura really wasn't kidding.”
Sai listened to her rant as she took care to organize the new containment of flowers recently delivered, watching her create a particular display for all of thirty minutes before he finally spoke up. By this time, she had luckily exhausted herself enough for him to cut in.
“How do you fix something like this?”
“Hmm,” she leaned against the counter. “Well, usually the guy gets the girl a gift or something; a way to convey his love.”
“I see.” Sai nodded. “But we’re both male. How do you combat that?”
Ino giggled. “Stupid!” she straightened up and slapped his shoulder. “Gifts will still work, you just gotta to find something he'd have to like…”
“I already tried ramen.”
Ino seemed to blank for all of five minutes, until she looked around herself and then it hit her.
Sai had a fresh bouquet of flowers in his arms the next second.
It took a series of knocks before the apartment door was opened, Naruto peeking out. He was dressed in nothing more than a pair of boxers and a tank top, clearly having just got out of bed. It looked like he had just woken up.
Naruto squinted at him with bleary eyes before he slide the door further open and leaned against the frame, yawning. “Sai?” His voice was still rough with sleep. “What're you doing here?”
Sai blinked, looking up from the frog patterned boxers he'd been staring at. For some reason, he found then strangely charming and it was hard not to stare at Naruto’s overall appearance.
He carefully deduced it was because he still wasn't used to seeing Naruto like this, even after being his teammate for more than half a year now.
He made a small noise before pulling his hands from behind his back, revealing a bouquet of bright sunflowers. He shoved them at Naruto, who gripped them loosely in his hands then tightened his hold to avoid dropping them.
“What - ”
“They remind me of you,” Sai said, in lieu of explanation. “So I bought them.”
“You… bought me flowers.”
“Yes.” Sai wasn't sure if that was answer enough of his feelings, so he continued, “The color is loud, like you. And the smell is… well.”
Naruto frowned, looking bewildered, and then looked down at the bundle. He took a quick sniff, only to let out a loud, obnoxious sneeze that sent petals flying and crushed the stems, leaving the flowers crumpled.
“Ah… sorry,” Naruto rubbed at the back of his neck while he held the flowers in one hand, looking sheepish. “Flowers give me allergies.”
“I see,” Sai said.
“Maybe Ino can offer you a refund, if you haven't had them long?”
Naruto offered the crumpled mess back to him, and after a moment of thought, Sai accepted them. He frowned at the sight before giving Naruto a parting nod.
(Ino, of course, did not offer a refund.)
Sakura was munching down on another stick of dango as Sai spoke, letting out another sigh of content as the flavors hit her tongue. Unlike the first time she had made that noise, Sai was hardly fazed. By now he was used to the weird noises she made.
(“It means I like it, dumbass! It's not weird!”
“You sound like those women Jiraiya-sama describes,” Sai tried to explain. “But you're only eating, so why - ”
Sai had ended up with a stinging cheek, almost as red as the flush that reached Sakura’s face. He rubbed at it as he watched Sakura fume.
“Shut up, you idiot!”
They had not eaten out together for weeks after that.)
The two of them had adopted a habit of eating out together at least once a week, as Sai’s books had recommended for growing friendships. This week, since it was Sakura’s turn to pick, they had went out for dango because she was craving something sweet. Sai never minded what they ate; he never really focused enough on the taste to care.
“It seems flowers, chocolates, and cards are not enough for him to take me seriously,” Sai mused. “I'm not sure what else there is to convince him.”
Sakura exhaled deeply, then picked at her nails with the clean dango stick. She was doing so rather aggressively but Sai didn't have enough nerve to ask if she was alright.
“He's so stupid,” she said. “You could hit him over the head with it and he'd never be the wiser.”
“I think that would result in the opposite of what I'm hoping to accomplish.”
“No, not - not literally, Sai. Ugh.” Sakura opened her mouth, about to explain, but decided to just drop it. “Naruto’s just… a special case.”
Sai found himself nodding. “There certainly is something special about him.”
Sakura’s lips curled into a small smile. Sai wasn't sure why, but it looked very fond.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “A-Anyway… I guess it's because he's not used to this sort of thing.”
“Why? He seems to have a lot of people who like him. It should be no different with me.”
Sakura didn't have the heart to tell him that it was especially different with him.
“He didn't always have people who liked him. It's probably still surprising to find people who like him for who he is now.”
There was a sickening twist in Sai’s gut, and he found his lips turning down into a distinct frown rather than their usual neutral look.
“But,” Sakura said, “that's okay because he's still learning.”
Sai looked down at the stick he'd been twirling in between his fingers, considering. He took a bite of the dango and chewed the cool mouthful, the sweetened flavor warming his taste buds.
“I want him to understand.”
I want to be able to understand him.
Sakura gave him a sad look. “I know.”
Sai wasn't sure what it was he was feeling at first. He had just finished throwing another set of shuriken, missing almost every target. At first he thought it was disappointment because he knew he could do better, or maybe it was exhaustion because he had been training for hours now and the evening sun was lighting the sky with creamy reds and pinks.
It had taken for his chest to tighten, fists to clench, and teeth to grit for him to realize it was frustration, a specific type of anger.
It had been a long time since Sai had ever felt so uncoiled, and he didn't remember how he was supposed to deal with it. More than anything he wanted it to stop, because the emotion was so strong he didn't know what it would make him do.
(Vaguely, he thought he'd rather be emotionless than to deal with this ever again.)
It was frustration with himself, for not being more capable despite everything. He had been one of the most prized Root agents and knew he was an exceptional shinobi, but in the face of expressing himself he was nothing.
“You're still here?”
Sai was resting underneath one of the target trees, his fingers digging into the dirt beneath him. He hadn't been paying any attention to his surroundings, so lost in his own self-loathing, so the sudden sight of sandals in his line of sight made him flinch.
Fool, he thought, you know better. He taught you better than this.
The person in front of him leaned down and bright yellow, orange, and dark skin overtook Sai’s line of sight.
The evening sun only served to make Naruto’s grin seem even warmer, and Sai felt his heart clench. Ignoring the concerned look he was shot, he clutched at his chest, gasping without noise.
“Hey - hey, are you okay?”
Sai couldn't answer.
“Does something hurt? Sai - ”
There were sturdy, large hands gripping tight at his shoulders. Instinctively, Sai looked up to meet those blue eyes.
His throat ran dry, and the pounding sensation in his chest grew louder, but this time it felt less painful, more…
“…I’m fine, Dickless.”
For once, Naruto didn't seem so indignant about his choice of nickname.
“Are you sure?” he asked, frowning deeply. “You were breathing pretty hard. Maybe Sakura should check you out…”
“Why are you so worried over me?”
Naruto’s look of concern quickly shifted into confusion. “We’re comrades,” he said. “Why wouldn't I care if you were okay or not?”
It was that logic, really, that led to Sai’s conclusion.
“I really like you.”
He found that in that moment, he could really understand what Ino meant when she said his innocence was endearing. But he thought it looked even more so on someone like Naruto, who was bulky and loud and confident and hardly aware of what he meant to the people around him.
“You're saying that again…?” Naruto looked disgruntled and shifted on his crouched feet.
“I mean it,” Sai added quickly, maybe too quickly because Naruto gave him a weird look.
“Whatever,” he huffed, then began pulling away, only to still at the tight grip on his jumpsuit. “Hey!” he exclaimed, a hint of annoyance in his voice. “What is it now?”
“Naruto,” Sai called, looking up at him. “I…”
“I'm listening, so what is it, already?”
Sai could feel his pulse increase, his throat lodging up, but he knew he couldn't mess this up, not if he didn't want to ever experience this kind of helplessness again.
He surged forward, catching Naruto’s lips with his own.
Sai didn't know exactly what he was doing when he did, only pressing their lips together so hard it was almost painful but it wasn't so much so that it outweighed the relief blooming inside of him.
He probably would have never stopped, if not for Naruto pushing him away and back to the ground.
When Sai got over his surprise and looked up, Naruto’s face had darkened with a flush and his arm was pressed over the lower half of his face. When he spoke, his words were muffled, “W-What…?”
Sai ran his tongue over his lips, the distinct taste of Naruto there sending tingles down his spine. He swallowed hard and took a step forward in Naruto’s moment of surprise, only to stop when Naruto took a step back just as he went ahead.
“What the hell…” Sai frowned but it seemed like Naruto was talking to himself rather than Sai in that moment, so he only watched as he muttered to himself.
He didn't want to interrupt but for some reason, Sai felt his face flush further and something uncoil in his gut.
“Naruto,” he said sharply, effectively cutting off any more murmurs. Naruto looked up at him, face still bright red and halfway covered by his arm. “I meant what I said, before.”
Naruto’s suspicious stare vanished in favor of confusion. He blinked long and slow. “Uh,” he said, “what did you say before again?”
“I like you,” Sai said, very carefully. He felt he had the right to be wary this time around, when Naruto had in the past always been so quick to evade his affections.
Naruto went silent.
The rest of their team often complained about how the other boy never shut up. Even the rest of the previous rookie nine talked about how Naruto could go on and on - and often about nothing. Sai had never really been bothered by Naruto’s talkative and loud personality, even if he went along with the social cues and pretended he found it annoying.
(That's what friends did, right? And Sai… he really did consider them friends.)
But to him, it was strange how calming the rambling could be sometimes. It quieted the thoughts that always filled Sai’s head, particularly the dark ones.
He didn’t realize how much it meant to him until Naruto was suddenly silent, like now.
“Naruto?” he called, the slightest bit of uncertainty slipping into his tone.
The blank look on Naruto’s face shifted as he looked at Sai, a deep furrow forming in his brow. He opened his mouth and finally said the words Sai had been hoping he’d say for a while now.
“You… really mean that?” Naruto’s voice was still muffled from behind his arm, and Sai wondered briefly if he was trying to protect himself from having a kiss stolen again.
He was quiet and it was extremely strange, but it was still Naruto, and that was what mattered most to Sai.There was a response but one so quiet and jumbled that Sai couldn't hear it.
Sai stepped into Naruto’s space before he could move away and pulled his arm away from his face, ignoring Naruto’s indignant squawk as he did.
“I do,” Sai began, still holding onto Naruto's arm. He tried to ignore how warm to the touch his skin was, how it felt like the sun was right underneath his skin, or that he literally was it.
Naruto’s tension slowly eased and he went lax in Sai’s grip. Sai was surprised to find how his chest grew warm at the action - the realization that Naruto had to be comfortable with him on some level for him to relax like that.
He didn’t want to, but he let go of his arm and let Naruto straighten up from his position on the ground.
Naruto was brushing his jumpsuit off from when he'd hit the ground pushing Sai away earlier. There wasn't anything besides a few grass stains and the brushing didn't seem to do anything, but Sai figured Naruto probably knew that.
Naruto looked up and met his gaze, which he had been previously avoiding. He looked calm but Sai could still the way he kept shifting, anticipation running through his veins. He seemed like he wanted to do or say something more, but he was nervous to.
Sai wanted to make it easy for him to.
“I wasn't sure at first. I thought maybe you were just so interesting, but the more I spoke with you, the more I realized I really did like you.”
He’s not used to this. This is one thing I’ll have to explain to him.
Sai wasn’t sure how good he’d be of a teacher, considering he barely knew of it all himself, but he still wanted to try.
“My brother always told me to find someone special, someone that made things seem more… vivid.” Sai had never told anyone before but somehow it felt right to tell Naruto this. “I've been thinking for a long time that that might be you.”
Naruto shook himself, finally managing to gather himself. “You're serious?”
“I've been serious for months now, Naruto.”
“So then the ramen really was…”
“And all those gifts…”
“Sakura and Ino said I needed to express my affection for you, but I didn't know what you liked so I went with their suggestions. None of them seemed to work, however.”
“I…” Naruto looked extremely overwhelmed, and he struggled to focus on only one thing at a time. “I'm sorry.”
Sai tilted his head. “What is there to be sorry about?”
“I've been an ass about this whole thing,” Naruto admitted, rubbing sheepishly at his cheek. “I thought you were kidding this whole time.”
For once, the words did not entirely fly over Sai’s head. He stood taller and gave Naruto a determined look. “I would never make fun of you like that, Naruto.”
Naruto didn't seem to have expected that, because he opened and closed his mouth a few times, yet still settled on nothing to say.
It was fine. Sai thought he knew what to say, this time around.
He took Naruto’s hand in his, hardly thrown off when Naruto jumped at his touch. It took a moment, but then his hand tightened its grip and he exhaled softly.
“Sai,” he began, sounding uncertain.
“I would like to go on a date with you,” Sai said, polite but earnest. It was more than enough to make Naruto quiet down and consider. “If you’d like, Naruto.”
Naruto swallowed hard and his skin was overcome by a faint flush. He looked nice with his messy blond hair, dirty clothes, and crooked grin.