Sasuke’s about to crawl into bed when his phone buzzes on the nightstand. He picks it up and takes one glance at the name calling before he walks soundlessly out of the room, shutting the door quietly. He swipes his finger across the screen to accept the call before it cuts itself off, taking a few more long strides and then bringing it to his ear. “Hey,” he says in a hushed voice. “Why are you calling so late?” He opens the door to the guest room and slips inside, walking to the bed and sitting down on the comfortable duvet that flattens beneath his weight. He frowns softly at the lack of response he receives, checks the call is connected and tries again. “Naruto?”
“Hey.” There’s a slight hitch in Naruto’s voice, like he’s holding back tears.
“Hey,” Sasuke’s voice takes on an immediate softness, apparent even through the whisper. His concern is strong and quick to grip his heart, even though it’s been months since they broke up. “Naruto, why are you crying? Is everything okay?”
He hears a sniff before Naruto’s voice finally comes through. “I’m fine. I just needed to talk to you.”
Sasuke’s heart gives a pang at the pain he knows Naruto isn’t letting on. “Okay,” he agrees even with the slight guilt creeping down his spine. He shouldn’t be uncomfortable, not from a conversation, but he’d never managed to be neutral when it came to him. It’d been too easy to fall into his orbit, to be so consumed nothing else mattered. It was one of the reasons they’d separated, been apart for the first time since they’d met as six-year-olds. “I have to be quiet, though. Sakura’s in the next room.”
“It’s alright. I’m down the hall from Hinata.”
Sasuke lies down on the bed and shifts until only his feet are dangling off the mattress. He eyes the edge of the duvet, pondering how long it’ll take until his toes are cold enough to warrant burying himself under the covers. “How have you been?” he asks out of politeness, as if contact after months of mutual silence isn’t enough of a clue.
Naruto answers the pointless question with its required impersonal response. “Good. And you?”
Sasuke shrugs even with his back against the duvet, one arm bent back to support his head. “Good, I guess.” His focus at work had picked up, without a reason to leave on time regularly, and he’d been promoted last month. He’d met Sakura through a mutual friend and they’d dated soon after; she’s gorgeous and driven, everything his parents had hoped for him. He probably doesn’t deserve her.
Naruto’s soft sigh carries through the speaker and Sasuke imagines he can feel the warmth of it against his ear, feel the echo of a kiss against his shoulder.
She deserves better than him.
“I found that origami shuriken, the other day,” Naruto says unexpectedly, his voice hitching on a sob he cuts off before it can finish. “The one from when Kiba called you emo and you wanted to get revenge.”
Sasuke closes his eyes and suppresses a groan. He remembers that shuriken, the result of intense minutes struggling with a library book and giving up, tossing it at Naruto instead. Naruto had been delighted and swore to keep it forever.
He always did keep his promises.
“Should try making another one,” Sasuke muses quietly. “Easier with Youtube, now. I’ve started knitting.”
“That’s cool,” Naruto says, and on anyone else it’d sound disinterested but he only sounds honestly, genuinely happy for him. It draws a reluctant smile out of him – they’d left each other to discover who they were as separate entities, unsure where one began and the other ended after being together for so long. Sasuke had picked up and dropped hobbies, trying them on like hats to see what sort of person he was. He’d dropped boxing, picked up taekwondo and painting. He’s at peace and no longer feels like he misses Naruto like he misses his left arm, but –
He’d be a liar if he said hearing his voice again doesn’t fill his heart until it’s set to burst.
“I can cook now,” Naruto says, his voice light but sounding a little less forced. “Dessert and savoury. Made ramen from scratch, even.”
“Did you burn the house down,” Sasuke says bluntly, remembering the charred mess Naruto had made of spaghetti Bolognese that one time he’d decided recipes were for the weak.
“No, asshole,” he laughs, the sound wavering at the edges like there’s a lump in his throat.
A silence settles between them, not awkward but slowly becoming heavy with unspoken words. Guilt settles in his chest, uncomfortable and relentless. “Sometimes I wish she was you,” he says, blinking at the ceiling for a second before cursing his stupid mouth. He really hadn’t meant to give voice to the desire twisting with his guilt, but Naruto had always had a knack for pulling the truth out of him, even if he didn’t mean to.
A chuckle comes through the speaker, static-less and without an ounce of humour. “I guess we never really moved on, huh, Sasuke?”
He smiles wistfully and rolls over, almost cradling the phone to his ear as he curls up on the warming duvet. Hearing Naruto’s voice say his name with that care ignites the dormant butterflies in his belly; the way he always makes him feel important and cherished still makes him weak even now. “It’s funny that you called me tonight,” he says instead, ignoring the truth he doesn’t want to face at this moment. He’d made up his mind a minute into the call, if he’s honest with himself. “I dreamt about you last night.”
“Oh?” The smoother voice now coming without hesitation or sniffles assures Sasuke that his ex is no longer crying. Sasuke finds his shoulders relaxing from the tension he hadn’t been aware was there, and he brings a hand to cover his smile from the dark room. Even if walls can’t talk, he’d much rather keep Naruto’s voice to himself. “I’ve dreamt of you too.”
“Good dreams I hope,” Sasuke whispers with a grin beneath his fingers that only broadens when an affectionate laugh fills the air beneath his cupped hand. “Does she know you’re talking to me?” he dares to ask, knowing the guilt is shared between them but not wanting to get Naruto in trouble. He’s already resolved to break up with Sakura, now that he’s sure his heart is still taken by another, but – that doesn’t mean Naruto’s on the same page. That’s okay, Sasuke decides, this is a decision he’s making for himself and Sakura first, Naruto second – and that’s indication enough that he’s growing into his own person. “I’m worried it’d start a fight.”
Naruto sighs and is silent as rustling noises reach Sasuke’s ear. The pause has Sasuke’s heartbeats picking up the pace and by the time Naruto responds, blood is already pumping through his blood vessels hard enough to hear pounding in his ears. “No, she doesn’t. Does Sakura?”
Sasuke shakes his head, bringing the phone even closer to his skin unintentionally. “No. She’s asleep.”
Naruto hums, his lowered voice managing to both calm and excite Sasuke at the same time. His fingers grip the plastic of his phone with an abrupt need to touch Naruto again, hold him in his arms and soothe his stresses away. “You know, these are just phone calls. Why do we sound like we’re cheating?” Sasuke doesn’t miss the bitterness in his voice and for a moment he lets the tension steal the moment and draw it out.
“I think we’re cheating emotionally.” Sasuke bites his lip once the words are out, half wanting to take them back. “I’m sneaking around my girlfriend in my own house. I never thought I’d be like this.” He sighs and closes his eyes, the hand over his mouth slipping a little lower to brush the tips of his fingers against the phone. The guilt rests heavy upon his shoulders, reminding him that even though he’s made up his mind, he hasn’t actually broken up with her yet.
“Sasuke…” The tears are back in his voice, he can tell, but this time he’s uncertain about whether he can chase them away again when his own throat is aching with the beginnings of that familiar burn.
“I’m going to break up with her.” The words are harder to say than he’d expected, get stuck in his throat and have to be forced out. “Not for you, but for her. She doesn’t deserve this.”
A sad chuckle sounds from beneath his ear. “You’ve always been more noble than me, ‘Ske.” Another sniff and he continues, “I don’t want to see other people anymore.” Sasuke breathes a sigh through his nose and rubs absently at his chest at yet more unspoken words. I want you.
“I don’t think either of us are ready to try again yet.” Sasuke curls further into himself, reluctant to make the more responsible decision even though he’s sure it’s better for both of them.
Another chuckle rough with tears comes through the phone. “Yeah.”
A long silence passes between them, neither wanting to hang up but not knowing what to say. Sasuke’s not sure they can handle any more promises just yet. He blinks and is startled to find his eyelashes are wet. “Should we just… be apart but talk now and then, stay single until we’re settled?”
There’s a loud sigh that’s heavy with relief, like Naruto hadn’t been sure what he’d say. “Okay. We won’t rush, but when we’re ready, or if, um. We’ll deal with it then.”
Sasuke’s lip twitches despite himself. Naruto had always had a way of creating promises he knew he could keep. “Yeah. Okay.”
Sasuke isn’t exactly great with relationship protocols, or recognising all social cues. He considers bringing it up later. Kiba always said to do break ups in public spaces to avoid dramatic backlash, but then, he’d tried that with Ino and had his ass handed to him.
He decides the sooner, the better, and maybe the guilt gnawing at his belly will go away. At least they hadn’t had sex last night. Even he would agree that’d be a cruel move.
“Sakura,” he says over breakfast, between spoonfuls of cereal. She looks at him expectantly, green eyes bright and alert after her first cup of coffee. He… really doesn’t know how to say this, so he just opens his mouth and hopes for the best. “I think we should break up. My, uh, ex,” and even now it’s strange, bundling up his history with Naruto, their childhood and memories and the passion that had always tied them together tighter than fate, into such an ugly word as ex. “Called me last night, and I realised I’m not, fully, over him and that’s not fair to you. And I didn’t realise it until literally just then, or I would’ve told you. Before.” He shoves the spoon into his mouth to cut off the word vomit.
He’d worried Sakura would cry, because he’s never been good at comforting crying people. Or yell, because he doesn’t like yelling, or hit him, because she’d done it once by accident and it had hurt.
But she doesn’t, she just regards him like he’d said something stupid. Which, okay, maybe he had. “You really only thought about this last night?”
If there’s something in her voice that hints to her thoughts, Sasuke isn’t hearing it. “Yes. And I don’t mean to sound cliché, but you really are beautiful, and smart, and I honestly thought I was ready, but I’m not.” He runs through the words again, wary he’d said something wrong, but Sakura’s expression isn’t helping him either. “I’m sorry. This isn’t fair on you.”
Sakura sighs and takes a long sip of her second coffee. And then another. “You’re right, it’s not.” It’s his own words and he probably deserves it but he still feels a pang of guilt. Her eyes soften and she looks at him like she’s trying to reconcile two different people into the one sitting before her. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected it, though, to an extent.”
Sasuke openly stares at her. “What?” He frowns, trying to think of what’d make her say that – he hadn’t spoken to Naruto since they’d split up, and outside of that had never considered dating anyone else since they’d met.
“Karin told me what you two were like,” Sakura says, and Sasuke’s confusion only grows. “She’s in my pole class,” she adds for his benefit, “and her last name gave the relation away. She warned me that you two together were like nobody else in the world existed.”
“That was the problem,” Sasuke admits, rubbing between his eyes at the beginnings of a headache. “It wasn’t healthy.” When he looks up, Sakura’s eyes are a deep forest green, sad yet fond. “What?” he says again.
She shakes her head with a rueful smile. “It’s a little childish, but I thought I could change that. But,” she cuts him off when he opens his mouth, “it’s okay. It’s not working. It happens.” She takes another few sips of coffee and Sasuke shoves more cereal in his mouth so he doesn’t say anything dumb. “Are you going to be with him now?” Her tone is light, but there’s a slight grimace to her lips like she forced the words out.
Sasuke shakes his head and pokes at his cereal, now soggy. “Still… this is gonna sound stupid, but I still need to figure myself out, who I am as me, not who I am as part of him. Maybe in the future,” his heart twists at the thought of the maybe being a never, but he squashes it – if they’re going to work, he has to be different. They both do. “But for now, I’ll be single.” He glances up and meets her gaze to say, “I’m sorry. Really.”
Sakura’s smile is soft, and if she’s this composed and understanding even in this situation then Sasuke definitely doesn’t deserve her. The thought is potent with disappointment in himself, for breaking up with her and for seeing her in the first place, but there’s also a sense of pride – heart taken or not, she is important to him. “It’s not stupid, Sasuke.” She pauses like she’s considering saying something, then shakes her head and lets it go. “I wish you well, truly.”
The conversation feels final, but there’s an awkwardness to it. Sasuke isn’t sure how to handle this, but he tries anyway. “We, uh. Have stuff in each other’s houses.”
Sakura’s lips twitch and she looks half like she wants to laugh and half like she wants to cry. “It’s not goodbye immediately, don’t worry,” she stands and takes her mug to the sink. Sasuke realises belatedly that she hadn’t had anything to eat either. “Just give me a week or so, first.”
To adjust, Sasuke thinks, and relaxes as the time pressure is relieved. He opens his mouth to thank her, then closes it on second thought. Sakura heads for the bedroom and he stares at his soggy cereal, poking at it with the spoon and wondering what the future holds.