It was the middle of the night.
Cold and growing colder—not a month from winter, now. It was just about getting to the point where few would risk the travel, especially out to this part of the country. Especially late at night.
He supposed he shouldn't have given Naruto that much credit.
Sasuke didn't even bother to turn around.
Naruto's steps paused. They continued as a shuffle—sheepish, Sasuke thought, at being so easily caught out.
He waited for Naruto to sit at his side.
"Um," he said softly, swallowing in between breaths, "hey."
Sasuke spared him a glance. Yes—tired, sweating, bags under his eyes and a pant to his lips. His eyes were relieved, as they always were, and his body heavy, like he'd finally made it to where he'd wanted to be.
The sharingan burned the memory into his mind, and Sasuke looked away.
"I thought you had no time this month?"
"I got desperate. Why're you here if you didn't think I'd come?"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, content to scan the trees in front of him.
"Because you get desperate."
Naruto let out a soft laugh, and then flopped back onto the grass, arms outspread. Sasuke listened to his breaths, waiting for them to calm—he had no doubts Naruto had come as soon as he could, as quickly as he could. It would take far more than a short trip to take his breath away.
"How long?" Sasuke asked, knowing Naruto would understand.
"I've got an hour," Naruto whispered at the sky, "at most. I'm sorry."
Sasuke stared at him. It wasn't unusual for Naruto to apologize—hell, he often apologized just for this—but that tone of voice was something he—
"It's been a…"
Naruto's voice trailed off, and his eyes closed. He put his hand over them, as if making sure they'd remain that way, and heaved out a heavy, shuddering breath—
"Never mind. Yeah. You been good?"
Sasuke didn't even give him the benefit of a reply.
Naruto finally dragged the hand from his face, and stared at him through red-rimmed eyes.
Sasuke stared right back.
"...Is this helping?" he asked finally, unsure of what Naruto could possibly get out of this. Pushing himself to the point of exhaustion, only to collapse at Sasuke's side for whatever scrap of time they could get that week...he couldn't imagine what Naruto found in it that was worth it.
Something, though. Naruto always managed to find something.
"It always does," Naruto said, still watching him. "Lay down beside me."
Sasuke obeyed. He didn't know why.
Naruto smiled, firmly rolled on his side, arm tucked under his head. When he smiled like that, you could almost forget about the fatigue in his eyes.
"They overwork you," Sasuke found himself saying. He didn't know what made him even bother; Naruto would never agree—
"I overwork myself," Naruto pointed out, and Sasuke was silent. It was a level of truth Sasuke hadn't been prepared to consider—albeit, maybe he should have. Naruto wanted to be everywhere at once. Naruto needed to solve everything at once. Every problem was important, from the complete stranger's lost cat to the greatest friend's lost family—
Naruto's eyes dulled, and he sat up.
"Sakura mailed you the reports. Didn't she? Last—"
"She did." Sasuke stayed put, lounging in the dirt.
"Oh," Naruto said, glancing back.
"Is that not why you came?"
Naruto laughed and rolled his eyes.
"I came because I'm your friend."
And there it was again. Sasuke couldn't even pick what bothered him the most about that line—maybe it was the fact that it was never what he was fishing for, and almost certainly what he always caught.
"Is that it?"
Naruto's smile faltered, and he looked back. Sasuke held his gaze with ease.
"I—yeah," he said, breaking it. "Yeah, I—"
"Lay back down, idiot."
Naruto...obeyed. Sasuke was not even remotely fooled by the pause.
"Hm. You look better," the moron said, shuffling into the dirt.
"I wish I could say the same for you."
"Wow," Naruto said, rolling onto his back, "I come all this way and you treat me li—"
Naruto let out a breath.
"I know. I know. Sorry. It's been...a day." Naruto let out a soft, pained laugh.
Naruto's eyes, scattered and scared, flickered to his.
"Mission. Casualties. Blood on my hands, the usual." Naruto heaved out a breath as he stared up at the sky, and Sasuke imagined he was trying to pass it off as a laugh. "Part of the job, right?"
Sasuke watched him.
"I don't know if anyone's told you this," Sasuke started, coming to some sort of realization himself, "but you don't have to do this job."
Naruto turned to face him.
"I do, though."
"How long was Kakashi Hokage?"
Naruto rolled his red-rimmed eyes.
"That's not what I mean. I'm not done yet. There's so much still to change."
Change. Yes—Sasuke had had far different methods of change, but they had shared the goal all the same. That, he understood. But…
"And no one else can make a change?"
Naruto snorted out a hard laugh.
"No one else prioritizes the same sort of changes I do, Uchiha."
That got the message across loud and clear—alongside another message, louder and clearer—
"You stay there because of me."
"What? No, I—"
"There's no other change."
Naruto let out a breath.
"Okay, well maybe it is!" Naruto said, heaving himself up again. "So what? Why does it matter? This has to happen! It has to—and you're here, and you're happy, and you're finally fucking happy—and I'm dealing with everything. And I'm fine. What's the problem?"
"I seem to recall we were to share our burdens."
Naruto ducked his head, awkwardly scratching at the back of his neck.
"I wanted to take on your burdens," Naruto said quietly, back fully to him now. "Never said anything about the other way around."
Sasuke sat up.
"And I don't want it to be the other way around." Naruto's voice was hard and firm. "You've been through enough. I—ow—Sas—what the hell—!"
Sasuke tightened the last knot and dug into his bag. He had some paper in here somewhere…
"Sas—untie me! What the hell are you—"
"Kidnapping you," Sasuke said simply.
"Sasuke, you can't—"
"I can. Quite easily, even."
"I literally just cleared your name, are you—"
"Relax, moron," Sasuke said, writing a quick note, "I'll send a letter."
"Then they'll know it was you!" Naruto yelled, scrambling along the ground like an extraordinarily determined worm. "Let me—"
Sasuke leaned in.
"Do I need to threaten to break every bone in your body?"
Naruto froze, turning a very pleasing shade of red.
"I...didn't know you remembered that," he muttered, not meeting Sasuke's eye. "And it—it didn't even work, so—"
Sasuke rolled up the page and whacked him over the head with it.
"Sign this," he said, "so Sakura knows you aren't dead."
"I wo—Naruto's on vacation?!"
"That's it?! That's all you wrote? Sasuke—"
"Mm, I can probably forge it, actually…"
"No! Stop, don't—I'll sign it, I'll—if you forge it you'll get into even more trouble, hang on…" Naruto groaned, rolling around until— "can you—at least untie this hand?!"
"Fucking—asshole, can't believe you—" Naruto muttered, scrawling a messy name and an even messier apology, "—blackmail me into—"
"Blackmail? You're barely being forced."
Naruto glared up at him.
Sasuke took Naruto by the free wrist...and promptly tied it back.
"What a ninja you are," Sasuke commented, leaning back. "Letting yourself be stolen so easily."
Naruto heaved out a breath and fell into the dirt.
"My wind doesn't work and I don't even want to—fine. Whatever. Fine."
"You don't want to?"
Naruto rolled. The dirt stayed firm on his cheek.
"Fight. I don't...I…"
Sasuke rolled the letter back up and smacked him again.
"This is exactly the kind of defeatist bullshit that's landed you here. Sleep."
"Sle—you're kidnapping me and not even letting me—"
"You need to rest. Before anything else."
Naruto let out a soft groan, but didn't protest.
"Don't I at least get a bed?"
Sasuke's amusement grew.
"Coming around, are you?"
"Shut up," Naruto hissed out. "I don't—if something happens while I'm away—"
"Stop. Enough. Not everything in the world is your fault."
Naruto swallowed. Sasuke leaned down.
"Sometimes it's my fault."
That broke a soft, accidental laugh out of Naruto that he didn't look too happy with himself for. Sasuke, on the other hand…
"You have no choice in this," Sasuke said. "So you may as well close your eyes. If your village comes storming for you, I'll surrender."
Naruto...laughed again, finally accepting some sort of defeat. He'd better have, because the letter had fluttered off along with his hawk.
Too late to turn back now.
"If I promise to stay, will you untie me?"
Sasuke eyed him.
"...I'll untie your hands."
"Aw, come on!"
Naruto awoke in the dark, somewhere soft and warm. Somewhere too soft and warm, somewhere—
"Wh—" he yelled, flinging himself out of a bed that had someone else in it—he spun onto his feet the same time the other did the same—
"Oh," Naruto said, as Sasuke rolled his eyes and flipped the kunai back into its hiding place.
"—damn heart attack," Sasuke muttered, flopping back into the bed, "stupid."
"Well, what was I—I didn't expect to wake up in a fucking bed with you of all people—"
"Who did you expect? Madara?" Sasuke snorted at his own joke, rolling over. "You were the one complaining about a bed anyway."
"I—" Naruto blinked down at himself, only just now remembering that he had distinctly fallen asleep...tied in place. In a forest. Where the fuck... "...You know, you never made me promise."
Sasuke cracked an eye open.
"Your people are against you," he said, looking entirely unfazed.
"I received a reply," Sasuke said, sucking in a breath as he closed his eyes again. "Konoha is very excited that their hard-working Hokage is finally taking a well-earned break. He's been looking ever so tired recently and we haven't seen him smiling as much as he used to. Kakashi says—"
"Okay! Okay, I get it. Jesus, does Sakura tell you my entire life story every time she—"
"She does, actually."
Sasuke let out a muffled snort.
"Go back to sleep, stupid."
Naruto crossed his arms. Yeah, okay, maybe he needed a break, but Konoha didn't. The corruption and confusion and unrest would continue to fester if no one was there to calm those who needed it, so...
Naruto reached out towards the doorknob. He'd had one night of rest. Surely that was good enough. Nevermind that the night wasn't even done ye—
"Ow!" he yelped, wrenching his hand back. "What the fuck, Sasuke?"
The asshole hadn't even moved.
"You booby-trapped it!"
"Did I?" asked the fucking liar—
"Is everything in here tra—"
Naruto cut himself off, just now registering the wires around the windows in the dark, the small symbols written around the edges, some sort of paper along the doorframe, and—
"I wouldn't have had to," Sasuke pointed out, comfortable as ever, "if you were to be trusted."
"Konoha needs me!"
"Then perhaps we should work on getting to a point where they don't."
Naruto breathed in.
"The—Sasuke, I appreciate the thought, but—"
"You're building a village that stands on your shoulders," Sasuke said, eyes still closed, "and expect us all to be surprised when you fall."
"It's not sustainable."
Naruto heaved out a breath.
"I know that, okay, but I have to—"
"Too bad. You can't."
Sasuke's eyes opened, and they were hard. Naruto's voice faltered.
"...You burned my finger," he muttered, shuffling in place.
"Poor baby. If only you slept as well as you whine."
Naruto huffed out a small laugh.
"You're...really serious about this, huh?"
If anything, Sasuke's eyes only grew harder.
"Okay, okay," Naruto said, dutifully shuffling over and rolling into place, "jeez. Demanding, much?"
Sasuke stayed still, even as Naruto slipped back into the bed. Too still, in Naruto's opinion—like he was rigid, holding his breath, waiting for something.
Naruto rolled onto his side and scanned his face. You wouldn't even be able to tell, he thought, if not for that strain in his jaw…
Sasuke rolled away from him.
"It goes both ways."
"The burden. Your burden. If you know me like I know you, you should know that."
Naruto breathed in.
"Oh," he said, some sort of dawning realization running through him, "you're mad at me, aren't you?"
Sasuke didn't reply. He didn't move, either, which was confirmation enough for Naruto—
"I don't need your excuses. Go to sleep."
Naruto sat up.
"No, you asshole, just listen—I didn't mean—"
Naruto wrenched Sasuke back by his shoulder.
"Asshole," he ground out, "stop fucking interrupting me and then decide if I'm lying!"
Sasuke glared up at him, but said nothing.
"I didn't mean I don't get that you're part of this. And I get that you want me to—to vent or whatever but I just—I don't want to do it, okay? I just want to—I feel like you—"
"You want to solve every problem in Konoha," Sasuke deadpanned, "by yourself."
"No! No, I've got a team back—I know I can't do it on my o—"
"So it's only me who is useless to you."
"You're not—come on, Sasuke," Naruto said, continuing quieter, breathier, "...you really want to help Konoha? I can't ask you to do that."
"You asked me to return. Explain to me how this is worse."
"I haven't asked you to stay since the last time we fought," Naruto snapped, feeling something twisted and hurting rising up in him, "you know that. You know that."
Not since he'd started looking. Not since he'd started realizing. It had taken him nearly a year to actually, really, honestly come to terms with it and even then—
"Then let me put it this way," Sasuke said, closing his eyes. "I want no part of Konoha."
Naruto swallowed and looked away. It wasn't a surprise—not anymore—but it still hurt to hear. Every time, it still…
"But as long as you're part of it," he said, turning away again, "so am I."
Naruto breathed in, staring at Sasuke's back. It wasn't the most intimate thing Sasuke had admitted, but it came close, and it had him feeling...
"I'm sorry," Naruto offered, unsure of what else to say.
"No," Sasuke said, "you're not."
Naruto swallowed, looking down at his hands. He was sorry it was Konoha, then—but not the least bit sorry Sasuke remained firmly a part of him. He'd never give that up. Not for a second.
Sasuke turned around.
"Not going to deny it?" he asked, eyes a different shade of the darkness—
"No," Naruto whispered.
Sasuke let out a soft breath through his nose.
"It's a start, I suppose."
Naruto was quiet, the next day.
Quiet and worried, scanning the horizon for letters and unable to sit for longer than a minute. It was as if he was waiting for disaster to find him.
Or maybe he'd just forgotten how to rest.
"It's still blue," Sasuke said, flipping a page of his book as Naruto stretched up on the tips of his toes, looking up—
"Huh?" Naruto said, as if startled.
"The sky," Sasuke said. "It's still blue. You seem so intent on checking it every twenty seconds, I thought I'd reassure you."
Naruto huffed out a breath.
"I'm—you're an asshole. I'm used to getting messages every five seconds, okay? This is...weird."
"And during your spare time?"
"I sleep. I'm either awake and working or sleeping. Or visiting you, when I can."
Sasuke looked up from the page. It wasn't...particularly surprising to him that Naruto spent every bit of his actual free time travelling to see Sasuke, but—
"We've gone several months without a visit."
"Yep," he said, heaving out a breath and plopping himself down on the seat beside Sasuke. "Whatcha reading?"
Sasuke snapped it shut.
"None of your business."
He immediately regretted the words. There was surely nothing better to say to have Naruto immediately set his heart on—
"Well, now I have to know."
"You don't. Find something else to occupy yourself."
"Something el—ugh!" Naruto groaned, flopping over onto an unamused Sasuke. "You kidnapped me just to sit here? What the hell am I supposed to do with all this ener—"
"I am resting! And I'm bored! It's been two days! Can't we do something other than sit here?"
Sasuke sighed. He supposed he should have expected this.
"Fine. Get your shoes."
Sasuke might have overcompensated.
Naruto heaved in the breath, rolling over again. He couldn't even enjoy the view with how out of breath he was—they'd climbed the mountain straight up, no stopping, all day, and Sasuke hadn't even brought any food!
He didn't know if it was to teach Naruto a lesson, or if Sasuke had accidentally committed them both to something way more intense than either of them were ready for.
They were both pretty familiar with taking naps in dirt, though, and Sasuke had wasted no time in passing out right beside him. He supposed he had woken Sasuke up a couple times last night—and the night before—but the guy didn't tend to normally relax this easily…
Naruto shuffled a little closer as the breeze fluttered through them. The clouds were rolling in too, now, and it brought a chill to the air—right along with the fog. He guessed they wouldn't have the view for much longer—
The fog was pretty cool, though.
He sat up and shuffled closer to Sasuke again. He didn't know how the guy could be so relaxed in thin pants and a sleeveless shirt...Naruto's own cloak felt like barely nothing at all, but Sasuke's skin didn't even have a goosebump. He had always tended to be kinda warm when they were kids, though...maybe something to do with his flame or something…
The wind breezed past them again, and Naruto automatically reached out to brush the strands that caught on Sasuke's eyelashes away. He looked so…
"—ron…" came a soft mumble, and Sasuke promptly rolled on top of his hand. Naruto ducked forwards in a silent laugh, biting his lip to shut himself up—if Sasuke had even the slightest awareness, he'd never be caught dead doing this—
But here he was, nuzzling Naruto's hand.
Naruto grinned at the sight.
Or maybe it was another way to stop him from escaping. Naruto certainly felt trapped, now—any movement and Sasuke would surely wake up, so he had to stay as lopsided as he could, leaning down…
From his awkward, hunched over pose, Naruto caught the briefest glimpse of Sasuke's book. He'd planned on waiting until later tonight to try this, but if Sasuke was already asleep...with the book already falling out of his pocket...
Barely breathing, Naruto stretched his free arm out—his newer one, in the grand scheme of things—and slowly, slowly thumbed at the book until it fell free. He wouldn't even have cared if Sasuke had wanted to show it to him, but he hadn't and that meant it had to be something good—like—like romance, or porn—oh, if it was porn Naruto would lose his—
'A Heart Weeping Words: 200 poems of love and sorrow.'
Love poetry? He—Sasuke was—
Naruto stared, flipping through the book.
...No wonder he hadn't wanted Naruto to know. He wasn't going to leave Sasuke alone for a goddamn second after finding this—since when did Sasuke read poetry?
Well, decently often had to be his answer, because this spine was bent. And the book naturally fell open to a page that had the corner folded, which meant that Sasuke…
'It's a helpless struggle.'
...bookmarked this one.
'Clambering at a wave that grips my hand
and lets me go.'
He supposed Sasuke had always been kinda...intense like this, but…
like the stone in my chest, beating with every blink.
Hard and cold and booming,
booming with heat, booming with him,'
'(if I could scream I would, but his smile stays like a sliver in my throat, and my voice is cut in two.)'
Naruto flinched. The hell? That was...
'So I breathe in, and I drown.
Naruto frowned, skimming over the thing again. Yeah, pretty in line with how dramatic Sasuke could get, but...he'd never expected poetry. And he wasn't really getting anything about love from this anyway—maybe the sorrow bit, which would make more sense, really. Why did he have this one saved? He moved his thumb to read the title—
Oh. He hadn't...Naruto glanced back, just checking that Sasuke was still sleeping, as relaxed and content as before—
Maybe if he just read it a couple more times...
Naruto was acting strange again.
Sasuke followed behind him, letting Naruto lead the way down the mountain. They hadn't rushed either trip—which meant it was well into the night, now. A forest at night was hardly an uncomfortable sight for Sasuke, though. It was where he had spent most of his life.
And it was feeling rather like those nights (nothing but his thoughts and the cold air to haunt him), with how silent Naruto was being.
Sasuke took two quick motions to speed up his pace, and—
—accidentally get in Naruto's way.
"Idiot," Sasuke said, catching him easily.
"You tripped me!"
Sasuke rolled his eyes, shoving Naruto back onto his feet.
"You can think what you'd like."
"You—" Naruto let out an offended laugh, stumbling back to Sasuke side. "You prick. What was that for?"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow.
"You were getting soft."
Naruto laughed again.
"Me! You think so? You wanna know—you haven't even noticed yet."
Naruto grinned at him.
"Noticed what," he said, unamused enough to make it an order, instead of a question.
Naruto held up a very familiar—
Sasuke snatched it out of his hands.
Sasuke continued down the path, faster than before. Damn Naruto's insatiable curiosity. Damn his own inattentiveness. He should have burned the thing the moment Naruto noticed it and—
"Sasuke!" Naruto yelled, nearly sending them both tumbling down the path as he wrestled the book back—Sasuke let him have it if only to stop it from tearing— "Who—ah, crap, ow, ow, don't—"
"You idiot," Sasuke snarled, pushing Naruto off of him. He stayed this time, though, because Naruto's ankle had bent a certain way there and he—
"Ow," Naruto muttered again, lopsided. "Crap, it's okay—you can keep going, I'll catch up in a sec."
Sasuke's anger spiked, and he remained firmly in place.
"What? I mean like, I—I heal in like two seconds—"
"Then I will wait two seconds."
"You—" he laughed a little. "You don't trust me at all, do you?"
"I did," Sasuke said, eyeing him up and down. "I was mistaken to. I no longer do."
Naruto flinched as if he'd been struck.
"You...what? When? When did I—"
"Two nights ago."
"But—but you trapped the room before I even woke up! That's not fair! You didn't trust me from the start!"
"I untied you."
"So are you really saying a few pathetic traps are enough to successfully kidnap the leader of Konoha?"
Naruto crossed his arms. (He was still holding the book, Sasuke noticed, with his finger slipped between the pages.)
"No," he said. "That sounds like what you're saying."
Sasuke jerked back.
"Don't be dumb, Sasuke," Naruto said, continuing more quietly. "Don't act like you don't know I want to be here. You know I do. You know I always do."
Naruto swallowed. Sasuke held his breath.
"S'why I always feel so damn bad about it."
"You feel bad about doing things you enjoy?"
"I feel bad doing things that are selfish. I just want to see you. I drag you away from whatever you're doing—which I'm still doing now, by the way—and cut into all the other time everybody else needs from me just to see your fa—"
He cut himself off, looking away.
Sasuke watched him. Naruto bounced on the balls of his feet, lips tight and unhappy. His gaze stubbornly remained in the trees.
"To see my face?" Sasuke prompted, finishing the thought. "Is that all?"
Naruto heaved out a breath, barely glimpsing back at him.
"I just—I—you—do you have any idea how long I've spent missing you?"
The question came out harsh and frustrated, like a sob that accidentally broke free. Naruto looked surprised that it came out at all.
"Sorry," he said, sucking in a breath as if it would take the question with it, "sorry, I don't mean to—let's just go back. I—"
Amazing. All that had happened and all they had been through, and Naruto still thought he could close himself off.
"I do," Sasuke said again, "have a good idea."
Naruto breathed in and then looked down at his feet.
"Are you planning on stealing my book?"
A small smile flickered onto Naruto's face. (Sasuke's relief came with it.)
"Well, y'know," he started, "I figured since you kidnapped me…"
"Fine," he said, feeling his resolve slip from his fingertips, "but I'll do to your spine whatever you do to its."
But Naruto only laughed, and then they were walking again.
"I like this one," Naruto said, skimming the passage again. Sasuke had let him get away with reading it for the rest of the next day, with nothing but the sunlight and the water and the trees and the village… "Like a spark, his lightning-lined fingertip I can't bear to touch."
Naruto grinned up at a curious Sasuke, sitting over him.
"Sounds like you," he told him.
Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"That poem," he said, burying himself back into his own next book, "is about being scared and in love. I doubt the comparison to me is one you want to make."
Naruto's smile widened.
"Why not?" he asked, fiddling with the page. "Wouldn't it make sense? If we were in love."
Sasuke became very still. Was that too far? Naruto thought he'd laugh—
"I'm kidding," he said quickly, before Sasuke could yell at hi—
"I know," Sasuke said softly, flipping the page of his book. "...I know."
His body stayed stiff, after that.
Naruto was still reading the book.
The same book, for nearly three days now. The poems were hardly that long; he should have finished it ages ago. Instead, it had kept him happily occupied. All they had done is sit and walk and eat and rest, and Naruto hadn't complained at all. In fact, he…
"You know what's weird?" Naruto said, tapping his fingers along the page. "None of these are about girls. Were they all written by girls?"
Sasuke...bit down on his sigh.
"A man can't write of another man?" he asked, keeping his eyes firmly on his own book.
"I—uh," Naruto stuttered, "I mean—yeah, I guess they—I didn't—yeah. No—yeah, you're right. Yeah."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, finally looking up.
"Yeah—I—um, sorry, I mean it's just that—" Naruto's gaze flickered between Sasuke and the book. "This is...your book."
"It is my book."
Naruto shuffled in place. Sasuke continued to stare at him.
"Yeah. Um. Uh—it's—is there a—"
"Name a moment I've shown interest in a woman."
Naruto's mouth opened and closed.
Sasuke looked back down at his book.
"Wh—no, hang on, no, that's not fair! You've never shown any interest in anyone, not just girls, so don't act all—"
"Technically," Sasuke said, not looking up, "I have kissed someone before."
Sasuke looked up, eyeing the way Naruto seemed almost…upset.
Hm. He hadn't thought...but maybe...
"Oh," Naruto said, jerking his head away if only then realizing he was staring, "oh. Did you—when was, um—"
Sasuke couldn't keep it up anymore.
"You idiot," he said, the laugh finally escaping him, "it was you. Useless."
He rolled his eyes and turned back to his book, content to ignore a sputtering Naruto—
"Wh—m—that was an accident!"
Sasuke's smile widened.
"Unfortunately," he said, flipping the page, "that doesn't undo the fact that it happened."
"Fuck," Naruto muttered, hunching into himself. "I was hoping you'd forgot about that."
"Sorry to disappoint."
Naruto let out a soft, embarrassed laugh.
"No, it's not…" he laughed again, shaking his head. "I don't mind. I don't mind."
Sasuke glanced back at him. Not a few days ago, he'd been utterly convinced Naruto was still deep in denial, buried in that friendship he kept citing at every opportunity, but—
"I didn't…" Naruto let out another soft laugh, a gentle redness to his cheeks. "I can't believe I didn't know this about you."
You did, Sasuke wanted to tell him. You know it all. If you only just thought about it, you'd know…
"Neither can I," he said instead, and the conversation was silent.
Confused and, um...like really confused. Sasuke was already asleep, but Naruto was flip-flopping between that one poem Sasuke liked so much and the one that he—he—
'He feels like a spark,
his lightning-lined fingertip
I can't bear to touch.
Too much for him,
Too much for me.
I bite the storm on my tongue
and let him rage away, instead.'
Blue Eyes and Mistakes. Blue Eyes and Mistakes. Back and forth, like there was something in them both that he was missing. And there was something, he knew that, he could feel it—like something in the back of his mind he couldn't bear to touch, he—
Naruto swallowed and closed the book.
It was almost two weeks, now. A little over one. He'd snuck the letter Sakura had sent Sasuke and saw that two weeks would be...it.
He didn't want that.
He didn't want to go.
Naruto closed his eyes and breathed out.
This was exactly what he'd been afraid of.
Getting used to this peace. Getting used to this comfort. Getting used to Sasuke, at his side, like a quiet, constant reminder of the brilliant happiness in his heart—
He desperately didn't want to leave this.
What a pathetic problem to have.
He swallowed and shook his head, opening his eyes again. It wasn't as if it was goodbye. It wasn't as if it was anywhere close to the pain he'd gone through before—really, he should be happy to have something as simple and easy as this to hurt him, but—
He opened the book again, and it fell to Sasuke's favourite poem.
He needed to figure this out.
Before he had to go, he had to figure this out.
He hunched over the page, scowling at it.
Now if only he could make his brain work. Piece together the bits and pieces, like this book being love poems of men and Sasuke's favourite about blue eyes and Sasuke remembering their stupid kiss after all these years, like—
As usual, all he came up with was stupid, impossible ideas. Sasuke wasn't in love. And Sasuke definitely wasn't in love with him. That was insane. He couldn't get off it though, he couldn't stop thinking about it, and he was starting to think he'd never be able to actually figure this out unless Sasuke straight up looked him in the face and told him—
"Why on earth are you still awake."
"Sas—oh, uh, hi! Sorry, sorry, did I—"
"Are you trying to escape again?"
"No!" It came out louder than he'd wanted it to, and way more panicked. Naruto slapped the book shut and shoved it into the bedside table.
"...Were you reading?"
Naruto laid down and didn't reply. Yeah, he'd been reading it. Fine. He wanted to know what the hell made Sasuke so invested, because then—
"Something bothering you?"
Naruto's breath hitched.
"Um," he whispered, but nothing else came out.
He heard the bed shift.
"Something about it bothering you?"
Damn it. Sasuke always knew.
"You've," Naruto started, eyes closed, one hand still in his hair, "you've got one with—um. With the corner folded over."
The bed shifted again.
"That one—it—you—why?" he finished helplessly, unable to voice anything else, like a—like there was a—a sliver in his throat, cutting his voice in two—
"It...resonates with me."
Naruto opened his eyes.
"Why?" he asked again, turning his head to stare at Sasuke's tired, piercing eyes.
Sasuke didn't reply. His face changed though, like he was telling Naruto something, like he wanted Naruto to know something, like he wanted Naruto to...if he, um…
Naruto rolled. Slow and hesitant and waiting for Sasuke to flinch back, shove him back, give him a withering glare and a snarl and—
Or...none of that.
Sasuke only watched him, eyes calm and unyielding, with the barest shift to match the angle of Naruto's head.
Naruto moved closer.
The corners of Sasuke's lips perked up, and Naruto—Naruto moved closer—
"Figured it out, have you?" came Sasuke's soft whisper, and Naruto—
Oh, he thought, breathing in the taste of Sasuke's lips—on purpose, for longer than a moment—oh. For all the sense this made it made none at all, but it felt so—it felt so—
Naruto's elbows buckled, and he pulled back. Pulled down, hovering over Sasuke's chest, heaving in shuddering breaths like it would turn his mind back around and stop it from spinning again—
"...Not quite there yet," Sasuke whispered. "That's alright."
Naruto's head jerked up, but Sasuke's turned away, eyes closed again.
"What?" he asked, breathless—breathless, how was Sasuke so calm about thi—
"That's alright," Sasuke said again, as still as when he was asleep. "I can wait."
Naruto swallowed his question, this time. It was the same one—the same what? ringing through his head, accentuated by how and when and…
And what? Sasuke could wait? Sasuke had been waiting? For—Naruto sat back, onto his heels, straddling a Sasuke who stayed a perfectly still lie—for him to...figure it...out…?
"You think I'm in love with you."
Sasuke's eyes opened, but he didn't reply.
"How do you," Naruto asked, breathing in, swallowing, breathing in again, "know?"
A flash of something graced Sasuke's face—something familiar, which Naruto knew meant it must be some sort of pain—
"I'm not going to convince you, Naruto."
Naruto breathed in again.
"I don't want you to convince me," he said. "I—I want—I need...help."
"Help," Sasuke deadpanned, scanning him.
Naruto nodded. He could still feel the panic in his heart, the fear and nerves and—
"What did you have in mind?"
"Just—um—" he breathed in, "don't fall back asleep yet."
Sasuke's head rolled, eyes tired but intent. They stayed dutifully open, which Naruto was thankful for, because he always thought better when Sasuke was—
"Is this helping?" Sasuke asked, watching him.
"It always does," he whispered, and Sasuke's head tilted back, a soft smile playing at his lips.
"You like looking at me," Sasuke said, and it was a question.
"I...yeah," he whispered, arms still awkwardly hovering between them both. What kind of a question was that? Sasuke was—he was just—nice to look at. Everybody thought so—that wasn't…
"It, um," Naruto continued, because Sasuke was still watching him, "clears my head."
Sasuke's lips twitched.
"I'm not sure your head should be further cleared than its current state."
All the air left Naruto in that laugh.
"You ass," he said, because Sasuke knew exactly what to do to single-handedly suck the tension from him. He also knew what to do to bring it back, Naruto knew, heaving back in all his breath as Sasuke's lightning-lined fingertips walked up Naruto's unbandaged arm—
He pulled it away, and it fell back onto his chest.
"I'm not going to convince you," Sasuke said again, and it sounded sadder than a moment ago. Naruto was suddenly struck by the thought that Sasuke maybe—maybe didn't think Naruto loved him at all. Maybe all it was was a hope—a desperate, painful, drowning hope—
"You don't need to," Naruto told him, and then they were kissing again. Really kissing, this time, although Naruto barely knew the first thing about it—all he knew was that Sasuke was warm and alive and with him, with him, oh god, finally with him—Naruto never wanted to leave this, never wanted to leave him, if they could only just be here forever, Naruto would—
"Don't," Naruto begged, pressing the plea to Sasuke's lips and breathing out the sigh as Sasuke listened. As Sasuke relaxed and relaxed and relaxed again, lips moving with his, tongue moving with his, hand in his hair and moan in his breath—
When they broke again, it was only for air. Naruto pressed his forehead to Sasuke's neck and breathed him in, breathed in the moment, the realization, the truth he'd skipped past and skipped over and skipped away from himself—
"I don't want to leave," Naruto whispered, and it was desperate. "I don't want to go. I don't want to—"
Naruto wrenched himself back up, heart heavy and cold—
"Take me with you."
Naruto's brain screeched to a halt.
"And when I leave," Sasuke continued, eyes glittering with emotion, "come with me."
Naruto breathed in, shuddering—
And nodded. And nodded again, and again, and again, and again, pressing his face down into Sasuke's neck and wondering why in the world he was crying, heaving in breaths and clutching Sasuke to him like he had when they had woken up, side by side, missing an opposite arm—
"I love you," he cried, and it felt like he'd been holding it in for a hundred years, "I love you, Sasuke, I—don't leave me again, please don't leave me again—"
"I won't," Sasuke whispered, voice raw and thick and trembling. "I never will."