It's a bit like ownership, if ownership is a warm, dull feeling in the pit of the stomach that won't go away no matter how many times they fight, no matter how many times he finds himself with his nose bloody and his hands raw. But he's felt like this for years, since before Sasuke returned from Sound, when they fought for their lives and yet the other boy still couldn't kill him, couldn't kill him. Orochimaru's eyes still laugh distantly in Naruto's mind, but Sasuke is back, Sasuke is back and that's all that matters anymore.
He still doesn't understand his bizarre friendship with Sasuke, the way he alternately wants to spend every waking moment with him and yet pound his face into the dirt, and the way Sasuke provokes him constantly and yet smiles while doing so, as if he'd missed all of this. But he smiles and nods and goes along with it, and so when he trips over Sasuke's sleeping body on his way to the bathroom one morning, he doesn't even blink.
He's moved on and brushing his teeth when he realizes that Sasuke spent the night at his house.
When he emerges from the bathroom, Sasuke is awake and sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and looking rumpled. "Why are you here?" Naruto demands, but he knows he's going to get a bullshit answer.
"There was someone suspicious sneaking around your apartment, dumbass," Sasuke replies with his usual eloquence. "I was going to catch him."
'It's awfully hard to catch yourself,' Naruto thinks grumpily as he pours milk into his cereal. He says aloud, "I can take care of myself! I can totally whup you in a fight and you know it!" Sasuke sniffs disdainfully and Naruto pours milk in his hair.
Sasuke has his head in the sink before Naruto can blink, and the blond boy laughs for hours afterwards about "pretty boys" and "vanity", but Sasuke's just relieved that his hair didn't get sticky from someone's stupidity. Through breakfast Naruto flicks cereal at Sasuke, who ignores him to eat a piece of toast, and Naruto is surprised at how incredibly normal it all feels.
When Sasuke leaves after breakfast, the apartment seems quiet and cold.
Naruto catches Sasuke staring at him while on a mission and trips over a tree branch, falling to the forest floor in shock. Sasuke lights next to him, looking more pissed off than concerned, and Naruto reaches out and grabs his ankle, pulling him down with him.
"Moron, you can't even jump through the trees right after five years?" Sasuke taunts with a smirk. Naruto wants to punch the smirk off his pretty-boy face, but instead settles for tackling him into the dirt.
"Why are you always trying to challenge me?!" he growls as they wrestle across the floor. Sasuke says nothing but eventually pins Naruto beneath him, breathing hard and staring down at him, and Naruto finds it funny that his cheeks turn so red from such simple exercise. Obviously Sasuke is out of shape, but he still won, and Naruto swears up at him creatively.
"I suppose I'm just the superior ninja," Sasuke smirks and rolls away. "We've lost time. Let's get going."
Naruto can't help but notice the looks Sasuke gives him after that, the glances out of the corner of his eye, and paranoia begins to build. Is he exhibiting signs of Kyuubi? Does he have something on his face? Is Sasuke mentally mocking the orange color of his uniform in his head? Is Sasuke trying to be friendly but instead coming off as creepy because he has no social skills whatsoever?
By the time they've reached their goal, stolen the scrolls, and are heading back to Konoha, Naruto still doesn't know the answer. He does know that he caught Sasuke looking at him fifteen times and that something was very very off about the whole thing.
But maybe Sasuke is trying to be friendly, so Naruto does the logical thing and encourages him. "Come with me to get ramen!" he crows when they return to Konoha early the next evening. "You can pay!"
"Dumbass. I'm going home to shower." Naruto is amazed that somehow Sasuke can turn the act of showering into a personal insult against him, but Sasuke has had years to build his "diss Naruto" repertoire and by now, he can turn anything into some sort of subtle jibe.
Naruto is not nearly so smooth and sometimes feels as though he's yelling at a brick wall. "You can shower after ramen!" he persists, because Sasuke doesn't like people and yet seems to like Naruto, so encouraging his friendship is the healthiest thing. Plus, Naruto doesn't know what he'd do if Sasuke ran off again.
Tear the countryside apart looking for him, probably.
"I'm not paying," Sasuke growls.
"But you'll go with me, right?" Naruto is victorious and Sasuke scowls darkly, setting off in the direction of Ichiraku without another word. Naruto runs to catch up, grabs Sasuke's arm, and talks his ear off the whole way there.
'Ramen is good,' Naruto thinks as he slurps down a bowl. 'Ramen is good, but Sasuke is better.' The boy in question is still scowling, watching Naruto eat and purposefully not touching his own food just to spite him. Naruto knows that Sasuke gets his ramen boxed up and eats it later on days like this, but he chooses not to let him know that he knows his secret. If Sasuke doesn't want to admit to Naruto that he likes ramen, that's his own problem.
"Sasuke-kuuuun~!" Naruto finishes his bowl just as Sasuke is thrown forward onto the counter from a glomp onto his back. Since Sasuke has returned to Konoha from Sound, Ino has returned to her stalkerish advances, but Sasuke is even less interested in the blonde than he was when he was thirteen and his ambivalence is obvious to everyone except Ino herself, who has set herself up to be the next Uchiha bride.
"Ino." Sasuke says flatly. "I'm on my way out. If you'll excuse me." He throws one last glare at Naruto, completely ignores Ino, and quickly makes his exit.
"Someday he'll figure it out," Ino sighs dramatically, flopping on the counter. "Everybody else is suspicious of him. I'm the only one who could possibly love him now." Something in this statement seems off to Naruto.
"You want him to choose you because…he has no other choice?" Naruto knows hardly anything about people, but he's pretty sure that's not the ideal circumstances for dating anyone. Ino's sad smile confirms his suspicions.
"I know he doesn't care about me," she says with mock cheer. "But I love him. And I'll take what I can get." She slips off the stool and walks back down the street, but her gait has slowed and if Naruto were more perceptive he might have noticed that she was starting to cry. However, Naruto is Naruto, and he shrugs and finishes his ramen instead. Girls are so weird, and Ino's wrong, because as long as Sasuke is Naruto's friend, he'll never settle for a girl he doesn't care about. Naruto knows this.
He trips over Sasuke again the next morning. During their morning sparring session, Naruto counts nine odd corner-of-the-eye looks and seriously begins to worry that his whiskers are becoming more prominent. He'd poked at them in the mirror the night before and they hadn't looked any different, but Sasuke has sharper eyes and maybe he sees something that Naruto missed.
During the afternoon, while Naruto is helping Tsunade with her Hokage duties, he spots Sasuke in the main compound five separate times. He always seems to be doing something important, like running files or talking to Genma, so Naruto doesn't bother him, but he smiles and waves and yells "SASUKE!" at the top of his lungs and isn't even insulted when Sasuke winces every single time. After he's done, he comes home to find Sasuke asleep on his couch, and wonders how they've invaded each other's lives so completely. Maybe it's just a 'best friends' thing, although more often than not they're also 'worst enemies', which makes Sasuke snoring on his old beat-up couch and sleeping on his floor at night even more disorienting.
He kicks him awake. "Why don't you sleep on the couch at night?" he demands. "Then I won't trip over you on the way to the bathroom."
"Dumbass," Sasuke grumbles sleepily. "If I sleep on the couch and an intruder enters, he won't trip over me either." Naruto realizes that Sasuke is just a bit demented and it's probably better to make no sudden movements, but before he can refer him to Tsunade for a mental health evaluation or convince him that Sasuke, there really is no intruder around my apartment except you, he's back asleep and Naruto frowns and cooks dinner (ramen).
He's halfway through eating when, "don't you eat anything else? That can't be healthy," comes from behind him.
"I love ramen!" Naruto chirps. "You like it too! You bring your leftovers from Ichiraku home and keep them in your fridge, and eat them later when you think I'll never find out! But I know!" Sasuke is flushed again and Naruto wonders vaguely if his apartment is overly hot.
"I-I just can't have an appetite with you slurping away like that," Sasuke growls. "You sound like a pig."
"You have a dumb head," Naruto shoots back, looking extremely proud of himself despite the eye roll his insult receives. "Did you know Ino is apparently the only person in the village who will ever love you? I guess being a traitor even destroys the rep of Konoha's golden child." He slurps down more ramen while Sasuke's scowl deepens perceptively.
"That's not true," he says darkly. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here." And then he's gone, just like that, and Naruto feels like he won the argument even though in truth they're merely tied.
Two weeks of having a Sasuke-shaped fixture in his apartment pass before the clue train hits Naruto at full force. Sasuke stares at him all the time and makes funny choking faces when Naruto walks around in a towel and his face turns red at the oddest moments and it isn't until he sees Kotetsu and Izumo being…friendly in the hallway that it hits Naruto. The reason Sasuke is stalking him is not because he's socially awkward and stubborn and slightly demented, but because Sasuke has a thing for him.
The next morning when he wakes up and trips over him, instead of continuing onto the bathroom like normal, Naruto jumps on top of the other boy and yells, "WHY ARE YOU SO WEIRD?!"
Sasuke wakes up with a squeaked "moron!" and stares at Naruto with wild eyes. "What?"
"You want me to be your Uchiha bride!" Naruto accuses, pointing wildly. Sasuke blinks, then smirks lazily.
"You'd look like shit in a wedding dress," he says. "Can this wait another ten minutes?" And then he turns over onto his side and goes back to sleep.
Naruto brushes his teeth with gusto and emerges from the bathroom to find Sasuke sitting blearily at the kitchen table, his back to the pantry, sorting through the paper. It's so domestic he wonders how he didn't see it before, and so he says nothing and simply goes into the pantry and gets out some instant ramen.
"You're going to make yourself sick," Sasuke sneers without turning around or looking up from the paper. "Can I trust you not to burn the toast today, or is that too far beyond your mental capacity?" Naruto no longer cares about the insults, because Sasuke has a thing for him and obviously this is like pulling a girl's pigtails. Instead he makes him toast and burns it on purpose.
Sasuke makes a face but chokes it down anyway, and that's when Naruto realizes that it's love.
"I guess I will, then," he comments while Sasuke is finishing up his orange juice.
"Will what, dumbass?" Sasuke asks without looking up. Naruto puts on his cutest face and beams at him.
"Be your Uchiha bride!"
Sasuke spits the orange juice onto the table and has a violent coughing fit while Naruto laughs gleefully and makes no move to help him. Finally, he stops gasping for air and glares at him.
"Idiot," he says, and for the first time Naruto can hear the fondness in his tone. "You're a boy. You can't be a bride."
"Oh." Naruto thinks this over. "Then you can be my Uzumaki bride!"
Sasuke makes the mistake of taking another drink of orange juice just as Naruto's brilliance reemerges and ends up choking on it all over again. Naruto waits patiently for him to stop coughing.
"Stop saying stupid shit," Sasuke coughs out, his eyes watering. "You're going to kill me." He stands up, pours the rest of his orange juice in the sink, and leaves.
Naruto frowns and truly wonders how Sasuke missed that he was serious.
Naruto is not the smoothest of boys, and so instead of bringing the topic back up to Sasuke face to face again, he instead starts dropping broad, non-subtle hints.
"Girls are so annoying," he comments loudly to Shikamaru while Sasuke is loitering nearby. "I don't think I really like breasts." Shikamaru looks at him oddly.
"…I don't care," he says evenly before escaping into the grocery store.
Naruto glances discreetly at where Sasuke had been standing and is rewarded with Sasuke staring at the sky with wide eyes.
The next day when Naruto asks Kakashi if there's a book in the Icha Icha series about best friends becoming 'something more', Sasuke is passing them carrying papers in the hallway. He stumbles and papers fly everywhere.
"Sasuke!" Naruto exclaims as if he'd just seen him there. "Did the big bad papers try to kill you?"
"Shut up, moron," Sasuke mutters as he carefully picks up every report he'd dropped.
Kakashi watches them thoughtfully.
That night, Naruto purposefully gets out of the shower dripping wet, ties a towel loosely around his waist, and goes around the apartment "looking for shampoo", watching out of the corner of his eye as Sasuke's face alternately turns blue and purple. Sasuke throws the full shampoo bottle at him and as Naruto goes to catch it before it beans him in the head, his towel falls.
The choking noises coming from Sasuke's side of the room are encouraging, Naruto thinks smugly as he finishes soaping his hair.
It all comes to a head when Sasuke tackles him to the ground one day during training. "Why can't you get a crush like a normal person?" he growls into Naruto's ear, and Naruto is so confused at the hypocrisy of the statement that he momentarily forgets what Sasuke is implying. Finally it hits him.
"I have a crush on you?!" he squeaks. "You're such a freak!"
"Naruto, you have the subtlety of a bull in a china shop," Sasuke explains patiently, as if to a small child. Naruto glares angrily up at him.
"Well at least I don't stalk people!" he yells, surging upward and throwing Sasuke flat on his back, reversing their positions. "And stare at them all creepy-like and sleep on their bedroom floors and act like their nagging wife. Why do you care if I eat ramen every morning?!"
"It's disgusting," Sasuke hisses, glaring up at him. "What exactly are you implying, Naruto?!"
"I'm implying that you're crazy," Naruto retorts.
"At least I'm not a complete dumbass." And Naruto plants Sasuke's face in the dirt, because Sasuke is a pain in the ass and he is never going to live happily ever after with this asshole, no matter how much events suggest otherwise. Sasuke kicks upward and attempts to knock Naruto flat on his back, but Naruto twists like a cat and lands on his feet with a kunai clutched in one hand.
"You suck at confessing your love!" Naruto crows, throwing the kunai at him. Sasuke dodges expertly, appears behind Naruto, and slams him against a tree. Naruto lies still for a minute, catching his breath as Sasuke watches him warily.
"Idiot, this was about your crush, not mine," he finally growls.
Naruto picks himself off the floor and laughs. "So you admit you have one!"
"I never said that." Sasuke is as composed as best he can be, and Naruto realizes short of stripping naked and running around, he's never going to get Sasuke to admit anything, so he starts working on the zipper of his jumpsuit. He gets it halfway down his chest before Sasuke notices. "What are you doing?!" The panic in his voice is barely contained and Naruto laughs.
"It's getting awfully hot…" he begins, but then Sasuke tackles him from behind and pins him to the ground again. Naruto's pretty sure he has dirt in his hair and he's also pretty sure that he doesn't give a damn.
"If you lower that zipper, I'll have to kill you."
"Why? You see something you like?"
Sasuke punches him and Naruto punches back, and they're wrestling again, rolling in the dirt. Naruto has a nasty bruise on one arm and Sasuke is vaguely limping by the time they finish kicking the shit out of each other, but Naruto can't help grinning anyways.
"Are you still going to turn purple when I get out of the shower?" he can't resist asking. "It makes you look like a plum."
Sasuke steels himself and does not kick the shit out of Naruto again, mostly because his leg hurts. "I don't turn purple," he mutters.
"Sometimes it's blue," Naruto helps.
"I'm always normal-colored," Sasuke snaps. "Stop making stupid things up to justify your crush."
"Your crush is bigger than my crush."
"I'm not getting into this with you." Sasuke crosses his arms and begins to limp back to Naruto's apartment, and halfway there Naruto takes pity on him and offers his arm. Sasuke looks about to refuse, then thinks better of it and slings his arm around Naruto's shoulders. Sasuke smells nice and Naruto gets him home and settles him on the couch and is about to go get him ice for his leg when Sasuke yanks on his collar hard. Naruto opens his mouth to complain when smooth lips cover his.
He blinks. A lot.
Sasuke is new at this kissing thing, but so is Naruto, and there's nothing like trying to touch your rival's tonsils after beating them into the dirt. Naruto could spend every day like this for the rest of his life, especially with Sasuke's hand yanking down the still-half-undone zipper of his jumpsuit and running his fingers along skin, and Sasuke's tongue invading his mouth.
Naruto breaks apart in surprise as Sasuke yanks his jacket down and stares at him, breathing heavily.
"Dumbass, my leg hurts," Sasuke says as if nothing has just happened. "Have you ever heard of ice?"
"Your crush is still bigger than mine!" Naruto calls over his shoulder as he goes into the kitchen, and Sasuke rolls his eyes.
Naruto wakes up the next morning when one of Sasuke's cold hands happens to touch his stomach, and he screams loud enough to wake the neighborhood. Sasuke smothers him with a pillow.
"Shut up! What is wrong with you?!"
"Oh. It's you." Naruto smiles sleepily and wraps his arms around Sasuke's chest, snuggling happily. "It's okay, you're allowed."
"Idiot, what are you…Naruto, wake up, stop nuzzling me I'm not some sort of dog…Naruto." But it is no use. Naruto is sound asleep.
Sasuke decides to get his revenge, and lays him carefully out on the floor.
Then he trips over him on his way to the bathroom.