Teamwork 2

Notes: Bit shorter than the previous chapter, sorry. (except not really, because Sasuke was a bitch to write in Teamwork; he wanted me to write one-shot naughty PWPs instead)
Beta by Saro Lynne, whose fics you should read, like, NOW, because they rock almost as much as her. X3

Chapter 2: Hug Her Damn It (Sasuke)

"The paint's supposed to go on the walls, not on the floor, idiot."

Sitting on the wooden guardrail that lined the open side of the corridor going to his apartment, Sasuke glared disdainfully at Naruto. Naruto was currently attempting to cover a large scorch mark on the wall with sky-blue paint. So far there was more on his face and hair and shirt than there was on the floor, and there was more on the floor than there was over the wall. The burnt stretch of wall was rather noticeable, proof that the trap Sasuke had placed on his door had been effective. Naruto was going to need hours to cover it all up. It was his own fault for not remembering Sasuke's warning anyway.

Sasuke was, in fact, rather entertained. He would have been more entertained if he hadn't been utterly unnerved by the knowledge that his small apartment was full of boxes and that there was a sleeping bag laid out on the couch.

He'd come back from the hospital the day before, to find his bare, quiet apartment utterly invaded by Naruto's presence. He hadn't thought he would mind so much -- well, he'd known he would mind the noise and the presence when he wanted to be alone, but Naruto had shown a considerable amount of understanding when Sasuke had locked himself in his bedroom. The blond had been quiet --or had tried to at least.

But Sasuke had been ready for that sort of annoyance. He hadn't been ready to see Naruto drag himself in the kitchen in the morning, wearing only low-riding pajama pants and that ridiculous nightcap he'd owned forever. He hadn't been expecting the sheer importance of that stupid, stupid problem of how to behave around the idiot. Whether to insult him or not -- that one had solved itself on its own, because Naruto was eminently insultable and tended to look at him weird when he was polite anyway; whether to stare at his bare chest openly or covertly, whether to nod his good morning, or ignore him, or --kiss him hello maybe?

Somehow, he couldn't imagine kissing Naruto casually. In the middle of sex, when it was more about biting and licking and fucking with their tongues, no problem --but just like that? No way. It was too -- too... weird. Too much what a lovey-dovey girl would do, and he was a man, and Naruto was his rival before anything else.

They hadn't done anything even peripherally related to sex either. It wasn't just that his still healing ribs didn't put him in the right frame of mind, or that Naruto had so far, during their whole forty hours of cohabitation, managed to annoy him at least twice an hour, which made seeing him as someone to be desired rather unlikely. Without Sakura there, at least for their first time after "the night", it just felt ... wrong.

Anyway, Naruto grinned maybe a bit more than he usually did, but apart from that he behaved like usual. So long as he wasn't expecting flowers and candlelit dinners, all was fine with Sasuke. Paying Sakura a bit of special attention was going to be hard enough; if they both expected him to romance them, he'd probably run off.

"Argh, I don't get it. It wasn't so difficult to paint the Hokage monument, and I did THAT suspended on a rope!"

Naruto's shirt was now more blue than orange. The combination was jarring. Sasuke decided not to tell him about the yet-to-be-deactivated seal that was intended to repel exploding notes and alterations to the structure of the walls, and made sticking anything to them more difficult.

"What are you sneering for, bastard?"

"You're an eyesore," he replied offhandedly. "More so than usual."

"And you're a stuck-up, sarcastic son of a bitch."

"I try."

Naruto paused, blinked at him, and started to laugh. Sasuke allowed himself a faint smirk.

"I'm gonna need to warn everyone that you actually have a sense of humor. Though no one will believe me."

"They'll run away screaming at the sight of you, anyway," Sasuke replied, giving his orange-and-blue shirt a pointed look.

"Okay, okay! Here, you happy?" Muttering in annoyance, Naruto whipped off his shirt. Of course he also managed to spread paint on his chest and to flick the brush wrong, ending up with a splattering of little sky-blue dots running up his biceps to end at the base of his neck. Sasuke knew that paint was toxic. It didn't prevent him from wanting to lick it off.

"... I think I see what you meant, Sakura."

Ino had paused in mid-step, her foot hovering over the landing. Sasuke frowned; he'd been so distracted by Naruto's antics that he had dismissed her approach, subconsciously deciding that she was a neighbor or something. A pink head popped up behind her and Sakura appeared, blinking quizzically.

"What do you -- oh."

Naruto was bouncing toward them, and Sasuke knew him enough to know that he was grinning. "Sakura-chan!"

Naruto paused before her, almost bouncing in place. He was probably wondering if he could, or should, kiss her. Ino's presence seemed to be a deterrent, though.

"Hey, Ino. What did you mean?" he asked the blonde girl, scratching his head.

"Oh, Sakura said you had... grown up. I can see that now." She gave Naruto a flirtatious leer. Sasuke scowled and slid off his perch cautiously.

"Sakura," he said quietly in greeting.

Sakura looked up at him and gave him a shy smile. There was something off about it -- about her... and he wasn't quite sure, but Ino watched him come closer as if she wanted to hover protectively.

"What's wrong?"

Naruto blinked, and stared at Sakura. "Eh?"

"What makes you think--" she started, looking away quickly. That pretty much cinched it.

"You didn't say nothing was wrong. What's wrong?"

"Uhm. Well. It's..." She sighed, quietly, and gave Naruto and him a worried look. "Let's go inside."

He glanced at Naruto quickly. The blond was frowning now.

Sasuke pushed his door open and pulled Naruto's sleeping bag off the couch, rolling it up and throwing it over a stack of boxes. Ino and Sakura followed, Ino looking around shamelessly. Sasuke frowned -- having Naruto invade his space was already annoying, but having Ino poke at things...

"Put that down," he grunted, and tugged a scroll out of her hands. "Sit."

'And stay out of the way' was left unsaid, though not unheard, if one judged by her expression.

"Don't mind him, he's in prickly bastard mode," Naruto commented cheerfully as he walked in.

"Put paint on anything and die," Sasuke retorted dryly before disappearing in the kitchen.

"See? He's been like that since he came back from the hospital. Grouchy prick."

"I think he can still hear you, Naruto," Ino replied in an amused whisper.

"I can," Sasuke commented as he walked back in, carrying glasses and a bottle of apple juice.

"S'okay, I didn't say anything he doesn't know I think," Naruto replied with a chuckle. He was sitting on a chair. Sasuke almost kicked him off, then realized he was using his pajama top to cover the seat and decided not to bitch.

"Drip on anything..." he warned anyway as he put the bottle and glasses down on a nearby box.

"And die, yeah, I know."

Ino was watching him and Naruto way too closely. He didn't like it.

"There's no tea left?" Naruto asked.

"I'm not your maid. Make it yourself."

Naruto rolled his eyes. "It's a wonder how you can be so visibly well bred and yet still be such a prick about it."

Sakura sighed and started to get up. "I can--"

"No." Sasuke crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "You can sit and tell us what's wrong."

Sakura winced and seemed to brace herself. "My mother knows about Naruto and the baby. I told her yesterday. I'm staying over at Ino's for now."

Even Naruto didn't need any help deciphering that one. "She didn't take it too well, did she?" he replied, grimacing, and reached out to touch her shoulder. There, he seemed to remember that he had paint on his fingers, and paused.

Sakura gave him a crooked smile and sighed. "No, not too well."

"You should have started with the bit about you and Sasuke, that woulda made her happier... hell, you could have forgotten to mention me entirely -- ack!"

Sakura's eyes were dangerously narrowed. "No."

"But it wouldn't bother me--"

"It would bother ME. Besides, knowing my mother's friends, she'd end up hearing about it anyway."

"What did your father say?" Sasuke asked.

Sakura looked guilty for a second. "... He wasn't there when it happened."

"You will talk to him privately?" Sasuke asked. He did not understand how one could fear one's mother, and go to one's father to play mediator, but not all families were like his had been. Maybe Sakura's father would be more accommodating than her mother had been.

"I'll write, I think. It's easier to find the words, and at least he won't interrupt me."

"He would?"

She shrugged. "No, but he'd make up his mind about three sentences in, and would spend the rest of my speech wiping off his glasses and waiting for me to finish."

He knew her well enough to notice that she was covering up a lot of fear and sadness under her annoyance. But he didn't know what to do about that new moral obligation to comfort her. He'd never been good at comforting. When Naruto was in a funk, he sneered at him until he got pissed enough to fight back, but that wouldn't work with Sakura. It would probably make her feel worse; she took him way too seriously. When she was depressed, she usually went to Ino -- who had probably done everything she could, but it apparently wasn't enough -- or her mother -- and her mother wasn't an option. Frowning, he looked at Naruto, who looked just as lost as he felt.

"For god's sake! Hug her or something!"

Ino was giving them both a disgusted look. Sasuke glared back. She was so --

"Nosey, I know. Listen -- sorry, forehead-girl, I gotta jet, I'm meeting Chouji and Shika at the dango stand," she said as she got on her feet, pretending to check her watch. "Now you two, I hope you're not as macho in private as you are in public -- though it could be funny in bed, I guess -- but just hug her or something. We'll talk this evening, Sakura-chan -- and YOU--" she pointed at Naruto threateningly -- "had better walk her back. See you!" And with that, she hurried out, grinning as if she was very pleased with her own cleverness and didn't care who believed her or not.

Sasuke was left blinking in her wake. Disgruntled, he looked over at Naruto, still gaping, and Sakura, who looked deeply embarrassed by her friend's unsubtle behavior.

"... so you're sleeping over at her place?" he asked, just because he didn't know what to say. "How long?"

"I don't know. As long as I'm not okay with mom, I guess," she replied quietly, looking down at her hands, fisted in her lap.

"Why don't you stay here?" Naruto asked, absently scratching dried flakes of paint off his fingers.

"Where would I put her, under the kitchen table?" Sasuke snapped back, uneasy with the subject. They were moving too fast, but he didn't know how to tell them that without hurting them.

"In your bed," Naruto replied matter-of-factly. "Not saying you should share," he added before Sasuke could start bristling, "the bed's way too narrow to be comfortable for two. But you could sleep on the couch, and I'd get the kitchen table."

Sakura winced. "Um. Naruto... That would be nice, but... if it got back to mom that I'm living with you two, she would take it... badly. Like I've made my choice, and don't care what she thinks anymore. You see?"

Naruto frowned, visibly disappointed, but nodded. "I guess, yeah..."

"Besides, this apartment is too small for the three of us -- and we still need to work out a way to share the bathroom, or I can predict a few wars over it," she added with a poor attempt at a smile.

"I can start looking at larger places this afternoon," Sasuke offered. "Even Naruto should be able to paint something without supervision."

She nibbled on her lip thoughtfully. "We should talk more about what we want first... And total up how much money we can spend. And... stuff."

It was a testament to how out of whack she was, that she would resort to "stuff" instead of giving them a precise list of what they would need to do and in which order. She was usually the one who made the plans and took care of the little details. A good thing that he wasn't prone to nervous fidgeting, because he would have fidgeted. Maybe, he tried to tell himself, she would feel better if she thought about the little things...

Or maybe she would feel better if she got a hug, like that blonde harpy had suggested. But -- fuck. What was he supposed to do, actually walk up to her and put his arms around her, just like that? It would be different if she came to him, but he could see that she wasn't going to. He glared at Naruto, silently urging the idiot to do something, anything.

"Uhm. About the bathroom, I think I'm gonna hop into the shower, get that stuff off. It's starting to itch something awful..." Naruto didn't wait for a reply, just gave them a sheepish little smile and disappeared behind the door.

... Traitor. Sasuke was going to smother him with his own pillow. He glanced at Sakura, feeling the awkward silence stretch between them, thick and heavy with things he only half-understood.

He watched her lift her glass to her lips, just to give herself a reason not to look at him, and in two steps, was standing by the couch. He sat down on the other side. There was still a respectable space between them -- Naruto could have squeezed his butt there and only nudged them a little -- but that was all he could do. He felt awkward and annoyed enough as it was.

She put her glass down, deliberately. The shower had started in the bathroom, but it didn't cover the little thwack of glass meeting wood.

He knew that their positions mirrored each other's, leaning forward, elbows on their thighs, fingers interlaced, eyes hidden under long bangs. But he didn't know what to say, what to do, any more than she apparently did. He wondered if they would always need Naruto to break the wall of dignity, social conventions and standoffishness between them. For a second, he almost regretted the way she had disregarded his unease with casual touch when they'd been younger, the way she had glomped onto his arm so easily. She respected his comfort zone scrupulously nowadays, when he would have needed her to push past it.

"...Are you having any trouble with... your health?" Argh, that was lame, and sounded awkward to boot, but he already knew about her emotional state. "You look ... a little pale." Lame, lame, lame. Stupid. Nosey too. Mother-hennish almost. The kind of observation he abhorred when directed at him... but that other people labeled "caring". She needed caring right now, and while he couldn't have done openly, honestly caring if his life depended on it, he could at least manage an underplayed approximation.

She looked surprised for a second, then smiled faintly. He relaxed a little. She was used to his understatements by now. "Oh. It's just the nerves, I think," she admitted quietly.

"Nothing else?" he asked, less hesitant already. She hadn't bitten off his head or looked hurt; it probably meant she didn't mind his questions.

"I felt a bit queasy during breakfast, but that's it. And it might be... well, just the nerves." She managed a guilty smile. Her fingers were knotted together in a white-knuckled tangle; it made him frown.

"Stop that," he admonished her, untangling her fingers firmly -- and only realizing that he had moved when he noticed that he was massaging her hands.

Well. She didn't seem to mind. Mildly disgruntled at himself, he kept going anyway, skillfully erasing all tension.

"... better?"

She nodded, not looking up, and leaned toward him. He tensed, then berated himself for tensing, and didn't even jump when her head landed on his shoulder.

His hand was caught between her back and the couch. It was uncomfortable. His excuses were as lame as Kakashi's worst ones, but that was his story and he was sticking to it. Besides, she hadn't asked why his arm was suddenly around her shoulders. It meant she didn't care. Or didn't mind. What the hell was Naruto doing under that shower anyway?

"How are your ribs?" she asked softly.

He shrugged, awkwardly because he didn't want to dislodge her head. "Fine." They were sore, and still hurt, and if he bent over too quickly or carelessly there was a good chance he'd break them, but he could ignore the ache and move around well enough.

"... oh."

"Healing fine," he amended, because he didn't like her subdued tone. "I'll be back to normal in a few days."

"... Okay."

She closed her eyes. Her lashes were dark red -- dark pink, more precisely. He'd never noticed before.

"They won't break so easily, you know," he commented gruffly, and pulled her a bit closer.

She relaxed, slowly, and he pretended not to notice the soft tug of her hand on his t-shirt. Silent, they listened to the noises Naruto made in the shower, huffing softly in amusement when he bumped into something and started to swear quietly. When he opened the door, his hair was still wet and his pants stuck to his skin, flushed pink by vigorous scrubbing. A few of his locks were still bluish.

"Back. Sorry..." He stared at them, falling silent, and Sasuke wondered what he was seeing. Wondered if Naruto felt like he was intruding. It made him want to pull back, for some reason.

"... I'm paint free now. Permission to hug, ma'am?" the blond asked, grinning innocently. It was a look that had never looked natural on him, but it was always amusing.

"If you want," she allowed, making an honest effort at smiling.

"Well, 'course I want," he commented, going over the arm of the couch to slide between Sakura and the cushions, incidentally pushing her closer against Sasuke. "Ino will kill me if I don't."

"And that's the only reason? I feel flattered," she replied with a pout.

"Okay, I was hoping I could get a grope or two out of it," he shot back, a wide, innocent, totally unbelievable grin on his face.

Sakura hit him over the head with a magazine.


[Moving Out] [Sparring and Flirting]