Teamwork 2

Beta: Thorough beta by the amazing Windshades.
This chapter merits its R-rating, yay! It starts with NaruSasu kissies, goes through SasuSaku cuteness, NaruSaku making out, and ends up with a good threesomely session. (if you're lucky I'll even write it instead of fading to black. XD)

Chapter 6: The Plan(Naruto)

/You've got two bitches and you still wake up alone. Train them better already./

Naruto blinked sleepily at the hollow in the mattress at his side, and pouted as he realized that he was indeed alone. The sheet only retained the barest hint of warmth. It figured; he was already surprised that he hadn't been kicked out during the night when Sasuke regained his senses and his usual attitude toward physical closeness. Naruto could hear the shower running, though; the bastard wasn't very far away.

/The pink slut is. What are you letting her live elsewhere for?/

Naruto winced as the fox threw memories of gutted females to the front of his mind, fetuses torn out -- when they hadn't been devoured. It was, apparently, a delicacy. /So very tender./ Kyuubi didn't think much of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

'No one's gonna eat the baby, furball. Humans don't eat each other,' he replied grouchily.

Kyuubi didn't seem very convinced. Naruto caught a flash of two vixens, a pink one and a blond one, curled together in a burrow, hiding from big bad predators. /Needs a male there/ he rumbled musingly. To protect them; and also to mount them a lot.

Naruto yawned, and tried not to think about bad stuff; it was too early in the morning. Besides, if he translated Kyuubi's vixens into humans... heh. Hehehe. Yeeah, he'd had that fantasy a couple of times in the last years. "Ino? Oh yeah, she's kinda hot, and Sakura and her... But it's either Ino or Sasuke; Sasuke won't share with her."

/He can't bear your kits either./

Naruto didn't care much for starting the morning by an argument with a voice in his head; besides, he already knew that Kyuubi viewed males as nothing more than toys. Fun toys, granted. He really shouldn't alienate Kyuubi at the moment; the demon was surprisingly sociable today, and there was no reason to waste the rare non-murderous moment.

"Ino would screech our ears out."

/Pink slut already does./

"Not half as much as Ino would; 'sides she and Sakura would bicker and fight all the time."

Contempt. /Fuck them until they're too tired to stand./

Naruto started laughing; he rather liked that suggestion. Purely rhetorically, of course.

Yeah, this would be a good day. Sakura's dad liked him, Sasuke had let Naruto and Sakura help him, and they were gonna fix Sakura's chakra problem. And Kyuubi was, as always, an asshole, but if Naruto laughed at it instead of getting offended and letting it weird him out, then it couldn't really bother him.

He rolled out of the bed with an easy grace -- the fox was still close, almost as if Kyuubi was looking over his shoulder -- and tripped on Sasuke's abandoned shoes. Gack! He caught himself on the door, wincing at the noise and his smarting palm. Should have known it was a fluke.

"What did you break?" Sasuke yelled from the bathroom.

"I didn't break anything! I just--" left a sooty imprint on his door. Damn it! He'd washed his hands, hadn't he? Yes, he had, at the station, and his face too... But not the rest of him. Of course, now that he was thinking about it, it started to itch.

The water cut off. "You just?" Sasuke repeated, suspicious. Naruto wondered where the soft-spoken, almost docile Sasuke from the night before had gone. Oh well, this one was more normal at least. A desperate Sasuke was a dangerously unpredictable Sasuke; Naruto was glad.

He was tired of yelling through a closed door, though. So he threw it open and stepped inside. "It was open!" Naruto chirped, and dodged hurriedly. The soap bounced off the wall over his head and left a wet, soapy trail in his hair on the way down.

Sasuke was glaring at him through the glass partition of the shower stall, his bare arm still hanging out through the door. "No, it was not."

"Oh well, it is now -- oh hey, you're naked."

Sasuke threw him a nasty glare, and slammed the sliding panel closed. "No shit, genius."

He was very naked. And wet. And his hair was sticking to his face. Damn that towel rack for blocking the rest of the view.

Though when Sasuke turned away to turn the water back on, it gave Naruto a nice view of his shoulder. And there was the warded curse seal on his neck; small, and part of the landscape by now, but surprisingly hard to ignore. Naruto dismissed the dark impulse to bite down on it, to scar over the mark of ownership with his own.

"So did you just barge in to peep on me, or did you actually have a goal in mind?"

"Maybe peeping was my goal," Naruto retorted, craning his neck to keep glancing back at Sasuke as he washed his hands at the sink.

"Don't make me stuff that soap up your ass, Naruto."

"Oh, bad idea. I hear it makes for terrible lube." He grinned innocently and pulled off his shirt, looking around for a washcloth. There was soot at the base of his neck, and more soot over his chest and under his armpits.

"I thought you were too good to bottom -- what are you doing?"

"Washing up."

"You can't wait your turn?" Sasuke groused, and finished rinsing himself off.

"But it itches NOW!" Naruto protested, rubbing more vigorously.

"Goddamnit -- here! I'm done. Now take a shower instead of dripping dirty water all over the floor."

Sasuke stomped out of the stall, his back stiff, and snatched a towel to dry himself off. He was saying something, about next times and kicking Naruto out and locking the door. Naruto wasn't all too sure of the details, actually. The towel was old and scratchy, and Sasuke's vigorous rubbing left his skin looking flushed. On Sakura, he would have called that shade just-got-molested...

... Hohoho.

"What are you -- let goMMPH!"

Sasuke growled into Naruto's mouth; Naruto laughed in response, and slipped his tongue between Sasuke's lips as deeply as he could go.

"What the fuck--" Sasuke sputtered angrily as he broke the kiss.

"Good morning, bastard!"

Naruto kissed him again, using his weight to back him against the half-open door. Sasuke started shoving him back, but then he slipped on the trail the wet soap had left on the tiles and bumped hard against the door, slamming it closed. Naruto didn't lose any time taking advantage of the opportunity.

Towel dumped on the floor, check. Chest to bare chest, check. Lower body -- damn it, Naruto was still wearing pants. It was kinda nice to know that Sasuke's lower body was bare, though. Lips -- oww, bastard bit hard. Hands...

...Well. Sasuke had to be distracted from biting his lips off, right?


... And now Sasuke was kissing back properly. Awesome how a good double hold on his butt changed things -- oh yeah...

"Moron... Gonna get me dirty again..."

"You can shower with me," Naruto proposed, mouthing his neck.

Sasuke shoved him off without warning. Naruto flailed; the same soapy puddle that had ambushed Sasuke had just turned on him. He somehow managed to grab the sink and the edge of the shower stall. "Hey!"

"That's enough 'good morning' for today," Sasuke growled, picked up his towel, and stomped out of the bathroom.

... Well, watching him walk off was nice, too. Naruto wasn't sure what he'd done, though. Oh well, this was still a good way to start the day. He kicked off his pants and stepped into the shower, whistling.

Sasuke's bedroom door was firmly closed when Naruto left the shower, but it didn't matter much, since Sasuke himself was in the kitchen. Still whistling, Naruto strutted his way to the couch and his personal stuff, his back to the counter.

He had been expecting an attack for 'forgetting his towel', and dodged the flying spatula easily, but the second of delay between his appearance and the attack made him grin anyway.

"That was sloppy, Sa-su-ke! Distracted?"

"... If in five seconds you're still naked, I'll throw you out of the window."

Naruto bent over the arm of the couch to pick up a shirt and briefs. "Aw, and you'd let people in the street get an eyeful? Some boyfriend you are! What if I get pawed at by old ladies?"

It was still weird to call Sasuke his boyfriend; they were best friends and teammates first. But it made Sasuke go all gruff to hide his embarrassment, so hey. Whatever worked.

"They're welcome to keep you. Hurry up, we're going to be late."

Naruto snickered, and jumped into his pants before joining Sasuke, and leaning over the counter to look in the kitchen. Sometimes, he wondered if it was truly alright for him to cling to Sakura-chan and Sasuke, physically at least; but he already knew that Sasuke wanted his body bad. He wondered if Sakura found him hot, too, or if she only loved him like a brother.

Well, not the incestuous kind. Or something.

"Hey, Sasuke?"

His teammate was by the fridge, frowning at the contents of a pot, and only grunted an acknowledgement.

"Would you have sex with me? I mean, just me, no Sakura."

Sasuke's back stiffened briefly, and he gave him a long, 'where the hell did that come from' look. Naruto grinned, waiting.

"...Maybe. If I was in the mood."

"Hah! You're such a prude." He dodged the ladle, guffawing. "What would it take to get you in the mood?"

"Keep bothering me and you'll see." Sasuke grunted at him.

"...Arguments turn you on? Ahaha! Why am I not surprised?"

Sasuke flung open a cupboard, slammed an instant ramen cup under Naruto's nose, and pushed the kettle at him. "Shut up, already."

Naruto grinned as he poured the hot water on his noodles, and pretended to forget about the conversation; right now the smell of his favorite food was a lot more interesting.

He watched with interest as Sasuke rolled and shaped onigiri from his rice. For all that Sasuke could cook simple stuff reasonably well, he rarely did it where anyone could see him.

"Is that a triangle or a square?" Naruto inquired as he finished his noodles. It was hard to mess up onigiri -- they were only plain rice with salt, wrapped in seaweed, and Sasuke wasn't bothering with several kinds of fillings -- but as for shaping them, he was a little sloppy.

Sasuke frowned and ignored him, apparently offended; Naruto decided to solve the matter by stretching out over the counter and stealing the faulty rice ball.

The ladle hit him soundly over the head, and he almost choked on his onigiri.

"When did I say any of these are for you?"

"Ow! Selfish." Glowering, Naruto swallowed hurriedly, and reached for a second one, glaring at Sasuke defiantly.

... Bastard grabbed the table and dragged it out of reach.

"Hey, that's cheating!"

Naruto was ignored again, as Sasuke finished rolling them and stuffing a few in a box to take along.

"... Would you have sex with only Sakura?"

Naruto snickered as one of the rice balls went "splurt" between Sasuke's clenched fingers, and grinned innocently when Sasuke whirled around to give him a death glare.

"What's with all the questions?"

"What? I want to know. 'Cause you see, I know you watch my ass, but I don't see you watch Sakura's all that often, so..."

... Oops. What had he just said now? Sasuke looked angry for real, not simply annoyed.

"So. What. You think I'm gay?"

Naruto shrugged, grimacing. "Not entirely, I mean you didn't seem to have a huge problem getting it up for her that night, but maybe you like boys more than girls. It's not a problem for me, I just wanna know if you think you need me there when you're with her."

"...In other words," Sasuke replied softly, "Do I need a cock up my ass to do her?"

Oh, damnit. "I'm just asking! And you've never looked at most girls twice, so sue me for wondering if maybe you don't find any of them sexy."

Sasuke took a deep breath and released it slowly. "It isn't women in general I don't find sexy. It's the vapid twits who shower in perfume, paint their face so much I wouldn't recognize them without it, and think that shoving my face in their cleavage will make me lose my head."

Naruto scratched his head. How could he not appreciate pretty, curvy girls, and soft, inviting smiles, and cute giggles and squeals, and breasts! How could he not like breasts -- um. Yeah. "...So... you don't like girly girls."

Naruto huffed; Sakura had some pretty feminine sides, and while she had sacrificed a lot of them to become a better ninja, she still wasn't naturally inclined to be... un-girly. Naruto liked her like that.

"You'd want Sakura more if she tried to look pretty less often and to kick ass more, is that it?"

Sasuke looked away briefly, and Naruto sighed.

"I'm not going to ask her to wear potato sacks and shave her head."

"Well, you better not!" Naruto retorted with a pout. "...Are you sure you're not gay? I mean, if you don't even like to see her boobs--"

"Did I say that? I like them just fine, it's just --" Sasuke clamped his jaws shut, turned away stiffly and washed the smashed rice off his hand.

Naruto cackled. "Just what?"

"Not everyone's a raging pervert who gets off on ogling people in the street."

"So you don't watch?"

"It's called discretion, maybe you've heard of it."

Naruto crowed in triumph. "So you DO watch!"

Sasuke gave him a disgusted look and stuffed his lunchbox in his pack. "This is the stupidest conversation I've ever had with you."

"No way, the stupidest one was about Kakashi-sensei's mask and how he eats through it."

Sasuke shouldered him away from the counter and stomped toward the door. Laughing, Naruto followed, jumping on one foot then the other one as he put on his sandals. He grabbed his own bag on the way and stepped out, waiting by the balustrade while Sasuke locked the door. There were a few white, puffy clouds in the sky, and a light breeze made the leaves of the tree in the courtyard dance; the day promised to be beautiful. A good thing; their mission of the day was going to have them jogging to the next town over to deliver messages for various businesses.

He waved jovially at the Chuunin who was spying on them from the next roof, and considered with some amusement that Tsunade must have found some great leverage in her permanent battle with her counselors; now the days he was under watch were a lot rarer than the days without. Anyway, they left him alone when he was with Kakashi-sensei or some other responsible person, and the annoyance was so minor that he didn't feel like bothering to be annoyed. He suspected that the person who kept him under watch did so as much to nag Tsunade with stuff that she had to pretend to ignore, as because they were really worried he'd lose it and start rampaging. He wasn't going to let them score a point against the old hag off him.

... Though if he wanted to molest Sasuke or Sakura one of these days, he'd better remember to do so with the blinds closed; neither of his teammates was much into exhibitionism, as far as he knew. ... Oh hey, maybe he should ask them, later.

"What's so funny?"

Naruto realized that he was grinning, and grinned a little wider. "It's a nice day." Yep; nice weather, a mission that would get them back on the road, Sasuke out of his funk, and a solution to Sakura's health problems in sight. A very nice day.

Sasuke huffed and started down the stairs. Naruto followed, throwing an arm around his shoulders.

"Are you still annoyed about the boobs conversation?"

"Only if you start it again."

"Okay, okay. So you're of the 'more than a handful is a waste' school of thought, and I'm with the 'bigger is better' crowd. At least we can agree on what makes a nice ass, right?"

Sasuke shrugged out of Naruto's hold and glowered. "What's with you and girls today? Have you forgotten to jerk off for the last month or what?"

"We could talk about boys, but I haven't thought as much about it."

Sasuke actually growled. "Yes, I got it, you're straight as a ruler, I'm just a fluke -- or maybe just girly enough for you."

Naruto blinked, startled. "What? No! I just like girls better in general, but it isn't as if you're the only boy I've ever -- guh. Of course you're a boy, I mean you're pretty, but that's just your face and you're gonna kill me, aren't you."

Now Sasuke looked put-upon, and tired. Very tired. "... I'm not pretty."

"Uh -- don't worry," he replied as they reached the end of the stairs, "Sakura is still prettier."

Sasuke threw him an unfriendly look, but these came standard and Naruto ignored it. So long as he kept replying, they were still bantering.

"Yes," Sasuke growled out through gritted teeth, "and Sakura also has breasts -- should I grow some to please you, Naruto-sama?"

"Well, you'd look weird with huge knockers, but maybe GACK! I was kidding -- oww, oww!"

Naruto squirmed on the ground, trying to get out of the hold, but Sasuke only put more weight on the foot in the middle of his back and twisted his arm a little farther back.

"Come on, Sasuke, just because I think you'd look nice with tits...!"

"...Ah... Good morning?"

Naruto craned his neck, and grinned up at Sakura. She was watching them, and from there he couldn't tell if she looked more jaded or annoyed, or something else. "Hiya, Sakura-chan!"

"Hello, Naruto... Sasuke-kun."

She gave Sasuke a quick worried look, then smiled. "I didn't think you'd leave so early..."

Huh. Sasuke was looking away from her; it probably bothered him that she still visibly worried about yesterday. Naruto could understand where she was coming from, though; last she'd seen the bastard, he hadn't been in such a good state. Naruto wasn't sure telling her about their plan in the middle of the street was a good idea -- he wasn't even sure they should tell her at all just yet. What if it didn't work? "Yeah, Sasuke rushed me out. I think he was scared for his onigiri -- oh hey, that reminds me, I gotta buy sandwiches for the road."

"Onigiri?" she repeated in surprise, glancing at Sasuke, and then at Naruto. Naruto grabbed her hand and pulled her along.

"Yep! They're not so bad, even if he always makes them with the same kind of fish. But he's not gonna sell them anytime soon," he added, smirking at Sasuke over his shoulder. "They're too ugly."

Sasuke snorted as he followed them. "They're not ugly. They're also not for you, idiot."

Sakura looked vaguely disappointed. "Oh."

"You're so selfish!" Naruto accused, pointing a finger at him.

Sasuke shrugged and looked away briefly. "Never said Sakura couldn't have any."

"What, just me?!"

Sasuke smirked at him. "Yes."

Naruto kept up the banter with Sasuke with the ease of a long habit, glad to see that Sakura was relaxing a little at their ritual exchange of insults. See? He's fine.

Sakura seemed a bit too subdued for his tastes, but then she'd probably spent the rest of the night fretting -- also, she faintly smelled like she'd gotten sick not too long ago; it was weak enough that he could have missed it, but she was still a bit too pale, too. He tried not to worry too much; Sasuke would find a way to make his idea work, and then she'd be safe.

In the meantime, Naruto reminded himself that not everyone could eat right after throwing up, and hid the food he'd just bought deep into his bag; she was turning green around the gills.


By the time night fell over the town, Naruto had delivered all his messages. Of course, it also meant that he came back last to the hotel; but he didn't care, because tomorrow he would get to do whatever he wanted while the rest of his team finished up their deliveries. It had been a good idea to take the restaurants and night clubs; they gave him longer hours to work with.

Kakashi was chatting quietly with Sakura over a cup of tea in the dining room. Naruto joined them in their secluded corner, slumping heavily on the closest chair.

"Hey. I'm back." He stretched his legs under the table and winced a little as his feet reminded him that they hated his guts. "Bastard not back yet? I thought I was the last..."

Sakura looked away; Naruto blinked.

"He's upstairs," Kakashi replied instead. "We're staying in a six-bed dormitory. So far we're not sharing with anyone, though."

Naruto pouted. "What, no separate rooms? Stingy..."

Kakashi smiled at him with unnerving cheerfulness. "Are you going to do anything that needs a private bedroom as opposed to a simple bed, Naruto?"


Sakura kicked him under the table.

"Ow! Uh. No, guess not." Naruto ruffled his hair, grinning uncomfortably. "What were you talking about?"

Sakura blushed a little, looking away, and Naruto blinked at her. Okay, there was something weird going on there. What would she talk about with Kakashi-sensei that she wouldn't want him to know?

"Nothing important," Kakashi replied smoothly. Naruto scowled, and opened his mouth to protest, but Kakashi beat him to it. "You've been running hard, I see. Go take a shower."

"Hey, what's that mean? I stink?"

Sakura grimaced. "Well, you don't smell of roses. In fact, you smell of -- tobacco?"

"And pot," Kakashi added helpfully, opening his book as if he wasn't concerned.

"Ah, yeah, my last stop was a strip joint."

Sakura leveled a flat glare at him that made him quake in his shoes. "Really."

Naruto gaped at her for a few seconds; caught off-guard by the unexpected possessiveness, he almost forgot he was in trouble. "I didn't watch! Promise. They were all old and saggy anyway -- uh. Gonna take that shower now."

Sakura still looked about to bash his head in; it made him feel like bouncing. "Yes, you do that."

Naruto couldn't resist; really, he couldn't. He paused with his hand on the back of his chair, ready to shove it between them to protect himself, and asked with a wide grin, "Wanna wash my back?"

Of course, taking off running didn't help the state of his feet, but hey! It was better than a fist to the head.

Still grinning, he found the right room somehow, and peeked in; three rows of bunk beds, one of them right in front of the window. They weren't going to use that one. Sasuke had taken over the top bed on the left and was sitting cross-legged in the corner, his back to the wall. He glared suspiciously at Naruto over the scroll he was reading, and then, recognizing him, immediately stopped paying attention.

"Yeah, good evening to you too, you jerk," Naruto groused as he dropped his bag on the bed under Sasuke's, and fished out a change of underwear and his bathing stuff. When he exited the room, Sasuke hadn't even moved at all. Naruto shrugged it off; he had more pressing concerns for now.

The shower wasn't as hot as he would have liked, but still warm enough to make him feel better -- though he was really getting tired of being on his feet. The towel wrapped around his shoulders, he trudged back to the room to put away his stuff, and paused between the bunk beds as he tried to decide; nap, or Sakura-chan and Kakashi? It was late, and there was a chance he wouldn't wake up until tomorrow...

"Put away that towel," Sasuke ordered from his perch, startling him.


"The towel. Put it away. And stand on the ladder."

Naruto stared up at his teammate, confused. "What?"

"Towel. Ladder. Now."

... O-kay. Whatever. He spread the towel over the windowsill and climbed the bars to Sasuke's bed, still confused.


Naruto stopped, the mattress pressing against the front of his thighs. Sasuke was staring at his bellybutton, scowling heavily. "Uh, Sasuke?"

"The seal. Make it come out."

...Oh. "You're doing research?" he asked, as he joined his hands to concentrate his chakra. The scroll across Sasuke's lap was covered in scribbles; he tried to read them, but they were upside-down and Sasuke's writing was tiny. Probably in code, too.

"Just the groundwork."

Naruto could feel Kyuubi stirring, deep below the surface, and it was difficult not to open up a way for the demon along with his chakra; so when Sasuke reached for Naruto's boxers, he was a bit surprised. "Gyah!" He caught himself on the safety rail, and gaped at the other boy. Sasuke was looking annoyed.

"I can't see the bottom half, stupid."

"Well, you should have asked me instead of diving for my underwear like that!" Naruto grumbled. He balanced himself and tugged his briefs as far down his hips as they could go without falling off or baring more of his body than Sasuke wanted to see at the moment.

"Make it come out again, and this time, don't move," Sasuke ordered absently as he started copying the seal on his scroll.

"Hurry up, my feet hurt," Naruto whined. The ladder was digging into them uncomfortably. He wanted to nap... Or sit down, at least. But then Sasuke would bitch that the seal was all bunched up.

"You're destroying my ego, you know," he muttered, pretty sure that Sasuke wasn't even listening. "You could at least leer a little."

Sasuke leaned forward and reached out, fingertips brushing against the bottom of the spiral. Naruto's breath hitched in surprise; Sasuke was looking up at him, a faintly mocking air in his eyes.

"If you stand still now, maybe I'll eventually be convinced to... reward you."

... Oh hell, now in a couple of minutes he would bitch because the tent in Naruto's pants was blocking the view.

"Naruto? Why did you flare your..." Sakura's voice trailed off behind him. "... chakra."

Startled, Naruto lost his balance and jumped off the ladder. Sakura was standing by the door, staring at the both of them.

"Ah, Sakura-chan," he started, and then paused; she was looking at him like he had been stomping on kittens.

"I see," she said calmly. Naruto didn't see; what was going on there?

"... Sakura?"

She clenched her fists, took in a deep breath. "Last call for dinner, Kakashi-sensei says to come down now or sleep on an empty stomach."

"Wait," he called hurriedly, alarmed by her tone, and looked around for his pants. "Wait, I'm coming with you -- Sakura-chan!"

One foot in his pants, he stared at the closed door, then looked up at Sasuke, taken aback. The other boy was still leaning on his hands on the bed, face empty of expression.


Frowning suddenly, Sasuke sat back and began rolling his scroll with quick, curt movements.

"Sasuke, what's going on?"

"She thought I was about to go down on you," Sasuke replied tersely, and jumped over the railing, the scroll in hand.

"Oh!" Man, he wished. Well, from the door, maybe it did look that way... "But why'd she leave? I mean if it was me catching you two..." ...Oh.

He fell silent, dismayed. Sasuke didn't answer, only shaking his head briefly before stalking toward the door. Naruto scurried after him, grabbing a shirt as he passed.

She wasn't in the dining room; Kakashi was still at the same table, though he was leaning forward on his elbows. He wasn't reading; Naruto took that as a bad sign.

"What's this I hear about you two being busy?" he asked, smiling genially.

Naruto spluttered; Sasuke cut him off with a quick gesture and glared at their teacher. "We weren't. Where is she?"

They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds while Naruto danced with impatience; and then Kakashi nodded slowly. "Bathroom. Don't cause a commotion."

Sasuke nodded sharply and stalked off. Naruto grimaced at Kakashi -- he felt like he should say something, he just didn't know what. His teacher just sighed, and waved him off.

The ground-floor girl's bathroom was empty at this hour, but Naruto did get a scandalized look from a middle-aged woman walking by when he slipped inside. Sasuke was standing by the one closed stall, looking quite disgruntled.

"Sakura, get out of there."

There was no reply; for a moment, Naruto thought that they'd gotten the wrong person.

"... You shouldn't be in here," she finally replied.

"As if I care. Come out, Sakura."

There was another moment of silence; Naruto gave Sasuke a pleading look and stepped forward to try it, but the other boy stopped him with a curt gesture without even looking at him.

"No," she finally replied.

Sasuke sighed, closed his eyes briefly, and then jumped to catch the top of the stall and pulled himself up. He dropped out of view as Sakura gasped in shock.

"H-hey! What if I'd been--"

Naruto drew closer, listening to the rustle of clothes as they moved around. The stall was barely wide enough for one, let alone two; but what stopped him from joining them was that Sasuke hadn't seemed to expect or want his help.

There was more silence; from the shadows under the stall, Naruto assumed that they were standing face to face. Or Sasuke was standing. Or... Gah.

"We weren't, Sakura."

Sasuke's voice was quiet, almost soft. Naruto relaxed a little; he'd been afraid the bastard would sound annoyed.

There was even more silence. Damn it. He went to close the bathroom's door quietly, and then sneaked back to the stall. He didn't know what was happening, but he was pretty sure popping up over the wall would blow up the moment like a wad of explosive tags.

Sakura sniffled quietly. The next second, Naruto was on his front on the floor. He could only see up to their knees without being seen himself; it was enough to understand that Sakura was leaning against Sasuke's chest. Hugging? Aw. Now he was torn between wanting to see and tiptoeing away.

"...Sorry, I'm sorry, I just--"

Sasuke didn't say anything, but he leaned against the door; Naruto saw her step forward hesitantly to stand between his legs.

Well, he thought to himself as he rolled away to sit up. Well. Maybe they'd be fine without him. Besides, the stall was really too narrow for the three of them.

"What were you doing then?" she asked quietly. It sounded a bit muffled; she probably had her face pressed against Sasuke's shoulder.

Sasuke sighed. "Do you trust me?"

Naruto blinked, and opened his mouth to protest. He wasn't going to tell her? Not mentioning it just yet was one thing, but deliberately refusing to say anything...

Sakura sounded a little hurt as she replied, "You know I do."

"Then please, wait a little longer." Sasuke's voice was so soft, so quiet, Naruto had to strain to hear him.

More silence; Naruto imagined that she was probably giving Sasuke a hurt look.

"...Fine. But you'll tell me eventually? Because if it wasn't... that, and yet it was still something..."

Sasuke shushed her. "Later, Sakura."

There was more silence; Naruto sat up against the wall, uncomfortable. Perhaps he ought to go back to Kakashi-sensei. Sasuke knew he was there, but Sakura probably didn't, and the idea of spying on them didn't sit well with him.

"I'm tired of living at Ino's. Yesterday -- I should have come back with you." She sniffled; the next words came out muffled again. "I feel out of the loop and I miss you two -- and you're cooking and chatting and I'm not there. I'm jealous..."

"I don't cook all that well or all that often, and Naruto can only make ramen," Sasuke replied, sounding embarrassed. "And basically it's just a lot of arguments about socks and boxers and music too loud and who has dibs on the bathroom."

"But it's the way you two relate. And I miss that. I mean, Ino is great, and it's been fun -- like a long sleepover... but..."

"... Do you want to move in with us? It's going to be cramped, but we'll figure something out."

"I don't know if it's a very practical idea, I mean -- I mean..." She sounded like she was trying not to cry. Naruto bit his lip, hard. "...Yes. Yes, I really want to."

Silence -- a kiss, soft and short.


Naruto snuck out of the bathroom. He'd intruded enough for tonight.


"They're pretty good, aren't they?"

Sakura blinked at Naruto, still chewing on her onigiri, and nodded vigorously. On her other side, Sasuke made a face.

"Gimme a bit, pretty-please Sakura-chaan?"

"You have sandwiches," Sasuke groused.

Naruto huffed at him, but the bastard was looking away. "So? I can share my sandwiches, too. Even if they're a bit old now," he muttered sulkily.

Sakura giggled softly and held out the rice ball in front of him. Naruto grinned widely at her and bit down.

"Mmh. Good good. But why d'you always make them with fish, Sasuke?"

"Because I like fish, and I'm not cooking for you," Sasuke grunted back.

Naruto wanted to take Sakura's hand; he hadn't had any occasion to be close to her since yesterday, what with the host politely informing them that the dining hall would close in fifteen minutes, Kakashi-sensei's presence in the bedroom, and then a morning spent delivering the rest of the missives. But the second they'd left the town to go back to Konoha, she had started walking beside Sasuke; and Sasuke hadn't tried to widen the gap between them when it ended up much more narrow than usual. Sometimes their arms or shoulders bumped, and Naruto wondered, vaguely grumpy, why they didn't hold hands already. It wasn't as if Kakashi-sensei turned around to check on them all that often.

Sasuke wasn't getting the hint, though; Naruto had followed them for an hour now and the stupid bastard still hadn't made a move on Sakura-chan.

Unless you counted not moving away, which by Sasuke's standards was probably a big one. Naruto wasn't sure if he should be glad or annoyed at Sakura's lack of boldness. She'd always had her strong-willed moments, and sometimes she acted like Tsunade was starting to rub off on her a bit, but around Sasuke she always went back to -- argh.

Oh well! He was tired of walking behind them anyway. Sasuke's loss. And she had fed him, and she hadn't fed Sasuke. So there. Though the mental picture of anyone hand-feeding Sasuke... Hahaha.

"What's so funny, dead-last?"

"Your hair looks like a bird's ass." And now, with the hair and the hand-feeding, Naruto was wondering what he'd look like as a duckling. So, of course, he just had to quack at him. Everything was better with sound effects.

Sakura groaned, and Sasuke sneered at him. "How old are you again?"

"Same as you," Naruto retorted, and stuck his tongue out.

Bickering was good; it was such an old habit that he didn't have to think at all. So he bickered with Sasuke, and with Sakura when she finally joined in. It was fun and comfortable, and he could stuff the silly romantic tension aside and forget it.

"I can't move in with you just yet."

Okay, yes, his fun was pretty much killed dead now. Naruto stared at Sakura, caught off-guard and dismayed. Now he could forget the fun bickering too. Sasuke didn't look all that pleased by the unexpected news either.

"You changed your mind? Why?" Sasuke asked, scowling.

She sighed, gave him a brave little smile, and then glanced at Naruto too, before shrugging and staring ahead. "I really want to, but... The apartment is not magically going to get any bigger."

"But I thought you'd be moving in today, or tomorrow," Naruto retorted, waving his arms in protest. He was aware that he was whining, but damn it, he didn't care! "I miss you, too -- uh." Oh, wait. Officially, he didn't know about that, right? Unless she had heard him, but -- but.

She caught his hand, and squeezed it gently. "Thank you, Naruto."

...Oh. He only remembered to squeeze back when she started to let go, and blushed a little as he caught the embarrassed, pleased look on her face. She was happy he missed her! That made life good enough to forget about her announcement. Well, almost.

"We'll look for a temporary apartment when we get there," Sakura continued, giving them questioning looks.

"Alright!" Naruto grinned back.

"If you don't mind moving so soon, Sasuke-kun..."

Sasuke was scowling at the ground, and only shrugged. "I don't care. So long as it has enough space for three futons."

"And it's got a room for you to lock yourself in," Naruto added, rolling his eyes. Sasuke would be totally impossible to live with if he had nowhere to bolt to.

Sasuke glared at him. "I can deal without that if it isn't for the long run."

"Yeah, but we still don't know what to do 'bout getting a real home, so who knows how long it's gonna last?"

"It's stupid to waste money on a large apartment if it's not good enough to raise a child in it," Sasuke countered, scowling even more.

Naruto rolled his eyes again. "You're obsessed with money. Sure, what we've got now is gonna run out, but that's why people work; to make more."

"And you're totally irresponsible!"

A polite cough interrupted them. Sakura and Naruto reddened, as Sasuke cringed; they had forgotten that Kakashi was walking ahead. They hadn't started loud, but Kakashi's senses were uncanny as it was, and there was no way he had missed the conversation.

"Ah, sorry, sensei," Sakura apologized with a wince. Naruto scratched his neck, embarrassed, and waited for the 'we are on a mission, put your relationship on hold, already' reminder.

Instead, Kakashi shrugged, glanced at them over his shoulder, and commented casually, "Doesn't the Uchiha compound have many empty houses?"

...Oh, hey.

Sakura and Naruto looked at each other, then at Sasuke. He was scowling at the ground; Naruto opened his mouth to ask what he was brooding about now, though he did have something of a guess.

"And I have been lookout for the last hour," Kakashi announced cheerily, and slowed down, forcing them to spread out. "Sasuke! Your turn. Naruto, you take the rear. Sakura, do the fifth chakra control exercise, now."

Naruto would have protested more, but seeing how fast and how quietly Sasuke sped up to take point, he decided to stay silent. Damn Sasuke. For his birthday, Naruto would get him a t-shirt that read 'Warning: Explosive-Tag Field Ahead'.

It was hard to stay annoyed, though, when he thought about the way Sakura had squeezed his hand quickly before letting go.

Besides, when he was last in the line, he got to ogle their butts.

... Not Kakashi's. Eurgh.


"Bah! 'Make yourself useful', he says. 'Stop disturbing me', he says."

Naruto kicked a rock out of his path and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"Just 'cause I asked what he wanted to do about the stupid house. Bastard."

He fingered the folded slip of paper in his pocket, tempted to crumple it in frustration. But no -- Sasuke's handwriting was tiny enough; if he damaged the list...

Sasuke had been brooding obsessively over his scrolls and things since they had gotten back from their mission. Sakura-chan was with Tsunade for a check-up, or maybe training with Shizune; he wasn't sure. Kakashi-sensei... not a clue; the man had trained them in the morning, but then he'd given them the rest of the day off and disappeared. And Iruka-sensei was teaching his classes, of course.

So now Naruto had nothing better to do than play errand-boy. Oh well; if Sasuke needed those scrolls for their plan, Naruto would get them. Still... "Stupid cranky bastard."

"Naruto. It's been a while."

Naruto couldn't help but yelp and jump in surprise. Neji was emerging from another street, looking just as cool and composed as always. Since there was no way to pretend he hadn't been startled, Naruto made a show of clenching his hand over his heart. "Oi! You like creeping up on people, I see." How strange; speak of the cranky bastard and a cranky bastard appeared. The wrong one, granted, and not much of a bastard anymore at that, but still, it was pretty funny. He grinned as Neji arched an eyebrow at him. "Long time no see. Where are you going?"

Right now, Neji wasn't going anywhere; he was just watching him. Naruto scratched his neck, and tried to dismiss the unsettling impression that he was staring right through his brain.

"... Administrative building," the Hyuuga finally answered.

"Oh, cool, I'm going that way too." Naruto started walking, and Neji fell into step with him. "You picking up a new mission?"

"No. My latest report needs clarification." Neji looked quite disgruntled. Naruto snickered.

"What, YOU, writing confusing reports? No way."

Neji's scowl grew more pronounced. "It was too succinct, apparently."


"Terse?" Neji retorted, arching an eyebrow at him.

Naruto chuckled and crossed his arms behind his head. "Oh, stop being a big-worded jerk. You can just say you didn't pad it enough."

"I said--"

"--exactly what needed to be said, no more, no less," Naruto finished for him. "Yeah, yeah. You know, that's exactly what they tell me to write down. Maybe I should do your reports and you should do mine."

He was expecting a 'and maybe not' and a mildly haughty look, perhaps with a smirk if Neji was in a good mood. Instead, he got silence, and -- when glancing at Neji in askance -- a long, searching, narrow-eyed look.

"... What?"

"You seem to be feeling much better," Neji finally replied noncommittally.

Naruto blinked at him. "Better? What do you mean? I'm fine -- oh." Oh. Last time Neji had seen him was during the retrieval mission, almost two months ago. As in, when they'd been racing back to Konoha and its hospital, after he had gone half-Kyuubi and forced Neji to check on Sasuke's internal trauma.

"...Oh, shit. I'm sorry. I forgot -- I mean, so much stuff happened and I--"


"--No, no, listen, I should have found you to apologize, but then life got crazy for a little while, and then when it calmed down I totally forgot." He gave Neji a dismayed look.

The Hyuuga's face was about as expressive as a blank wall. "Huh. I'll believe you on that life going crazy bit."

Naruto wilted, shoulders slumping, and wished he could say more; but they were in the middle of the street. "I really am sorry, you know. I was just so --"

"He was dying. I understand."

Naruto flinched a little, at the reminder, and at his detached tone. Neji was one of those people who could say they understood and mean it, and yet make it perfectly clear that understanding and forgiveness were really not synonymous at all.

"Who already knows?" Neji asked.

"Uhh. Mostly adults -- the teachers -- and Sakura-chan and Sasuke, now. And Kiba and Shika. I don't know if they told their teams. Everyone our age and under..." he shrugged.

Neji arched an eyebrow at him, aristocratic as always. "... You didn't tell your team?"

Naruto wilted. "No. I should have, but..."


Naruto clenched his fists in his pockets and kicked at a rock. "Thinking that they might be afraid or hate me -- it scared the shit out of me." And now Neji...

"I see." They were silent for a few more steps, and then Neji turned toward him and smirked, just a little. "Well, that explains a lot of things, anyway. Like how you were able to beat me at all."

"Oh hey, what's that mean? That I had an unfair advantage?"


"Oh, and you being born a Hyuuga isn't unfair at all for the poor bastards you face. 'Sides, it isn't so easy to control, you know!"

Neji's faint smirk disappeared, and he nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I guess I can imagine that. How... difficult is it, exactly?"

Naruto blinked, startled. Under the 'couldn't care less' attitude, he'd heard -- "Hee! Are you worried?"

He grinned; Neji managed somehow to give off the impression that he was rolling his eyes without moving them at all. "Vaguely concerned, maybe."

Naruto's grin softened, even though he knew that it wasn't what Neji meant. "Thanks for the trust, then."

Neji frowned a little, but didn't correct him.

"Most of the time there's no problem at all. Just pops up sometimes when I'm real flaming pissed. Got a few weird moments because of instincts and all, but old hag Tsunade promised to make Kiba's family teach me. So I'm fine. It was just a freak accident; it won't happen again."

Neji stared directly at him. "You are sure of that?"

Naruto hesitated. He was, of course, but everyone told him he was too optimistic, and nothing said the old fox didn't have more tricks up his sleeve. "Reasonably so."

They walked in silence once again, Naruto desperately trying not to fret.

"I can live with that," Neji finally replied with a little smirk.

"Oh, good."

They passed a corner, and had to navigate past a gaggle of people. Apparently, stuff was on sale; Naruto glanced at it, but found nothing all that interesting.

"You wouldn't have found me anyway."

Naruto blinked at Neji quizzically.

"After things settled down," the Hyuuga explained. "My team and I were sent on a mission for several weeks, and then as soon as we came back, we left again."

"Oh, okay. Um, did you tell Lee and Tenten?"

Neji speared him with an affronted glare. "It was classified."

"All right, all right. I guess... I should tell them. How'd you think they'll react?"

Neji shook his head. "You don't have to. You aren't close to Tenten, as far as I know, and Lee," he added with a weary sigh, "would probably take to proclaiming from the rooftops that he's going to nobly seek justice for you."

Naruto chuckled. "Hah, it wouldn't bother me if he did that. I mean, so long as everyone who matters is alright with it, I really can't be bothered to care about what the rest thinks. Though it means I gotta tell Hinata," he finished with a wince. "It's not fair; you know, Kiba knows... Uh, how do you think she'd react?"

Neji looked up at the sky, as if searching for an answer up there. "...She will not reject you. She might be shocked for a while. She will be sad. She'll empathize." He shrugged. "It is not in her nature to be cruel or judgmental."

Naruto sighed, and relaxed. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks." They were almost at the Administrative building; Naruto paused, grinning at him. "Okay, I gotta go this way."

"The library?" Neji replied, arching his eyebrow again, in that utterly aristocratic-and-sarcastic way that even Sasuke couldn't manage.

"Hey, don't look as if you think I can't read!"

Neji kept staring at him, his damn eyebrow still up. Naruto couldn't do that -- arch just the one and not both. Maybe it was a skill reserved to sarcastic brats.

"... Okay, it's not for me." A pause. "Don't smirk at me."

Neji's expression was smooth and politely empty once again. "I wouldn't dare."

"What's that you say? You want another beating?"

Ahaha, how easy it was to rile him. Now he looked all offended and bristly.

"You wouldn't beat me twice."

"Oh yeah?" Naruto drawled, grinning impishly.

Neji straightened up, looking down his nose at him. "Yes. But I'll prove it to you another time," he added, turning away to leave.

Naruto hummed under his breath. "Scaaredy-caat..."

"What was that?"

"What? I didn't say anything. Are you hearing voices?"

Neji's eyes narrowed; but it didn't hide the corners of his mouth tilting up. "Go and borrow your books, Naruto. And make sure that all the letters in the titles match the ones on your list. I'm sure the librarian will be willing to assist you in case the big words get too complicated. I'll find you later."

Laughing, Naruto waved at Neji as he disappeared within the building, and then went to the library.

He was going to check out some basic titles, and then he was going to use his marvelous pranking skills and slip into the restricted sections for the ones that would make too many people raise eyebrows. He didn't want to bother making a formal request, and especially not on Sasuke's behalf; it would already look weird for Naruto to want stuff he wasn't even expected to understand, but for Sasuke to start researching that kind of arcane things... heh.

And if the Hokage was still distracted by Sakura...

It was a good thing the ANBU weren't watching him today. And it was even better that he still remembered how he'd slipped past the Sandaime's security to get that forbidden scroll five years ago.


Once he was done with the library, Naruto strolled into the Hokage's tower, casually waving hello to the guards at the bottom of the stairs. They didn't stop him. They never did unless Tsunade had specifically requested not to be disturbed; and even then she had to add "on pain of death" to make them try with any real conviction. He guessed that being known as Tsunade's Official Likeable Annoyance had its perks.

He passed a few people in the corridors, but at this hour, everyone was working. The door to Tsunade's office was closed; he could hear voices in the other room that she used to stock medical stuff and books and scrolls.

Well, damn; that was where he needed to be. He still remembered where she had made him and Sasuke put away stuff during one of their D-rank missions, and the scroll in question was memorable; he'd used its illustrations to gross out Sasuke. Once he was in the file room, he could find the scroll quickly, provided the old hag hadn't arranged everything all over again. But if she was in the file room -- damn it. And he couldn't really come back in the middle of the night when she was gone.

He was still hesitating over the road to take when Sakura's voice rang out. "Yes? You can come in, you know."

With a guilty start, Naruto reached for the half-open door, and grinned at her as he popped his head in. "Hi, Sakura-chan!"

"Oh --"

"Sakura? Who's here?" Tsunade asked, her voice muffled by the closed door to her private file room.

"It's Naruto, Hokage-sama," Sakura called back before turning to smile back at him. She still looked kind of puzzled, though. "What are you doing here?"

... Okay, keep as close to the truth as possible... "Bah, Sasuke sent me to get him stuff because he's too lazy to move his ass, and I decided that he could wait a bit while I said hello."

Sakura wasn't really telling them much about her special training, so he looked curiously at her workspace. She was standing in front of a low table with squiggly markings painted on it; there was a dead, tail-less lizard belly-up right in the middle. There were other critters in jars and aquariums lined up along one of the ends of the table; Naruto stepped closer to peer at them.

"Eww, gross," he commented cheerfully. "Sakura-chan, the mad scientist. So what are you doing, sticking fish fins on its tail stump?"

She rolled her eyes at him, though her attention was back on the lizard, and her hands had started glowing green again. "Shh. If you can't stay quiet--"

"--I'll boot you out," finished Tsunade as she emerged from the file room, startling him into nervous laughter. "I might even boot you out right now if you don't stop distracting her. Sakura?"

Sakura was biting her lip, frowning in concentration. "Still holding it, Hokage-sama."

"Good. Second stage now," Tsunade ordered as she dumped a pile of scrolls on her desk and turned briefly to go close the door of the file room.

Naruto was too busy staring at the scroll he wanted -- right under the new pile of scrolls! Damn it! -- to pay much attention to Sakura's second stage.

Which was why he missed the start of Sakura's sudden lunge, and why the feel of a cool, squirming body zipping up his neck and into his hair made him scream like a little girl.

Then, of course, he lost his balance because he'd been in the middle of an about-face to look at Sakura, and her desperate grab for the suddenly very alive lizard only managed to put him even more off-balance.

"... Ow."

"You're picking that up, Naruto," Tsunade informed him wearily, as he sat up against the foot of the desk and rubbed at his bruised hip. Naruto groaned, glaring at all the stuff he had managed to knock off the desk on his way down -- oh. Oh. Oh, yeah.

"Wait -- are you hurt? Let me see," Sakura asked, pushing away from the table on which she had sprawled and circling it.

Hee, she was so sweet, it was just a bruise, but getting her healing hands on his body -- wait, ack, no! She would see what he was doing!

"Nah, nah, it's alright, Sakura-chan, I'm already all better. Really."

He grinned -- a bit nervously -- at her over the edge of the desk, and turned away to pick up the scrolls, his heart speeding up. Tsunade was still watching from the other side with her hands on her hips, disgruntled; but with a little luck -- now where had the green scroll gone?

"Hurry up, you lazy brat."

"I'd be faster if your office wasn't full of other stuff! How am I supposed to know what was already on the floor or not?" he grouched back, crawling around to hunt down the scrolls.

"Well then, if the state of my office offends you so much, I'm sure you won't mind coming back tomorrow to clean it," Tsunade retorted, eyeballing him rather evilly.

Naruto wilted. "That's not fair!"

"Sure it is," Tsunade replied with a smug smile. "You mentioned it first. Now hurry up a bit."

Grumbling under his breath, he started looking around again, stuffing more scrolls in his arm as he went.

There, green scroll! He crawled closer -- guhh, please make them not notice --

"The lizard!" Sakura dove under her table to catch the -- now tail-sporting -- reptile. Naruto thanked the deities watching over him and picked up the scroll, moving to slip it in his jacket.

There was another green scroll hiding behind a pile of paperwork. Same white and gold edges; the rope holding it closed was pale brown instead of white and he couldn't remember which was the right one. Ohfuckdamnit.

"Put them down, you're going to drop them, trying to hold so many at once," Tsunade commented as she swooped down and negligently picked up the second green scroll.

"... Aha, Uzumaki Naruto would never be so --" ... so... ick. Why did his usual automatic boasting have to fail him now, whyyy?

"Clumsy?" Tsunade replied, smirking just a little bit.

Pouting, Naruto got up and went to dump his armful on the Hokage's desk. He could feel the first scroll slip down his vest and settle against his belly. Did it look weird? He couldn't glance down to check -- maybe he could touch? Be discreet -- but he'd been turned away too long. Pasting another grin on his face, he turned to face them, and prayed for the scroll not to show.

"So, when will you be done with Sakura-chan?"

Sakura was busy stuffing the lizard in a glass jar with a grim smile on her lips; she didn't pay him much attention, apart from a quick smile at her name.

"Let me see the lizard first," Tsunade asked, reaching out to take the jar from the girl.

Naruto leaned closer, poking at the glass curiously. "Did you bring it back to life or what? I thought it was dead... Oh hey, it was missing its tail, wasn't it?"

Sakura huffed in a 'You're stupid' way, but she was also grinning, so he just grinned back.

"I was trying to combine holding a forced hibernation with regenerating a missing bit. Of course, with such a small animal, it's easier, and lizard tails naturally regenerate, so it was more of a matter of giving his body a nudge, but I think I've found the trick now. Hokage-sama?"

Tsunade peered at the lizard for a few seconds longer, then nodded. "Indeed. It's almost time for my next appointment, so I'll let you go now." She rolled her eyes. "No doubt Naruto will make himself a nuisance and you won't accomplish anything anyway."

"Hey, I wouldn't!" Naruto protested.

Tsunade wasn't listening to him; she was still talking with Sakura. "Don't forget to practice that trick during your meditation -- three hours tonight. I'll see you tomorrow."

Naruto waved and started toward the door as Sakura bowed to Tsunade. The second he was out of sight, he had a hand up his jacket, and the green scroll safely tucked away in one of his inner pockets with the other scrolls he'd borrowed from the library. When Sakura joined him in the corridor, he was able to smile much more naturally.

"What's that trick about?"

"Oh -- you have to split your chakra and maintain perfect control over two unstable jutsus at the same time; it's complicated."

"You can't put someone to sleep, and then do your second jutsu?"

"No, they're not long action -- I mean," she added as she caught his puzzled blink, "if you stop paying attention and maintaining your hold, the jutsu stops. And it's easy to make a reptile hibernate; they just wake up so easily. But it's going to be much harder to do that with mammals; they're not supposed to have their temperature change so much... I'll have to monitor that, too, once I have the basic trick ingrained..."

He listened to her as she delved into the mysteries of healing techniques he had never heard of. He didn't understand the first thing about any of it, but she sounded so animated, so passionate.

"That sounds great!" he enthused. "Bet not everyone can do it."

Sakura's cheeks pinked a bit, and Naruto snickered when she couldn't hold in a proud, superior grin. He liked seeing her so confident. "Oh, probably not. The control demanded is too precise for lots of medic-nins, not to mention the general population."

"Does it need lots and lots of chakra?"

Sakura's smile dimmed. "Not a lot, no. Maybe about three to four kawarimi for now."

"Oh. But with mammals it will be harder, right?" he asked again; he wasn't sure what he'd done wrong, but he wanted to see her superior grin again.

"Well... Yes, a bit. It also depends on the size of the animal... But my chakra control is getting a lot more precise, so I'll manage."

She didn't look as happy this time, and Naruto didn't understand why it hadn't worked right away. Then it dawned, bit by bit. "I thought you were only training for quantity...?"

Sakura's shoulders slumped, and she gave him an unconvincing smile. "We train a lot for that, too, but no one can train on one thing only for weeks and weeks -- well, maybe you can, Mister Simple-minded, but I need a change of pace sometimes."

Naruto squeaked in indignation. "Sakura-chan! How could you call me that?"

She blinked at him, a picture of innocence itself. "What, single-minded? You are! It's a good thing, too, being capable of so much concentration and determination..."

"Simple! You said simple!" Naruto protested loudly, pointing at her. He grabbed at his heart when she chuckled, stepping away from her. "Cruel!"

"Aw, it's a good thing not to be complicated. At least you never worry yourself sick over things, it must be nice..."

Naruto stepped closer again, peering at her in concern. "Yeah, and then when I get in trouble, I don't have a clue how it happened." Not that it bugged him, because he always found a way to get past it. Or get over it. But it wasn't a way of thinking that would fit her anyway; after all, she had so much to lose and, most of the time, he had nowhere to go but up. "Sakura-chan..."

"Ah, don't worry, I just like to fret. I'm sure everything will turn out all right."

He reached out to touch her arm, and when she tried to smile again, he took her hand and squeezed it gently. "Hey, that's my line."

Sakura sighed, shoulders slumping a little, and squeezed his hand back. "You're nice..."

Naruto shook his head, moving in front of her, and stared at her. "No, really, everything will turn out all right. We're going to fix it."

Sakura paused, staring at him. Naruto didn't smile back, or not a lot; he didn't want her to think he was joking to make her feel better. No, he was serious, he wasn't going to let anything happen to her. Well, technically, he wasn't going to let Sasuke let anything happen to her, but that was the same thing.

"How... How can you be so sure? There's no magic shortcut to make it all better, no amazing jutsu you can master in three days to defeat the problem--"

"Hah!" he exclaimed, cutting her off. Sure there was -- oops.

She stared at him, green eyes a little wide and a lot incredulous.

"... Naruto?"

"Err, yes, Sakura-chan?" he replied, grinning nervously, and winced as her eyes narrowed and she peered at him like she hadn't seen him in years.

"Is that... Naruto?" He saw her swallow, rub her hands over her thighs nervously. "Is that what Sasuke-kun is doing?"

Naruto winced. Damn it! He wasn't supposed to tell her anything about it before they were reasonably sure that it was possible! Sasuke would be so pissed if Naruto told her now -- but she needed to know, she was so worried and it was her health after all, Sasuke would understand --

She waved it off when he was still in the process of opening his mouth. "Ah -- no, never mind, pretend I didn't say anything."

"But, Sakura-chan--"

She bit her lip, whispered, "Sasuke-kun asked me to trust him. And it wouldn't be fair to you to make you talk... Just -- promise me you'll tell me as soon as you can. Alright? Promise me."

Naruto nodded, unable to look up at her. "I promise."

They stood face to face in silence, until a housewife bustled by, tsk-ing at them. Naruto jumped aside to let her past, blushing a little. "Um. So. Let's go -- is Ino waiting for you again?"

She relaxed a little as they started walking again, enough to smile more naturally. "Ah, I'm not going to Ino's today. Well, not right away... I'm going to have dinner with my parents first, and then I'll go back."

"Oh, alright... Hey, Sakura?" He ruffled his hair nervously, and looked up at the graying sky. "Why don't you move back in with your parents? I thought you were getting tired of bugging Ino's family..."

"Heh. No, it's alright; I'd like to live with you two better, is all."

"But you're not angry at your parents anymore, right? So..."

"Well, no, but if I came back, they'd want it to be for good, and then it would be a miniature drama all over again when I move out. At least like this I can wean us all slowly, do you see?"

Naruto scratched his head quizzically. "Not really, no. If you liked living with them, and they're not forbidding you to ever come back..."

"Oh, Naruto..."

Okay, what had he done to prompt that sympathetic look and sudden handholding? He was a bit confused. He squeezed back, anyway, interlacing their fingers, laughing a little at his own clumsiness.

"It's just that... I left; I'm an adult now. I'm not their little girl anymore. I'm still their daughter, and I know I'll always be welcome, but... I just don't want to come back with my tail between my legs."

Naruto grinned, swinging their joined hands. "And you say that Sasuke's got more pride than common sense."

"I've never said that!" she replied, offended. Naruto just stared at her, trying very hard not to snigger. "Okay... I might have thought it. A few times."

"Uh huh. 'Course, Sakura-chan. Sasuke is soo perfect."

She sniffed disdainfully, chin up. "Well, he is."

He hadn't been laughing more than three seconds when she joined him. He gave her hand a squeeze, deliriously happy; she still wasn't pulling away, and here they were, laughing together as they strolled down the street.

"This feels kind of like a date, doesn't it?"

She blushed. "That -- Naruto, we're just walking, my parents are waiting..."

"So? It's a walk date. A tiny one." He looked at her, hopeful; she seemed so unsure, he was afraid she'd say no. Maybe it was too soon for her to want to be romantic one-on-one with him...

When she finally nodded, with a put-upon sigh and laughing green eyes, he did a little dance of joy in the middle of the street.

"You're so silly," she giggled, and then he was kissing her and he wasn't sure how it had happened. She didn't shove him off; he lingered. Her lips were soft, and she smelled of flowers and pears. ...And ozone and chloroform. After an afternoon manipulating raw chakra and doing weird stuff to helpless animals, it shouldn't have been a surprise.


They blinked together, nose to nose.

"Er. Hi?"

"... Dork."

Naruto pouted, with some difficulty. He wanted to smile more. "You're so cruel to me."

"Yes, I am an evil, cruel witch," Sakura replied lightly, tugging on his hand as she started walking again, slowly.

Naruto hummed a little song until the next crossroad. Yep, this was a date all right. A short one, but whatever. He just needed to find something to make it a bit more official. Food was probably out...

"Oh hey, look!" he exclaimed, pointing at a shop window. "That would look pretty good, don't you think so?"

Sakura gave him a weird look as he pulled her toward the shop. "You want to wear a dress?"

"Haha! No, on you, I meant."

Sakura blushed. "Don't be silly! It's cut way too low in front."

Naruto leered. "How is that a problem again?"

"Pervert." Sakura swatted at him; he rubbed his shoulder with a grin and pressed close to the glass again, looking for the price tag.

"How is it perverted to want my girlfriend to wear pretty stuff? It's not even sleazy, just a little more cleavage than you usually show." ... Bit expensive, though, especially with the state of his finances at the moment. Damn.

And Sakura hadn't hit him yet for that comment. He blinked at her, wondering if he had said something wrong. She was red and wide-eyed again, fidgeting with the hem of her tunic.

"You -- hah, it figures that you know exactly how much cleavage I usually show."

Naruto gave her the wobbliest puppy eyes he could. "Yeah, and that's 'not at all', unless it's warm enough for you to pull down your zipper a bit."

"That's -- I -- Naruto, you're a lecher."

... She was still not hitting him. And the accusation had lacked conviction. How strange. "Sakura-chan...?"

"Besides I don't have anything special to show, anyway!" she blurted out, and then looked away in embarrassment.

Naruto stepped away from the window, confused. "Uh. Sakura?"

"Come on, let's go, it's starting to rain."

"What?" he replied dumbly. Sure, the air was getting a bit cool, but it was still comfortable; the problem was that she wasn't looking at him.

"If I tell you that I like your boobs just fine, will you hit me?"

She glared at him -- or pouted maybe. "You like them just because you've got a shot at getting your hands on them. I wonder why you like me, I mean, I'm not your usual type."

Naruto stumbled after her as she dragged him down the street, bewildered. "I dunno, because I love you? And they're Sakura breasts, so they're immediately superior. I mean, Sasuke breasts would rank pretty high, too, but mostly because they'd crack me up so hard."

Sakura stopped so sharply that he bumped into her. She looked like she didn't know if she should laugh or be disturbed. "What's with you and putting breasts on Sasuke? The other day, already..."

"Come on, isn't that the most hilarious idea ever?"

Sakura snickered. "Oh, yes, it's up there with you as a giggling bimbo."

"Hey, that's mean! My jutsu is a ruse, that's all! Unless one of you was interested, but I think Sasuke's scared I'll smother him, so my girl shape is pretty much all yours." He waggled his eyebrows, and dodged a slap to the head with a laugh.

"You really are a total pervert."

"Yep -- ack!" Naruto brushed cold water off his ear, startled. "Hey, it's raining."

"I told you that it was five minutes ago, weren't you listening?"

"It wasn't raining then!" Naruto protested as they started to walk a little faster.

"It just wasn't raining on you!"

In the time it took them to reach the next crossroad, the rain went from a few drops here and there to a regular shower. Sakura was all but running, shoulders hunched, and Naruto couldn't help but be disgruntled. At this rate, they were going to arrive at her parents' way too soon. And on top of that, the stupid rain was ruining the mood. Too bad he didn't own an umbrella -- but there was still other stuff he could do.

"Wait, wait, Sakura-chan!" he called as he unzipped his jacket. One of the scrolls almost fell off as she watched, and he swore. He'd forgotten.

"So that's what you were carrying. They're going to fall, Naruto," she grumbled, a hand over her forehead to keep the rain from getting in her eyes. Her hair was stuck in damp tendrils to her neck, and her shirt was sleeveless. He wasn't really worried she'd catch a cold, but still, it was probably uncomfortable.

"No, no, they won't!" He stuck the scrolls deeper into the inner pockets, and then pulled his jacket over his head, stretching out his arm to give her some shelter.

She didn't move, staring at him.

"... What, do I have something on my face? Come on, you're getting all wet." He stepped toward her, moving to encompass her, and then realized fully that to be close enough to shield her from the rain, he had to be close enough that he could feel her body heat against his whole chest.

He was so busy patting himself on the back for that smooth move, that it took him a few minutes to notice how badly she was blushing and avoiding looking his way. And then a few seconds longer to get why.

Note to self, buy more mesh shirts.

"So, um. Are those scrolls what you were getting for Sasuke?"

"Hm? Ah -- yeah." he grinned, and hoped that she wouldn't recognize the green one. "I hope I got everything on his list, but his writing looks like chicken scratch, and they've all got fancy kanji."

She hummed thoughtfully, still not looking his way. "He must be very busy..."

"I thought you weren't going to ask anymore?" Naruto groused, secretly amused.

"Okay, okay, sorry."

Naruto gave her an awkward hug, and then had to steer her away from a little dog on a leash when she got blinded by the folds of his jacket. "Oops!"

In the end, he decided, the rain didn't make this much less of a date, because she was laughing as she leaned against his side, tucking herself under his arm, while his jacket and the rain blocked out the world around them until it was just the two of them.

"I don't really need to ask," Sakura whispered a minute later. Naruto had to rack his brain to remember what she was talking about.

"Oh, neat. Wait, you don't?"

She looked up at him, and her face was so close he was tempted to kiss her again, and to hell with their conversation. But he wanted to make sure that she knew they were doing everything in their power to help her, so he waited.

"I'm not stupid. You don't want to tell me because you don't want to give me any false hopes, and Sasuke doesn't want to tell me because I'd probably shoot it down."

Naruto was aware that his guilty silence said more than words would have, but he couldn't find a good enough lie. "Um, but if it works, why would you shoot it down?"

Sakura gave him a sidelong glance. "Well, duh! If you two found a way to do it that Tsunade-sama didn't even consider, it must be because it's utterly crazy."

Naruto winced.

"Or forbidden."

Naruto coughed and made sure to look where he was stepping with all due attention. Oh hey, they were turning into the Harunos' street now.

"...Or both."

"Oh god, Sasuke is going to kill me," Naruto whimpered.

Sakura grinned at him suddenly, startling him; he'd been excepting an angry tirade. "Why would he? It's his fault I guessed. He was the one asking me to trust him and wait. Why would he do that for anything else? There's nothing else he would need to hide from me but not from you, is there? Well, nothing so serious."

"You know, you're really too smart sometimes. But seriously, it's Sasuke's fault? Hah!" Naruto did a little dance, which ended up forcing Sakura to stumble after him, seeing as her head was caught in his jacket.

"Naruto!" she protested, glaring daggers at him. "I lied, it's all your fault."

"Hey, not fair!"

"Yes, fair, you're so transparent."

"And you're so mean, I wonder why -- eek!"

They had been maybe three houses away from her parents' home. Now they were in the narrow passage between two buildings, stumbling over each other. It was dark and damp and the bricks were rough under his palms, and one of his sleeves was covering his eye and Sakura's arms were around his waist.


"... Hi, there."

She smiled at him in the dark, and pushed the dangling sleeve away from his face gently. "Dork."

And then there was kissing, with lips brushing and breaths mingling, and her body against his, all warm and soft and welcoming, and her hands rubbing up and down his back, and yes, yes, definitely buy more mesh shirts. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, protecting her head from the wall; his other hand caressed her arm as they kept giving each other soft, teasing kisses.

"You're gonna be late," he whispered as she nibbled his lower lip.

"Hokage-sama let me out early -- then we ran..." He nibbled back; she gasped and giggled softly. "I think we've got some time."

"Oh, good," he groaned before leaning against her and tightening his hold. He hadn't gotten to make out with her in -- had he ever gotten to make out with her? They'd kissed, and cuddled, and there had been some fleeting caresses...

Every time her hand ran back up his spine, he wanted to arch, and purr. He groaned instead, low, deep in his throat; she sighed, shivering as she arched into him. Her waist was so slim, one arm was enough to catch her. He curled around her, enfolding her in his arms as he nuzzled her cheek, mouthed her neck.

He caressed her hips when she started caressing the small of his back, and when she jumped at the first touch against her butt, his hands retreated quickly. He was going to die if she decided to end things there. It was only when she pressed their hips together, fingers playing with the hem of his back pocket, that he dared to touch her again. Hips, outsides of her thighs... back of her thighs... still no protest? He cupped her butt with both hands, groaning when he felt her fingers slipping under his waistband and teasing his skin, and couldn't help but grin into the kiss as he remembered how different Sasuke's ass felt.

He would certainly never grope Sakura's butt hard enough to bruise, but petting and stroking it gently were more than rewarding enough, especially when she moaned quietly against his neck and arched into him like that -- ohh, hips-to-hips friction...

And then she was giggling against his shoulder, and he couldn't help but laugh with her, even though he didn't know why.


"Is that --" a snicker, "Is that a scroll in your pocket..."

"Oh, that's so lame even I wouldn't say it!" Naruto retorted, chortling along with her. "Dork yourself."

"No, you're the dork."

"No, you -- mmh."

She wasn't going to distract him with tongue. He was -- what was he saying again? Oh yeah. He was a dork. Mm, French kissing. Mm, her belly against his groin... MmACK! One of the stupid scrolls had just fallen in a puddle. Swearing, he twisted to pick it up before it was drenched, and then gave Sakura an apologetic look. She was flushed, her eyes dark and her lips red, so instead of apologizing out loud, he just kissed her again.

They ended up cuddling against the wall, with him still curled around Sakura, and the rain still dripping over Naruto's jacket. He still had a hard-on, but it only made the moment better. Of course, later on, when he would leave unsatisfied, he wouldn't think the same; oh well.

"Why did we never do this before?" he mused, eyes closed in pleasure as he played with her damp hair.

There was a moment where the only noises were the rain and their breaths, and then Sakura whispered, "I didn't want things to change."

"... Eh?"

"It wasn't really voluntary..."

"Well, I hope not," he replied confused.

She sighed, burrowing in his arms. He rubbed her back, waiting for the rest of the explanation.

"I wouldn't have really tried to get out of a situation like this... But i wasn't looking for them either. It's a nice change, but in my head it probably was just one too many. So... I'm sorry, Naruto."

"... Ah. I see." Well, he hadn't really pushed things along all that much either, but they'd been busy, and then things had fallen into a semi-comfortable routine. He would have been happy with more sex, but he hadn't died from a lack of it. Though... On second thought, it might have made Sasuke mellow enough to be tolerable. Well, damn. "So you feel really guilty and you'll make out with me a lot to compensate, right?"

She glowered at him, pouting, and then she nipped his chin and snickered. "You're incorrigible."

"But you like me anyway."

He was expecting a laugh, some teasing maybe; instead, she nodded and tucked her head under his chin.

They cuddled a little while longer, holding on a little tighter every time one of them shivered from a gust of damp air, or a drop of water down their shirts; but when the rain stopped, there was really no choice but to disengage.

"I'm going to be late now," Sakura whispered as she stood back, holding his hands between their bodies.

"You won't get in trouble?"

"No, Hokage-sama keeps me later sometimes. But..."

"... Yeah. So, um, you're going now?"

"No. Now you're walking me home. Some date you are," she added, teasing. She was blushing, too, so he didn't mind. Smiling -- he didn't think the smile was going to come off anytime soon -- he put his jacket back on and followed her back out of the narrow passage, and held her hand for the whole three houses' length there was left to her door.

He had a feeling her father knew what they'd just been up to, and was really glad that he had the excuse of having to go back to Sasuke's; the invitation to dinner was really nice, but it was hard to be comfortable with a man when you had just made out with his daughter all but under his window.


[Up to Snuff] [Kakashi Interlude]