transient_words (transient_words) wrote,
transient_words
transient_words

[fic] Arrhythmia

Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, the manga would have ended pre-Shippuden.

Rating: PG, technically, but probably a PG-13 for strong language.

Warning(s): Not romance. Seriously, not romance. No fairytale ending.

Summary: “Claims to be asexual, never had a girlfriend, obsessed with cute blond lifelong male friend and hates said friend’s girlfriend with a passion,” Itachi listed off, looking thoughtful. “It’s quite a mystery. We may have to call a detective.”

Notes: An RP between me and Sarah/syrraki . I decided to share this because Sarah doesn't want to, but I feel it should -- it's more honest than a lot of Naruto and Sasuke fic out there. Originally, this was a spinoff fic to That DNA Thing, but it has a lot of elements from Wasteland too. In Wasteland, Naruto and Sasuke did end up together, though I always felt it was cheaply done, imo.

A huge, huge part of this is Sarah's work. She is a fantastic writer and this only flows so well because she edited it (so praise her, and not me!). What I did was plot this thing and write Sasuke (he was a lot nastier in the original RP, lol).

***

Naruto caught up with Sasuke as he was leaving his Physics class, head still full of equations. “Hey, Sasuke, wait up!”

Deciding not to wait, since he only had four and a half minutes to get to the other side of the school, courtesy of his science teacher’s inability to read the clock or connect the shrill ringing of the bell with the end of the lesson, Sasuke carried on -- leaving Naruto to jog to catch up.

“Oi, oi, Sasuke.” His progress was pulled to a halt when Naruto grabbed his backpack from behind, leaving him stumbling and glaring.

“What, Naruto?”

“So deeply, deeply sorry for interrupting your solitary brooding,” Naruto said with about as much sincerity as when he’d accidentally set their Biology teacher’s hair on fire. Instead of getting straight to the point, now that he had Sasuke’s attention he decided to bask in it a little, grinning and shoving his hands into his pockets, ignoring the general hubbub of students around him, lockers slamming, girls giggling, and Sasuke looking as though Naruto’s death would be his only wish.

Unfortunately, before too much joy could be gained from irritating Sasuke, he made to turn around and carry on marching away, so Naruto quickly grabbed his arm and spun him back round.

“I wanted to know if you’re free this weekend. Jiraiya and Tsunade are going on a trip, so I’ll have the house to myself.” He gave a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows. “I know where they keep their vodka...”

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. “You know exactly what I think of vodka,” he paused, giving Naruto a meaningful glance. “I’ve got better things to do on the weekend than getting smashed.”

“But Sasuke...” Naruto looked crestfallen, his shoulders slumped and his eyes went really wide. “It’d be so much fun!”

“No. I have to study.” Sasuke delivered this firmly, his tone cooler than he had perhaps intended, but it worked.

“You’re sure?” As usual, Naruto was holding out that Sasuke would change his mind at the last minute if only to stop him whining.

When Sasuke showed no signs of capitulation, Naruto gave him one last sad look, and shrugged. “Well if you’re sure...” His expression cleared, and his eyes lit up again, as if his emotions were on switch. “Alright, I guess I’ll see you Monday.”

Sasuke nodded and watched Naruto walk away, his familiar silhouette disappearing, dispersing in the throngs of students and teachers. He sighed and shook his head.

***

The weekend approached faster than expected and Sasuke found himself in front of Naruto’s doorstep with the key to said door in his hand. He only had to open it; he kept a key because, as Tsunade had termed it, he ‘practically lived here anyway’.

Sasuke hesitated a bit though -- was it a sign of weakness that he was showing up, after all?

Naruto might tease him and say things like ‘you can’t live without me, Sasuke!'

Sighing a bit, Sasuke decided to not dwell on that; he’d wanted to come, so he was here. Naruto always teased him anyway. Sasuke put the key into the lock and turned it. With a soft ‘click’, the door opened, and Sasuke stepped inside.

Inside, the familiar brightness of the apartment greeted him -- all green and other warm coloured IKEA labelled furniture (Tsunade liked simplicity) -- and Sasuke relaxed a little.

Thinking of what he would say to Naruto when he saw him, Sasuke climbed the stairs and opened the door to Naruto’s room, expecting him to be there reading comics or playing video games, probably with a half eaten pack of cookies at his side, or a sandwich in his mouth.

But certainly not --

A girl lying on Naruto’s bed. Dressed in a black shirt with the swirl that he had seen Naruto wear many times before. Wearing nothing but that shirt, and sprawled out on the bed with the orange covers tangled up around her. Out of the blue, Sasuke remembered that he and Naruto used to share that bed when he stayed over for sleepovers. He always woke up with Naruto’s elbow against his windpipe or knee in his stomach. Naruto was annoying to share a bed with. But maybe this girl didn’t think so.

His thoughts were still whirling in a distant, detached sort of way, when Naruto walked in.

Or rather, he got to the doorway, saw Sasuke and stopped. There was a moment that would have been comical to an outsider. Sasuke, frozen with shock and the first thrummings of fury; the girl, who had let out a squeak at the sight of Sasuke and pulled Naruto’s orange covers up to her neck; and Naruto, who was wearing a towel and presumably nothing else, as he tried to process what was going on here.

For a few seconds, he looked between the girl on the bed, and Sasuke, who had turned to stare at him. Finally: “Sasuke?”

At the mention of his name, Sasuke just looked at Naruto -- and nodded. Once. Twice. Then, he looked back at the girl.

“Uh, you... you remember Ayame, right?” Naruto gestured to the bed. The girl - Ayame- gave a timid, embarrassed smile.

Ayame? Sasuke racked his brain, and then, understanding flooded his brain -- Naruto had introduced her once, as his ‘girlfriend’. But he hadn't paid attention because Naruto and girls didn’t work, it never lasted, never got serious. Until now, apparently.

“Yes, I remember.” He couldn’t meet Naruto’s eyes.

“Well... Ah...” Naruto scratched the back of his head, a sheepish grin emerging. On the bed, Ayame let out an embarrassed giggle. “This is kind of awkward, huh...” He glanced at Sasuke, hoping to gauge his emotional status, but seeing nothing, decided to plunge in. “It’s just you said you were busy, so I invited Ayame, since we don’t usually have this much privacy, and you know...”

The rambling, hurried explanation that Naruto was giving was drown out by a sort of stuffed up feeling in his ears, and a buzzing in his stomach, all manifesting in a need to get out.

Sasuke left.

***

“We need to talk,” was the first thing Naruto said when he saw Sasuke that Monday, having staked out his locker for half an hour.

Sasuke watched Naruto warily from the corner of his eyes. He felt this urge to turn around and just walk away, but Naruto wouldn’t have let him get away with that. “I don’t see what about.”

“How about we need to talk about the way you practically ran out of my house on Saturday? Or how you ignored all my calls and texts all weekend? And by the way, Itachi is a terrible liar, I know you were in when I came round.”

Sasuke snorted. “Look, Naruto. I just don’t want to talk you right now. So, do me a favour and sod off.”

Instead of complying, Naruto blinked at him, frown deepening. He leaned closer, lowering his voice. “What is this even about? Why are you acting like I kicked over your sandcastle? So I had my girlfriend over, big deal! I invited you, you said no.” Naruto took a deep breath. “If anything, I should be angry with you for making Ayame feel like crap.”

“I don’t care what Ayame feels like,” Sasuke said. Throwing a death glare at Naruto, Sasuke added,”If you wanted to fuck your girlfriend that badly, you shouldn’t have bothered inviting me over.”

“You said you couldn’t come,” Naruto hissed out, looking about ready to punch Sasuke. “What the hell is your problem?”

“I don’t have a problem. You have a problem if you go around sleeping with tramps like Ayame --”

Naruto punched him, which was only expected. Not for the first time, but this was the first time it was over a girl of all things. As Sasuke fell back against the locker, something that might have been remorse flashed through Naruto’s expression, but he didn’t apologise, just stood there, shoulders rises and falling with every quick, strained breath he took. “Shut your fucking mouth.” He swallowed, literally shaking with rage. “Don’t you ever, ever, talk about her again like that.”

Sasuke rubbed his cheek and hissed -- the contact of metal against his back had hurt. He didn’t meet Naruto’s eyes. Fury welled up inside of him, and Sasuke clenched his knuckles, feeling his body tremble. “Why? Because you love her?” He was sure it was there in his eyes too, blazing. “Your relationships never last more than two weeks, tops. Give it a month, she'll be ancient history."

From the way his muscles shook, Naruto was very, very close to punching Sasuke again. Instead, he just turned around and walked away.

Sasuke stared after Naruto, his mind reeling and his entire body shaking. He’d never seen Naruto look so furious, not at him.

Fuck his life.

Just -- fuck his life.

***

Walls covered with posters of his favourite band, an excellent sound system and a lock on the door made Sasuke’s bedroom a haven.

It was less of a haven when he neglected to lock the door, allowing his brother to walk straight in.

For a university student in his final year, with a part time internship and sports commitments to balance, Itachi never seemed to be very busy. Perhaps he made time to irritate his brother specially.

Itachi found him sitting on the floor, leaning against his bed with a bulky set of headphones on, eyebrows pulled together at the intrusion.

For a moment, it seemed like Sasuke would completely ignore his brother, but then he pulled the headphones down to sit around his neck and turned to Itachi, as if resigned to put up with him. “What is it? I’m busy.”

“Of course,” Itachi said, not leaving. “I was just wondering, there are half a dozen messages from your little blond friend on the answering machine, and it’s taking up the memory. You don’t mind if I delete them?”

Sasuke straightened up and glared. “Delete them. Naruto can go to hell for all I care.”

At this, Itachi seemed to pause. Then, to Sasuke’s chagrin, he took a seat at the swivel chair in front of Sasuke’s desk and turned to look at his brother. “Don’t tell me you two are still arguing?”

Sasuke sighed, nimble fingers pulling at the headphone wires that connected to his mp3 player. “Naruto is being an arse because I insulted his girlfriend.”

Itachi looked nonplussed. “Why would you insult his girlfriend?”

“Naruto deserves better than her.”

“Surely it’s up to Naruto who he dates? There must be something he sees in her that you’re missing.” Itachi leaned back in the computer chair, evidently going into analysis mode. “Or perhaps, there’s something about her that irritates you, in particular?”

Itachi looked far too pleased with himself, and Sasuke grew impatient. “And you have become my psychiatrist since when?” He shook his head. “What irritates me about her is that she’s there in the first place.”

“Both you and Naruto are sixteen, there’s nothing uncommon about being interested in the opposite sex. Rather,” Itachi cast Sasuke a dry look, “it’s rather uncommon to seem so uninterested.”

“Actually, Itachi,” he said, ”there is such a thing as asexuality.”

“Claims to be asexual, never had a girlfriend, obsessed with cute blond lifelong male friend and hates said friend’s girlfriend with a passion,” Itachi listed off, looking thoughtful. “It’s quite a mystery. We may have to call a detective.”

“Oh shut the hell up, Itachi,” Sasuke said, putting the headphones back on and turning the volume higher. “You can delete the messages, so get out.”

***

While the rest of the class rushed to leave the room, Sasuke remained seated, and took out his homework diary, ticking off a few items and checking when his next assignments were due, unwilling to get caught up in the rush.

As was typical whenever one started doing something productive while waiting, whatever they were waiting for sped up exponentially. Therefore after just a few seconds, the classroom was suddenly empty, save for Sasuke. Or so he thought, until after closing his book and stashing it in his back, he stood up and heard a loud fake cough from behind him.

Since Naruto was somewhat allergic to productive classroom activity, he always chose to situation himself as far away from the front as possible. Currently, he was sitting in the now empty back row, apparently deeply absorbed in reading his textbook.

As Sasuke turned back to his desk, hefting his bag there was another, louder, fake cough. Turning again to look at Naruto, he watched as the boy continued to stare at the textbook for a few seconds before stealing a covert look at him, his eyes darting back to the page when he noticed Sasuke’s attention.

“If you have something to say, then just say it,” Sasuke said, turning around to glare.

Though Naruto’s eyes narrowed - visible from behind the textbook which now Sasuke looked at it carefully, was being held upside down - he didn’t get angry. Instead, with forced nonchalance, visible in the not-so-covert looks he kept sending towards Sasuke, he dropped the textbook which flopped against the desk and gave an exaggerated stretch. “I don’t have anything to say.” He relaxed and the look Sasuke was fixed with grew challenging. “But if someone wanted to explain why they’re acting like a freak and apologise, well,” he shrugged, “I might listen.”

Sasuke sighed. He felt like slamming his head against the desk. “I am just -- I never thought you and Ayame were so serious.”

At the confession - however small - Naruto visibly relaxed, taking a deep breath as he processed what Sasuke had said. “Okay...” he started. “I get that you might have felt out of the loop or something, and yeah, that,” he made a face, “was a sudden...thing, but we’ve been dating for months. I might have talked to you more about it, but whenever I bring her up you change the subject or walk off.” He paused, licking his lips as the gears turned in his mind. His fingers tapped on the worn wooden surface of the desk, itching to do something. “Sasuke... do...” He swallowed. “Do you like Ayame?”

At that moment, Sasuke said the first thing that entered his brain. “What?”

“It’s just,” the words came out garbled, as though they had been building up for a time, “I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because we don’t usually fight, even though you’re an ass, and when we do, it’s more punching and getting detention not arguing and then not talking.” A distracted hand ran through the back of his hair, making it stand up at the back more than it did already. With a screech, Naruto pushed his chair back, unable to sit still. He stalked over to the window, then turned abruptly to face Sasuke. “It’s okay if you do like her. I mean, I won’t be mad or anything. If that’s it, then tell me.”

Every word was making Sasuke feel worse, because he knew how hard Naruto found it to talk about things, to think things over, but he'd clearly been doing his best. He was trying to patch things up. “Naruto, it’s not that,” he said. A beat. “It’s not something I can --” Sasuke stopped and looked away.

“If I could make this go away by punching you, I would,” he added. Because really. It would have been much easier, then.

Suppressing the urge to grab Sasuke and shake the answer out of him was keeping Naruto very tense, and his confusion wasn’t helping matters. “Make what go away?” He shook his head, mouth twisted up. “If it’s not Ayame, then what is it?”

Sasuke could see how Naruto’s fists were clenched -- as if he were about to drag him out of this chair, and shake him. Naruto was frustrated.

And Sasuke was weary and tired. Tired of not having to his friend for a week, weary of always having to hide his feelings. But he couldn’t just -- fuck it. “It’s not about Ayame, it’s about you, you idiot.”

Hearing the insult made Naruto scowl on instinct, and he had to bite back his own retort. “About... me?” He seemed to turn the words over in his own mind, glancing at Sasuke before proceeding. “Iruka... He said that maybe because you and me have been friends for so long, you didn’t like the idea of me getting so close with a girl, because you thought she would come between us...” It was obvious that Naruto doubted the veracity of his own words, but for Sasuke’s sake, he seemed to be able to give it a try. “Is that it?”

Sasuke nodded slowly. This was difficult. He fixed his eyes on Naruto’s. “It's not Ayame, it's you,” he repeated.

First, Naruto looked relieved, a tiny smile sliding onto his face, before it was abruptly washed away and his eyebrows pulled together in a wary look he sometimes adopted when Sasuke made a joke he couldn’t understand and he was trying to work out if it was at his expense. He was silent for long seconds, before his face dropped, looking a little hurt, a little angry, with a tiny shadow of fear. “Is this... Are you still angry with me?” he ventured. “You know I don’t get it when you play games like this...” He looked lost.

Sasuke sighed, as though Naruto had somehow disappointed him. He looked at the desk, then up with a peculiar, unreadable look. Then he stood up and walked over to Naruto, watching how the other boy’s widened even more as he did so. He placed his hand on Naruto’s cheek. “It’s not a joke.”

Then Sasuke leaned in and kissed Naruto.

Their lips barely touched for a second, before Naruto had planted a hand on his chest and was pushing him back, breaking the contact and putting a few inches between them as he stared in bewilderment. His breath came in short, shallow pants that Sasuke could just feel against his skin. His eyes, still blue and clear even this close, darted back and forth across Sasuke’s face, trying to understand what he read there.

As the moments passed by without any motion, details started to jump into focus. The crass tick of the second hand labouring around the clock; the scant breeze that ruffled the blinds from the fraction of open window; the accelerated beating Naruto felt under the palm pressed against Sasuke’s chest. Naruto could never remember feeling anyone else’ heartbeat like this, maybe he’d never been close enough, or maybe it had just never affected him, but it seemed to serve as a reminder of just how close they were right now, and how much closer he was to Sasuke, than to anyone else in his life.

“Sasuke,” his mouth had opened of his own account, and he searched for the words, “I don’t- I mean I’m not...” He felt his reasoning falling into oblivion, because this was so much more than preferences or expectations. This was a bond he had cherished since he was a child, and unlimited affection apparent in Sasuke’s normally closed expression.

This was something he was standing on the brink of, something with no parallels, no comparisons. Something that couldn’t be explained to other people, because other people didn’t get this chance, because other people didn’t have what he had with Sasuke.

But that didn’t mean he could pretend something was there that wasn’t.

Pressing more firmly on Sasuke’s chest, he waited until the other boy stepped back, giving him some space.

Sasuke let the hand on Naruto’s cheek fall away and took a deep breath before meeting Naruto’s gaze.

There was a look on Naruto’s face, confusion and sadness, as though he had let Sasuke down.

(I care, but I don’t love you that way. I’m sorry.)

“Naruto,” Sasuke started, then stopped himself.

Left to fill the silence, Naruto let his hand drop from Sasuke’s chest, feeling simultaneously better and worse now they weren’t in contact. “I don’t know what to say.” He flushed, Sasuke was so close and he didn’t know where to look. His throat bobbed as he swallowed. “You’re my best friend.”

Sasuke shook his head, hair shadowing his eyes, and placed a hand on Naruto’s shoulder. “I know. You’re mine too.”

At the touch, Naruto flinched, then immediately felt guilty. Let out a breath, slow and shaky, trying to read an answer in Sasuke’s expression but seeing nothing but sadness and resignation. The hand felt heavy on his shoulder, and he felt an irrational anger welling up towards Sasuke, because he had never questioned any contact between them before this, it had always been welcome, wanted.

Now, things had changed. And Naruto found himself feeling just as lost as Sasuke looked.

“Sasuke,” the name felt heavy on his lips. “I... I’ve got to go.” He took a breath. “But we’ll talk about this, okay? We’ll talk.”

“You’re not going because --” Sasuke paused, letting his hands slip from Naruto’s shoulder, and he sighed. “I’d rather talk about this now."

Shoulder feeling cold, Naruto pursed his lips. “I don’t know what to say,” he said again, looking Sasuke in the eye. “Look, I just need to think about this, okay? I don’t know how to feel, and I don’t want to risk our friendship here, but what did you expect? You’ve just sprung this on me out of nowhere!”

Sasuke gritted his teeth. “If it's so hard for you, you can just forget it, okay?"

“You know I'm not going to do that.” Naruto reached a hand up to tug at his hair, breathing deeply to calm himself down. “I get that this was hard for you, but it’s not easy for me either. I’m not running away, I’m not, but I need some time okay?”

Sasuke took a deep breath, tried to swallow some of the dark feelings that were curling around his throat and choking him. "Okay."

With that Sasuke returned to his desk, grabbed his bag and left the classroom.

***

“Carry your books?”

“You don’t need to do that, Naruto.”

At the name, Sasuke froze, partially hidden from view by the door of his locker. Through the gap where the locker door hinged, he could see them, Naruto’s bright hair, head tilted as he listened to whatever Ayame was saying. They were standing by the lockers a few metres away, Ayame must have her locker there.

It was early, before class, and although there were people moving around, there weren’t so many that Sasuke stood out. He wasn’t sure if Naruto had noticed him or not. In the last week since that day Naruto had gotten very good at not noticing him.

“Yeah, but you know I like to.” Naruto’s words were light, and Sasuke could imagine the smile on his face as he pushed some of Ayame’s hair back behind her ear.

“If you insist,” she said, a tease in her voice. Sasuke felt something cut into his stomach. What did Naruto see in her? “So are you coming over this weekend?”

There was a pause, and Sasuke’s eyes flicked back to the narrow view he had of the pair.

“I’m not sure.” That was Naruto, his voice a little thin. “I have a lot of work.”

“But you’ve been studying all week.” Sasuke imagined Ayame was pouting. “And you know,” the tease was back in her voice, “my parents aren’t going to be in...” Sasuke couldn’t tear his eyes away from the way she leaned in, a smile on her face. “We could use the hot tub...”

That was a visual that made the knife in his stomach twist in, and he felt nauseous. Somehow, it had been better before, when he hadn’t accepted this and could draw a cover of anger across as a protection. Now everything felt too raw and real, he had bugs crawling under his skin.

When Sasuke refocused, they were pulling apart from a kiss, and Ayame was licking her lips and smiling a little happy smile. Just an adoring girlfriend smiling up at her adoring boyfriend. Sasuke had kissed Naruto too, but Naruto hadn’t kissed back, and Sasuke hadn’t smiled.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it,” Naruto was keeping his voice low and it was difficult for Sasuke to hear. “I have all these deadlines due and I’ve been really stressed lately..”

“All the more reason for you to come over.” Ayame’s voice sounded so syrupy to Sasuke’s ears. “I’ll be your study buddy, and if you work hard...” Here she leaned in to whisper something in Naruto’s ear, one hand resting on his shoulder a smile curled around her mouth.

“As great as that sounds, I really can’t.” His tone was so depressed that Ayame blinked, raising a hand to cup his cheek in concern.

“Is there something wrong? You’ve been distracted all week.” Her other hand was rubbing up and down his arm in a soothing motion.

“It’s nothing.” Naruto’s shoulders slumped and his head dipped a bit, but he still seemed stiff. “Don’t worry about it.”

The hand that was rubbing his arm stopped, holding on to his shoulder while the other lifted his head so Ayame could meet his eyes. “Naruto, come on, talk to me.”

The hallways were getting more crowded now, and when Naruto pulled out of her grip, Sasuke couldn’t make out what he said, just saw the irritated expression and watched in turn as Ayame’s face fell. At the noise of the bell, any illusions of privacy were well and truly shattered, and the two carried on their way, Naruto holding Ayame’s books.

Sasuke thought though, as he closed his locker and headed to class, that there was something a little strained between them that hadn’t been there before.

***
Libraries were quiet places of solitude. At least, their school library was. Few students bothered to venture here and so, Sasuke had the peace and quiet that he so fervently needed. He was currently going through a shelf, rows and rows of books displayed before him like candies in a store. But he wasn’t really paying attention to the books, nor noticed the smell of them -- this comfortable smell of old leather and paper.

No, instead, his mind was constantly replaying the scene in the classroom two weeks ago: how Naruto had looked at him, how his lips had felt --

Scowling, Sasuke ducked his head, leaning against the bookshelf and trying to get himself under control. There was no point of thinking about that. Sasuke sighed and reached for the book he’d wanted -- something about revenge tragedies.

Book acquired, he found a secluded corner table, far from the entrance, and sat down with his back to the rest of the library, facing an arched window. This are of the library was fairly quiet, just the sound of pages turning and computers humming. Satisifed that no one would be coming by anytime soon, Sasuke opened his book and started to read.

Within a few seconds, his eyes were no longer taking in any words on the page, as he was swept right back to that classroom with Naruto, remembering every word, every breath, every flicker of expression.

Sasuke’s thoughts scattered when with a muted screech, the chair next to him was dragged out, and Naruto dropped into it, his school books landing on the table in front of him. He let out a long sigh, flopping bonelessly in the uncomfortable wooden chair. “Hey,” he said, as though he hadn’t been ignoring Sasuke and his confession for the better part of two weeks.

“Tell me,” Sasuke started as he looked at Naruto, or better said, shot him a death glare, “why I should be talking to you now? You did a fantastic job of pretending of not talking to me for two weeks, after all.”

Naruto just looked at him for a moment, then leaned back, tipping his head towards the ceiling. “I broke up with Ayame.”

Sasuke rose an eyebrow delicately and clapped the book he’d opened a few minutes ago shut. Something ugly gripped hold of him. He scowled. “And, what am I supposed to do about it, Naruto?”

This time, Naruto didn’t even turn to look at Sasuke, continuing his perusal of the ceiling as though Sasuke hadn’t spoken. “It’s not that I didn’t like her.” He paused, puffing out his cheeks and looking much younger for a moment. “I did. I liked her a lot. She’s hot, funny, sweet. Really, she’s the perfect girlfriend for me.”

Sasuke rolled his eyes. “You mean she was, Naruto. Learn to use better grammar.”

Oddly, that was what caught Naruto’s attention. He nodded, facing Sasuke again. “Yeah. Was. Past tense.” He looked as though he was concentrating very hard. “Because I broke up with her. Because I can’t be with her, I can’t even touch her, without thinking of you.” He punctuated this with a sharp look, then leaned his elbows on the desk.

Sasuke, out of reflex, opened the book again. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to sit straight. “You fucker,” he said quietly but growing louder and louder as he continued, “you think this will make me all happier?” He averted his gaze from Naruto’s. “Am I supposed to feel flattered?”

Rubbing his hands over his face, Naruto looked tired, maybe a little sad, a little hopeless. “I’m not telling you to make you feel better, Sasuke. It doesn’t make me feel better either.” He sighed again. “I don’t know why I keep thinking it. I wasn’t lying when I told you I don’t think of you that way. I’ve thought about it a lot, and that hasn’t changed. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that just changes. It would be easier, maybe, if it could.”

Sasuke really wanted to punch Naruto then; he even raised his fist, but stopped mid-air and pulled it back. “Then,” he started silently, “why don’t you just go back to ignoring me? I'm not going to act like everything is normal just so you can feel comfortable.”

“You don’t have to,” Naruto sounded more sure, eyes fixed on Sasuke’s face, flicking between his eyes and mouth. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, Sasuke... And I don’t want you to ever have to pretend with me, but right now, I can’t be with you like that.” He took a breath. “But I don’t think I can be without you.”

Sasuke's smile had a cruel tilt to it. “That’s rather … selfish of you, Naruto. To say ‘you can’t be with me’ and expect me to …” He took a breath, his next words stiff, forced. As if each admittance cost him a little more. "I don’t want to lose you as a friend, but things can't just go back to the way they were. They're going to be awkward." He looked away from Naruto, fixing his gaze on the ceiling instead.

Naruto gave a suspiciously watery chuckle. “You say that, as if I don’t care about you, Sasuke.” He cleared his throat, fingers running along the whorls in the wooden desk. “What you want from me is something I can’t give, but it doesn’t mean you’re not important to me. You’re the most important person in my life. And I-” Naruto cut himself up, losing his meaning amongst all the words he wanted to get out, and grabbed for Sasuke’s shoulder, pulling him close so he could wrap his arms around him. “And things won’t be awkward.” His words were muffled into Sasuke’s sharp white collar. “I won’t let them be awkward.”

His first instinct was to push away, and he tried, but Naruto's grip was surer, and after a few moment Sasuke relented and just let himself be held, breathing in Naruto's familiar scent. “You idiot, you totally idiot.” They'd never hugged like this before, and even though it wasn't what Sasuke had hoped for, something had changed. “Are you sure things won’t be awkward?”

Feeling Sasuke’s breath on his neck, Naruto shivered, moving back so he could rest his forehead against Sasuke’s, eyes so close they were all he could see. “I promise.” With the hand that had wrapped around Sasuke’s shoulders, he slipped round to the front, pressing it against Sasuke’s chest. Under his palm he could feel the steady beat of Sasuke’s heart.

***
Tags: fic, naruto
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