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Give us our Daily Ramen

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Warning: Sarcasm, taunting, some crack, OOC Hinata (maybe? who knows what that girl is really thinking). Just a little flirting in this chapter, but there will be smut eventually, so please note this story is rated M. There will be full-on boy x boy sex, DON'T LIKE DON'T READ. 17+

Author's note: The first chapter of this fic is dedicated to Kiddo20, as she was the one who most encouraged me to write this from the other ideas I was kicking around. BriEva, ever my muse, helped me a lot with the structure of the chapter, and ideas around on what the columns should be about and who should write what. If you have never read The Onion (my favorite source of news), then the things Naruto and his crew write will seem a bit... extreme. But I assure you, even in the super up-tight, politically correct culture of the US right now, this type of humor still exists. Thank god. And Naruto's character has absolutely NOTHING to do with one of the writers at the Onion that I had a small (enormous) crush on when I was a wee lass. Scout's honor. ;-)

And before you ask, I have NO IDEA if this will be NaruSasu or SasuNaru or SasuNaruSasu. If that is the only thing that matters to you in a story, then you shouldn't read this fic, since sex will not be the main point here (though it will BE IN HERE, so if you don't like Boy x Boy then you also shouldn't read this).

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, September 20

OUR DUMB WORLD - Tiresome things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

When a recent political poll in Japan revealed that voters are dissatisfied with the current tax rates in the light of excessive government spending, many politicians took note. Not one to ignore the needs of the public, our Prime Minister today took a courageous stand against 'unnecessary spending' by announcing a new policy that restricts the number of prostitutes public officials are allowed to expense each month to 'one go a week'. Senior level officials are still allowed unlimited 'servicing'. The House of Representatives and House of Councilors threatened to walk out if they were not declared 'senior level' under this new mandate. The classification is still pending. All progress on other issues ground to a halt until this matter is resolved.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this crap. Local news. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local artist claims to have X-ray vision as he insists I have no penis. Rumor has it he is trying to get in my pants to verify. When confronted directly with this rumor, said artist just smiled creepily and asked me to please remove my trousers. Judging by the number of nude male paintings hanging in his gallery, I am guessing that this approach tends to be fairly successful for him. He then applied to be a political cartoonist for The Daily Ramen. We are still waiting to see if he can draw anything other than pantless men, but his sketch of the Prime Minister receiving head from the House of Representatives really was quite convincing.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Last night I found myself occupied out back of one of Konoha's more popular night clubs. A short way down the alley from me was another couple engaging in sexual intercourse, where the man was taking the girl from behind. Now normally, I would give this at least a 7 because of the brazen nature of the act, and I mean... who doesn't like to get fucked with their clothes on pinned up against a dirty alley wall? But the problem was with the man's technique. He was taking her from behind, but penetrating her vaginally. With absolutely no clitoral stimulation, and no chance of hitting this poor girl's G-spot. And the girl was clearly one where clitoral stimulation was required. Her robotic moans clearly translated into "could you just hurry the hell up and finish already so I can go back to the club and find someone who actually knows what they're doing?" In the end, I had to give this couple a 3. Good idea, but poor execution.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

In Tokyo this week, a successful attorney of one of the leading law firms was showing off his corner office on the top floor of his building to a bunch of interns from law school. Bragging about his view, he told them not to be afraid of the height because the windows were 'rock solid'. To prove his point, he hurled himself against the window... and plunged 32 stories to his death. And this dumb-ass had graduated top of his class from one of the leading law schools. WTF?


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - At least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

For all you 'year of the tiger' people, I hate to say it but you're going to be struck by a meteor. Why? Because you were born in the wrong year. The rest of us should be fine, but you Tiger folks should be sure that your wills are all in order. As usual, people born in the year of the rabbit are getting laid tonight. No news for the rest of you, sorry. Maybe next week.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Our youthful Konoha Dragons led themselves to victory in the seventh inning by hitting a grand slam! It was very invigorating! But I don't understand why they refuse to wear the new green spandex uniforms I suggested! They would look even more invigorating! [sorry I have been told yet again that we have run out of space for my column this week. But next week! I will surely be given more space next week! And will share with you my enthusiastic love of sportsmanship at that time!]


Naruto pushed his cart through the narrow aisles of the local organic grocery store. He didn't shop here much because the prices were pretty high, but this weekend was his turn to host dinner for his friends and co-workers at The Dailey Ramen, the underground newspaper he had started with his best friend, Shikamaru. It had been six years since they had started writing tongue-in-cheek articles about local celebrities and current events in their dorm room freshman year. They had started out just printing copies for friends. Then leaving them some out on the coffee tables of the study area of their dorm. Word spread, and people asked for copies in other dorms and at campus restaurants. Then they were asked to post it online, which had been a relief because it was cheaper than printing it on paper which neither really had the extra money to keep doing. Eventually, circulation finally reached the point where local businesses were asking to buy space to advertise in their little underground paper, and people were willing to pay for copies and subscribe for e-mail alerts for 'important newsflashes'.

It didn't take Shikamaru long to figure out a business model, and now, six years later, they were making a pretty decent living basically just by being sarcastic and poking fun of people who needed it the most. It was the best fucking job ever. Naruto had never been able to keep from saying inappropriate things (just ask his friends and family). Now he was paid to do so. Much to his mother's dismay.

The paper was - in his humble opinion - a work of art. It balanced Naruto's over-the-top political incorrectness and general disdain of the rich and privileged with Shikamaru's dry, intellectual wit. As the paper had grown, they had hired a seemingly shy girl named Hinata who wrote a column that critiqued the various acts of PDA that she encountered around town. They also had brought on three of their college friends, Kiba, Lee, and Shino who had come up with ideas for their own columns. It wasn't any surprise that their friends had the same twisted sense of humor as Naruto and Shikamaru. Anyone with thinner skin pretty much would have been scared away. And while they'd never be rich, they were making enough that they all could live comfortably. And more importantly, have a shitload of fun going to 'work' every day.

It was brilliant.

Naruto still couldn't believe people were willing to pay for it, especially since - when growing up - Naruto had gotten the sense that people would pay for him to not talk. In fact, he could vividly remember his mother paying him ten bucks to keep his mouth closed a few times when his dad had to have people from work over for dinner. It had happened more than once.

But all that had changed now. The business just kept growing. People were asking them to make a compendium of their most successful stories to sell as a book. And then there was the merchandise. Just for fun, Hinata had made some T-shirts for a small charity fundraiser they had attended and they had sold out in less than five minutes. So they had added a section on their website called "Daily Ramen: Crap you can buy" where people could purchase mugs, T-shirts, and bags sporting the paper's motto:

"Fuck off - I'm reading the Daily Ramen".

Naruto was wearing his bright orange version of one of their T-Shirts as he shopped. Since the store was just across the street from his apartment building, he knew most of the people here, and as was his habit he stopped and joked with several.

"Chouji! What do you recommend for meat this week?"

The co-owner of the gourmet store looked up from behind the counter where he was arranging the packages of sushi and meat he had just finished preparing. "Wouldn't you like to know," he waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "I thought you were abstaining from sex these days."

Naruto rolled his eyes. He'd known Chouji since they were kids, and Naruto had never made a secret about his sexuality. Like everything else, he just joked about the fact that he couldn't make up his mind about what major to pick in college, so it shouldn't surprise people that he couldn't decide what gender he liked, either. Though he usually leaned pretty hard towards men.

But that had become irrelevant after his last break-up. It was the first time Naruto had actually been in love. Still probably was. But when the relationship had headed south, Naruto had called it quits. His ex had moved back Suna, and while it definitely helped that he didn't 'run into him' anymore, Naruto knew he wasn't ready to start anything along those lines yet. And if he were honest, there really hadn't been anyone he was even tempted by, male or female. It had been over a year, and his friends were starting to be concerned.

Naruto wasn't, though. He felt no pressing need to jump back into another relationship. The staff of "The Daily Ramen" was his family, and writing a weekly newspaper was a lot of work, even though it was fun. He laughed every day, and had great friends who knew and understood him. What more could he want? Not everyone needed to be in a relationship to be happy. And Naruto was happy. Much happier than when he'd been dating -

"Are you done?" a rather rude voice came from behind him.

"Excuse me?" Naruto asked, snapping himself out of his thoughts and turning to face the annoyed-looking stranger. Naruto's eyes widened fractionally at the sheer physical perfection of the man standing behind him. The guy had soft black hair, cut in a carefully haphazard style that framed his face and spiked out in back. A little like a duck's ass, Naruto thought automatically. But the man's face was... a work of art.

"I said are you done? You're blocking the counter. Some of us have better things to do than listen to strangers discuss their sex lives."

Work of art or not, the guy was an ass. Was the hair supposed to be foreshadowing of the guy's personality?  'Warning: I'm an ass.  Even my hair thinks so." Naruto held back a snicker. The dark-eyed man was clearly aware of his own attractiveness... Naruto could feel the arrogance and sense of self-importance oozing off the stranger. Naruto narrowed his eyes and grinned. He loved guys like this. They were so much fun to make fun of.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. But you know, I think you are at the wrong counter," Naruto said, smirking at the man's annoyed expression.

"Wrong counter?"

"Yeah. The one that sell giant sticks to shove up your ass is at the other end of the store. Though I'm not sure they'd have your size. Not many can manage ones that large."

The man's eyes widened at the crudeness of the insult. Naruto could hear Chouji trying to hold back his laughter. Ignoring the now fuming man standing behind him, Naruto turned back to his friend.

"So, as I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, what do you recommend today?"

. . .

After picking out the meat that he was going to grill for his friends that evening (making sure to spend a bit extra time visiting with Chouji to further annoy the man waiting not-so-patiently behind him), Naruto picked up some plain yoghurt for the cucumber sauce he was going to make. He wondered if he still had enough cumin, so he grabbed some of that as well. With Kiba bringing the drinks and Hinata bringing dessert this week, all that was left for Naruto to get as host were some vegetables for salad. He would not be one of the people eating them, of course, but he would play the gracious host and cater to his friends more healthful tastes.

As Naruto entered the produce section, he was slightly annoyed to see the stranger there again. The man was running his long, strong-looking fingers almost sensually over the tomatoes, testing their smoothness and firmness before selecting surely more than a grown man could possibly eat in a week and placing them into his basket.

Naruto couldn't resist poking at the guy just a little bit more. There was just something about him that set Naruto's teeth on edge.

"You're lucky that those tomatoes can't file sexual harassment charges against you. The way you were feeling them up must mean you haven't gotten laid in a while. Somehow, with your personality, that doesn't surprise me. I heard there's an alley off Main St. where the call girls hang out. Maybe it's time to pay for some service instead of assaulting innocent produce."

Sasuke looked at the cucumber Naruto was currently holding in his hand. "I see you were able to pick up a date for the evening," he said, his voice mocking.

Naruto actually laughed, and rubbed his hand along the shaft of the vegetable suggestively before tossing it carelessly into his cart. "Nah. Actually I have an entire apartment full of people I am spending the evening with. Unlike a bastard like you, I'm able to actually make friends."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "I could have my apartment full of people if I wanted. I just prefer not to be surrounded by annoying idiots."

"I said friends, not groupies. I have no doubt that you could get groupies. Having friends requires having an actual personality, not just a pretty face."

With that, Naruto grabbed a second cucumber and added it to his cart, then - grabbing a package of arugula - turned and walked over to the check-out counter.

Sasuke stood there for a moment, fuming. Who the fuck does that guy think he is?

It didn't escape him, though, that the guy had basically said he thought Sasuke was hot. Sasuke jerked his eyes up from where he was absolutely not checking out the annoying blond's ass.

It was his turn to cook dinner tonight. He would be sure not to mention the embarrassing grocery store encounter to his brother. God knows that the last thing Itachi needed was more ammunition against him.

-xXx-

As usual, Hinata had shown up early to help Naruto clean and set up. She always teased him that - since he was basically gay - he was never going to have a wife to do it for him, so as one of his best and only female friends, it was her duty to help with his shortcomings. Namely, the hygiene of his home.

Naruto went out onto his balcony and started up the grill. Though the apartment was fairly cramped, the balcony was spacious, allowing a grill and enough chairs to seat his friends outside. It was the main reason he had chosen the apartment in the first place. Plus the fact that it was walking distance to their small office.

"So..." Hinata began casually. Naruto almost winced. He knew where she was going whenever she took that tone. "Meet anyone interesting recently?"

Naruto knew that his friends worried about the fact that he hadn't even tried dating in well over a year. He was a naturally affectionate and out-going person, and to them it just felt unhealthy that he had chosen to remain 'alone'. But in his mind, he wasn't alone. He had great friends. It was enough. "Well, I met this total asshole down at the grocery store today. If I see him again, I might try to find out his name so I can pay homage to his awesome personality in my column sometime."

Hinata rolled her eyes. "I don't mean did you find yet another person to try to knock down a peg. I meant someone you might be interested in actually dating."

"Hinata... you've already tried to set me up with every single friend you have, male or female. You've done your part. I'm just not interested right now. And besides, you're one to talk, missy. I don't see you in a committed relationship yet. When are you going to finally give Kiba a break and go out with him?"

Hinata blushed, but looked at Naruto slyly. "When he mans up and earns it. In the meantime, I'm having too much fun hanging out with you and the guys."

The doorbell rang, cutting off their conversation. "It's open!" Naruto shouted.

Kiba and Shino came in, loaded down with booze. "Seriously?" Naruto asked, eyeing the large volume of alcohol. "Are we celebrating something other than another successful edition of the paper this week?"

Kiba shrugged. "It's been a while since we all cut loose. Besides, Lee had some triathlon or something he was training for today, so we don't have to worry about him going insane and trashing your place. Plus, if we go to a club, you and Hinata will do your dirty dancing thing again, which I don't need to see. I figured we could hang out and heckle the local news and get smashed."

Naruto and Hinata looked at each other, then shrugged. Seemed like a good time to them, too. They could always do their dirty dancing routine another day.

"Fine, but I'm not going to drink much until after I finish grilling."

Kiba laughed out loud at that. "Yeah. I remember the last time you tried drunk grilling. You caught your apron on fire, and couldn't figure out how to get it off. Luckily Hinata had kept her head and ripped it off before you got seriously burned."

Hinata smiled. "Lucky for Naruto I have experience ripping his clothes off."

Kiba looked uncertain, clearly not sure whether she was joking or not. Hinata smacked him on the back of the head. "Idiot. Naruto's basically gay, remember? It's been almost five years since he's dated a girl. And I'm definitely a girl."

Kiba tried and failed to keep his eyes from sliding down to her very well-endowed 'girlness' parts. But he snapped them up fast enough to see her raised eyebrow, amusement showing in her eyes. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something, but - as usual - he simply blushed and turned away, pretending to be busy arranging the alcohol. Hinata suppressed a sigh.

"But if I ever do go back to girls, Hina, I will totally date one like you. Pretty, funny, smart and perfect," Naruto said from the balcony, trying not to use too much lighter fluid and set the grill on fire. It had happened before.

Hinata blushed slightly at the compliment, wishing Kiba could be as direct. To her, Naruto was like the brother she never had. Unlike her asshole cousin, whom she wished she wasn't related to, Naruto supported her and looked out for her. Lots of people assumed they had dated, but they'd never liked each other that way. They'd clicked as friends, and that had been just that from the first time they'd met. She loved Naruto, and he loved her. But it wasn't sexual, and never would be. Sometimes she wished that they felt differently, but you couldn't help who you loved. Both she and Naruto had definitely fallen for the wrong people. She sent an annoyed glance at the man with the shaggy brown hair in front of her, and it took all her will-power to resist kicking him in the shin.

Shino opened a bottle of sake and poured four glasses. "You'd better hurry up and get grilling if you don't want to be the only sober person in the group," he said stoically.

"Nah. Shika will still be sober, too. He's always late."

"Not today," Shino said, his lips quirked up beneath the collar of his jacket. "Why? Because he'll be here on time this time."

Kiba laughed as he downed his drink. "Yeah, right. I could count on one hand the number of times Shika is ever on time with anything, including his own column. And he's the one who sets the damn deadlines!"

Just then, there was a lazy knock on the door. Not bothering to wait for a response after years of being welcome, Shikamaru walked in. "Hey," he said in general greeting to the group.

"Jesus, Shino. How do you do that shit?" Naruto asked. While mostly Shino's 'predictions' in the paper were just insane, he did have sort of an uncanny ability to predict minor, random miracles upon occasion. Like Shikamaru showing up on time.

Shino simply smiled, then went and lounged back on one of the sofas in Naruto's cramped (but now tidy, thanks to Hinata) living room. He flicked on the TV and turned it to the local news station. The staff of the Daily Ramen were active enough in the community that they generally didn't need to use 'second hand' news. But they often found inspiration - and sometimes just sadistic enjoyment - by making fun of the boring, conservative stuff that made some of the news channels.

"You guys see anything 'newsworthy' today?" Naruto asked. Of course, they all knew that by 'newsworthy' he meant 'good to make fun of'. It was their job, after all, and they took their humor seriously.

"I saw a really annoying couple wearing matching sweaters sharing an ice cream," Hinata shuddered. "It was like I was thrown back to the 1950's. You should have seen the vacuous expressions on their faces."

Kiba snickered. Most people thought that Hinata was a quiet, sweet girl, because she didn't talk much in front of strangers. But when she opened her mouth and let you know what was actually going on inside that head of hers... she was freaking amazing. Kiba had been in love with her since the moment she started finally talking around him. But - despite Naruto's constant prodding to the contrary - Kiba just felt intimidated by her. She was too perfect. Funny, pretty, interesting, sweet-but-not-boring. She also came from a seriously loaded family. They had basically disowned her, but he still felt unworthy.

So he settled on friendship. It was better than being shot down the way all the other guys who asked her out were. He didn't think he could handle that.

"I heard that some college kids trying to sneak into a rock concert without paying and climbed over a chain fence behind the stadium," Kiba said, trying to distract himself. "One of them fell and literally got a stick impaled up his ass. Had to go to the hospital to have it removed."

Naruto snickered. "I think I met that guy in the grocery store today. Looked like the surgery was not successful, because the stick was definitely still firmly lodged up his ass."

Everyone chuckled, except Shino, who looked at Naruto thoughtfully. "So you were looking at his ass?"

Naruto's mouth gaped open for a moment. And to everyone's amazement, he blushed. "N-No! The guy was a fucking asshole! And I was not looking at his ass!"

"So who is this hot asshole?" Shikamaru asked, his eyes looking slightly sleepy. It didn't fool anyone in the room who knew him better. The guy's mind was razor sharp, however bored he might appear.

"He's not hot. He's just an asshole. And I have no idea who he is. I did not want to get his name and number and hang out or anything," Naruto said defensively.

"Hm," Shikamaru said, glancing over at Shino speculatively. Naruto almost groaned.
His friends were so desperate to get Naruto dating again that they pounced on the smallest hints that he found someone interesting. Even when those hints were completely incorrect.

"ANYWAY," Naruto said in an unnecessarily loud voice. "Did anyone else hear something good we could use in next week's paper?"

Shikamaru shifted and spoke, "There's some big company that just moved its headquarters to Konoha. 'Uchiha Financial Holdings'. Supposedly run by two brothers who just took over from their father after he had a heart attack. Evidently it's a lot of high end jobs coming here. And a lot of money."

"Hmm," Naruto said noncommittally. There wasn't much funny about bringing jobs or taking over from a parent who had a heart attack.

"Most of the swirl has been around the fact that the brothers are fairly young and supposedly attractive. Or at least rich, which equals attractive in most people's eyes. All the local socialites are practically frothing at the mouth to try to get a date with them."

Now that was something Naruto could work with. "Ok. Then let's give these brothers a real Konoha welcome in the next edition. I'll look around and see what I can find out about them. Do you know if their dad died? If he did, I might hold off. It's no fun to poke at people when they're already down."

"No. He didn't die. Just had to retire for health reasons, then turned the business over to his sons. They're young, hot, and rich. Poke away," Shikamaru said, already sounding bored.

They continued to chat back and forth about annoying people they'd seen, funny mistakes that famous people had made. Naruto managed to finish grilling the food without burning it, a testament to the number of times they'd eaten at his place.

Their attention drifted to the news, where there was a discussion about an Italian porn star running for parliament. And apparently winning. "Looks like I've found my lead for next week, too," Shikamaru said while Kiba lamented the fact that there were not hot porn stars in Japan's government, and clearly he was living in the wrong country.

-xXx-

to be continued...

What do you think? Next chapter will show what Sasuke and Itachi are up to. And someone will show them the latest issue of the Daily Ramen, where they will be featured courtesy of Naruto.

Have ideas for 'The Daily Ramen'? Send them to me for any of our writers to take on (within the themes of their columns). I will give credit for all ideas used! Gweatherwax gave the great suggestion for having Sai apply to be a political cartoonist for the paper, which I definitely will use! Annoying neighbors or co-workers? Nominate them for Kiba's dumbass of the day award (does not need to involved actually dying, just being a dumbass). Seen any really gross or overly sappy PDA recently? Tell Hinata about it and she will make fun of it appropriately.

This story will be updated regularly, but not weekly since I am also writing Deception right now. But the plot is finally mapped out, so it will be finished, like all my other fics. Just more slowly.

Chapter Text

Summary:

Naruto runs an underground newspaper called 'The Daily Ramen', focused on poking fun at the fragile egos of the rich and famous. How does Sasuke respond when he moves to town and gets in Naruto's crosshairs? Not particularly well. Sasuke x Naruto (Yaoi boy x boy)

Warning: Sarcasm and taunting. Language.

Author's note: Thanks for your comments and suggestions! I was able to work some of them into this chapter (see credits at the bottom). This chapter is dedicated to everyone who has been having a bad week. I have PM'd with so many of you who are either sick, or annoyed at school/work, or having family issues. As I sit here with my head cold, finishing this chapter way ahead of schedule because I feel too tired to go to the dojo and work out, I hope you get a few laughs to make things a little better.

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, September 25

OUR DUMB WORLD - Tiresome things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

Italy has finally found a way to engage voters in politics: elect porn stars into office. In a recent landslide election, the adult film star celebrated her victory by baring her breasts to her supporters. There was some concern whether this constituted bribing of the electorate in a literal "tit" for tat exchange, but no formal complaint has been lodged. Rumor has it that the rest of parliament, regardless of party, is looking forward to working quite closely with their new colleague.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

There has been tremendous interest in the arrival into Kohona of Uchiha Financial Holdings, an operation run by the sons of its founder, Uchiha Fugaku. We were unable to obtain an interview with either of these two highly-sought-after brothers to ask about their initial impression of our city, but we have heard from one source that while the Uchihas are happy overall with their new home in Konoha, Uchiha Itachi thinks the new Konoha government policy for randomly searching passengers on the high speed rail is "a little bit gay."

While many Konoha residents are pleased at the arrival of the Uchiha brothers on the elite social scene, an inside source says there is at least one malcontent. The Uchiha brothers' house cat is reportedly disgruntled because of the presence of so many other pussies in his residence most evenings, as socialites scramble to secure their financial futures by trying to gain marital alliance with the Uchiha empire. We have been unable to reach either brother for comment on this issue. They are most likely 'getting busy'.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

I like to watch. But that doesn't mean that you get to watch back. To the couple that lives down the hall from me, here is a message. If you are trying to invite me to join in by creepily staring at me while you make out with each other in my hallway, you are going about it the wrong way. Threesomes sometimes can start spontaneously, but not generally in the middle of a public space. Unless it is Mardi Gras, but that is an entirely different story. If you are just so bored with each other that you are constantly scanning your surroundings for a new partner, then please stop these lame PDA moments until you find someone who can actually capture your attention properly. No one gets off on boring or half-hearted PDA. You're wasting everyone's time. Just stop.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

So I get that concert ticket prices have been going up. I really do. But how dumb do you have to be to try to climb over a razor wire fence while drunk off your ass and high? I guess that question sort of answers itself, but an unfortunate group of college students found themselves on the wrong end of this stick - literally - when they put it to the test. I don't know about you, but I'd rather pay the ninety bucks for the price of the ticket than have a stick surgically removed from my ass after falling on an upturned dead branch.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

I am sorry to say that a plague of locusts will be descending on all year of the rat, ox and snake within the next 24 hours. Run. Run like the wind. Try not to trip on all the year of the rabbit bastards screwing in the streets. There is a small chance that year of the monkeys are getting laid as well. Make the most of it. The rest of you are safe for the week.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

If you thought you were too fat, weak or talentless to make money as an actual athlete, you can now fulfill your dreams of brining meaning to the world by running your own fantasy sports team! Especially now that most actual sports teams are on the verge of bankruptcy or scandal! Keep sports pure! Make them imaginary! In celebration, I will go out and do an imaginary double-ultra-marathon! And also - [Oh, sorry. I have once again been informed that - due to space constraints on our webpage - I will have to end my posting here. But next week! There will be more space added to the internet by next week! And then I will post more!]


Sasuke boarded his evening flight to London at JFK International Airport. Taking over the venture capital side of the business from his father had quickly gotten him used to extensive travel. At first, the travel and pace of work had nearly crushed him, and he had wondered how his father had managed to do this for the past thirty years. But Sasuke quickly learned the ropes of international business travel, and now found it - if not enjoyable - at least survivable.

He watched as a man wearing a crisply pressed business suit entered the first class cabin with him. Amateur, Sasuke sneered. Sasuke was dressed comfortably in black sweat pants and a long-sleeved, dark blue T-shirt. The sweat pants hung low on his hips, the soft material showcasing his toned ass. The flight attendant with the red lipstick and red shoes slid her gaze over his body before snapping out of it and putting on her patented cheerful face.

"Mr. Uchiha, so nice to see you again. May I hang that for you?"

As usual, Sasuke had his suit pressed and hung on a padded hanger. This way it would not become crushed in his suitcase and require time-consuming pressing when he landed. "Yes, thank you," Sasuke told the woman smoothly, letting her take the hanger from him. Her finger brushed lightly along the back of his hand.

"Welcome to first class, Mr. Uchiha. Please let me know if there is anything at all that I can help you with."

The question and answer were always the same. "No. I'll be sleeping immediately after take-off. Please don't wake me for meals or duty-free."

The pretty blond flight attendant sighed, but her smile didn't falter. "Of course, sir."

Sasuke had learned how to fall asleep within ten minutes of take-off, which was fortunate, because whatever sleep he got on the 6 hour 30 minute flight would be all he would get until the following evening. His flight landed at 7am London time, and he had five client meetings in various locations around London, including a lunch and dinner meeting, before he would be boarding his flight back to Tokyo. He couldn't be falling asleep while hearing the proposals that the companies in his venture capital portfolio were pitching. His decisions would be final on which to invest in and which to walk away from, and it would make or break their earnings targets for next year if he didn't choose wisely.

Sasuke stored his briefcase and roller bag in the overhead bin. He settled into his wide, comfortable seat, relieved to see there was no one sitting next to him, and removed his shoes. The flight attendant came and offered him a choice of orange juice, champagne, water, or a drink of his choice. He requested a glass of merlot, and two bottles of water. The flight attendant gave him a wink and said she'd be more than happy to do that for him.

Sasuke forced his body to relax and sipped his wine, swirling the red liquid leisurely in his glass. First class had a reasonably good selection. He avoided the food wherever possible, though, because even in first class, airplane food was... airplane food. He felt no sadness about sleeping through the meals they would be serving during the overnight flight. He pulled out his phone and scanned his agenda that would dictate every moment of his time once he landed London, mentally going over the key issues he needed to probe on in each meeting. He had just finished when the announcement came that the doors were closing, and he turned the phone to airplane mode.

Leaning back in his seat, Sasuke held the wine glass lightly and closed his eyes. He mentally sorted through his impressions from the past two days of back-to-back meetings he'd had in New York. He needed to sleep on the flight and it wouldn't help if his mind was distracted by unfinished business. The wine helped to relax him, but he wouldn't have another glass. He'd learned the hard way that more alcohol just meant more dehydration from the already dry air on the plane, and that gave him headaches on top of his fatigue from the ever-changing time zones. So he would allow himself one glass through taxi and take-off, then would drink only water for the rest of the flight.

The plane waited in the queue for take-off for almost half an hour, but that was typical for JFK, and Sasuke was not perturbed. He used the time to outline the best way to summarize his findings and highlight the most critical decision points that he would need to present to Itachi and the board when he returned to Japan. His sharp, analytical mind quickly structured and dissected the issues, and by the time the plane had turned and was accelerating for take-off, he had made his decisions and knew how he would articulate them.

He held his now-empty glass to prevent it from sliding as the plane picked up speed. This was always his favorite part of the journey. No matter how many times he experienced it, the slight adrenaline rush of the plane racing along the ground then slowly lifting off never got old. As soon as the plane was up and turning towards its flight path to London, Sasuke reclined his seat, setting the empty glass on the side table, knowing an ever-attentive attendant would be by within seconds to collect it. He unpacked the pillow and blanket from their plastic, sanitized holdings and reclined the seat flat for sleeping.

He pulled the blanket over his head to keep the fluctuations in light from bothering his eyes, and put in his earbuds, setting his 'sleep' playlist on repeat to drown out the ambient sounds of people eating and annoying announcements from the pilot. Within ten minutes he was asleep, unaware of how the flight attendants' eyes drifted wistfully over his sleeping form beneath the blanket.

Sasuke woke six hours later as the plane began its descent into Heathrow International. He downed the two bottles of water to help rehydrate his system after the long flight, and stuffed his pillow and blanket into the bag as the flight attendants walked through to collect them.

"Here is your suit, Mr. Uchiha. I hope you enjoyed your flight," the woman said, struggling to prevent her cheeks from flushing at the sight of his slightly groggy and disheveled appearance. She wished he was waking up in her bed, rather than on the plane, but the handsome young businessman seemed so cold and reserved that she didn't dare offer.

. . . .

They always let first class passengers de-plane first, so Sasuke had no issues making his way quickly through passport control and customs. He had no check-through luggage, and simply headed towards the Virgin lounge in the airport where he had a steam shower, setting his suit in the small closet door where it would be pressed to perfection before he finished washing himself. He hated the smell of planes. The fuel and the scent of the other passengers always left him slightly nauseated, and he was grateful for the copious amounts of hot water in one of the tastefully appointed shower rooms he had requested in the first class lounge. While the shampoo and body wash weren't his brand, they were high end and the smell was not offensive.

He showered quickly, drying his hair and adding enough gel to keep it from going crazy. His one nod to vanity was the copious amount of lotion that he smoothed over his entire body to help his skin rehydrate after the drying effects of the plane air. Looking at himself naked in the mirror, he felt satisfaction at the toned and well-defined lines of his body. It was a point of pride that - no matter how busy his life was - he kept himself in shape.

He opened the small windowed closet and found his suit pressed, brushed and waiting for him. He dressed quickly, adjusted his tie, and stepped out of the spa area to find his driver in the lounge waiting for him.

"Mr. Uchiha. So nice to see you. Allow me to take your bag."

Sasuke handed his roller-bag to the man, keeping his briefcase with him so he could review the details of his upcoming meetings in the car. Twelve hours later, he'd be back for another shower, then would board the flight to Tokyo.

He had allocated the first four hours of the flight to writing up a report for Itachi and the board on his recommendations for the proposals he had evaluated over the past thirty-six hours, and drafting up a quick financial model to assess their risks and value to the existing portfolio. He would then have the remaining eight hours to sleep before landing and starting his full day there.

Sasuke thought wearily that it was fortunate that his father's marriage was arranged, because there was no way to have any sort of actual social life when you work takes up every waking minute of your day.

Fortunately, Sasuke had no interest in relationships. He generally found people annoying and - aside from the company of his brother - preferred solitude to socializing.

-xXx-

Sakura loved her new job. She'd only been working there a month, but there was something so energizing about the place. As the head of Public Relations and Communications for Uchiha Financial Holdings, Sakura had to deal with the random press inquiries, the requests for interviews with the owners, drafting internal communications and handling any PR disasters. Not that she expected any of the latter. If the Uchiha brothers were nothing else, they were controlled. The idea of any sort of scandal ever relating to them directly seemed a complete impossibility.

She booted up her computer and began her day the way she normally did, by scanning the headlines and making sure that their company or its owners weren't in any of them.

Her weekly meeting with Itachi was scheduled for later that morning, but she still had half an hour before she was supposed to meet him. That should give her plenty of time, though she didn't expect to actually find anything.

She took a sip of her coffee, enjoying the smooth taste of the high quality brew that the office served. Everything about their company was high quality. But the brothers expected high performance in return, and Sakura was going to be sure she didn't let them down. She took her job very seriously, and even though her best friend, Ino, thought she only took the job because of her extremely good-looking bosses, the truth was Sakura like the challenge of working for such a prestigious organization.

The fact that she got to have weekly meetings with Itachi who just happened to be the most attractive human being she had ever set eyes on was a nice bonus, but it wasn't her focus.

Just for fun, Sakura clicked over to a news site that some of her friends ran. She still had a couple of minutes, and always got a kick out of what the group of reprobates got up to. In a way, their job was the opposite of hers. She needed to use careful language to smooth things over. They were as politically incorrect as possible to stir things up. A small smile played on her lips at the thought.

Until she got to the second story on the site and her coffee sprayed all over her computer screen as she choked on it in a fit of coughing.

"No... Oh, no, no, no, no... Naruto I'm going to kill you!"

She frantically grabbed her phone and dialed. After his awful break-up with his last boyfriend, Sakura had called Naruto every couple of days to check in on him, until finally he had told her that she needed to get a different hobby and stop mothering him. She had reluctantly obeyed, and slowed her checking in on him to only weekly. But Naruto had thrown himself into work with a vengeance, rarely hanging out with anyone not employed at The Daily Ramen, and Sakura had been busy looking for a job then getting up to speed in her new role. It had been nearly three months since she had talked to him.

But that didn't mean she wasn't going to kill him for this.

"Hey, Sakura! I haven't heard from you in forever! What's up?"

"You are so freaking dead, Uzumaki!"

"What? Are you talking about that guy I gave your number to who was hitting on me at the bar? Because I was totally wasted and that was all Kiba's fault because he -"

"What? You gave some gay guy my number instead of yours? Why didn't you just make up a number?"

"Wait, that's not what you're mad about? Is it because I told Shika that your hair looked kinda like Nicki Minaj's? Because I was totally joking and -"

"Naruto! How could you even... what are you..."

"Um, ok, so I'm just going to stop guessing now before I totally screw myself more. Sakura, why are you calling me?"

"I'm calling you because I'm the freaking head of PR at Uchiha Financial Corp, and you just ran a headline on the front page of your stupid paper talking about my bosses being homophobic nymphomaniacs! I'm going to kick your blond ass to Australia! I want you to take down that article before -"

Sakura froze as a throat cleared behind her. Feeling like she was trapped in some sort of horror film, she slowly turned around to see Itachi standing behind her.

"What is this about your friend writing an article about Sasuke and me being homophobic nymphomaniacs?"

"Naruto - I gotta go. Make sure your will is finalized."

Sakura hung up, not taking her gaze from her impassive boss. "Itachi-san. You're early this morning," Sakura said, trying to force her face into a smile, knowing it was pointless.

"I think you need to print whatever you were just discussing with your friend and meet me in my office. It appears we have more than usual to discuss this morning."

Sakura sighed as Itachi turned and walked seemingly calmly down the hall to his corner office. If Naruto cost her this job, she was going to move into his apartment until he found her a new one. And eat all his ramen, just for good measure.

Drawing a steadying breath, Sakura hit print then took the still-warm pages to her boss's office. She was only glad that Sasuke hadn't returned yet. Itachi was able to remain polite regardless of the circumstances. The younger of the brothers was sarcastic and biting on a good day. When he was annoyed... well... he certainly wouldn't win a Miss Congeniality award any time soon.

The swimsuit contest he probably had a shot at, though.

. . . .

Itachi finished reading the print-outs that Sakura had given him. She had shown several issues of The Daily Ramen to try to give some context, but she wasn't sure if it was helping or hurting her cause.

"So, you were saying that you went to high school with the two founders of this... periodical... and you are close personal friends with Uzumaki Naruto, who wrote this week's column featuring my brother and me?" Itachi asked, his voice, as always, inflectionless.

"Um, yes, Itachi-san," Sakura said, wishing she had a better read on whether her employer was amused, angry, or indifferent.

"And did this Mr. Uzumaki request an interview with either Sasuke or myself in advance of this article?"

"No, Itachi-san. Naruto didn't know that I'd started work here, so -"

"I see. Well, then. Since he has already shown such an interest in my brother and myself, I propose we invite Mr. Uzumaki in for an interview. You'll take care of the scheduling, yes?"

"Y-yes, of course, Itachi-san. But... I should just warn you that Naruto is a bit -"

"I'm sure we'll get along just fine. You just make sure he shows up in this office sometime this week. I'm sure Sasuke would love to make his acquaintance as well."

And then Itachi did something that made Sakura's blood run cold.

He smiled.

-xXx-

Sasuke stepped out of the elevator at the ground floor of the luxury high rise that he lived in. He had gotten in late last night and had barely managed to get six hours of sleep before it was time to be up and showering for work. Today he had to present his recommendations to the board, but he'd meet with Itachi first to go over a few key points. God, he needed coffee. He didn't have to travel every week, but even every other week was draining on him. He'd continue until they had the running of the business fully transitioned from their father and operating smoothly. But then he was going to talk with Itachi about hiring a head of VC that could cover Europe, and one for the US. The markets were large enough to justify it. Their father had been a control freak when it came to running the business, never delegating anything. And it had landed him in the hospital with a triple bypass surgery and high risk of stroke by the time he was fifty.

Not the path Sasuke wanted to follow in the long haul.

He had just entered the high end coffee shop that was situated conveniently in the ground floor of his apartment building when a familiar figure waiting in the short line caught his eye. Sasuke noted that the annoying blond was once again wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The person in front of the blond finished placing their order, and he walked up to the counter to talk with the barista. Sasuke had crossed to get in line behind him, noticing once again how well the blond filled out his worn-looking jeans. The snug T-shirt appeared soft and thin, and the contours of the tan man's back were discernible beneath its smooth surface.

Not that Sasuke was interested.

. . . . . .

5 minutes earlier -

Naruto walked in to the coffee shop across the street from his office. He had long ago given up trying to make his own coffee in the morning, even though it was way more expensive to buy it from the coffee shop. But his coffee always ended up resembling black sludge, no matter how many times he read the instructions on the coffee bean pack. It might have to do with the fact that he had purchased the cheapest coffee machine that he could find. I mean, how great can a ten dollar coffee-maker really work? But the $600 cappuccino machine that he had really wanted was completely out of his budget. Plus, he wasn't sure he really wanted to have to deal with all the clean-up of the milk-frothing part as regularly as would be needed. Disposable plates were really more his speed for clean-up.

So having made the decision that - for his own health reasons (specifically, avoiding getting food poisoning for his inability to properly clean his kitchen appliances) - he would continue to pay his four dollars per cup of cappuccino each morning from the shop across the street. It was on the ground floor of one of the luxury apartment complexes, so it wasn't cheap but the coffee was amazing. It was his one splurge. Naruto could never quite remember the name of the shop, because it was something in French, but he ignored the snootiness of the atmosphere in deference to their truly amazing coffee.

Finally it was his turn in line. "I'll have a cappuccino with double milk and sugar," Naruto said, his mouth already watering at the though of the sweet hot milk with the hint of coffee.

"Why does it not surprise me that you drink your coffee like a child," a sarcastic baritone voice came from behind him.

That same fucking arrogant voice.

Naruto reluctantly turned around, annoyed that his one indulgence of the day had been marred by that asshole from the grocery store.

"Seriously?" Naruto asked, for the moment so annoyed he couldn't even formulate a come-back, which was fairly unusual for him. He wrote it up to his lack of morning coffee.

Taking advantage of Naruto's momentary silence, Sasuke stepped forward to place his order. He reached back to get his wallet, the motion causing the thin cotton of his designer shirt to pull taut across his toned chest and flat stomach that tapered into narrow hips, contrasting well with the breadth of his shoulders beneath his well-tailored suit jacket.

"Green tea, no sugar."

Naruto rolled his eyes, forcing them to look somewhere other than the man's body. "Oh, so you're one of those."

Sasuke knew he shouldn't respond. But somehow he couldn't quite stop himself. "One of those what?"

"One of those people who think that by removing all the pleasure from the foods they eat - sugarless tea, tons of tasteless vegetables, brown rice shit - they're going to live forever. Although why you'd want to is beyond me. If my life was as sterile and boring and fucking joyless as yours, I'd be throwing myself off the first roof-top I had access to."

Sasuke felt his eye twitch. Joyless? Who the hell even used words like that to describe things? "Well, given that you know absolutely nothing about me, I will somehow manage to refrain from throwing myself off the nearest building at your sage advice."

"I don't need to know you. You walk around in your high-end, boring-as-hell funeral-looking business suits, making snide comments to strangers who are just minding their own business enjoying the simple pleasures in life. As far as I can tell, you only have like two facial expressions: sneering and smirking. I mean, I don't have to be a psychic to tell you're an asshole."

"Says the guy wearing clothes that look like they were bought at a thrift shop, who's probably spending his rent money on a coffee from a place he likely can't even spell the full name of."

Naruto smirked, leaning back against the counter as he waited for his coffee. The motion drew attention to the tight black T-shirt that he was wearing, and the way it clung to the blond's well-defined torso and arms. He probably does some sort of manual labor for a job, Sasuke thought condescendingly. You don't get a body like that working behind a desk. Probably digs ditches or something.

"Wow. So you're not only a total asshole, but your an elitist one as well. Don't you just take the fucking 'nice-guy' cake," Naruto said, accepting his coffee from the barista and thanking her with a friendly grin. He took a drink of his coffee, refusing to let this asshole spoil the indulgence he'd already paid for, and licked the small bit of sweet foam from his lip.

Sasuke's eyes followed the motion of Naruto's pink tongue, then dropped back to the blond's chest where he finally noticed the lettering: I am FIGURATIVELY sick to death of people misusing the word LITERALLY.

Somehow the words didn't fit with the mental image he had in his mind of Naruto being an illiterate ditch-digger. "Whose shirt are you wearing? Doing the walk of shame this morning? I guess that would explain why you're in this apartment building. You clearly can barely afford the coffee, much less the rent."

Naruto snorted. "Yeah, butthead. I spent the night getting railed by some rich intellectual who lives in this building, then took his shirt in the morning. Because of course I could never have picked out this shirt on my own, being the low-class, uneducated manual laborer that you clearly think I am."

"Butthead? Very mature," Sasuke said, accepting the tea and trying to block out the mental image of some faceless guy driving into Naruto's perfect ass.

"Hey, you're the one who appears to spend hours each morning trying to make his hair into a stylized duck's ass. I'm just acknowledging your efforts." With that Naruto turned. "I've got to go get to my job at the construction site. Can't be late for work or the foreman will have my ass. And his T-shirts aren't as cool."

"So you do work construction?" Sasuke asked, feeling somehow better about the whole conversation as long as Naruto came out a ditch-digger in the end.

Naruto just laughed. "God, you're such a fucker," he said and walked out of the coffee shop, realizing he still didn't know the asshole's name, but hoped they'd quit running into each other.

He hadn't looked at his phone to see the text message from Sakura that he needed to be down at Uchiha Financial Holdings tomorrow.

-xXx-

to be continued...

yes, the Italian porn-star politician story was inspired by Cicciolina. Hinata's feature was based on a hilarious suggestion/experience from Animerockchick. Shino's plague of locusts is brought to you by the wonderful mind of KH Freak 813. Sports News is loosely inspired by Rasengan22's comment recently that she is getting pulled into fantasy sports. And Sasuke's life is inspired by my own, though I have a different job I have actually done the flights and meeting schedule shown here. And it sucked.

I will continue to weave in ideas people send for column content, or Naruto's T-shirts. :-)

Chapter Text

Warning: Sarcasm and taunting. Verging on crack. Sasuke checking out Naruto's ass.

Author's note: Thanks for the reviews and ideas, and to BriEva for sanity-checking me (a lost cause, I know). I now have a huge list of awesome T-shirt ideas that have been nominated, as well as some pretty funny PDA and dumbass of the day ones. If you don't see yours in this chapter, don't worry... it will likely appear soon. As always, credits for 'news tips' are listed at the bottom!

Oh, and a couple of you have asked if this fic has 'mood music'. I listen to everything from Franz Liszt to Lil' Kim (you can probably guess the Lil' Kim parts) but if I had to pick a 'theme song' or two for this fic, I guess it would be "I know you want me" by Pitbull and "One more night" by Maroon5. Not super deep. LOL

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, October 3

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

New legislation has been introduced to mandate that school girls' skirts become even shorter. Not quite satisfied with the amount of pedophilia inspired by the already suggestive and revealing clothing of our young girls, the legislature is considering shortening the girls' skirts by another three centimeters. "We can't quite see their panties," explains one congressman. "Voters have expressed strong interest in this, as evidenced by the popular female caricatures in most anime." Not to be outdone, the female legislators are requesting tighter pants and much thinner fabric of the shirts that the young boys will wear. "The ties are hot. We just need to see a bit more booty, though we have agreed that assless chaps go a bit too far," explained one congresswoman. "Besides, given the dropping birthrate in Japan, this should help at least boost the teenage pregnancy numbers, especially for co-ed schools. Growth has to come from somewhere for our country to survive. It is our job as legislators to ensure this growth."


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

Physicists from around the globe gathered at the latest black tie society event that was held in Konoha's most exclusive country club to see if the sheer number of self-absorbed asshole attendees would be sufficient enough to cause the formation of a black hole, an event which could provide significant learnings to the scientific community. Unfortunately, the event appeared to just barely miss the threshold of ego required for black hole formation. It is speculated that had Hyuuga Neji attended as planned, the 'self absorption' level would have more than exceeded the necessary threshold for the black hole to appear. Scientists are already scanning the high society calendars for the next likely opportunity.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

I would be the first to admit that a little PDA can be fun. I mean, where would I be without the occasional office-room tryst to accidentally stumble across? But there is a difference between courting the risk of being caught, and just straight-up having sex out in the open.

I was visiting a friend of mine in Madrid last weekend when we came across a couple screwing between two parked cars. In the middle of the afternoon. On a fairly busy street. I have to say that even I was shocked by this flagrant display of humping flesh. And the couple's seeming obliviousness to the numerous cameras that were whipped out and recording them going at it. Probably the most disturbing part was how casual they were about finishing up. Simply wiping themselves off (with a shared tissue no less... clearly their need for intimacy knows no bounds), righting their clothing then walking off.

This is why I always carry Purell to use after shaking hands with strangers. You never know what those hands were just doing. I give them a 9 for sheer brazenness, but a 3 for hygiene.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Recently, a man convicted of multiple counts of rape and murder was released from a Texas prison (where he had been waiting on death row) due to a technicality. One month later, as the man was attempting to use a knife to extract a piece of bread that was jammed in his toaster, he electrocuted himself in his own kitchen. He was pronounced dead on the scene by EMTs. While I wish I could give the toaster a high five, the best I can do is to award the man 'dumbass of the day'. And who says karma doesn't exist?


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

I am very sorry to say that all year of the dragon will be slowly and violently killed by ninjas this week. The good news is it will be entertaining as hell for the rest of us to watch (except for the rabbits - who will probably be too busy screwing again). The Rat, Rooster, and Dog should try applying for new jobs (given that all the Dragons will be dead, there should be a few openings). No news for the rest of you. Just take the week off and enjoy the show.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

American football players will now have tiny MRI cameras embedded in their brains, so fans can actually see the brain damage incurred as they slam their sweaty, spandex-clothed bodies together! Imagine the new level of excitement we can feel with each tackle! How much closer to the action we will all be! Um... actually.. that's kind of all I have to say on this... usually they cut me off much sooner...


-xXx-

Sasuke's eyes scanned the page that Itachi had handed him when he arrived at his office that morning. His run-in with the annoying blond was still fresh in Sasuke's mind, causing him to lose focus and need to re-read the text a second time. He didn't know exactly what it was that he found so irritating about the blond. Aside from... everything.

"This was written by one of Sakura's friends," Itachi said.

Sasuke looked over where the pink-haired head of PR was biting her lip. He wasn't sure if she was nervous or trying to keep from laughing. Probably a bit of both. "Figures," he said acidly. "This city seems to be teeming with loud-mouthed idiots out to annoy me."

Itachi raised an eyebrow. "What other 'loud-mouthed idiots' have you met? You haven't mentioned anything to me."

Sasuke looked uncomfortable, as though he wished he hadn't mentioned it. Itachi immediately scented blood in the water. "Someone caught your interest? Anyone I should be aware of?"

Sakura watched the interplay between brothers with undisguised fascination. Usually, Sasuke seemed so cold and unapproachable. But right now he actually looked... flustered. Itachi got a predatory light in his eyes that - well, to be frank - that Sakura found unbelievably hot. She forced herself to look away before she started to drool. That would be unprofessional.

"Don't be absurd. It's just some moron I ran into once or twice in some shops near my apartment. I'm sure I won't see him again. It's a big city."

"Hn," Itachi said, a dark glint lighting his eyes. It was rare that someone could get under his little brother's skin. That a complete stranger appeared to have done so this quickly fascinated Itachi. It definitely bore looking into. The entertainment value alone would be priceless.

"I had Sakura extend an invitation to the author of this article to come in and interview us. He will be here today at 11am."

Sasuke looked at Itachi as though he had just said they would be throwing a birthday party for a room full of six-year-olds. "Why would you give this... person... even the semblance of legitimacy that interviewing you would bring? We've turned down 90% of the actual news reporters who requested it. This," Sasuke said with a disparaging flick at the page he was holding, "doesn't qualify as news."

Itachi smirked. "Foolish little brother. This is why you are not allowed to have anything to do with managing the external relations or public image of the company. The circulation of this 'unqualified' newspaper is double that of the leading 'serious' papers. It's always good to have people like this on your side. They are allowed to write things that other papers can't because of the nature of the content."

Sasuke rolled his eyes in annoyance, tossing the article down on Itachi's desk. "Fine. You can meet with him. I have actual work to do."

Sasuke turned and left. Sakura noticed Itachi looking after him, thoughtfully. Almost... calculating.

She shivered. She wasn't sure if it was from fear or from lust. With Itachi, it always seemed like it was a bit of both for almost anyone who met him.

-xXx-

"Hahaha!" Kiba was still laughing as Naruto sat in his chair at his desk. "This is like... the sixth time this year you've been called on the carpet by the PR rep of someone you wrote about."

Naruto shrugged. "Whatever. At least I didn't get called by the Prime Minister's office like Nara did."

Kiba snickered. "He just wanted to find out how Shika knew about all the hookers."

"I'm sure if the Uchiha brothers were going to sue me, Sakura would have given me a heads up. They're probably just going to do the usual 'you don't want to get on our bad side' speech. It'll be fine. It's not like we haven't been sued before. It always gets dismissed." Naruto had been getting in trouble for his mouth since he learned how to talk. At this point, it didn't faze him much.

Shikamaru yawned and stretched, accepting the cup of coffee that Naruto offered him as he walked into the room. He looked over at the small couch where Lee was sound asleep and wondered if he could evict the man based on seniority and take his spot. "Well, if I were you, I'd be less worried about the Uchihas suing you, and more worried about Sakura kicking your ass."

Naruto blinked, then scratched the back of his head, suddenly feeling nervous. Sakura's temper was nothing to joke about. "I'm sure she's mellowed out now that we're all older and out of school and stuff. Plus it's not like I knew she was working there."

Kiba and Shikamaru exchanged glances. "I've got fifty bucks says Sakura kicks his ass in her office," Kiba said.

"Deal," Shikamaru said, shaking the man's hand. "I think she'll wait until she's out of the building and kick his ass privately given that she's the head of PR and her boss will be standing right there."

"Fuck," Kiba said, realizing he'd already lost. Damn Shikamaru for always thinking too much. Kiba had yet to win one of their bets. But it never stopped him from trying.

"Shino, man - you in?" Kiba asked the quiet man standing in the corner, hoping to spread the pain a bit from the money he'd just lost to Shikamaru.

"No. I will not take part in this bet. Why? Because neither of those things will happen. Naruto should think like a rabbit today," Shino stated, nodding his head for emphasis.

Kiba and Naruto exchanged puzzled glances, while Shikamaru looked at Shino thoughtfully. Lee snored slightly as he shifted in his sleep on Naruto's cramped office couch.

"Naruto," Hinata said, walking into his small office. The entire staff of The Daily Ramen was now squeezed into the tiny space. Except for one. "You have to talk to Sai again. He keeps insisting that drawing pictures of your penis would increase the circulation of the newspaper. He isn't submitting anything else this week."

"It will increase Sai's circulation in his own penis, is more like it," Kiba snickered. Naruto smacked him across the back of the head.

"He's got other political cartoons already sketched out. I think he has one of the French President bed hopping between his 'first ladies' or something. He's just yanking your chain, Hinata. It's a battle of wills. But I'm going to win this one," Naruto grinned smugly.

Shikamaru leaned against the wall, eyes closed as he seemingly drifted off to sleep standing up. "You only say that because you know the contract we signed with him only pays him for published drawings. If he wants to get paid, he has to draw what you want. That's not a battle of wills. That's pay for service," Shikamaru said, opening his eyes to reassess his options for evicting Lee from the couch. He had a sofa in his own office, but Naruto's was already warmed up.

"Whatever. I think we all agree that a drawing of my penis wouldn't actually help us sell more papers," Naruto said, laughing a bit. Complete silence followed his statement, as everyone seemed to be busy looking elsewhere.

"I don't know," Hinata said finally. "I might buy an extra copy of that."

"Hinata!" Naruto said, chucking his empty paper coffee cup at her.

She caught it in one hand and laughed, though a slight blush tinged her cheeks. "Hey, a girl can look."

-xXx-

Naruto had to admit he felt a little out-of-place in the excessively formal and polished lobby of Uchiha Financial Holdings later that morning. The terrifyingly efficient woman at the security desk looked at Naruto's "Good Grammar is Sexy" T-shirt and jeans a bit skeptically as she sat in her well-pressed black suit.

"You said you were here to see Uchiha Itachi?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Um.. yes? Haruno Sakura sent me a message saying I was supposed to meet him here today at 11."

"ID please," the woman said, already dialing up to the head of PR to find out what was going on. Naruto dug his driver's license out of his old frog wallet and handed it to her. The woman spoke quietly into the phone, giving him a once-over before hanging up.

"Very well," she said, handing his ID back. "You can go up. It is on the 50th floor."

Naruto walked over to the shiny, steel elevators and selected the correct floor.

When he arrived on the 50th floor, Sakura was there to greet him. She gave him a tiny hug, followed by a short cuff to his head. "Behave," she whispered. "Itachi is a really good guy. But a little scary sometimes. I don't think he's that mad, though."

Naruto shrugged. "Honestly, I was more afraid of you. Did you know that Kiba and Shika are taking bets as to whether you would kick my ass right in the office, or wait to corner me in an alley out back?"

Sakura huffed. She might have been thinking something along those lines. But if she was getting so predictable about it that the boys were laying bets on her, then she would control herself.

The glint in Naruto's eye told her that he had counted on that reaction for getting him off the hook. She would have stuck her tongue out at him if it wasn't beneath her dignity as the head of PR at Uchiha.

Naruto laughed, clearly aware of what was going through her head. Given that they'd known each other since grade school, she figured it wasn't that surprising. "I swear I didn't know you were working here. Ino had just said something about you working for a couple of hotties, but -"

"Shhhhhhhh!" Sakura said, her cheeks pinkening as she looked around frantically to see if anyone had heard. "Don't say things like that here! Just... try to not get me in trouble, ok? I really like this job!"

Naruto opened his mouth to try to reassure her that he would try to be on his best behavior (whatever that was) when he felt someone standing behind him.

He turned and for a moment thought he had run into his asshole stalker. But this man was slightly taller and older, his hair not spiked up but rather tied into a low ponytail.

Sakura pasted on a fake smile, clearly trying to hide her nerves. Naruto took a bit of pity on her, seeing the admiration shine in her eyes for this man who was clearly her boss.

"Uchiha-san. This is my friend Uzumaki Naruto, the journalist that you requested we set up a meeting with," Sakura began, her tone formal and polite.

"Ah, Naruto-kun. Sakura has told me a bit about you. Please, come to my office so we can chat," Itachi said smoothly.

Naruto shot Sakura a side-glance, suddenly feeling much more nervous than he had before. He wasn't intimidated by rich or powerful people. But Itachi was... something else entirely. Controlled, elegant, horrifyingly attractive... Naruto surreptitiously wiped his suddenly sweaty hands on his jeans. Naruto was good at reading people. He got the sense that Itachi was also ruthlessly intelligent. If the man were seriously offended by Naruto's article, this could be more of a problem than usual.

But it was too late at this point to change what had been released, so Naruto simply followed the man to his large, corner office. Naruto estimated that about eight of his offices at the Daily Ramen could fit inside it.

"Uchiha-san. I was surprised to receive an invitation to speak with you," Naruto began in what he thought was a polite way until Sakura kicked his ankle.

Itachi's eyebrows rose. "Oh? Do you not generally interview the subjects of your publication?"

Naruto shot a glance to Sakura, hoping she could mentally transmit some sort of 'politically correct' verbiage for him to use here, but she simply stared straight ahead as though already resigning herself to the worst.

"Well... no. I mean, it's kind of just a joke newspaper, you know? We don't go all out like Ali G and try to stage fake interviews or anything. We just make things up for fun."

Itachi smirked. "And of course, once you actually interview someone, you are constrained to write what was actually said or you are subject to legal risk. Whereas if you claim that they were 'unavailable', you can make up whatever you want and put it in your paper as simply speculation or opinion."

Naruto realized that this was the whole reason Itachi had invited him in. To restrain him. While frustrating, he had to admit that his admiration for the man grew even further, and he chuckled. "You're a lot smarter than most of the other businessmen I've met, aren't you, Uchiha-san?"

Itachi returned the smile. "Please, call me Itachi. Now that we understand each other, I hope I can rely on you to request an actual interview with me if you should decide to print anything further about myself or my brother."

Naruto sighed in defeat. "You know that totally sucks all the fun out of it, right? It would have been so much better if you had been some arrogant, stupid asshole that I could go home and write my next column on."

Humor glinted from Itachi's dark eyes, "I'm sure there are endless targets for you to have fun with."

Naruto didn't bother to deny that fact. But now his interest was truly piqued about this man.

"So... can I actually ask you questions, then? Or was this more just to make sure I stopped messing around with you?" Naruto asked directly.

Itachi glanced at his watch. "I have a few minutes before my next appointment. What would you like to know?"

"Well..." Naruto asked, somewhat surprised that he hadn't just been dismissed now that the man had gotten what he wanted. "Do you like your job?"

Itachi blinked somewhat in surprise. "Usually people ask me if I'm dating anyone, or what my net worth is. You want to know if I'm... happy?"

Naruto shrugged. "This seems like a cool place to work, I guess. But it looks pretty high pressure. I heard you took it over from your dad, so I was wondering if you really liked it, or just felt like you had to do it because of your family."

Itachi looked thoughtful for a moment. "I like many aspects of it. It's mentally challenging, and some parts of the business actually interest me. We have a division that does seed funding for environmental projects and clean energy research. But it is also true that Sasuke and I took over the operations to take the pressure off our father due to his health. Fugaku wasn't comfortable handing the running of the business over to anyone who wasn't in the family, so it had to be us or he was going to keep working."

"Sasuke?"

"My little brother. He sends his regrets this morning, but he had work to catch up on," Itachi lied smoothly. The smirk on Naruto's face said he likely detected the lie, but wasn't going to call Itachi on it.

"Why did you choose Konoha as the place to relocate the business?"

"Well, there were financial and tax incentives to do so. And Konoha, being such a large city, had the infrastructure and talent pool we were looking for. But honestly, we had to relocate away from where our parents live because otherwise our father kept stopping by the office every day trying to manage everything, even after his doctors ordered him to quit. Konoha is far enough away that he can't easily just drive over on a whim. He still calls most days, but at least Sasuke and I can manage his level of involvement more easily. And our mother makes sure he doesn't hop on a plane and fly out here," a small smile touched Itachi's face at the mention of his mother. Naruto found it charming. He sighed. It was clear he was not going to be able to dislike this man.

Naruto looked at Itachi for a moment, before breaking into an honest smile that clearly took the older man aback a bit. "It's too bad you're so rich. Otherwise my next question would be whether you'd ever consider going out to dinner with a younger, poorer, politically incorrect man. But, um... if you ever go bankrupt or something, just give me a call. Any time. Like really any time."

Itachi smirked, clearly used to having this effect on people. He found Naruto's directness and lack of artifice refreshing. And quite likable. Sakura was torn between wanting to kick Naruto for hitting on her boss right in front of her, and ecstatic that Naruto was showing any kind of interest in someone. "Naruto!" she hissed, deciding that - either way - this wasn't the right place for it.

"Oh, sorry, Sakura. I didn't realize that you had dibs," Naruto smirked evilly as Sakura turned 50 shades of red fighting hard not to look at her unbelievably hot employer to see what his reaction might be to Naruto's comment. "Don't worry... Itachi is out of my league. He couldn't take me anywhere because I'd just embarrass him. But I did really enjoy meeting you today," Naruto said, standing bowing respectfully to the older man. "And... no hard feelings about the column last week?"

Itachi stood and returned the polite gesture. Just then, there was an impatient knock on the door.

"Itachi - you were supposed to meet me five minutes ago in my office to discuss the next round of due diligence reports on the latest set of acquisition targets," a younger version of Itachi appeared in the doorway. A very familiar-looking younger version of Itachi.

. . . . . . .

"You! What the fuck are you doing here?" Naruto stared at the face that had been annoying him (not turning him on) for the past two weeks. And then slowly it clicked. The resemblance between his bastard stalker and the man he had just interviewed.

"I work here, Dobe," Sasuke said. "What are you doing in my brother's office? I can't believe we've reached the so far down into the dregs of the application pool that he'd seriously be considering hiring someone like you."

Sakura's eyebrows rose. This was the most she had ever heard the younger Uchiha speak, outside of the times he was giving a presentation.

Uncertain, she glanced over at Itachi. And found him eyeing his brother with unholy amusement. And... a look of knowing.

"Have the two of you met?" Itachi asked innocently.

Naruto answered Itachi without taking his eyes off Sasuke. "This guy is a total dick!" Naruto said, pointing wildly at Sasuke. "He's been following me around town being annoying and saying shitty things just to piss me off!"

Itachi looked curiously at Sasuke, where a small trace of red was appearing across his cheekbones.

"Moron, I am not following you. You were getting coffee in the lobby of my apartment building. If anything, you were following me."

"I've been getting coffee at..." Naruto once again forgot that damn French name of the shop. He could see the smirk starting to form on his nemesis' face, so he just plowed ahead. "...at that prissy coffee shop whatever it is... for like three years! You weren't even living in Konoha when I started going there! Which means you followed me."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "You got me, moron. I moved all the way to Konoha and rented an apartment in that specific building just so I could watch your annoying ass buy your watered-down, child's version of coffee."

"See!" Naruto said, turning to Sakura and then Itachi, as if seeking their confirmation of Sasuke's bad behavior. He turned back to Sasuke, pointing rudely at him again. "If you spill any of your assholeness on my friend, I will..."

"Naruto!" Sakura said, biting the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood to keep herself from laughing at the unbelievable response that her friend was drawing out of her usually cold, emotionless second boss.

Naruto stopped his outburst with obvious effort, his eyes still latched on the face of his tormentor. "Well, Itachi, I'll hold to what I said to you earlier. If I have anything I want to write regarding you, I will discuss it with you first. But your brother here... is just my type." Naruto said, his eyes narrowing.

Sasuke snorted. "Like you have a chance in hell with me, dumbass."

Itachi had to use all his Uchiha reserve to not face palm.

"Oh, no. I don't mean my type for dating, Uchiha," Naruto said to Sasuke, smiling ferally. Naruto turned to Sakura. "Sakura-chan, I gotta go. We have this new political cartoonist and he keeps trying to post drawings of my penis on our website. I told Shika I'd handle it this morning. Nice meeting you, Itachi."

With a final glare at Sasuke, Naruto turned and left.

Itachi and Sakura both noticed Sasuke's eyes on Naruto's ass as the blond walked off.

Itachi's eyes met Sakura's. Itachi raised an elegant brow in question. Sakura smiled slowly. They both had exactly the same idea.

. . . .

"Well, I suppose that meeting went as well as could be expected," Sakura said, drawing Sasuke's focus away from the sight of Naruto's retreating form.

Sasuke frowned. "What did that idiot have to say about it all?"

Itachi crossed his legs, leaning back in his chair. He was definitely enjoying this situation. "Hn, Naruto-kun told me he'd like to take me out to dinner."

"What! You are not going to be seen in public with that uneducated -"

"Actually, Naruto has a degree from the top journalism program in Japan," Sakura said casually, fighting to keep her face as disinterested as Itachi's. "And he is co-owner of one of the most widely-read newspapers here as well."

Sasuke blinked, not quite able to hide his surprise at learning this. "That doesn't make him any less of an idiot."

Itachi's look of sheer glee almost made Sakura lose it. "Oh, I don't know. I found him rather charming. Intelligent. Witty. Independent. A real entrepreneur. Wouldn't you agree, Sakura?"

Nearly shaking with the urge to snicker, Sakura nodded sagely. "And he's very active in the community. There was a gym owner that was being targeted by a frivolous lawsuit. He had just opened up and didn't have a lot of additional capital to hire an attorney. But Naruto ran a story basically making fun of the guy suing him. It caused so much bad publicity for the guy, he dropped the charges. Saved the gym owner's business and life investment. Which is good, because it is now the best gym in Konoha. It has great facilities, good personal trainers, and is quite exclusive in its members. In appreciation, the guy gave Naruto a free lifetime membership."

"Oh? That sounds interesting. I've been meaning to find a good gym. What was the name of it again?" Itachi asked, playing along.

"Top Fitness," Sakura said, managing to not glance at Sasuke.

"So Naruto managed to get a free gym membership for himself. Who cares," Sasuke turned toward the door. "Itachi - we need to go over those numbers. I'll be in my office."

Itachi watched his brother leave with great satisfaction. Nothing entertained him more than messing in his little brother's personal life. "I think I should get my little brother a membership at a gym. He seems to have a bit of... tension that needs to be worked out."

Sakura grinned. She couldn't agree more.

-xXx-

to be continued...

The lovely SweetHeaven was the inspiration for Hinata's article (no, she wasn't the one between the cars, let me be clear), Shika's article was inspired by ... someone who's PM I can't find but they forwarded me an article about the dropping birth rate in Japan as an indicator that women are not interested in sex with Japanese men anymore (I will keep searching and give you proper credit next time! Or PM me again and remind me), the death of dragons was brought to you by Codename Jellybean, and Naruto's T-shirt this week was chosen by Kiddo22.

PS I really want to do a 'birthday edition' on Oct 10 for this fic for plot reasons involving Naruto's ex, so I am going to try super hard to get the next chap out in 1 week. Let's see if I can actually manage it.

Chapter Text

Warning: Alcohol and ex-boyfriends. Plotting friends and scheming big brothers. Sexual language and other bad language.

Author's note: I am pretty excited about posting this actually on Naruto's birthday. Since this is my first year writing fanfiction, this is really my first chance to do something like this. Yay! Now of course the manga is ending, so who knows if anyone will be reading Naruto fanfics next year. But I'll get to do it at least once LOL. Oh, and for those of you worried that this will be an ItaSaku story, you can relax. I almost never allow Itachi to have sex in my stories. I like it to be a bit of a mystery (because, of course, Itachi has to be saving himself for me LOL). If I had Itachi paired explicitly with someone, it would be ItaShisui, or ItaNaru, or SIN (whatever, it's hot).

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, October 10th SPECIAL EDITION

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

Recent scientific research shows that heterosexual males' stress levels (and therefore risk of heart failure) drop significantly when viewing women's naked breasts. There is a working hypothesis that the visual stimuli of a male ass is the equivalent for gay men. Likely for bi men, it's an either/or situation. Interestingly, people who over-indulge in greasy, take-out ramen see their risk of heart failure increase, making it an even more critical issue to mitigate. Despite all of this medical research, one local man is standing strong in his retarded self-proclaimed celibacy, for a reason that none of his friends here at the Daily Ramen have been able to understand. This previously very sexually active male, who at one point dated both men and women with equal fervor, can be reached at the following number and e-mail address. Our political cartoonist was gracious enough to draw a full-bodied likeness. The 'uncensored' version is available on our website. Just click on the 'getNarutolaid' tab and select the 'full-monty' link. (18+ please).


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

As a follow-up to our story two weeks ago on the Uchiha's cat, sources close to Uchiha Sasuke asked him about the reported dissatisfaction of his cat. His reported response was "Hn." This is a word that some say the Uchiha learned while meditating in Tibet trying to reach enlightenment. Another source claims it was actually a word from ancient Etruscan, a language that the Uchiha sometimes uses to mystify adversaries in business dealings. A third theory is simply that he is too much of an egotistical ass to be bothered with giving a proper response, but the source of that theory could not be verified.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

While most neighbors complain if disturbances get too loud, we all know that - every once in a while - it's pretty hot to hear someone getting it on through the walls of your bedroom late at night. A middle-aged couple called me recently to complain about the lack of any noise what-so-ever coming from their previously vocal blond neighbor's apartment. "I mean... it was bad when it was EVERY night. The wife and I both work, so it was a bit exhausting at one point. But having a little extra stimulation for me and the missus was enjoyable occasionally. With the absence of any sort of 'neighborly activity' recently, we've had to resort to actually renting porn when we want a little 'side action.' We moved into this apartment with a certain set of expectations, having a young, sexually active single male living next door. If this dearth of bedroom activity continues, we might be forced to demand compensation for our porn rental fees from him. I mean... it's been over a year. Enough is enough."


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

The co-owner of a certain periodical actually trusted his best friend and long-time partner in crime to do the final editing of the edition that just happened to be coming out on his birthday. Not only did this dumbass not check the content, but he actually bought the excuse that the staff had all been late with their deadlines, and since he was the only one who made his, he was allowed to go home early and take the rest of the evening off. Dude - I can't believe you fell for that! When do we EVER let you leave before the paper goes live? The admin password has been changed and will remain locked until the next edition is ready, so there is no way you can take this down, bra. It's already printed and out for distribution. YOU, my man, are our dumbass of the day.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

While normally I favor the Japanese Zodiac for my predictions, I had a special premonition that Libras, particularly those born on October 10th, have a very good chance of getting laid in the near future. These air element people should make themselves open to this possibility. And the possibility of significant intervention by friends and co-workers to facilitate said 'laying'. All non-October 10th birthdays and non-Libra's are called to action on this front. Why? Because it is your celestial mandate. And Karma rewards her servants. Remember, good or bad deeds come back on you times three. And three times a single lay equals an orgy. Karma is a kind mistress. Let us all serve her and gain our just reward.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Local, blond media mogul claims recent fitness obsession is all about increased health! However, an exclusive interview with Maito Gai, the well-respected owner of the gym where our sexually repressed friend has been working out, indicates that the type of activities that the local man has been engaging in seemed more suited to burning off sexual frustration rather than training for any particular fitness goal! The passion of youth! Thwarted by social reclusiveness! Fortunately, our resident political cartoonist had volunteered to help our poor friend out by tying him up to his bed and - [sorry... I have been told that the internet is once again full! I will have more for you next week! On something equally thrilling!]


-xXx-

October 10th, noon, Ichiraku Ramen Restaurant

Naruto was currently not speaking to any of his colleagues at The Daily Ramen, giving him a rare lunch free to spend with Sakura.

"So, Naruto," Sakura said, watching her blond friend slurping the ramen from his favorite restaurant. Today he was wearing a T-shirt that said: Sometimes I question my sanity...occasionally, it replies. "What did you think about meeting the Uchiha brothers this week?"

Naruto paused in his slurping, not fooled at all by the seemingly innocent tone in Sakura's voice. She internally sighed. With the amount of time she spent around her poker-faced, stoic bosses, you'd think she'd have developed better skills at this by now.

"Itachi's hot. His brother's an ass. Why?" Naruto said, resuming his eating in a futile hope to end this discussion topic.

"Soooo... you don't think Sasuke's hot?" Sakura found it amusing that Naruto wouldn't even say his name. Or the way his hand gripped the chopsticks slightly tighter at her second question. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning.

Naruto put his chopsticks into the container with slightly more force than was absolutely necessary. "Well, given that he looks like a younger version of Itachi, I guess sort of. If you could get past his obnoxious personality. Which I can't. If you think in even the smallest inactive part of your brain that I am going to apologize to him, then you have definitely been working too long on the Dark Side. They guy is an arrogant jack-ass. Even Itachi wasn't mad at what I wrote." In fact, Itachi had actually sort of... snickered... when Naruto has shown him an advance copy of the column out of courtesy. Itachi had gotten a bit of an evil glint in his eye that had made Naruto slightly nervous, but had simply nodded his assent to the short piece. Of course, it was unlikely that Sasuke would be terribly annoyed about what Naruto wrote, given that the ENTIRE REST OF THE PAPER had been focused on making fun of Naruto's lack of a sex life. And his addiction to Ramen, but... mostly just his lack of sex. Literally, all over the paper. Naruto's phone had been blowing up all day with men and women volunteering to help him out with his 'little problem.' Not in small part due to Sai's full frontal drawing.

He wondered if he had waited too long to use 'temporary insanity' as an excuse for a mass homicide at the office.

Naruto's phone buzzed again. He glanced at the message, rolled his eyes, then slammed the phone back down muttering something about getting a discount for buying coffins in bulk.

"Hmmmm," Sakura made a non-committal sound. It wasn't like she disagreed with Naruto's assessment of Sasuke. But... there was no denying the chemistry that had practically incinerated Itachi's office when Sasuke had walked in to find Naruto there. Her toes had curled at the heat between those two. And she wasn't even into watching the way Hinata was. But she was definitely coming around on that view after the encounter between them she had witnessed.

Observing the way Naruto's jaw was currently clenched in a mulish line, however, she knew she had to circle around on this one, rather than going head-on. When Naruto dug his heels in, it was almost impossible to convince him of anything.

"So... what are you doing for your birthday? Anyone special taking you out?" Sakura changed the subject. She was pretty sure she would have received at least seven ecstatic phone calls if Naruto had actually started dating anyone, but it never hurt to double-check.

"Assuming I don't go down to the office and commit mass murder, the guys are taking me out clubbing for my birthday tonight. Just to blow off some steam. Nothing too crazy, though."

Sakura rolled her eyes. "Just don't do anything stupid. Where are you going? If I finish work in time, I might try to swing by."

"Going to slum it with your old friends, eh?"

Sakura launched a mushroom at him with her soup spoon. "Just because I learned how to hold my tongue and play nice doesn't mean I still don't know how to have fun."

Naruto laughed. "Haha, ok, fine. We're going to the Rasengan Club. I'm having dinner with my parents first, though. So we won't really get there until around ten."

"Has your mom gotten over your success with the newspaper yet?"

"Sort of," Naruto said. "She says she's still waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Shika and me to end up in jail for slander or defamation of character or something. Shika tried explaining how this type of thing is protected, and we only go for public figures, and blah, blah, but... you know mom."

Sakura laughed. "She's just embarrassed because everyone knows that she's the one that you got your sense of humor from."

Naruto grinned. "Absolutely. Really, it's my dad who should be embarrassed. But he's cool with it."

Having gotten the information she needed, Sakura stood and brushed a kiss across his cheek. "Well, happy birthday, Naruto. I need to get back to the office, but hopefully I will see you later tonight."

Naruto is not seeing anyone. Check.

Naruto will be out at a club tonight. Check.

Now she needed to tell Itachi. She had no idea if there was any force on earth that could get Sasuke to go to a club, but if anyone could, it would be Itachi. Sakura knew her limits. This feat was beyond her. She pulled out her phone and began to text as she walked briskly back to her office.

-xXx

October 10th, 7pm, Uchiha Financial Holdings Headquarters

Itachi flicked his wrist and a shiny object sailed through the air directly towards Sasuke's face. Reflexively, Sasuke caught it. It was what appeared to be a locker key.

Sasuke raised a perfectly arched eyebrow in enquiry.

"It is the key to your locker at Top Fitness gym," Itachi said, leaning back and folding his hands calmly on his desk.

"And when will I have time to go to a gym? My apartment building as a perfectly functional and - more importantly - completely private exercise facility."

Itachi shrugged. "I know you used to enjoy swimming when you were on the college swim team. This facility has an Olympic-sized pool, and even a deep-well diving pool. Membership is exclusive, and children are only allowed in the pool between the hours of two and six pm." Itachi knew he had Sasuke with his last comment. Nothing irritated the raven more than to be doing his laps (in a pool that was already undersized) and have a toddler in a floaty drift into the lap lane while their caretaker cooed and talked about how cute they were. Children were cute if they were your own, he supposed. Everyone else's were just annoying.

"Hn," Sasuke said noncommittally, eyeing the key.

"Locker number 666," Itachi supplied helpfully.

"Coming from you, that is a very fitting number, nii-san."

But Sasuke slid the key into his pocket anyway, turning to look out the window at the city lights spread out below them as the sun had started to set. It would be good to swim again in a proper pool. And he was not thinking about anyone he might happen to run into while there. A small smirk appeared on his lips. Unknown to him, it was mirrored on the lips of his older brother, who could see Sasuke's reflection in the glass.

"We're going out tonight," Itachi said, as though this were somehow a common occurrence.

"Actually, I was thinking of going for a swim. Since you so kindly paid for my membership."

"You can do that tomorrow. Tonight we are going clubbing."

Sasuke turned slowly. "In what universe do you and I ever go clubbing?"

"Some of my friends from college called. I need a designated driver."

"Isn't that what we have a hired driver to handle?"

"Well, I still have those pictures I took of you when you got drunk at Shisui's New Year's party and went skinny dipping in the lake at the compound. I'd hate - in my incapacitated state - to accidentally send those to... say... Karin."

Sasuke's ex. Sasuke's nearly stalker ex from high school. While Sasuke was still trying to deny that he was gay.

"So, what club am I meeting you at?"

Itachi smirked. "Rasengan. At 11:30."

"I hate you."

"I love you, too, Otouto," Itachi said. "By the way, have you seen the latest edition of the Daily Ramen?"

-xXx-

October 10th, 10pm, Rasengan Club

Naruto had somehow managed to refrain from killing his friends and they assembled in their favorite club to celebrate his birthday. "Do you have any idea how many obscene phone calls I received today? I had to change my number. And my e-mail address. Which I will NOT be giving any of you, by the way."

Shikamaru shrugged, sipping his beer. "You could have just invited a few of the 'admirers' down here and had a guaranteed good evening."

"You guys already embarrassed me enough with the stupid paper this morning. I don't need to drag it out any further. And Sai, don't think I'm letting you off the hook for that drawing. No matter what Shika says, you are NOT getting paid for that."

Sai simply smiled and sipped his beer. "Sometimes art is its own reward."

"Here. Put this on," Hinata said grinning, thrusting a T-shirt into his hands. "It's for your birthday!"

Naruto held up the T-shirt to see the lettering on it. "Um... there is no way in hell I am going to wear this, Hinata." The T-shirt was a dark blue, with large white letters that read: Birthday boy - Spank me.

Sakura snickered, but agreed with Naruto. "Hinata, you're never going to get him to wear that."

Hinata just smiled. "Bartender - we need another drink down here!"

Kiba laughed. "Sakura, you should know better than that. Hinata always gets Naruto to do what she wants."

"Says the pot to the kettle. When was the last time you denied Hinata anything?" Naruto said to Kiba, grinning at his glare. "But seriously, no way. You guys always get me drunk and make me do stupid shit on my birthday. There is no way I'm getting talked into stuff this year."

Shino simply smiled. He already knew the ridiculousness of that statement. He felt no need to voice it aloud.

. . . .

October 10th, 11:30pm Rasengan club

Sakura looked up to see Itachi and a very annoyed-looking Sasuke walk in. She was glad she hadn't had more than one beer, because seeing her bosses dressed in club clothes rather than their formal suits was enough to give her nearly a heart attack. Not wanting to draw Naruto's attention too soon to the new arrivals, she slipped off her stool and went over to meet them.

Sasuke's eyebrows went up as he saw her, clearly not expecting her to be here, but Itachi just greeted her casually. "It's really packed tonight," Sakura offered. "But they've got a good DJ, and the drinks are decent. There are some tables over there if you prefer to sit?"

Itachi and Sasuke followed where she had pointed, further down the wall where the bar was. Sakura almost laughed at all the heads that turned to follow the movement of the two unbelievably attractive men as they took their seats, with more than a few jealous and curious glances shot her way. She sighed, knowing that what they were thinking was, unfortunately, not the case.

They had just reached an empty table when Hinata appeared, laughter spilling from her lips. "You owe me fifty bucks, Sakura. I told you I'd get him to wear it," Hinata pointed to where Naruto was standing by the bar, laughter and alcohol giving his tan cheeks a slightly flushed look. He was now sporting his new T-shirt, and already had several people offering to take him up on what the shirt was offering. Starting with Sai. Naruto stumbled slightly as he shoved the raven back, Kiba nearly howling with laughter. Lee had already passed out at the bar, and was snoring lightly.

Sasuke followed the girls' gaze and his eyes froze slightly at seeing Naruto before they snapped back suspiciously to Itachi.

"Where are the friends that you said would be meeting you here today?"

Itachi shrugged, "Sakura's a friend. The others will likely show at some point. I'll go get us some drinks."

"I'm leaving," Sasuke said, standing. He had known from the beginning that his brother was trying to orchestrate something. Whether it was to try to get Sasuke drunk in front of the staff of the Daily Ramen so he could further be humiliated, or to try to set up yet another confrontation between him and Naruto, Sasuke wasn't going to play along.

Itachi pulled out his iPhone, idly flicking through the photos. "Given that The Daily Ramen doesn't seem to have any problems with nudity, I wonder how much they'd offer for the photographs from last New Year's."

Sasuke froze mid stride, then abruptly turned and slammed himself down in an empty chair next to Sakura. "Fine. But I'm not drinking anything other than water. And I'm not talking to that idiot."

Itachi looked at Sasuke with mock innocence. "Given that you are my designated driver, I should hope you are not going to drink. And you can speak with whomever you choose this evening."

Itachi looked up and nodded to three people who were making their way towards him. Sasuke turned to see Yahiko, Nagato, and Konan. The three always were together. He'd walked in on Yahiko and Konan last New Year's in one of the guest bedrooms. And Nagato and Yahiko at Itachi's birthday, in the library. He'd given up trying to understand the dynamics of their relationship, but it seemed to work for them.

Konan bent down and kissed Itachi's cheek. As she turned to do the same to Sasuke, he froze her with a glare. She laughed with a low chuckle. "Just as prickly as always. Itachi, when are you going to get this little brother of yours laid. He needs it in the worst possible way."

Itachi slid a glace over to where Naruto was, while Sasuke was busy glaring at Konan. "Oh, you never know. I'm sure one day he'll meet someone who will thaw that ice of his out."

Sakura had to take a drink of her beer to hide the grin that threatened to over-take her face. Konan looked at her with interest. "You're new."

"This is Sakura - she's our new head of PR," Itachi said. "Sakura, these are some old friends of mine from school - Konan, Yahiko and Nagato."

Sakura nodded politely at them, feeling a bit shocked as Konan leaned down and kissed her cheek as she had done with Itachi. Sakura had really only dated men before, but she felt a blush creep along her cheekbones and the intimate gesture. Yahiko smirked at her knowingly. It figured that all of Itachi's friends would be this hot.

"Sakura has some interesting friends working in the local media," Itachi said, again glancing over to where the Naruto and his friends were talking.

Sasuke's low growl had Konan's eyes sparkling. Sakura wondered how much Itachi had already told them about their little scheme.

"I'll go get us some drinks," Nagato said, heading over to the bar.

The song changed and a surge of people started to shift away from the bar to dance. Sakura recognized it as one of the typical hip hop songs that basically described in graphic detail two people pretty much having sex on the dance floor. Lots of couples were out there already miming out some of the actions that the song suggested. She could hear Kiba's shout from across the bar, and her eyes immediately snapped over to find Hinata pulling a laughing and stumbling Naruto to dance with her.

"Oh, god. Here we go again," she muttered, rolling her eyes.

Despite his best efforts to not do so, Sasuke turned to see what she was looking at. At first it just looked like Naruto was dancing with the pretty dark-haired girl in basically the same way that everyone else was, their bodies close but not quite touching as their hips moved in rhythm together provocatively. But slowly things started to change.

The dark haired girl got significantly more explicit with the actions she was miming out. She acted out binding Naruto's wrists over his head, cinching her hands as though tightening cuffs. Naruto kept his hands above his head as though they were secured there in reality. The girl then grabbed his shoulder, giving him a rough shove to turn him around. Whether acting or not, he complied with the physical order, smirking over his shoulder at her. She then pretended to coil an imaginary whip, giggling as he wiggled his ass at her in taunting. Trying to look stern, she then raised her arm over her head, bringing it down in a lashing motion. Staying in character, Naruto arched back as though struck.

"That's it, Hinata. Whip the shit out of him!" Kiba laughed drunkenly while Shino had his iPhone out recording it for later blackmail.

A growing group of dancers were watching in aroused amusement as the two continued their little performance of a live BDSM session.

Itachi slanted a questioning glance at Sakura, wondering if she had been mistaken about Naruto's status as single.

"Oh, that's just Hinata. She's like... Naruto's sister," Sakura said, just as Hinata grabbed Naruto's hair in her fist and yanked it back hard. They could see Naruto's shoulders shaking with laughter. She sucked on her index finger, then slid it down her throat to her rather impressive cleavage.

"That's an interesting way for 'siblings' to act with each other," Sasuke said acidly.

"Hn. Looks like we've been doing it all wrong, Otouto," Itachi said, smirking as Sasuke choked on his water.

"Well, it started a few years ago at Hinata's birthday party. Naruto was invited as sort of a friend-of-a-friend. Hinata's cousin was giving her a hard time about being such a wall flower at her own party. Neji was being a little harsh about it, even though really he just wanted her to go out and meet people. Naruto overheard and got mad, so he introduced himself to her and asked her to dance. Evidently he asked her if she wanted to give her cousin a bit of a shock by dancing close with him, promising that he was already dating someone and wouldn't hit on her. Hinata started off a little tentatively, but by the end of the song the entire room was whispering and staring at them. I guess Hinata got a bit addicted to the attention. They do this whenever we go out."

Hinata had dropped to her knees in front of Naruto (who was laughing almost hysterically at this point) and was now miming out -

"Oh, my god," Sakura said, her cheeks pinkening. "Looks like they've added to the routine."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "She seems to be pretty into it."

Sakura snapped her eyes from the spectacle her two friends were making in the middle of the club and looked over to gauge Sasuke's expression. He looked decidedly annoyed. "Oh, no. Hinata is completely in love with Kiba," she said, pointing to the attractive man with shaggy, brown hair was watching her in rapt attention, drool practically running down his chin. "Half of this performance is to try to get him to finally get off his ass and make a move on her."

"And Naruto?" Itachi asked, his eyes hooded slightly, but the amusement showing through as he took in his little brother's disgruntled expression and asked the question he knew Sasuke had too much pride to voice.

"Naruto?" Sakura laughed. "No, unfortunately Hinata is NOT his type. She's way too sweet. Naruto definitely likes -" Sakura had glanced over toward the 'couple' again as the song was drawing to an end. Hinata had stood and was brushing her knees off. But it was the man who had come up behind Naruto that made all the color drain from her face. "Oh, no. Not now. Kiba!" Sakura shouted to him from across the room, but he appeared to be heading in the opposite direction towards the men's room and didn't hear her. Shino and Shikamaru were also nowhere to be seen.

Ignoring the startled looks from her two bosses and their friends, Sakura leapt to her feet and started frantically making her way through the crowd to get to Naruto.

. . . . . .. . . . .

Naruto was having fun.

It was nice to just be out with his friends and cut loose. His head was fuzzy with drink, but he had stopped in time to avoid feeling sick, having learned that lesson in the past. He had been really focused on work and really not doing much outside of that for over a year. But he had good friends, even though he occasionally wanted to kill them. And tonight was about just being with his friends and blowing off some steam. He had no intention of hooking up tonight, even though he knew his friends were hoping he'd find someone. He wasn't ready. And more importantly, he wasn't interested. The only one who had even remotely registered on his radar was... not going to happen.

But he enjoyed the role playing that he did with Hinata. It was nice to feel sexy and know he wouldn't be obligated to actually have sex with anyone. And he knew the thrill that Hinata got from being the center of attention and doing something her family would be scandalized about. Having grown up so restricted, cloistered and shy, this was still a novel and heady feeling for her. And she knew it was safe with Naruto. It was just a performance, and he would never take advantage of her, or let anyone else get too close.

Naruto watched her stand, her face flushed and her eyes twinkling as she looked over to see if Kiba was still watching her. Kiba knew the score between Naruto and Hinata, so he didn't get jealous. Or at least, not in the sense that he thought there was anything going on. It was true that he wished he was the one out there dancing with her. But it was also true that he understood that - if it were him and not Naruto - it wouldn't be an act. And as much as Hinata enjoyed making fun of others involved in PDA, she was private about her own personal life.

Naruto winked at Kiba, who responded with an eye roll before turning and heading to the men's room. The show was over. Shikamaru and Shino had drifted off with others to dance as the night was still going strong.

Hinata opened her mouth to say something to him, but froze with an expression of almost horror on her face just as Naruto felt a familiar touch slide over his hip and around to the front of his hard, flat stomach. The scent of an achingly familiar cologne hit is senses, causing his whole body to seize up in almost instant arousal. He didn't need to hear the low, rough voice to know who it was standing behind him.

"Miss me? Sorry it took me so long... I didn't realize I was keeping you waiting until I saw your paper this morning."

The voice alone had Naruto's cock standing at full attention. "Sasori," Naruto breathed, closing his eyes as he felt the man press against him, a hand sliding up over Naruto's throat. The alcohol seemed to amplify the lust that was swirling through him, shutting down his thought processes even though a part of his brain was screaming at him to step away and break the contact.

"What are you doing here? H-He doesn't want to s-see you anymore!" Hinata said fiercely, her childhood stammer reappearing, showing just how upset she was.

Sasori raised a brow, smirking. "I don't see him pulling away, do you? Besides, your friends made it clear he needed me. Didn't you think I'd see your paper? You still haven't been able to move on, have you, Naruto. I knew you couldn't really walk away from what we had."

It had been so long. Naruto drew a shuddering breath as he felt his lover's hand tighten around his jaw, turning his head to face him. Stop this, the sane part of Naruto's mind shouted, reminding him of how bad things had gotten with Sasori. How controlling Sasori had become, Sasori's refusal to walk away from the drugs he had started using. Then selling. All the reasons that Naruto had known it had to be over.

But no one else had ever made him feel the way Sasori did. If Naruto had been sober, he would have been able to stop himself. But with all his resistance gone, all Naruto felt was the overwhelming lust that pounded through him at the memories that the scent and sound of his lover evoked.

Before he could even think, Naruto had spun around, slamming Sasori hard against the wall, his forearm braced across the redhead's collar bone. Then their mouths were fused together, and Naruto was drowning. He didn't care who was watching. He didn't care that this was an enormous mistake. His lips and teeth scraped a path down Sasori's throat, and the brown eyes glowed in triumph as Hinata watched on in horror. This was the last thing any of them wanted, Naruto getting drawn back into the relationship that had almost destroyed him.

"Naruto, stop! This isn't what you want!"

Sasori laughed, the sound low sensual. "It's exactly what he wants. Why do you think he's never even looked at anyone else in the past year? I know what he really likes."

Sasori dug his nails into the back of Naruto's shoulders as Naruto pressed harder against him. "Oh, god," Naruto breathed out, past the point of thinking.

But hands were pulling him away. "Naruto, stop!"

Hinata's gentle pull was replaced by one much more forceful, and Naruto found himself torn away from the man he was about ten seconds away from fucking into the wall in a club full of curious onlookers.

"Hinata, take Naruto home and stay with him until he sobers up. Whatever you do, don't let him leave," Sakura said, glaring at the undeniably attractive brunette in front of her.

"The fuck, Sakura? I don't need a babysitter. I just... lost my head for a second, there," Naruto said, his voice still rough with lust. But his mind was clearing as he looked at the arrogant face of his ex.

"It's only a matter of time, Naruto. No one else can make you feel the way I do. I know your dark side... what makes you scream in pleasure. There will never be anyone else."

Naruto shuddered at the man's words, knowing they might well be true. "Maybe. Maybe I won't ever find anyone else. But that doesn't mean I'll get back together with you. I don't need to be with someone to be happy."

Hinata pulled on Naruto's arm, and he took another stumbling step away from the man that was drawing him like iron filings to a magnet.

Sasori's dark smile grew. "All I had to do was touch you once, and you were ready to fuck me right here. Don't kid yourself, you belong to me. You'll never-"

His words were cut off as Sakura's fist caught him squarely in the jaw. "He's not yours, you asshole. The only reason Naruto didn't knock you flat on your ass was because he's drunk, and you know it! That's why you waited so late in the evening to make your move."

Kiba had finally returned and was now pulling Sakura back. Sasori ran his fingers along his lip, checking for blood. It sucked that you couldn't hit a girl back. His fist was aching to. He watched as Hinata led the blond away. But he could get her back verbally. "It doesn't matter what you do. Naruto knows what he wants," with that, Sasori turned and left in the other direction.

. . . .

Itachi and Sasuke had followed Sakura over, concerned about the look of panic on her face.

They had seen the transformation of Naruto's expression go from light-hearted and joking with Hinata to an almost feral look of lust at the touch of the red-headed man. Sasuke felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle when Naruto had turned and slammed the man who was clearly an ex-lover of his into the wall, the blue eyes almost black with lust and aggression. If Sasuke had thought the blond was somewhat attractive before, seeing that look on his face had amplified the attraction a thousand-fold.

The words that the red-head had taunted Naruto with made Sasuke's eyes narrow. He thought Naruto would never be attracted to anyone else. Oh, really?

Naruto was shoved towards Sasuke as Hinata tried to get him as fast as possible away from Sasori and out of the club. Sasuke smirked at the glazed look on Naruto's face. "Bad break-up?"

Naruto looked at him, and their gazes locked for a moment. Slowly, an answering smirk appeared on Naruto's face. But unlike Naruto's usual expressions, it flashed again with the dark lust that he had just seen directed at the red-head. A mutual awareness passed between them.

"Bastard," Naruto said, his voice low and husky. Taunting.

"Naruto, come on. Let's get you home," Hinata said, breaking the moment. Naruto let himself be led out, but he looked back over his shoulder just as they reached the exit. Sasuke was still looking at him, the smirk still playing on his face. He raised a single black eyebrow, as though issuing a challenge. Naruto grinned, then left, allowing Hinata to hail them a cab and see him home.

At least he was no longer thinking of Sasori. Naruto smiled darkly. Someone else had finally captured his interest.

-xXx-

To be continued.

I know a lot of you were hoping for me to finally write a little GaaNaruGaa action. Because you know I want to. I really do. But the problem is, I actually like Gaara better than Sasuke, so if Naruto ever actually hooked up with Gaara, then Sasuke would be SOL as far as I'm concerned. I just can't break Gaara's heart. So... yeah, it was Sasori. But hey, he's still freaking hot. When he's not playing with his puppets.

Thanks to Kyuubi-Insomniac for Naruto's T-shirt in the first scene.

Chapter Text

Summary:

Naruto runs an underground newspaper called 'The Daily Ramen', focused on poking fun at the fragile egos of the rich and famous. How does Sasuke respond when he moves to town and gets in Naruto's crosshairs? Not particularly well. Sasuke x Naruto (Yaoi boy x boy)

Warning: Sexual tension boy x boy and dirty thoughts.

Author's note: Sorry this is later than usual. Between just life stuff messing with me, I also somehow talked myself into thinking writing 4 fics at the same time was a good idea. Ummmm? Not sure what I was doing with my brain. And the larger issue is that Naruto and Sasuke are not currently having sex in ANY of the chapters I am working on. How is that even possible? Clearly I fail as an author at my smut planning. LOL. One of these boys just needs to hurry up and jump the other one in at least ONE of my fics soon. Soooooooon.

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, October 24

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

Another US congressman was embroiled in yet another a sex scandal this week involving e-mailed photos of his penis and sexting with a young intern. When asked to speculate about what could possibly motivate the successful, seemingly happily married politician to commit such an act, a world-renown behavioral psychologist explained. "I think he was hoping to get laid." Expounding on this revolutionary perspective, she explained. "My hypothesis is that he was hoping to get the attention, sexually, of a younger and generally hotter partner than what he would have been able to attract if he were employed as, say, a check-out clerk rather than a senator." When asked to confirm whether or not he was hoping to receive sexual favors in return for sending the photo of his crotch to the young intern, the senator merely glanced at his wife, who was smiling frigidly, and said he was not able to comment at this time.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local college student finds heavy course load is cutting into his core gaming and jacking-off time. Vows to take fewer classes next semester, and to schedule them for when his roommate will be gone so he and his right hand can have some 'quality time' until he is able to score a girlfriend. Which, given his current gaming obsession, is not likely to happen any time soon.

In other news, the entire staff of the Daily Ramen might want to check their blood arsenic levels. In their foolish naiveté, they continued to mooch coffee every damn day off a certain friend who they decided to throw under the bus last week. Just so you all know, I HAVE CHANGED MY NUBMER AND MY EMAIL ADDRESS and Sai is no longer allowed to post anything without my written approval REGARDLESS of what that asshole partner of mine says.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

The 1950's are dead, people. Time to move on and spare the rest of us your nauseating displays of ownership over each other through your tacky matching sweaters. There is a couple that I keep seeing down at the park. They do the usual cute, innocent PDA things like holding hands while taking walks and feeding each other crackers on the park bench. I don't have too much of a problem with that (although, *yawn*, are they eighty or something?) but the matching sweater thing really bothers me. If you want to show possession, I think a D/s collar does that in a much more interesting way. Then, at least, the matching sweaters could be viewed as a kink, and move their rating up from a 1 to at least a 6.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Asshole neighbors were shocked when area teens egged their home. Known for being the most annoying human beings ever to live on Putnam St, a middle aged couple found themselves the target of minor vandalism. When filling out the police report, they said they had no idea why anyone would have done this. Which was fucking hilarious to their neighbors, because these guys routinely call the cops whenever anyone on their block has a party (even children's birthday parties) to complain about the noise. They ask their elderly neighbor to shovel their sidewalk, because 'he is retired and should make himself useful to those who are still productive in society'. They also are known for leaving notes on their neighbors' doors if the trash cans are not put back into the garages within two hours of trash collection. They even filed a charge of child abuse to a local family who allowed their children to play with sparklers on the 4th of July. Anyone who didn't see some type of retribution coming is truly deserving of a Dumbass of the Day award. A local teen who preferred to remain anonymous said the couple should watch their tires next time they hand out fucking apples on Halloween.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

No sex for rabbits this week. I repeat: Rabbits will NOT be having sex. Everyone else is invited to an all-year orgy at our political cartoonist's studio. Though you will have to sign a waiver at the door that any nudity at said orgy will be fair game to be captured on paper by said artist.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

A mega ultra-super extreme triathlon has been announced! Ironmen are now officially pussies! For the first time ever, there will be a mega ultra-super extreme triathlon held in Hawaii! Contestants will begin by swimming the Pacific to Anchorage, Alaska, then bicycling down to LA, then across to New York, and finally running 17 marathons in a row! Two contestants have already announced they will be running barefoot! Local hospitals standing by to perform autopsies on contestants to understand what drives these lunatics! I, myself, will be... too busy... unfortunately... to participate... doing... um... things... but otherwise I would TOTALLY DO THIS!


Naruto had spent Saturday recuperating from a massive hangover, his phone blessedly silent since no one had his new number yet except his parents. Normally, he would have gone to the gym, but instead he lay on his couch, drinking lemonade and watching old Bruce Lee movies.

He was midway through Enter the Dragon when there was a soft knock on his door. "It's open," Naruto said, feeling too lazy and dehydrated to get off the couch.

The door pushed open and Uzumaki Kushina walked in carrying a large jug of what Naruto assumed correctly was ginger lemonade.

Naruto grinned at her, lifting his half-full glass of the same liquid in a salute. "See? I learned from the best."

Kushina smiled, grabbing a clean glass from the kitchen.

"Push over a bit," she said, swatting at his legs that were stretched over the entire length of the sofa. Obediently, Naruto curled his legs up, making space for her to sit, then stretched them back out over her lap. She glanced at the screen, where a Bruce Lee was frozen in midair in a very badass looking flying sidekick. "Ooooh, Enter the Dragon. My favorite!" She reached over and grabbed the remote, pressing play.

They sipped lemonade and kept a running commentary on the various fight scenes, which moves were fake and which were real. No one knew kung fu movies like his mom. Naruto grinned, relaxing into the familiar feel of how they used to spend most evenings when he was growing up.

"So, Shika called me this morning," Kushina finally said, gauging Naruto's reaction from the corner of her eye.

"That Judas. Did you see the latest edition of the paper?"

Kushina snorted. "And you were somehow surprised? Remember what you did to Shika in the first year of the paper on his birthday?"

Naruto sighed blissfully at the memory. "Yeah... that was fucking awesome."

Kushina smacked him over his head. "Language. Anyway, what comes around goes around. You know that."

Naruto shrugged, long since over his annoyance about the whole thing. But he'd let his friends suffer a bit more worrying about it. It was the principle of the thing, after all.

"That actually wasn't why he called me, though," Kushina said, turning now and fully facing her son. "He said that Sasori showed up at your birthday party last night."

Naruto blinked, honestly having completely forgotten about Sasori. "Yeah... well, we ran into each other, but it was no big deal."

Kushina narrowed her eyes at her son, and Naruto was relieved that he wasn't currently trying to hide anything. Once Kushina got that look, there was no way to keep her from digging out every last strand of truth.

"No big deal? From the boy who has spent basically the past year as a social hermit since he couldn't forget about his ex-boyfriend enough to move on to even casual dating?"

Naruto shrugged. "Like you said. It's been more than a year. It's over. I honestly wasn't even thinking about it this morning."

A wicked grin suddenly broke out over Kushina's face. "You've met someone new, haven't you?"

Oh, fuck, Naruto said, quickly clearing his mind of all mental images of Sasuke in case his mother actually could read his mind the way he sometimes feared as a child. He wasn't sure what he really felt about Sasuke at this point beyond anger combined with strong physical attraction, and he didn't want to discuss that with his mother. Yeah, mom. There's a guy I sort of hate but also sort of want to have extremely dirty, violent sex with. Nope. Not talking about that. Naruto didn't even really want to admit that to himself. Except for the hate part. That part was safe enough. The part that dealt with his release of over a year's worth of sexual repression was not something he chose to think about consciously. Except maybe in the shower this morning. But that was just one time.

He was sure it was an aberration.

"Not really," Naruto said, trying to answer his mother's question without giving away his thoughts. "Can't someone just be ready to move on without anyone in particular in mind?"

Kushina's grin spread further. "Someone, yes. You, no. But it's ok. You don't have to tell me anything, yet. It's probably early days and meeting the parents is always a big step. I don't know who they are, but I like them already."

Naruto raised an eyebrow in question, surprised he was being let off the hook so easily. Kushina continued, "Anyone who can make you forget Sasori is already on my good side. Can you just tell me... is it a boy or a girl?"

Naruto rolled his eyes at how much his mother sounded like a kid in a candy store. "Boy. But I don't like him."

Kushina put her fist in the air in victory. "Yes! I told Minato you were going to end up with a boy. Now your father owes me twenty bucks."

"I'm, not ending up with anyone, Mom. We've barely talked. Honestly, he's kind of an ass."

Kushina laughed confidently. "Oh, honey. It won't matter. You never did like overly nice men or women. You fill that role yourself in a relationship and you need someone to balance you out. Sort of like your father and I."

"Yeah, Dad's the nice one. You're the crazy one," Naruto grinned as his mother cuffed him affectionately over the head, not disputing the characterization.

"Yeah, well, don't get overly excited about it," Naruto said, not sure why his mom was reading as much into this as she was. "Really, he's just some guy that pisses me off. The last thing I need is Hinata and the guys trying to orchestrate a relationship between us. They've been all up in my business with anything having to do with dating since I broke it off with Sasori."

Kushina cocked her head to the side, deciding that - given the typical over-enthusiasm with which Naruto's friends approached sensitive issues - her son was probably making the right call by not discussing it with them. Of course, he was crazy if he thought he would actually be successful at hiding anything from them, but at least he was trying. And if he needed to be in denial with himself for a bit while his mind got used to the idea of being attracted to someone other than Sasori, then who was she to interfere?

She sighed contentedly as they put in The Big Boss, her second favorite Bruce Lee film. For the first time in over a year, she was pretty sure Naruto was really going to be ok.

-xXx-

Sasuke was not hoping to run into Naruto. While the blond might be attractive, he was completely annoying.

If Sasuke happened to go every evening to the gym that he had been told Naruto frequented, or walk past the building where the Daily Ramen was headquartered conveniently two blocks from where he lived, it was purely coincidence. Sasuke just didn't have to travel much this week and wanted to take advantage of the gym membership Itachi had bought for him.

And he may or may not have overheard Sakura telling Itachi about how she and Naruto used to always meet at a little ramen stand a block or two away from their office, since that was Naruto's favorite place to eat.

The fact that Sasuke found himself buying lunch there one day was simply that he was taking a local's advice on where to eat lunch close to his office.

He didn't really want to talk to Naruto, exactly. Though he did enjoy the slight rush that he got by provoking the young journalist. Seeing the way the man bristled at his little jibes, Naruto's muscles tensing in irritation, blue eyes snapping with anger had set Sasuke's blood thrumming. Usually, people were too busy trying to please Sasuke to ever even consider coming right back in his face with an equally insulting remark. In fact, he couldn't remember it ever happening before. Naruto had shown him absolutely no deference, even after finding out who he was. He hadn't appeared to care at all if Sasuke liked him or not.

Yes, there was no doubt that Naruto pissed Sasuke off.

But he would be lying if he said it didn't also turn him on.

There was something about the way that he never knew what Naruto was going to do or say. He was unpredictable... and didn't quite seem to fit into any of the boring molds that everyone else seemed to come from.

Sasuke found 99.9999% of the people on the planet completely annoying. The women (and men) who swooned over his looks bored him to tears in minutes, generally never able to discuss anything other than how his body looked in his clothing (or out of it), or his hair, or his eyes. Having grown up with people constantly telling him how attractive he looked, it was no longer interesting to hear about it.

Not to mention the implication (though usually unintentional) that his looks were the most interesting part about him. Why people seemed to think that being told they liked him because he was 'so good looking' was supposed to be a compliment, Sasuke would never understand. Any idiot could be handsome. Sasuke had graduated top of his class, was considered a genius at business development, and had travelled to more countries than most people could name on a map.

He had zero interest in people who only wanted to talk about how nice his fucking hair looked. They can go date a barber. Not Sasuke.

The people who usually pursued him in 'society events' were often more drawn to his money than his looks. This group was slightly better skilled at trying to hide their motivation, but Sasuke found that typically within the first five minutes of conversation they would compliment him on his watch, the brand of his shoes, ask what car he had driven that evening, or enquire about the size of his... house.

By the age of six he had developed a strategy to dealing with both types. He would be as coldly rude as possible, driving away all but the most aggressive of his pursuers. At which point he would go from coldly rude to aggressively threatening until they left him alone. In the very worst of cases, he would call in Itachi, which generally resulted in the offending party disappearing from the face of the earth.

Sometimes it was good to have the devil as an older brother.

Sasuke's approach worked well. It had the added benefit of warning off any of the thin-skinned, overly romantic individuals who would require high doses of praise and loving words, neither of which Sasuke was likely to provide frequently, if ever. He had told his mother he loved her. Twice. That should be more than sufficient for his quota in this lifetime. It was surely more than his father had managed.

Naruto, while still infuriating, didn't really fit into any of those categories. He had seemed relatively unimpressed with Sasuke's looks, though he had clearly noted them. And even after finding out who Sasuke was, Naruto had seemed underwhelmed at best with Sasuke. It made Sasuke want to poke at Naruto, to make him respond to him, to prove that Naruto really was just like everyone else, but just with slightly better packaging.

Sasuke considered himself fortunate that Itachi had been distracted by the drama of their head of PR starting a bar fight and had missed the brief exchange between himself and Naruto as the blond had left the club. Itachi was constantly trying to interfere in Sasuke's sex life. Or any other facet of his life, for that matter. Nothing would please Itachi more than to see his little brother in some sort of relationship.

Which Sasuke found rather hypocritical, given that he didn't exactly see a ring on Itachi's finger, either. But Itachi had always had more fun messing around in Sasuke's life than focusing on his own. Dating would be no exception.

And Sasuke did not want to date the blond. Sure, the scene at the club had definitely made Sasuke think about just how Naruto would be in bed. And he may or may not have had a few very vivid dreams that involved pinning Naruto to the wall of the club or over the desk in his office.

But Sasuke wouldn't go so far as to say he liked Naruto.

He would admit that he had potentially finally taken his mother's advice and found a hobby... at least for however long it continued to be entertaining: winding up Uzumaki Naruto.

-xXx-

Naruto couldn't decide if he was trying to avoid Sasuke or trying to run into him.

If he happened to buy an extra coffee at the expensive, tasty, French place that just happened to be located in the same building where Sasuke's apartment was, that was purely coincidence. Even though he found himself constantly looking over his shoulder so he wouldn't be surprised by the asshole again.

And the fact that Naruto somehow always put on his tightest jeans when he did his grocery shopping at the upscale market where he had first met Sasuke was ALSO purely coincidental.

Naruto didn't have specific expectations for any encounters he may or may not have with the businessman. He knew the lust he was feeling was likely just him entering his much overdo rebound period. Naruto was careful about things like this, and he would never use someone emotionally like that. He wouldn't actually pursue Sasuke for a relationship or anything. He just wanted to bump into him and... feel that spark, that sharp twist of anger and lust that the man seemed to evoke in him. He wanted to know if what he had felt in the club had been just the residual lust he felt for Sasori temporarily confused and misplaced by the amount of alcohol he had consumed that night.

He needed to re-train his brain that it didn't have to be Sasori to make him feel things, that there were others out there who could get his blood going and stir his interest. Once he spent some time making sure he was totally over Sasori, he could think about whether he actually wanted a relationship. And it would definitely NOT be with some ice prince asshole who thought he was better than everyone else. Naruto was sure if he just spent a bit more time in Sasuke's presence he'd get over his strange fascination with him, and then be ready to actually find someone appropriate to date.

Given what he'd already learned of Sasuke's personality, he figured he didn't have to worry about accidentally "hurting the guy's feelings". Sasuke had an iceberg lodged so far up his ass that there was no way this would ever amount to more than casual (if aggressive and slightly hostile) flirting. Which was exactly what Naruto needed. He had been beginning to think he'd never be attracted to anyone after Sasori. Their relationship had been so intense it had burned all thoughts of anyone else from Naruto's mind, and when it had ended Naruto had just been... vacant.

He could admit that there was something about Sasuke's smug, perfect demeanor that instantly got Naruto's back up and made him want to tear into the man, both literally and figuratively. He wasn't sure if it was his own inferiority complex raising its ugly head, or just raw sexual tension.

Naruto was lost in thought as he pushed his cart aimlessly through the grocery store, not really paying attention to where he was. Today he had worn his other Daily Ramen T-shirt, which depicted a hangman with the man half drawn and the letters: F_CK _FF below it.

He heard a snort behind him and looked up, realizing that he had wandered into the feminine hygiene aisle and was currently standing in front of a stack of large boxes of tampons. He was about to quickly reverse his cart out of the aisle when a familiar baritone voice stopped him.

"That time of the month already for you?"

Naruto felt an instant reaction down his spine at the sound of that voice, and the familiar surge of anger, aggression, and - as he turned to lock his eyes on the black gaze waiting for him - lust.

"Nah, given that you seem to be on the rag every time I run into you, though, I thought I'd do you a favor and by the jumbo pack for you," Naruto said, gesturing casually toward the large stack of tampon boxes.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed as he stood there carrying a small shopping basket. Naruto glanced in the basket and saw some tasteless-looking whole-wheat crackers, tomatoes, and green tea.

Naruto's own cart contained beer, apples, and ramen. Hey, he had apples. He wasn't completely unhealthy.

"I would have thought that someone who was supposed to be a journalist would have better perceptiveness of something as obvious as gender. Though I suppose that the periodical that you write for would hardly qualify as news, making you not really much of a journalist."

Naruto's smile turned feral. "Well, you know, metro sexuality can reach a certain point where really you'd have to be a medical examiner to really tell. I mean... how long do you spend primping in the mirror each morning?"

Sasuke took a step closer, invading Naruto's personal space. "Most people seem to have no difficulty at all in telling what I have between my legs, idiot."

Naruto felt his blood heat considerably, and a familiar stirring below the waist at Sasuke's proximity and aggression. Not really thinking about their public location or potential consequences, he stepped forward as well, bringing their bodies close enough that he could feel the heat from Sasuke's body and breathe the faint scent of his cologne.

"Well," Naruto said, trying to keep his brain focused enough on their words to respond. He licked his suddenly dry lips, seeing the way Sasuke's eyes were drawn down to his mouth. "I would guess that if you pay people enough, they'll tell you whatever you want to hear," Naruto said, his voice low and slightly rough rather than taunting. His hands twitched with the repressed urge to fist into the bastard's duck-styled hair, and crush the man's arrogant lips to his. Other thoughts of what he'd love to make Sasuke's mouth do to shut him up had him suddenly almost painfully hard.

Sasuke blamed it completely on the fact that too much blood had suddenly pooled south of his brain that he was only able to come up with, "I can promise you that I've never had to pay anyone to do or say anything when it comes to sex."

Sasuke suddenly realized he was more than ready to make good on statement right now. How long had it been? Definitely too long.

He was vaguely aware of the sound of running footsteps before he felt something crash into the back of his legs, sending him the half-step forward so that his body connected with Naruto's. The contact brought immediate awareness of each other's erections, and unintended friction between them.

"Give it back, Yana! Mr. Skippy is mine! Moooooomm!" the two children continued their race down the aisle, the boy who looked to be about seven holding a plush bunny up high while a girl, who looked about a year younger, pounded after him screaming.

Naruto was the first to take a step back, breaking the contact. He couldn't believe what he had actually been considering doing in the middle of a grocery store. What the hell was wrong with him? Oh, yeah. Over a year with no sex and minimal masturbation. Clearly he needed to go home and fix that as soon as possible. At least the masturbation part. He looked at Sasuke, seeing the black eyes refocusing as well as they both snapped out of whatever sexual haze they had been trapped in.

Naruto tried to pull himself together enough to leave one last parting shot, before he went home and spent the next three hours jacking off in the shower to visions of what just happened. "Yeah, I'm sure that's what you tell everyone. But you know what they say about people who are all talk. I'm guessing you're just trying to compensate."

Sasuke felt his temper snap again, but of course he couldn't just shove Naruto into the nearest wall and... Sasuke blinked as his mind provided him with several mental images of exactly what he wanted to do with Naruto up against a wall.

But not in public. Especially not with children running around. He supposed it was good that they kept running into each other in crowded places, given the volatile combination of emotions that they both clearly evoked in each other.

Who knows what would happen if they were ever actually alone in a room together.

"Yeah, well, given that you get so little play that your friends had to take out an ad in the newspaper to try to help you out, I think I won't be taking any advice from you on how to get laid," Sasuke said, subtly adjusting his pants so he could walk without discomfort. Luckily the shopping basket he was holding would cover the majority of his problem.

He turned on his heel as Naruto opened his mouth to say something more, but was once again run down by small children carrying plushies. Naruto stumbled forward, barely catching himself before being flattened by the marauding children. He looked up to see Sasuke walking off with a satisfied smirk on his arrogant face.

Naruto hated letting the bastard have the last word.

A smile spread over his tan face. He didn't need to let Sasuke have the last word, actually. Naruto suddenly had an idea for what to write about in next week's column.

-xXx-

to be continued...

so... somehow I like the idea of Naruto having a really dirty mouth during sex in this fic. I don't know if it will play out that way when the time comes, but... there is a growing chance that this fic will contain a lot of dirty talk during sex. I'll give a proper warning if it happens that way. Won't be very far away at the rate this is escalating.

Hinata's column was inspired by Narutosgirl66, the dumbass neighbors for 420luver's wonderful neighbors (not her street name, of course), Lee's column was based on a friend of mine who is a sensei at a local dojo and does all these crazy ultramarathons and triathlons and he runs them barefoot and is completely insane.

Chapter Text

Author's note: Kishimoto's name is no longer allowed to be uttered in my presence and chapter 700 does not exist in my universe. I consider it AU, not canon.

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, November 7

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

Localized apocalypses are being reported all around the globe due to a catastrophically bad 'final chapter' of a popular Japanese manga. A woman dangling off the edge of a tall office building in New York City explains. "I just... I knew the pairing I shipped couldn't be mainstream. I knew it. But... what happened in that final chapter just... it violated all rules of storytelling. It was in direct contradiction to all of the 698 chapters that came before it. And... (she sobbed)... there were so many plot points left unexplained. Everyone aged so poorly and looked like gross versions of their parents. And... and... BOLT AND SALAD? No. Just no. My life is over due to poor naming choices," she said, releasing her grip on the ledge and landing with a melodramatic plop on a fluffy mattress she had laid out on the balcony below her before grabbing her briefcase and rushing off to work so as to not be late. But the upside to all the manga-associated angst is that global sales of both alcohol and gay porn have nearly doubled in the past 48-hours, giving the global economy a needed boost as it had been drifting once again towards recession.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

It has recently been disclosed that Uchiha Sasuke purchased a brand new McLaren MSO-P1. Aside from the fact that is strange for a grown man to want to purchase something that so closely resembles the Batmobile, rumors are arising around what he could possibly be... compensating for. A local expert on male sexual behavior has described such vehicles as 'the little dick' cars, whereby men who obviously lack horsepower in other areas try to make up for it with their vehicles. It should be noted that I personally drive a Prius. So... you know... nothing to prove here.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

A reader of my column recently e-mailed me and asked whether performing sexual acts in front of animals was technically considered PDA. At first I laughed, assuming this was a joke. Then I opened the attachment. Oh, Dear Lord. While having sex in a zoo is not considered PDA due to the animals that are watching, it is considered PDA for the busload of elementary school children that are clearly visible peeking at you through the bushes from where you and your partner were 'getting in tune with you animal nature'. While I was impressed by the thought that had gone into the animal cosplay outfits you had chosen, I docked points for your choice of audience. Monkeys are fine. 7-year-olds not so much.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

In a classic version of Romeo and Juliet, a man was in the process of divorcing his wife of twenty years and mother of their three children to marry a woman half his age (interestingly, the same age as his daughter). The man and his mistress were making out in the back seat of his Mercedes as he told her in detail how he had set up a secret bank account over the past two years of their affair to hide a significant portion of his wealth from his wife and her divorce attorney. Unfortunately for him, he had not taken his wife's number off his cell phone, and accidentally butt-dialed her just before the conversation had started. It turns out his wife was able to not only take excellent notes, but she recorded it as well, and now has excellent documentation not only of the length and nature of the affair, but a detailed record of his financial misconduct. You, sir, are our Dumbass of the Day


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

After much meditation, I have a series of very specific recommendations for my loyal readers: First, to the rats - remember that smuggling heroin is a very delicate operation. Do not puncture the balloon before you swallow it. Ever. To the ox and tigers - I am sorry to say that your phone bills will be truly insane this month. You should put in for overtime now. To the rabbits - your hubris will be your downfall. Despite all the play you get, you are - in fact - not very good in bed. To my dragon and snake readers - try listening to your body this week. It might give you a clue as to what really happened at that party last month. I'd go get checked at the clinic, personally. To the rams and moneys - having sex with farm animals does not in fact make you an 'animal breeder'. Why? Because we have other words to describe you. To the roosters - stop talking about your cocks. Everyone already knows. To the Dog and boar readers - fluffing the blanket after you pass gas in bed does not fool your bed partner into thinking it wasn't you.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Professional sports teams everywhere are trying to improve the lives of their athletes! By lobbying pharmaceutical companies to increase the 'maximum safe dosage' of pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications! Just because an injury will deliver chronic, lifelong pain, doesn't mean it has to be season ending! The pharmaceutical companies responded by [sorry, the internet is full again! More next week!]


-xXx-

Naruto sipped his champagne at the fundraising event that he was attending. Normally, he wouldn't be caught dead at one of these black tie events, but it was the local chapter of the 'Youth at Risk' organization, and he was a staunch supporter of it, having been on the receiving end of some of their programs in his youth. They usually asked him to give the introductions for the keynote speakers, to inject a little humor into the otherwise stuffy affair and loosen people up so they'd donate more money.

Evidently there had been some last-minute adjustments to who was actually going to be speaking tonight, so Naruto had yet to be told who he would be introducing. But he knew pretty much everyone who was active with the charity in the community, so he was sure he could pull something out of his ass whenever the organizer finally let him know who it was.

Though since dinner was going to be starting in about thirty minutes, so he hoped that they would let him know pretty soon.

He hoped it was Neji. It was always fun to poke at that guy. Most people didn't know it, but they actually had become tentative friends through the organization. As long as the conversation steered clear of Hinata.

He looked up to see TenTen making her way through the crowd towards him.

Finally, Naruto thought, feeling a bit of nerves, and hoping whoever they picked would at least give him something to work with.

"Naruto! I'm so sorry this is so late. We were going to have Sarutobi speak again this year, but he came down with pneumonia last week and we have been scrambling to find someone high profile enough to take his place. But it is amazing. You'll never believe who we got to come and give a speech on the importance of the organization's activities."

TenTen paused, and Naruto realized that - despite the fact that he literally now had only fifteen minutes to come up with something both funny and appropriate for this audience - she expected him to guess.

"The Prime Minister's mistress? Geez, Ten, just give me the guy's name so I can come up with some shit to say. I have to get up on stage in like ten minutes."

TenTen sighed, but was too excited to be put off by Naruto's nerves. "It's one of the Uchiha brothers! He was evidently very involved with the branch of our organization in the city where he used to live. When he heard we were looking to fill Sarutobi's spot, he agreed to do it as long as we didn't make a big deal out of it in the papers in advance!" TenTen said, obviously excited at the prospect of having an influential, wealthy, popular new benefactor for the organization.

Naruto's eyes went to the podium, dreading to see the answer to the question already forming on his lips. "Which Uchiha brother?"

And there he was, standing off to the side, glaring directly at Naruto from across the room. Naruto looked directly at him, and smirked, not about to appear in any way intimidated by the man's look. Sasuke's glare intensified.

"Uchiha Sasuke. The younger one. Why, do you two know each other?" TenTen asked, feeling slightly concerned as Naruto's usually innocuous face was now cast in an unholy grin.

"Yeah... I met him once or twice. Please excuse me, I need to go prepare an introduction," Naruto turned and walked over to the bar, quickly replacing his champagne with a shot of whiskey to help him get through the next hour. He turned, deciding he would not do anything to seem repentant or nervous about Sasuke's possible reaction to the column he had published that week. He wondered if Sasuke knew Naruto would be introducing him. He would bet his rented tux that he didn't. Naruto's smile widened.

Oh, he was going to enjoy this.

His eyes did a quick scan of the room, relieved to see Itachi was not present. As brave as Naruto was, there was something about Sasuke's older brother that made Naruto... cautious. He inwardly winced when he remembered the call he had received from Itachi they day the latest issue of the paper had come out.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"I thought we agreed that you would clear articles about my family before they went live."

"Itachi! Hello to you, too," Naruto said, wondering how in the hell Itachi had gotten his personal cell number when he hadn't even given it to his crew at the Daily Ramen yet. When there was no response, Naruto continued. "Ok, so I am going to ignore the fact that you should not have been able to get this number and remind you that I had promised not to post anything about you. Your brother continues to make himself fair game."

"Continues to? Have you met with Sasuke again?"

"Hmmmmm," Naruto said non-committally, suddenly aware of the intense interest in Itachi's voice. "Anyway, I did check my facts with the local dealer. I know I got the model of the car right."

Itachi's soft chuckle came over the line, making the hair on the back of Naruto's neck stand up. "I assume you are aware of the likely outcome of your... choice of subject matter."

Naruto shrugged, though he knew the older man couldn't see. "I don't care if he gets ticked off about it. I made it clear what was fact and what was opinion."

"Very well, Naruto-kun. I'm sure we'll be in touch. Sasuke happens to be out of the country on business for the next few days. You can save yourself some money on coffee."

With that cryptic remark, Itachi had hung up. Naruto tried to pretend that Itachi's parting words did not imply that he was potentially aware of Naruto's increased number of visits to the coffee shop in Sasuke's building.

Evidently, Sasuke had returned from his business trip. And by the looks of it, he'd seen the article.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Uchiha," Naruto said with a smirk as he finally arrived next to the dark-haired man. He tried to not let his eyes slide over the way that Sasuke's obviously tailored tux fit his body perfectly. No one should be allowed to look that good with their clothes on. He immediately shut his brain down from trying to imagine what Sasuke looked like with his tux off.

"Uzumaki," Sasuke said, his eyes narrowed. "I almost didn't recognize you without an annoying T-shirt. I thought this event was supposed to have some sort of entrance fee to keep the riff-raff out."

"Actually, I'm a staple at these events. They always have me introduce the keynote speakers."

There was a slight pause as Sasuke realized what Naruto was informing him of.

"No," Sasuke said, his eyes already roving the crowd, likely seeking out TenTen to request a change.

"Chicken?" Naruto asked.

"What?"

"You heard me. This is supposed to be a charity event. Is your ego so enormous that you're afraid take a little poking for a good cause?"

Sasuke eyed him. "We'll talk about your article after dinner, Dobe."

Something about the predatory glint that entered Sasuke's eyes when he said that made Naruto's palms sweat a little bit. But it was too late for him to worry about the consequences of his column now. So he grinned instead.

"Whatever, bastard."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

They sat next to each other in the two straight-backed chairs to the left of the stage as TenTen stood behind the podium, thanking everyone for coming and reminding them about the organization's mission and the need for their generosity this evening. Then she was smiling to Naruto, introducing him as 'the man who needs no introduction to this audience.'

Naruto shot Sasuke a sidelong glance, reveling in the way the man seemed to bristle under the implied threat of public humiliation.

But Naruto had done many of these events, and he knew where to draw the line. If for no other reason than TenTen would castrate him with her impressive weaponry collection if he blew their main fundraising event.

"Good evening. It's good to see some familiar faces here tonight," Naruto began. "As well as a few new ones."

"I know that many of you were expecting to see Old Man Sarutobi here tonight. Well... there he is," Naruto gestured to Sasuke. "If you want the name of his plastic surgeon, we will be raffling off the contact information starting at one million dollars later this evening." There was a murmur of chuckles through the audience. As expected, one of the young women in an expensive designer dress spoke up. "That's not Hiruzen Sarutobi. That's Uchiha Sasuke!"

Naruto grinned. "That's right! And for TWO million dollars we will be auctioning off his personal cell number as well as his daily schedule for stalking purposes for the next two weeks," Naruto said to more chuckles and more than a few wistful glances cast in Sasuke's direction. Sasuke simply sat, his face impassive. No sign of either amusement or annoyance coloring his expression. Though if Itachi had been in the room, he would have been able to tell instantly that Naruto was not going to get off lightly. "No, but seriously. I'm sure most of you have already met Konoha's two newest additions to society. Sasuke and his brother Itachi have already brought a lot of new jobs to the community, and evidently they are willing to bring a bit more. So consider yourselves lucky to have gotten in this year, because next year the price per plate is likely to double as all of the debutantes descend on our little event to try to catch their attention by any means possible. I propose auctioning off tickets to see a wet T-shirt contest between the two brothers, but that will have to be decided by the event organizers. I would have said we should auction a date with him, but I have it on good authority that he's not much of a conversationalist. So we'll stick with just trying to capitalize on his pretty face." There was good humored laughter, as most people assumed that the two young men must know each other and this was simply friendly joking.

"Since I know that you are all really just waiting for dinner to arrive, I'll cut this short and turn the floor over to Uchiha Sasuke." There was a polite round of applause as Sasuke walked up, passing Naruto on his way to the podium. Naruto was feeling rather proud of himself for refraining from saying anything that would make TenTen hunt him down, but the look that Sasuke shot him as he brushed by told Naruto that Sasuke might not yet have become acquainted with TenTen's little pastime.

"Hn," Sasuke said, addressing the crowd. "Thank you for the... interesting introduction, Mr. Uzumaki. I would offer to sell Uzumaki's number, but his paper already gave it away for free, so..." Everyone chuckled, as many of them followed Naruto's underground paper. "Evidently even the best efforts of Konoha's media syndicate weren't enough to help him find a date for this evening. Since this is a charity event, however, we can only hope he will finally have a bit of luck finding someone with sufficient sympathy to help him out for the rest of the evening. And hopefully distract him from his apparent fascination with my personal life." Another round of laughter.

Naruto bit back a growl. He could have totally gone there as well, but he had held back and played nice. Sort of. Bastard.

Sasuke spared him only a ghost of a smirk before getting down to business and talking about his personal view of the importance of helping disadvantaged youths become productive members of society. Naruto was sure that Sakura wrote all the bastard's talking points, but he was a little surprised at how eloquently Sasuke made them. He saw rustles of movement as people began to reach for their checkbooks, and was sure that - whatever Naruto's own personal feelings about the guy, Sasuke actually was pretty good at this. He would have wondered why a rich guy like Sasuke even cared about Youth at Risk's mission, but wrote it off as most likely simply another part of their business strategy to spread the word about their organization. Naruto knew that 90% of people on the boards of charity organizations were simply there for the business contacts. He saw no evidence that Sasuke was any different.

Naruto shrugged internally. He supposed it didn't really matter why Sasuke was here, as long as it was working. The beaming expression on TenTen's face as she collected the donations told Naruto it clearly was. Soon there was applause, signaling the end of Sasuke's brief speech. The waiters were bringing out the first course of the meal for the evening's event. Naruto had promised TenTen he'd stay until drinks, but then he'd get out. He looked over and saw that Hinata had arrived and was seated with Neji on the far side of the room. She was eyeing Naruto assessingly, her curiousity clearly piqued by their little remarks on stage. Naruto was careful not to so much as glance at Sasuke as he made his way down from the podium. Hinata could smell potential romantic interest from a mile away. And the LAST thing he wanted was to appear in his own damn paper again less than a month.

The seating for the event had been assigned, and Sasuke ended up sitting almost directly across from him at the same table as TenTen and some of the other program sponsors. Naruto was acutely aware of the pair of coal black eyes fastened on him as Naruto fell into conversation with the young woman on his right. But by the time Naruto glanced back, Sasuke was already involved in a conversation with the elderly gentleman sitting next to him.

. . . . . . . . . .

Sasuke was annoyed at how many courses the stupid dinner appeared to be. Sure, the charity event was $250 a plate, so they couldn't exactly throw a Happy Meal on everyone's plate and send them home, but really, how many tiny, delicately arranged plates of food were they going to have to sit through?

Naruto wouldn't look at him. Sasuke was careful not to do more than let his gaze brush over the annoying blond occasionally, but it seemed like Naruto was engaging everyone at the table in meaningless conversation except Sasuke. Well... not actually meaningless. Sasuke had to admit he was a bit surprised to see Naruto at anything that didn't directly relate to his paper or his friends or a bar. But it was clear by the way everyone came up and spoke with Naruto that not only was he a regular at the fundraiser, but he was actively involved in helping with some of its programs. For a guy who seemed to do nothing but joke all the time, it had surprised Sasuke.

He listened surreptitiously to what Naruto was saying to the woman who had called Sasuke at the last minute when she had found out that he had been involved in the same charity before they had moved to Konoha. TenTen, he thought her name was. Naruto was raising his hands in a placating way as she informed him that she expected him to be on his best behavior that night. Sasuke couldn't help but hide a smirk. So that was why the blond was avoiding him. Evidently the journalist was at least partially housebroken.

That was fine if Naruto wanted to ignore him for now. Sasuke preferred to have his little conversation with Naruto more privately anyway. He looked at his watch. And estimated that there were at least three more courses between him and drinks at the end of dinner.

. . . . . . . . . .

After dinner, people rose from their tables to mingle over drinks that the two bars that were stationed at either end of the room, while waiters in black ties carried small trays of champagne to those choosing to remain seated. This was when all the business and networking got done. Sasuke sighed, already having marked the three people he knew he had to speak with before he could excuse himself for the evening. While he was here primarily for personal reasons, he would never miss an opportunity to multitask. As he made his way over to a man he recognized as being on the Banking Regulatory Commission, he noticed Naruto walking over to the same woman he had seen dancing with him at the club. Hinata, he recalled her name to be, who was standing next to an attractive male who was clearly related to her.

Naruto lifted Hinata's hand, making a show of kissing her inner wrist and waggling his eyebrows at her while the male next to her glowered. Hinata giggled, rolling her eyes, though a tiny blush did creep over her cheeks. If Sasuke hadn't seen Naruto at the club he might have still wondered if there was something going on between the two, but there was clearly no chemistry there, just teasing affection.

Without having to think about it, Sasuke turned away the advances of four woman who had tried to waylay him as he approached the man he needed to speak with. He'd deal with Naruto later.

After Sasuke had concluded business with the three people he had needed to, he saw Naruto grabbing his jacket, apparently about to leave.

Sasuke was a little surprised when a young brunette in an expensive-looking tux came up behind the blond and grabbed his ass.

"Konohamaru!" Sasuke could hear Naruto shout from halfway across the room. "Knock it off!"

The young man - apparently named Konohamaru, Sasuke registered - grinned unrepentantly. "Hinata said you were finally going to start dating again. I told her I was TOTALLY going to hit that. So? Are you finally ready to give me a chance?"

"You are about a decade of sexual experience short of being able to top me, brat, and I don't do twinks," Naruto said ruffling the younger man's hair.

"Hey! You're the blond!" Konohamaru said, apparently not surprised at being shot down. Or simply used to it. Sasuke got the feeling that it was more of a joke between them than anything serious. Though he frowned a bit as the younger man's hand lingered near Naruto's ass.

"Yeah, but you're the flake. Isn't it past your bedtime?" Naruto asked provokingly.

"Asshole! I'm only four years younger than you."

"And you're never going to catch up. I gotta get out of here. Too much ass-kissing gives me hives. Say hello to your grandpa for me," Naruto said, slipping his jacket on.

"Ok," Konohamaru's face fell slightly at the mention of his grandfather, and Naruto put a hand on his shoulder. "Is he out of the hospital yet?"

Konohamaru nodded. "He came home today, but... he still isn't breathing great."

"I'll come by tomorrow and see him. Ok?"

Konohamaru brightened a bit, and nodded. Naruto turned and headed towards the exit. Sasuke followed, his own jacket in his hand as he followed the blond out into the chilly night air.

. . . .

"Uzumaki," Sasuke said, gratified to see Naruto jump slightly at the sound of a voice directly behind him.

It was after 10pm and the evening had grown cool. "Uchiha," Naruto turned, a frown on his face. "Don't you have more ass-licking to do in there? The night's still young."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "In case you didn't notice, I have no need to. Most people suck up to me, not the other way around."

Naruto shivered as a blast of cold November wind sliced through his thin jacket. He took a step back into a narrow alley to the side of the building to get out of the wind. Sasuke followed him. "Arrogant, much?" Naruto said rolling his eyes.

Sasuke shrugged. "Well, it certainly isn't my imagination that you appear to have some sort of fixation about me," Sasuke said cockily.

"What!" Naruto shouted, then lowered his voice as an elderly couple who was also leaving early walked past and glanced into the alley. Naruto took a few steps deeper into the alley to be out of the glow of the streetlight. "You're the asshole who keeps showing up behind me everywhere I go. I'm always just minding my own business. If anyone's obsessed, it's definitely you."

"Psh," Sasuke said, following Naruto deeper into the shadows. "What would I possibly see in a loud-mouthed, second-rate writer like you?"

Naruto stopped walking, and turned to face Sasuke, his eyes looking almost black in the dim lighting. "Why don't you tell me? Why did you follow me out here, Sasuke?"

Sasuke shrugged. "I came to tell you to stop harassing me in your stupid paper."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Really? I was under the impression that you delegated all PR stuff like that to Sakura. Why not just have her call me?"

"I don't need someone else to take care of my personal annoyances," Sasuke said, taking a step closer, his eyes narrowing.

Naruto didn't step back. He vaguely realized that he no longer felt cold, despite the chill in the air that made their breath come out in white puffs. "Oh, so it's personal, between us?" He found himself taking a step forward, now firmly in Sasuke's space. There was only half a foot separating them.

"It's annoying. Not personal," Sasuke said, his eyes sliding down from Naruto's to where the breath that left his lips was visible.

Naruto knew vaguely that he was not really thinking things through right now. He never acted on physical attraction when there was no actual liking or even basic friendship between him and the other person. But he found himself taking another half-step forward, not able to fight the pulll that drew them so that the edges of his jacket brushed against Sasuke's, their bodies now less than an inch apart.

"So that's what you are right now? Annoyed" Naruto asked, watching his own hand raise up and brush the pad of his thumb across Sasuke's lower lip before letting his hand brace against the bricks behind the pale man's head.

Sasuke looked at him for a frozen second. "Fuck it," he said both hands fisting in Naruto's hair, pulling their lips together in what was definitely NOT a gentle 'get-to-know-you' kiss. Sasuke's lips bruised into Naruto's, forcing them open as Naruto thrust his tongue into Sasuke's mouth, not bothering for permission. Naruto shifted his body forward, shoving Sasuke roughly up against the wall, skinning the back of his own knuckles against the rough bricks as his hands tangled in the dark locks of Sasuke's hair.

Their teeth clicked together as their mouths pressed closer, their tongues sliding wetly against each other, fucking each other's mouths ruthlessly.

Sasuke was beyond thinking at this point, but tried to remember hazily how far they were from his car and how quickly could he drag Naruto back to it when they were startled back to reality by a woman's laughter. Naruto stepped back, abruptly, his eyes glazed and body panting.

"Wha- shit," he said running a finger along his lips, wiping off the excess moisture, feeling them throb against his touch. His lips weren't the only sensitized part of his body that was throbbing with each rapid pulse of his heart.

He looked over to the entrance of the alley, relieved to see that the woman was someone he didn't know, and she was laughing at something the man next to her was saying as they waited for a taxi. They hadn't been seen.

"Uh," Naruto said, turning to Sasuke. "I... this was really not... I mean..."

"Hn," Sasuke said, wiping his own mouth with the back of his hand, not taking his hooded eyes from Naruto's. "At least I finally found a way to shut you up."

Sasuke levered himself away from the brick wall. Despite the chill, he took off his jacket, using it to conceal the after-effects of their kiss on his body as he turned and walked out of the alley, nodding to the group of people that were just exiting the building where the event had been held.

"Bastard," Naruto said, half laughing and half annoyed. Sasuke turned slightly, just enough that Naruto could see the small smirk on his lips as he walked to where the valet nodded at him and jumped to bring his car around.

Naruto stood in the dark alley for several minutes, waiting for his body to cool. He shook his head, wondering what on earth possessed him to do what he had just done.

When he was ready, he headed out of the alley to catch a taxi home.

"Naruto!" Hinata called out to him as she and Neji had just come out of building, also ready to call an end to the day.

"Uh, hey, Hinata," Naruto said, shifting slightly under her sudden scrutiny. She peered over his shoulder, clearly trying to see if there was anyone following him out of the darkened alley way, her PDA-senses tingling as she took in his disheveled appearance and bee-stung lips.

"Who were you there with?" Hinata asked, looking around at the people getting into taxis nearby. Naruto was grateful that he had waited long enough that Sasuke was nowhere in sight.

"Uh, nothing. I mean, no one. I was just getting out of the wind for a bit. Can I catch a ride with you back? The line for taxis is pretty long, and the wind is brutal."

Neji grunted as he handed his tag to the valet to fetch his car. Hinata leaned in and whispered in Naruto's ear. "You don't really think I'm not going to find out, do you?"

-xXx-

to be continued...

Thanks to kitsuneXx for the dumbass of the day nomination (there have been several good ones recently, so more will be coming), and mangabae for the PDA... wow. Next chapter will happen at the gym. In the locker room, to be exact.

Chapter Text

Summary:

Naruto runs an underground newspaper called 'The Daily Ramen', focused on poking fun of the fragile egos of the rich and famous. How does Sasuke respond when he moves to town and gets in Naruto's crosshairs? Not particularly well. But who says arguing can't be foreplay? Sasuke x Naruto (Yaoi boy x boy)

Warning: Yaoi Lust and a little self-loathing. Speedos and their associated benefits.

Author's note: Sorry this is late. I rewrote it like three times. This was a tricky chapter for me for some reason to get the tone right. Thanks to Rasengan22 for chatting with me about it and giving me constructive advice and keeping me from obsessively deleting and rewriting in an endless loop. Hoping that after this the writing gets easier for me. This was supposed to be my 'easy' story, so I'm not sure why this chapter was so hard for me to get a version I was happy with. BUT, here it is. Finally. :-)

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, November 21

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

How did I ever miss this? My status as a savvy global reporter is in question. Playboy has been ranking US Universities, both by hottest bodies and 'Top 10 Party Schools'. Is there any wonder that the international brain drain, syphoning the brightest minds and most creative individuals, has been continuing despite the generally poor US economic performance? I have already penned a letter to our Minister of Education recommending that Japan hire a writer from Hustler to rank top Japanese schools. Junior high through college. Hey, we totally beat the US in the lower grades. Why not market it better? And who wouldn't want to send their 14-year-old girl to a school recommended by Playboy?


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

A local five star hotel was rumored to have cut a deal with local retailers to embed tracking devices in sleeping guests phones to monitor shopping patterns and preferences to use in better targeting of marketing efforts. When asked, the hotel owner refused to comment except to say he knew what I bought at the adult entertainment store I shopped at just before this interview, and would I be interested in one of their bondage-themed rooms. Interestingly, the targeting portion of their approach seems quite effective.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Who says that you're ever too old to enjoy the little playgrounds at the local McDonalds or Burger King? I was enjoying my lunch when a busload of college students arrived. It was just after the lunch rush so the place was mostly empty. While the rest of the group was placing their order, a young couple snuck away into the enclosed play area, behind the slide and into the pit of plastic balls. I have to say, they were very efficient, and had sense enough to keep most of their activity 'submerged' beneath the tiny colored plastic spheres. There were, of course, no children present at the time, so they didn't get docked for that. I give them an 8 for boldness, obvious mutual enjoyment, and creative use of play equipment. I believe is my highest rating so far. Now we know why the mothers always insist on wiping their kiddies' hands after playing on the playground.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

A man in China recently cut his dick off (you heard me correctly)... CUT HIS DICK OFF because he was unhappy about the state of his sex life. Not surprisingly, he regretted this decision almost immediately and bicycled (yes, he BIKED WITH HIS DICK CUT OFF) to the hospital. Only to realize he'd left his dick at home (that's what she said?). Because… it's pretty hard to think straight with your DICK CUT OFF. Ok. Do I even need to say it? He is definitely the dumbass of the day. Oh, and I'm pretty sure that cutting off your dick does not, in fact, improve your chances with the ladies.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

After all the work I put in last week to divine the future for everyone on the planet, I was informed that I still needed to write a horoscope this week. I have looked into it and determined that there is no future. For anyone. Why? Because I have a hangover. And therefore the world is ending. All is darkness. The upside is that anything you do this week will potentially not have consequences, if the world is truly ending. How strongly do you believe? This is your test.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Nascar drivers brawl in bar fight with Formula 1 drivers after comment that "all they know how to do is turn left". This was followed by several other insults including comparison of Ferrari engineering vs Ford (which strangely reminded me of the arguments in the boys bathroom in middle school about 'whose was bigger'), and all-out brawl of youthful aggression and passion ensued! It was a fantastic display of the power of youth! Now I am off to drive my vehicle quite recklessly down the streets to show my enthusiasm for this sport! And I will be making both right and left turns! But to my extreme sadness, I will not be driving a Ferrari. (And special thanks to the internet for allowing me enough space to finish my column this week!)


-xXx-

Naruto pulled the blanket further over his head. It was Saturday, and he was skipping going to the gym. He'd gotten his credit card statement from the last month and seen the amount of money he'd spent on coffee over the past few weeks and realized he needed to dial it back a bit. The coffee shop next to his own building wasn't all that bad. Neither was his regular grocery store. And it was much cheaper than the high end one that he had been frequenting of late.

It had nothing to do with wanting to buy himself a little more time before he had another run-in with a certain businessman who seemed to be able to completely upend Naruto's plans for 'not getting involved' with anyone at the moment.

Naruto was tired. He had thrown himself back into work with a vengeance, trying to keep himself busy so he didn't do anything stupid with his personal life.

Like, oh... I don't know... shoving his tongue down the throat of a virtual stranger in an alley out back of a charity event when he knew he was nowhere near ready to have an actual relationship.

Naruto was aware of his faults. He was loud, rash, politically incorrect. He was a sucker for people with hard back-stories to the point where he could be considered naive sometimes. As he had been with Sasori.

He'd been called an idiot, a loud-mouth, and an asshole, all with some merit. But one thing Naruto wasn't was a user. He didn't go around using people for sexual gratification when he had no intention of pursuing even a friendship with them. Sure, he might have had a few drunken one-night-stands in college, but there, both parties had been looking for the same thing. It had been mutual, and the intentions of both parties had been communicated.

What had happened with Sasuke was something completely different. They had been casually flirting and provoking each other for weeks, and Naruto knew there was obviously mutual attraction between them. But in his mind, he'd thought that was all it was. They hadn't even had what could legitimately be called a conversation.

The problem was that Naruto just seemed to completely lose all ability to think when he was near Sasuke. He didn't understand what it was that drew him so forcefully. Even with Sasori, it hadn't been like that in the beginning. The attraction had been there, but it had been manageable. It had gradually grown over time. They had waded in to their relationship.

With Sasuke it was like.. diving off a fucking cliff. If he got too close to the man and it was like he just fell over the ledge and there was no way to stop the plunge. Naruto didn't understand the level of attraction he felt. All they had done was insult each other. Sure, Sasuke was hot, but… lots of people were hot. Nothing even remotely like this had ever happened to him before.

It was one thing to see a hot guy and fantasize about him a bit. That was harmless, and human. It was something else entirely to slam said hot guy up against a brick wall and go for it without any sort of conversation about what was happening. Naruto wasn't delusional enough to have realized that they had both been more than ready to head for the nearest bed it if the sound of laughter nearby hadn't brought them back to reality.

Neither of them had been drunk, so Naruto couldn't even use alcohol as an excuse. He had never thought himself shallow enough to like someone just for their looks. It had to be more than that. The more he had thought about it, he knew it was not exactly Sasuke's looks that attracted him, though a person would have to be blind to not appreciate them.

As much as it pissed him off to admit it, he was attracted to Sasuke's arrogance. He loved the complete confidence with which Sasuke carried himself. And the fact that he had the intelligence and wit to back it up. Naruto liked the ruthless intellect, and the fact that Sasuke clearly didn't give a fuck what people thought about him.

It bothered Naruto a bit that he was turned on by that. He had sworn after Sasori that he was going to date someone nice next time. Not that Sasuke was the same as Sasori in any way. Naruto couldn't imagine Sasuke doing drugs or really anything illegal. He doubted Sasuke even lied much. The guy had too much of a 'fuck you' attitude to care enough what other people thought to lie. Which… was very attractive.

But while Naruto felt slightly better that he hadn't gone out and found himself a carbon copy of Sasori to be attracted to, he was still struggling with what he should do about it. In his mind, there were three main problems with the current situation.

The first was that - while Sasuke might not be just like Sasori - he also wasn't the kind of person that Naruto had spent the last year convincing himself he should look for if he ever dated again. Naruto wanted to date someone kind, loving, and supportive. Unfortunately, he didn't appear to actually be attracted to those kinds of people. Naruto was annoyed the fact that he liked the asshole side of Sasuke. Not just the anatomy (though, obviously, that was quite fine), but the personality. The idea of a syrupy sweet and doting Sasuke made Naruto gag a little bit. That wasn't what he was hoping for. No, he liked Sasuke just the way he was. A complete bastard.

A smoking hot, cold as ice, arrogant asshole. Naruto groaned as he realized he was actually getting hard thinking about it. Remembering how Sasuke had looked in the alley with his eyes heavy lidded with lust and his mouth glistening from their messy kiss.

Naruto layered the pillow on top of the blanket in the hopes that he could smother some sense into his brain. Or at least kill his erection.

The second issue was that Naruto wasn't really sure he was ready to date, even casually. He didn't want to date someone until he was sure he wasn't using them as just a replacement for Sasori while he got his shit together again. It had been a year, and he had been pretty sure he was over it until that scene in the club. Now he honestly didn't know. He had just started to get out from under the train-wreck ending of his relationship with Sasori. It still felt a little soon to start something new.

The final issue was that - the more he thought about it - he realized that Sasuke was probably out of his league. The guy was loaded and came from a well-connected family. Naruto didn't really care about that stuff, but most people did. Sasuke had the arrogance that probably meant he would be sensitive to that, though his "don't give a fuck" attitude might leave the door open a bit. But even without that, there was the whole looks thing. Naruto was attractive and knew it, but Sasuke and Itachi were… from a whole different species when it came to physical attractiveness. He wasn't really sure that anyone other than airbrushed super-models would be in the Uchihas' league looks-wise. And where Naruto's wit had always been his strength, it was clear that Sasuke was also brutally intelligent, so Naruto couldn't even claim to be necessarily ahead there, either.

But all of those were good reasons why Naruto SHOULD have just kept his head and not mindlessly groped Sasuke after the benefit. Since Naruto's brain had apparently not been operational that evening, he figured he could at least offer to buy the guy lunch or take him out to dinner the next time he saw him. He had no idea what Sasuke had made of their little back-alley tryst a week ago, but Naruto decided that - even if Sasuke threw it back in his face - he would at least make the offer.

Naruto had no idea if he was ready for more than a single, casual date, so he'd have to get a grip on his hormones and make that clear before anything went any further. He'd ask Sasuke for lunch and see where they ended up. Sasuke had seen Naruto in the club with Sasori, so he was pretty sure the guy already knew the score about his ex from Sakura.

Once they talked and he got to know Sasuke a bit better, things would likely make more sense. He wasn't a horny teenager anymore. He had some self-control.

It would be fine.

-xXx-

Sasuke was buried in work, looking through investment proposals and researching the likely risks and growth potentials for a series of start-ups in South America. In three days he had to leave on a two-week road trip to go visit them all in person and then make the final call on which ones they would take on.

He had been feeling increasingly short tempered over the past week and Itachi's constant probing wasn't helping. A shadow fell over his shoulder. Speak of the devil.

Sasuke looked up, his eyes immediately narrowing as he looked at the assessing face of his older brother. "What?" Sasuke said flatly..

Itachi sat down on the edge of Sasuke's desk, eyeing him. "You seem even more anal retentive than usual, little brother. Is your gym membership not providing you with sufficient release opportunities for your stress?"

Sasuke's eyes widened fractionally as he wondered just how much his brother knew about what was going on - and not going on - between him and Naruto. He had hoped that his brother had forgotten about the exchange when Naruto had first come to their office. Unfortunately, that didn't appear to be the case.

"Last week you had seemed rather pleased with yourself for a few days. Now you are back to the surly individual I know and love. Anything you want to talk about?" Itachi asked seemingly innocently. Always a bad sign.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, clearly indicating that his brother must be currently residing on the wrong planet if he really thought Sasuke was going to 'talk about things'.

Itachi stood fluidly. "Ah, well. It was enlightening as always to speak with you. I'm glad to know you are so in touch with your emotions."

Itachi walked out of Sasuke's office, closing the door behind him.

Sasuke stared at the screen of his laptop. He admitted he was irritated. And potentially being slightly less pleasant than usual to people who annoyed him.

It was the first time in a very long time that he had found someone who actually attracted him beyond just a fleeting physical interest. Sasuke wasn't ready to pick out matching bathrobes or anything, but he had definitely been interested in picking up where he and Naruto had left off in the alley last week. Sasuke looked forward to their verbal sparring as much as he did their physical exchanges. Both left him feeling… wired, in a way his usual jaded persona didn't generally allow.

But Naruto seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. He hadn't seen the blond in over a week.

Simply calling the writer was out of the question. Sure, he could get Naruto's number from Sakura, but she would immediately inform Itachi of the fact that Sasuke had asked.

And calling would signal a level of interest that Sasuke wasn't sure he felt. It would indicate an intention to date. Sasuke wasn't looking for a boyfriend. He had just taken over a high pressure job from his father and moved to a new city. He didn't have time right now for a complicated relationship that would involved dinner dates and anniversaries and meeting friends.

But Sasuke was definitely interested in exploring their mutual attraction further. And Naruto seemed to be as well. He was glad that so far they'd been able to keep it simple. Sasuke had had plenty of experience with casual-interests-turned-stalker in the past, and had no desire for a repeat. Right now he wasn't sure he felt anything about the blond beyond lust. And simple lust wasn't worth the hassle that dating while living in the same town as his brother would bring.

Given his family's obsession with keeping the younger members of the clan away from gold-diggers or other unsuitables, he had learned the hard way to keep any sort of relationship off their radar. The first time he had been seen out on a date by one of his uncles had proven the consequences of carelessness in spades. His uncle had immediately called his mother. She had then insisted on meeting the 'nice young man' after Sasuke's father and one of his other uncles had performed a thorough background check on the guy. When Sasuke had brought the slightly nervous man home for what he thought would be a casual dinner with his parents the following weekend, the guy had been subjected to a virtual anal probe of his background, intentions, and life aspirations. Sasuke had never been so furious or embarrassed in his life. Especially since he'd only been seeing the guy for about three weeks. The sex was great, but he was in no way serious about the guy. Needless to say, that relationship had ended abruptly.

So Sasuke kept his sex life extremely private. Now that he and Itachi were not only living in the same city but also working together in the same office, that was going to be more difficult. But Sasuke had no intention of a repeat of that fiasco. As far as he was concerned, the next time his parents were going meet someone he was fucking, it would be at his wedding. And given that gay marriage wasn't legal in Japan, that pretty much meant NEVER.

He didn't expect whatever this thing was with Naruto to last long, anyway. Attraction that burned hot like this tended to be short-lived, in his experience. He was sure that in a matter of weeks they would burn each other out and realize they had nothing in common.

But it would be a good couple of weeks.

-xXx-

Naruto walked into the locker room, still sweating and breathing hard from his workout. It was after 11pm, and he had just finished a gruelling free-weight session followed by a three mile run on the indoor track. He supposed he'd been trying to make up for all the lost time since he'd been skipping going to the gym recently, but now he was getting back into his old routine. And ignoring the 'innocent' questions that the gym owner, Maito Guy, had tossed his way about whether there was anything 'frustrating' Naruto. Naruto was going to have to have a little chat with Lee again about spreading his personal business to Lee's crazy uncle.

But he had made his decision. Tomorrow he was going to go down to Sasuke's office and offer to take him out to lunch. Sasuke might act like a jerk to him, but it was pretty clear that the businessman was interested. And Naruto was definitely interested back, even if it went against his better judgement. But maybe Sasuke would prove him wrong. That prospect was definitely worth the risk of being shot down over.

Naruto would explain that they needed to take it slow while he got his shit together. If Sasuke didn't want to deal with that, then it was fine. But at least Naruto would be honest and could then stop feeling guilty about everything.

He stripped and threw his sweaty clothes into his gym bag. He pulled out a bottle of body wash and grabbed a clean towel from the rack and headed for the showers. The shower room was divided into two sections. There were a series of shower stalls with changing benches and curtains for privacy for members who wished to bath fully. On the other side of the room were a row of shower heads out in the open along a wall for swimmers who wished to rinse off before or after swimming. This time of night there was usually no one here, so he didn't bother overly much with modesty but he went into one of the closed off stalls out of habit.

It was part of his indulgence in his late-night routine. The solitude… feeling like this was his personal space. It relaxed him. He wondered how Guy managed to keep the place open until midnight when so few people seemed to be here after 11pm, but Naruto certainly wasn't going to complain.

He stepped into the showers and turned the water on lukewarm, wanting to cool off first. He flinched a bit as the cool water hit his overheated skin. He turned slowly under the forceful stream and let it flow over his body and through his sweaty hair, envisioning all the dirt and sweat going down the drain as his body finally cooled.

After a few minutes, he turned the water temperature up a bit and squeezed some of his shower gel into his hands and started washing himself properly. He cursed when he realized he had forgotten his shampoo in his locker and was about to go get it when he heard the sound of a door to a locker being opened.

A bit annoyed that his ritual solitude was broken, Naruto resigned himself to having to wash his hair with shower gel instead of shampoo, not wanting to talk with anyone who might be there. He had always sort of wondered what the difference was, anyway, between shower gel and shampoo. Deep down he suspected that there was none, and that it was all just a marketing conspiracy to get people to buy more products.

He quickly scrubbed his hair and finished rinsing off. He heard one of the showers turn on from the open line of shower heads where people coming to swim typically rinsed off before going into the pool.

Naruto grabbed his towel, wrapping it around his waist and pushed back the curtain. And froze.

Standing in the open shower area underneath one of the central shower heads was Sasuke.

Naruto thought hazily that it really just wasn't fair that someone could look like that. If people thought Sasuke looked good in his clothes, they had no concept of how much better he looked out of them.

Sasuke had his eyes closed, his head tilted back as the warm water from the shower flowed over him. Naruto almost felt like he'd walked onto the set of some cliche porno, the guy's sex appeal was so blatant. Except the actors in pornos were never this hot.

Frantically trying to remind himself that he was supposed to have self-control and just ask Sasuke out for lunch, he found his eyes helplessly following the rivulets of water that slid over Sasuke's pale, chiseled chest, down his abs, and down further to -

Oh, mother of god - this was why Speedos were invented.

Naruto was aware of a strangled noise that he assumed came from his own throat. He supposed he could always print a retraction to his comment about Sasuke needing to compensate. That was clearly… not an issue for this man.

Sasuke's eyes snapped open, a glare already forming before he recognized Naruto standing there in his towel and staring at him in obvious appreciation.

"Here I thought you couldn't possibly look any dumber than usual, but with your jaw hanging open like that, I might have to revisit that opinion," Sasuke said.

Naruto snapped his jaw shut, closing his eyes against the full-body blush he knew he was now displaying. How was he supposed to ask Sasuke out for lunch in a setting like this? He opened his eyes to see Sasuke smirking knowingly. With his eyes closed, Naruto had missed the way the dark eyes had hungrily traced over his naked torso and hovered at where the towel hung low around Naruto's hips.

"S-sorry. I just was finishing up my shower. Uh… so I was going to ask…" Naruto trailed off. No. There was no way in hell he could ask Sasuke out to lunch when the guy was standing under the water in nothing but his Speedo. The whole purpose was to try to find out what there was between them other than sexual attraction. Asking Sasuke out on a date when he was standing mostly naked would be viewed as a thinly veiled invitation for sex. Which Naruto had just spent the past week telling himself he was not going to do.

Naruto forced himself to take a step back and look somewhere else. Anywhere at all. "Uh, have a good swim."

Ok, Naruto knew that was lame but really, what could anyone expect with most of his blood was flowing south at all possible speed. Naruto turned and walked jerkily back to the changing room, so wrapped up in his own internal battle of self-control that he didn't notice the way Sasuke's eyes scorched over his mostly naked skin and where the damp towel hugged his toned ass.

Naruto's hands were shaking when he finally reached his locker and he fumbled with the combination. Do not go back and fuck him into the wall. Do not go back and fuck him into the wall. You will at least take him out to dinner before you try to get into his pants. What the hell is wrong with you?! Naruto lectured himself, his internal voice sounding almost like his mother's by the time he got to the end, which was enough to snap him out of his trance and enable him to get ahold of himself.

Until he saw a pale hand brace itself on the upper shelf of his locker. Naruto didn't want to turn around. He knew he didn't want to just have meaningless sex with a guy who was basically a stranger. But he also knew his limitations. Unless Sasuke had decided to put the terry-cloth robe on that he'd seen hanging on the hook near the shower, Naruto was screwed. He would have laughed at his pun if his lungs were working.

He pulled his jeans and T-shirt off the shelf, figuring at least they would occupy his hands before he turned around. Sasuke was just standing there, one arm braced against the locker, water dripping down his body.

"Running away?" he asked, his tone light but his eyes hot.

Naruto shrugged, willing his eyes to stay locked on Sasuke's and not take the tempting slide down the man's body. "Just going home. Some of us have to work in the morning."

"Ah, yes. Your construction job. With the horny foreman who doesn't have good taste in T-shirts," Sasuke's gaze dropped to Naruto's lips, and Naruto instinctively ran his tongue along his lower lip before his teeth scraped across it. Sasuke's eyes darkened at the movement.

"Well, you know… there's not as much money in journalism like there is in big business. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to make rent."

"Including banging his boss?" Sasuke asked, his eyes sliding lower now along Naruto's jawline and down his throat to the collar bone.

Naruto could almost feel the heat of that gaze like a caress. He felt the towel around his waist shift and knew exactly what part of his body was slowly lifting and causing that motion of fabric.

"Ah, well…" Naruto said thickly, clearly struggling to focus on the conversation rather than being sucked into the rising sexual tension swirling between them. "You work in finance, so you'd know more about whoring your soul out for money than just about anyone, I suppose."

Sasuke's glance flicked down, then came back up to meet Naruto's eyes. "You sure you want to go home right now?" he asked, his voice husky. He had been the one to kiss Naruto last time. This time he was going to make sure Naruto made the first move.

The locker room was completely empty. Sasuke saw Naruto's gaze slowly rake down the front of his body to rest briefly at Sasuke's speedo where Sasuke's opinion on the matter was impressively clear.

Naruto closed his eyes and banged his head back against the locker, and it was all Sasuke could do to not grab him by the hair and drag Naruto against him.

"We can't… I want… let me take you out to lunch. I could pick you up from work tomorrow?" Naruto opened his eyes just in time to see a look of almost horror flash across Sasuke's face.

"That is not going to happen," Sasuke bit out. All Sasuke could think of was the fact that if Naruto even set foot in his office, everyone would find out about it and his family would descend on Naruto like a plague of locusts. There was no way he was going through that again, much less subjecting Naruto to it.

Naruto felt his stomach freeze up at Sasuke's words. He laid his hand on Sasuke's chest and shoved him backwards so he had space to pull on his National Sarcasm Society (like we need your support) T-shirt.

Of course, Naruto thought to himself. Why was I expecting anything else?

Naruto had his jeans on fast enough to make a fireman jealous. Luckily they were loose enough that he was able to jam himself in despite his previous level of arousal, though the Uchiha's words had definitely thrown a bucket of ice water on that little problem. Now Naruto was just straight-up pissed. Evidently he was good enough to fuck in an empty alley or a locker room, but god forbid anyone actually saw them together.

Had he really thought Sasuke was better than Sasori? Not likely. Simply a different flavor of dickhead. But at least now Naruto knew, and he could stop obsessing about it.

"Naruto, look -" Sasuke began, but Naruto just grabbed his bag and slammed his locker shut, barely missing Sasuke's fingers.

"Whatever. I appear to have had some sort of brain malfunction. I'm outta here."

"What I meant was -" Sasuke didn't bother finishing because the door to the locker room had already slammed shut behind the blond.

Sasuke sat down and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. "Fuck."

-xXx-

to be continued...

Thanks to Avga for the lead on Hinata's story, and dumbass of the day nominated by Kiara.Queen.of.Chaos.

Chapter Text

Summary:

Naruto runs an underground newspaper called 'The Daily Ramen', focused on poking fun of the fragile egos of the rich and famous. How does Sasuke respond when he moves to town and gets in Naruto's crosshairs? Not particularly well. But who says arguing can't be foreplay? Sasuke x Naruto (Yaoi boy x boy)

Author's note: So… I have to say that the movie is killing me. I haven't even watched it, but every time someone sends me a message about some scene or thing that happened I get a bit more depressed (so don't TELL MEEEEEE!). This fic in particular has become harder for me to write, since it involves a slightly more intelligent version of Naruto that I had always thought could be possible once he grew up a little. But… the movie… kind of proves that he went the other way. And became sort of… thoughtless and maybe even a bit shallow as well. So… I am writing this more slowly right now. I will finish it but… I need to sort of let the shock of what the 'canon' versions of them as adults was fade a bit. Because to me it was just so disappointing how little both Sasuke and Naruto seemed to learn from their childhoods and everything else. *sighs* I might need to finish Deception first then come back and focus on this for real.  And thanks to CapturedbyNoodles for reading this over and giving me advice!

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, December 7

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly column by Nara Shikamaru

A world-famous archaeologist from Oxford was ecstatic when a recent excavation in Egypt revealed what appeared to be an ancient BDSM sex chamber for a relatively unknown Pharaoh, knowing that it would considerably 'up his cred' at faculty parties and other campus events. "It would have been even better if it had been Cleopatra's, because everyone wanted to know what that woman was like in the sack. But even an unknown pharaoh is good. After all these years of finding useless crap like broken pottery, religious artifacts, and paintings of harvesting techniques or other boring shit, we finally got to the good stuff." Attendance in the professor's freshman archaeology lecture had been dropping in recent years, but with the promise of a discussion of ancient sexual kinks, enrollment has almost doubled. It is rumored that his sex life has picked up as well, as his new pick-up line of 'I have a scale replica of an ancient Egyptian sex chamber in my bedroom' is more compelling than 'Would you like to read my latest dissertation on ancient agricultural techniques.'


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly column by Uzumaki Naruto

Plastic surgeon admits dejectedly that too few of his patients are actually hot enough to be porn stars. "Plastic surgeons had it easy in the 1970's when a 'natural' look was in with porn. Now the bar is much higher. People expect perfection," he said, the surgical mask still covering most of his face. He pulled out an orange book that showcased his best work and let me look through it. I have to say, his breast implant 'hall of fame' was quite impressive. I must be watching the wrong pornos.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

I have witnessed some public proposals that were actually quite romantic but there can come a point where it appears that the person is going more for getting the attention of random strangers than actually proposing in a meaningful way to try to get someone to spend the rest of their lives with them. I was visiting one of my friends in the US last week. We were driving along the highway, and there was a huge billboard with the photo of a diamond engagement ring. The billboard said "Susan… will you marry me?" This was on the outskirts of a city of about six hundred thousand people. At first I assumed this was an advertisement of a jewelry store, but my friend assured me that it was in fact an actual marriage proposal. And I was curious as to what kind of person would actually propose marriage in this way. Was he trying to make the ring look bigger? (Men and their 'size' issues…) Was he so afraid of rejection that he needed to do it remotely? Was he open for any Susan in particular, and just hoping one would bite? Just for the record, if a man proposed to me that way, I would rent out the adjacent billboard and have it say "Ask me in person you fucking coward."


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

In a recent rally, motorcyclists gathered to protest the law requiring them to wear helmets while riding. After signing a petition that it violated his right to personal choice, one of the protesters drove off, removing his helmet and pumping it into the air to show his support. Unfortunately, he wasn't paying attention and ran a red light. And crashed. And died of head injuries that would have been avoided if he had been wearing his helmet. Dumbass.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Rams: God will appear before you in all his glory in a dream this week and tell you to spread the word. Do you always do the shit your crazy dreams tell you to do? Yeah, I thought not. Carry on. To the Dragons: You will find out the hard way that playing dead during a bear attack turns out in fact not to be a very good strategy. To the rabbits: Get a room, already. The rest of us are tired of hearing about it. Except for Hinata, of course.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

After extensive and exhaustive research, I have finally concluded that the art of trash-talking - a most venerable and important element at the core of all sporting events - peaks in twelve-year-old boys. Children younger than that can have more vehemence, but are not yet articulate enough to really excel at this most crucial element of rivalry. The older teens and adults become too preoccupied with looking cool, and the quality of the trash talk degrades like the Star Wars episodes in the prequel trilogy. But a twelve-year-old's creativity and relative lack of 'poser' vanity appear to be the perfect balance for the ancient art of trash-talking to truly be at its best and purest form. Thus, I have taken on coaching one of the City League soccer teams, to better hone my trash-talking abilities to reflect the youthful Konoha spirit and regain my dominance in this area! Even the internet - in deference of the purity of this pursuit - allowed me space to speak my - [Cut off due to lack of space. See you next week.]


-xXx-

Naruto stared at his laptop. The blank screen of what would shortly need to become this week's column for the Daily Ramen stared back at him. Why was he disappointed? What had he expected? He scrubbed his fingers through his hair, then dragged his hands down over his face.

Whatever. It wasn't like he was even ready to have a relationship anyway. He had just wanted to… find out more about Sasuke. See if he was drawn to more than just the looks and the attitude. But he wasn't going to dwell on it. He hardly knew the guy, and what he did know about him should have warned him that it was going to play out like this. He could admit to himself that he had wanted it to be different, though. Because that would have meant that this insane attraction he felt was based on something more, something that maybe... Naruto shrugged. It was probably all just physical. Pheromones, or something stupid. That would make it easier to just forget about and stop obsessing.

Hinata was hovering. He'd seen her peek into his office at least three times in the past hour. She was worried that he was upset about something and was waiting for him to talk to her about it. Shikamaru had come in and fallen asleep on Naruto's couch in a show of support. Naruto grinned. He had friends. Good friends.

So who cares if some rich, arrogant fuck didn't think he was good enough to go to lunch with?

"Hinata. If you want to talk to me, you can just come in and say so," Naruto said, smiling slightly to take any potential sting out of his words.

Hinata blushed at being caught, but came into Naruto office, pushing Shikamaru's legs off the couch so she'd have a place to sit.

"What happened, Naruto? You're seem upset about something. Did… did Sasori come by your place last night?"

"No. This has nothing to do with him. I just… I think I'm realizing that I'm not really the best judge at picking people who would be good for me to date."

Shikamaru blew out a snort at that comment, making Naruto realize that he likely hadn't been as asleep as he had seemed. Evidently he had simply found the pacing form of hovering that Hinata had employed to be too tiring.

Shikamaru eyed Naruto from the couch. "So… you must have had a disastrous first date with whomever it was who caught your interest a week or so ago if you are already giving up."

Naruto gave a short, hard laugh. "Yeah, there wasn't any date. And there isn't going to be one, either. Evidently my bank account and pedigree aren't impressive enough for that."

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes. He knew that Naruto hated people who judged people on those things. It was odd that Naruto still seemed… disappointed somehow that he hadn't been deemed 'good enough' by someone like that. Usually, he just wrote them off. Literally. "His loss," Shikamaru said, and meant it.

Naruto shrugged. He wasn't so sure that it was really only Sasuke's loss, but it wasn't like he was going to have a say in the matter. Naruto was a realist. If someone was out of his league, then that was that.

Hinata looked at him, sympathy coloring her pale eyes. "Naruto… why don't you come to lunch with me today? I was meeting an old friend of mine, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind. Just get out of the office a bit."

Naruto hesitated. He had the feeling that Hinata was trying to set him up with someone, and the experience with Sasuke had left him feeling annoyed at the idea of dating anyone at this point. But he did want to get away from his desk for a bit. He clearly wasn't making any progress on his writing.

"Sure, why not." Naruto said, smiling. He decided he was done thinking about it.

Shikamaru sighed from the couch. He didn't need to speak for Naruto to hear the 'troublesome' in his tone.

-xXx-

Sasuke opened his calendar for the week. As usual, it seemed he would be in back-to-back meetings almost until he boarded the plane. Not that he knew what he'd do if he had free time, but at least it would have given him time to think about things. About Naruto.

After Naruto had slammed out of the locker room, Sasuke had considered for a split second the idea of actually chasing after him to explain what he meant. More than the fact that Uchiha's didn't chase, it had been the fact that he was dripping wet in only his speedo with a hard-on that had prevented him from going out of the locker room after him.

It hadn't been hard to guess that Naruto had taken his words to mean either that he would be embarrassed to be seen with Naruto, or was potentially even still in the closet. Neither of those things were true, and he didn't like the idea that Naruto now likely viewed him as either a snob or a coward. Sasuke didn't flaunt his sexuality, but it had nothing to do with his being gay. He preferred his private life exactly that. Private.

But that didn't mean he was interested in a relationship that revolved solely around sex, either. Not necessarily. The things that came out of Naruto's mouth interested Sasuke as much as the thoughts of what he could put in the blond's mouth.

And they had been on track for at least some of those activities to take place, until it had all blown up in his face. It was fixable, though. Naruto didn't strike him as the kind of thin-skinned drama queen who would take something and blow it all out of proportion once it was explained. And if he was, then Sasuke would quickly lose interest, anyway. He had no patience for that kind of thing.

His phone chimed, notifying him that he had to be in the board room in five minutes. He picked up his neatly organized folio and headed toward the board room, checking his insanely packed schedule for the next two weeks and wondering if he was going to get any sleep at all except for on flights.

Sakura watched as Sasuke passed her in the hallway glaring down at his iPhone. He had been short-tempered since he arrived that morning, and she had noticed Itachi frowning after him in concern.

It was unusual for either of her bosses to display much emotion. With Itachi, the only one who seemed to be able to break through his cracks was Sasuke. With Sasuke… there was only one person other than Itachi that Sakura had seen able to evince actual emotions from the man. Since it didn't appear that Itachi was the source of Sasuke's irritation, Sakura wondered if maybe it was Naruto.

Sakura pulled out her phone. "Hinata? This is Sakura. How are things going at the office?... That's good. I guess I meant, have you seen Naruto today?... He is?... Oh, that's too bad. Do you know what happened?... Did he say who the 'asshole' was?" Sakura frowned, listening as Hinata described what she had seen when she'd left the charity event the week before. She handled all the official PR for their company, so she was pretty sure that Sasuke hadn't been at that event.

Sakura hung up, tapping her finger idly on the phone.

"And what news did you hear of our happy blond reporter?"

Sakura jumped, spinning around to see Itachi standing behind her. The man had ninja-like qualities that were simultaneously tremendously attractive and moderately terrifying.

"Well… " Sakura paused, not really sure what to say.

"I believe you were mentioning something about an 'asshole' that Naruto was somewhat upset with?"

Apparently, Itachi had heard pretty much the entire conversation. "Well, Hinata said there was someone she thought Naruto had started to like, but evidently when he asked the person out last night he was told he… erm… didn't have the right pedigree."

Itachi refrained from sighing. "Foolish little brother. Must I do everything for you?" he murmured.

Sakura bit her lip, not sure if she should continue. "I don't think it was Sasuke, actually. Hinata said that she was pretty sure Naruto was… um… involved with someone he met at a charity event last week."

Itachi raised an eyebrow. "Involved?"

Sakura chewed her lip. This didn't seem to have anything to do with Sasuke, so she felt a bit hesitant to say anything to Itachi. Naruto would no doubt be mortified. Sasuke hadn't even been there, but even if he had, she simply couldn't imagine Sasuke making out in a dirty alley. He seemed far too frigid for that. Naruto must have found someone else. Which made this whole thing none of Itachi's business. However, she didn't know exactly how to tell him that.

"Hmmm," Sakura said, noncommittally.

Itachi's eyes narrowed. "Surely Hinata must have seen who he was 'involved' with. Did she mention who?"

"Erm… no. She didn't see them actually together. More… she just saw Naruto… after," Sakura trailed off awkwardly, praying that Itachi wouldn't ask her anymore questions.

Of course, the devil doesn't answer prayers. "And just where did this… sighting take place?"

"It was at the Youth-at-Risk charity event," Sakura offered.

Itachi raised an eyebrow. "In the dining room? The coat room?"

"Why does it matter? It doesn't involve Sasuke. I had thought maybe…"

Itachi shrugged. "Let's just call it… curiosity. Where were they?"

Sakura blushed. "In the alley behind the building," she said quickly.

Itachi's eyes gleamed wickedly. Oh, this was so much better than he had thought. To think that his little Otouto was reduced to back alley gropings. Itachi felt a chuckle bubble up, but stifled it for fear of further traumatizing his employee. He knew that Sasuke had been invited to speak at that event, and the timing fit with his brother's sudden (though brief) good mood. Because Sasuke's involvement with the organization was personal, not related to their company, Sakura hadn't been involved. Itachi decided not to disclose this bit of information to anyone else for the moment. He would allow his little brother some privacy… from everyone except himself, naturally.

It had been far too long since he'd seen Sasuke let himself go with anything. He wasn't going to let him screw it up this quickly. "Sakura, when is the company holiday party?"

"It's two days after Sasuke gets back from his South America trip," Sakura said slowly, wondering if Itachi was going to try to get Sasuke to ask Naruto to the party. Somehow… she just couldn't imagine Sasuke doing that.

"Hn," Itachi said, looking at Sakura. "You should attend. And you should definitely bring a friend."

Sakura opened her mouth, then closed it again. Itachi raised an eyebrow. "You think it was Sasuke who said that to him, not the guy from the charity event?" Sakura asked, somewhat surprised given what she'd just told him. Itachi was no fool. She narrowed her eyes, assuming that he must know something she didn't. "If Sasuke really said that to Naruto, there's no way Naruto will come. And honestly...," she firmed her eyes, meeting Itachi's gaze head-on. "... honestly, I wouldn't want him to. Naruto is my friend. If Sasuke thinks he's too good for Naruto, I'm not going to drag him there just so Sasuke can treat him like shit."

A second eyebrow joined the first, elevated on Itachi's brow. Aside from Sasuke, Sakura was now only the second employee in the entire company to challenge him on something. "Sasuke has many flaws. Believing he is better than others just because of their family background isn't one of them. But if you prefer, I would be more than happy to invite Naruto myself," Itachi thought about it for a moment, and a smile appeared on his lips. "Actually, I think that is an excellent idea."

-xXx-

Sasuke boarded the flight to San Francisco, nodding in brief greeting to the first class flight attendants who had already become familiar with him through his frequent travel. He stowed his briefcase and roller-board carry-on in the overhead bin, and slotted his laptop into the magazine holder on the side of his seat. Normally, he would have prepared to sleep even though it wasn't a very long flight. Plane rides were one of the few times he would be assured of relatively undisturbed sleep from calls from work. The flight attendant raised her eyebrows slightly in surprise when - instead of sticking the 'do not disturb' sticker by his monitor - he accepted the menu and glass of champagne she offered him.

Sasuke's mind replayed the events in the locker room. He wasn't one for apologizing. But he also didn't like to be misread. He was going to spend the four hour flight deciding if it was worth actually seeking Naruto out to clarify what he'd meant. And as hot as the blond was, sex alone wouldn't be worth it. Sasuke had had too many experiences with people who ended up being high maintenance, boring, or otherwise annoying to stumble willingly into a situation like that. But he had one advantage in this case that he hadn't in the others. Naruto wrote for a living. And it would allow Sasuke to find out more about the blond before he made the call on whether it was worth the effort to fix what he'd messed up the other night.

Sasuke was a bit worried that Itachi already seemed to have noticed his interest in Naruto. But he knew that Itachi wouldn't 'introduce' Naruto to the family unless Itachi was absolutely sure that there was something going on between them. So they would have to be careful if they did start seeing each other, until they were ready to involve his relatives. Which would be never.

Sasuke felt the tension lift as the plane took off. He finished his champagne and pulled out his laptop, connecting it to the in-flight internet service and opened the online edition of The Daily Ramen.

He clicked on the 'Shit you can buy' link, and found himself somewhat amused with the items there. The T-shirts immediately brought to mind a particularly vocal blond. The word snagged in Sasuke's flow of thoughts, and he wondered briefly if Naruto were vocal in other settings as well, but decided he'd put that to the test later. Potentially.

He searched through the archives, noting that the online version of the paper went back three years. He found himself enjoying Shikamaru's and Naruto's columns in particular. Shikamaru's, because Sasuke had traveled widely and knew many of the places and situations that the man was making fun of. And the intellectual, sarcastic nature of the commentary appealed to him. He remembered Sakura mentioning that Shikamaru and Naruto had been best friends and started the paper together in college. He found it interesting that Naruto would have a best friend like that. It hinted that there was more going on inside the blond's head than what he tended to let on.

Sasuke was drawn to Naruto's column as well, though for different reasons. The brazen humor that Naruto expressed through his choice of stories and language made Sasuke actually chuckle. As did the fact that the blond made fun of himself as much as he did of others. He supposed that was part of what had drawn him to Naruto in the first place. Naruto was able to give as good as he got in their verbal sparring. He didn't get all offended or need all kinds of reassurances the way a lot of people did. Sasuke found that appealing. Naruto reacted honestly, if viscerally, to what he encountered. It was unusual in the world of artifice that Sasuke generally traveled in. It was refreshing. And attractive.

One of the regular flight attendants looked up at him in surprise, as Sasuke chuckled at one of Naruto's recent pieces, never having seen the devastatingly handsome young businessman express anything other than formal politeness when she greeted him or mild annoyance at a delay in their schedule.

At first Sasuke was slightly annoyed at her reaction. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that… it was rare for someone to be able to make him laugh. To make him react at all.

Maybe… maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be around someone who could make him smile.

Sasuke closed his laptop up as the co-pilot announced their descent into San Francisco, and Sasuke realized he had spent almost four hours reading the archives. But it was worth it. He now had a much better sense of Naruto. And he had made his decision. Now he just needed to get back home to act on it. He figured that - at this point - Naruto wouldn't reply to an email from him. Sasuke was scheduled to get back into town on Friday night, and he decided that he would stop by Naruto's office on Monday late afternoon and see if the blond would grab a coffee with him. They could play it out as he was coming to complain about the article Naruto had written, and then he could talk to the blond and see how he reacted and take things from there.

Feeling better now that he'd made his decision, he took his luggage from the overhead bin and made his way into the terminal. He had plenty of time to make his connecting flight to Rio. He walked through the busy air terminal. As usual, he planned on spending most of his two hour layover in the lounge, grabbing a shower and catching up on emails quickly before his longer flight.

Normally he didn't shop in the airport stores, finding little to his taste in the duty free or touristy wares. He was walking past a shop that sold various souvenirs, including T-shirts. Without really stopping to think about it, he slowed and made his way into the store, scanning through the shirts. Most were pretty lame, but there was one that caught his eye. In red, block letters across the top said 'Alcatraz Triathlon'. Below it were the words 'Dig, Run, Swim' with stickmen drawn wearing prison uniforms miming out each of the actions. Sasuke felt his lips twitch, imagining Naruto wearing that shirt to work out in.

He blinked when he realized what he was doing, and abruptly turned and headed to the first class lounge to finish up the work he needed to before he boarded his next flight.

-xXx-

Sasuke smoothed the expensive wool of his jacket. His flight back had been delayed, and he had missed his connection in San Francisco. He had only arrived back last night, and was still feeling barely human after the grueling travel schedule he'd had for the past two weeks. He had planned on skipping the office holiday party tonight, but Itachi had been insistent, telling Sasuke it 'humanized' him to their employees. Sasuke said it was perfectly 'human' to need some fucking sleep after two weeks of nonstop work and travel, but Itachi had merely handed him his tux and left him to dress.

The sound of the door opening behind him signaled the return of his beloved brother. Sasuke bit back a growl. He was not in the mood tonight for any of Itachi's mind games. But as usual, he wasn't going to get a say in it.

"Did you invite a guest to accompany you this evening, Sasuke," Itachi asked coolly, straightening the bowtie of his tuxedo.

Sasuke refrained from rolling his eyes. "I don't even want to be here. Why would I make someone else come with me? Besides, we never bring dates. This is business."

"Actually, I happen to have invited someone to the party this evening."

Sasuke's head snapped up in shock despite himself. "Really? Who?"

Itachi walked over, smoothly brushing his fingers through Sasuke's hair as though adjusting the style.

"It is someone you know, actually. That writer friend of Sakura's. Uzumaki."

Itachi grinned on the inside at the shock and anger that seared through Sasuke's eyes. It was more emotion than he'd seen his little brother display in years.

He decided it was time to go downstairs and greet their guests.

-xXx-

Naruto stood on the steps of the imposing mansion where the holiday part was being held. He breathed out a short puff of air, wiping the palms of his hands on the dress pants he was wearing. He hated these kinds of events, but Itachi had called and…. Naruto hadn't been able to say no. Though looking at the heavy, carved door that marked the entry to Itachi's home, Naruto was revisiting that decision.

He knew it would be too much to hope that he wouldn't run into Sasuke given that the holiday party for Uchiha Financial Holdings was being held in his brother's home. Not to mention he was co-owner of the company, and it was a company party. Of course the bastard would be here. Naruto drew a breath and told himself he would just ignore Sasuke as much as possible. After their last meeting, he didn't expect the guy to exactly seek him out, either. Sasuke had made it pretty clear that he had no desire to be seen 'publicly' with Naruto, and this event was even more 'public' than lunch would have been.

Deciding he was finally ready, Naruto reached up to knock on the door when it was answered by a man wearing a tuxedo, offering to take Naruto's coat and escorting him inside.

He felt more than a little out of place given that most of the people here either worked together or were here as the date of someone who did. His eyes searched the room, looking for Itachi. He didn't expect to know anyone else here, given that Sakura was still out with the flu. He had just caught a glimpse of slightly familiar red hair when he felt a hand settle on his shoulder. He jumped slightly, and turned around to find Itachi standing behind him.

"Naruto-kun. It's nice of you to join us this evening," Itachi said smoothly.

Naruto could only blink for a moment. Itachi was looking at him almost affectionately and the effect was… a little overwhelming. Fucking Uchiha genes. Naruto felt Itachi's hand slide down from his shoulder and rest at the small of his back, and barely suppressed a shiver.

"Um… Itachi?" Naruto couldn't deny that the man was undeniably the most attractive man he had ever seen. Every time the guy walked past a group of people at least one or two broke out in nosebleeds. But given what had already happened between Naruto and Sasuke, he knew anything with Itachi would be out-of-bounds. But he felt a little nervous about saying something too direct in case he was misreading Itachi. That would be… incredibly embarrassing.

Amusement flashed across Itachi's eyes, as though he knew exactly what Naruto was thinking. Which... is ridiculous, Naruto thought somewhat panicked. He can't read my mind.

Naruto stepped forward slightly, just enough to break the distracting touch. He felt a far less friendly presence approaching and turned, not surprised to see Sasuke. What did surprise him was the level of anger that he sensed coming from the man. Sasuke's gaze lingered to where Itachi's hand had been resting on Naruto's lower back, then snapped back to Naruto's face.

"Ah, Sasuke. So nice of you to join us. I thought you were going to stay glued to the back wall like you usually do at these things," Itachi said, calmly ignoring his little brother's clear show of temper.

"Naruto-kun. As host I must go and greet our other guests. I will find you later this evening. Since Sasuke is never much help with these events, I trust he will at least take care of you for the time being." With that somewhat unsettling statement, Itachi walked back into the throng of guests, smoothly charming his way through old and young, male and female alike. Naruto watched Itachi leave, forcing himself to keep from looking over at the younger Uchiha.

"So you're here with Itachi?" Sasuke asked abruptly, drawing Naruto's attention back to him, his voice sharp with annoyance.

Naruto felt his hackles rise. If Sasuke tried to say something about how Itachi shouldn't have invited him here, Naruto might actually punch him. Evidently he wasn't as 'over' Sasuke's snub as he'd thought. "Well I'm certainly not here to see you. Now if you excuse me I have to go see…. pretty much anyone else in this fucking house."

He wished Sakura were here. But she had come down with the flu two days ago and had stayed at home. Wanting to just get away from Sasuke, Naruto headed over to the bar. He figured he'd catch Itachi after the guests had stopped arriving.

He could feel Sasuke's eyes boring into his back as he crossed the room, but he forced himself to not turn back and look. A flash of red hair by the bar made all thoughts of Sasuke being an asshole fly out of his head.

He saw a man with bright green eyes and red hair, sipping what appeared to be whiskey. While other areas of the bar were quite crowded, there was an empty space of about three people wide that surrounded the redhead. The sight made Naruto's chest warm and a grin spread on his face.

"Gaara? Oh, my god, it's great to see you!" Naruto's voice tended to carry even when he wasn't excited, much less when he was taken by surprise by an unexpected appearance one of his best friends. At least half the room turned to look at his outburst.

The other half followed suit at the collective gasp as Naruto grabbed the stoic redhead and lifted him up in a bear-hug. "Shit! How have you been? It's been over a year!" Naruto grinned. "What are you doing here?"

Naruto vaguely noticed that people were staring at them, but he didn't really care.

Gaara raised an amused brow as Naruto finally released him, well aware that people were waiting to see if he would have the strange blond man evicted or eviscerated.

"I work here, sometimes," Gaara said, shrugging and sipped his drink that had miraculously not spilled with Naruto's effusive greeting. Gaara was in fact the youngest member of the Board of Executives, his family extremely influential in the financial sector. He was known for being cold, ruthless, and unapproachable. "Still not quite housebroken, I see," Gaara said, his voice low and gravelly.

Naruto laughed. "Nah. If my mom couldn't do it in eighteen years, I don't know why you'd expect anyone would be able to."

Gaara felt his lips twitch up into a small smile. That smile widened slightly as he heard at least three people choke on their drinks at the sight of it. Perhaps this party wouldn't be a total waste of his time after all.

Gaara glanced around Naruto for a moment, not seeing anyone whom his friend appeared to be here with. "Please tell me you are not the person they hired to take over writing our annual report."

"Have you met the Uchihas? I am probably the absolute last person they would let near their financial reports to summarize them to investors." Naruto slung his arm around Gaara's shoulders, casting an amused glance at the people nearby literally gaping at them. Until Gaara cast what seemed to be a casual (if emotionless) glance in their direction and they all immediately paled and looked away.

"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?" Gaara asked, simply standing and allowing Naruto's arm to rest on his shoulders with no outward reaction at all.

"Of course. It's one of the main side benefits of being your friend. Everyone is so scared shitless of you. I never could figure out why. You're such a teddy bear." He ignored Gaara's warning growl. "Messing with them is pretty fun. Just think of all the gossip at the water cooler you'll get to hear on Monday morning."

"I have no interest in listening to their gossip. Why are you here?" Gaara looked at Naruto's semi-formal attire. "And what are you wearing? I think this is only the second time I've seen you without an obnoxious T-shirt on."

Naruto smirked, "Oh I'm wearing one. It's just hiding under this boring shirt. Hinata designed a whole new set of them. You want to see? I was planning on sending you one for Christmas."

Gaara simply raised an eyebrow. "I don't celebrate Christmas. Why would you send me a T-shirt?"

"To annoy you?"

"Like you need any help with that. Is there going to be any stopping you?"

"Nope! But you have to see it… Hinata's a total genius." Deciding that he would not take off his button-down shirt in the middle of a crowd of people who had already spent the better part of the last several minutes alternating between staring at them and trying to pretend NOT to stare at them, Naruto grabbed Gaara's arm and dragged him to the nearest doorway. Which turned out to be a large, comfortable library.

Naruto began unbuttoning his shirt, then winced as the finger he'd cut making breakfast that morning caught on a button. "Fuck!"

Gaara's face didn't alter in expression as he batted Naruto's hand away and took over unbuttoning the shirt.

The sound of a throat being cleared drew their attention to the doorway of the library. "Is this really the place for this, Sabaku?"

Naruto turned to see Sasuke leaning against the door jamb, eyeing them both narrowly with barely suppressed anger.

"What the fuck, asshole! I was just showing Gaara my…" Naruto began.

"Yes, I'm quite aware how much you like to play show and tell in public places. Evidently libraries are just as entertaining as locker rooms."

Gaara looked between the two angry men then turned to Naruto. "Naruto. Is Uchiha giving you problems?"

Sasuke's eyes locked with Naruto's. "Are you going to hide behind Sabaku's skirts?"

Naruto could feel Gaara bristle, though outwardly his friend appeared calm.

"Why would I? Even if Gaara and I were in here looking to test out every angle of the Kama Sutra, what possible problem would you have with it?"

Gaara gave Sasuke a hard look. "It doesn't sound like Naruto thinks there is much to talk about with you. So unless you had something specific that you needed, Uchiha -"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes slightly at Gaara before turning his glare back full-force on Naruto. "What the fuck do you think you are doing? You seriously can't keep it in your pants for an hour while my brother had to step out to take a phone call?"

"Wait, what?" Naruto couldn't decide if he was more angry or confused at this point. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why the hell would Itachi care if I was in here researching new sex positions to try out with Gaara?"

Sasuke slammed the door closed behind him, not wanting their voices to carry. "Usually when you bring someone to a company function as your date, you don't expect them to sneak off into a secluded room and start letting other guests strip them."

Naruto looked at Sasuke for a moment, completely shocked. Then he started to laugh. "You thought…" he gasped for breath. "You thought I was here as Itachi's date? Shit, Sasuke just how much did you drink tonight?"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "If you're not here as his date, then why are you here?"

"Seriously? He didn't tell you?" Naruto started laughing again. And yes, Naruto was laughing at him not with him.

Sasuke walked over to him, barely stopping himself from grabbing the front of Naruto's shirt. "Answer the question, Dobe."

Gaara also took a step closer, cold aggression pumping off him. Naruto rolled his eyes at Sasuke. "He told me that there were several members of the board coming tonight, and I could come and try to talk to them about becoming sponsors of At-Risk."

Sasuke looked at him for a moment, making a mental note to eviscerate Itachi later. "So... you're not dating Itachi?"

"Um… No," Naruto looked at Sasuke as though he might be mildly retarded.

Sasuke ignored the look, wanting to confirm something else first. But his posture relaxed fractionally. He was much less worried about having Gaara as a potential rival than he had been if it were Itachi.

"And… what about you and Sabaku?"

"It's ok, Gaara," Naruto said, turning and laying a hand on Gaara's arm, feeling it tense beneath his fingers. "It looks like Sasuke and I have a few things to discuss after all."

Gaara hesitated, clearly not sure if he should leave the two men alone. He had been extremely protective of Naruto ever since… Naruto stopped that train of thought. He wasn't going to go there anymore. "If Sasuke actually has something to say, I don't have a problem listening. I just wasn't aware there was anything to discuss."

Gaara gave Sasuke a hard look, trying to read his intentions. "I'll be in town for the next three days," Gaara said at last, releasing some of the tension that had been building relentlessly since Sasuke had entered the room. He turned to Naruto, "Just let me know if you need anything." He turned and nodded curtly to Sasuke. "Uchiha."

Naruto looked over to the red-haired man. "Thanks, Gaara. I'll call you tomorrow and we can grab dinner."

Gaara simply nodded to Naruto, eyed Sasuke warningly one last time, then took his leave through the rear door of the library.

A slow smile spread over Naruto's face as he turned back to look at Sasuke. "You're jealous, aren't you? I was letting Gaara take my shirt off in your brother's library… and you were jealous. This had nothing to do with you defending Itachi's honor, or whatever other bullshit you said."

"Pfft. Don't flatter yourself, Uzumaki. I just didn't want my brother to be embarrassed in his own home."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Then - once you found out that I wasn't here as your brother's date - why didn't you just leave?"

Sasuke looked at him briefly. "You didn't answer my question about you and Gaara."

Naruto's smile widened. "And you didn't answer mine. And… you're still standing here. Weren't you just telling me a couple of weeks ago that you didn't even want me showing up at your office because you were too embarrassed to be seen with me? I'm sure a shitload of people you work with saw you walk in here."

Sasuke sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. He wasn't sure if it was the jet-lag, or the two drinks he'd had just before coming in here, but he suddenly felt his head spin slightly. It definitely didn't have anything to do with the proximity of the man standing directly in front of him with his shirt partially unbuttoned.

"No. That's not what I said, and it's not what I meant. And if you'd stuck around instead of running off like a fucking girl, then I could have explained it to you."

Naruto raised an eyebrow, deciding for the moment to ignore the 'little girl' comment. "I'm listening."

-xXx-

to be continued

Chapter Text

Author's note: I don't know exactly the frequency I will be updating until I get Deception FINALLY done (please god) but I don't plan on posting any new fics until I finish the three I am currently working on. So I will try to focus. And now the dates of the newspaper will be off, because I don't want to do a timeskip yet in this fic. *sighs* Well, it was fun to be 'real-time' while it lasted. Oh, and for those of you waiting for like… a yakuza boss to appear in this story or some big explosion, it's not going to happen. This story is just about the development of the relationship between Naruto and Sasuke. Different genre in this fic.

Special thanks to WordWriter and Raz for reading this over, chatting with me, and getting me re-inspired on this story.

-xXx-


The Daily Ramen, December 15

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

As we count down to the New Year, I have been reflecting on things I learned in the past year. For example, the US government this year clarified for me that 'money' is in fact 'speech', at least when it comes to politics. I have decided to extend this philosophy to my personal life. So the next time I pay a hooker, I can tell the police officer that I am just giving her a compliment. And if I decide to not pay my water bill, I can simply state that I am just 'not talking to' my utility companies that month. I really like this idea, the more I think about it. We have to introduce similar legislation in Japan.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

In a move to drive more international tourism, the city of Wakayama's tourism federation recently translated their site and marketing materials into English. In order to make the name of their organization more 'user friendly', they helpfully created an acronym based on the name of their organization The Wakayama Tourism Federation. You guessed it. They named themselves WTF. English-speaking visitors can download 'WTF sights to see', 'WTF suggestions on things to do', and my personal favorite: 'WTF things to eat' while visiting Wakayama. Um…. guys. Word of advice. Hire a native English speaker if you're gonna do this shit. The acronym WTF is already firmly taken. And it doesn't stand for Wayakama Tourism Federation.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

With the release of movie version of 50 Shades of Grey (and the numerous jokes about people planning to go with 'their phones set on vibrate') I have been hanging out a good bit at the theatre recently. I have to say that seeing people making out to an almost porno in public does have a different vibe than watching them do it during the horror movies that you usually associate with that sort of behavior. Both tend to have low bars in terms of plot, so you don't miss much if you are sucking face with your date. But if you're going to make out, please don't be sloppy. Sucking face isn't supposed to literally mean slurping loudly like you're drinking from a straw at each other's lips. I was conveniently sitting in the back row of the theater, enjoying the various sources of entertainment around me. Unfortunately, the couple next to me must have had some sort of salivary gland issues. The amount of slurping and smacking noises that was coming from their mouths (and I did check… hands were all above the waist, so there was no other possible source of the slurping noises) was just not normal. No matter how hot your partner is, constant drool like that is just not sexy. And even though the dialogue of the movie was pretty lame, I did at least want to hear some of it.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

I get that it's fun to take selfies and post them, especially if you can manage to embarrass some of your friends in the process. But you have to remember that once you post them they are public. Which means that people you don't necessarily want to see them might do so. One local twenty-year-old thought it was funny to snap a selfie of himself holding up his friend who was unconscious and drooling after taking an overdose of his mom's Vicodin. A half an hour later he dropped the ODing friend off at a hospital and drove away. But the police happened to find the Instagram. And now the dude's in jail. And our dumbass of the day. Way to go, bra.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Roosters: if you want to make friends with professional wrestlers, you need to have more folding chairs around your house. It will make them feel more at home when they want to smash something over your head. To the Rats: Despite your attempts to make it look like an accident, investigators will see through your thinly veiled attempt to set fire to your boss. Come up with a new plan. To all the rest: I have nothing to say to you. Not even the rabbits.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

I cannot believe it! It is the best, most amazing fitness trend ever! The 50 Shades of Grey inspired smut-fest has spilled over into exercise! Dominatrixes are offering their talents to drive true performance motivation in gym classes! The fad that began in New York and LA has landed in Konoha! I am… beside myself with youthful vigor! I have already filled my schedule for the next month! I am hoping to book several private sessions! I will break the internet with my testimony of its benefits next week!


-xXx-

"No. That's not what I said, and it's not what I meant. And if you'd stuck around to let me explain instead of running off like a fucking girl, then I could have explained it to you."

Naruto eyed Sasuke warily. "I'm listening," Naruto said.

Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, but the knob on the door rattled and an older man with grey hair entered, looking at Naruto's unbuttoned shirt and the way Sasuke was standing much closer than normally considered socially acceptable. "S-sorry, Uchiha-sama. I thought I saw Sabaku-sama come in here. I had some business to discuss with him," the man said obsequiously.

Sasuke arched a brow, daring the man to indicate that anything sordid was going on. After all, he wasn't the one who had unbuttoned Naruto's shirt.

Naruto stood casually, completely unfazed, and offered, "Gaara just left. I think he went back to the party. I'd check over by the bar."

The man nodded nervously, then seemed to recognize Naruto from the little performance he'd put on with Gaara earlier in the evening. "You… you seemed to know Sabaku-sama quite well," the man said, licking his lips nervously. His tone of voice indicated a disbelief that anyone could actually get to know the terrifying young redhead in any capacity, much less "well".

Naruto snickered at the man's expression. God, he loved being Gaara's friend. People were always so freaked out about it. "Gaara? Yeah, he and I go way back. Don't let him scare you. Just give him a big hug and ask him whatever you need to."

Sasuke rolled his eyes and the older man choked at the idea of hugging any business partner, but particularly a homicidal, extremely influential one who could end his career aspirations in three seconds flat. He looked with wild eyes to Sasuke, who merely shrugged, seemingly bored with the conversation. The man had already approached Sasuke earlier in the evening hoping he would agree to invest in a business venture he was proposing. Sasuke had declined. He seriously doubted that Gaara would be any more lenient, but the man was certainly welcome to try. Especially since that would take the man out of the library so Sasuke could finish his conversation with Naruto.

Sasuke was much more interested in the characterization that Naruto had given his relationship with the redhead. Both his words and his tone indicated a friendship. A strong one, but still… just friends. He remembered Naruto saying he was going to show Gaara something. Given what he knew about the blond, Sasuke was guessing it was the T-shirt he was wearing under his dress shirt. The thought made his lips twitch.

So Naruto wasn't after Itachi, and he wasn't after Gaara. That lessened the chance of Naruto being yet another gold-digger, and Sasuke found himself relaxing slightly. He usually could see the social climbers coming from a mile away, and it had pissed him off more than he had expected it to when he thought Naruto had fooled him so easily.

The older man was busy bowing and making a hasty retreat, clearly deeming Naruto insane for suggesting any sort of physical contact with Gaara, under any circumstances. Sasuke turned back to see Naruto chuckling softly as he buttoned up his shirt. He had to admit he had found it mildly entertaining as well, though Sasuke was used to terrifying people all on his own. He had no need for additional associations to send people scurrying. He frowned at the door that the man had just exited through. Speaking of terrifying, he was pretty sure he had seen his uncle Madara here this evening. Of all his uncles, Madara was the worst. And the most diligent. He seemed to take perverse pleasure in decimating any potential threats to his nephews.

Sasuke knew he'd better not spend too much time alone in the library with Naruto if he was going to stay off Madara's radar. Or some other nosy observer. At these types of events, everyone's movements were tracked and monitored as people looked for signals of possible deals or alliances. It was annoying to have to live life in a glass box, but Sasuke had become adept at it.

Naruto looked over to see Sasuke frowning at the door, and the amusement in his blue eyes faded to show a bit of anger. "Careful, Uchiha. Someone might get the wrong idea finding you alone in a library with another man," Naruto mocked, giving a significant glance to the door which had been partially left ajar. "You'd better get back in your closet."

"Tch, idiot. You're the one who'd have to watch out. My family already knows I'm gay. I don't give a fuck about that," Sasuke adjusted the cuff of his shirt in annoyance, though his eyes did linger slightly on Naruto's fingers as they nimbly re-fastened the buttons of his shirt.

Naruto paused, wondering for a moment if Sasuke was threatening him. "What do you mean 'I'd have to watch out'?"

Sasuke sighed, running a hand through his hair. This was why he avoided speaking most of the time. Words were annoyingly easy to take the wrong way. Which Naruto's narrowed eyes were telling him was happening now. Again. But at least this time Sasuke was fully clothed, and he could make sure Naruto heard him out. "My family is old money."

Naruto bristled, thinking Sasuke was about to warn him off 'outing' him despite what he said about his family already knowing, but Sasuke was continuing. "I don't care about social status or whether someone's bank account is on par with mine. I have enough money to support myself and an entire harem if I wanted it. But I also don't want to get involved with gold-diggers. And my family is a bit… overprotective on that point. We have been the target of social climbers for generations, and my uncles aren't shy about discouraging them. The one time they found out about someone I was having sex with, they turned his life inside-out between financial audits, background checks, and very thinly veiled threats on what would happen to him if they ever found out he was just after my money."

Naruto processed this. He had pretty good bullshit radar, and Sasuke wasn't setting off any alarms. He supposed it would make sense for a family to be overprotective on that front, given the amount of money at stake. And he could appreciate Sasuke's honesty at least in disclosing this potential complication of getting involved with him and his crazy, overprotective uncles lurking in the wings. He was willing to give the guy points for that. Sasuke had already seen what his friends at the newspaper were capable of, thanks to his special birthday issue, so at least he wouldn't have to reciprocate the warning. He supposed that made them equal, in some ways. Feeling his anger dissipate a little, he leaned back against the bookshelf, crossing his arms behind his head and letting his mouth relax into a slight smile.

"Yeah, well…. I'm not after anything with you. I just wanted to grab a coffee, not ask for you to bear my child. Shit," Naruto realized that maybe he and Sasuke were in the same place. Verbal expression clearly wasn't one of Sasuke's strong suits given the way he'd gone about saying it in the locker room, but at least the intent wasn't what it had seemed at the time. Sasuke had just been trying to tell Naruto he wasn't looking for something serious. Which was the same reason Naruto had wanted to have coffee with Sasuke before anything happened. So there wouldn't be any misunderstanding on what he was able to offer at the moment. If Sasuke had been looking for something serious right off the bat, Naruto would have needed to walk away. He didn't use people or lead them on. And evidently, neither did Sasuke.

It actually made it much simpler since they both were evidently looking for the same thing.

Of course, Naruto wasn't going to let the 'gold digger' implication slide. "And for the record, I don't like you for your money. I have my sugar daddy that lives in your apartment building for that, remember? Actually, I really can't think of anything I like about you at all," Naruto gave a lopsided grin, his eyes drifting casually over Sasuke's form.

Sasuke smirked, his body posture relaxing a bit as they fell into their familiar banter. He realized that he had actually missed it. Surprisingly. "That's good. I don't do sloppy seconds from my neighbors anyway. And I don't see much to like about you either," Sasuke said in a bored tone, belied only by the intensity of his dark eyes.

A man's voice drifted in from the partially open library door, reminding Sasuke of where they were. He thought quickly and pulled out his business card, writing his number on the back of it and flicking it over to Naruto. The blond caught it with a downward swipe of his hand and an annoyed glare. "If you feel like discussing our mutual dislike of each other in private sometime, you can give me a call. Just don't show up at my office with a bouquet of fucking flowers," Sasuke said, his eyes lit with dry humor.

"Tch, like I'd ever give an ass like you flowers," Naruto looked at the neat, perfect handwritten numbers on the back of the smooth, formal business card. "Don't pine away waiting for my call."

"Not in this lifetime, dumbass," Sasuke turned and headed back out to do his minimal duty as co-host of the company party. Naruto saw the small smile playing on the man's lips as he left the library when he turned and added, "But I'm leaving on a business trip in the first week of January."

It was a deadline, of sorts. Naruto knew that if he didn't call Sasuke before then, the man would assume he was no longer interested and likely move on.

Naruto ran his index finger over the card, feeling the embossed lettering on the small square of expensive vellum. He watched from the doorway as Sasuke walked fluidly across the room and greeted a group of serious looking businessmen, all of whom immediately bowed deferentially to him. Naruto carefully slid the card into the front pocket of his shirt. Somehow he got the feeling that Sasuke didn't give out his personal number very frequently. The thought made him hum a bit as he walked into the main room, scanning the crowd for the three people he had promised TenTen he would try to talk to for her charity.


Naruto had finished his obligations for the evening, and was scanning the crowd to see if Gaara were still there. He had missed the redhead, and decided he didn't really want to wait until tomorrow to catch up if he could find the man before he left. He felt a prickle along his spine and turned to see another man looking at him from across the room. He looked like a much older version of Sasuke and Itachi, and Naruto assumed that this was one of the crazy uncles that Sasuke had mentioned.

The man's gaze lingered assessingly on Naruto for a moment, then shifted and found both Sasuke and Itachi circulating in the room. His gaze lost its threatening air as he went back to the conversation he was having with the group of important-looking men surrounding him.

Naruto began to have a vague idea of what Sasuke was concerned about.

He shrugged off the prickle of nerves, given that he had no desire to take financial advantage of either of the Uchiha brothers. He turned and headed over to Gaara, who he found leaning against the bar, enjoying his solitude. He raised a brow as Naruto approached. "Hey. Sorry about earlier. Sasuke and I had had a misunderstanding that needed to be cleared up. When did you start working with the Uchihas? Last I heard you were in New York setting up your family's new branch there. It sucks you're only here for three days."

Naruto ignored the covert glances people cast him as he walked over and sat right next to Gaara, grinning at the redhead happily.

"I've been on the board of Uchiha Financial for the past three years, but they just moved their headquarters to Konoha this year. Mostly I've been in New York, but I come back every month or so for business. Usually I'm not in town long enough to do anything social, but since the end of the year is coming up, I thought I'd take a few days to relax."

Naruto snickered a bit at the thought of a social Gaara. He had met Gaara only because he was Sasori's cousin. They had hit it off immediately, much to the shock of everyone, especially Sasori. Naruto had sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had met Gaara first, but there was too much baggage now to ever go that route. Gaara had been there for Naruto when things had been at their worst with Sasori.

"Where are you staying while you're in town?"

Gaara shrugged. "Four Seasons," he took a sip of his drink.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Boring. Come stay with me."

Gaara raised a hairless eyebrow. "Hmmm. Let's see. Sleeping on a king-sized bed with high thread count sheets, stacks of pillows, room service, and a concierge I can terrorize vs. sleeping on your sofa with questionable levels of hygiene, a throw blanket, and eating instant ramen."

Naruto grinned. "So… you're coming over, right?"

Gaara finished his drink. "Of course. We'll have to go by my room to get my bags."


Sasuke was standing off to one side of the room, trying to avoid the daughters of several members of their board of executives who had been trying to corner him. He wished he could have just asked Naruto to leave with him and go grab a drink, but Itachi would have killed him if he'd left early. Not to mention that half the room had likely noticed him step into the library after Gaara and Naruto, and would have taken note if they'd left at the same time. He'd given Naruto the CliffsNotes version of the issues with his family, and the boundaries it placed on any potential interactions between them. He'd let Naruto make the call as to whether he was interested in anything after this.

Sasuke felt a presence at his shoulder and was not surprised to find Itachi standing there.

"You seem less annoyed than you did earlier, Otouto," Itachi said casually.

Sasuke shrugged, looking out over the sea of guests, careful not to let his gaze drift too frequently to one of the only blonds in the room. "Why did you want it to appear as though Naruto was here as your date?"

Itachi took a sip of his drink, his long, elegant fingers supporting the crystal tumbler with practiced ease. "Why would the idea of Naruto being my date annoy you?"

Sasuke said nothing for a moment. Then, "Uncle Madara is here this evening. Did you really want to subject Naruto to that kind of scrutiny?"

Itachi arched a perfect eyebrow. "Worried about him?"

"I just think it's a bit callous of you to involve random strangers in these little games you like to play with me," Sasuke said, unable to keep the slight edge from creeping into his voice.

Amusement shone in Itachi's eyes. "How noble of you. If it makes you feel better, I had already informed Uncle Madara the purpose for Naruto's presence here."

"Hn," Sasuke said, feeling somewhat appeased. His eyes were fixed on the crowd, blatantly ignoring the assessing look that Itachi was giving him.

"It looks like Naruto is leaving with Sabaku-san. I had thought the two of you would spend a little time together this evening," Itachi said after a moment.

Sasuke took another sip of his drink. "Why would I? He has nothing to do with our business."

Itachi was too controlled to give in to the desire to sigh, but Sasuke felt the sentiment anyway. It almost made him smile, but he suppressed it since smiling would destroy the air of 'not caring' that he was trying to pull off. The last thing he wanted was Itachi playing matchmaker any more than he already was, even if it did imply that Itachi approved of Naruto at least on some level. It would make things easier if Itachi wasn't dead set against him. Sasuke nodded to one of the heads of their financial derivatives business unit and walked over to make the obligatory small talk and show of personal interest. He could feel Itachi's eyes on him the entire time.

It was going to be a long evening.


Naruto and Gaara lay on the floor of Naruto's small living room, game controllers in hand.

The blond watched as the redhead's character scaled the walls of the elaborate palace before diving down to take out six guards in less than three seconds.

"Sweet!" Naruto said. "Shit, I forgot how good you are at Assassin's Creed. Shikamaru always falls asleep when we play. And Lee and Kiba are just too spastic to get a strategy right." Naruto pause as his character took a swan dive off the cathedral-like tower to land softly on his feet before taking out the palace guards on the ground floor. "Hinata's pretty good, though," he said thoughtfully, the tip of his tongue sticking out as he used his phantom blade to kill the head guard before dropping down from the mezzanine and walking calmly up to Gaara's character.

Gaara's eyes flicked briefly to the side as their characters crept through the hallways. "So. You and Uchiha?" He twisted his wrists and his character thrust a knife up under the chin of a guard that had come around the corner unexpectedly, killing him instantly.

Naruto pretended to focus on the game for a few minutes, picking a lock then sneaking into a room and cutting down three more guards. Despite Gaara's eyes staying on the TV, Naruto could feel the man waiting for his reply. Gaara was the one person Naruto could talk freely about this. Even a corpse couldn't keep a secret as well as Gaara.

"I don't know," Naruto said, thinking about the card he had placed carefully on his nightstand when they'd gotten back from the Uchihas' party. "We have this… weird thing going."

From the corner of his eye, Naruto saw a hairless brow lift in enquiry.

"We met sort of at random, and mostly just really piss each other off, but…"

"But?" Gaara prodded.

"But I guess… there's this attraction or something that just… is really intense and sort of feeds off the fighting."

Gaara smirked at that. Those types of relationships were more Gaara's style. He had only known Naruto after he had begun dating Sasori so he didn't know what Naruto's dating pattern had really been before that.

"A lot of people think the Uchihas are attractive. I didn't think you were the type to just go for looks, though." Gaara's voice was inflectionless, reflecting intellectual curiosity rather than any sort of judgment.

Naruto grumbled something under his breath.

Gaara bit back a snicker. "What was that?"

"It's not just his looks. He's… sort of funny. In a dry, assholish kind of way. He's…" Naruto didn't really know what adjective he was looking for. "... Interesting," he finished lamely.

"Hm," Gaara said noncommittally. "So… you're together?"

"No. We barely know each other. I'm not looking for a relationship yet. And he's already told me that…" Naruto paused as they cleared another room of guards. "... that, given his family situation, he really isn't looking to date either."

They played in silence a bit. Then Gaara clarified, "So you're just fucking, then?" His voice reflected no opinion on the matter. He was far from romantic himself, and didn't see the need for anyone else to be, either. He thought it was probably good for Naruto to slowly get used to the dating scene again without jumping into something too heavy on the relationship side right away. And Sasuke was different enough from Sasori to put Gaara at ease that Naruto wasn't falling into another self-destructive relationship. Sasuke was unlikely to get high on coke and throw a washing machine at Naruto. Unlike Sasori.

Naruto blushed, and he pushed the buttons on the controller with slightly more force than was absolutely necessary.

"No," he said somewhat defensively, then paused. "Not yet. He gave me his number. It's sort of… a standing offer, I guess."

Gaara nodded. "I think that's good. You can ease back into dating. It's safe, with clear boundaries. You can keep it casual and not worry about hurting each other. And he's not a junkie. And he interests you on other levels."

Naruto felt somewhat reassured by Gaara's words. At least he and Sasuke had somewhat cleared the air. They were both in the same place: feeling the intense attraction, finding each other interesting, but not looking to jump into a serious relationship. Sasuke had already seen Sasori and had clearly drawn the correct conclusion about Naruto coming out of a messy break-up. And Naruto now knew about Sasuke's insane family and the man's desire to avoid anything serious or public.

They were both adults, walking into this with their eyes open. It could be good. Interesting company, fierce sexual attraction, and no expectations.

As long as no one found out. The last thing Naruto wanted to was end up in his own fucking newspaper again. Or being targeted by one of Sasuke's psycho uncles.

Now all Naruto had to figure out is what the fuck to say to Sasuke when he decided to finally make the call

-xXx-

to be continued…

Credits and comments on the column: Yes, the 50 shades fitness craze is TRUE (I heard it advertised on my way to work, and it is discussed in Shape magazine as well). The WTF is based on a true story I heard about the Wisconsin Tourism Federation… and they don't even have the benefit of English not being their first language. Dumbass was a nomination who wished to remain anonymous. LOL.

ALSO - I have had several readers tell me that they don't like yaoi but read this for the articles/humor. Just as a warning, starting next chapter there will most likely be sex, so… you might want to stop reading now, or just don't go past the articles if boyxboy sex isn't your thing. This fic will be about 17 chapters, and most of them will have sex from here on out. Don't complain about it… you've been warned.

Chapter Text

 


The Daily Ramen, December 22

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Your mother was wrong. All those times she told you that playing computer games was a waste of time? Wrong. Her wrongness has even been scientifically proven. Recent studies have shown that playing first-person shooter games do more than just incite violent tendencies and give parents an excuse for their failure to actually raise their children. It even does more than improve hand-eye coordination. Actually, it now appears that people who played such games have more highly developed spatial reasoning and focus, higher visual acuity and better decision-making. That's right. People who like to play violent, shoot-em-up games are better decision makers than those who don't. With that said, I am off to play Call of Duty. If my next column is late because of it, it is only because I am trying to improve my decision-making skills.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Many people are looking for a cause, something to give meaning to their life. One local man has finally found something he really cares about, something that touches his everyday life and fuels his dreams. It is a movement by leading porn stars demanding to be fucked harder. That's right. No more of this sub-par fucking. Our local man is totally down with that, and looking for ways to contribute more meaningfully to the righteous cause. And he is very willing to get behind it. Or on top of it. Or under it. Really any position at all.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Sweaty dreams. We all have them. Sometimes about that hot, off-limits co-worker that you fantasize about shoving into the supply closet and ripping off his shirt. Sometimes about the person on the radio with the sexy voice that stirs you up. There's nothing wrong with a good fantasy. But if you are prone to being particularly vocal in your dreams, then you might want to be careful about falling asleep on the public bus. I was riding home from work the other day, when a man next to me was clearly having a rather nice dream. He was slumped against the window, just a trickle of drool coming out of his mouth innocently, when the moans started. Followed by a (rather impressive) tent forming in his work pants, and then the calling out of "Oh, Ty Lee… yeah, upside-down on your hands… oh, yeah, uhhhgggg." Evidently he had reached the 'good part' of the dream. Given the verbal description of what appeared to be quite acrobatic sex, I give him at least a seven for imagination. Too bad there was no visual to go along with the narrative.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

There's nothing wrong with being proud to show off your new tattoo. Especially if it's in a place where not many people will get to see it. But if you're going to snap a pic to post on facebook and share with the world, you want to be sure that you don't have any extra "body parts" showing that could get you arrested. Or fired. One local man didn't quite figure that out. He had a new tattoo on his upper thigh that he wanted to show his friends. Unfortunately, he forgot to have 'Mr. Wiggly' step aside for the photo shoot. And in his excitement to 'share' with his friends, he posted the shot on facebook that included more than half of his penis. Where he shared it with many friends. Including some people at work. And his boss.

So now, he is looking for a new job. And is our dumbass of the day.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

For the monkeys - if you do not enjoy hard, pointy objects being forcefully jammed up your ass you should give up your career as a bullfighter before the end of the week. For the rams - this week you will discover that your entire emotional construct is in fact comprised of emoticons. Especially the little cat ones with the big eyes. To the rabbits, I simply wish to remind you that quantity is not the same as quality. Why? Because if you can really fuck ten times in a day, then at least the first five times were lame.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

[We apologize that the column by Rock Lee will be delayed this week, as he is currently shackled to a wall somewhere in his selfless pursuit of in-depth exploration of the latest dominatrix-driven work-out phase. He wanted to let you all know that there is nothing he won't subject himself to for the educational purposes of his loyal readers. He hopes to return next week, but only if Mistress allows it.]


-xXx-

Naruto sat at his desk at the Daily Ramen, looking through the first drafts of Hinata's and Kiba's columns, along with some additional articles they were running. He had a stack of emails from local vendors wanting to buy advertising space on their website that he had to get to before the end of the day. Shikamaru handled the tax, legal and accounting side of their little business, and Naruto handled most of the editing, proofing, and advertising part. It was a good mix of their skills.

Today, however, Naruto was having trouble focusing. His mind wandered to a particular business card that was sitting in his wallet.

It had been almost a week since Sasuke had given him his number. Naruto had spent the weekend catching up with Gaara and watching him terrorize his friends from the Daily Ramen. He had pushed the library encounter with the dark-haired man to the back of his mind. Monday had been hectic with lots of local socialites doing things dumb enough to require many 'flash updates' on their website.

But now enough time had passed that he really should be deciding whether he was going to call Sasuke or not. Or to be perfectly honest with himself, he needed to decide what he was going to say when he did call. Because there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to call the bastard.

Even though they had both agreed it would be 'casual', he didn't want to make it feel like some cheesy booty call. He really couldn't imagine himself calling someone up and being all: "hey baby, let's meet at my place." It wasn't his style, and he was pretty sure it wasn't Sasuke's either.

But meeting at a restaurant seemed a little dubious, too, since who knows who would see them? And a movie felt like a 'date thing', which Sasuke wasn't really wanting to do. Museum? Sasuke was probably a pretty cultured guy, but it was clear they were both hoping to get sex out of it at the end. Museum didn't exactly scream sex. Not that he wanted to make an offer that was too cliché, but - Naruto cut off his thoughts with a groan, letting his head thud down on his desk. He was overthinking this. He needed to just pick up the phone and call.

"Naruto?" He looked up to see Kiba eyeing him with a bit of worry. "You don't like the draft of the columns?"

"Nah, they're great. I'm just… stressing over stupid things," Naruto scrubbed his hands over his face. "What's up?"

Kiba looked at him for a moment… Naruto didn't usually 'stress' over things. But he shrugged, knowing his friend would talk about it if he needed to. "Let's go out this weekend, then. Blow off some steam. Maybe get you laid."

Naruto rolled his eyes, but he felt his cheeks heat slightly. That was actually a more realistic possibility than Kiba knew, but Naruto wasn't going to enlighten him. He was glad that neither Hinata nor Shikamaru were in the room to see his reaction, or they would have known something was up.

"Yeah. We can go down to The Hidden Leaf and shoot some pool on Friday. After we get the print edition out," Naruto said, giving Kiba a glare for the half-finished article he had handed in.

"Deal! I'll tell the guys. And Hinata."

Naruto bit back a grin. Kiba was the only one of their group who always clarified that Hinata was separate from 'the guys'. He wondered when his friend was finally going to man up and make his move. He grimaced slightly at the thought that he had no right to say anything. He had his own 'manning up' to do.


Sasuke leaned back in his chair behind his large mahogany desk and stretched his back. This had been the week from hell at work. He didn't think he'd gotten more than four hours of sleep for the past five nights. The markets had shifted unexpectedly, and Sasuke had had to scramble to make sure that they adjusted their positions rapidly enough to avoid taking losses. There had been a few hedge funds that Sasuke had decided to pull their investments out of two months ago when he'd realized that a market shift like this could cost the company billions. There had been grumbling from their sales side when he'd done it, since at the time they had thought a shift like this was 'highly unlikely', but he had been proven right in the end.

He smirked in satisfaction. Even his father had been impressed. Sasuke could count on one hand the number of times he'd witnessed that... most of them involving Itachi. But this one had been his own.

Sasuke glanced at his phone. Thirty-seven business related calls received. None from a blond idiot. He rubbed his neck tiredly. It had almost been a week. He supposed it was better that the reporter hadn't called him. He wasn't sure he'd have been able to meet anyway. But still… he had thought the blond would have called. He regretted not taking Naruto's number, but there just hadn't been time. And he had been sure that he would call. If work hadn't been so busy, Sasuke would have been more annoyed about that fact.

He scrolled through the screen on his office computer. It showed the current end-of-day reports. He clicked through, giving it only a cursory glance. He had been invited to join the board of directors of the Business Council of Konoha, and they were going to welcome him at their meeting this evening while they were discussing plans to the city's business regulations for the upcoming year. Itachi had told Sasuke he had to go, even though it was Friday night and he'd had a hell of a week. But Itachi handled most PR aspects to their business, and this was the one area that Sasuke usually covered.

He was just about to close the screen when something caught his attention from one of their business units. He paused, looking at it twice to make sure he was seeing it correctly. Cursing silently under his breath, he picked up his phone and dialed the person who better fucking know what was going on.

"Kakuzu… I'm looking at the end of day report for our hedge fund portfolio. Can you tell me why we are three hundred million dollars short of where we were yesterday?"

"Sasuke-san… where are you looking?" The head of their private equity division immediately sounded concerned. Sasuke never called just to chit chat.

"Page one. If we had an account blow up to the tune of three hundred million dollars overnight, I would have expected to have been notified."

"What?! There is no fucking way we had a loss that big and I didn't know."

"Then where is the money?"

There was silence on the other line as Kakuzu pulled up the reports. "What the fuck!"

"Exactly. I want to know which account, and I want to know why, within the next fifteen minutes. No one from your group goes home for the weekend until I have an answer."

Kakuzu growled in agreement. He was actually even more of a pit-bull than Sasuke was when it came to chasing the bottom line. He hung up the phone, confident that Kakuzu would get to the bottom of it. And rip a new one in whoever let this slip.

He stood and walked over to the espresso machine he had in his office to make himself another cup, wondering if he could use this fiasco as an excuse to get him out of showing up tonight. He doubted it.

His phone rang exactly seven minutes later. Sasuke smirked. He was surprised he couldn't hear Kakuzu shouting from the floor below him.

"Talk," Sasuke said tersely.

"Nothing blew up. But we have a problem with operations. I have Udon here to try to explain this to us," Kakuzu sounded pissed, but not panicked. That was a good sign. It meant the money wasn't completely gone.

Sasuke could hear the frantic breathing of the poor young analyst that Kakuzu had just thrown under the bus. The kid was practically hyperventilating. Sasuke didn't blame him. Kakuzu was scary as fuck when money was on the line. And to have your first meeting with your bosses' boss be over a mistake wouldn't be fun. But the kid shouldn't have screwed up.

"Udon? I don't have all evening. Explain to me where the three hundred million dollars is," Sasuke said, his tone calm but not allowing for any hesitation

"Y-yes, Sasuke-sama. I-It's not gone. We just… one of the h-hedge funds that you said we should liquidate our assets in... "

"Yes?" Sasuke said, feeling impatient. That order had gone through weeks ago.

"We got approval and clearance from all parties. So the transaction is fine. But there was some difficulty in the communication between our system and one of the other parties…" Udon paused.

"If we don't have our money, how is the transaction 'fine'? And why am I just hearing about this now?" Sasuke bit out. His other phone line lit up. He looked at the number and groaned. Madara. Of course. Sasuke wasn't the only Uchiha who scanned the end of day numbers. "I will be back on in two minutes. In that time, I expect you to have a clear explanation to my question."

Sasuke pushed the button, switching him to his second line. "Uncle Madara. To what do I owe the pleasure of this Friday evening call?" Sasuke drawled sarcastically, though he already knew the answer.

"What happened with the hedge fund portfolio, and why wasn't the board immediately notified of a loss of this size?"

Sasuke bit back a curse, the small headache he'd had from lack of sleep blossoming into a full blown pounding. "I'm on the other line with the account analyst now. I'll know shortly."

"You'd better. We don't make mistakes of this magnitude at Uchiha Financial Holdings."

Sasuke refrained from gritting his teeth, but only because he knew it would make his head hurt worse. He clicked to the other line. "Start talking now, and you'd better make sense."

"Well, we had to see our shares in part of the hedge fund holdings. It was one of the major ones in that part of the portfolio, almost seven hundred million total. It took a while to unwind some of the positions because of the complexity of the -"

"Get to the point. Do we still have the stocks or whatever asset the fund was trading?"

"No, we sold that," Udon said confidently.

"And who has those assets now?"

"Bank of Tokyo bought them," Udon responded quickly.

"Ok, so if the Bank of Tokyo bought them, then where is the money they were supposed to have paid us?"

"Well, it should be…"

"I'm not interested in 'should be'. I want to know 'is'. Where is the money?" Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why were the assets released if we hadn't received payment yet?" You can't walk out of a store with a fucking two dollar pack of gum without handing over the money first. Why this concept didn't seem to have registered to someone working in the financial industry was beyond Sasuke.

"Well, everything was signed off on, and it was only transaction forty-seven from protocol -"

"Stop. Let's try this again. Is the money with us?"

"No."

"Are the assets with us?"

"..." Udon drew a stuttering breath. "N-no."

"Ok. So do you see the problem here?" Sasuke asked, his voice deceptively soft. He could hear Kakuzu swearing through the line.

"Who owes us the money for these transactions?" Sasuke fervently hoped it wasn't the original hedge fund, since they had gone bankrupt earlier this week due to their poor read of the market movements. Just like he'd predicted they would.

"B-Bank of Tokyo," Udon finally managed to get out.

Sasuke drew a breath. This would be fine, then. It was just a system error. And Bank of Tokyo would be able to pay them. "Kakuzu…"

Sasuke hadn't even been able to say more than that when the man cut in. "I know who to call there. We'll have this handled before business opens tomorrow, Sasuke-san."

"You'd better. Madara called when I was on the phone with you. He'll be expecting your update, along with the rest of the board. I'll let him know that you will be calling him directly later this evening."

The board had to sign off on the bonuses for all top executives. Kakuzu would make sure every 'i' was dotted and 't' was crossed on this one. And probably redesign the whole system so it never happened again.

Sasuke looked up at the sound of his door being opened as he hung up the phone. "You're going to be late, Otouto. This is an important position in the community," Itachi said, smirking as he could hear Kakuzu shouting orders from down the hall. "I think you've terrorized your minions sufficiently for the week. Now run along and play nice with the other business leaders. We need to work with most of them."

Sasuke thought longingly of the hot shower and large bed waiting for him at home. "Fuck you," he murmured to his brother, pulling on his jacket and heading down to his car.


Naruto grabbed his tablet and stuffed it into his bag. Hinata poked her head into the door as he was just zipping it closed. "You're covering the Business Council meeting tonight?"

Naruto sighed. "Yeah. It's my turn. Shit, these things are always so boring. We almost never get anything good out of them."

Hinata nodded sympathetically. There were certain events that were known for being deadly dull, and they'd draw straws to see who would go to cover them 'just in case'. Naruto got the short straw this time. "Tell Kiba he owes me a beer tonight after this."

"We'll meet you at The Hidden Leaf when you finish up," she said, mentioning their favorite pool hall bar.

"Sounds good. I'll see you there," Naruto slung his bag over his shoulder and headed out. Maybe if he got a few drinks into him at The Hidden Leaf he'd get the nerve to call Sasuke.


Naruto got to the meeting just as they were opening the discussion on some new set of tax incentives that he couldn't understand and couldn't care less about. He would stay to the end of the meeting on the off-chance that anything interesting happened, but he wasn't going to hold his breath.

The meeting had been going for about fifteen minutes when the door opened and someone walked in. Naruto didn't bother turning to see who it was, assuming it was just another attendee. When the person walked past him and headed up to the row of chairs where the board members sat, Naruto looked up.

And was shocked to see a familiar duck-ass hairdo walk past. Naruto pretended to look more at the hair rather than the fine set of broad shoulders nicely filling out the suit below it. When had Uchiha Sasuke been added to the Board?

Sasuke turned and spoke briefly to the chairman of the board before taking the remaining empty seat at the far end of the row of chairs up on the dais. His face looked as calm and stoic as ever, but Naruto thought the man looked a bit weary.

Sasuke picked up a pack of materials that had been left on his seat for him to read through describing the details of the new policy that would be voted on later this evening. He hadn't noticed Naruto as he'd walked into the room, and was flipping through the documents, a slight frown of concentration on his face. It was the first time Naruto had really seen Sasuke when they weren't arguing, and he was struck again by how coldly beautiful the man was. Sasuke's legs were spread slightly apart as he rested the papers on the table in front of him, his long fingers flipping through the pages as he scanned their contents. There was something both elegant and powerful about his presence that immediately commanded respect from the other businessmen in the room.

Naruto continued to watch as Sasuke pulled out a pen and made a few short notes in the margins before he folded the papers and set them in front of him, evidently having finished digesting the materials. Most of the other members of the board were still reading despite having a twenty minute head-start on the Uchiha. Naruto smiled, somehow finding that amusing. The man in front was still droning on about some minutia that Naruto didn't bother listening to. He noticed that Sasuke had pulled out his phone and appeared to be checking e-mails.

Deciding there was no time like the present, Naruto pulled out his phone as well.


Sasuke bit back a groan as he finally finished reading the materials that he'd have to vote on at the end of the evening. This was such a fucking waste of his time. After the week he'd had, all he wanted to do was go back to his apartment take a hot shower and have a glass of wine. Or three. Before he decided whether he was going to fire Udon on Monday.

He checked his emails, finding one from Kakuzu saying he had called someone at the other bank and gotten confirmation that the money transfer would be complete before their team left for the night.

He looked up, trying to at least pretend to pay attention to what the speaker was saying. He'd already read the materials and made his decision, but he had to make a perfunctory show of paying attention.

His phone vibrated as he received another text. He frowned inwardly, thinking it had better not be Kakuzu with another problem. He was surprised to see an unknown number.

Was the packet boring, or are you really just that fast of a reader?

Sasuke's eyes snapped up and he glanced around. He'd had stalkers before, and it always annoyed him. His phone vibrated again.

You're pretty hot when you're pissed.

Sasuke wondered briefly if Karin had somehow gotten his number. He'd have to renew the restraining order, if so.

5th row, 2 seats in from the left, bastard.

Sasuke looked up and over to where he was indicated, but didn't see anyone he recognized, everyone's face was fixedly turned toward the speaker.

Sorry, my left, not yours.

Sasuke rolled his eyes, not surprised at this point when they landed on a familiar blond head of hair. Blue eyes full of amusement met his, and Sasuke couldn't help but feel his lips twitch in response.

He glanced down at his phone and quickly typed out: I was wondering if you were ever going to grow balls enough to use my number.

He saw Naruto glance down at his phone as he received the message, then the tan fingers were flying over the device.

More like grow bored enough to call you, asshole. Will this old windbag ever stop talking about this stupid tax code?

Sasuke glanced down at the new message, his brow arching. He hated to agree with the blond, but really, the speaker seemed to be greatly enjoying the sound of his own voice a little too much. His fingers typed quickly:

What, was my neighbor all booked up for the night? No one better to text?

Sasuke could see Naruto snicker, and he felt his own lips curve slightly in response. He watched as Naruto typed out a reply, and waited for it to arrive.

He said he'd rather watch paint dry than come here.

There was a brief pause, then Sasuke received a second text from the blond.

You look tired. Rough day?

The message surprised Sasuke. Most people couldn't read him well enough to tell when he was tired.

I look better than you even when I'm tired. But yeah. Rough week.

Naruto quickly typed back.

You wish you looked better than me. But if you're up for it, I'm still game to buy coffee. I think I have some extra hats and dark glasses if we need to go incognito.

"And now, we're pleased to have our newest board member, Uchiha Sasuke, co-owner of Uchiha Financial Holdings, give us his assessment on these points." The room seemed to wake from its stupor when the old man who'd been rambling at the front of the room finally stopped, and apparently was handing over the discussion of the fine points of the changes to Sasuke. Naruto panicked, not realizing that Sasuke was supposed to have been paying attention to the speaker and feeling guilty for having distracted him.

Sasuke rose, looking completely composed. "Thank you, Chairman. There were three points in particular that you raised that I wanted to further clarify to the group before we begin voting…"

Naruto watched in shock as Sasuke smoothly went through all the points, the nodding heads in the room assuring Naruto that Sasuke was evidently having no problem. Clearly he had been following the speaker even while texting with Naruto.

Sasuke looked directly at him, and Naruto saw a smug amusement in the businessman's face as he read the worry then surprise that had come over Naruto. He hated to admit it, but he was actually impressed with the way Sasuke pulled it off. Impressed… and honestly more than a little turned on.

When Sasuke finished, the chairman stood back up and took questions from the room, many specifically wanting Sasuke's opinion based on what he'd seen in other cities. Finally, they were ready to call the vote. It wasn't surprising that Sasuke's well-articulated points had clearly swayed the majority of the people in the room.

After the meeting, young businessman was immediately swarmed by people wanting to ask him about everything from his opinion on the business environment of the city to whether or not he was dating. It didn't look like Sasuke was going to be able to escape any time soon, and the man had already said he was tired, so Naruto left with the majority of the spectators.

While he was waiting for a taxi, he pulled out his phone to text Kiba to see if they were already at The Hidden Leaf when his device buzzed again.

Do you always run away?

Naruto looked up but Sasuke hadn't emerged from the building yet. Naruto typed back.

You looked like you were already at your quota of groupies pawing at you for the day. I'm not into the group thing on first dates.

Naruto really hoped that whoever was standing next to Sasuke couldn't read his texts, but he figured Sasuke knew what he was doing.

So you're one of my groupies now?

Naruto couldn't help the grin on his face as he texted Sasuke back:

You're not cool enough to have me as a groupie. But I might consider letting you be mine.

He shivered a bit as the frigid night air was penetrating his jacket. A taxi went past, but he didn't flag it down, wanting to see what Sasuke had planned for tonight. He punched out another quick message.

So… are we on for coffee later or what? If you're too tired for going out, that's fine.

Naruto wasn't expecting Sasuke to agree, given that he'd already said he was tired and he was still evidently being mobbed by the local businessmen. He was surprised when he read the next text from Sasuke:

I'm don't want to deal with going out tonight, but I have a decent espresso machine at my place. I could probably add enough milk and sugar to make it palatable for you. You can come by in about an hour if you don't already have plans. Apartment 3249. In the building with the coffee shop with the name you can't pronounce.

Naruto wrote back:

You mean the one you stalk me in? Yeah, I know it. See you in an hour.

Naruto flagged down the next taxi that came by, sighing in relief as he got into the taxi and out of the cold. He took the cab back to his place, and went in and took a hot shower. He was wondering what excuse he was going to use with Kiba about why he wasn't meeting them all at The Hidden Leaf, when he got a text from Kiba telling him that they'd decided not to go but if Naruto still wanted to hang, Kiba could come over. If Naruto hadn't been so relieved that he wasn't the one who had to cancel, he would have probably been a bit suspicious. But he just wrote back and said he was good and they could go out tomorrow instead.


Sasuke drove back to his place, and had the valet park his car in the underground lot. He honestly had been looking forward to just going to sleep tonight, but after all the dancing around he and Naruto had been doing he didn't want to blow him off. Not to mention that he had been under a lot of stress, and sex was a great way to release some tension. If they ended up having sex, of course. He'd see how the night played out.

They could at least have coffee and talk a bit. See where it goes from there.

Sasuke set the espresso machine going before heading to the shower so he wouldn't fall asleep before Naruto even got there. The hot shower felt good on his neck and shoulders, and he stood under the pounding spray just letting the heat soak into his muscles. When he felt a bit more relaxed, he finished washing, then toweled off quickly, wanting to be dressed before Naruto arrived. It would be pretty cliché to just answer the door in his bathrobe.

He pulled on a pair of black jeans and a dark blue cashmere sweater, the heat of the shower already somehow leaching out of his body. He always seemed to feel cold when his metabolism started to shut down with fatigue. He poured himself a shot of espresso, downing it quickly despite the scalding temperature. A knock on his door let him know that Naruto had arrived right on time.

His hair was still damp from the shower when he opened the door to find Naruto standing there, looking slightly uncertain. Sasuke noticed that Naruto had also evidently decided to shower. His blond hair looked slightly wet, which must have been cold given the weather. Sasuke noted the he had on a black leather jacket and jeans, but no gloves or scarf. The cold air had left color on Naruto's cheeks and lips, and Sasuke felt his eyes drawn to the mouth that never failed to piss him off.

"Idiot. It's winter out. What the fuck are you thinking?"

Naruto rolled his eyes, walking in and removing his shoes in the entryway. "Yes, mom," he drawled sarcastically. "I only live a few blocks away. Anyway, I'm like a living furnace…. I don't get that cold."

"Tch, whatever," Sasuke took Naruto's jacket and hung it on the coatrack, noticing that Naruto had on only a thin orange T-shirt beneath it. He snorted slightly when he read it.

I'd like to explain it to you, but I don't have any crayons

Naruto raised an eyebrow at the sound, noticing Sasuke's gaze drifting over the lettering of his shirt. "Like it? I picked it out just for you."

"Hn," Sasuke said. He might need to have one of those delivered to Udon. Assuming the boy was still employed there on Monday.

Sasuke walked to the kitchen, leaving it up to Naruto to follow. He could feel Naruto's gaze on him, but didn't turn around to look at the other.

"Sorry I didn't bring anything. You already expressed your aversion to flowers, and I would have brought a bottle of wine, but I was intimidated about buying wine for a rich guy, so…."

Naruto was clearly a bit uncomfortable with the situation, and it made Sasuke smirk slightly as he poured himself a second shot of espresso. This clearly wasn't the kind of thing the blond did often. It was part of the other's appeal, in a way. Sasuke wondered if the things Naruto's friends had written in the paper about him were true… if the young journalist had really been avoiding sex for over a year. It was too soon to ask about it, but if it were true, Sasuke couldn't help feeling a bit smug. He poured another cup of espresso and offered it to Naruto. The blond accepted the small, white cup and took a tentative sip of the strong, bitter brew. He crinkled his nose. "Ugh! How can you drink this shit!"

Sasuke chuckled at the expected reaction. "I believe I have larger mugs in the cupboard. There's milk in the fridge, and sugar on the counter. I don't think I have any straws or sippy cups, though. You'll have to manage out of a 'big kid' cup."

"Fuck you," Naruto, laughing slightly as he turned to search the nearest cupboard for a mug to try to dilute the strong coffee down to a palatable level when Sasuke's phone went off. Naruto saw Sasuke frown and check the number before answering, clearly annoyed at the interruption.

"Madara," Sasuke said tersely. "Didn't Kakuzu call you?... Then you know the situation had been handled… Yes. The three hundred million will be back in the proper account before morning… I will be addressing the board on Monday to assure them we have fixed the issue and this won't happen again… Obviously." Sasuke's voice was calm and firm, not hostile but also not the slightest bit deferential. But Naruto could see the tension in the man's posture, and knew he wasn't as calm as he came across. He opened the fridge to get the milk, trying not to listen in too closely since it appeared to be about work. He noted the bean sprouts, tofu, and other vegetables filling it with a snort of derision.

Sasuke set his phone down and run his hand through his black hair, glaring slightly at his still-untouched cup of espresso sitting on the counter.

"That didn't sound like a fun call," Naruto said casually, not wanting to pry, but noticing the tension coming from the businessman. Naruto closed the fridge without getting the milk once he saw it was skim. He wasn't that desperate for coffee.

"Well, telling my uncle that we 'misplaced' three hundred million dollars isn't exactly an easy conversation to have," Sasuke said drily, leaning against the counter.

"Holy shit! I lost a twenty from my pocket once and freaked out about that. How the fuck do you lose that kind of money?"

Sasuke snorted derisively. "You have a system error. But it's fixed now."

Naruto blinked at the way the man appeared to be handling it so casually, though the tightness around Sasuke's eyes indicated maybe that was more of a front than anything else "Fuck. You must have stones of steel to be so calm about the whole thing. I would have been freaking out. It sounded like you fixed it, though. And if it's a system error, then it wasn't your fault. Shouldn't your uncle be happy with you?"

Sasuke's smile was slightly bitter. "As much as I appreciate your admiration of my balls, Uchihas don't allow those kinds of mistakes. It doesn't matter who is at fault. It's one of the divisions under me, so therefore it is my responsibility."

Naruto thought briefly about what that kind of pressure must feel like, and looked at the small cup of coffee Sasuke was holding in his hand. "You're drinking entirely the wrong beverage after a day like that."

Naruto turned and began looking through the cupboards. Sasuke's eyes drifted down the toned contours of Naruto's back, visible through his tight shirt, to the curve of his ass nicely showcased by the jeans he was wearing while the blond finally found the cabinet that held his alcohol.

"By all means, make yourself at home," Sasuke drawled as he casually set his cup down and walked a few steps closer to the sink before leaning back against the counter. Naruto scanned through his stock and selected a mostly full bottle of Johnnie Walker.

"Glasses?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke smirked, but didn't say anything. Naruto narrowed his eyes, suddenly suspicious of why Sasuke chose to stand in front of that particular cabinet. He set the bottle down on the counter walked up to the businessman. Sasuke held his gaze, amusement showing in his eyes, but he made no move to get out of the way. Naruto reached past Sasuke's shoulder, slowly pulling open the door there, their bodies inches apart. He broke eye contact as he glanced up to see the wine and shot glasses stacked neatly on the shelf behind Sasuke's shoulder.

Naruto took two shot glasses down, but didn't pull back from where he was standing, letting the heat from their bodies blend together and amplify. "You could have just told me where they were, asshole," Naruto said, his mouth close enough to Sasuke's ear that the breath from his words moved his hair slightly. Sasuke shifted his legs slightly farther apart as a familiar tingle of heat began to coil in him.

"And what would the fun be in that?" Sasuke responded, his voice low.

Naruto looked at him for a moment, enjoying the slow build of anticipation that was settling between his thighs. It had been so long since anyone had stirred him up like this. "You're just lucky you're hot," a slow grin tugged on Naruto's lips as he stepped back.

He poured them each a shot, ignoring Sasuke's slightly annoyed expression and instead handing him a glass. "When you're already stressed, the last thing you need is coffee. This will help relax you more."

"I can think of better ways to get rid of stress. Given how little sleep I've had this week, it might end the evening prematurely if I drink much of this," Sasuke lifted his glass, though, and took a sip. He didn't really disagree with Naruto's point. He was almost immune to caffeine's ability to keep him awake at this point.

Naruto poured his own shot, rolling his eyes. "After a day like this you deserve to get drunk and pass out without worrying about entertaining a last-minute guest. If I lost three hundred million dollars, even for two minutes, I'm pretty sure you'd be meeting me in the emergency room where I'd be being treated for cardiac arrest. If you fall asleep on me, I won't hold it against you."

Naruto lifted his glass slightly. "Kanpai."

Sasuke hesitated a second, then shrugged, clicking his glass slightly against Naruto's. "Cheers."

They drained their glasses together.

"I hope you can handle your alcohol better than you can handle your coffee," Sasuke said as Naruto grabbed the bottle and headed to the living room. "I'm not carrying your drunk ass home if you pass out on my floor."

Naruto looked back over his shoulder with a smirk. "It wouldn't be the first floor I've slept on, but you don't have to worry about that. You'll probably be passed out after three shots. It's not even worth challenging you when you're already so tired. But one of these days, I'd be more than happy to drink you under the table."

Sasuke levered himself away from the counter and followed, surprised at how comfortable Naruto seemed in his place. And even more surprised at how comfortable Sasuke was having Naruto in it. "Tch. I don't do stupid things like drinking contests. All it would prove is that you've spent more time in bars, which I'm pretty sure we both already know is likely to be true."

Naruto chuckled as he sat down on the black leather sofa. He looked around and noted that everything in the apartment was sleek and either black, white or red. Naruto almost rolled his eyes at the testosterone level in the decor. He was pretty sure that a woman had never even so much as set foot in this place. He realized could probably fit his entire apartment in Sasuke's living room.

Sasuke noted his amusement and raised a brow in enquiry as he sat down on the sofa next to Naruto, not close enough to be touching, but closer than could be considered 'formal space'.

"I was just thinking that the apartment definitely suited your personality," Naruto answered the implied question, looking over at the massive flat-screen TV. The shelves in the room were lined with books, but he didn't see any videos. Maybe Sasuke kept his hidden. The sudden thought of Sasuke with a secret stash of gay porn made him grin a bit.

"Are you sure you're bi? That sounded more 'gay' to me," Sasuke said, taking a sip of his drink.

"Well, you'd know more about that than I would," Naruto responded, looking again at the lack of… anything... fun in the room. "Do you even own any movies? Games?"

"No. If I ever wanted to watch something, I'd just rent it online," Sasuke said, earning a look from Naruto.

"None? Like… not even Fight Club or… Princess Bride?" Naruto snickered as Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "So what do you usually watch on this big-ass TV then? I don't see any game console around. Or stacks of porn. Though you would probably have those put away somewhere."

"I don't have much in terms of personal stuff here," Sasuke said, and Naruto noticed he didn't exactly answer the porn question. "Most of the time I spend here is spent sleeping. I've only lived here a few months, and work has been the first priority," Sasuke shrugged. "I watch the news while I'm getting ready in the mornings, though."

"No wonder you're such an ass. You need more sleep. And something that isn't work related every once in a while."

Naruto poured them each another shot. Naruto lifted his and drank about half, but Sasuke left his glass alone, watching the way Naruto's fingers held the glass to his lips briefly before he set it back down on the glass coffee table.

"You're not work-related," Sasuke looked directly at Naruto, their eyes locking.

Naruto felt his breath quicken slightly at the look. There was something about Sasuke that just instantly got his blood going. The intensity of the man's presence was almost a tangible thing.

"No… I'm definitely not," Naruto said, his voice coming out lower than he expected it to.

Sasuke reached over and took his shot, downing it. He grimaced slightly at the burn. It was normal to have drinks during business dinners, but he was definitely not a heavy drinker. Naruto had been right, though. He did feel some of the tension leaving him as the alcohol warmed his blood. Looking over at where Naruto sat less than a foot away from him on his sofa, Sasuke knew it wasn't only the alcohol that was warming him up. The shirt Naruto wore fit his toned body snugly. Sasuke could smell the subtle scent of the soap the blond had used. It was a warm, honey or herbal scent that he couldn't quite place, but somehow only added to the heat pooling in his body.

He wondered what Naruto's expectations of the evening were. He hadn't asked to go directly to the bedroom, but the alcohol was a pretty commonly used icebreaker.

"So… is this how you usually spend your Friday evenings?" Naruto shifted on the sofa so one of his knees was resting against the back of the seat, his torso turned slightly towards Sasuke. He rested his arm casually across the back of the couch. He wondered how often Sasuke brought someone back to his place like this. It wasn't his business to ask… Sasuke had already made it clear that this was not 'a relationship', but he couldn't help being curious. The man seemed completely casual about it… no sign of nerves about any of it. Though given what he'd just witnessed about Sasuke's job, he expected it would take quite a lot to rattle the Uchiha.

Sasuke didn't hide the fact that his eyes were sliding along the lines of Naruto's body. "You mean… losing nearly half a billion dollars then inviting a guy I don't know particularly well over to my place? One of those has happened a few times. The other not so much."

Sasuke filled their glasses again. "What about you? Given what your friends were saying in the paper, it doesn't seem like this is your usual Friday night activity either."

He watched Naruto's face, noting the slight flush across his cheekbones that could be embarrassment or from the alcohol. Naruto lifted his glass and took a drink. "I usually hang out with my friends, I guess. We go clubbing, shoot pool, or cook out at my place."

Sasuke noticed that Naruto has sort of dodged the question about whether he'd had many casual relationships, but he decided not to push. Naruto had still contacted him after hearing his terms, and beyond that Sasuke figured it wasn't really his business.

"Ah. I would have thought you wouldn't have much time for that, given the number of lawsuits you must deal with for your shoddy reporting."

"What?! I'm not a shoddy reporter. I just enjoy pointing out the obvious about people who really need it," Naruto said, scowling slightly.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, enjoying the expressive flash of temper in the blond, as well as the slight buzz from the alcohol. "There is a difference between 'obvious' and 'wrong', idiot."

"I don't report stuff that's wrong, asshole," Naruto said, draining his glass and glaring at Sasuke. He turned to face the man more fully, his knee brushing against Sasuke's thigh, but neither man moved to break the contact.

"Hn, I can think of at least one article where you didn't have your facts straight," Sasuke said, resting his elbow on the back of the sofa, leaning forward slightly and spreading his legs further apart.

The movement drew attention to his body, and Naruto found himself briefly distracted by the sight. Abruptly, he recalled the scene in the locker room and knew exactly which article Sasuke was talking about. The memory of Sasuke in his speedo had Naruto's cock rising to attention in his jeans. Yeah… probably his facts had been pretty wrong when he'd implied Sasuke needed to compensate for what was downstairs.

"You know, if you keep running articles on me, I might start thinking you have some sort of fixation," Sasuke's gaze had settled down between Naruto's thighs, where it was pretty clear that Naruto definitely had a rapidly growing interest.

"Pfft. Yeah, right," Naruto bluffed, not fooling either of them. "You're the stalker, coming up behind me in the grocery store, then the coffee shop, even your brother's office."

"'Stalker' is such a strong word. Maybe I just like looking at your ass," Sasuke said, letting his hand shift forward so it brushed against Naruto's wrist on the back of the couch. "It's almost worth dealing with your annoying mouth."

Naruto decided he was done dancing around this. "You haven't even begun to see what I can do with my mouth."

Sasuke made a noise low in his throat as he tugged on Naruto's wrist, pulling the man forward as he leaned in, bringing their mouths together. Naruto's words had immediately brought images of the blond's wicked, insulting mouth wrapped around Sasuke's dick while he thrust into it. "Oh, fuck," Sasuke breathed in against Naruto's mouth before thrusting his tongue into the wet heat. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this hard. Possibly not ever.

He felt Naruto's hands fist into his hair, their teeth clicking with the raw ferocity of their kiss. Sasuke wanted to possess every corner of Naruto's mouth, not giving the blond an instant to speak or even breathe if he could help it. His fingers slid along the tan jaw, pulling their bodies closer, building even more force into the joining of their mouths.

Sasuke slid a hand along the inside of Naruto's knee, tugging the leg forward as he pushed Naruto back until he was laying on top of the blond, rocking his hips against Naruto's. The friction wasn't enough to appease the almost desperate pressure building between his thighs. Tan hands gripped his hips as Naruto thrust up, obviously experiencing the same visceral need, and Sasuke felt a surge of power at the way the blue eyes were glazed with lust.

"Holy shit, Sasuke," Naruto gasped, his body temperature feeling like it just jumped ten degrees. Whatever patience and disinterest his body had felt about sex over the past year was just vaporized. "I take back what I said earlier. I will totally kill you if you pass out on me right now."

"That's not the retraction I'm looking for, Dobe," Sasuke murmured, dragging Naruto's mouth back to his and crushing them together. Their tongues surged into each other's mouths, sliding wetly along teeth and gums, tasting the alcohol on each other's tongues. There had been too much teasing, too much waiting, and too many interruptions for them to even consider stopping now.

Sasuke realized he didn't have any of the necessary items in his living room for what he hoped to god was about to happen, but Naruto's hand had already undone his jeans and slipped inside Sasuke's boxers, closing around his rock-hard shaft. Sasuke arched back at the touch, groaning at the skin-on-skin contact that his body was craving.

"Before I print any retraction about that I'd have to do my research thoroughly, now wouldn't I?" Naruto rasped out before leaning up and biting Sasuke's lower lip, tugging on it before running his tongue along to soothe the sting. "Oh, fuck yes," he arched up as Sasuke thrust against him.

"I'm more than happy to give you whatever access you need," Sasuke rolled his hips, bringing Naruto's hand and his own erection into a forceful slide against Naruto's now aching cock still tight in his jeans.

"Smug bastard," Naruto gasped, but retaliated by brushing his thumb over Sasuke's slit, feeling it already wet with precum. He twisted his hand tighter around the head and began pumping rapidly over just the top two inches of Sasuke's dick while he thrust his hips up to bring pressure against Sasuke's balls and base of his cock.

Sasuke shuddered, making a sound low in his throat that had Naruto almost cumming. Naruto had to close his eyes briefly to block out the beauty of the twisted expression of arousal on Sasuke's usually stoic face, or it would be all over for him. There was something about seeing someone as controlled as Sasuke break apart with lust.

"Too many fucking clothes," Naruto gritted out as he tugged Sasuke's sweater over the dark head, revealing the smooth, pale skin and toned chest beneath it.

"Agreed," Sasuke was barely a second behind him in lifting off Naruto's shirt before undoing the zipper of the blond's jeans and tugging them down to his thighs. Naruto groaned as the pressure on his groin was lifted. The sound was swallowed by Sasuke's mouth as he slid his lips with almost bruising force back over Naruto's.

Naruto was annoyed that they both still had their pants half on, but he didn't want to break contact with the hard, perfect body sliding against his long enough to do anything more about it. Without breaking their kiss, he spread his legs further apart to allow greater contact, and wrapped his hand around both Sasuke's cock and his own while the other hand grabbed the Uchiha's ass, pressing them together and drawing a hiss from both men. Their precum made their erections slick as Naruto slid his hand up and down their lengths, their hips thrusting together in rhythm.

Sasuke's hand joined Naruto's, wrapping pale fingers on top of tan as the frantic pace of fists and hips increased, the wet sounds only adding to the sounds of their gasping breaths. The musky scent of their arousals blended together, somehow seeping into their pores, and their thrusting took a rougher, more animalistic nature. Naruto pressed their mouths open wider, sucking harder on Sasuke's tongue before biting is slightly, not able to think of anything but 'more'.

Their hands were trapped between their bodies as they pressed harder together. Wanting them out of the way, Sasuke shifted position, grabbing Naruto's hands and lacing their fingers together before pushing them up over Naruto's head, pressing them firmly into the sofa as they continued to thrust against each other heatedly.

"Oh, shit," Sasuke felt his balls tighten and the warning tingle low in his belly telling him this was going way too fast. He started to slow his thrusting before it was too late, but Naruto arched his neck back, momentarily breaking their kiss. Sasuke's lips trailed down the tan throat, not willing to lose contact from Naruto's body. He couldn't control the urge to mark that flesh, an impulse he had never had before. Before he could process it, he slid his teeth along a cord of muscle at the base of Naruto's throat, then bit down, just shy of drawing blood.

Naruto's eyes flew open at the unexpected flash of pain and his entire body arched up as he came. "Sss-ke, fuck!"

The sound of his name ripped from Naruto's lips had Sasuke cumming as well, his whole body locking as wave of pleasure crashed through him, streams of his cum shooting over Naruto's stomach and chest. The sight made him shudder, drawing a second, mini-orgasm from him before he collapsed on the couch next to Naruto.

They lay on the leather sofa together, shocked, panting and sticky.

Sasuke felt disoriented, unable to believe he had cum that hard from just rubbing up against someone. His pants weren't even down to his knees, for fuck's sake. He wasn't sure what had just happened. Usually, he had pretty good stamina. But this had been… totally… out of control. He never lost control like this.

He raised his head just enough to see the huge hickey and bite mark on Naruto's throat, trying to figure out what had possessed him to do that. That was another first for him. As was the strange surge of pride that flooded through him at viewing it, despite the fact that it had been a stupid move for someone wanting to keep his sexual activities off the radar. Of course people would see a mark like that. What the fuck had he been thinking? He closed his eyes, deciding maybe he'd had too much to drink after all.

"Well. That was… fast," Naruto said, laughing and sounding slightly stunned. "Sorry about that. And about your couch. Um… shit. I guess… we should go wash off?"

Sasuke blinked, a wave of exhaustion washing over him. "Yeah. Give me a minute."

Sasuke didn't know if it were the alcohol or the incredible heat that was radiating from Naruto's body like the furnace he had claimed to be, but he felt completely relaxed. He wanted to just lay there, and not move. Possibly for the rest of the night, though he knew he wouldn't like the dried, sticky mess he'd have to deal with in the morning.

Naruto looked at Sasuke's face, seeing his eyes drifting closed.

"Hey, bastard. I'm not going to have you falling asleep on me, then getting pissed about the mess in the morning. Anyone who keeps their place as clean as your has to be one of those OCD neat freaks. Let's go get you washed up and into bed before you get pissy about it."

"Hn," Sasuke felt like there were lead weights attached to his eyelids. He really shouldn't have had that third shot. Or was it four? Not when he'd been running on so little sleep for the past week. And Naruto just felt so warm. He really didn't want to get up.

But Naruto was already sliding out from under him, taking all the warmth with him and tugging their jeans the rest the way off. Sasuke reluctantly stood and let Naruto grab him by the wrist and lead him down the hall to the bathroom. He didn't bother to correct Naruto that this was actually the guest bathroom, not the master. He had soap and shampoo in both, so it didn't matter. Naruto turned on the shower and in less than a minute it was billowing with steam. Sasuke managed to stay awake long enough for them to wash off, but he was barely aware of anything except Naruto gently (and very thoroughly) washing him with a soapy washcloth.

"You're dead on your feet, asshole. Go get some sleep before you actually pass out," Naruto said gruffly, not wanting to notice how different Sasuke looked with his guard down.

Naruto had thought he could handle this. They were both attracted to each other, both had reasons to not want to jump into anything serious. But now he wasn't so sure. He'd never been a person who did things halfway. And this…

He had to get out of there. This had been too intense. Not the simple release of sexual tension that he had been expecting. That Sasuke had been offering. Naruto was feeling things he knew he shouldn't be feeling. Wasn't ready to be feeling. He wanted nothing more at the moment than to curl up next to his exhausted lover in the big bed, then wake him up and have sex where they both could hopefully last more than a couple of minutes.

But if he stayed the night, there was no way his emotions weren't going to get too involved. Sasuke was… dangerous. There were just too many things that pulled at him from this man. Too many facets of him that Naruto wanted to explore.

Sasuke didn't bother with clothes as he turned down the rich blue sheets of the massive bed and lay down. Naruto vaguely wondered if he always slept in the raw, or if the businessman was just too tired to care tonight. Sasuke lay back on the stack of pillows, noticing that Naruto was still just standing by the edge of the bed.

"You're leaving," Sasuke stated, his voice sounding tired but otherwise containing no emotion.

Naruto tried to read Sasuke's expression in the darkness. He had assumed Sasuke would want him to leave. They would be more likely to be noticed if he left in the morning. He couldn't tell if Sasuke wanted him to stay, or go, or didn't give a fuck either way.

"Yeah. I should go," Naruto said, hoping none of his uncertainty showed in his face. "There will be fewer people around now than in the morning."

"Lock the door on your way out," Sasuke said simply, laying down and pulling the thick quilt up. Naruto thought he saw the man shiver slightly, and again had to fight the urge to crawl into bed with him.

"Sure, no problem."

Naruto went and grabbed his clothes, tugging them on, happy to find them free of stains. He took a few wet paper towels from the kitchen and cleaned up the mess they'd left on the couch.

Biting his lip, he looked back at the darkened door of Sasuke's bedroom. Should he have stayed? Had that been an invitation to do so, or had Sasuke been giving him a nudge that he should in fact be leaving?

Naruto turned off the hall and kitchen lights, then grabbed his coat. He was careful to lock the door on his way out.

It was cold outside.


to be continued….

Credits: dumbass of the day nominated by Soras. Shika's is true, and I have a friend who works in the gaming industry so we were talking about this over the weekend. Oh, and one of my friends works at an investment bank, and this actually happened. They 'lost' $500M for about a day.

Chapter Text

Summary:

Naruto runs an underground newspaper called 'The Daily Ramen', focused on poking fun of the fragile egos of the rich and famous. How does Sasuke respond when he moves to town and gets in Naruto's crosshairs? Not particularly well. But who says arguing can't be foreplay? Sasuke x Naruto (Yaoi boy x boy)

Warning: self-service 17+ this chapter

Author's note: I need to not talk politics at work anymore. Seriously, when your parents tell you never talk religion or politics at work? Listen.


The Daily Ramen, December 28

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

As we wind up the year, I am here to reveal The Daily Ramen's New Year's resolution: to fool (more) people into thinking we are actually a news site. There is precedence. In 2012, the American satirical publication The Onion fooled leading Chinese and South Korean news papers when it ran a piece declaring North Korea's Kim Jong-un the Sexiest Man Alive. It also fooled the Washington DC police with a tweet that the US congress had taken a group of school children hostage. And the Daily Currant recently caused a stir when it 'revealed' that Kim Kardashian was running for president in the 2016 US presidential elections, with a photoshopped image of her with Kanye and President Obama (#KimKardashianForPresident). As I head off to welcome the New Year with a few prayers and likely a hangover from hell, let us all personally aspire to achieve such levels of greatness.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Rumors are circulating about an event last week in the National Diet (our parliament, for those of you who've forgotten) where our local representative from Konoha was arguing the finer points of immigration when his phone went off, interrupting the conversation. The disruption itself was not so unusual, but it was the fact that the 80-year-old's ring tone was set to 'Baby got Back' that caused the uproar. The venerable representative was not immediately available to confirm or deny these rumors. Nor was the extremely young, extremely shapely, young woman who is apparently the owner of the number the ring-tone was associated with. I plan on thoroughly investigating this to confirm or deny whether 'baby' does in fact 'got back'. Ah, the things we journalists need to do to 'bring the truth' to our readers.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

I've been to a lot of holiday parties over the past few weeks. I've seen some romantic dates, passionate kisses, and hopeful handholding. All of that is good and warms my heart (and occasionally other places, depending on how good the kissing was). But there has been one consistent thorn in my holiday party going that needs to be addressed. Mistletoe. You're better off sticking to lots of alcohol as a means of getting someone you're stalking notice you. Learn to read body language, people. If they girl you're following around at the party is willing to literally crawl under the snack table to avoid any possible proximity between you, her and the deadly mistletoe, then she's just not into you. And I beg party hosts and hostesses the world over to please just kill this weapon of stalkers off your holiday party decorating lists, already. If it's intimate friends and family, then fine. But if it's a big office party or large social event, stick to holly if you absolutely have to have some shrubbery dangling about.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Police had been searching for a man accused of robbing a convenience store, but he had been in hiding for several days and the cops had been able to find him. Evidently missing his friends, the brain-child posts on Snapchat that he's finally back at his house. At least one of his friends must have been a law-abiding citizen, because someone reported this piece of information to the police, who proceeded to search the guy's house, but to no avail. No avail, that is, until the dumbass posted another motherfucking Snapchat saying that the cops were in his house and he was hiding in the cabinet and haha they hadn't found him yet. Dude. Seriously? And here we have it. Our dumbass of the day. Currently located in jail.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Dragons - I was considering warning you about next Friday, but in the end I decided not to. Why? Because it will be so much funnier when you find out about the goats yourself. To the Oxen - strangely, no one will thank you for the factual errors you point out in your co-workers' reports this week. To the Rabbits - Did you know that if you google Chinese Zodiac signs it actually says that one of the recommended career options for Rabbits is breeding? If that doesn't say 'stupid ho', then I don't know what does.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

I have recently learned of a most fascinating winter sporting tradition! It involves first imbibing large quantities of alcohol, then jumping (often naked, but I am told this is not a strict requirement) into the water of a frozen lake or river. These intrepid souls, some forming groups they call Polar Bear clubs, often need to break or cut holes in the ice to be able to achieve this most amazing drunken achievements! I am looking forward to my first experience in this winter ritual this weekend! Although my friends have warned me that it carries a significant risk of drowning and earning myself a spot on my good friend Kiba's column. So, I might only pour ice in my bathtub instead. But either way, it will be amazing! [This is the internet speaking. We have cut this column off for the sheer stupidity of this idea as having anything to do with sports. We suspect that Lee has been prematurely partaking of the office's New Year's alcohol stash. Please disregard anything he says. He's an idiot when he drinks.]


-xXx-

Naruto stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket as stepped out of Sasuke's apartment building onto the nearly empty street. The night was clear and cold, and the wind had an edge to it that seemed to cut through his jacket as he walked home. He looked up at the full moon that shone over the city, trying to steady his mind. He wondered if he had made a mistake. Sasuke was just… so… much.

Naruto blew out a breath, watching it turn to cold mist in the moonlight and the glow of the streetlights. He closed his eyes briefly, thinking about the way Sasuke's face had looked as they lay together on the couch, relaxed and open, drifting towards sleep.

He was achingly beautiful. Even more-so in contrast to the hard, ruthless exterior Sasuke presented to the world.

Naruto knew that the attraction he felt was not based on that, but it had struck him particularly hard in that moment. He had wanted to stay. He had wanted...

He grimaced and tugged the collar of his jacket up, a gesture not so much against the cold, but to remind himself to repair his own walls and keep his emotions in check. He took the stairs up to his apartment, feeling too restless to take the elevator despite the late hour.

Tossing his jacket over the back of the nearest chair as he toed off his shoes, he didn't even bother turning the lights on in his apartment as he walked to the bedroom. He quickly stripped off his clothes and threw them aside before burrowing under the soft quilt on his bed. But it was a while before sleep claimed him, his thoughts drifting without his permission to another bed that he had possibly had the option of staying in that night, if he hadn't panicked and run away.


Things always felt better in the morning. Naruto stretched, feeling the way the soft quilt slid over his bare skin, reminding him of Sasuke's hands on him from the night before. He honestly didn't know why he'd been in such a panic. He'd found Sasuke extremely attractive in bed. What was the problem with that? He'd already known he was attracted to him. Why freak out about it? It wasn't like he was going to fall in love after a quick groping session on the guy's couch. It's not like the sex (if you could even call it that) had been so spectacular. Shit, they hadn't even managed to get their pants all the way off and it had lasted all of about five minutes. It had seemed more like two teenage boys frantic and horny in the back seat of some car rather than two sexually experienced men with a repertoire of skills at their disposal.

And so what if he found Sasuke's sharp, nimble mind fascinating. Wasn't that a good thing? That it wasn't all just shallow and physical? Maybe they would end up friends at the end of… whatever this was. Naruto stepped into the shower, more to wake himself up than anything else, given he had showered at Sasuke's the night before.

He was just out of practice with the whole dating/sex thing, but he had his head on straight now. He would not make a big deal about this.

He washed himself quickly, knowing he had to meet Shikamaru in the office to start sorting through all the advertising contracts that were coming up for renewal in the next month. He finished quickly and scrubbed the towel over his head, trying to get his hair dry in case it was still cold outside like it had been the day before.

His mind strayed back to the night before as he dried himself off. He wasn't exactly sure what he was supposed to do now… if anything. They hadn't made any plans to see each other again. Though Sasuke had been falling asleep on his feet, so Naruto wasn't going to read too much into that.

It hadn't really been a date. Certainly not like any 'first date' he'd ever imagined. But it also hadn't felt really like a total random hook-up either. There was a lot of middle ground between those two goal-posts, but it made it sort of hard to figure out what he was supposed to do 'the morning after'. Call? Text? Wait a week, then offer to meet up? Do nothing and write it off as a 'good time' never to be repeated?

He was emotionally honest enough with himself to acknowledge that he couldn't pretend that his reaction to Sasuke was what he'd feel about a one-night stand. If he had a choice in things, he'd like to see the man again. With or without the sex, actually. Though of course he had a strong preference for 'with'.

He had finished drying himself off enough that he wouldn't leave a trail of water through his bedroom to his closet, and he went over and pulled on a pair of boxers and some jeans. He sighed when he realized all his clean shirts were still wadded in his hamper from when he'd taken them out of the drier… meaning he'd actually have to iron. He fucking hated ironing, but it cost too much to have them all pressed at the cleaners.

Maybe Sasuke wouldn't be interested in meeting up again.

He looked at his watch and shrugged, barely avoiding burning his fingers as he quickly ironed his shirt before jamming it over his head. If Sasuke called, he called. If he didn't, then at least it had been a good night. And it had made it more than clear to Naruto that he was able to find someone other than Sasori attractive. He was grateful to Sasuke for that, even if it all ended right here.

He went back to the bathroom to brush his teeth before heading to the office. The mirror was still fogged over, but it didn't really matter. It's not like he ever did anything more than run his fingers through his hair to get it ready in the morning. He spat the foamy toothpaste into the sink and rinsed it down, wondering with a smirk how long Sasuke spent primping in his bathroom each morning to get the duckass to come out just right.

Deciding he'd at least be a 'gentleman' about the prior evening, he shot off a quick text to the Uchiha then headed to his office.


Sasuke was deep in a dreamless sleep when an annoying buzzing noise roused him. He lay unmoving on his bed, wishing he'd turned his fucking phone off before he'd fallen asleep, given that today was supposed to be his day off. He had slept like the dead last night and wasn't quite ready to be declared resurrected yet. The buzzing came again, and he forced himself to crack one eye open, locating the device within easy reach of his bed. Another buzz.

With a groan, Sasuke reached over to see what could possibly be so urgent that someone was texting him repeatedly on his first day off in over a month. If it was Kakuzu, Sasuke was going to have his balls, even if the guy was a friend of Itachi's from school.

But a glance at the texts assured him it was not Kakuzu. No, this was much worse, and unfortunately from someone his mother would not allow him to kill for waking him up.

Little brother. I hear Uncle Madara wants you to give a presentation to the board on Monday

Don't worry. I have personally contacted every member of the board to ensure full attendance

I'll be by in an hour to review your preliminary draft of the presentation

Hope you're enjoying your one morning to sleep in

His phone buzzed yet again in his hand, and Sasuke was about to throw the expensive device out the window when he saw that this was from a different number.

Hey. Thanks for the shitty coffee last night. Hope you got some sleep. Try not to lose a billion dollars this week.

Sasuke lay back in bed, letting his eyes drift closed, his lips curving up just slightly. He stretched his arms above his head as he lay flat in his bed, pressing against the headboard and groaning at the pleasure of feeling his body slowly waking up. Looking down between his thighs, he realized that one part had come awake a bit more than the rest. It was unfortunate the blond had followed protocol and decided not to spend the night. They could have picked up where exhaustion had forced him to leave off the night before.

He considered texting Naruto back and inviting him over for breakfast, but Itachi would be here too soon for that to be possible. Sasuke sighed. He'd have to take care of this himself.

He slid his hand down the flat plane of his stomach before leisurely wrapping his fingers around his already hard length. He closed his eyes, remembering the flushed, tan face and glazed blue eyes of the man he'd pinned beneath him on his couch the night before.

"Ngh," a low sound rumbled in his throat, reminding him of the sounds Naruto had made as well. He ran his palm over the head of his cock, using the precum that was gathering there as lubricant, not wanting to break the illusion of Naruto's presence by reaching over to the drawer and getting the tube that was conveniently located there.

He remembered how Naruto's hand had felt on his shaft, the heat of the tan body pressed against his. The taunting mouth and insolent words. Sasuke didn't care that some would consider it odd that the thought made his dick jump. He didn't have to answer to anyone about what turned him on. The fantasy he'd had about Naruto sucking him off had him thrusting into his hand, his cock leaking a steady stream of precum. He picked up the pace, letting his head fall back on the pillows and shifting his legs slightly wider apart for better access. He focused on Naruto's eyes as they watched him with mocking arousal, and felt his body tighten an instant before he came hard in his hand and across his stomach.

He lay for a few minutes, allowing his breath to slow.

He would definitely like to see the blond again. The e-mail indicated the man was still interested, despite the fact that the blond hadn't chosen to stay the night. It hadn't been his finest sexual performance, certainly, but their chemistry had been off the charts. Definitely worth exploring further.

Sasuke lay on his bed, enjoying his post-orgasm high and the fact that he didn't need to go into the office or board a plane today.

Then he remembered his devil-spawn brother was going to be arriving in less than an hour to 'review' his non-existent presentation. On a day that was supposed to be his fucking day off.

Though in reality, he knew that Itachi was actually coming to help, they both enjoyed the pretense that he was simply coming to inflict torture. It was a much more comfortable emotional space for the brothers to operate in.

Groaning slightly, he wiped himself off with the sheet before tossing it in the hamper. He headed to the bathroom and turned on the shower, letting it heat before he stepped into the hot spray. He felt more relaxed than he had in months. He spread his legs slightly, enjoying the feel of the water jets hitting his body, his skin slightly sensitized from the heat and pressure as he washed himself.

When he'd finished, he dried off and grabbed his phone to reply to the blond.

Maybe eventually you'll learn how to handle grown-up coffee. I'll try to remember to get something child-appropriate for next time. See if you can report some actual facts this week. For a change.

He smirked as he hit send.

Somehow, even the thought of Itachi coming over to spend the morning and possibly the entire day with him wasn't enough to put him in a bad mood.


Naruto was humming slightly as he walked into his office. It was already nearly eleven, but most of the office came in late on Saturday unless there was a big event they were covering. Usually it was just him and Shikamaru, tidying up any loose ends and working on the business side before the cycle to get the next edition out started again the following day.

He could see the light on in Shikamaru's office, and was a little surprised that his lazy friend had actually beat him in, despite the relative lateness of the hour. He shrugged as he pulled off his jacket and walked into his office. "Hey, Shika. You're early today. Anything on fire that I need to know about?"

Surprisingly it was Hinata who appeared at his office door. "Naruto, I was just talking with Shikamaru about some new ideas on our Daily Ramen merchandise, and we -" she cut off with a sharply indrawn breath, and Naruto looked up at where she was staring at him with slightly horrified eyes. He looked down at his shirt, wondering if it he'd burned a big hole in it or something while he was ironing.

Instant human: Just add coffee. It was actually one of his tamer shirts, surely not gasp-worthy.

"What?" Naruto asked the wide-eyed woman still standing in his doorway.

She bit her lip, then just shook her head. "I have to go. Neji is taking me out to brunch today to discuss family business."

Naruto arched a brow at that. "Are they trying to steal you away from us now? Finally realizing they let the smartest member of the family get away, I bet. Don't listen to anything he says… your cousin's got too much of a stick up his ass to be any fun to work with. They might pay better, but we have cookies."

"Your opinion of me is shattering," a dry voice said from the hallway. Hinata started slightly as her cousin appeared beside her.

Naruto laughed. "Somehow, Neji, I think you'll survive it. I know how seriously you take what I think about things."

The corner of Neji's lip curved into almost a smirk. "Yes, I believe you do. Hinata, are you ready?"

Hinata nodded, casting one last slightly worried look at Naruto.

Neji turned back just as they were leaving. "Oh, and Naruto. Nice hickey. But hardly appropriate to be flaunting it about the workplace. Even one as unprofessional as this."

Naruto's eyes flared wide as the memory of Sasuke biting down on his neck came from last night, and he slapped his hand over the spot. The mirror had been too fogged when he'd brushed his teeth for him to see much of anything. "I'm going to fucking kill him," Naruto growled.

Neji chuckled as he guided Hinata to the door. Naruto wondered why Hinata had seemed so concerned. Of everyone, she had been the one pushing hardest for him to find someone to move on with. He would have expected her to be dancing a jig at the evidence that he clearly had.

Though he really didn't want her pushing hard to find out who it was with.

He went to the bathroom, looking at the enormous hickey on his neck. He was a little surprised that he hadn't been able to see it even with the mirror fogged. It was big enough to be seen from outer-space.

He pulled out his phone, rolling his eyes. So much for being discreet. And Sasuke called him a dumbass?

He noticed that he'd missed a text from the man, and read it, snickering, then typed back.

Didn't know you were into kids that way. Does your brother know?

And ASSHOLE you left a huge fucking bite mark on my neck. Did you not remember I work in an office full of people obsessed with my sex life? Knock it off unless you want us to make the front page of the paper. I'm not in the mood to take it up the ass from your creepy uncles. Especially not for just five minutes of sex. You're hot. But you're not that hot.

Naruto sent the second message, then went back to work. Unless Hinata took dental measurements against the indentations of Sasuke's bite mark, no one would know who it was.

At least his friends would hopefully lay off trying to get him laid now.


Sasuke had just finished getting dressed when the doorbell chimed. He glanced at the clock, noticing that Itachi had arrived half an hour earlier than he'd said he would. As he walked to the door to open it, he suddenly realized that he hadn't thought about the mess that he and Naruto had likely left on the couch the night before. Something Itachi wasn't likely to overlook. Cursing to himself, he grabbed the damp towel from the bathroom and walked briskly over to the living room to wipe off the couch and any other obvious signs of what had happened. He paused, noticing that it had already been cleaned up, likely by Naruto before he'd left.

He frowned slightly, unsure why he bothered him that Naruto had been so efficient at removing all traces of their interaction. He tossed the towel over the chair and went to answer the door.

Itachi was leaning against the wall, arching an eyebrow at the amount of time Sasuke had taken to open the door.

"You're early, nii-san."

The elder Uchiha levered himself away from the wall, lifting an elaborate cardboard take-out tray. "But I come bearing breakfast."

Recognizing the logo as that of his favorite restaurant, Sasuke merely grunted and stepped back, allowing his brother to enter. He took the box while Itachi removed his shoes, placing it on the kitchen table. Itachi went to the kitchen to get some plates and chopsticks. It was a comfortable routine… whenever one of them was under-water from work, the other would come by with food and an extra set of eyes to help get the job done.

Sasuke had his back to the kitchen as he unpacked the food, so he didn't notice Itachi pause at the sink before washing his hands, noticing the two shot glasses sitting innocently in the basin alongside two espresso cups. A glance to the side of this sink showed a bottle of Johnnie Walker, not empty but noticeably lower than the last time Itachi had seen it.

Itachi shot a considering glance at his younger brother, but said nothing as he took the dirty dishes and placed them in the dishwasher. He noted that there was no lipstick showing against the white porcelain of the cups, but of course this didn't surprise him.

Sasuke's phone buzzed, and Itachi watched as his brother's usually stoic features lit with amusement at whatever the message was before shutting the screen off and locking the device.

Interesting.

"You're looking particularly well rested this morning," Itachi commented neutrally.

In true Uchiha form, Sasuke merely raised an eyebrow at the comment but otherwise showed no reaction. Itachi felt a small surge of pride at his younger brother, hiding his smile at the expected vitriolic response that was promptly delivered.

"I would be even more rested if my asshole of a brother hadn't texted me first thing in the morning on my first day off in a month."

"Hn," Itachi said, bringing plates over as the two men dished themselves from the boxes. "Well, I knew I wouldn't be disturbing anything."

The slight hesitation in the motion of Sasuke's hand as it brought the food to his mouth would have gone unnoticed by a lesser man. Again, Itachi found himself holding back a smile.

"What did Uncle Madara tell you about the board meeting he's called for Monday?" Sasuke asked, deciding a change of topic was in order.

Itachi decided he'd let it slide for now, though his curiosity was piqued as to who his brother's guest had been, and whether the coffee cups implied that the man had stayed the night.

Sasuke stood and went to make himself some coffee, still feeling tired despite a decent night's sleep. "Coffee?" he asked his older brother.

Itachi nodded slightly, watching as Sasuke paused as he set the machine going, as though just remembering something. With seeming casualness, Sasuke turned and walked over to the now-empty sink, glancing down at it. He pulled down two clean espresso cups from the cupboard and brought them over, deciding not to comment on the fact that Itachi had clearly seen the glasses and would have drawn the obvious conclusions.

"Are we going to talk about it?" Itachi asked.

"No," Sasuke stated, pulling the lever on the machine to dispense the dark liquid into their cups.

"Very well," Itachi would find things out on his own eventually. In a way, this was much more fun. It was always so amusing when his little brother tried to keep secrets from him. "So do you know which operational protocols and systems need to be re-aligned to avoid errors like the one on Friday in the future?"

They settled in to spend the rest of the day highlighting the key risk factors in the current protocols and laying out a plan to fix them. Kisame had told his entire team that if anyone had their cell turned off or was out of reach over the weekend they would be fired, so Sasuke and Itachi were able to access any information they needed.

By the end of the day, they had a bullet-proof presentation that would impress even the most risk-averse member of the board.

Itachi stood and stretched, fatigue etching the lines under his eyes even deeper.

"Thanks," Sasuke said, knowing that he could have done this on his own but it would have meant no sleep before the meeting on Monday.

Itachi smirked. "You know how much I enjoy having you in my debt, little brother."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed in feigned annoyance that didn't fool either one. "And the devil always takes his due."

"But of course. Otherwise what fun would there be in being the devil?"

After Itachi had left and Sasuke had safely locked the door behind him, he pulled out his phone. Skimming through the twenty-three work-related messages, temporarily ignoring them all and replied to the one he'd received earlier that day from a particularly annoying, non-work-related blond.

We'll just have to make sure it's more than five minutes next time, won't we?

He flicked back to his work e-mail, firing off responses to the ones that required it. His phone buzzed, a reply from Naruto showing up.

Is that a hypothetical 'next time', or an actual invitation?

Sasuke thought about it for a moment. He had to spend basically all of Sunday at the office working with Kisame's team to start implementing some of the changes they'd laid out. And Monday was the actual board meeting, and he had no idea how late that would run. Finally, he typed out:

Tuesday dinner?

There was a slightly longer wait than Sasuke would have liked before he got a reply.

Ok, but I'll bring the food. That way it will be edible. 8 o'clock?

Sasuke quickly scanned his calendar, and determined he should be able to be back by then.

Fine, but if you show up with McDonalds, I'm throwing you out.


Hinata called Shikamaru as soon as her lunch with Neji was over.

"Did you see it?" Hinata asked nervously.

"See what?" Shikamaru asked, stifling a yawn.

"Naruto's neck!"

"What about it?"

Shikamaru was lucky they were in separate buildings, or Hinata would have smacked him upside the head for that one, taking a page out of Sakura's book.

"Do you think he slept with Sasori?" Hinata asked, worry quickly replacing her annoyance. "We told him Naruto was out of town, but I think maybe he went over to Naruto's place and…"

Shikamaru sighed. When Sasori had shown up looking for Naruto at the Leaf, they'd all told him Naruto was out of town for the weekend, then immediately texted Naruto and told him not to come. It wouldn't be surprising if Sasori hadn't believed them. Kiba had insisted that - the way Naruto had reacted when Sasori had shown up at his birthday party - it was better to not tell Naruto that he'd been in town at all. Maybe that hadn't been such a good idea if it meant Sasori had been able to track Naruto down without him having any warning.

"Naruto didn't seem upset, though," Shikamaru said, thinking about the way Naruto had laughed and joked with him as they'd gone over the advertising contracts. "If anything, he'd seemed happier than usual. Certainly more relaxed."

"True,' Hinata admitted, feeling some of her worry ebbing away. It had been a long time since Naruto had been happy after an evening with Sasori, even before the break-up. "He seemed pretty happy this morning when I saw him. He was humming when he came in."

Shikamaru shrugged, trying to brush off his unease. "Then we have to just let it be. It might not have been Sasori. Maybe he found someone else."

Shikamaru thought it unlikely that Naruto would be happy if he'd fallen back into Sasori's bed, no matter how good the sex had been. But it was also unlikely that Naruto had hooked up with someone completely random. Neither was an absolute impossibility, but both friends' curiosity had definitely been piqued. And if it looked like it was Sasori, they'd find ways to keep Naruto busy enough to ensure that it didn't happen again.


to be continued…

Credits: dumbass of the day nominated by Sarah (true story). Shikamaru's column is totally true (google 'fooled by the onion' to see a list of them omfg).

Please comment and let me know what you think! Next chapter is (hopefully) going to be about their 'dinner date' (*cough* full lemon *cough*). More reviews get me more excited to write, so updates come faster. And I'm not one of those authors who insists on amazingly well-thought out prose in reviews (though ofc I love those). I know what it's like to read a story on a phone and the pain of trying to type on those devices, so even a smiley face or a 'wtf' or a note saying 'update' is fine... it just lets me know you are excited to read more of the story (or that I wrote something confusing and need to fix it LOL). :-)

Chapter Text

Warning: full lemon - 18+ this chapter

Author's note: Another huge chapter… JFC. Almost 11k words. I am so sorry. I have decided to blame it on the fact that I really don't know what to do about the fact that each chapter sort of requires a week to have gone by according to the date on the newspaper. I need to figure something out. Maybe some chapters could start with like… on online newsflash from their website when I need to spend more time on events that all happen within the same week. Obviously something I should have thought about in advance when I started writing this LOL. Thanks to Raz for reading and advising on this (and keeping me from turning Sasuke into too much of an ass when I've been in a bad mood because of stuff going on at work). Poor thing, I think I literally made her read like 6 versions of this chapter while I OCD'd about it. :-/ Thank god she is patient with me. And doesn't live close enough to actually shove me under a bus when I get annoying.


The Daily Ramen, January 2

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Politicians gear up for new season of lying and generally disappointing and disillusioning their constituents. Both new and seasoned elected officials will need to decide whether they will focus more on failing to deliver the promises that got them elected, or fail to live up to social and moral expectations by performing morally reprehensible acts in their personal lives. "There's also campaign finance fraud," one senate senior candidate said thoughtfully. "That covers both areas nicely." A younger member of parliament showed enthusiasm with the prospects for the year ahead. "With a fresh batch of people reaching voting age this political cycle, we have an entire new group of people to make false promises and not deliver to. I'm only hoping we can live up to the same level of corruption and ineffectiveness as our predecessors."


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local traffic cop admits she just really likes fucking with people. "It's fun," the middle-aged female police officer said, gesturing with her white gloved hand. "You see these people all in a hurry and frustrated at having to wait, but they don't dare blow their horn at me or yell because… I'm a cop and in the end I can bust their self-important asses. It's great."

She smirked as a man in a Lexus was about to run the red light near us then slammed on his breaks when he saw her looking at him. "Yeah… some days it's good to be The Man."


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Nothing is more romantic than meeting your lover at the airport after a long time apart. I was picking up a friend of mine when I got to witness just such a reunion. The young couple kissed briefly, exchanging sweet looks before the man slung his carry-on over his shoulder and they headed out. I remember thinking that they appeared to be a very sweet and innocent couple, perfectly balancing their desire to express their feelings while still aware that they were in a public space. We happened to end up in line behind them in the Taxi stand. And in the cab directly behind them. So we had a front row seat for when they appeared to have a major personality transformation began viciously making out with each other, the woman tugging the man's shirt over his head and tossing it aside. Perhaps they forgot that inside a public car with clear windows on a busy public street is not in fact 'private'. We couldn't tell for sure if they were actually full-on having sex right in the cab, but our driver missed two turns following them and it took as an extra twenty minutes to get home because of it.

Though at least we got a free show. They probably had to pay an extra fee for cleaning the cab, though. Still, they get an 8 for intensity.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Everyone has heard of beer goggles… the well-known effect alcohol has on us to make other people seem much more attractive than they would have before that sixth shot. But really, how drunk do you have to be to mistake an inflatable raft for a human? Well, you should go ask the Frenchman who was drunk so far off his ass that he called the fire department to help him 'save' a drowning victim. When authorities arrived on the scene, they found the drunken idiot trying to give CPR to a dinghy. So they arrested him for public intoxication. Incidentally, the raft is doing fine. Seriously, wtf, dude? You are definitely our dumb-ass of the day.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Tigers - You always thought you were too cool to listen to your mom, but you'll discover this week that the little tip she gave about always looking both ways before you cross the street would have been a good one to remember. To the Pigs - You should curtail your porn-surfing from your work-computer, since your boss has installed spyware on your office network. Unless you think you share similar tastes, then by all means, continue. To the Dogs - People tend to fall in love with the worst possible partners for them. You should really try to capitalize on that this week. I suggest starting with the rabbits, since they're easy.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Local high school football coach is incredibly insightful as he tells his team that they must have both a good offense and a good defense! After drawing a complicated series of X's and O's on the whiteboard indicating possible plays that they could attempt, he summarized with that remarkable piece of wisdom as his young, youthful athletes listened raptly! He then told them that they should go out there and give 100%! "I'm so glad he told us that. Because otherwise, my plan was totally to go out there and just give around 60%, saving the rest for the after-game run to get ice cream," the star wide-receiver said, clearly very impressed with his coach's wisdom! [Though I was a little unclear why he was rolling his eyes when he said that. I would ask readers for their thoughts, but unfortunately I am once again out of space on the internet for this discussion. Until next time my youthful friends!]


-xXx-

Sunday

Naruto woke up Sunday morning to find six messages from his friends.

[Hinata] Good morning Naruto-kun. I was hoping you could meet me for lunch today… my friend from the other week was asking if he could call you sometime. I want to know what you thought about him. Meet me at the office at noon? I have to be there anyway to work on the online merchandising layout

[Kiba] Dude, get the fuck out of bed and call me. I want to start running again, and Akamaru won't go out when it's cold like this.

[Shikamaru] One of the big media companies in Osaka is interested in carrying our paper there. wdyt? Let's talk about it over dinner. U can cook. I'll be over around 8

[Sai] I need more practice in anatomy drawings. Why don't you come over to my studio Tuesday night?

[Lee] Naruto! My friend! Uncle Gai said he had a special challenge for us at the gym on Monday after work! Please join me!

[Kiba] I'm tired of waiting on your pansy ass to wake up. I'm coming over. Find your running shoes, brah

He stared blankly at the messages. Between the five of them, they were literally planning out every minute of his for the next few days. They'd even given his number to Sai, which showed some measure of desperation.

What the fuck was going on?

He figured he'd start with the weakest link in the chain. Which was convenient, since Kiba was already on his way over.


There was a loud knock on the door before it opened, revealing Kiba in a thick pair of sweatpants and a fleece jacket, shivering.

Naruto was still in his pajamas, not really sure he wanted to go running until he'd fully woken up.

"Hey! Why aren't you ready?" Kiba scowled, but he looked a little nervous as his gaze flickered to the only-slightly-faded hickey on Naruto's neck.

Naruto finished drinking his glass of milk. "Uh… because it's the middle of winter and you're a total pussy about the cold, so I thought you were joking?"

Kiba scowled. "I'm not a pussy. I came over here ready to run, didn't I?"

Naruto looked at him for a minute. "So are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

Kiba blinked. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Dude, you are a worse liar than I am. And that's saying something."

Kiba shifted slightly nervously, but didn't budge. Naruto grinned slightly sadistically. "Fine. You want to go running? Let's go running."

He went and quickly dressed into similar clothes to Kiba, pulling on his running shoes.


They'd gone about a mile before Kiba finally gave in, panting and holding his sides. "S-shit! How can you breathe in this fucking cold air!"

Naruto snickered, breathing hard but not bothered by the cold. "See? Pussy. Now. Do you want to go another mile, or do you want to tell me what the idea is with you guys all trying to babysit me for the next few days."

Kiba's eyes flickered to Naruto's neck again. Sasori had told them he was going to be in town until Tuesday, and they didn't want him to catch Naruto alone after what happened in the club on his birthday. Kiba hoped that they weren't already too late. Especially since he'd been the one saying it would fuck with Naruto's head too much to know that Sasori was in town for that long.

Naruto noticed the direction of Kiba's gaze, and was confused by it.

"Seriously? You guys were pushing me to get laid for like the last year, and now that I did you're trying to form a chastity belt around me? Ever heard of the expression about closing the barn door way after the horses bolted?"

Kiba shrugged, his shivering becoming more pronounced now that they'd stopped running. Taking pity on him, Naruto started walking out of the nearby park where they'd been running towards a small coffee shop across the street.

Once inside Kiba heaved a sigh of relief. "So… who was it?"

Naruto shifted slightly uncomfortably. "Does it matter? It wasn't Hinata, if that's what you're worried about."

Kiba blushed and spluttered. "Of course it wasn't her! She's the one who asked me to…"

Naruto snickered. Yup. Weakest link. "To defend my virtue? What the hell, man?"

"No, it's just… why won't you tell me who it is?"

Naruto shifted slightly. "It's not serious. And they don't really want it getting out. It's no big deal. It's probably just going to be a week or two."

Kiba looked at him, "It's not… Sasori, is it?"

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Sasori's in Suna. We broke up. Badly. Remember?"

"It didn't look like you were totally broken up when he found you at your party."

"I was drunk. And I hadn't gotten laid in over a year. It was a mistake."

Kiba paused, his eyes worried. "You just… you don't always have the best taste in lovers."

That was a gross understatement, and they both knew it. "Look, like I said. This isn't a big deal. Besides, you're one to talk. You sleep with everyone except the girl you like. So go fix yourself first, mutt. Then come preach to me. Now, you have to pay for the coffee, since you're the one who asked me out."

Kiba waggled his eyebrows at Naruto. "Does that make me the man in the relationship?"

Naruto scoffed. "The only relationship you'll be 'the man' in is the one with Akamaru. Even Hinata has more balls than you."

"Hey!" Kiba said, pulling Naruto into a headlock as they headed up to the counter, ignoring the slightly disapproving looks shot to them by the other customers.


Naruto and Kiba spent the rest of the morning hanging out at Naruto's place after finally getting through the awkward talk. Naruto still wasn't sure what his friends were so worked up about, but at least Kiba seemed to relax a bit.

"Hey, I have to go meet my next babysitter for the day," Naruto said finally, glancing at his watch. "You do know that if I had plans to go have sex with someone, I just wouldn't return your messages, right? I don't know why you think this would work, if for some reason you've all decided to keep me pure as the driven snow or whatever."

Kiba snorted. "Yeah, that would be a little too late. Look, man. We just… didn't want you feeling like you had to find some loser for company."

Naruto headed into the shower, peeling off his running shirt and throwing it in Kiba's face. "I went a whole year without feeling the need to hook up with some random loser. What makes you think I'll change my standards now?"

He pulled the door behind him, and Kiba sighed. "Yeah, that's what we're afraid of," he mumbled. "I'm heading out. Have fun with Hinata!" he said more loudly, so Naruto would hear him over the sound of the running water.

"You're not going to tag along for an excuse to see Hinata outside of work?" Naruto called back, his voice reflecting his surprise.

"Nah… she's with Neji this morning and he's likely dropping her off at the office, so…"

Naruto knew that there was no love lost between Neji and Kiba, on Neji's side because it was immediately obvious that Kiba was smitten with Hinata, and Kiba's side because he blamed Neji for some of Hinata's problems with her family. Not to mention the cock-blocking.

As Neji was slowly making an effort to rebuild his relationship with Hinata, Kiba would eventually need to make peace with the man if he wanted to date the girl, but for now he was still in denial about it.


Naruto waved to Hinata as he saw her getting out of her cousin's limousine. "Hey, Hinata!"

Hinata waved enthusiastically back, ignoring the stoic look her cousin sent her.

"Yo, Neji! Great to see you out and about… pole still firmly lodged in place," Naruto said cheerfully.

Neji simply raised an eyebrow, then turned to Hinata. "I'll see you next weekend. You'll come?"

Hinata's face looked strained but she nodded politely before heading into the office building to upload her latest plans on merchandising on their website.

Neji turned to get back into the limo, but Naruto's voice stopped him.

"Neji… what's your favorite restaurant?"

Neji paused, then turned and looked curiously at Naruto over his shoulder.

"Why do you want to know what my favorite restaurant is?"

"So I can be sure to poison the food there, obviously," Naruto grinned.

As much as he liked to make fun of the guy, Neji had pretty good taste when it came to most things. It had been a while since Naruto had taken someone out to dinner (or brought them takeout). And he did want to get back at Sasuke for the McDonald's joke a bit.

"So? What is it?" Naruto asked.

"Kozue," Neji said finally, eyeing him curiously. "Though I can't imagine you getting a reservation anytime soon. Plus, they don't serve instant ramen, so I doubt you'd even bother."

Naruto smirked, "Ah, Neji. You're such a sweet talker. If I didn't think it would break Hinata's heart I'd totally bang you."

Neji's eyes flickered with amusement. "I'm fairly certain that it would be your arm that would be broken if you tried to 'bang me', not my cousin's heart," Neji used finger quotes around the slang word to prevent it sounding like it had anything to do with his own choice of wording.

Naruto just laughed and headed into the office to find Hinata, while an amused Neji closed the door to his limo and directed his driver to bring him home.


Sasuke felt mildly better when he walked into the room of workers on Sunday evening and they all stilled, staring at him with wide, fear-filled eyes. It was almost as good as when Itachi entered the room, and Sasuke had made his peace with the fact that 'almost as good as Itachi' was about as good as it could possibly get when it came to intimidating people. There just was no surpassing that man.

Kakuzu - hearing the eerie silence - stuck his head out of his office and motioned Sasuke to join him.

"Everything is on schedule. We have a few systems upgrades that we'll need to bring in an outside contractor to handle, but the team will have the full cost and time estimate ready for you by morning," the older man stated.

Sasuke nodded, looking at his watch and noting it was already 10pm on a Sunday. It was a good thing they paid their employees obscenely well, or people would get annoyed. Luckily, this sort of fire drill rarely happened, since Itachi and Sasuke kept the business humming like a well-oiled machine.

"Good. Make sure it's in my inbox by 8am," Sasuke turned and headed to the elevator, where he was surprised (or possibly not surprised) to run into his brother.

"Heading home?" Itachi asked innocently. Always a bad sign.

"Actually, I was just going to go get some dinner, then come back to make sure everything is ready for tomorrow."

"I'd be happy to accompany you to dinner, unless you already have plans?"

Sasuke smirked. Itachi had the right idea, but the wrong night. "Not at all, Nii-san. I'd enjoy your company."

The two brothers smiled slightly at each other, both enjoying the game. Fortunately, they were in a closed elevator, and the sight of the two Uchihas smiling had minimal damage on the universe.


Between work and his friends being weird, Naruto hadn't had much time over the past two days to think about his date with Sasuke. If 'date' was the right word. He still wasn't sure. He had used what little time he had to remind himself that this was a temporary thing. Sasuke had made it clear that things could only progress to a certain point, and after that, there would be nowhere for their relationship to go. Except maybe friends. Which wouldn't be bad. Naruto had maintained friendships with most of his ex's, except for Sasori.

He just needed to keep his head and not get too emotionally carried away with things. Sasuke was physically and intellectually attractive, and they could do a lot with just that. It was a completely safe re-bound, with no danger about hurting the other person, since it was clear Sasuke knew how to keep his emotions in check. Naruto just needed to do the same. Which wasn't something he was particularly good at, but he knew the risks.

Work had been hectic, and he had barely gotten home early enough to be able to take a shower before he headed over to Sasuke's place. As he thought about what the evening was likely to entail, he realized that he'd better show up with more than just food.

He opened the drawer to the nightstand by his bed, pulling out the mostly empty box of condoms that was there. He checked the expiration date and was mortified to realize that they had expired three months ago. He sighed, scrubbing his hands through his hair before grabbing the box and throwing it into the trash.

Honestly, that was pretty pathetic. It wasn't even like they were recently expired. He chuckled, glad Kiba hadn't been there to notice it or Naruto would never have heard the end of it.

He decided he'd swing by the pharmacy to pick up an unexpired box. Sasuke probably had some, but it was better to come prepared.


Sasuke looked at the clock, realizing he had better head home or he would be late. The board meeting that was supposed to have happened Monday had been pushed to Tuesday due to some scheduling issues with a few of the senior members of the board. One of whom was Madara, and Sasuke had been thoroughly pissed off that the man had made him work his group through the weekend for a meeting Madara himself had scheduled, only to find Monday morning that the asshole changed the date until the last minute.

Fuck him.

He took a breath, before any uncharacteristic display of emotion could reach his features. He might be furious, but he was still an Uchiha. He had calmly informed his group that the head of the board had evidently been unable to manage his own calendar, and the meeting that was supposed to happen today had been pushed to tomorrow, and everyone could go home at lunch and sleep if they wanted to. Three quarters of the office had taken him up on that. At least they hadn't pushed the meeting any further back. Most people would be leaving for their New Year's vacations on Wednesday. He and Itachi would be heading up to spend it with their parents on Thursday morning.

The crisis was over, and all the loose ends should be tied up before they left despite the annoying delay. The meeting had gone smoothly, as both he and Itachi had anticipated every possible question, concern, or issue that they might have and Sasuke had been able to address every comment made.

He really needed to relax. In a way, it was good that it had happened on Tuesday, because at least he had something much more interesting than going to the gym to look forward to this evening. His thoughts drifted to the temperamental blond.

Very few people were able to get much of a reaction out of Sasuke. He was logical, driven, and generally cold. But somehow, Naruto's outrageous statements and his refusal to back down from Sasuke's brusque personality fascinated him. And - if he were completely honest with himself - turned him on intensely. Nothing was more boring than someone who was 'intimidated' by or 'respectful' to him. Sasuke had had that his whole life. Naruto was neither of those things, and it intrigued him.

Usually, Sasuke lost interest after a couple of weeks when, his sexual partners always became annoyingly clingy and demanding, expecting him to remember random 'four month anniversaries' or getting upset when he had a two week business trip and couldn't call five times a day to talk about nothing. But Naruto didn't seem prone to clinginess. Usually Sasuke was bombarded with phone calls by his lovers, but aside from a couple of texts, he hadn't heard from Naruto since Sunday. Presumably because Naruto had an actual life that didn't revolve around Sasuke. Which was incredibly refreshing.

It was slightly disconcerting that Sasuke couldn't see the 'flaw' that would eventually cause him to end things like he usually did. But of course, it would happen. It always did. But it would be entertaining in the meantime.

Despite his frustrating day, he found his lips curving up slightly. Until he remembered he was still in the office and returned his face to its usual expressionless mask.

One of the managers of their business development group called out to him… yet another decision that required his input.


Naruto looked at his watch, realizing he should probably order the food if he were going to be on time. Smirking, he quickly shot off a text:

I'm at the drive thru - do you like extra cheese on your hamburger?

Sasuke's response was almost immediate.

Only if you don't mind waiting in the hallway for an hour or so while I cook myself an actual dinner.

Having seen the inside of Sasuke's fridge (the horror of the unadulterated healthfulness of the food there still gave Naruto nightmares), he had a pretty good idea about what to order. Still it was better to be safe than sorry.

Are you allergic to anything I should know about?

No. I'll let it be a surprise when I sue your ass for attempted murder.

Naruto grinned as he looked up the number of the restaurant.


Sasuke hit send on the text and noticed the time. He breathed out a curse as he realized he was going to be late. Every time he'd tried to leave the office, someone had appeared with some urgent thing that absolutely required his attention. He'd meant to leave over half an hour ago.

He grabbed his laptop and slid it into his briefcase before heading down to his car.

Traffic was a bitch and he ended up getting to his apartment building 10 minutes after he was supposed to meet Naruto. He glanced at his phone, not sure if it was a good or bad sign that the journalist hadn't texted or called asking him where the fuck he was.

He was just walking into the lobby when he saw a familiar head of blond hair waiting at the elevators, and he breathed an uncharacteristic sigh of relief, not sure why he was glad that he hadn't screwed this up. Surprisingly, there was no one else in the lobby at the moment. Smirking a bit as he thought about the number of times they'd bumped into each other this way, he walked up behind the blond and leaned in, whispering almost directly into Naruto's ear. "You're late."

Naruto jumped slightly, then turned and gave a mock-irritated look. "Hey, bastard. You're even later, and you were the one to set the time."

They both looked up as the elevator chimed. Naruto picked up the bag of food that had been resting at his feet.

"Hn," Sasuke replied, noticing the name of the restaurant on the bag with an arched brow. Definitely not McDonalds, then. He couldn't help but be a little bit impressed.

"And I at least come bearing food," Naruto lifted the bag as proof.

"I have some wine chilling in the apartment. Though if I had known you were going to order from Kozue, I might have chosen a better year."

Naruto snickered. "God, why is it that whenever anyone starts talking about wine, they automatically sound like a pretentious ass."

"Sorry, but some of us actually prefer something other than beer with all our meals."

"Hey!" Naruto exclaimed with mock indignation. "I'll have you know I am also a huge fan of milk."

"Of course you are," Sasuke murmured, his lips twitching in amusement. He was already feeling better… the frustrated anger he'd been walking around with for the past couple of days lift.

They reached the apartment, taking off their coats and shoes before heading to the kitchen Naruto began unpacking the food while Sasuke got proper plates and utensils. Sasuke smirked at the T-shirt Naruto had chosen to wear this evening: Good grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit. He wondered briefly if there was some random T-shirt store somewhere in town that the blond was single-handedly supporting.

"I'm actually surprised that Kozue did take-out for you. Usually they don't," Sasuke remarked, deciding not to comment on the shirt.

Naruto sent an amused glance over to Sasuke, hearing the curiosity in his voice. "Jealous? Actually, a friend of mine is their meat supplier. Chouji – the butcher I was talking with when you so politely interrupted us the day we met. He called them and got me a favor. He always gives them first choice on his fish, so they'll do pretty much anything for him."

"Good to know," Sasuke said, feeling hungrier than he'd realized when he saw the delicious-looking food laid out before him. He realized he hadn't had anything to eat since around noon, and it was eight thirty.

"So, was work better this week or was there still fall-out from Friday that you had to deal with?" Naruto asked, glancing over and noticing the way Sasuke moved fluidly as he laid out the plates and serving spoons.

The dark man's eye twitched, "It's in the process of blowing over. A few members of the board were being a pain in my ass about it, but I think it's done now."

"Mmm," Naruto hummed sympathetically, still unable to visualize that kind of pressure. "Gaara wasn't one of the ones being a pain, was he? I can call him up and tell him I won't play Assassin's Creed with him next time if he's trying to pull one of those 'I am going to kill you with my evil mental powers' moments."

Sasuke just blinked, sincerely unable to imagine the cold, silent red-haired man playing video games with Naruto. "Uh… no. It was mostly my uncles."

"Ah, yes. The dragons guarding the princess," Naruto snickered and Sasuke glared, but there was amusement behind the dark eyes as well.

Sasuke's phone went off, and Naruto saw the spark of humor vanish, replaced with irritation. The business-man looked down at the number, and his irritation grew.

"Excuse me," he said politely to Naruto before picking up the phone. "This had better be an emergency if you're calling me thirty minutes after I left the office," he bit out.

Naruto stepped out of the kitchen, assuming that this was a work call. He could tell by the clipped tone of Sasuke's voice that he was annoyed. Naruto could hear the man rattling off instructions before he finally ended the call and emerged from the kitchen ten minutes later, his features still relatively expressionless but his dark eyes flashing annoyance.

"Do you need to go back to the office?" Naruto asked. He'd had his own share of office emergencies, and wasn't petty enough to be annoyed about it if Sasuke had to go. Shit happens.

"No. It's handled," Sasuke's voice held the undertones of annoyance and frustration. But he took a breath, clearly trying to dispel the call's interruption and sent a grateful glance at Naruto that he hadn't been put off by it. Another way that Naruto was different from his past lovers. He supposed it came from the fact that Naruto also ran his own business, and likely understood what it was like. You were never really 'off' when it was your own company.

Naruto tilted his head slightly to the side, considering the man. At first glance, Sasuke looked as outwardly put-together as always. But Naruto was good at reading people, and he was able to see beneath the veneer that the man looked stressed, hungry, and probably a bit cranky.

It amused him a little bit to think about the businessman that way. And made him think of the fun he could have unwinding him.

"I should get you one of those little 'worry stones' that say Patience or something," Naruto said.

"Why, so I could throw it at people when they get annoying?" Sasuke smirked slightly.

Naruto snickered. "You said something about wine earlier? Since clearly you're not bringing scintillating conversation to the evening, you should put out at least that much."

Sasuke's eyes flickered at the innuendo, but he simply moved to get the wine from where it had been chilling in the refrigerator and took two glasses down from the cabinet, feeling Naruto's eyes follow his movements. He filled the two glasses with practiced ease, reminding Naruto that he was definitely not the first to likely attend a 'private dinner' with the attractive man. But he wouldn't let it bother him tonight.

"At least this time you're not being an ass about the glasses," Naruto said, leaning back against the door frame as he watched the pale man pour the wine.

"You weren't complaining last time," Sasuke murmured.

They sat down at Sasuke's kitchen table, and Naruto began dishing the food onto the plates. "Oh, I complained. You just interpreted it as flirting."

Sasuke's hand brushed over Naruto's wrist as he put a few rice balls on the man's plate. "Wasn't it?" Sasuke's voice was low, and there was no mistaking the sexual undertones of it.

Naruto felt his whole arm tingle at the touch. He gave a lopsided grin before retracting his arm to add more food to his own plate. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"Hn," Sasuke smirked with more than a hint of confidence.

They both ate some of the food, sipping their wine, which - despite Sasuke's earlier comment - actually suited the food quite well.

"So we've already covered the fact that I haven't lost any additional fortunes this week. How about you? Any major lawsuits filed against you?"

Naruto smiled around a bite of food, swallowing before replying. "No. My friends have been weirdly clingy, but other than that, work has been good. Hinata told me that people have been searching our website to see if we have any book available, and told me we should put one out, but we haven't thought through that much yet."

Sasuke thought about it for a moment. "Like a compendium of your 'best articles', or more like an actual book about something."

Naruto snorted. "Don't say 'best articles' so mockingly, ass. Nah, I have no idea. People probably just want something to put on their coffee table that will look cool but no one would read. We're fashionable right now, so I guess… I don't know. I'll figure something out."

Sasuke chewed his food, actually sort of interested in Naruto's job. It was so different from what he did, but he could understand the appeal. But he didn't want to spend the evening talking about work, since they were both looking to relax.

"This is a much more traditional meal than I expected from you," Sasuke remarked, lifting one of the pieces of exquisitely crafted sushi to his lips.

"Because I am too low class and uncultured to afford it, or because I look more American than Japanese?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes, assuming Naruto was joking about the 'low-class' thing and deciding not to dignify that comment with a response. "As soon as you open your mouth it's clear you're not American. Though your attitude isn't very Japanese, either. I suppose I expected your tastes in food to run along your personality in general."

Naruto smirked. "Ah, so we're back to the McDonald's comment? You're such an ass, you know."

"Hn," Sasuke said, not denying it. "Though actually I was thinking just that your taste in food would be... less traditional." He paused, watching Naruto bring a bite of food to his lips. "Though McDonalds could fit, too."

"That's right. Your first impression of me was that I was a construction worker, right? Sorry, I save the McDonalds only for dates with my foreman. Usually I get food to match the person I'm eating with."

Sasuke eyed the food spread out before them, trying to decide which hidden insult Naruto was aiming for. There were a lot to choose from.

He picked up one of the elaborately rolled pieces of food. "So…. cultured and… tasteful?" he asked with mock innocence.

"I was thinking more… over-priced and stuffy but nice to look at," Naruto replied, picking up a piece of sashimi and looking at the uncooked meat. "With the possibility to cause severe stomach illness."

"It's good to know that you run your mouth even on a date. At least you're consistent," Sasuke poured them more wine, then stood to set some of the empty dishes on the counter to de-clutter the dining surface.

Naruto grinned, watching the man walk the short distance across the kitchen. "I thought this wasn't a date? Besides, my mouth seemed to be something you were pretty interested in last time."

Sasuke's eyes darkened slightly at the memory of exactly what he had been thinking about doing to that mouth. He walked back, standing right in front of where Naruto was still sitting at the table.

"I seem to remember you making some pretty big claims about your mouth last time," Sasuke said, the low thrum of sexual tension that had been building between them since Naruto arrived suddenly spiking up. He shifted his legs slightly farther apart as he felt heat pooling in his groin.

Naruto turned so he was fully facing Sasuke, a tan hand thumbing over the fabric of Sasuke's pants over his hip bone.

"Well, I'd hate to have it said that I was all talk," Naruto's voice came out husky as he gripped Sasuke's hips with his hands and tugged him closer. He leaned forward and buried his face in Sasuke's belly, breathing in the subtle scent of the cologne the man wore. But it was the underlying scent of the man himself that had Naruto's body temperature spiking.

He breathed out, the heat of his breath easily passing through the thin fabric of Sasuke's shirt, making the pale skin beneath break out in goose bumps. Naruto slid a tan thumb slowly down over the front of Sasuke's pants, feeling the flesh there lengthen and shift beneath his touch.

"Hn," Sasuke murmured. "If you're all talk then at least you should be more skilled with words."

Sasuke slid his fingers into the blond locks of hair, his dark eyes locked on the sight of Naruto's thumb tracing its path up and down Sasuke's length. He'd had several fantasies about something pretty close to this playing out since the last time they were together. The fact that Naruto remained seating, gripping Sasuke's hips to hold him in place was a pretty good indicator of what the blond had in mind. The rate at which Sasuke's cock was hardening indicated that it was in full agreement with the plan.

"So far my words do a pretty good job of stirring at least part of you up," Naruto said, palming Sasuke's now fully hard erection.

Naruto shifted his legs further apart, pulling Sasuke to stand between them as he untucked the fine cotton dress-shirt from Sasuke's pants. The hands gripping Naruto's hair released as they shifted to unbutton the dress shirt.

As soon as Sasuke had slid the last button of the shirt free, Naruto tugged on it, pulling it off and dropping it to the kitchen floor, letting his eyes rove over the smooth, pale skin of Sasuke's chest while his fingers tucked into the waistband of Sasuke's pants.

He could see the way the muscles in Sasuke's stomach clenched under his gaze, and the way the clothed erection was now straining against the fabric of the pants.

"Are you just going to look?" Sasuke said, his voice betraying more arousal than his words gave away.

Naruto slowly slid his fingers over the hooks of Sasuke's pants before pulling down the zipper.

"Nothing wrong with looking… I'm actually really enjoying the view," Naruto tugged the pants down to mid-thigh, now face-to-face with Sasuke's bare stomach. The black, silk boxers did little to conceal the erection still contained within them, a small wet patch beginning to form on the smooth fabric.

Naruto leaned in again and trailed kisses along the sensitive skin just about the waistband of Sasuke's boxers while the back of his finger traced along the ridge of Sasuke's erection.

"Ngh, fucking tease," Sasuke groaned, his head falling back slightly.

Naruto could see the way all the muscles in Sasuke's body had clenched as the man clearly tried to hold onto his self-control. It made him wonder how far he could push him. He nipped slightly at the skin there, then slid his mouth along the line of the V down towards Sasuke's hip-bone, pulling the boxers down just enough to bare the skin there, but not enough to free Sasuke's cock. He dug his thumb into the groove by the bone, scraping his teeth along it, feeling Sasuke shudder and his hips flex fractionally.

"Someone's wound pretty tight," Naruto looked up into Sasuke's heavy-lidded eyes, feeling a sense of power at the magnitude of lust he saw there.

Sasuke didn't think he'd ever wanted someone to suck his dick more than he did in that particular moment. It took all of Sasuke's willpower not to just push his boxers down and shove his cock into Naruto's pink mouth, which was still hovering several inches above where it needed to be.

"Naruto…" there was half warning and half plea in Sasuke's voice. He didn't know what it was about the blond that made unable to keep control the way he usually did. He was too horny to care about it right now, but knew it should annoy him.

Naruto finally relented, pulling Sasuke's boxers down at a pace that was frustratingly slow before finally Sasuke's cock bobbed free. Naruto still didn't take it in his mouth, studying its impressive length for a moment before slowly palming the pale balls with the heel of his hand in a slow, circular motion.

Sasuke wasn't sure what to do with his hands, because if he put them in Naruto's hair, he was going to end up dragging Naruto's head to his crotch. But the table was out of reach, so he settled for placing them on Naruto's shoulders, fisting them into the T-shirt that was still annoyingly in place.

"I suppose I can admit some factual errors in my article," Naruto admitted, his lips ghosting across the head of the weeping erection in front of him.

"Fuck! Hurry up!" Sasuke was panting now, and he could feel the prickle of sweat between his shoulder blades. But he hardly noticed any of that, as his entire being was focused on the proximity of Naruto's mouth to his painful erection.

The knowing, teasing glint in Naruto's eyes only made him want to fuck that pretty mouth that much more. He slid a thumb between Naruto's lips, gently pulling the tan jaw down but not going so far as to pull his head closer.

"Are you good for more than one go?" Naruto asked, his own voice beginning to betray him as well as he looked at the flawless, heavily aroused man standing between his legs.

Sasuke nodded, hoping it didn't look as frantic as he felt at that moment. Naruto evidently was also getting tired of waiting as he finally swirled his tongue around Sasuke's head to wet it before closing his lips around it. He dipped the tip of his tongue in and out of Sasuke's slit, sucking and letting his lips tighten around the upper part of the shaft as he did.

"Oh, god, yes," Sasuke groaned, his head falling back. It was no surprise that Naruto had a wickedly talented mouth. Sasuke already felt the tension building in his balls, and he clamped around the base of his cock and drew some steadying breaths trying to not make this end too soon. He wasn't kidding when he said he would be up for more than a go, but it would take him at least twenty minutes to be up again and he really wanted this to last longer than ten seconds the first time around.

He could feel the vibrations of Naruto's chuckle along his shaft, and if he hadn't been nearly out of his mind with lust he probably would have been slightly embarrassed that he was so obviously about to cum. Like any male, he was a fan in general of oral sex, but knowing it was Naruto's mouth in particular wrapped around him made him nearly lose it.

Naruto slid off the chair so he was kneeling at Sasuke's feet, deciding to get serious about this. Impatiently shoving Sasuke's pants and boxers all the way down, Naruto cupped Sasuke's tightly muscled ass and pulled him close, deep throating him.

Sasuke was big enough that usually people had trouble taking him, but Naruto seemed to have no gag reflex at all as Sasuke felt Naruto swallow against him, he head of his cock pressed deep into the blond's throat.

Forgetting about being polite, Sasuke's hands fisted into Naruto's hair as he began to thrust in and out, Naruto seeming to have no difficulty handling it as he made no move to slow or limit the motion of the pale hips. If anything, he seemed to be encouraging Sasuke to go even deeper as he dug his fingers into the pale globes of Sasuke's ass.

"Na-, fuck Naruto," Sasuke gritted out as Naruto let his lips tighten and sucked harder, his tongue doing indescribable things to him until he finally saw white and came, unable to get out more than an incoherently garbled warning.

Naruto didn't seem to mind, swallowing until Sasuke's tremors had stopped.

Sasuke opened his eyes to find himself bent over, with one hand braced on the table and the other still clutching Naruto's hair in what was likely a painful grip.

"Holy shit," Sasuke drew a shuddering breath before slumping into his chair, the coldness of the seat against his naked flesh barely registering through his hazed mind.

The writer looked over at Sasuke's glazed face, torn between amusement and arousal. He was still painfully hard, but it had been more than worth it to see the reserved man come undone. There was something completely adorable the way the hardened businessman loosened up after cumming. At least this time Sasuke didn't seem to be about to fall asleep, because Naruto was still hard as hell.

Sasuke's eyes finally focused enough to register the amusement in the blue eyes watching him, and he raised an eyebrow. "That was… possibly the best head I've ever had."

Naruto wrote the extremely open statement up to the fact that the majority of Sasuke's brain was likely not working. "Only possibly? I guess I'll have to try harder next time. Hopefully you're not down for the count."

Sasuke wasn't sure he'd survive it if Naruto 'tried harder'. He realized with some annoyance that Naruto was still fully clothed, while he was completely naked. He wasn't self-conscious about his nudity… he knew he looked good. But he had no intention of not getting Naruto out of his clothes as well. "I might need a few minutes, but I'd be happy to repay the favor in the meantime." He let his eyes drift down to Naruto's lap where his current condition was readily apparent through the fabric of his jeans. "Why don't you take those off first."

Naruto stood and slowly pulled his T-shirt off, setting it on the kitchen chair before unfastening his jeans, then pulling them off, having them join his shirt on the chair. While they had showered together the last time, Sasuke had been pretty out of it, so he took his time drinking in the sight of the tanned, tone skin bared to his view. Naruto clearly took his exercise seriously… there didn't appear to be an inch on his body that was out of shape or lacking in any way.

Naruto stood there, comfortable in his skin. The pearly beads pooling at the head of his erection clearly indicating he was enjoying Sasuke's leisurely perusal of his body.

Sasuke was surprised to find himself already stirring, despite having cum less than five minutes ago. He felt the lethargy of afterglow fade away and he stood, slowly taking the three steps that completely closed the distance between himself and Naruto. He had to admit being impressed at the way the blue eye met his steadily, not looking away. He had assumed Naruto wouldn't be a shy lover, and was happy to be proven correct. There was an edge to the blond's sexuality that Sasuke hadn't experienced before, but was definitely drawn to.

He slid his hand up over the tan stomach, tracing a finger around one pink nipple. Unlike times in his past when he simply wanted to have sex and get satisfaction, he felt the urge to linger a bit… draw it out the way Naruto had done with him.

Torture the blond, and break him apart.

It was a new feeling, but Sasuke felt no need to hold back as he watched the blue eyes darken and the muscles beneath the tan skin clench at his touch. He realized with some amusement that they hadn't even kissed yet this evening. So he decided to rectify that, wrapping a hand around the back of Naruto's neck and drawing him in for a kiss. Their mouths opened together, neither bothering with anything chaste at this point. They both wanted the same thing.

He felt Naruto's teeth tug at his lower lip before a tongue was passing over it, soothingly, and suddenly the pace of the kiss changed.

Their tongues were now fiercely twining around each other, sliding along teeth and gums. Naruto pressed in and changed the angle of the kiss, allowing no space for even a breath of air between their bodies. He wasn't surprised to feel Naruto's rock-hard erection pressing against him. He was surprised at the urgency of his own erection, sliding deliciously along Naruto's.

Naruto pulled back to give a breathy laugh. "You weren't kidding when you said you'd need just a few minutes."

Sasuke decided not to admit that this was a bit unusual for him, and instead thrust his hips against Naruto's, groaning a bit at the exquisite friction. Latching his lips back onto Naruto's, he tightened his fingers in the blond locks, walking backwards towards his bedroom. He realized he was almost literally dragging the man by his hair to his bed, but he didn't give a fuck about it at the moment. Naruto didn't seem to mind. Halfway down the hall he slammed Sasuke up against the wall and attacked the pale column of Sasuke's neck sliding tongue and lips and teeth down to the defined collarbone at the base of the throat.

Sasuke groaned, grabbing Naruto's ass and lifting him up so their bodies pressed even more fully against each other. The only thing that kept him from shoving Naruto to the floor and fucking him right there was the fact that they had neither lube nor condoms within reach.

Reluctantly, he released his hold on the tan ass and grabbed a strong wrist instead, pulling them toward the door at the end of the hallway. "Bed. Now."

"Hmmm, yes," Naruto agreed, swatting Sasuke's ass as the man walked a step ahead. Sasuke threw a glare over his shoulder, but couldn't hold it at the roguish grin that was covering Naruto's face.

When they reached the bedroom, Naruto barely had time to register the midnight blue silk sheets covering the king-sized bed before he found himself pushed down on it, Sasuke pinning him beneath him with an intense stare.

Naruto blinked. He honestly hadn't really thought to discuss this in advance but… he hadn't bottomed in a really long time. Not even with Sasori.

Sasuke noticed the slight hesitation. He sat up, straddling Naruto's thighs, looking down at the toned body beneath him, forcing himself to stop.

"You ok with this?" Sasuke's voice wasn't gentle, but it wasn't condescending either. It was an honest question. There would be no penalty for saying 'no' and calling this off.

And Naruto realized that's what it would be. He realized that Sasuke was not going to bottom, at least not now.

"It's been… a really long time since I took it," Naruto admitted, trying to decide how he felt about it. It would at least be completely different from what he'd had with Sasori. And maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing. That way, there would be no possibility of comparison between the two.

Sasuke nodded, waiting for Naruto to make the call. He wouldn't push. After all, how could he push when he himself had never bottomed? He was a lot of things, but a hypocrite wasn't one of them. Receiving was a different level of intimacy… requiring a level of trust that he had never felt with anyone.

He tried not to hold his breath while Naruto decided. The feel of tan fingers wrapping around his dick made him nearly shudder with relief. "We'll do it this way for now," Naruto said slowly, but there was no hesitation in his voice. "But… if things continue between us…" he pulled Sasuke down on top of him, and whispered directly into his ear. "… then one of these days I am going to fuck you into this mattress and make you scream with pleasure."

The dark spike of lust that shot through Sasuke at Naruto's words startled him. He had never been turned on at the thought of being fucked by someone, but… he slowly smiled. "Well then. Let me see if I can make you scream first."

Naruto gave him a lopsided grin. "You're going to have to last more than five minutes if you want to do that."

Sasuke was torn for a second as to whether to be annoyed or amused by the joke. But the humor dancing in the blue eyes won, and Sasuke found himself chucking, something he really couldn't remember ever doing during sex. "Oh, I think I can manage," he said huskily, reaching in the drawer by the nightstand and pulling out a bottle of lube and a condom. Naruto had the feeling that Sasuke's condoms weren't expired, and the thought niggled at him a bit, but he held his peace. They had never said anything about being exclusive. He reminded himself that this was just for fun… it wasn't serious and jealousy had no place here.

The pack of condoms he'd brought with him was sitting in his jacket pocket, way too far away to be useful, so he should just shut up and be grateful that Sasuke was prepared.

Before he had time to think about it more, Sasuke was leaning down and kissing him again. Their bodies had cooled somewhat, but the heat rapidly built up between them as their mouths began a slow build of lust, tongues and teeth sliding increasingly forcefully together until they were practically devouring each other. Whatever he could say about Sasuke, he was fucking amazing at kissing. All of Naruto's hesitation had melted away before he felt slick fingers brush against his entrance.

He felt his body tensing, but Sasuke had anticipated it and swirled his tongue across the roof of Naruto's mouth at the same time his thumb brushed across the slit of his cock while his hand pumped, making Naruto's toes curl into the mattress as the first digit slid in.

Sasuke hummed into Naruto's mouth at the feel of the tight heat. He had never had any complaints about his performance, but he wanted to go the extra mile this time. He trailed his lips down the tan throat, and found himself again fighting the urge to mark it. Naruto's warning growl had him moving down, grazing his teeth along the collar bone before finally closing around the nipple that was already budded on the tan pectoral.

Naruto hissed out a sound and arched slightly up, whether at the sensation of Sasuke's mouth or the second finger that was added was unclear.

"Sasuke, hurry up," Naruto gritted out, feeling every single day of his year's worth of abstinence in the building pressure in his groin. Looking down into the dark, wicked eyes focused on him made it even worse.

"Fuck!" Naruto cursed as Sasuke used his free hand to tug on Naruto's balls before pumping his cock as the fingers of the other hand began to stretch him further.

"You're tight. And I'm not small. I'm not going to rush this," Sasuke's voice was strained, and Naruto realized he wasn't the only one impatient to move on with things.

"How long has it been?" Sasuke was panting with the effort it was taking him to hold back.

"Since I bottomed or since I had sex?" Naruto gasped as Sasuke's third finger entered.

Sasuke hesitated, knowing the question was a little out of bounds. "Both."

Naruto rolled his eyes, suddenly feeling vulnerable. "Are we talking or fucking?"

Sasuke pulled his fingers out, grabbing the condom and tore it open with his teeth before rolling it on. "Fucking," he said, coating himself liberally with lube then lining himself up and slowly driving in.

Naruto forced himself to try to relax around Sasuke's girth, but his jaw was locked and his breathing shallow.

"Oh, fuck," Sasuke groaned as he slid in until fully seated. He leaned down, resting his forehead briefly against Naruto's. An intense feeling of satisfaction flooded through him… one he'd never at simply penetrating someone before. He hadn't even moved yet, but just being inside Naruto and feeling him hot and tight around him made Sasuke's pulse leap. He felt like he was coming out of his skin with the need to start thrusting, but he forced himself to wait until Naruto had adjusted enough that it wouldn't be painful. He ran his hands along the side of Naruto's hips in a smooth, soothing motion.

"Go… move," Naruto breathed finally.

"Oh, god, yes." Sasuke didn't have to be told twice. He pulled out, then pushed in just a few inches, swiveling his hips as he moved to make sure he brushed repeatedly against Naruto's prostate. He kept his eyes glued to Naruto's face, watching as the tension slowly eased back to pleasure, gradually deepening his thrusts, adjusting his movements to maximize the pleasure

"Oh, fuck, Sasuke, that's it," Naruto tilted his hips slightly, and Sasuke took this as the signal to hitch Naruto's legs up onto his shoulders and pick up the pace and force in earnest.

"Nnnnggg, Naruto! Shit…" Sasuke wanted to say something complimentary but he could hardly get Naruto's name out as his brain completely shut down and he was thrusting harder and harder, feeling the sweat come, slickening their skin and increasing the sound of their bodies coming together forcefully.

"Oh, god… fuck… Sasuke… fuck!" Naruto felt the familiar coil building as Sasuke's hand pumped his cock with the same ruthless rhythm that he was pounding into his body. Sasuke would have felt great satisfaction at rendering Naruto so incoherent if his brain were able to process any thoughts at all.

Naruto hooked his leg around Sasuke's back, forcing him down and fisting his hands into the black hair as he crashed their mouths together. The sound of Sasuke's ragged moan into their kiss was the last straw, and Naruto saw white as he came hard between them. Sasuke's body clenched as well as he came on one final deep thrust, his entire body seized with an intense pleasure that burned all thought from his mind.

Sasuke slid down on top of Naruto, shifting his weight just enough to the side to keep from crushing him. He knew he should withdraw and clean them both up, but once again he found himself just wanting to lay there, breathing in Naruto's scent and letting his body relax against his lover's warmth.

They lay like that for several minutes, letting the haze of the afterglow soak into them. Slowly, Naruto shifted, forcing Sasuke to reluctantly withdraw.

"That was… really better than I expected," Naruto said, still feeling the lethargy weighing him down.

"Hn… that's not much of a compliment," Sasuke murmured, giving in to the temptation to run his fingers through Naruto's hair.

Naruto smirked. "You're the first guy I've let top me in more than five years. Don't go fishing for compliments, asshole."

"Hn," Sasuke smiled darkly into Naruto's neck, glad that the blond had answered at least one of his questions. He didn't know why that knowledge pleased him so much.

The next question escaped Sasuke's lips before he had a chance to think about it – one he had never asked his lovers before. "Are you staying the night?"

Naruto paused, torn between what he wanted to say and what self-preservation told him he had to say. "No," he said after a moment. "I have to be into work early tomorrow."

Sasuke nodded, not saying anything more, and ignoring the slight, inexplicable disappointment at Naruto's response. "Are you up for a shower, or do you need a bit more time?"

Naruto slanted him a slightly annoyed gaze as he gingerly sat up. "Don't get cocky."

Sasuke smirked. "Oh, it's way too late for that."

They headed to the shower together, Sasuke not bothering to hide the snicker at Naruto's slight limp.


to be continued…

Kiba's story is TRUE (I heard it on the radio and thought it was a lie then checked it out online and... yup.  True.)  Hinata's nominated by JennaS

This might actually be the longest chapter I've ever written. Though the final chapter in Thin Line was also insanely long. It's close. I really need to find a better way to monitor my chapter lengths. Um... sorry?

But you see where this is going now. They've had sex, but they are not in a relationship and slowly they will not be satisfied with that, but not know what to do about it and what the other thinks and Sasori is possibly back in the picture so... there we have it. All set up now. And some smut. Just cuz that's how I like my stories to go (Raz, stop rolling your eyes at me).

OH! What do you think of Neji in this? I weirdly am liking him way more than I expected to. Not sure what to do about that, but... thoughts?

Chapter Text

Author's note: Why is this update so late? Because… my life is a big tsunami of stress, between work, relationship and family issues and I just honestly haven't been cheerful enough to write this. :-/ Plus, the ending of Deception took me forever to write the final chapter, so… there was that, too. Luckily, Raz and Mikko_chan kicked me in the butt and made me stop sulking long enough to write (and rewrite, but I'm not talking about that). SO HERE IT IS. And it's long. And there's sexy times. So… yay?


The Daily Ramen, January 9

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Japanese airbag manufacturer, Takata, suffered a major economic blow when it had to recall tens of millions of airbags that had been installed in cars around the world. The largest market effected was the US, where over thirty million airbags needed to be handled. The recall focuses on the hot airbags that had a flaw in their filter, causing them to go off prematurely and with too much forced hot air, sometimes blowing up and damaging those around them. Based on this description, the entire US Congress was accidentally recalled. This has been clarified by doing the recalls by 'vehicle identification number' to avoid further confusion.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local man doesn't understand why he didn't get the job as an accountant when he told the HR person that he was more of a people person than a numbers person. "I just don't understand it," the young man bemoaned. "I did everything that the interview guide I read told me to do. I stressed that my strength was in working with people, because I knew that there would be people in the office I worked at."

When asked which interview guide he had read, he explained it was the HR guide. Since it was HR that would be interviewing him. His friend sitting next to him rolled his eyes. "You're supposed to look up questions for the position you are applying for, not for the position that will be interviewing you, dumbass."

"Really?" the man asked, clearly uncertain about the advice. Word on the street is that this is why his friend has a job and he doesn't.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

A couple behind me at the McDonald's drivethru gave new meaning to the company's slogan "I'm lovin' it". As the young couple approached the speaker box to deliver their order, I saw the girl lean over in the seat. At first I thought she might just be looking for her purse or picking up loose change from the floor to cover the cost of the meal. But as her head began to bob vigorously up and down, I realized that her boyfriend was being doubly served on his lunch break. He was able to articulate their order before rolling up his window and leaning his head back while she finished the job, luckily before they pulled up to the window where the attendant leaned out and gave them their food. Although the girl had already consumed her protein for the day. They get a 7 for effort, but he earns a 3 for stamina, since it was clearly over in under two minutes.

NOTE TO MY READERS: I've recently received a lot of discussion about pick-up lines as being precursors to PDA. Depending on the graphic nature of the line, they can almost cross into PDA themselves. Tell me your worst! Or best. Next column will be an evaluation of the best and worst pick-up lines.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

In our continuing theme of criminals not realizing that they should stay the fuck away from social media when they're on the run, one local criminal found himself arrested after 'liking' his own wanted poster on facebook. Of course, being the facebook junkie that he was, his account also contained up-to-the-minute status reports of all his latest activities, including where he was having dinner that night.

Clearly this explains why this guy didn't have a legit job in the first place. Too fucking dumb. In fact, dumb enough to be our dumbass of the day. Congrats, bro.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Horses - the inaccuracy of your last twelve horoscopes leads you to believe your parents actually lied about your birth age and you are in fact a snake. For my Rats - this will be a great week to take up the ancient art of 'covering your ass' and bcc'ing your boss on all those annoying emails your useless co-worker has been sending you. To the Roosters - Your love of Yaoi will be your downfall when you pay good money to see a cockfight only to discover angrily that it in fact only involves chickens.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

When most of us think of 'airport parking' issues, we imagine no space in the economy parking lot for our pitiful cars. But, my friends! We have not aspired to the true heights of airport parking nightmares! The private jet parking at the Las Vegas airport was a mess, with no space available and snooty celebs being turned away all to attend the glorious championship mega-fight last week! While boxing is thought by many to be a 'working man's sport', tickets for this most youthful of matches were going at over $2,000 a pop! Truly, this just speaks to the fact that no matter how expensive a man's suit or refined his taste in wine, we just love to see two fine young men beat each other to a bloody pulp for our viewing pleasure! Even better - young women! I am hoping next time there will be - [we regret that the internet is once again full, and we are unable to continue Lee's column at this time.]


-xXx-

Sasuke reached the hotel in London after midnight. It had been almost a week since he'd left Japan. He'd been sleeping on planes for the past three days, and his body and head ached with fatigue and jet-lag. Seven countries and three continents in ten days. He was scheduled to be back in Japan in a few days, and crash for the weekend.

He let the bellhop set his suitcase in the closet on the valet stand as he walked directly to the large, luxurious bathroom, turning the water on the tub almost as hot as it could go. It was a secret he'd learned about jet-lag and stress… if he could take a really hot bath and draw all the blood out of his head into his muscles, he could fall asleep in about ten minutes rather than waiting for hours for sleep to claim him.

The uniformed man cleared his throat.

"I laid out the complimentary bathrobe on your bed, sir. If there is... anything else you'd be requiring tonight, please don't hesitate to ask."

The slight hesitation in the statement finally drew Sasuke's attention to the hotel employee. Brown eyes met Sasuke's with more than a hint of invitation. For the first time, Sasuke notice the man's appearance. Maybe a couple of years younger than him… college age? The man's red uniform jacket and black pants fit his toned body snugly. It was clear that the man took care of himself, with slightly broad shoulders tapering to a very flat waist and firm backside.

It was far from the first time that such an offer had been made. Sasuke usually didn't bother accepting them, unless there was something particularly compelling about the person. But there was no denying that sex worked better than a hot bath at clearing the mind and reducing stress.

"My shift ends in ten minutes," the young man said, noticing Sasuke's assessing gaze.

Sasuke wasn't really sure why he was hesitating. The man was very attractive, and he was offering an appealing way to unwind both his body and his mind.

But somehow… he just wasn't interested enough.

"No. I have an early morning meeting I have to make," Sasuke said unapologetically, sliding off his jacket and walking back to the closet to hang it.

The man ran his eyes appreciatively over Sasuke's form, now more clearly visible through the fine cotton of his dress shirt and tailored pants. "Well, in case you need anything later," the man pulled a card out of his front coat pocket, writing his cell on the back of it. "You can call me any time. Maybe the next time you're in town."

Sasuke accepted the card, but didn't glance at it before he put it on the dresser top. "Hn."

The man didn't push it. He didn't want to annoy a guest that was staying in one of the executive suites.

"I'll look forward to it, then," the man said with a slight smile before stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind him discreetly.

Sasuke returned to the bathroom, removing the rest of his clothes before stepping into the tub. He hissed slightly as he let his body sink down into the hot, swirling water, leaning his head back against the cool porcelain of the tub and letting the heat of the water soak into his muscles. He could feel his body slowly relaxing. He wondered if he'd made a mistake sending the man away, imagining having someone in the tub with him instead of lying there alone.

He felt his body stir slightly at the thought and he brushed the tips of his fingers lightly over the outside of his thighs, closing his eyes, imagining of the bellhop kneeling between his legs. But somehow… the image didn't turn him on very much. He had been good looking but other than that, there hadn't really been anything about him that caught Sasuke's attention. The polite, carefully spoken offer had seemed… uninteresting.

He wouldn't be calling the man.

Sasuke grabbed the fluffy, white washcloth that was carefully rolled next to the soaps at the edge of the tub, dunking it in the water then creating a lather with it before scrubbing himself clean.

He was restless.

But he needed to sleep. He had an 8am meeting, and it was already after midnight. He knew he wouldn't get a great night's sleep, but he was more than used to it by now. Stress was a part of the job, and he rarely slept soundly anymore.


The phone in Sasuke's hotel room began to ring, causing the black-haired man to groan slightly before opening his eyes. It wasn't even five in the morning. There could be only one person calling him at this time. He picked up the phone with a growled "What?"

"Now, Otouto, is that any way to greet your brother?" Itachi's smooth baritone came through the earpiece.

"It's not even five in the fucking morning here. What do you expect?"

Sasuke rubbed his eyes with his free hand, forcing himself to wake up. Itachi never called for stupid reasons.

"Your meeting with the two prospective companies in Munich got pushed up a day. You need to get on the 7am train to Munich to make it. But at least this means you'll be back a day earlier."

Sasuke propped himself up on one elbow while he reached for his cell phone (which he had turned off to avoid sleep interruptions) to check his calendar.

"I had your assistant update your schedule and book you a seat. All you have to do is get dressed and go down to the lobby. A car will be waiting for you."

Of course, Itachi had already covered everything. But only because he was in a time zone eight hours ahead.

"Fine. I'll be ready."

Sasuke assumed the call was over, and was surprised when Itachi continued.

"I thought you might appreciate getting home a day earlier. All things considered."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he lied.

A rich chuckle filled his ear. "Of course you don't. Do you want me to guess who your evening companion was the other night? Is there anyone you want me to call and inform that you'll be arriving early? I could set up some late dinner reservations for you."

Sasuke's grip tightened on the hotel phone as he thought about how likely it was that Itachi knew for sure it was Naruto vs someone else. He wasn't ready to give his brother that kind of leverage. He'd have to find a way to distract him. But for now, there was nothing much he could do. "No. I have no plans with anyone other than you when I get home. And fortunately for the both of us, that has nothing to do with my sex life."

"I had expected a bit more gratitude for getting you home a day early," Itachi said with mock distress. "I had forgotten what an ungrateful little brother I have."

Sasuke rolled his eyes as he sat up. "At five in the morning you're lucky I'm even talking to you."

"Just don't miss your train," Itachi said, amusement in his voice before he hung up.

Sasuke stood and stretched, the chill of the room making him shiver slightly. He walked to the bathroom, turning on the shower and waiting for it to warm up. He quickly did the math in his head. It was just after lunchtime in Japan.

He hadn't lied to Itachi when he said he had no plans. But - now that he was thinking about it - he wouldn't be averse to making some. He hadn't seen Naruto since their "dinner date". He'd had to leave the next day to his family's estate for their annual New Year's party, which consisted of all their relatives and his father's 'closest business partners', basically making it the Who's Who of the financial sector in Japan. He had lost count of the number of daughters, nieces, and sometimes even nephews that had been foisted on him and his brother during those events in the hopes of a financially advantageous marriage. But he and Itachi always went and gritted their teeth through the ordeal.

This year he had been fortunate enough to have to leave the three-day event early due to his business trip. Except for a short (and in Naruto's case slightly drunken) exchange of messages on New Year's Eve, he hadn't heard from the blond.

Of course, Naruto had known Sasuke would be out of the country, so he didn't read anything into it. They both were busy with their jobs. Sasuke had fleetingly wondered who Naruto had spent his New Year with, given that the background noise when he'd called clearly didn't sound like a party with his parents. But it wasn't really any of his business. They weren't in a relationship.

Itachi's call had gotten him thinking, however. It would be good to see Naruto again. Sasuke had found himself even more bored than usual with the stifling, politically correct conversations he was constantly surrounded with. Naruto would definitely break that monotony, if nothing else.

He took a quick shower, letting his mind linger a bit on the last time he'd seen Naruto, causing him to need to spend a bit more time in the shower. Remembering Itachi's warning to not miss the train, he hurriedly put on his suite that he'd had the concierge press overnight before heading down to check out and get in the car that was waiting for him.

Once he'd given the driver directions, he pulled out his phone, and shot off a quick message to Naruto.

A very loud and incompetent waiter served me breakfast this morning. I thought of you.

It wasn't long before he got a reply:

Aw. Miss me?

Sasuke smirked, somehow feeling less tired than he was a few minutes ago.

Not likely. Just enjoying the peace and quiet.

The reply was almost immediate.

I thought you liked it when I was loud.

Sasuke glanced up at the driver before typing back.

That depends on if you're wearing clothes or not.

It wasn't long before he got his reply.

Well, since I'm at work now, I'm definitely wearing clothes. Though I'm negotiable on that later in the day. What about you? What time is it where you are?

Five thirty in the morning.

You're in Europe then?

Yes. London. Heading for Munich.

Hopefully not naked. Because that would cause some major traffic problems.

Sasuke's smirk morphed almost into a chuckle before he responded.

Idiot.


"Um, Naruto?" Hinata's voice caused Naruto's head to snap up from looking at his phone.

"Huh, what?" He quickly exited out of messages and put his phone face down as he realized Hinata had come into his office. She looked at him for a moment, then repeated the questions she had asked when Naruto had been snickering at something on his phone.

"I asked if you had come up with any ideas about the book. You said you'd give it some thought."

Naruto twirled his pen over the backs of his fingers, trying to not think about Sasuke. Naked. In London. Ok, focus. "Yeah, well… I was thinking that maybe we should just ask them what they want? I mean… if the whole reason we are doing this is because they seem to be looking for something in particular, why not do some sort of poll with options?"

"That could work. What kind of options are you thinking about?"

Naruto spun his chair around in his desk and grabbed a stack of blank paper and some thumb tacks. "Hey, guys! Into my office for a brainstorming session!" Naruto shouted out into the hall. He grabbed a sharpie and started writing while Shikamaru, Kiba, Sai, Lee and Shino made their way into his cramped office, obviously used to this kind of disruption during the work day. Whenever one of them was stuck, they'd call an emergency brainstorming session to help break them out of the rut.

"Ok, so you all know about this 'book' idea, right?" Naruto asked. He was answered by general nodding and a yawn from Shikamaru. Naruto shot his best friend a glare. "If you sleep through this I'm shaving off one of your eyebrows."

Shikamaru raised the eyebrow in question, and decided it was in his best interest to join in the discussion.

Naruto walked over to his wall, pinning up three pieces of paper with book ideas written across them.

"Ok, so I have three ideas so far, but I want to play around with this. We can brainstorm a bit and poll our readers with our top four ideas and let them pick which one they're actually looking for when they search our site for 'book'. The things I thought of were: a collection of our most popular articles, The History of Konoha according to the Daily Ramen, or some sort of "who's who" in current events, Ramen style. Since we're all probably going to be involved in writing whatever this is, let's at least make it fun. What else could we do?"

"The best Fifty Ways to tell someone to Fuck Off according to the Daily Ramen," Shikamaru said from his position laying down on the soft.

"Pfft. I like that one," Naruto snickered, tossing Shikamaru the sharpie then folding a piece of paper into an airplane and shooting it over to him. The paper co-owner caught both and wrote out his idea before talking Lee into pinning it to the wall for him.

"Survival guide for living in a world of dumbasses?" Hinata said, glancing at Kiba, who immediately grinned and gave her the double-thumbs up.

"Sweet!" Kiba said. Shino and Naruto exchanged a speaking glance before rolling their eyes. "What?" Kiba asked defensively.

"Just wondering if it were possible to suck up to her any harder, bro," Naruto laughed. "Just ask her out already."

Kiba and Hinata turned matching shades of red while Naruto and Shino laughed.

"How about "most insane acts of 2015?" Lee suggested.

"I think we should do a nude calendar of the Daily Ramen staff," Sai said, his face completely expressionless.

"100 reasons the world is fucked and civilization will end," Shino rubbed the underside of his jaw thoughtfully as he spoke.

Shikamaru looked at him seriously for a moment. "Somehow I think you're sort of serious."

Shino simply raised his eyebrows, smiling behind the collar of his sweatshirt.

They brainstormed for another half hour, then voted the top four ideas before breaking for a late lunch.

Naruto leaned back in his chair, pulling out his phone.

Hey asshole. Sorry… was in a meeting and had to run.

Oh? I thought meetings were only for 'real' businesses.

Naruto rolled his eyes and typed back.

Fuck you. I bet more people read my paper than your boring ass Annual Report.

His phone buzzed with Sasuke's reply

Maybe, but my bottom line is definitely bigger than yours

Naruto snickered, his fingers already moving.

Are we comparing sizes now?

Sasuke's response was immediate

Is that an offer?

Naruto bit his lip, glancing to the door where he could hear Lee phoning down their lunch order. He'd be lying if he said he hadn't thought about Sasuke over the past week.

Maybe. You were the one thinking dirty thoughts about me first thing in the morning while checking out your waiter

Within seconds, Sasuke had responded:

You wish. I had a schedule change, so I had to get up early to catch a train.

Naruto glanced to the door where he could hear Kiba and Lee debating about which book would be the thickest, and how many Lee thought he could carry up and down the flights of stairs to their office without passing out.

I'm not averse to the idea of you being 'up' for me. Though you're too far away for me to do anything about it.

The reply was almost instantaneous, making Naruto wonder if Sasuke had started typing it before he'd even sent his text.

I'll be back in two days. My flight gets in Friday around 10pm.

Naruto bit his lip. Sasuke didn't just say he'd be coming in on Friday. He'd given the time of his flight. Which meant… he probably was hoping to see Naruto right away? Evidently he wasn't the only one looking to pick up where they left off. Naruto felt his hands tingle a bit at the thought, and didn't bother to hide his wolfish grin.

He assumed that Sasuke wouldn't want him showing up to meet his flight given they were supposed to be under the radar, so he offered to come over to Sasuke's place instead:

Should I come by around 11? Unless you think you'll be too tired and fall asleep on me again.

His head jerked up when he heard voices outside his door. A second later, Kiba and Hinata walked into his office. He quickly closed the text window and locked his phone. Kiba had a habit of sometimes browsing through his photos when he was bored, since most of them were of their group. Even though Sasuke's name was nowhere on the phone, it wouldn't be too hard to figure out who it was if someone read the content of the chat messages. Not that they would… but also not that they wouldn't. They were used to being in each other's business, for better or for worse.

"We're thinking about putting a few 'tester' pages on the web to see how interested our readers would be in the different options," Hinata said as she walked over to his desk with some pages that evidently sketched out some of the draft ideas. Naruto's phone buzzed.

"You gonna check that?" Kiba asked, glancing at where Naruto's phone was resting face down on his desk.

"Nah. Let's look at what you've got here," Naruto grabbed his phone and put it in his drawer, then began looking at the papers.

Kiba just looked at him in confusion. Usually Naruto responded almost instantly to texts. "Whatever man."


The next two days had seemed to drag by, despite the amount of work that Naruto had to get done. But finally it was Friday night. It had been Kiba's turn to host the group dinner, and Naruto had come by early to help set up hoping that no one would notice if he cut out early.

"Hey, Naruto!" Kiba slung his arm around Naruto's shoulders as they were hanging out in Kiba's living room shooting darts with the photos of various annoying Konoha citizens attached to the board. "Where are you going?"

Naruto tried to play it casual. "It's been a long week. I think I just want to go to bed." He didn't need to say whose bed. It wasn't a lie.

"I'll walk back with you," Shino lived in the apartment building next to Naruto's, and they often walked home together. "I wanted to do some reading tonight, anyway."

Naruto hesitated. He had been planning on leaving directly from there to Sasuke's. If he went all the way back to his place, it would take him longer. But his friends were looking at him, and there was really no way out of it if he didn't want to draw suspicion.

"Uh - sure. That sounds... good. See you guys later!" Naruto said, giving a general hand wave to the group. They had moved on to the next round of darts, and - as usual - Hinata was wiping the floor with everyone.

Naruto pulled out his phone, about to shoot a quick text over to Sasuke when he noticed he'd already missed a text telling him that businessman's flight had been delayed and he'd be half an hour late.

Perfect. He'd even have time for a quick shower.

As they walked down the sidewalk together, Naruto had to keep from grinning at the sort of giddy feeling of sneaking off to Sasuke's place. Like he was sixteen again, climbing out his bedroom window to go meet his girlfriend in the backseat of her car without either of their parents finding out and kicking their asses.

He hummed to himself a bit, unaware that Shino's eyes were fixed on him curiously most of the way home.


Sasuke unlocked the door to his apartment and set his suitcases inside. It was nearly midnight, and he felt wide awake. He'd fallen asleep on the plane when he'd meant to stay awake, and now his schedule would be thrown off. He sighed. At least he had tomorrow off. He'd have at least a day for his body to adjust to the time zone change.

Glancing at his watch, he realized he had about ten minutes before Naruto would arrive. Barely enough time to take a shower, but he didn't want to smell like airplane. He went to the bathroom and turned the shower on. He was just removing his shirt when his phone buzzed.

Did you want me to pick up food? Have you eaten?

Sasuke frowned slightly. Usually, his lovers expected him to pay, if they were going to bother with dinner at all. This would be twice in a row Naruto had offered to pick up the tab. There was no doubt that - of the two of them - Sasuke had considerably more money. It was… an odd feeling.

No, I'm good. But if you're hungry, we can order something.

No, I ate earlier. I'll be there in ten.

Sasuke wondered if Naruto knew he could send his driver out for food basically any time he wanted to. But still, the fact that he'd bothered to ask was… nice.

He ran his tongue over his lower lip as he stepped into the shower, thinking about Naruto. It had been two weeks since he'd seen him. Images of the last time they'd been together in his apartment washed over him. He spread his legs slightly, feeling heat begin to pool in his abdomen.

The water hadn't fully heated yet and the shock of the cool temperature against his skin made him grit his teeth, but he wanted to be clean. The cool water also helped settle his body down. Even though tonight was basically a sure thing for the both of them, he didn't want to answer the door with a hard-on. How gauche. He smirked slightly at the thought, imagining Naruto's reaction.

And turned the water temperature down a bit more.

Once he was clean (and now a bit cold) he shut off the water and quickly dried himself off.

He'd used up probably nine of the ten minutes he had, so he walked to his closet and pulled on a dark blue, long-sleeved T-shirt and some black sweat pants. He only had time to rake his fingers through his still-damp hair when he heard a knocking at the door.

His blood instantly heated, and he felt annoyed by his own response. He wasn't some inexperienced kid with no control over his hormones.

He opened the door, keeping his face expressionless as he greeted Naruto.

Naruto's eyes fell on the suitcase still sitting in the entryway. "Guess you just got in. Long flight?"

Sasuke stepped back, allowing Naruto to walk in, unable to keep his eyes from sliding over Naruto's body as he removed his leather jacket.

"Hm? Yeah," Sasuke took the jacket and hung it on a hook by the door, noting it was still warm from Naruto. He let his hand linger on the warmth of it for a moment.

"Wow, you must really be out of it," Naruto grinned. "I've been here a full ten seconds and you haven't been an asshole once."

"Hn. Don't get used to it. I'm sure you'll do something to annoy me momentarily."

The writer toed off his shoes as Sasuke headed towards the kitchen.

"Ah, there's the bastard I've come to know," Naruto grinned, following him in and noticing how the sweatpants rode low on Sasuke's lean hips.

He raised his gaze to the man's face just before Sasuke turned around.

"Would you like a drink?" Sasuke asked, opening the cupboard that held the alcohol.

"Whatever you're having," Naruto rested his elbows against the counter as he leaned back against it.

Sasuke's eyes drifted over his torso and form-fitting black jeans before he turned to get the glasses, but Naruto didn't miss the flash of lust in the dark gaze.

"See something you like?"

"Tch. Not your T-shirt," Sasuke reached up to take down two wine glasses. He wasn't up for anything stronger right after a long flight. His ego couldn't take falling asleep a second time on Naruto.

Naruto looked down at his shirt… it was one of his personal favorites showing a headshot of Shakespeare under the phrase "Prose before Hoes".

"Too high brow for you?" Naruto smirked. "Or are you offended that I'm putting literature ahead of you?"

"Fuck you," Sasuke said, pouring wine into the two glasses. "I'll have you know I turned down an extremely hot bellboy when I was in London."

Naruto rolled his eyes as he raised his wine glass to his lips. "Well, I'm sure he was just trying to get a better tip."

Sasuke arched a perfect eyebrow. "Is that why you're here?"

Naruto took a slow drink before answering. "Nah. I don't work for tips anymore. I'm more of a salary man, these days."

Sasuke reached over and hooked one finger into Naruto's belt loop, pulling him flush against him. Even though Naruto was only joking, he found himself irritated. He didn't really want to think about Naruto's past history at all.

Naruto didn't flinch at the sudden contact. He slowly finished his glass of wine and set it on the counter behind him, next to Sasuke's untouched glass, noting the way that Sasuke's gaze had followed the motion of his glass, and the swallowing of his throat.

"Don't like your own wine?" Naruto's voice had dropped in pitch as he watched the way Sasuke's eyes were fastened on his lips.

Sasuke's head slowly lowered, bringing their mouths close enough that Naruto could feel the warmth of Sasuke's breath against his lips. The businessman didn't break eye contact until the last second before Naruto felt the soft brush of Sasuke's tongue along his lower lip, taking in a trace of the wine he'd just finished.

"Hn. I like the wine," Sasuke said before sliding his tongue languidly into Naruto's mouth, tracing slowly along his teeth, and tongue, further tasting the vintage.

He pulled back, picking up his glass and taking a sip, enjoying the glazed look on Naruto's face. He hadn't been this turned on since… since the last time he was with Naruto. Everyone else he'd met since then had just seemed colorless and utterly uninteresting.

"Tease," Naruto said, blinking his eyes back to focus as he stepped back and poured himself another glass.

Sasuke smiled slightly as he sipped his wine. "What, you were expecting something this evening?"

Naruto laughed. "Well, to be honest, I was half expecting you to fall asleep on me again. From what you told me about this trip, it didn't seem like you were going to get much rest. Especially if you were using your free time to screw the bellboys."

Sasuke brushed his fingertips over Naruto's hip. "I thought I told you I wasn't interested in him."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Maybe you're just getting too old to have game anymore."

"You came here, didn't you?" Sasuke took his glass and sat down on one of the two high stools that were next to the granite counter.

Naruto grabbed his glass and sat on the other stool. "Maybe I just have low standards."

Sasuke shrugged. "Maybe. Certainly in clothing and literature you do."

Naruto smirked. "I just don't need to fall back on designer clothes to look good."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "So what is happening with this book you said you were writing?"

Naruto's eyes widened slightly in surprise that the businessman had bothered to remember something like that. "Well, we've narrowed it down to three options: Daily Ramen - Best of 2015, 50 ways to tell Someone to Fuck Off, and The Daily Ramen Survival Guide to Living in a World of Dumbasses."

"Hn. I feel like if I spend much more time hanging around with you I could ghost write that last one."

"Pfft. Like anyone would want to read something written by someone as uptight and bastardy as you," Naruto's blue eyes danced with amusement.

"The bastard part I won't dispute. The uptight part I take issue with," Sasuke leaned back, noticing how Naruto's gaze automatically slid along his body.

"I suppose we'll just have to see how things play out then," Naruto said, his voice slightly lower in pitch. "So… you were in London, then Munich. Where else did you go?"

Sasuke looked at Naruto for a minute, as though trying to decide whether to let the topic slide. "The US, Brazil, China, India, France… and a few others along the way."

"Shit. That's crazy. Aren't there like… rules about how much you're allowed to fly before you reach some sort of 'solar radiation limit'? A friend of mine's a pilot and I don't think he clocks as many hours as you do."

Sasuke vaguely remembered one year when his father had received a notification that he had exceeded the maximum number of 'safe' miles and wouldn't be able to fly for the rest of the year. At which point he had promptly switched to another airline, rather than heeding the health warning.

Naruto tried to get his head around that much travel. "So… what do you do that makes you have to fly there in person instead of just by phone or video or something?"

Sasuke grimaced slightly, not sure he really wanted to think about work. But Naruto seemed genuinely interested, so he decided to answer. "Well, partly it is because my father never allowed any major decisions to be delegated. I run the venture capital side of the business, which means basically I decide which startups we're going to fund or not fund. It generates more than three quarters of our annual growth. But it also makes up the majority of our business risk. So we need to look at every company we think we might invest in personally, to try to mitigate the risk."

"You have to go there in person to see if it's the real deal or just an empty warehouse or whatever," Naruto finished, catching on.

Sasuke nodded, "And check out their business plans and financial records… get a read of the people involved. See if I think they really can do all they say they will or if they're going to stall out."

Naruto tilted his head to the side. "But still… it seems like as long as you trained the person, you should be able to hire someone else to handle at least some of it. Do the first screen or whatever so you only have to make the final call."

Sasuke nodded slowly, draining his glass. "Yeah. I've been thinking about that. A lot of members of the board believe in my father's way of doing business, so it will be my ass if there is a mistake made by one of the guys I hire. But we're just too big now to have everything run by the family, even if that's 'the way it's always been'."

Naruto got the sense that Sasuke was not worried about being fired as much as he was about failing at anything. From what he'd read about the Uchiha brothers, they basically never made mistakes. That would be a lot of pressure to keep up with.

"Why the fuck do so many people envy you and your brother?" Naruto asked. "I mean… yeah, you've got assloads of money but you don't have time to even breathe. I'll take my second rate paycheck any day, if that's the trade-off."

"I don't mind it. Most people annoy me anyway. And I'm good at what I do."

"Calling all the shots and being a bastard?"

Sasuke arched an eyebrow. "I'm always right, so why not?"

Naruto looked at him for a moment. "I'm not even sure if you're being serious right now or being an ass."

"Sometimes it's a fine line," Sasuke raised his glass to his lips, his eyes the only thing that gave any indication of his amusement.

Naruto rolled his eyes, laughing. "God, what do people see in you?"

Sasuke arched an eyebrow as he set down his glass. "A meal ticket," he answered, his tone making it clear he wasn't entirely joking.

"Oh, I don't know. Your personality's a dead loss, but I bet a good number like you for your body, at least." Naruto leaned back, smiling easily.

"Hn," Sasuke shifted, turning more to face Naruto, smirking. "So you're saying you like me for my body?"

Naruto ran his eyes appreciatively over Sasuke's lean form. "I'm not complaining about it, I suppose."

"Lucky for you I feel no need to fish for compliments," Sasuke stretched his legs out, leaning back against the counter.

The movement drew attention to Sasuke's flat stomach and the decidedly… less flat portion below it.

"You're fishing for something," Naruto levered himself off the stool, resting his hand on the counter next to Sasuke's elbow.

Not missing a beat, Sasuke wrapped his hands around Naruto's hips, pulling him around so he stood between his legs.

"Maybe. Like you said, it's been a long week. For both of us."

Naruto placed his hand on Sasuke's chest, then slowly slid it down, veering off to the side just before it would have passed over Sasuke's groin. "Hm. That better not be a precursor to a disclaimer that you're not going to last long tonight."

Sasuke gripped Naruto's wrist harshly, sliding it over so it rested directly on top of his semi-hard cock. "Actually, probably the opposite. I slept on the plane. If anything, you're going to be the one falling asleep this time."

Sasuke felt his cock shifting, lifting as he hardened in his sweatpants beneath the tan palm. Naruto noticed the reaction, and rewarded it by taking his index finger and circling the clothed head, then hooking the finger around the width of Sasuke's erection and slowly trailing the finger down his length, the softness of the fabric contrasting against the hardness of the flesh beneath.

"You've got a lot of confidence considering you haven't outlasted me yet," Naruto leaned forward, grazing his teeth along Sasuke's jaw line. "You think you've got that much game?"

Sasuke growled in response to the taunt and bit Naruto's lip harshly, almost drawing blood. Naruto's eyes darkened instantly, and Sasuke was reminded of how Naruto had responded aggressively with the man he'd seen him with at the club on the blond's birthday. The memory annoyed him but turned him on insanely at the same time. Naruto was so different from anyone Sasuke had been with before.

"You want to test my game?" Sasuke breathed against Naruto's lips.

Naruto fisted one hand into Sasuke's hair before jerking his head to the side. Sasuke's eyes widened at the slight pain of the gesture, but Naruto's mouth had fastened to the pale column of his throat, effectively shutting down Sasuke's brain.

"I want to do a lot of things to you, Sasuke," Naruto's voice was a low rumble against Sasuke's throat.

The darkness of it sent a shiver along Sasuke's skin. He was used to being the dominant one in a relationship. None of his partners in the past had been even remotely rough with him.

Sasuke leaned his head back, running his tongue along his lower lip. "Are you going to talk just about it, Naruto," he leaned down and bit lightly on Naruto's neck, fighting the urge that Naruto always instilled in him to bite hard enough to mark him. Another first for him.

Naruto shifted his grip on Sasuke's shaft from one finger to his full hand, slowly pumping Sasuke through his clothing. Sasuke's hands grabbed the hem of Naruto's shirt as he pulled it off and threw it on the kitchen floor.

"Fuck, Naruto. You make me…" Sasuke's words were nearly lost against the tan skin of Naruto's chest as the pale lips and pink tongue traced a path down to circle around his nipple before he bit lightly at the hardened nub, earning a low growl from the blond.

"Sasuke… god!" Naruto's hands tightened more in Sasuke's hair as he jerked him up and crushed their mouths together. The kiss was hotter, more aggressive than what they'd shared before. Naruto ruled the kiss, his tongue thrusting in and twisting inside Sasuke's mouth, making businessman groan and shudder at the thoroughness of it.

"God I love your fucking mouth," Sasuke panted out before diving back in, his tongue quickly picking up cues from Naruto's.

"You love fucking my mouth," Naruto grabbed Sasuke's pants and shoved them down, stroking the heavy erection only twice before gripping Sasuke's hips hard enough to leave fingerprint bruises as he slid to his knees, pulling Sasuke's cock into his mouth.

"God, yes. I love fucking your mouth. And the rest of you," Sasuke's hips were already pumping into the wet, swirling heat of Naruto's mouth. He realized they'd never make it to the bedroom.


They did make it to the bedroom… but it was much, much later.

Sasuke decided he wasn't really a fan of the hard tile of his kitchen floor, though in the haze of lust neither had paid it much mind at the time. The next round on the soft bed had resulted in fewer bruises, though had been no less intense.

He was too exhausted to gloat when Naruto did in fact drift off to sleep moments before him, an hour or so before dawn.


Sasuke woke up, feeling slightly disoriented. His mind was unusually heavy with sleep, and for a moment, he wasn't even sure what continent he was on. He gradually realized that - for once - he wasn't cold. Usually he seemed unable to keep warm no matter how many blankets he kept on the bed. A slight turn of his head drew his attention to the source of the incredible warmth in his bed.

Naruto was sleeping next to him, his arm tucked under Sasuke's shoulders, his tan body pumping off heat like a furnace. He wondered how Naruto always managed to be so deliciously warm. Most people's metabolism slowed down when they slept, but Naruto's always seemed on full bore.

Judging by the light streaming in his window - it was early afternoon. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept so soundly. Definitely since before he started working at the family business. Sasuke felt a lazy smile form on his lips as he remembered the night before.

He relaxed back into the bed, the warmth lulling him back to sleep.

He realized that - having been gone for almost two weeks - he didn't have much in terms of food for them to have for breakfast when they finally managed to get out of bed. They could just order out when they woke up.

Eventually.


to be continued….

Credits: Dumbass of the Day nominated by MisatosPenPen, Lee's column suggested by Aspergianstoryteller, and HInata's drivethru story suggested by… *cries* someone who PM'd me but I went through dozens of PMs and couldn't find it. Please ping me and I will update the credits! :-(

Shikamaru's column is half true. You can probably guess which half. And Naruto's column happened to a friend of mine. I was torn between having it in dumbass of the day and Naruto's, but Naruto's won out.

There is a 75% chance of Sasori in the next chapter. And a 90% chance of Gaara.

PS Hinata is serious... tell me the worst (or best) pickup lines you've heard. An example of one of the worst I've heard: "Regular size condoms don't fit on me" I was like wtf who says shit like that to a stranger in a club? Needless to say he got no play.

Chapter Text

Author's note: Thanks to Raz and Mykko_chan for giving this a pre-read. I think there will be 4 chapters left. Yay!


The Daily Ramen, March 20

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Evidently the world ran out of interesting things to talk about this week when it became a global news headline that a Japanese zoo had to apologize after naming a baby monkey Charlotte in honor of the new British royal baby, according to local media. Each year, the Takasakiyama Zoo lets the public vote on what to name the first baby monkey of that year. And with all the news about the British Royal couple having their second baby, they picked Charlotte. And my question to you, my readers is: Who gives a shit? I mean really. Did nothing else happen in the world that week? Surely there was at least a car bombing somewhere. Or politician fucking around or taking photos of his penis. Nothing? Really? One of you go out and make some real news for me so I don't have to read this shit again.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

A local man was overheard in a bar stating emphatically that his girlfriend had 'faked it' the previous night when she'd orgasmed. "She was clearly faking it. It looked nothing like the other times. I know she was just trying to get me to hurry up and finish." When asked about the night's events privately, the woman in question rolled her eyes and stated that it wasn't THAT orgasm that he should be worrying about. They had been dating for two months, and evidently this was the first one she HADN'T faked. Not surprisingly, the man had no further comment on the situation. Or the fact that she offered me her number for 'further verification.'


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

So when I asked my readers to send in the worst pick-up lines they'd ever heard used, I wasn't quite prepared for just how truly lame horny people could be. My only hope is that most of these lines were used 'tongue in cheek'. Because clearly whoever was using the lines to actually get play wasn't going to get tongue anywhere else. The lines appeared to come in 3 flavors: Flavor 1 - try to show that you're clever. There are a lot of these, plays on words, clever puns. For example: Did you buy your shirt at 20% off? Come to my place and you can have it 100% off. Flavor 2 - show you're sexually willing to do ANYTHING: You have a nice smile… can I sit on it? Flavor 3 - the 'brutally honest' lines: Here's $30. Keep drinking until I am good looking then come talk to me.

A survey of my readers shows that - unless these are said in an obviously joking, self-effacing fashion - none of them work. The highest success rate for scoring is still owned by the guy I met in a bar the other night, who was blessed with a hurricane tongue and just continued to lick the underside of his chin and his cheekbones periodically. He might not be the prettiest, but that boy never leaves a club by himself.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Just because you're an activist doesn't mean you're not also a dumbass. If you're going to protest something and throw a molotov cocktail to 'express your stance' on an issue. Make sure you have a decent get-away plan before you get busted by the cops. More specifically, make sure you don't run into a busy street while trying to dodge the cameras. One unfortunate teenager didn't heed this advice, and now not only was arrested for 'public endangerment', but also has a busted leg. And Wall Street didn't even notice. Dumbass.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the sheep: Stop worrying so much about whether there is life after death. Based on your recent social calendar, you should be much more focused on trying to find life BEFORE death. To my snakes: If you get asked on a date by a double-jointed Cirque du Soleil performer, SAY YES. If that falls through, just go out and find the nearest rabbit. They've been having a slow month and might actually agree. To the monkeys reading this: Assless chaps are coming back in style. No really. And you should totally wear them to work this week. Forget what the other librarians are telling you.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

If there's one thing we've learned about the whole 'Deflate-Gate' scandal surrounding the New England Patriots football scandal, it's that quarterbacks know just how firm they like their balls! This is a wonderful revelation for the rest of us 'hobbyist' football players! If we wish to truly be successful at this sport, we must spend a lot of time fondling our balls to determine the exact firmness to deliver the ultimate performance! And! We must not leave recorded phone messages describing the outcome of these experiments! I must go now and perform my own study! More next week!


-xXx-

Naruto woke up, his whole body feeling fatigued, slightly sore, and well-used. He could feel a warm weight on his arm, and the length of a smooth, hard body laying next to him.

"Fuck," Naruto breathed out as he realized where he was. He opened his eyes, not surprised to find himself in Sasuke's enormous bed with the man still dead asleep next to him. This was not supposed to have happened.

His gaze automatically went to Sasuke's face, relaxed and open in sleep. He felt the same dangerous pull that he had felt the first time he'd seen the closed-off man let his mask slip. He knew that Sasuke was guarded, and that few people had likely been allowed to see him like this. But he had to forcibly remind himself that that didn't mean anything had changed between them. This was all just temporary. Sasuke had made that clear from the beginning.

Naruto tried not to think about burying his nose in Sasuke's neck and kissing him awake. He tried not to think about getting up and making them breakfast in bed and spending the day together.

Those were all indulgences for people who were in a relationship.

Naruto knew his own limitations and vulnerabilities. He liked sex, and it had always been more than clear that he and Sasuke had great chemistry together. But sex, even great sex, could be found with many different people. Real intimacy could not. Sleeping with someone and waking together with them was a much higher level of intimacy, and was much harder to disentangle oneself from.

Of all the things he missed most about his relationship with Sasori, the conversations they'd had in the mornings as they'd lay tangled in the sheets and each other were top of the list. The complete openness, with all barriers down.

Nothing was more dangerous.

Naruto blocked off his mind from thinking about that further. His relationship with Sasori was over, and there was no going back, regardless of how close they'd been at the time. Some lines could never be uncrossed.

He made himself focus on his present situation. He knew should have left the night before, but after the first round on Sasuke's kitchen floor, they'd barely made it to the foot of Sasuke's bed before going again. When they'd showered off, Naruto had had every intention of leaving. But then Sasuke had offered Naruto a change of clothes to wear home. He hadn't had them on for more than three minutes before he found himself thrown back on the man's bed.

Instead of getting it out of their system, it seemed like every time they were together things just escalated more.

His gaze flickered up to the wall, and he couldn't help but smirk at the deep dents that now marred the surface, perfect imprints of the frame of the headboard of Sasuke's bed. He wondered if Sasuke was going to get complaints from the neighbors. The thought made him snicker softly. He was pretty sure Sasuke was not the kind of guy who usually had trouble with his neighbors.

He pulled back slowly, disengaging himself from where his limbs were entwined with Sasuke's. He stretched, feeling some of the stiffness leave his muscles. The skin across his stomach felt tight, and he didn't need to run his hand over it to know what the cause of it was. Proof enough that they hadn't even made it to the shower after their last bout before passing out from their exertions.

He let his gaze slide over his lover. Sasuke was laying on his side, the sheet and quilt pulled down to reveal the pale, toned chest, one perfect foot sticking out over the edge of the bed. The sheet was twisted beneath the blanket, wrapped around one of Sasuke's legs. The black hair was splayed haphazardly across the pillow, pale lips parted slightly in deep sleep. He managed to look thoroughly debauched and angelically beautiful all at the same time. It left Naruto feeling unsettled. He could seriously fall for this man.

And that would be a huge mistake.

He'd spent the night and that was that. He slipped from the bed, walking naked to the bathroom and turning on the shower. If Sasuke woke up and things were awkward, Naruto would leave. If things seemed normal, he'd stay and help make breakfast before heading out. Staying any longer than that would be a bad idea, and probably not welcome by the Uchiha in any case.

He rinsed out his mouth with Sasuke's mouthwash in lieu of having a toothbrush. He'd ask Sasuke if he had a spare when the man woke up. Once the water had heated, Naruto stepped into the shower, letting the heat further ease his stiffness. A small smile tugged on his lips as he remembered the previous night. The businessman had such a cold, impassive persona outside of the bedroom, but there had been no sign of that restraint last night, and Naruto couldn't help but feel a bit smug.

It made him feel for a moment as though there were more to their connection then just verbal sparring and sex. But he knew that those were dangerous thoughts to be having. Even though Sasuke had seemed slightly surprised at his own loss of control, it didn't mean this would turn into anything other than what it was right now.

Whatever that was.

The door to the shower opened, and Naruto felt a hard body slip into the shower behind him. Pale arms wrapped around Naruto's waist.

"I thought you'd left until I heard the shower," Sasuke's voice was still slightly rough from sleep.

"Hm, no. I guess we fell asleep last night. Or this morning. Whenever," Naruto let Sasuke turn him around and pull him into a slow kiss.

Sasuke didn't say anything more about Naruto's continued presence in his apartment, so Naruto decided not to, either. Having finished washing himself, he decided to be neighborly and help Sasuke get clean as well.

And he tried not to think about how this was definitely something he could get used to.


Sasuke walked into his office the next morning, still feeling slightly high from his activities the day before. Naruto had stayed for a quick breakfast/lunch, but had said he had to leave shortly after to meet up with his business partner to discuss some things at work.

They had made plans to meet up again the next day, and Sasuke had offered to cook. He knew he was spending a lot more time with Naruto than he ever had with his past lovers, but they were discreet about it. The apartment complex was large, and they'd been lucky to not run into his neighbors when Naruto was coming or going.

He remembered the disappointment he'd felt when he'd woken up to an empty bed, then the surge of relief when he'd heard the shower and realized that Naruto had not left.

It was strange.

Usually it worked the other way. The few times he had someone over to his place, he was usually grateful that they knew when to leave.

"You look surprisingly relaxed, Otouto."

Sasuke managed not to jump at the unexpected voice that came from behind him as he snapped himself out of his thoughts.

"I had a good night's sleep yesterday," Sasuke hoped he managed to keep the smugness out of his voice when he said it, but the way Itachi's eyes narrowed told him he'd probably made some slip.

"I see. Uncle Madara is here today. He's been asking about you."

Sasuke paused. That was almost never a good thing.

"Anything specific?"

Itachi gave an elegant shrug. "He mentioned that you seemed remarkably calm after the last board meeting. And even more disinterested in the advances of the guests at the New Year's celebration."

Sasuke didn't react. "We've never shown any interest in the 'approved' candidates they throw our way." Sasuke's tone conveyed boredom and general disinterest in the topic. To anyone else, it would have been completely convincing.

A gleam of pride shone in Itachi's eyes. He expected nothing less of his little brother. "He seemed to be under the impression that you might be seeing someone."

Sasuke arched an eyebrow.

"I assured him that I hadn't seen you with any possible lover, and that your work schedule has been quite hectic." Itachi straightened an imaginary imperfection of the knot of Sasuke's tie. "Of course, my little brother would tell me if he were getting serious about anyone. Even if that someone was a person he knew I tacitly approved of."

Sasuke froze. Itachi knew. Or at least thought he knew. Which was pretty much the same thing.

"I don't do relationships, Itachi. You know that," Sasuke stated flatly.

He thought he saw a flash of disappointment in his brother's eyes.

"Just be careful, Otouto," Itachi said cryptically before heading off down the hall to his office.

Sasuke turned and unlocked the heavy mahogany door to his own office, wondering if Itachi was warning him about Madara, or about his relationship with Naruto. Or something else entirely.

Fucking Itachi.


It had been over a month since Naruto first spent the night at Sasuke's.

Despite Naruto's initial nerves about actually spending the entire night, they'd fallen into a habit of him staying over whenever Sasuke was in town, though he was careful to always leave right after breakfast and not overstay his welcome. They hadn't discussed this arrangement explicitly.

The first few times had been unintentional like the first time, with them both falling asleep in Sasuke's bed after over-exerting themselves.

Naruto had once tried to force himself to stay awake, getting up and searching for his clothes to go back to his own place to sleep. Sasuke had scowled at him, then walked over and tugged him back to bed, saying he was cold and needed to sleep. After that, it had become understood that Naruto would stay the night whenever he came over, despite the fact that it increased the risk of them getting caught.

Another thing they didn't explicitly discuss.

Naruto tried not to over-think it, and just enjoy it for what it was for the time being. But he'd been growing more tense every time he received a text from Sasuke asking him to come over… wondering what it would be like when the texts finally stopped.

He was just finishing his lunch when he felt his phone buzz. He thought for a minute it might be Sasuke, but remembered he was out of town for the rest of the week. He picked up his phone and saw the text was from Gaara.

Did Sasori give you any problems last weekend?

Naruto paused. He considered calling his friend back, but it was the middle of the workday and it was likely Gaara was in a meeting somewhere, scaring the shit out of someone. He didn't want to ruin his friend's mojo by having his cell go off. So he simply texted back.

No… I didn't see him at all. Why? Was he in town?

Naruto tapped his pen on his desk. Suddenly it made his friends' insane behavior make a bit more sense. Not that they needed an excuse to be crazy, but if they had somehow known Sasori was in town, then it would explain why they always seemed to be inviting him places and asking him where he'd been. He'd had a few close calls trying to sneak off to see Sasuke, but so far they'd managed not to get caught. It had made meeting up at Naruto's place practically impossible, though, since it seemed like one of his friends was always 'dropping by' to check on him.

After a minute or so, Gaara texted back.

Yeah. He applied for a job at a theatre in Konoha as a set designer.

He used a friend of mine for a reference. Just found out this morning.

Naruto stared at the words. Sasori was… trying to get back into his old career... what he used to love before he'd gotten into selling drugs. And he was looking for work… in Konoha? He scrubbed his fingers through his hair, feeling his emotional world tilt suddenly, before he steadied himself.

It was fine. He was fine. It had been a year. And so what if Sasori was back in town? It didn't mean Naruto had to spend any time with him. Konoha was a big city.

Thanks for the heads up.

His phone buzzed almost immediately.

I'll be in town tomorrow. I'll have my secretary reserve me a spot on your fucking awful couch.

Naruto grinned.

Yeah, and I'll kick your ass in Assassin's.

He waited impatiently for Gaara's reply.

I would be laughing my ass off right now, but it would spoil my image as soulless dictator in front of my underlings.

Naruto snickered, his fingers flying over the buttons of his phone.

Nothing could spoil that image, since it's basically a fact


Gaara dropped his bags at Naruto's place, and they decided to go out to the bar across the street and grab some dinner since neither man had eaten.

They took their drinks and their food to a table in the back of the bar where the pool tables were. Since it was mid-week, the place wasn't very crowded and they were able to find an open table to play.

Gaara racked up the pool balls while Naruto started on his food.

"Loser has to sleep on the couch," Gaara said as he chalked up his cue before leaning over the table and breaking, sinking two stripes right off the break.

"Fuck," Naruto said as he took a drink of his beer. Gaara was lethal at pool. "Best three out of five."

Gaara's lips twitched into a smile that only Naruto knew was there. He lined up his shot. They played in companionable silence for a few minutes. Gaara had nearly cleared the table before he missed his first shot. Naruto took the cue quickly put three balls in before Gaara spoke.

"So I gather you decided to take the younger Uchiha up on his offer."

"What?!" Naruto's shot went wild and he glanced around the bar to make sure no one was close enough to overhear the conversation. One of the side benefits of hanging out with Gaara was that people tended to give them space. There was no one within earshot.

"Shit, Gaara! What are you even talking about? You're just trying to distract me so I'd miss."

Gaara lifted a brow. "I can't help it if you lose focus easily. Are you going to answer the question?"

Naruto shrugged, chewing his lip as he looked off to the side.

"Ok, so that's a yes," Gaara walked around to the other side of the table to line up his shot. "Was it just a one-time thing? I had the sense Itachi was calling me for a reason. He doesn't usually enquire into the sex life of his board members."

Naruto's skewer of chicken froze midway to his mouth. "Itachi… called you about… me and Sasuke?"

Gaara made his shot, winning the first game. "He made it seem like it was about some part of the annual report. But at the end of the call, he asked me if I'd enjoyed the party they'd hosted before the New Year.""

Naruto paused. Surely most hosts asked that of their guests? "Well… that seems harmless."

Gaara narrowed his eyes at Naruto. "Nothing Itachi says is ever harmless. I thought you knew the man."

Naruto shifted, not disagreeing, but still not seeing how what Itachi said stacked up to anything other than just being polite.

"Well… what did you say to him?"

Gaara walked over to his food, taking a bite and chewing slowly before answering. "I thanked him for his hospitality. He asked if I had found this party more enjoyable than the one's his family had hosted before moving to Konoha."

Naruto tried to understand how this was interesting as he set up the next game. "So?"

Gaara looked up from the table and glared at Naruto. "So why the fuck would Itachi ask me an inane question like that? What do you think he was trying to find out?"

Naruto sighed. "I don't know… maybe he wants to get in your pants."

Gaara smirked, leaning back against the pool table in a way that drew attention to his lean body. "Maybe he does. But what he asked was if I had any 'old friends' in the area."

The lightbulb finally went on. Naruto knew that people had seen him together with Gaara, so he supposed it wasn't surprising that Itachi had noticed it a well. "So he was trying… to see… if you knew me before the party?"

"I think it was clear to everyone there that we knew each other before the party, given you shouted my name across the room before you'd even had a chance to talk to me."

Naruto laughed as he walked back over to get his cue and grab another bite of food. "Hey, you were the only friendly face in that whole fucking up-tight mansion. Of course I was excited to see you!"

Gaara ignored the unlikelihood of anyone thinking his face was 'friendly'.

"I told Itachi that I'd run into a friend," Gaara's lips twitched into an almost invisible smirk. "And he asked if I'd enjoyed his library."

Naruto choked on his bite of chicken. Had Sasuke told Itachi about what happened in the library? Had someone overheard them? But nothing had really happened. Either with Gaara or Sasuke.

"So… what was he really asking?"

"He wanted to find out if we were involved."

"Oh," Naruto thought about that for a moment. He was used to people wondering about their relationship, since Naruto was in general pretty physically demonstrative, and Gaara had yet to actually kill him for it. But the question was why someone like Itachi would care. And, unfortunately, Naruto was pretty sure he knew the answer. Gaara was right. So much for keeping it hidden from Sasuke's brother. Though he wondered how Itachi had found out. The one time Itachi had swung by unexpectedly when Naruto was there, he'd hidden in Sasuke's closet until the man left. He was pretty sure they hadn't been caught. And they never met outside Sasuke's place.

How had Itachi figured it out?

Naruto wasn't focusing, and his break didn't put anything in, leaving the table open for Gaara.

"So… you told Itachi we'd been boning for years, then?" Naruto joked, hoping that this was not going to be an issue for Sasuke. Or that Itachi wouldn't sic their crazy uncles on him.

Gaara missed his shot and handed Naruto the cue with a small growl. Served him right for playing these games about his conversation with Itachi.

"No, seriously. What did you tell him?" Naruto asked, not looking up from the table. "Seven ball, corner pocket," Naruto said, leaning over and lining up his shot. A sharp, fluid move had the ball dropping in its designated hole. He could feel Gaara's stare on him as he shifted around to line up his next shot.

Gaara shrugged, a slightly annoyed look passing over his face as Naruto made the shot. He was not sleeping on that fucking couch again.

"I told him it was none of his business unless he was planning on asking me out himself."

"Holy fucking shit, Gaara! What did he say?!" All of his potential drama with crazy Uchiha uncles flew out the window at the actual possibility of Itachi asking Gaara out.

But Gaara just smirked, and didn't answer directly. "In the end, he seemed to come away with the impression that you and I had not… 'been boning for years' as you put it. And he seemed pleased with that."

He supposed not having Itachi pissed at him was always a good thing. Did that mean… he approved? Naruto wasn't going to assume anything. For all Naruto knew, Itachi was trying to get into Gaara's pants, and this had nothing to do with him. But he would text Sasuke and give him the heads up in any case that Itachi was at minimum suspicious.

He focused on making the next two shots, feeling Gaara's eyes boring into his back.

"So? Are you actually seeing Sasuke or was it just a onetime thing?"

"Sasuke and I have hooked up a few times over the past month. When he's in town. He travels a lot, though."

Gaara paused and looked over at Naruto, clearly trying to read where Naruto was on this.

"So… it's still just casual?" Gaara asked skeptically. Itachi didn't usually waste his time on things that didn't matter.

Naruto shifted and he rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. "Yeah. Nothing's changed about the 'rules of engagement'. We're just messing around."

"Hm," Gaara said with a slight frown, noticing the slight bitter edge to Naruto's voice at the statement. He lined up his final shot and won the game, leaning back against the side table as he finally started eating his food. He watched as Naruto placed the balls back in the rack to set up the next game.

"He told you he doesn't date. You're not expecting things from him, are you?"

"I'm not an idiot, Sabaku," Naruto growled. He walked over to break, trying to shut out Gaara's question along with the reality it implied.

Gaara raised a hairless brow. Naruto only called him by his last name when he was upset about something. "So you are expecting things."

"No. I'm not. I'm sticking to his fucking rules. We only see each other at his place, and it's always for sex. Sometimes we talk but… yeah. It's just sex." Naruto put considerable force into his break shot, sending two solids in and spreading the remaining balls across the table.

Gaara decided not to remark on the unnecessary show of force.

"So… how long is this going to run? If it's only sex." They both knew Naruto wasn't built that way. He wouldn't settle for a long time 'just fucking' relationship.

Naruto took a long drink of his beer before he lined up his next shot. Images of his nights with Sasuke flashed through his mind. The thought of walking away made him feel almost queasy. But Gaara was right. He knew he probably should be thinking about it. Get himself ready for the inevitable. "I don't know. It's fine for now."

Gaara didn't need to say anything to get his skepticism across. His clear green eyes said it all. Which was why Naruto was avoiding looking at him, keeping his gaze fixed on the pool table.

"Has Sasori contacted you at all?"

The writer's head snapped up at the shift in topic. "I'm not going to get back with Sasori just because things aren't going anywhere with Sasuke."

"I know. That's not what I asked you."

Naruto blew out a breath. "No. But I'm gone a lot of nights. So if he stopped by, I wouldn't know. He doesn't have my new number. And he knows better than to show up at my work."

Their attention was drawn to a man who was walking toward them, an extra drink in his hand. He stopped as Gaara fixed him with a steady, expressionless stare… what Naruto called Gaara's 'back the fuck off' look. The man's eyes widened slightly before he abruptly turned around, walking back the way he came. Naruto held back a snicker. He'd never know if the drink had been meant for him or for Gaara, but he never had to worry about being harassed when they went out together.

He shifted his focus back to the game. The stakes were high, and he didn't want to lose. He also didn't want to think about the situation with Sasuke or Sasori right now. He didn't want to be reminded of the reality of what it really was. He focused instead on clearing the table, making the score now two to one.

"I don't know why you're so worried about this, anyway. I'm a big boy. I learned from my last mistake," Naruto said finally to his friend.

Gaara set up the next game, then proceeded to sink three shots in a row.

"I just don't want you to get in too deep with someone who won't meet you halfway," Gaara chalked up his stick before taking his next shot. "And even if it's just sex, he seems like a pretty vanilla guy. Just make sure it's worth it. Especially if Itachi is going into 'protective older brother' mode."

Naruto was not going to get into a discussion about whether Sasuke was 'too vanilla' or not. "I'm playing by Sasuke's own rules, so I doubt Itachi will have a problem with it. The boundaries he set are good for me, too. It doesn't cross over into my work or my friends… it's separate. No entanglements. So it's good for now. It's intense and different from how it was with Sasori."

Gaara looked at Naruto for a moment, then snorted softly. "God, you let him top, didn't you?"

Naruto choked on his beer.

"I am not talking about this with you. You're just trying to win so you don't have to sleep on the couch this time," Naruto said before getting down to the business of winning the bet.

"Why don't you just buy a decent goddamn couch?" Gaara growled.

"Because then it wouldn't be as fun to make my millionaire asshole friend sleep on it," Naruto grinned.


Two days later, Naruto was alone in his office.  It was already after midnight.  He hadn't seen Sasuke in a few days, but given Naruto's workload, that fact wouldn't have changed even if his lover had been in town.

He laid his head down on his desk, trying to decide if panic or exhaustion was winning. They had to submit their financial filings to the government by end of day tomorrow or their publishing and licensing permits would not be renewed.

Shikamaru had always handled this side of the business, but he'd come down with the flu yesterday and was still running a fever of about 104. And of course, Shikamaru being Shikamaru hadn't even started on the paperwork. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, because the guy was a freaking genius and he would have been able to finish it in a couple of hours.

But that wasn't going to happen with him sick as a dog.

Naruto had told him not to worry, that he would handle this and it would be fine.

But ten minutes into trying to figure out what language the fucking form was written in and Naruto knew he was screwed. Six hours later, he wasn't any better off. He took a deep breath. Gaara was in China for some meeting and wouldn't be back in the country until the next evening, so he couldn't use the 'call a friend' option on this one. No one else in the office had much of a business background outside of Shikamaru.

Naruto looked at the forms, his eyes blearily trying to figure out what the fuck the first page was even asking him for. He didn't know the difference between EBIT and EBITDA, and had no idea what the difference between an asset a credit and a liability were. At least, not beyond the vaguest sense of the words. Certainly not enough to actually pull a monetary value out of his ass for them.

"Fuck."

He thumped his head back down at the desk. Maybe if he took a break, things would start to make sense. He looked at his watch and realized that he had ten minutes before the coffee shop across the street closed for the night.

He stood, grabbing his wallet, not bothering with his phone. He'd get a good cup of coffee, and things would make more sense. He hoped. He'd told Shikamaru he'd handle it, and he would fucking handle it.

He walked across the street, realizing he'd forgotten his jacket. But the cold was waking him up, and he'd have hot coffee soon. He walked into the coffee shop, glad he hadn't gotten there too late.

"Can I help you?" the barista didn't recognize Naruto, since she wasn't the one who worked mornings when he was usually in.

"Yeah. I'd like a latte with extra milk and sugar," he said, pulling out his wallet.

"Still drinking coffee like a child, I see."

Naruto spun around at the familiar voice, and a sense of deja vu. He couldn't help the laugh that spilled out. "Bastard. I thought you were out of town?"

"Just got back. I was heading up to my apartment when I saw you walk into the coffee shop. I thought you usually didn't drink coffee at night."

Naruto scrubbed his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Yeah. I don't, but I won't be falling asleep any time soon, so I figured what the hell."

Sasuke took in the tired, stressed lines on Naruto's usually humor-filled face. "Something wrong?"

Naruto glanced at the small suitcase that Sasuke was pulling. Obviously, he had just gotten back from the airport. It was almost one o'clock in the morning. The guy must be exhausted. And Naruto knew he wouldn't have time to fool around tonight.

"Yeah, just business stuff. Shikamaru's sick and we have some filings due and… you know how it is." Naruto waved his hand vaguely, then turned to get his cup from the barista.

"Sir, are you going to place an order? We're closing now," the woman said politely to Sasuke.

"No, I'm fine," Sasuke looked back at Naruto. "What kind of filings?"

Naruto rubbed the back of his head, not wanting to make a big deal about it. Given the kind of financial shit Sasuke had to do every day, he was pretty sure this was child's play. "Just some tax filing stuff but we also have to renew our permit as a media company and it asks for all kinds of stuff about our circulation numbers and…" Naruto trailed off. "Anyway, the deadline for filing is midnight tomorrow and I told Shika I'd handle it. So I'm going to be pulling a late night. But it was good seeing you. Maybe we can catch up later in the week."

Naruto turned and started walking towards the exit. Sasuke grabbed his suitcase, falling into step with the blond. "I have a lot of experience on the finance side of things. Need any help?"

Naruto bit his lip, more tempted than he wanted to be. Sasuke's offer seemed sincere but it went beyond the expectations of 'sex friends' or whatever they were. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm sure you have better things to do after a long trip than help me out. I mean… I'm pretty tired so I probably won't be very good company."

Naruto thought he was being subtle, but Sasuke shot him an irritated look. "I'm not expecting sex, Dobe. And I wouldn't offer if I didn't want to do it. You should know by now I don't do things just to be nice."

Naruto snorted a laugh at the truthfulness of that last statement. "Well, if you have even like… ten minutes to just tell me what some of the fucking questions mean on these things, it would be awesome. Shika's the one with who handles the finance side of The Daily Ramen, so I'm a little bit over my head on this shit."

Sasuke smirked. "Hn. Somehow that doesn't surprise me, dumbass."

"Asshole."

"So are we going to your office then?"

"... yes."

Naruto took a few steps before turning back to look at Sasuke. "And... thanks."

"Hn."


They walked across the street and Naruto brought Sasuke up to his office. It was not new, shiny or high end like Uchiha Financial, but it was filled with papers and desks, the white boards covered with half-formed ideas. Sasuke looked around, honestly curious about Naruto's workplace. It had a more creative feel than his own, but he supposed that made sense.

"We don't have to worry about anyone coming in at this hour," Naruto said.

Sasuke realized that the thought of being 'caught' hadn't even crossed his mind. Which was… not like him.

"So, which office is yours?" Sasuke asked, deciding to deal with that mental slip later.

Naruto slanted a glance at him, trying to tell if Sasuke were being sarcastic, but the businessman seemed simply curious.

"This one," Naruto walked through the doorway, turning the lights on as he walked over to his desk. Which was an avalanche-waiting-to-happen of papers piled up in random stacks.

Sasuke arched a brow at the sight.

"What, didn't you ever hear that a messy desk is a sign of genius?"

Sasuke snorted. "More like proof of disorganization. No wonder you can't do the filings. How do you ever even find anything in this mess?"

Naruto rolled his eyes. "I know where it all is."

As if to prove his point, he reached into the middle of a seemingly random pile of papers and pulled out a thick form. "This is the main one that I am having trouble with. It is the financial statement for the business, and we need that to renew our license and permits. But I don't even know what half these terms mean."

Sasuke took the papers from Naruto's hands, flipping through them quickly. "This is all pretty basic stuff. Where do you keep your financial data?"

Naruto would have been more offended by Sasuke's arrogance on the topic if he weren't so grateful to have someone who knew what they were doing help him.

"We have most of it in Excel. Some in Office Books."

Sasuke looked at him incredulously. "You run your business off… Excel?"

"Yeah, and amazingly I've never lost half a billion dollars, even without a fancy system to handle it all for me."

"I didn't lose -" Sasuke snapped his lips shut, deciding not to rise any further to the bait. Naruto pulled up a file on his laptop and handed it to Sasuke.

"This is most of it. Shika set this up to track all of the money stuff."

Sasuke snickered at Naruto's 'technical term'.

"But he didn't use any of the standard terms that they use here, so I have no idea how to connect what's here to what they're asking for."

Sasuke took the laptop and flipped through, his eyebrows raising slightly as he saw the way Naruto's business partner had laid it all out. It was remarkably clear and concise. Much more sophisticated than he would have expected. His estimation of the man rose further.

"Do you need me to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement before I look through this?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto looked at him blankly.

"A paper that says I won't tell anyone else about your financial situation or details about your business strategy. Standard accounting procedure when you have someone from the outside look at your books."

"I don't think that's necessary. I mean… only a crazy person invests in newspapers these days. Plus, I trust you. Given the size of your business, I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't bother to engage in corporate espionage with a niche newspaper."

Sasuke smirked. "So you admit that mine is bigger than yours?"

"Only in dollar signs, asshole."

Sasuke continued to look through the spreadsheet that Naruto had given him. He couldn't imagine ever just letting someone walk in and look through the financial details of his company. But as he looked over the numbers, he couldn't help but be a little impressed. Naruto wasn't lying when he said no one went into the newspaper business anymore. It was pretty much a dying industry, but Naruto's company was thriving. Sasuke flicked a glance at the man sitting beside him, then back at the form.

"Most of this is already calculated. Here. Let me show you." He leaned over and explained to Naruto what the form was asking for, and how Shikamaru had calculated it in his sheets.

Within half an hour, they had finished the entire thing. Naruto nearly sagged in relief.

"Holy, shit, Sasuke. You rock at this stuff. You'd think you like… owned a huge finance company or something."

Sasuke chuckled, then stretched. "So, you're all set then?"

"Yeah. The other stuff that is more about the actual business I know how to answer," Naruto stood, suddenly feeling a bit awkward. Sasuke was reaching for the handle of his suitcase. It was the first time they would have gotten together and… not had sex.

"So… I'll see you later this week?" Naruto asked.

"Yeah. I have meetings all day tomorrow, but the next day looks good."

"Cool, just," Naruto walked over and pulled Sasuke in for a quick, hard kiss, the tension in his body relaxing as he took in the familiar smell of his lover before releasing him and stepping back. "Thanks. Really."

"Hn," Sasuke left the office, the door closing softly behind him.

He sat down, his gaze resting on where Sasuke had stood a moment ago. A grin slowly forming on his lips. He picked up the pen, humming to himself as he finished the rest of the forms.


to be continued….

Credits: Dumbass of the day nominated by Saku-Ann. Rock Lee's story suggested by Freya_fate. Pick-up lines (so many to choose from… all equally bad LOL) from AmberWarrior, Skipperdudette, and Matsurika. And Shikamaru's story was again, TRUE.

Next chapter - will be some drama.

Chapter Text

WARNING: HARD YAOI THIS CHAPTER 17+. And some drama. And Itachi being Itachi.

Author's note: This is a monster chapter and I don't know why it is so freaking long. Except that there is sex, which always makes things longer. *shrugs*  Thanks to Mykko_chan for approving the sexting scene.  :-)


The Daily Ramen, March 27

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

News analysts and political junkies tried to compile a list of 'the dumbest tweets' of the past 5 years of political figures. Unfortunately, they were not prepared for the sheer volume of material that they would have to work with. The size of their search nearly broke the internet as Terabytes of data showing the stupidity of our global leaders crashed the first six systems that they tried to build to analyze this. Content ranged from inappropriate sharing of their personal lives, stupid mis-statements, gross inaccuracy of basic facts and of course the large volume of sex scandals. The current projection is that it will take five years to sort through the massive data set before a 'top 100 list' can be complied. Of course, the rate at which our politicians keep adding to the pile of stupidity might make this project impossible to ever complete. But at least I have an excuse for sleeping through the next election, given the choice of candidates.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local man feels threatened by the latest scientific discovery that shows that rats, in fact, can dream about the future and things they want to achieve. "I mean… it's just one more way that they're taking away what differentiates us from lower animals. What next? Animals that are able to be in a monogamous relationship? What? Wolves do that? Fuck! I want my supremacy back!" The man stalked off and was unavailable for further comment.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

You have to choose a proper location for your PDAs. Even if you are 'caught up in the moment' you need to be aware of your surroundings. There was a young couple who had been making eyes at a local skate park, and finally decided to do something about it. They stopped in the middle of the path and began seriously sucking face. It was going pretty well, actually, with their helmets falling to the side and all. But of course they weren't the only skaters in the park. Or on the path. And a twelve-year-old who was trying to get to the ramp simply skated right between them, shoving them apart saying 'get a room' before popping up onto the railing and sliding down to the terrain park. It really killed the moment when they both landed on their butts in the dirt. I give them a 6 for passion, but a 3 for location selection.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Ok, I admit I am a fan of a girl in tight jeans. But dude, there does come a point when they're just too tight. A 35-year-old woman suffered severe nerve damage after wearing her 'skinny jeans' to help a friend move. Walking home, her legs became numb and she collapsed, unable to move for several hours before finally being taken to a hospital. After four days on IV, neurologists were able to confirm there was no permanent nerve damage, but it was a close call. Follow my friend's basic rule of thumb, ladies. If you have to bounce it more than twice to get in, then they're too tight. It might be a nice ass, but still earned the dumbass award.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the rabbits: Either stop taking your dating advice from Cosmo, or stop complaining that people like you only for sex. My dragons: you will find your job search much more fruitful if you are less honest about your hobbies/interest. Listing out 'hard core bondage and writing fanfic porn' is not winning you any jobs. Though the head of HR of the last place you applied to did take note of your phone number. To the Oxen: You really should have read up on the 'no corporal punishment' philosophy in schools before picking up that schoolteacher at the bar, taking them home and demanding to be spanked.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

In a youthful attempt to emulate their role models in the MLB, a local high school baseball team threatens to move schools if new stadium is not built. "We've realized that the physical skills are only a small part of what it takes to make big money in the Major League," a very youthful fifteen-year-old boy stated, grinning widely. "You also need to know how to hold the fans hostage to get better leverage against the owners and get a better cut!" While the sentiment is less than youthful, the enthusiasm was unfeigned! Clearly, we can look forward to a continuation of the 'love of the game' that has become such a large part of our sporting culture! Now! I must go and threaten my bosses to pay me more or I will relocate my column to another part of the internet! [Rock Lee's column will continue here, in its regular location. At his regular price. - "The bosses"]


-xXx-

Sasuke boarded the plane, settling into his first class seat. So far, the seat next to him was empty, and he hoped it stayed that way. The eleven hour, forty minute flight from Paris to Tokyo was going to be long enough without someone annoying him trying to make idle conversation. Or worse, snoring.

"Champagne or orange juice, sir?" a pretty flight attendant leaned towards him, extending a tray of drink options. Sasuke chose the champagne. He could finally relax now that his four day trip was coming to an end. He'd be back in Konoha by four pm, local time. He was annoyed that he wouldn't be able to see Naruto. The blond would be at work, and then Sasuke had been invited to a dinner party the Mayor was throwing, and Itachi had insisted he attend.

Sasuke shifted back in his seat. He'd gotten even worse sleep than usual on this trip. The hotel rooms were always over-air conditioned and he kept waking up freezing. He told himself it was not connected to the fact that he'd grown accustomed to sleeping with Naruto.

An announcement came on letting the passengers know that the airplane's wi-fi had been turned on. Sasuke switched his phone to airplane mode, then connected to the wi-fi. He sipped his champagne as he skimmed his work emails, but nothing was on fire enough that he needed to deal with it right then.

Knowing that there was a good chance Naruto wouldn't be awake to reply, Sasuke decided to shoot a text off anyway.

Just got on my flight back to Japan.

He was surprised when he got a note back almost immediately.

How long's the flight?

About 12 hours

That sucks. You have to be stuck in a suit that whole time?

Sasuke chuckled. As if.

No. I sleep on the flights. So I dress accordingly.

There was a slight pause. Then.

So right now I'm imagining you naked with a sheet pulled around you. I assume you don't sleep in the raw when you travel, though?

Sasuke shifted his legs slightly as he reclined his seat. Naruto was just joking around, but it had been four days since they'd had sex, and his body had gotten used to much more frequency than that.

Idiot. I'm wearing sweatpants and a Tshirt

Is anyone sitting next to you?

If Sasuke had been any less tired, that should have signaled what Naruto was about to do, but he wasn't so he simply typed back:

No.

I bet you're in first class. Do the seats fold all the way flat?

Yes. Since most of the businessmen sleep on the flight it's basically a requirement.

Sasuke idly picked up the menu, trying to decide if it was worth staying awake to eat or if he should just sleep. He was fucking exhausted, but he hadn't had time to eat dinner between his last meeting and having to board the plane.

His phone buzzed, and he saw it was another text from Naruto.

Hmmm… I've never flown first class. Or business class. Must be fun.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. The novelty of flying first class had worn off by his tenth flight. Now it was just a slightly uncomfortable bed with mediocre food.

Not really. But at least it's a chance to sleep. After the past four days I need it.

Stressful trip?

Sasuke snorted

Hectic. And as soon as I land, Itachi has me booked at some dinner meeting.

That sucks.

Sasuke leaned down to remove his shoes, deciding he would sleep on the flight. He heard his phone chime again.

Maybe I can help you with some of that stress

Sasuke blinked, his tired brain taking a moment to catch up with what Naruto was suggesting. But the newspaper man's next text made it pretty clear.

You might want to get the blanket out

Sasuke felt his pulse pick up a bit at the unexpected change in direction of their conversation, and his tongue ran over his lower lip, which was feeling suddenly very dry. A flight attendant walked past, picking up the empty wine glass from the passenger across the aisle from him.

Idiot. I'm on a plane full of people

Chicken? It's not like they're going to be watching you. They're all either going to sleep or watch movies I bet

Sasuke glanced around, but of course Naruto was correct. His phone buzzed again before he had a chance to reply.

So just lean back in your fancy seat and relax

Sasuke just looked at his phone, considering things. It wasn't like Naruto was really going to get him that turned on just by texting him. He supposed it would be entertaining to see what the writer came up with.

You sound like my flight attendant so far, Dobe

Fuck you. I'm way hotter than your flight attendant. Though it would be pretty kinky if I were your attendant. Then I'd have an excuse to give you 'full service'

Very original. I can hardly contain myself

Wow. You're a bastard even while sexting. Whatever. Do you have your blanket out?

No. I'm pretty sure I will be fine without it

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sasuke arched an eyebrow

Hn. So far it's been pretty boring.

Ass. That's just because you're so unimaginative.

Sasuke felt his lips twitch.

Ok, what am I supposed to be imagining?

Well, if I WERE your flight attendant, I'd want to get you alone... maybe spill a drink on your lap so I'd have an excuse to bring you back to the kitchen and have my way with you. But you're kind of a frigid bastard, so I'd want to be sure you weren't going to rip my dick off first. I'd start slow, by telling you to let me fix your blanket for you. I'd take your blanket out, and open it then lay it over your lap, but I'd let my fingers brush just above the waistband of your pants as I smoothed it out to test the waters

Sasuke hesitated only a second before replying

I'd just raise an eyebrow to see if you were finished

Hm, ok, so I'd take that as encouragement, and brush my hand down over your hip to make my intentions a little more clear

Is that all you're going to do?

Sasuke was a little surprised by his own question, but he waited to see what Naruto would do next.

No, I definitely have plans for you. I'd slide my hand down from your hip and slip it beneath the blanket so no one could see, and I'd slide it down over the front of your sweatpants. I'd palm your dick, wanting to see if I can get you hard on a plane full of people. I'd watch your eyes, waiting to see if I can break that cold, aloof mask you always wear when other people are around.

Sasuke's legs shifted wider apart without him even thinking about it. He felt a tingle of arousal at the thought of Naruto palming him through his soft sweatpants, not having to try very hard to remember exactly what Naruto's hand on his erection felt like.

Dobe, won't people notice a flight attendant bending over the same passenger for that long?

I'd just say something about checking to see what was wrong with your seat's reclining mechanism

You've clearly thought about this, haven't you?

What, you've never had a fantasy about a hot flight attendant 'servicing' you?

What makes you think I haven't had the real thing?

So you're a member of the mile-high club?

Sasuke rolled his eyes at the question. But he found himself replying.

Does that fulfill your fantasy?

haha, maybe someday I'll tell what my fantasies are, but they are definitely not that simple

Sasuke blinked. That sounded… interesting. He was about to ask Naruto what he meant when his phone buzzed again.

But right now, I'm thinking about how you look in your sweatpants, the way they ride low on your hips. I especially love how easy it is for me to slip them off you. Like I did after breakfast the morning you left. Do you remember?

Sasuke definitely remembered. Naruto was always amazing at giving head… the man definitely loved to use his mouth and knew how to do it. But that morning had been truly phenomenal. Sasuke had gotten a call from his office that his whole schedule was being turned upside-down because three new companies had been put on his list of possible investments to assess and he had been annoyed and stressed at the last minute changes less than three hours before he left on his flight. Which was now going to be headed to an entirely different continent than he had originally planned.

Yes, Sasuke found himself replying, his mind already thinking back to that morning where they had been sitting at his kitchen table together, just finishing breakfast.

You were so stressed. I figured you needed to stop thinking for a little while.

Sasuke snorted.

You just like having me at your mercy.

Maybe. But only because I know you need to relax and let go, and this is the fastest way to make you stop thinking. Remember how it felt?

Oh, yes. Sasuke remembered. He had, in fact, an annoyingly good memory, the details of which had given him more than one overly heated dream while he'd been gone on this trip only to wake up painfully hard and alone.

On the morning he'd left, Naruto had slipped out of his chair and knelt between Sasuke's legs under the kitchen table.

I slid my hands up the insides of your thighs and pushed your legs apart. You were wearing sweatpants then, too.

Sasuke felt a frisson of remembered heat coil through his lower abdomen. He could feel Naruto's hands on his sensitive inner thighs. And the anticipation of what Naruto had obviously decided as his 'stress relief'.

You looked down at me with that annoyed look you get. It was hot as hell.

Sasuke's lips twitched

So you try to annoy me because it turns you on?

Naruto replied almost immediately.

Of course. And don't tell me it doesn't turn you on as well. I remember the grocery store. And the alley behind the charity event.

Hn.

haha, that's what you said when I slid my hand over the front of your pants, too. But my favorite sounds were the ones you made later.

Sasuke was trying hard not to think about it on the plane. Naruto was better at this than he had expected. Sasuke couldn't help but play along as he typed his reply.

Oh?

Pft. As if you don't know. But I don't mind spelling it out for you. When I started palming you through your sweatpants, you were able to keep pretty quiet, even though I could feel you getting hard.

Sasuke's body remembered, too, and he felt his cock slowly begin to lengthen as he recalled with perfect clarity the scene Naruto was describing.

But when I slid my hand inside the waistband of your sweatpants, you let out a little breath. Your face was still closed off and slightly annoyed, but your eyes closed part way, and you licked your lower lip. That's always your first tell when you're getting turned on

Unconsciously, Sasuke's tongue slid over his lower lip.

When I wrapped my fingers around your cock, you spread your legs wider to give me better access. I leaned in, pulling your pants down far enough that I could pull you all the way out. You were already so hard. You always get so hard so fast. It's such a turn-on.

Sasuke's hand tightened on the phone, Naruto's words already proving true. How was Naruto able to make him respond like this every fucking time?

A flight attendant appeared at his shoulder, and Sasuke flinched, quickly moving his arm over to cover his forming problem, his phone face down in his lap in case the woman was nosey about what he was reading.

"Sir, did you decide what you wanted for dinner this evening?"

Sasuke's mind blanked as he tried to remember the options from the menu she'd given him earlier to look at. For once his perfect memory failed him. "I'll… um… have the fish."

Fish was usually an option, right? Luckily, his guess had been correct and the woman simply smiled and nodded.

"Very good. And for dessert?"

"Nothing," he gritted out. He heard his phone buzz and nearly groaned at the vibration against his cock when it went off.

The flight attendant gave him a curious look, but went on to the next passenger when he said nothing further.

He was going to completely kill Naruto when he got back. Of course, it didn't stop him from continuing to read what Naruto had written while he was talking to the woman.

But what I love best is the expression on your face when I blow you. You fist your fingers in my hair, and your head falls back and your muscles clench when I swirl my tongue around your head.

Sasuke's dick was now fully hard, and he could feel a dampness beginning to form on the fabric of his sweatpants where they brushed against his leaking head. He never wore underwear when he slept, so he hadn't put any on when he'd headed for his flight since he'd planned on sleeping. At least his sweats were black so the damp spot wouldn't show as much.

Or when I suck your balls

Sasuke's hips flexed reflexively at that. Naruto had the most amazing thing he did with his tongue while he was sucking his balls, pressing the tip of it along the line between them and then...

I love how you try to keep your hips still, but always end up fucking my mouth and nearly pulling my hair out when I swallow around you.

Sasuke decided to open his blanket before he embarrassed himself. He ripped the plastic, grateful for an entirely new reason that the blankets in first class were thicker than the ones in coach.

Are you hard, Sasuke?

Sasuke clenched his jaw, then punched out his reply.

If you make me cum on the plane and spend the next eleven hours with sticky pants, I will kill you.

Sasuke breathed out slowly, trying to resist the urge to slip his hand under the fabric of the blanket and into the waistband of his sweatpants and grab his aching cock. He wasn't sure what would be worse at this point… if the writer made him cum… or if he just left him hard when there would be no chance for him to relieve himself until he landed. He was not going to go and jerk off in the tiny airplane bathroom with the flight attendant standing right outside the thin walls.

He had never felt so sexually frustrated in his life. All the images of what he would do with Naruto when he finally got him alone were flooding through him, his entire body clenched with lust.

Naruto's next taunt didn't help things.

Too bad for you we both have to work the night you get back.

Sasuke could almost see the wicked glint in Naruto's blue eyes when he'd sent the text. He closed his eyes, letting his head fall back. He was so hard it was painful. All he could think about was being back in his apartment and fucking Naruto until they both passed out.

Finally he had himself under control enough to type back.

You are going to pay for this when I get back

Promises, promises. You're the one who said it was boring

Fuck you.

Yeah, that's what we were just talking about.

Sasuke glanced to the side. The person across the aisle from him was sleeping. He reclined his seat further, adjusting the blanket.

So do you want me to stop?

"Fuck it," Sasuke hissed as he slowly slid his left hand down under the blanket, hesitating a moment as his fingers dipped under the soft waistband of his sweatpants before finally giving in and slipping his hand beneath them, closing on his rock-hard erection. He still had the hot face towel they'd handed out just after take-off. At least he'd be able to clean himself up. Thank god they sterilized those things.

With his other hand, he awkwardly typed back.

No.

He hoped they'd be finished before the flight attendant brought his food because there was no way his tray table would fit comfortably over his lap at this point.


Sasuke walked into the formal ballroom, his eyes scanning the crowd for his brother. If he was going to show up and 'do the pretty', he at least wanted to be sure he got credit for it from the asshole who was making him attend less than three hours after his flight landed. He'd barely had time to get to his place, shower and get dressed.

He caught sight of the blonde hair of the mayor, and was surprised to see another head of bright blond hair next to her. Sasuke recognized that hair.

What the fuck is Naruto doing at a black tie dinner for the Mayor?

As far as he knew, Naruto's family wasn't particularly rich, nor politically connected.

He walked closer and was able to see Mayor Tsunade's arm around Naruto's shoulders as she laughed at something he said. It was only the second time he'd seen Naruto in formal dress, and he had to admit that the blond carried it off rather well. The mischievous smirk that Naruto sent her had Sasuke remembering the text exchange that he'd had with the young writer on his flight earlier. He was pretty damn sure that Naruto had had a similar smirk when he'd make Sasuke actually cum on a plane full of people.

He shut off that line of thinking before his body could begin to respond to it.

Naruto hadn't noticed him yet, and Sasuke took the opportunity to study the blond… noticing the way eyes tended to gravitate to him… the way people seemed to respond almost magnetically to his laughter and bright blue eyes. It made him feel slightly better that he wasn't the only one, but it also annoyed him that he couldn't go over there and make it clear that Naruto was going home with him tonight, not anyone else.

The dark-haired woman from Naruto's office... Hinata, he remembered Sakura saying her name… was standing next to him, her deep blue dress cut to make the most of her rather impressive figure. A man who was clearly a blood relative of hers stood beside her, frowning slightly when Naruto said something that made her blush a vivid red as she laughed.

He thought briefly about going over to them, but of course he couldn't since they weren't supposed to know each other very well and he didn't know anyone else in the group. It was ironic that he'd spent the last four restless nights thinking about the writer, and now he was finally in the same room as him and couldn't so much as speak to him.

A hand fell on his shoulder, startling him.

"I thought you weren't interested in anyone, Otouto?" Itachi's mocking amusement filled the deep voice.

Sasuke forced his eyes away from Naruto, looking at his brother with just a raised eyebrow, his face set in the characteristic Uchiha mask. "I was merely surprised to see the Mayor acting so familiar with someone. Usually she is rather formal."

The look in Itachi's eyes said he didn't believe Sasuke for a minute. "I think Naruto is quite good at getting stiff, formal people to relax. But I'm quite sure you would know much more about that than I would."

Sasuke fought to keep his face impassive. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Hn," Itachi said, his voice rich with amusement. He'd had no idea that the blond would be here, and had been extremely amused by the shocked expression on Sasuke's face when he'd walked in and seen Naruto. The shock was quickly replaced by amusement, lust, and possessiveness in such rapid succession that Itachi had almost snickered. It was unusual for his little brother to reveal so much emotion.

It almost made up for the fact that Itachi had been thwarted from having any actual proof that his little brother was involved in a torrid affair with the attractive newspaperman. Sasuke was careful, he'd give him that much. But Sasuke's expression had been enough to fully cement in Itachi's mind that there was more than just a casual affair going on between the two men.

Itachi smirked. He took a glass of red wine from a passing server, savoring the rich flavor as he sipped. He expected the evening to be highly entertaining.

There was nothing he liked better than messing with his little brother. Except when he got to watch his little brother mess with himself. He took another sip of his wine as he turned to face Sasuke.

"I think it's time for us to go and pay our respects to the mayor. Don't you?"


Naruto was having a good time. He usually hated the black-tie affairs that his godmother hosted, but since she was the mayor, he knew it was just part of the deal with being in politics. She didn't have any children of her own, so Naruto often stood in to showcase her 'family ties'. This event was better than most, though, because Hinata was there (so he had someone to talk with) and Neji was there (so he had someone to irritate).

Hinata was standing next to him as he joked with his godmother. It always amused him to see how intimidated people were of Tsunade. Once you'd seen someone hung over and in their bathrobe, it was hard to find them intimidating.

He looked at his watch and wondered if Sasuke had landed already or not. Not that it mattered, since he knew that the man had some meeting he'd said had to go to. Naruto resisted the urge to check his phone to see if the bastard had texted him. Between Hinata and Tsunade, there was no way he'd be able to read his texts without one of them noticing them. He'd just have to wait until the evening was over.

"Good evening, Mayor Sanin. Thank you for inviting us," a smooth, rich voice reached Naruto's ears, somehow familiar but… Naruto turned to see who had spoken.

Luckily most eyes were latched onto the two ridiculously handsome brothers who had just walked up and no one saw Naruto's eyes widen in shock and slight panic. Except, of course, for the two pair of nearly identical dark eyes that were fixed on him.

Naruto recovered quickly, forcing his eyes to focus only on Itachi. As far as anyone was concerned, Itachi was the brother he knew better and got along with. He knew that Sasuke would be counting on him to not screw this up. He didn't trust himself to even look at Sasuke, knowing that Itachi was watching. He wasn't stupid enough to think he could fool Sasuke's older brother for a minute if he actually interacted with Sasuke right in front of him.

"Thank you for coming, Itachi-san, Sasuke-san," Tsunade said politely. "Have you met my godson, Uzumaki Naruto?" she beamed at Naruto as she slid an arm around his shoulders.

"Yes," Itachi said with a smirk that made the hairs on the back of Naruto's neck stand up on alert. "We met shortly after we arrived in town. Naruto published a few… 'articles' about my brother and myself."

"Brat! You and that newspaper. I can't believe you actually managed to make a living out of being a punk," Tsunade said affectionately as she cuffed him across the back of the head.

Naruto flinched slightly under the light assault, and looked up in time to see amusement flash in Sasuke's eyes before it was quickly masked. Naruto turned to look at Itachi before he accidently responded to Sasuke. "Good to see you again, Itachi. And see… I've been a good boy and not published anything about you since we had our little chat."

Naruto grinned at older Uchiha trying to ignore the sharp look the younger one sent his way.

Itachi's dark eyes gleamed with amusement. "Hm. I seem to recall one or two articles that you failed to run by me."

Naruto snickered, using every ounce of will to not let his attention drift to Sasuke. "Well, I did tell you my philosophy on choosing the subjects of my writing."

Itachi raised his eyebrows, glancing over to where Sasuke was standing with a growing air of annoyance. Evidently his little brother wasn't enjoying being ignored, even though Itachi was fairly sure it was his brother's own ground rules that Naruto was trying to uphold.

"I must compliment you on your self-control," Itachi said cryptically. "It is far better than some others'."

Naruto swallowed as he met Itachi's gaze. There was little doubt in his mind that Itachi knew, just as Gaara had suspected he did. But Itachi seemed… ok with it, so hopefully he wasn't going to make problems for Sasuke. Naruto couldn't help when his gaze briefly shifted to his lover to try to see what he thought about all this, but of course the man's face gave away no clues.

Tsunade laughed. "Self-control isn't something I normally associate with my nephew, Itachi-san. But I am relieved that he hasn't been overly bothersome to you. He has a bit of a reputation in that department."

"I see," Itachi's eyes shone with a wicked amusement that was making Naruto slightly nervous. "Well, I can't speak to Naruto's past actions, but I can say that - with regards to my brother and me - he has been admirably… discreet. Wouldn't you agree, Sasuke?"

Naruto choked and turned it into a cough.

"Actually, I found him to be rather loud and abrasive," Sasuke said, throwing down a challenge and leaving Naruto no choice but to look at the man.

"Well," Naruto replied, feeling a sort of nervous tension swirling in him as the attraction crackled between them. He only hoped that no one else noticed it. He had absolutely no idea how to play this with both Itachi and Hinata watching him. "I guess it just depends on the person I'm with. Itachi is polite, so I guess I just returned the favor. Unlike some other assholes I've run into."

Sasuke's lids slid halfway closed, concealing any emotion that might be displayed there. Fighting was always foreplay between them, and usually by now one of them would have stepped into the other's personal space, upping the ante. But of course, they had to play civilized here.

"I suppose it's good that - even if you have no manners yourself - you are still able to mimic your betters."

Sasuke's tone was almost bored, but Naruto knew better. His fingers itched to rip the buttons of Sasuke's perfectly pressed suit and break his self-control. He could feel heat pooling low in his belly, and he knew he had to end this if he were going to have any chance of not demonstrating just exactly what the nature of his feelings toward Sasuke really were.

He dragged his eyes away from Sasuke, forcing them to focus on Itachi, who had been looking on in amusement.

"And here we have a prime example of why Sasuke has become a staple for the Daily Ramen. I'll let you get to know Hyuuga Neji, here. He's rich and entitled, too, so I'm sure Sasuke will make a new friend." The music changed to a tango, and he turned to Hinata. "Would you like to dance? If I stay any longer I'll probably get myself in trouble with Baa-chan, and my medical insurance isn't that great."

Hinata glanced at Neji, who was glowering next to her, but she nodded anyway and took Naruto's offered hand further annoying her overprotective cousin.

Naruto pulled her out onto the dance floor where the well-dressed guests were elegantly dancing. He could feel a pair of dark eyes and a pair of pale eyes boring into his back, but he knew he had to get away from the brothers before he messed it all up. He didn't understand the annoyance he'd seen in Sasuke's eyes. Weren't they supposed to pretend not to know each other well? Or did it not matter now that Itachi knew?

Naruto figured he'd ask Sasuke about it later. Until Sasuke said otherwise, he'd stick with the original rules.


Itachi watched as Naruto lowered Hinata into an incredibly deep dip, their bodies pressed tightly together. The eyes of all of the non-dancers in the room were latched onto the attractive couple as they seemed to stay just a hair's breadth away from crossing the line from sensual to indecency. Objectively, he could see that they actually were both quite talented, their bodies moving with a fluid grace that only enhanced the subtly erotic nature of the tango.

"I hope he throws out his back," Neji said, scowling into his scotch.

Sasuke gritted his teeth. "She looks like she's going to fall out of her dress."

Itachi leaned back against the wall, grinning maniacally on the inside while his face remained expressionless. He wished he had some popcorn. He could feel the jealousy and frustration coming pouring from his usually emotionless little brother. All because he'd gotten himself trapped in his own rules. He wondered how long it would take Sasuke to realize that Naruto would clearly be more than happy to upgrade their 'sex only' status to that of an actual relationship.

Glancing at Sasuke's face, he briefly considered putting him out of his misery and pointing the obvious out. But it was so much more fun to watch Sasuke standing at the bottom of the hole he'd dug for himself and glare at the walls a bit. Itachi would throw down a rope eventually, but for now his brother had to learn a lesson.


Sasuke was incredibly frustrated.

Aside from their initial 'conversation'. Naruto had only glanced at him twice the entire evening. Twice. And both times were for less than three seconds. They hadn't exchanged a single word.

It annoyed him that the blond seemed to be able to ignore the physical pull between them so completely. Especially since Sasuke felt his eyes drawn again and again to wherever the writer was in the room, his whole body tuned to the other, thrumming with the frustration of being this close and not being able to do anything about the latent desire that had been steadily growing in his body since he'd walked in and found his lover here.

They had been seated for dinner, and the waiters had brought out the first two courses already. Sasuke had barely noticed. He was at a table with Neji and Hinata, though they were sitting one person away from him. He was seated next to an older man who ran one of the larger banks in Konoha, with Itachi on his other side.

Naruto was at the next table with Tsunade and several other people that Sasuke didn't know, and he had to repeatedly force himself to look away from the blond. His mind was only partially on the conversation about foreign exchange rates he was having with the banker.

He noticed Hinata cast a worried glance towards Naruto as she was talking with Neji further down the table.

"... Naruto seems ok," she was saying. "He shrugged it off and said he handled it. But I don't like it. If I had a stalker ex show up at my place in the middle of the night, I would have called the police."

Neji cast a glance at his beautiful cousin. "No. You would call me and I would… take care of him for you."

Hinata gave a small laugh, though she knew Neji was completely serious. "Neji nii-san. One of these days you have to realize I am able to look after myself."

"Hm," was his reply, though his eyes showed he didn't agree.

"But now that Sasori has moved to Konoha, I just hope he leaves Naruto alone. He seemed to be finally happy again and now… I just don't want to see him thrown back into that destructive relationship again."

Neji seemed to be losing interest in the topic of Naruto's love-life, but he humored his cousin. "I thought Naruto was seeing someone? Either way, he's an adult and capable of making his own choices."

Hinata looked over at where Naruto was engaged in an apparently avid conversation with the mayor and her assistant. "I asked him if he was dating someone, but he just shrugged and said it wasn't anything serious." She bit her lip, considering. "I tried setting him up with Utakata, but Naruto didn't seem that interested. I think the publisher who's been in discussions with Naruto about his book could be a good match for him. But Naruto hasn't been talking to me about it. He just grins and tells me not to worry." Hinata let out a small huff.

"There, see? He's already got someone else he can be interested in," Neji waved his hand, brushing aside the annoying subject-matter. "And besides. You can't' really blame him for not wanting to tell you everything given your tendency to notify the entire city of Konoha any time you learn anything sex-related about someone."

Hinata blushed, but she didn't deny the charge.

"You're just jealous because you never have any s-sex." Hinata lifter her chin slightly to compensate for the fact that her childhood stammer had slipped in.

Sasuke tuned out the rest of their conversation as the cousins set to bickering and replied to something the man next to him had said about the instability of Greece devaluing the Euro. But his mind was racing on what Hinata had said.

Naruto's ex had moved back to Konoha? And had come to see him while Sasuke was out of town?

Usually, he didn't care enough about a lover to even wonder if they hooked up with someone else when he was out of town. Though - for matters of hygiene alone - he wasn't interested in having sex with someone who slept around a lot. But it was more for health and convenience reasons. Given the nature of the relationships he permitted, they were never long-term. Exclusivity came with dating, with being in an actual relationship. Which he and Naruto were not.

Possessiveness or jealousy wouldn't make any sense.

No, he wasn't feeling either of those things. But he felt decidedly... off-balance at the thought of Naruto seeing Sasori. He didn't put any weight in the fact that Naruto had characterized their relationship as 'not serious'. Sasuke had said as much to Itachi. It was what they'd agreed to. He didn't even really have the right to ask Naruto about Sasori, but the thought was like a sliver in his finger, not leaving him alone.

He wondered if Naruto would mention it to him when they were alone. Probably not. They talked about work sometimes but… not relationship things. He glanced over again at Naruto, watching the way he lifted his glass of wine, his strong fingers holding the crystal stem nimbly.

"You're staring, Otouto," Itachi's voice came from his side.

Sasuke forced his attention on his wine, finishing his glass with practiced ease.

He had to make it through one more hour of this stupid dinner. Then he would find a way to get Naruto out of there. He only hoped the blond hadn't promised to stay over at his godmother's or something ridiculous. There was no way Sasuke was going to wait until tomorrow to see him alone.


Naruto realized belatedly that trying to keep up with his godmother when she was drinking was a terrible idea. He was feeling well beyond buzzed, but the stress of trying to keep from looking over at Sasuke when he could feel the man's gaze locked on him had taken its toll throughout the seemingly unending evening. Itachi had walked past him just after dinner and murmured cryptically 'be patient'.

Naruto had no idea what that meant, and decided he didn't want to guess with his head spinning from his godmother's sake. He'd hopefully see Sasuke tomorrow when they weren't in a room full of people watching everyone's every move, always looking for gossip.

It was time for him to leave. Hopefully Tsunade wouldn't kill him for ducking out early, but he'd at least stayed through dinner and her speech. It would have to be enough. He was looking for Hinata so he could tell her that he was bailing when a strong hand reached out and pulled him into an alcove that was partially covered by the long drapes of the adjacent bay windows.

Sasuke's body pressed against his as he felt the pale lips moving right next to his ear. "Meet me at my place in twenty minutes."

The husky sound of Sasuke's voice nearly made him forget that they were not really in private, and if someone were to look at just the right angle, they would see them.

"I thought… you said tomorrow?" Naruto asked, trying to resist the urge to grab Sasuke by his black bowtie and drag his mouth to his. Sasuke in a tuxedo was not something he was going to be able to handle when not completely sober, but he was pretty sure his godmother would kill him if he got caught fucking someone in a corner at her fancy party.

"I can't wait that long," Sasuke breathed out, skimming his hands down Naruto's sides before briefly cupping the blond's ass pulling their bodies flush against each other for an extended moment. A throat was cleared, causing them both to step back sharply from each other, turning to face the source of the sound.

Itachi stood there, leaning casually against the window looking incredibly pleased with himself. "Caught you."

Naruto looked nervously at the glare Sasuke was sending Itachi and the smug look being sent back by Itachi. Sasuke adjusted his tie and glancing quickly around to see if anyone else had noticed before going back to glaring at his brother.

"Don't worry. I would have stopped you sooner if anyone else were looking this way. I just wanted to let you know that I won."

Sasuke rolled his eyes at his brother. "What are you, twelve?"

Itachi raised an eyebrow as he levered himself away from the window. "As I recall, you didn't do me the courtesy of notifying me of your presence when you were twelve and doing some spying of your own."

Sasuke flushed slightly at the memory… he'd learned more than he'd bargained for when he'd snuck downstairs to see what Itachi was up to in the game room with his date.

"Naruto-kun. Sasuke and I have a few things to discuss. Why don't you go say goodbye to your godmother. Sasuke seems a bit impatient and I suspect he wouldn't like it if you were late to whatever rendezvous he's set up for you..."

Naruto opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and turned to find Tsunade.


"Watching him at dinner was one thing, but this was a foolish risk. You're lucky I was the only one who noticed. Unless that was the point? Have you decided to finally come clean to the family and let them meet your little boyfriend? If so, I would suggest inviting him to dinner rather than making the scandal pages of the local paper."

"He's not my boyfriend. And Uncle Madara would eat him for breakfast. Stay out of it, Itachi."

Sasuke turned to go find his coat, pretending he didn't hear Itachi's parting comment.

"Foolish little brother," Itachi sighed. Madara was already suspicious. Letting the patriarch of the family meet Naruto would likely put him at ease, rather than having him imagining the worst about what kind of lover Sasuke could be hiding from them. Naruto might not be rich, but he had connections to the mayor and ran a profitable business. But more importantly, it only took about five minutes of speaking with him to realize that Naruto was not a social climber out for Sasuke's money. Madara might actually approve of him. Sasuke was taking a foolish risk by keeping this relationship 'secret'.

It was clear to Itachi that Naruto was different from Sasuke's past 'relationships'. He'd seen the look in Sasuke's eyes as he'd watched Naruto throughout the evening. It was also clear that Naruto was not comfortable with having to hide it from his friends and family.

He hoped Sasuke would get his head out of his ass before everything blew up. Given how stubborn his brother was, however, it was unlikely.


Naruto decided to walk from the party to Sasuke's place. It was not that far, and he really needed the cold air to sober him up a bit. He wasn't totally trashed but he was more than a little buzzed and he wanted to have a clear head before he got to Sasuke's. He wondered if Sasuke would end things now that Itachi had confronted them. Would Itachi give Sasuke an ultimatum that he had to either date Naruto publically or break it off? Itachi had seemed to approve of their relationship earlier in the evening, but maybe seeing them together physically, even if it had just been kissing, and changed his mind. Did Itachi have a brother complex? If Naruto had to compete with Itachi to keep Sasuke then it was all over. He had no illusions about how he'd stack up next to that man.

By the time Naruto reached Sasuke's apartment building, he was a bundle of nerves, though he had sobered up a bit. He still wasn't fully clear headed and he wasn't sure what was going to happen when he finally talked to Sasuke, but there was no point in stalling. Delaying the conversation wouldn't change its outcome.

He stood in front of the door, drawing a deep breath to steady his nerves. He reached up to knock on Sasuke's door, only to find it flung open before his fist even connected with the smooth surface. Sasuke's hand wrapped around his wrist and he was pulled into the apartment, the door slamming shut behind him.

"What took you so long?" Sasuke growled out as his lips crushed down over Naruto's, making answering impossible. Naruto wasn't sure if his head was spinning from the alcohol or from shock as he found himself shoved up against the door. Sasuke's hands were already hastily undoing the buttons of Naruto's dress shirt. Sasuke's tongue swirled into his mouth and he stopped paying attention to what the hands were doing.

Naruto vaguely heard one of his buttons hit the floor, spinning wildly, but he was more interested in the way Sasuke's mouth still tasted like the wine from the party. He was used to being the one who usually escalated things, but tonight Sasuke was definitely the aggressor. He wondered for a moment what was driving Sasuke's feverish need for him, but he decided not to worry about it as a pale hand slid down the front of his pants.

Sasuke made short work of Naruto's tie, tugging it free from the collar of Naruto's shirt and flinging it aside before he was pushing the shirt off to bare Naruto's torso. Naruto arched back as Sasuke's palms rubbed roughly over his nipples.

"Ahn, Sasuke! Shit you're… in a hurry tonight," Naruto panted out as Sasuke thrust his thigh between Naruto's legs. He could feel Sasuke's erection already fully hard as he slid against him, and his own cock stirred in arousal in response.

Sasuke lifted his head to meet Naruto's gaze, their bodies pressed together, their breathing already heavy. Their lips were not even an inch apart as Sasuke trailed his hands down to the fastenings of Naruto's dress pants.

He didn't understand the angry, desperate need he felt to claim Naruto in some way. He knew it was not his place to demand that Naruto tell him about Sasori, or not dance with Hinata, or any of the other things that had gone through his mind throughout the evening. But he could make sure that, at least for right then, Naruto only thought of him

"I had to watch you spend the entire evening talking to everyone else. I'm tired of waiting for my turn," Sasuke lowered his head to Naruto's neck. If Naruto had been fully sober, he probably would have remembered why he usually got annoyed when Sasuke did that, but as it was he simply let his head fall back as Sasuke efficiently unzipped Naruto's pants while sucking on his neck, palming the growing erection before he slid his hands up over the fabric to push the pants and Naruto's boxers down. Having achieved its goal of marking Naruto's throat, Sasuke's mouth continued to make a burning trail down over Naruto's collarbone before pausing to tease one of tan nipples that pebbled instantly at the touch.

Naruto finally realized Sasuke was still fully clothed and set about remedying that immediately, his hands somewhat clumsy as he undid the buttons on Sasuke's shirt. Sasuke didn't have the patience for it, batting Naruto's hands away as he dropped to his knees, pulling Naruto's erection into his mouth with one hand while his free hand undid the fastenings of his own trousers.

"Holy fuck, Sasuke!" Naruto's fingers could only grip into the black locks of Sasuke's hair and hold on as the wicked mouth and tongue sucked and swirled around him. The alcohol made him grateful for the wall that was supporting him as he felt the coil of pleasure slowly build low in his body. He was on the verge of release when Sasuke stood, jerking his own pants down far enough to free himself.

Naruto sent a frustrated glare at him. But Sasuke only smirked and spun him around, pressing him face first against the door. Naruto groaned at the friction of the cool door against his heavily aroused cock.

"Don't you dare stop now," Naruto gritted out.

He leaned forward so that his lips brushed against Naruto's ear. "You don't have to worry about that."

He slid one finger into Naruto's entrance, but stopped as he saw Naruto's slight flinch. He cursed as he realized that - of course - there was no lube in the entryway. He had no patience for waiting enough to move this to the bedroom. He thought quickly, remembering the small bottle of hand lotion he had carried with him, his skin always feeling dry after long plane rides. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing. He reached over to where his jacket was hanging by the door, sliding his hand fumblingly into the pocket while reaching around to wrap his hand around Naruto's cock, distracting him from the annoying delay.

He breathed a sigh of relief when his fingertips finally brushed against the small bottle, and he pulled it out, quickly flipping open the cap and squeezing some onto his fingers.

"Sasuke, what the fuck are you -"

Naruto's question was cut off as Sasuke thrust two lubed fingers in, stretching Naruto while coating himself. He knew Naruto wasn't fully prepared, but the impatient, frustrated look that Naruto sent him told Sasuke that it was good enough.

Sasuke grabbed Naruto's hips and drove in forcefully. Any worry that he had hurt Naruto vanished as the blond arched back in pleasure. "Fuck yes. Do it hard, Sasuke!"

"Oh god, Naruto, you don't know what I -" Sasuke cut off, unable to process speech any more as he thrust forcefully again and again, driving into his lover, watching how the muscles on Naruto's forearms clenched as he braced himself against the door and pushed back against the heavy pounding. There was no finesse in their coupling, just raw need.

Sasuke felt his orgasm building way too soon, and was relieved when he heard Naruto shout out his own release a second before his own claimed him.

He stumbled forward, leaning heavily against Naruto as the two used the door for support, both men sweaty and breathing hard.

"So…" he turned his head to look at Sasuke, who was still looking a bit dazed. "That was pretty intense. Wanna tell me what that was all about?"

Sasuke blinked hazily, then wrapped his arms around Naruto, pulling him closer, fitting their bodies together. The first round had been fast and hard, but he would take his time with the second.

"Let's go to bed," he murmured in the blond's ear.


Neither man noticed the message that flashed up on Sasuke's phone:

Sasuke. I spoke with Itachi last week and he reassured me that you were not seeing someone 'unsanctioned' behind the family's back. Given your lack of interest in this area, I have arranged a dinner for you tomorrow night with the son of the head of an important business partner of mine. Your mother has met him and approves. You will pick him up at 8pm at the following address. You will be polite and you will stay throughout the entire dinner. Your attendance is not optional, and the topic is not open for discussion.

- Madara


to be continued….

Credits: Hinata thanks JennaS for the tip, Dumbass nominated by JRah, Naruto's column is true (sort of a cool study on rats, actually)

So... the drama has started and next chapter will be much more as Madara makes his move.

Chapter Text

Author's note: Sorry this is late. For those of you who saw my ff profile, work has been kicking my ass. I am hoping that - when most of our European offices go on vacation for the month of August (I really need to move to Paris!) - my life will return to sanity and I will be able to update with the regular frequency. But in the meantime, I am dying from lack of sleep and stress. So this took a while for me to have a solid chunk of time to sit through and focus on this. Plus it is hot as fuck on the east coast right now.


The Daily Ramen, April 15

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Right-wing conservatives in the state of Colorado had their worst fears come true after gay marriage was legalized by the US Supreme Court. "I just knew it would destroy the institution of marriage if same-sex marriage were legalized. And now it has!" The nearly hysterical man was referring to the recent ballot initiative launched by the conservative party there to try to reverse the effect of the Supreme Court ruling by making gay marriage still illegal in their state. Unfortunately, they were in such a hurry to get it to the ballot box that the current wording actually makes ALL marriage illegal in the state, if it were to pass. Thereby destroying the institution of marriage. By their own stupid, self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to fight Inuzuka for which one of us got to run this story. Being one of the 'bosses', I won. But it was close.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

It was recently revealed that Konoha has been blessed with BOTH of Japan's most eligible bachelors. In order to take advantage of this asset and help local struggling businesses, the City Council will vote today on an edict formally requesting the Uchiha brothers to wear skin tight clothing and stand outside the storefronts to help stimulate our local economy. When asked if they would consider kissing, they simultaneously commented "Hn", thus clarifying all aspects on that matter.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

'A roll in the hay' is a time-honored phrase for young couples in heat to seize the moment. But you have to choose your flora carefully. Not just any secluded bed of plants will do. A pair of eager young lovers in a local park thought that the hedges would provide sufficient cover for a quick romp. Unfortunately, neither of them had studied horticulture sufficiently to notice that the underbrush was full of poison ivy. Their moment of afterglow was cut short by the man finding out their mistake the hard way. The unfortunate couple spent the rest of the week itching in awkward places. Words of wisdom: Learn to identify your plants, or keep it indoors. Or bring a blanket next time.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Sometimes people are so dumb they really should be taken out of the gene pool before they reproduce. One man did just exactly that. He decided it would be 'fun' to throw a concrete brick off an overpass and try to hit oncoming traffic near a construction site. So he lugged a broken piece up onto the bridge and waited for a rush of cars to come. He failed to notice that the concrete had rebar in it, which snagged the hem of his jeans as he shoved the heavy block off the bridge. It pulled him over the bridge into the busy street. Luckily, the block didn't hit anyone else. Just our dumbass of the day.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Tigers: Your paranoia about being a little pawn in a large, complex game is unfounded. The game is actually rather small and simple. And you don't even qualify as a pawn. To the pigs: While many say that violence never solves anything, you will find it comes in quite handy when dealing with an annoying drunk who doesn't seem to take the hint. To the dogs: Next Wednesday, you will have the misfortune to find out what the world record is for the most bones broken through sheer stupidity in the shortest amount of time.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Video games have progressed to the point of truly immortalizing the most critical elements of players! While the special shots, speed, dribbling and passing are all nice, the most important aspect of a professional soccer player's game is clearly the quality of his goal celebrations! A friend of mine recently showed me an amazing video game that accurately captures this most youthful and inspiring element of the game! FIFA15 Legends allows gamers to have their players make such amazing moves as 'the cockroach', 'the chicken dance' and 'the prancing bird'! I must go now and practice my own version of these amazing expressions of joy and sports enthusiasm! If I fail to report next time, it will be because the 'front flip' was unsuccessful!


-xXx-

Naruto woke with a slight headache from the alcohol he'd consumed the night before. As he shifted, he realized that ache extended throughout his entire body. From the activities that had happened after the alcohol. He groaned slightly, but couldn't help how his lips curved up with humor and a bit of remembered lust as he recalled how out of control Sasuke had been.

"Need some coffee?" a deep, familiar voice murmured in his ear as Naruto felt arms encircle him. "I can make you some. With cream and lots of sugar."

Naruto smiled slightly as he felt lips brush gently across his forehead. "In a minute. Let's just lay here a bit first."

"Hn," the warm voice replied. He could feel Sasuke lay back down, his breath against the back of Naruto's neck. He knew he had to get up for work soon, but the moment was too peaceful to disrupt it quite yet.

Sasuke breathed in Naruto's scent, enjoying the way the morning light filtered softly over their bed. It was strange to think about how much a part of his routine waking up with Naruto had become. He thought about last night, and the strange panic that had filled him. It seemed far away now, with Naruto resting in his bed. He closed his eyes in contentment.

They lay with their limbs entwined on the large bed for several minutes. Both men carefully avoided any thoughts about how this was not something that 'sex friends' would usually indulge in.

Naruto opened his eyes and looked over at the clock. He had to be to work in an hour. It was time to get up and have breakfast.

"Ready for that coffee yet?" Sasuke asked, a trace of a smile on his perfect lips.

Naruto smiled in return. "Sure. That would be awesome."

The morning started with hot coffee, and hotter shower sex. It was definitely looking like it would be a good day.


Not five minutes after Naruto left that morning, Sasuke's day went straight to hell.

He received an urgent call from Sakura before he'd even had a chance to put on his shirt. A press release had arrived on her desk stating that Sasuke and Itachi had been named Japan's 'Most Eligible Bachelors' by some magazine that Sasuke had never heard of but apparently was very popular. And widely read.

Unfortunately, unlike Naruto's newspaper, people actually seemed to take the magazine seriously. Which was ironic, considering that the most serious topics that the magazine seemed to take on were things like which celebrity was wearing what or dating whom. It further solidified Sasuke's opinion that the general public was full of idiots. But regardless of his own personal opinion, it meant that the media coverage would be everywhere for a few days until it blew over. Sakura was handling most of the barrage, but she had given him a few talking points on the off-chance that it would keep him from being sarcastic and biting if anyone dared to ask him 'how he felt about being named Most Eligible Bachelor in Japan'.

Because god forbid he actually answered that question honestly.

The only slight silver-lining was that Itachi was also named. At least his older brother would be suffering as much as he was. Possibly more-so, since he was older and viewed as the 'main heir'. Sasuke vehemently hoped that most of the vultures descended on Itachi, as the more public figure of the two.

And the morning just kept getting worse.

He had finally checked his emails after he got dressed and found - in addition to many annoying notes congratulating him on his new status - an email from Madara telling him that he was being 'assigned' to go out on a date that night.

"Shit," Sasuke cursed succinctly.

Madara occasionally did this to both him and Itachi. Sasuke had hypothesized with his brother one evening, over a couple bottles of sake, that the man must have been used by someone back in the day, and decided that no one would ever take advantage of him or his again. Either that or Madara had some seriously misplaced feudal, patriarchal tendencies to see all members of the clan 'properly settled'.

The only saving grace had been that - surprisingly - the people Madara selected were actually… reasonable. For starters, they were at least the right gender (something Sasuke's own father seemed to 'forget' sometimes when he'd ask him what he'd thought about the daughter of one of his colleagues or friends). They were also generally intelligent and interesting enough that Sasuke didn't feel the need to drive a steak-knife through his eye mid-dinner in a desperate excuse to escape their company.

And of course, they were all from the 'correct' social status, though that didn't necessarily mean they still weren't after the Uchiha name and fortune. Some people could never get enough, even if they already had more than they could possibly spend in one lifetime.

But it was still annoying.

Especially annoying tonight, since he had already made plans to see Naruto again. He considered telling his uncle he couldn't make it. But Madara would know immediately that it wasn't for work, since he was aware of the business operations and would know if something were keeping Sasuke or Itachi late.

Sasuke frowned as he grabbed the keys to his car and his jacket. He was now running late.

He liked the way things were with Naruto. If Madara got involved, that would be the end of it. The man would make Naruto's life (and Sasuke's) a living hell until they stopped seeing each other. If his uncle started messing around in Naruto's financial and professional affairs asking questions and digging for any indications that Naruto was after Sasuke for the money, it could be an issue for the Daily Ramen getting their permits renewed. That was sure as hell not what Naruto had signed up for when he'd agreed to a 'no strings' relationship.

Not to mention Naruto might do something insane and publish something scathing about Madara. Madara was well meaning but… he was more than a little bit crazy sometimes. And his weight in the financial and political arena in Japan meant that even just a few pointed comments could ruin someone's career. The 'Old Boy's Club' ran strong and deep.

No. He was happy with the way things were with Naruto. He didn't want Madara getting suspicious and fucking it all up.

He'd just go along with the dinner and get it over with. Nothing ever came of these set-ups, and Madara wouldn't be surprised if nothing came of this one either. He'd just tell the guy "thanks, but my uncle's crazy", they'd have a nice dinner, and go their separate ways.


Naruto let the fresh spring air clear his head as he walked to his office.

He thought back to the night before, and why he had ended up drinking much more than he usually would have at one of his godmother's events. While sneaking around had been fun and exciting in the beginning, it was starting to wear thin. He didn't like having to lie to his friends and family. He wanted to be able to introduce Sasuke to Tsunade. To his parents. When his friends asked him what he was doing over the weekend, he wanted to be able to tell them he was spending it with the guy he liked. He wanted to see what Sasuke would make of Shikamaru's dry humor or Lee's insanity. He wanted to invite Sasuke over when it was his turn to host his friends for dinner. He wanted to take Sasuke out to his favorite restaurant, or go to the gym together or just…

Naruto wanted a relationship.

There. He'd finally admitted it, at least to himself.

He was tired of pretending it was all just sex. Because - at least for him - it wasn't anymore. Honestly, he didn't think it had ever been. He'd just been fooling himself in order to not be nervous about opening himself up to someone again after what had happened with Sasori. But last night, he'd realized that he was already becoming attached.

He wondered if Sasuke were feeling the same way.

Surely the confrontation Sasuke had with Itachi the other night must have caused him to think about it. And the fact that Sasuke always wanted him to spend the night, and have breakfast together in the morning indicated maybe he'd be open to more. Hell, the guy had actually bought cream and whole milk to keep in his fridge because Naruto preferred that in his coffee.

But Sasuke had laid out clear rules in the beginning of what he was offering, and Naruto knew that asking for more violated that. Still… Sasuke had been the first one to bend the rules when he asked Naruto to stay the night. Hadn't he?

Naruto bit his lip as he tried to quell the stirring of nerves in his stomach.

Now that he'd gotten the idea in his mind, he wasn't going to be able to pretend it was 'business as usual' between them. He'd have to talk to Sasuke, and see if he would be willing to try for something more. If not… Naruto knew himself well enough to know he couldn't keep on like this. As amazing as the chemistry was, he knew he'd just end up miserable in the long run if he stayed when Sasuke wasn't interested in anything else.

But he was strong enough to do that without resentment, if it came to it. He wouldn't regret his time with Sasuke, whatever the outcome. Sasuke had been up-front, and had helped him move on from Sasori. He just hoped Sasuke would be even more than that.

Sasuke had asked Naruto to come by after work. That gave him roughly twelve hours to figure out what to say.


Naruto arrived at the office to find a note from his publisher that he'd liked the first draft of the chapter of the book that Naruto had sent over, and wanted to get together the following week to talk more about timing and distribution. It was both exciting and daunting to think about actually writing a book, and it helped Naruto distract himself from his own personal turmoil and focus on his work.

Shino, Hinata and Kiba had finished their columns and left them on his desk. Sai had managed to draw something that they could actually print, and Shino had said he would bring doughnuts in for everyone for no apparent reason. Breakfast with Sasuke was always awesome, but there was no doubt that the man had significantly healthier tastes than Naruto did.

The deadline for locking down everyone's columns was 5pm. He sent Shikamaru a note telling him to get his ass in gear and finish his column. He wasn't worried about Lee… that man had never been late except for the one time when he'd gotten carried away with his D/s workout experimentation.

Naruto had finished his own work yesterday, but he still pulled open his Twitter feed just to see if anything interesting had happened since yesterday.

He saw something about 'Local business executive highlighted as Most Eligible Bachelor' and clicked on it.

Unholy laughter spilled out of his office. He wondered if Sasuke had seen it yet. He was sure that the Uchiha would be annoyed as hell by it. He snickered again as he deleted the previous version of his column and began to type. This was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. Itachi would just have to understand. He was about to call Sasuke when he heard someone else enter the office. That meant he'd have to text him instead. But it was ok. He had a good enough imagination to visualize the sound of annoyance in his lover's voice.


Sasuke was just walking into his office when his phone buzzed with a text from Naruto.

Who did you have to bribe to get named 'Most Eligible Bachelor?' Are you really that hard up to get a date?

Sasuke snorted. At least one of them was amused by this. Unfortunately, it wasn't him.

Not funny.

Oh, it's very funny. You just don't have a sense of humor. Clearly, whoever made this list never had to actually hold a conversation with you. If they knew what an asshole you were, you'd never have made the cut. Poor Itachi would be all alone.

Sasuke paused, not sure if he were amused at the thought of it only being Itachi, or annoyed at Naruto's implication that Itachi were the better catch. Naruto seemed to predict his annoyance, despite not even being in the same building.

Don't get your panties in a twist. I was just kidding. You're both assholes. Itachi's just better at hiding it.

That was a statement Sasuke could agree with. He glanced at his watch. He had a meeting in five minutes.

Itachi is actually much worse than I am. Though in this case, I'd be more than happy to give my share of the 'award' to him, so feel free to send your note.

Sasuke glanced up to see Madara watching him, and nodded in greeting, trying to keep his temper in check. His phone buzzed with another message from Naruto.

btw, let your brother know he has nothing to say about my next column. If everyone else gets to talk about this, then I do, too

Sasuke closed his eyes after reading Naruto's text and wished briefly that all journalists would suddenly fall into the sea.

Coward. You just don't want to tell Itachi yourself

To which Naruto immediately replied:

Of course. What, do you think I'm stupid?

His phone started to ring before he'd even finished sending out the text. The number showed it was the head of their South American investment group, and sighed. It was going to be a long day, and he hadn't even gotten to his desk yet. But he wanted to let Naruto know about the dinner fiasco.

No comment. I have to do a dinner tonight. Raincheck for tomorrow?


Naruto felt an odd mix of disappointment and relief that he wouldn't be seeing Sasuke that night. Now that he'd made up his mind what he wanted with Sasuke, he didn't want to wait to have the conversation. It was like an itch under his skin. He wanted to know what Sasuke would say.

However, it probably was a good idea to take at least a little bit of time to think about how to broach the subject with the man. He didn't want to come across as disregarding their initial agreement, or - even worse - trying to get something from the Uchiha. He also didn't want to come across like some lame schoolgirl with a lovesick confession. He just wanted… to take the next step in their relationship. Not jump all the way to love and marriage but just at least dating. Really getting to know each other. Then… they'd see where it could go from there.

He considered what Sasuke had said about his uncles, and he didn't take it lightly. Sasuke didn't strike him as the drama queen type to make things sound worse than they were. But Naruto had never been the kind of man to be scared from going for something he wanted just because it was difficult. If Sasuke's uncles wanted to talk to him and test his 'intentions', or check his creditworthiness or business credentials, he had no problem with that. He wasn't rich, but he'd built everything he'd had on his own. If that wasn't proof that he wasn't a mooch, then he didn't know what was.

But all that would hinge on whether Sasuke felt the same as he did… if the man even wanted a relationship.

Usually, he'd talk to Hinata or Shikamaru when he needed relationship advice. But that was out of the question, given he'd been hiding his relationship from them so far. However, there was one person he could talk to. Who, conveniently, also happened to know the Uchiha family.

He looked at the clock, quickly doing the math to see what time it was in New York. When he realized it was still the middle of the night, he smiled. Gaara never really slept. And he wouldn't be at work.

Perfect.

He grabbed his cell and headed out to the park to find a quiet place to talk with his friend.


"Hey, Gaara," Naruto looked quickly around the park to make sure none of his co-workers were about before finding a spot beneath a shady tree. The weather had warmed a bit, and the sun was coaxing more flowers out in the beds along the path.

"What's wrong?" his friend asked astutely.

"Nothing. Not really. I just…" Naruto bit his lip trying to find the best way of phrasing this without seeming like a little bit of a chicken shit.

"Is Sasori giving you trouble?"

"No. He came by my place a couple of days ago, but I handled it. I didn't let him in. He said he just wanted to talk. He said he was clean."

There was a question in the statement that Gaara understood.

"He spent the last month in rehab. He's clean. For now. But he's still the same person who put you in the hospital with three broken ribs."

"I know, Gaara," Naruto didn't like thinking back on that night. Thank god Gaara had come to pick his cousin up from the party they'd been at. He'd found Naruto staggering out the door trying to get to his car. Sasori was so cranked up on coke he didn't even know what he'd done. Gaara had rushed Naruto to the hospital, then gone back and beat the shit out of his cousin. It was a night they didn't talk about. But they also didn't forget it.

"I told him that I was glad he was clean. But there's no going back, and I made that clear. He said he just wanted to talk. As friends. We were… friends. Before everything else," Naruto's voice was tinged with a bit of sadness, remembering how things had been before they'd gone to shit.

Gaara was silent for a moment, then spoke. "So you're going to meet him?"

"I… don't know," Naruto admitted. "I told him I needed time to think about it. He gave me his number and left. Ball's in my court now."

"And what does Uchiha think about you meeting up with your ex?"

Naruto shifted, glancing around as though someone might overhear them. But no one was around. "I haven't had a chance to talk with him yet. I'm not sure he'll care, since he was pretty clear this was a no strings thing."

Something in Naruto's tone alerted Gaara.

"But you are fed up with that," his friend said calmly.

Naruto almost smiled at how well his friend could read him, even from halfway across the globe. "Well… yeah. I guess I just… I want to have a real relationship. We've been sleeping together for almost four months now. And…"

"It's not enough for you anymore."

"... No."

"Well, you lasted three more months than I thought you would," Gaara admitted.

Naruto chuckled humorlessly. "Fuck you. What, you were just going to sit on the sidelines and watch the train wreck happen?"

"No. You needed to find someone other than Sasori that you were attracted to. Uchiha provided that. Whether it was one month or four, it was worth it. So, you're going to end it?"

Naruto's stomach twisted slightly at the words. "No. I was sort of thinking, actually…" Naruto bit his lip. "What do you know about the Uchiha family?"

There was a slight pause. "I am assuming you are not asking me about their net worth."

"No. You know I don't care about shit like that. I guess I want to know… Sasuke said something about his uncles being involved in chasing off anyone who come sniffing around him or his brother. What's up with that? How serious is it?"

"Serious. As far as I know, the few marriages that actually happen in that family are arranged. Sasuke's parents basically had an arranged marriage. Madara was never married. Obito's marriage was arranged. Most of the rest stayed bachelors. I think there was one cousin who married outside of the family's blessing and moved to London."

Naruto felt his stomach tense. It sounded very… feudalistic. "So if I wanted to date Sasuke openly, I'd have to… show up at his uncle's house with like… fifty goats in trade or something as a bride price?" Naruto tried to laugh but he was a bit daunted by the idea of having to deal with a family like that. His own family was incredibly informal.

"... I am not even going to respond to that. Have you spoken with Sasuke? Does he want you to try to get his family's permission?"

"Um, no. Actually…" Naruto scratched the back of his head nervously. "I was planning on talking to him about it the next time I see him. I just wanted to talk with you first to see what I was up against."

"A brick fucking wall," Gaara muttered. "Though if anyone can kick it down, it would be you. But it will take at least a hundred goats. And you might want to throw in a few oxen as well."

Naruto snickered. Gaara could always make him feel better.


Sasuke walked into the five star restaurant, and was immediately greeted by the maître d'.

"Uchiha-sama. So nice to see you this evening. We have your table reserved in the private room. Your dinner guest has already arrived," the formally attired man bowed the perfect depth as he showed Sasuke to the table.

The young man waiting there rose smoothly as Sasuke approached.

"Sasuke-sama. It is a pleasure to meet you," the handsome, slightly shorter man bowed slightly. "I am Mizukage Yagura."

"Yagura-sama," Sasuke returned the polite gesture, and the two took their seat after ordering a bottle of wine.

Sasuke had never met Yagura before, but of course he had heard about him. The man was one year older than him, though he looked younger. Like Sasuke, he had taken over the running of his family's financial empire, and was one of the more powerful men in Japan. He had a slim build, light hair, and eyes such a light brown they almost looked pink. But there was a force behind them that warned people not to under-estimate him, despite his young age. Overall, he was not unattractive. But Sasuke felt no pull towards the man.

"I apologize if my uncle was a bit… over-enthusiastic in setting this meeting up. I hope you were not inconvenienced by it at all," Sasuke began carefully, wanting to be sure there were no misconceptions about how the evening was going to play out.

Yagura smiled slightly. "I assume he was no more aggressive about setting this meeting up than my own mother was. I take it you have no interest in forming a… personal alliance at this point?"

The waiter arrived and poured their wine. Sasuke felt himself relax slightly as he saw the dry twist to Yagura's lips as the man had spoken. It was clear that he wasn't the only one being forced into this situation. He wondered if the man were even gay, or if that had been brushed aside as well at the thought of possibly combining the two empires. It wouldn't surprise him, though without gay marriage being legal, it would have been incredibly short-sighted of the man's family.

"I am always open to meeting new potential business associates and acquaintances," Sasuke sipped his wine, trying to gauge Yagura's reaction.

The man smiled, and Sasuke realized why so many socialites tried to attach themselves to Yagura.

"Likewise. Then let's discuss business, so the dinner that our two families paid for won't go completely to waste."

Sasuke smirked, and lifted his glass in a small toast.

Neither noticed the tabloid cameraman from behind the pillar, silently clicking away photo after photo, looking for something he could sell to his paper and make himself famous. He thanked his lucky stars that his cousin was a waitress here and had noticed the names on the dinner reservation and called him.


Naruto hadn't been able to sleep much the night before. His mind had uselessly played out different scenarios about how his conversation with Sasuke would go.

He got in to his office early, and waited for his laptop to boot up while scrolling through his e-mails on his phone.

"Good morning, Naruto-kun!" Hinata greeted cheerfully as she walked past his office, carrying what looked like a stack of T-shirts. Likely a new design she wanted to get their reaction to.  She glanced down at the shirt he was wearing: I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person. "Nice shirt today."

"Morning, Hinata," Naruto called out. He opened the latest on the society pages as he usually did, checking to see if any of Konoha's elite had done something stupid and gotten caught. It was where half of his column ideas came from. And Kiba's as well.

He saw more chatter about the 'dreamy' Uchiha brothers and wondered how Sasuke was handling all the additional media attention. No one valued privacy more than the Uchihas, and he knew both Itachi and Sasuke had to be seriously annoyed at the magazine that had caused the feeding frenzy as tabloid journalists snapped photos, estimated their net worths, and opined about their possible relationship status. He was pretty sure Sasuke would want to be extra careful about meeting up with Naruto, since there were likely to be tabloid reports lurking. He hoped it wouldn't mean they couldn't see each other for a while, because he didn't how much longer he could go without knowing how Sasuke was going to respond.

Naruto's breath froze in his lungs as he saw a link that read 'Caught! Uchiha Sasuke has a boyfriend!'

Naruto's mind raced as he tried to think of how someone might have gotten a photo of them together. The security camera from the grocery store? Had someone taken a photo of them at the party?

"Fuck!" Naruto swore softly under his breath. This was not how he had wanted the issue with Sasuke's family not knowing to be handled. He felt a wave of guilt that now Sasuke didn't have a choice about whether to reveal their relationship to the rest of his family. He hadn't wanted it to be like this.

Naruto's hands were sweating as he clicked the link, bracing himself for what he would see and hoping it wasn't too graphic.

His initial reaction was one of relief when he realized that it wasn't a photo of the two of them. They hadn't been outed.

But then the relief immediately faded into a darkner sort of tension.

It was a photo of Sasuke and a man Naruto had never seen before, sitting at a small table in what appeared to be a very high-end restaurant. It could have been a business associate, but… the setting was that of a very intimate restaurant, with deep red dining clothes and an orchid on the table. Not the type of place that you'd go for a business meeting.

Naruto looked at Sasuke in the picture, and was surprised to see that he was … smiling. Only very slightly, but - again - not something that Sasuke usually showed in a business context. According to Sakura, she'd only seen Sasuke smile twice in the entire year she'd been working for him.

Sasuke was looking somewhat relaxed in his seat, one hand resting casually on the table while the other held his drink. The other man was leaning forward slightly, their gazes fixed on each other, amusement coloring both their expressions.

Naruto tried not to read much into it. He knew that Sasuke was hardly a virgin. This could have been taken at any time.

He looked down at the caption. The date the photograph was supposedly taken was the night before.  When Sasuke had cancelled at the last minute.

Naruto took a steadying breath. He had no right to be angry about it. They weren't exclusive. Sasuke had made it very clear, and Naruto had agreed. He couldn't act like the jealous boyfriend, for the simple fact that he was not Sasuke's boyfriend.

And that, of course, was the whole issue.

The caption claimed that the photo was of Uchiha Sasuke on a date with Mizukage Yagura. Both names were linked to additional articles and profiles about them. Masochistically, Naruto clicked on Yagura's name.

He felt the sick feeling in his stomach grow slightly. Yagura looked young, but was actually three years older than Naruto. With a huge financial empire that rivalled Sasuke's. He was known for his ruthlessness and charm. The descriptors they used for him were very similar to how they described Sasuke.

Yagura had graduated from an Ivy League school at the age of 19, evidently some sort of prodigy and had since taken over his family's business, just like Sasuke. His family was incredibly well-connected, and he had enough personal wealth to fund his own small country.

Again, just like Sasuke

In terms of résumés, this guy's was off the charts. And had a hell of a lot more in common with Sasuke than Naruto ever would.

Naruto suddenly realized what Sasuke was talking about. This guy, this… Yagura. He was the type of person that Sasuke's family would approve of. He was the type of person Sasuke would be willing to be seen in public with.

Naruto's résumé… wasn't even close.

Kiba knocked on Naruto's door. "Bra, what's up? You look like someone just ran over your dog."

Naruto clicked on the windows he'd opened, systematically closing each one. He couldn't see Sasuke tonight. He had, perhaps foolishly, been optimistic about the possibility of Sasuke agreeing to something more. But now…

Naruto wasn't going to give up before even having the conversation, but right now he just wanted to numb himself. Nothing good would come out of a conversation he tried to have with Sasuke in his current mindset. All he'd do is likely start a fight. But he also didn't want to go to some random bar and have to deal with people hitting on him. He just wanted to drink with his friends in the privacy of his own apartment and pretend for one more night that he had a chance in hell with making this work with Sasuke. Then he'd face his lover and let the man bring him crashing back to reality.

"Tell the guys to come to my place tonight. I'll buy the alcohol. Bring your toothbrushes, cuz we're all getting smashed."

Kiba looked at his friend, concern flashing in his eyes. They'd all called a 'drinking night' themselves on various occasions in the past, so it was nothing new. That's what friends were for. And he'd get Naruto to tell him what was bothering him later. After a litre of tequila or so.


to be continued….

Credits: Shika's column is once again TRUE, and it made me go insane that people just can't get a life and mind their OWN BUSINESS JFC. Hinata's actually happened to a friend of mine back in high school (and you should have seen the raaaaash), Dumbass Nomination (a true story) by MangaBae!

Drop me a note! I'm dying at work and need to be cheered up. :-)

 

Chapter Text

Author's note: If you have ever had a real argument with a lover or family member, you know that things get said that people don't mean or that they didn't really think out all the way before saying them. So… don't be expecting Naruto and Sasuke to behave perfectly. It would be unrealistic, imo. WITH THAT, here is the next chapter (early! yay!). I think there are maybe 3 chapters left in the story. 2-4 max, depending on how much angst you all want. Since this chapter takes place about twenty-four hours after the last Daily Ramen was posted, I had to just do a newsflash since clearly a week hadn't passed and this all takes place in the same day.

Thanks to Mykko_chan for reading this over and letting me know what was confusing and generally being her awesome self.  *hugs you*


DAILY RAMEN NEWSFLASH - April 16

Search continues for Intelligent Life on Earth - As scientists are now fairly certain that they have identified life on other planets, they have turned their focus home to try to find signs of intelligent life on earth. "There are many lifeforms that inhabit the third planet from our sun," chief NASA researcher explains. "But what we are looking for is some sort of sentience, some sign of the ability to learn and evolve."

In our efforts to play devil's advocate to this search, the staff of the Daily Ramen has begun to compile a series of profiles, as well as counter-measures to avoid these 'unintelligent' life forms we all encounter on a daily basis. Need advice on how to deal with the obnoxious, horny drunk that keeps hitting on you at the party? The boss whose IQ is less than twenty but controls your existence? Your co-worker who keeps trying to draw naked pictures of you and post them in the internet? We have solutions. Some of which won't even land you in prison. Contact us if you have a situations you need advice on! And keep an eye out for our latest thinking, captured in our new book that will be coming out in a few months: Survival Guide to Living in a World of Dumbasses - A book of collected wisdom, created by the staff of the Daily Ramen


-xXx-

Sasuke had buried himself in work to avoid all the annoying texts and calls regarding his 'hot bachelor' status. That was what he paid Sakura to deal with and get rid of. He was looking through the latest risk profile of one of the larger hedge fund ventures they had recently begun investing in when the door to his office opened.

He felt a flicker of unease when he saw the grim expression on Itachi's face as his older brother walked in, then closed the door behind him.

"So this is a closed-door meeting, Nii-san?" Sasuke asked, arching an eyebrow and bracing himself for bad news. Closed-door meetings with his brother never boded well. "I am assuming that if one of our subsidiaries had gone under or someone in the family had been arrested, I would have been informed by now."

Itachi looked at him for a moment. "Have you been checking the news feeds today?"

Sasuke looked back down at his risk assessment, hoping to cut this topic short. "No. That's what we hired Sakura for. I've been doing actual work."

Itachi let out a sound that from anyone else Sasuke would have called a huff.

"So you aren't aware that it's all over the local papers that you were caught on a date last night with your 'boyfriend' Yagura?"

Sasuke's head snapped up, and a strange tightness began spreading through his lungs. Shit. There was no way Naruto wouldn't have seen it. They hadn't had a chance to talk about why Sasuke had had to cancel last minute the other night. He had been planning to tell Naruto tonight over dinner... to roll his eyes at his crazy uncle and have Naruto say something sarcastic again about him needing help getting laid.

He hadn't expected it to make the papers. There hadn't been much to tell. Sasuke was pretty sure he and Yagura hadn't even shaken hands. He froze at the thought that Naruto might believe Sasuke actually had a boyfriend and was screwing Naruto on the side, though he had a feeling Naruto would have shown up and put a fist through his face if he did. Naruto was not the kind of person to put up with dishonesty. Neither was Sasuke. He just hoped Naruto knew him well enough to understand that.

He drew a breath. He could explain it to his lover. Naruto was reasonable, and Sasuke had nothing to hide. He just had to tell the truth, and Naruto would understand.

Itachi looked at him, clearly waiting for his response.

Sasuke tried to keep his voice calm and measured as he spoke, hoping he could get Itachi out of his office so he could call Naruto and explain. He didn't know why he felt an almost overwhelming sense of urgency to do so. "I assume you're worried about the reputational fallout of it being in the papers that I'm gay, but that's hardly new news. I'm sure Sakura will handle it accordingly, as will the Mizukage's PR rep."

"I don't give a shit about the impact on the company's reputation from this. I'm telling you this because I think that your actual boyfriend might be a little bit annoyed by this particular headline. And despite the fact that I don't plan on hanging a copy of his last column on my office wall, I actually like Naruto and I don't want you to fuck this up."

Sasuke scrubbed his hands over his eyes in an uncharacteristic display of frustration. "Do you think I don't know that? Naruto might not be my boyfriend, but I don't want him to think I'm playing him. I didn't have a chance to talk to him about it last night, and I assumed we'd be meeting up today so I could tell him about it but -"

"I'm sure he's already heard. And if I were you, I'd call him now and explain the situation before it gets out of hand."

Itachi paused, his hand on the door knob. "And while you're at it, you might give Uncle Madara a piece of your mind, too. He's the one who got your name in the papers. He takes great enjoyment from pointing out other's mistakes. It's rare he provides us with an opportunity to return the favor."

Sasuke shot his brother a half-hearted glare as the man left, closing the door behind him.

He opened his browser and quickly googled himself, grimacing as he saw the latest coverage. He looked at his phone, knowing Naruto would be at work and not necessarily in a place where he could take a call. But he didn't want to wait, either. The strange anxiety that had settled in his chest when Itachi had walked in and told him what had happened was only growing. He didn't want to think about why this felt so important to him, when things regarding his past lovers never had.

I'm sure you saw that stupid article. I am not dating Yagura. I had never even met him before last night.

He waited for Naruto to respond, staring at his phone, hoping Naruto would call him or send him a message so Sasuke could tell how he was reacting. After a minute (that felt like an hour), Sasuke sent another note.

Madara arranged for us to meet. He does this sometimes with Itachi and me, and a few of the other younger members of the family. We just talked business. That's all.

He didn't really know why he added that last part. It sounded defensive, and Naruto hadn't even said anything. He just needed Naruto to understand that it was not a date. It was just… an annoyance that had nothing to do with anything except meeting his family obligations and keep his uncle out of his personal business.

Still no response.

Naruto might be in a meeting. There had been other times when Naruto hadn't been able to text him back immediately. So why was the tight feeling around his lungs getting worse?

There was a knock on his door.

"What," he bit out, his voice sounding tense.

"I just wanted to remind you that your five o'clock will be in conference room A," his assistant said, clearly unfazed by his terse greeting.

Sasuke looked back at his phone. Still nothing. Why were his palms sweaty? Even facing a billion dollar deal, Sasuke's palms never sweat. He pulled himself together. This would be fine. Naruto wasn't some overly dramatic schoolgirl that wouldn't allow him to explain. Sasuke would simply tell him what had happened, and that would be the end of it.

"Fine. I'll be there shortly."

He sent off one last message, hoping to generate some sort of response.

Are we still on for dinner tonight? We can talk about it then. I'll cook.


Naruto looked at the last message he'd received from Sasuke.

He felt some of the bubbling anger leach out of him at the words. He had known that the man in the photo had not been Sasuke's boyfriend. Sasuke might be an ass, but Naruto was pretty sure that the guy would never cheat.

But he had assumed Yagura had been another of Sasuke's lovers. He had wanted to put his fist through his window as he'd wondered if Sasuke had taken the man home last night and fucked him in his big bed. If Sasuke had made him coffee in the morning. If they had showered and gotten ready for work together.

The anger had been even worse because Naruto had known that it wasn't really justified. Sasuke had never claimed that they were anything more than fuck buddies. And fuck buddies weren't exclusive. But it had hurt, more than it should have. More than he'd been prepared for.

He'd left work around four thirty to get some alcohol and do some grocery shopping. He wasn't being very productive at the office and he had needed to get out of there.

He took another drink of the shot he'd poured himself. It was already his fourth. He told himself he should probably slow down.

He didn't really know what to say in reply to Sasuke's text. Even though it had turned out to be just a blind date, and evidently no sex had been involved, Sasuke had still agreed to meet Yagura. Did Naruto have a right to be angry about that? Probably not. Was it understandable? He thought so. Either way, it was what he felt. The irony of the fact that this had happened the day after he'd realized he wanted more from Sasuke certainly wasn't lost on him… and didn't help. The fact that Naruto had no interest in anyone else didn't mean that was reciprocated. Naruto had just felt… he swallowed the rest of his shot along with the rest of the thought.

Even if they hadn't fucked, reading about Yagura had made Naruto realize that there was a good chance that this thing with Sasuke wasn't ever going to go anywhere. And he couldn't even blame Sasuke for leading him on, because Sasuke had basically told him that from the very beginning. If Naruto got tripped up over his own feelings, it was his own goddamn fault.

He sucked a breath in through his teeth, savoring the burn of the alcohol. He reached for the bottle, then stopped himself. He didn't need to be smashed when his friends got there at six thirty.

He looked back at the messages from Sasuke, still wondering how he should reply. He wasn't in any shape to talk to Sasuke tonight. He knew he'd just start a fight. He needed to get over the shock of the Yagura thing and get his head on straight before he talked to his lover and made a stupid scene. And more importantly, he needed to decide if he was ready to walk if Sasuke said this was all it was ever going to be. In the back of his mind, he was pretty sure he already knew the answer, but he wanted to have one more night to avoid reality.

Can't tonight. Having some friends from work over.

Naruto paused, unable to escape the wash of bitterness that Sasuke had been willing to be seen in public with Yagura, whom he didn't even know. What would he do if Naruto asked the same? They'd been together for four months, but Naruto had never asked after that first time in the gym. Had anything changed in Sasuke's mind about them? Without fully thinking it through, Naruto sent off the invitation, hoping it would be accepted and prove that Naruto had been wrong about everything that had been swirling through his mind since he saw the headline today.

Though if you want to talk, you're more than welcome to come by.

He had never invited Sasuke over to his place. Part of the reason had been that he knew they were less likely to be caught if he went to Sasuke's rather than the other way around. Sasuke drew attention where he went, and someone might wonder what he was doing repeatedly entering an apartment building that he didn't live in.

But part of it had also been that Naruto had wanted to keep his own space separate so that when things ended between them, there wouldn't be any lingering associations until he was sure this was going to be something other than a short fling. He'd learned that one the hard way from his relationship with Sasori.

He didn't really know how Sasuke would reply. But he was surprised when his phone rang.


The meeting was just wrapping up when Sasuke's phone finally buzzed with a reply from Naruto. He looked up from reading the message and found Itachi's gaze on him. His brother nodded fractionally, signaling he'd handle closing the meeting. Sasuke excused himself and walked to his office. It was too hard to read tone in a text message. He glared at the short text, annoyed that it wasn't being more communicative.

He couldn't tell if Naruto was angry or laughing it off. It was almost six, so hopefully Naruto would be done with his meetings and in a place where they could speak freely. He dialed, and listened to Naruto's phone ring as he waited impatiently for Naruto to pick up. He didn't know why he felt so on edge about finding out what Naruto's reaction was, but he just…

"Hey," Naruto's voice came through the speaker. He sounded tense. Almost… nervous.

"Hey," Sasuke replied, equally articulate. Suddenly, all the smooth phrases he had prepared had evaporated from his mind. He couldn't get a read on why Naruto didn't sound angrier. Hadn't he turned Sasuke down for dinner tonight because he was pissed?

Then neither of them spoke for a moment.

Sasuke thought he could hear the sound of liquid being poured into a glass.

"So, did you have something to say, or you just wanted to run up some minutes on the corporate phone?" Naruto said finally. It wasn't a humorous tone like their usual banter. Maybe Naruto was more angry than Sasuke had first thought.

"I got your message," Sasuke replied carefully, trying to get a handle on the situation so he could say the right thing and diffuse it.

"Ah. You could have just texted back with a simple yes or no."

Sasuke was in no mood to dance around things. "Naruto. It wasn't a date. Yagura was just a guy my uncle wanted me to go to dinner with. I only went so he wouldn't get suspicious as to why I would cancel. We just talked business. I don't have a boyfriend." Sasuke was surprised at the note of anxiousness he could hear in his own voice. Usually he had more control.

The sound of a humorless chuckle came through the line. "No. I know you don't."

Sasuke wondered why Naruto's words sounded so bitter.

"Then… you're not upset about the tabloids?"

He heard Naruto swallow, then sigh. "No, Sasuke. I was when I first saw it, but I work in journalism. I know that a good photographer can make a sneeze look like sobbing, or a stumble look like a grope. If you tell me it wasn't a date, then it wasn't a date. If I thought you were a liar, we'd never have hooked up."

Sasuke hesitated, not feeling the relief that he thought he would feel when Naruto believed him that he wasn't fucking Yagura. Despite claiming to believe Sasuke, Naruto did not sound 'all better'. If he believed Sasuke that he hadn't been hiding a boyfriend on the side, then what was the problem?

"That picture was taken when we both realized that neither of us wanted to be there, and we'd both been pushed into it by our families. I was… relieved that it wasn't going to be awkward. So was he. That's all it was." Sasuke found himself explaining even though Naruto hadn't asked, hoping that somehow the words coming out of his mouth would erase the unsettling feeling that was growing in his stomach.

"Yeah, I can see where that would be a relief. Do your families do that a lot? Set you up on blind power dates?" Again, Naruto's tone was strangely flat.

Sasuke was now regretting calling Naruto. He needed to talk to him in person. He couldn't figure out what was going on, or where this conversation was headed. Sasuke always knew where things were headed. It was frustrating to be fumbling around in the dark.

"Not often. Maybe once a year or so," he paused, but Naruto didn't say anything more.

"So… are we good?" Sasuke finally asked, deciding to be direct.

There was the sound of a glass being set down. "I don't know, Sasuke. ARE we good? I don't even know WHAT we are, much less if we're good or not."

Naruto's voice was soft, almost like he was asking a question he didn't really want to hear the answer to. There was the slightest slur to his words that drew Sasuke's notice.

"Are you… are you drinking?"

"Are you going to come over tonight?" Naruto repeated the question with more force.

Sasuke tensed, suddenly realizing that this was not at all a casual question. "I thought you said you were going to be having friends over."

" I am. And you could be one of them."

"Naruto… I just had my name all over the tabloids two days in a row. I'm not really looking to score a hat-trick, here. The press is following me everywhere right now." Sasuke felt like he was floundering. He was used to knowing where things were going. He always had all the right answers. But suddenly he was totally lost. He didn't even know what Naruto was really asking, much less what the right answer was. It was not a familiar feeling for him. Nor a pleasant one.

"So, you wanted me to come over there, so we could continue to fuck under the radar. Because god forbid you were ever actually seen in public with me, right? I mean… at least Yagura has the pedigree. So you had no problem being seen with him. Shit, Sasuke, how long have we been together? And you still won't do it."

Sasuke's brain froze, refusing to pony up a single helpful thing for him to say. He hadn't expected this at all. Where the fuck had all this come from? Hadn't things been going great between them? Sasuke had been fully prepared to explain the situation with Yagura, and apologize for not being clearer in his text exactly what was going on. He could handle that. He could win that argument, because there had been NOTHING going on with him and Yagura. He knew all the right answers. But this… was not something he knew how to handle. Hadn't they wanted the same thing? He struggled to find words that would erase this escalating tension. He just had to get Naruto to understand the situation. Then it would be fine.

"Yagura didn't matter because we aren't actually seeing each other. Sakura already handled it with the press. And since my uncle is the one who set the whole thing up, I don't have to worry about him being a dick, either. It's not the same as if you and I were seen together."

"Why, because we actually ARE seeing each other? Oh, wait. I forgot. You said you aren't seeing ANYONE. We're just fucking."

Sasuke blinked, belatedly realizing his earlier mistake. His mind raced, trying to find a way to shift the conversation back into an arena where he could still fix this, where he still had a clue about what was going on and how he should respond. He'd never had a relationship last this long. He'd never wanted it to. He had no idea how to have this conversation, or how it was supposed to go. "What? That wasn't what I meant. Look, I get that you are annoyed about the Yagura thing, but I already explained that -"

"Jesus, Sasuke. I'm NOT pissed about date with fucking Yagura! I believe you that it wasn't a real date. I believe you that Madara set it up. If I thought you were the kind of guy to lie about this, we wouldn't be having this conversation. That's not what this is about!"

"Then what is it about?! Things were fine before the stupid photo, and now all of a sudden you're telling me that you don't like the way things are when we both agreed that this would be -" Sasuke could hear the frustration building in his voice but couldn't control it.

"I know what we agreed!" Naruto's raised voice cut him off. "And we also agreed it was going to be temporary. I'm tired of not being able to introduce you to my friends. Fuck! We had dinner with my godmother and I had to pretend I barely fucking knew you! My friends ask me who I'm seeing and I have to just shrug and tell them it's not serious and -"

"What do you want from me, Naruto! It's not like you were so keen to share the fact that you'd been meeting up with your ex while I was out of town. I didn't fucking crucify you for that, and he was someone you'd actually slept with. Yagura was just some guy my uncle hoped I'd form an alliance with. And I still texted you immediately to let you know about it."

"Five minutes. I talked to Sasori for five fucking minutes and I didn't even let him in. I wanted to find out for sure he was clean, since the last time I was alone with him he was high and threw a fucking washing machine on me and broke my fucking ribs. If I had decided to actually meet up with him and talk things out, I definitely would have told you."

Sasuke blinked, feeling an irrational, protective anger that someone had done that to Naruto, even though they hadn't even met yet when it happened. The vague dislike he had felt towards Naruto's ex sharpened into something much more visceral.

"And for the record, telling me you had 'a dinner thing' is not the same as telling me you were going out on a date your family set up."

Sasuke raked his fingers through his hair. "Look, I was running late to a meeting and I just wanted to let you know I wasn't going to be able to meet you that night. I was going to explain more when we saw each other. I didn't expect it to come out in the papers before we'd had a chance to talk. It's not like I was trying to hide anything from you. There was nothing to hide!"

He could hear Naruto draw a breath, as though to try to control his temper.

"Stop making this sound like it's about your date with Yagura! The whole reason I didn't want to talk to you about this tonight in the first place was because I didn't want it to seem like it was about your date. This is about you and me. It has nothing to do with Yagura. I'm tired of hiding our relationship like it's some dirty little secret."

"You were fine with it in the beginning," Sasuke bit back, lashing out because he didn't know how else to respond. He didn't want to end things, but Naruto was asking for something he'd never even considered. Wasn't ready to consider. He was springing this on him out of nowhere and Sasuke needed to think it through, how much it would change his life… he wasn't ready. "You seemed just as keen as I was to keep your friends from finding out and writing about it in the paper," he grasped at flimsy straws, already knowing he would lose. He felt slightly nauseous… wishing he could go back in time and start this conversation over and hope it had a different outcome. Knowing that it wouldn't.

"Yeah, because I didn't know if it was going to last more than a couple of nights, and I don't need the entire city of Konoha knowing about every person I fuck. But it's been four months, Sasuke. It's not the same thing anymore. At least, not for me." Naruto's voice sounded tired. Resigned.

Hurt.

Sasuke closed his eyes, tilting his head back. "I don't like having my social life all over the papers. It's different for you. Your friends might post one column or something, but then they'll drop it. My family is always in the press. If I date someone publically, there will be people following us around all the time. For years. Not to mention that my family isn't likely to approve of us, and they will do whatever they can to interfere, including messing with your business permits. Why do we need to complicate this? It's been fine like it is. I told you what I was willing to offer when this whole thing started." Sasuke winced at how his voice sounded almost desperate. Was that really him?

"Yeah. You did. And I'm not faulting you for that. It isn't enough anymore, Sasuke. Being on the down-low was fun for a couple of months. But that's not how I want to live for the long term. My family and friends are a big part of my life, and I don't want to have them never know anything about the person I'm with."

"I'm not saying you have to…. never tell them anything," Sasuke was fumbling for words, his breath coming faster, his lungs desperately trying to provide oxygen to the supposedly brilliant brain that always found the right words to say. But it wasn't working. Nothing was fucking working.

"So when, then? When can I introduce you to my parents? When do you want to come hang out with me and my friends?"

"Naruto, it isn't that simple. Why are you trying to change things? If we go public with things, the press will be following us everywhere. My family will find out, and go after you because -"

Naruto cut him off. "Because my bank account doesn't look like Yagura's. I get it. So what, then, Sasuke? We date in secret until I find a way to make a billion dollars? Because that's never going to happen. If your family thinks I'm not good enough, then let them meet me and tell me directly. Let's at least TRY. I'm not afraid of your family, Sasuke. There's more to a person than money, and if they don't see that, then why the fuck do you care what they say, anyway? Unless you agree with them."

Sasuke blew out a frustrated breath. "No. Naruto, it isn't just about that. I don't care how much money you have. I have more money than I could spend in ten lifetimes already."

" Then WHAT, Sasuke? What will have to happen before you're ready to actually come out about being together? We've been fucking for FOUR MONTHS. Either there's something there or there's not. I like you. And it isn't just about the sex. It never has been. If that's the only part of our relationship that you're willing to acknowledge, then I'm wasting my time."

Sasuke glanced at his closed door, forcing himself to keep his voice down despite the fact that he felt like screaming. Everything was going so wrong. He felt a strange, panicky sensation twisting in his stomach as he tried to get his supposedly genius brain to come up with the words that would fix this all and let them get back to the way things were. "I'm not saying it's just about sex. It's not. But why do other people need to be involved in our relationship? What we do is between the two of us. I don't feel the need to bring everyone else into it, especially if they are just going to do damage."

There was a silence on the other end. Then Naruto finally spoke.

"Then that's where we're different, Sasuke. I have no interest in having some half-assed, secret relationship with you, even if you think it's all for a good reason. We've fucked around enough. Either there's something worth standing up to your family and the press for, or there isn't."

"So you're giving me some shitty ultimatum over the phone? We do this your way or we're done?" Sasuke tried to stop the bitter, angry words from coming, but he had no practice in controlling emotions he never allowed himself to feel.

"Isn't that what you've been doing since we started? You had it your way for the first four months, Sasuke! And I'm tired of it. I didn't want to do this over the phone. I asked you to come over, remember?"

"You're tired of it? I let you in more than I've let anyone else in before, and you're telling me it's not enough? Do you have any idea how many people would kill to be in your position?"

The moment the words were out of his mouth Sasuke knew they'd been the wrong thing to say, but he couldn't pull them back.

" Then go fuck a few of them. Because I'm done."


Naruto pushed the 'End' button on his phone, his hand shaking as he ended the call and evidently his relationship with Sasuke. He stared at the device for a moment, somewhat in shock at what had just happened. His breathing was elevated, his palms sweaty. How had their conversation spiraled out of control so fast?

He felt a momentary urge to call Sasuke and take it all back but… really… everything he'd said was true. He was pretty sure Sasuke would be willing to stay together if Naruto were willing to go back to the way things were. But after what had happened at his godmother's party, he knew he really just couldn't. It wasn't how he was wired. If they got back together now, it would just put off the inevitable, and he'd only be deeper in… in his feelings. His mind shied away putting a label on what he felt for the man he'd just broken up with.

Naruto swallowed, waiting to see if the phone would ring again, but knowing it wouldn't. He had thought he'd been prepared for the possibility that Sasuke wouldn't want to take the relationship further, but the reality of the abrupt end of things between them somehow left his mind spinning.

Though that could also partially be the tequila.

He bit his lip, wondering if he would have ended differently if they'd at least be able to sit down face-to-face and talk it out. Though, in some sense, maybe this had been the right way, even if he hadn't planned it. Whenever they were in the same room, they tended to get distracted by sex. All that might have happened would have been that they could have had angry sex, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome. Only made it more bitter.

He drew a shaky breath as he continued to stare at the stillness of his cell, willing Sasuke to call him back and tell him that he had changed his mind and wanted to give it a shot. But the phone stayed stubbornly silent.

The sound of a throat being cleared snapped him out of his thoughts. He looked up to see Shikamaru standing three feet away from him, a plastic shopping bag full of snacks for the evening frozen in his hands. By his expression, he'd been there for quite some time.

"So," Shikamaru said after a moment. "You and Uchiha?"

Naruto clenched his fist as his hand trembled slightly from the waning adrenaline rush of their argument. "Not anymore."

Shikamaru nodded, and walked over to pour two shots of tequila. "Want to talk about it?"

Naruto picked up his shot glass, downing it in one go. "Not tonight."

Shikamaru followed suit, setting the empty glass back down and refilling them both. "Ok."


Sasuke had his phone to his ear, even though he knew Naruto had disconnected. Somehow, his hand was refusing to move. To acknowledge what had just happened. Yesterday, he had woken up in bed with Naruto and felt… content. Like things were exactly how they were supposed to be. How had it gone from that to this in under forty-eight hours?

He had no experience with break-ups. Or relationships. It had always just been sex and slight companionship. He had never felt like one of his lovers was… irreplaceable.

When things had ended, it had always been Sasuke's decision to do so. He'd never really felt anything much about it. He had never felt this… panicked, sick, hollow coil in his stomach. His hands had never gotten cold and clammy.

Right now, he wished he weren't feeling anything.

The door to his office opened, and Itachi walked in. He took one look at Sasuke's face, then turned a suddenly lethal glare over his shoulder at the man who stood behind him in the doorway.

It was Madara.

Sasuke tried to place the look on his uncle's usually hard face, and found the word that sprang to mind was... chastened.

"Leave. Now." Itachi's voice cut like blades as he levelled it against the older man.

Shockingly, Madara simply stepped back and closed the door, leaving them in privacy.

Sasuke's eyes met Itachi's, and Sasuke just stood there, unable to think of even what to say. He prayed he didn't look as pathetic in that moment as he felt, but the softening of Itachi's face made him suspect the worst.

"Naruto didn't believe you?" mild surprise shaded Itachi's voice.

Sasuke shook his head once. "He believed me." His voice came out sounding strange. He cleared his throat.

"Then?" Itachi asked.

"He…" Sasuke's fist clenched around his phone. "... he said he knew I wasn't the kind of person to lie about something like this. But he said that what I was offering him wasn't enough. And he... ended it."

The pleased look that appeared on Itachi's face made Sasuke want to shove his phone down his throat.

"I'm so glad you find my being dumped such good news," Sasuke said bitterly.

"No, Otouto. What I find good news is that Naruto likes you enough to want something more than sex from you."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed, but he couldn't deny that Itachi's words made the twisting nausea in his stomach subside somewhat.

"Why don't you come to dinner with me tonight? I have some organic tomatoes from mother's garden that she shipped down," Itachi said, walking over to Sasuke's desk and shutting down his little brother's laptop without waiting for permission.

Itachi's hand brushed across Sasuke's back as he guided him towards the door. Sasuke allowed himself to be shepherded out. He really wasn't up to dealing with anything in the office any more that evening.

As the elevator doors closed on the two brothers, Itachi caught the sight of Madara speaking to Sakura. He wondered how much of Sasuke's conversation his uncle had overheard when he found him standing outside Sasuke's closed office door, an almost stricken look at the usually expressionless man's face.

He also wondered what Madara was going to do about it.

But that was a thought for another day. For tonight, Itachi was just going to focus on his brother.


to be continued….

A/N: For those of you waiting for an update on Healing, it is coming, I swear to god! The chapter is more than half done, but I just got really excited about this story (and all of your amazing comments) so I updated this one first.

NOW for Ramen, as I mentioned, there are between 2-4 chapter left depending on how much suffering we think these guys need to go through before they earn their happy ending. I am curious to know where you all are on this. Should Naruto suffer? Should Sasuke? Should Naruto go on a date with someone else? Should Sasuke? Should neither of them date and instead think about things? I have a strong opinion on this, but I want to see what you all think. I can't promise I will write it how you want, but I at least want to know if we are all in the same place here. Let me know! *blows kisses*

Chapter Text

Author's note: Ok, so you guys blew me away with all your comments! OMG! So thank you! It was actually very helpful to read them, because I realized that I need to have Naruto and Sasuke explain a few things in this chapter. Hugs to everyone who commented! Special thanks again to Mykko_chan for reading through in advance and letting me know what was working and not working.


The Daily Ramen, April 22

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

A team of international sociologists have been studying various cultures to determine what the least discriminatory societies are on earth. Their answer? Wolf-packs. "Whether you're black, white, yellow, or blue, whether you're atheist, jewish, shinto, christian, or muslim… to the wolves we all just taste like chicken." When asked what this means for the rest of society, the man just shrugged. "We weren't looking for who treats people the best, just the most consistently."


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

A local inventor excitedly revealed a new robot that is better able to mimic the emotions and responses of humans. "I programmed it to mimic the actions and responses of a stereotypical Japanese schoolgirl," the man explained excitedly. After seeing the robot, it was clear that it had the concept of being a cock-tease down to an art, preferentially selecting ridiculously short skirts and posing cheesily for photographs by bending over, sticking out its ass while not quite showing its panties and giving the 'thumbs up' sign. There are numerous investors lined up to take the robot to market. Exactly what market they will be taking them to was not disclosed.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Occasionally, everyone likes to take a peek out their window to see what their neighbors are up to. Call it human nature. A particularly outgoing couple that lives across the way from me is generally more than happy to oblige and put on a show. Balcony sex is fun, but if you're going to do it, you should be aware of your own physical limitations. As well as those of your balcony. In one of their hot and heavy make-out sessions, 'Romeo' got the great idea to bend his very willing 'Juliet' over the railing and have at it. Unfortunately, the railing wasn't really made of sturdy stuff and the couple quickly found themselves tumbling over the edge. Luckily, they were only on the second floor, so the damage was minimal. Interestingly, there were seventeen nearly instant calls to 911 after they fell. The young couple now has an exact headcount of the number of voyeurs in the neighborhood... all just looking out for their well-being, of course. They get an 8 for romantic location, but a negative three for execution. Any sex that ends in unintended broken bones gets an automatic 10 point deduction.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

Remember when your mom told you to never pet a cat or dog that wasn't yours? How about 'never jump the security fence of a zoo to go eat your lunch with a man-eating tiger? Well, a dude in India forgot that lesson, climbing over a fence (despite multiple warnings) and swimming a moat to eat his lunch with the 'cute adult tiger'. The tiger was happy to have lunch delivered that day. I guess the guy tasted good with ketchup. And earned the title of dumbass of the day.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the Horses - You know that friend that always says he'd 'never throw a friend under a bus just to get ahead'? The stars advice that you avoid standing with him on busy streets for the next week or so. You're both up for the same promotion. For my Rats - Your boss will need to explain to you this week that following your dreams does not in fact mean you should spend all your time asleep at your desk. To the Roosters - Your ability to convince your lover that you were NOT cheating is going to be severely undermined by the YouTube video. But the good news is, you finally are in a posting that got over 50,000 hits. Congratulations.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Everyone loves to cheer their favorite team! Especially if there are lovely, youthful young ladies cheering with them! In order to attract more of these most eye-pleasing fans, the NBA is considering altering their uniforms to go back to earlier versions where the shorts were much shorter for their male players. "Football has an edge on us, what with the guys running around in spandex pants. The girls can get a nice look. We need something like that to remain competitive." I am personally a fan of spandex! Especially green spandex because - [the internet has reasserted its authority to cut this column short. More next week.]


-xXx-

"So," Itachi stood, taking his empty plate as Sasuke followed suit. "Are you ready to talk about it?"

They walked to the kitchen and put their dishes on the counter. Itachi had someone come and do the cleaning for him, so there was no need to wash them.

"What's to say? We were fucking. Now we're not."

Itachi arched a brow at the bitterness he heard in his brother's voice. Clearly Sasuke had moved on from shock to anger over the course of their dinner.

"And you are not pleased with this change in status," Itachi stated.

Sasuke's face showed no emotion. "We're both adults and free to make our own choices."

Itachi wasn't fooled.

"But it was Naruto's decision to end things," Itachi watched his brother's expression closely, noticing the flash of confused hurt before his walls were put firmly back in place.

Sasuke shrugged casually, pouring them each a glass of wine. "It doesn't matter. It wasn't serious."

"Wasn't it?" Itachi asked, swirling the deep red vintage, letting it breathe. "I'm pretty sure that this is a first for you. Usually you're the one scraping them off your boot when it's over."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "I'm always direct about what I'm offering. If someone gets more attached despite that, then it isn't my concern. They're always more than happy to take what they can get. I don't do relationships, but I don't lie about it either. And neither do you, by the way, so don't think I'll feel guilty by you pointing this out."

Itachi nodded his head slightly, conceding the point. "But I'm not the one who got dumped and is upset about it."

Sasuke took a swallow of his wine, then set the glass down firmly. "Well, this has been lovely as always, Nii-san, but I'm afraid I need to head home."

Itachi laid a hand on his arm. "Sasuke. If this really doesn't matter to you, then I will let it go. But I've seen how you are with all your previous lovers. They never affected you. With Naruto, you changed. You've been more relaxed. Happier. I think you will regret it if you walk away without a fight."

Sasuke shook Itachi's hand off his shoulder. He didn't say anything, but he didn't leave either.

"Otouto. I just want you to be happy. We don't all have to be slaves to the Uchiha empire."

Sasuke's expression didn't change, but Itachi could sense the way his younger brother flinched at his words. He knew that Sasuke was struggling, not familiar with dealing with emotional situations, especially his own. Itachi would have to tread gently. Uchihas were not known for their ability to handle emotions or relationships. It was clear that Sasuke was already falling back on the traditional response of shutting down all his emotions and walking away. It was how they were trained… how they were raised to respond.

Normally, Itachi would not interfere. It was who they were, as Uchiha men. Powerful. Driven. Cold.

Alone.

But Itachi had seen a change in Sasuke after his brother had started seeing Naruto. He had always been incredibly driven, focused only on work. But a few months ago, Itachi had noticed a change in his little brother. Sasuke would no longer stay late into the night unless absolutely necessary. In the mornings, instead of coming in looking tense and irritated, Itachi had seen his younger brother looking relaxed, content. Sometimes rather smugly pleased with himself in a way that made it more than clear how Sasuke had likely spent the earlier part of the morning.

Sasuke would sometimes sneak a look at his phone when they were in a meeting… and his face would soften in amusement and affection at what he was reading.

Itachi didn't want to see his brother fall back into the cold, empty life that most of their family was trapped in. He wanted more for him. Though in the end, it would have to be Sasuke's choice.

"He believed you easily enough that you weren't dating someone else. That implies more trust than you'd expect from someone only thinking about sex. And things seemed quite amenable between the two of you at the mayor's dinner party. What happened?"

Sasuke hesitated, clearly not comfortable having this conversation. After a moment, he relented, blowing out a breath of a blend of frustration and confusion. "I don't know! I thought… it seemed like things were fine." Sasuke glanced over to see Itachi's arched brow. "Better than fine. But then all of a sudden he's telling me that he wants me to meet his friends and introduce me to his parents and his godmother and…" Sasuke raked his hand through his hair. "... he'd never talked about any of that before. He was fine with how things were for the past four months, and then he just springs it on me on the fucking phone."

Itachi picked up Sasuke's abandoned glass and walked them into the study, setting both their glasses down on the mahogany coffee table and settling into one of the large, leather chairs there. Sasuke followed after a moment. Sasuke sat down across from Itachi, picking up his glass and taking another drink. Itachi watched him thoughtfully.

"That's a pretty big leap to go from 'just sex' to basically asking for a relationship," Itachi said slowly, a slight frown on his lip. "Usually it starts slower. For example, a lover asking to stay the night, getting some space in your closet for a few items of clothing, keeping a toothbrush there. Spending more time together when you're in town. That sort of thing."

Sasuke blinked, then looked down at his wine glass. His thoughts went to Naruto's toothbrush next to his in his bathroom. And the extra shirts hanging in his closet.

Itachi raised a brow. "He has already asked for those things?"

Sasuke shifted slightly. "Not… really. We were already spending most nights I was in town together."

Itachi was slightly surprised at this. He hadn't realized it had already gone that far.

"At his request, or yours?"

Sasuke was still for a moment, clearly not wanting to answer the question.

"Yours, I assume then," Itachi stated, sipping his wine. "And was he spending the whole night or leaving when it was over?"

Sasuke smirked slightly. "You act like those two things are mutually exclusive. We often went all night."

Itachi rolled his eyes. "But not every night. Even you would get tired with that kind of work out."

Sasuke's fingers brushed over the rim of his wineglass. "He usually spent the night."

Itachi took another sip of his wine. "And who initiated that?"

"What does it matter? It's over now."

Itachi casually swirled his wine. Clearly Sasuke had initiated having Naruto stay over. That was very interesting. It could potentially mean that Sasuke was more emotionally invested in this relationship than Naruto was. Which could be dangerous for his little brother. Itachi was good at reading people and knew that the writer would never toy with someone's emotions intentionally. But Sasuke had started this as 'sex only', and it wasn't clear what Naruto really felt about any of this. Itachi wouldn't push Sasuke in this matter until he knew how the blond really felt.

Sasuke looked over at Itachi in annoyance. "What. No sage words of wisdom? Or was my task for this evening simply to satisfy your idle curiosity."

Itachi felt a flicker of pity for his younger brother, but was careful not to show it. He could tell that Sasuke was confused and hurting. Neither of them was good at accepting comfort. Or giving it.

"I'm not going to tell you what to do, Otouto. You are the only one that can decide if this is worth the changes in your life you'd have to make. And the risks you'd have to take on."

Itachi could see the muscles in Sasuke's jaw clench.

"It's not only my life that would be affected. Madara could ruin Naruto. Not to mention the stress that living under the paparazzi puts people under. We've been raised with it, but Naruto has no idea. We've never talked about any of this."

"But surely those would be his decisions… whether it's worth it to him to take those risks," Itachi said calmly, ignoring Sasuke's glare. "Naruto never struck me as a fool, Sasuke."

Sasuke scrubbed his hands through his hair. He looked exhausted. "I know. But he didn't give me a chance to think about anything, or talk about any of this," His voice was rich with frustration, and he stopped, then drew a breath. "But he ended it pretty clearly. Which is fine. It was probably time for this to end, anyway. Four months is a long time." All traces of emotion had disappeared from his voice by the end, and he was back to the cold, elegant man everyone saw him as.

Itachi barely restrained himself from sighing as he saw Sasuke's shields being carefully put back in place as the younger man rose, adjusting the cuffs of his shirt slightly.

"Sasuke -" Itachi began, but Sasuke cut him off.

"I should get going. We have a lot of work tomorrow. I have a trip to South America to plan. I might move up the timing. No point in putting these decisions off."

This time a sigh did escape Itachi's lips. Sasuke was already stepping back into his old habit of letting work take over his life. Just like their father.

He sat alone in his home after Sasuke had left, thinking about what the best way to help his brother was. He tapped his long, elegant fingers on the armrest of his chair. Then he reached for his phone.

"Uncle Madara. I want you to meet me in my office tomorrow morning at seven. Do not be late. I believe you and I have things to discuss."


Sasuke let himself into his apartment later that evening. It was dark and silent.

He flicked on the lights.

He was still partially in shock from the day's events. He had woken up with the anticipation that he'd be seeing Naruto that night. Then he'd been filled with dread when he'd read the tabloids and thought Naruto might believe that he'd been dating someone else and just fucking him on the side. He remembered the relief he'd felt when Naruto had readily accepted Sasuke's explanation but then…

Sasuke's stomach felt hollow, despite the fact that his brother had cooked him dinner.

It didn't matter. He would be fine. He didn't need anyone. His life was incredibly busy. Wasn't that the reason he'd never bothered much with relationships in the first place? He didn't need one. His life was full enough as it was. This just served as a reminder of why he never did relationships.

He showered and climbed into his bed. The sheets felt cold against his skin. After several minutes of waiting for them to warm up, he got up shivering and took another blanket down from his closet.

He was fine. He'd speak to the landlord about the heating in the morning.

Before he went to sleep, he sent off an e-mail to his assistant telling him to book the trip to South America that he'd been delaying. There was no point in hanging around in an empty apartment.


Naruto's head was pounding. It was much worse than the hangover from Tsunade's party. He mentally scolded himself for drinking so much twice in the same week. He wasn't in college any more. He groaned slightly as he tried to open his eyes. The prior night was all a blur.

He felt a warm body next to him. Actually, he could feel a body on either side of him. He cracked his eyes open, immediately recognizing the soft cascade of Hinata's black hair. Looking to his other side, he could see the brown spikes of Kiba's hair.

He slowly disentangled himself from the sheets without waking his friends. They'd all passed out in their clothes, so they were looking pretty rumpled. Shino was asleep in the beanbag chair in the corner of his room.

Naruto staggered to his bathroom, only to find Sai asleep in the tub. Evidently his friends had taken their task of getting wasted with him the night before quite seriously. They had all been working really hard and probably needed to cut loose. At least he'd been able to provide an excuse for them to do that.

He grimaced slightly. Shikamaru hadn't said anything to the others about what he'd overheard, and no one pushed too hard as to why Naruto had invited them over. They'd spent the evening playing the 'local news' drinking game. The game required them to take a drink every time one of the local newscasters said something either cliché, party biased, or just completely inaccurate. Needless to say they'd all been totally hammered in under an hour.

Naruto looked again at the sleeping man in his tub. He only had one bathroom in his apartment and he really needed to piss. Sai was relatively new to the group and decidedly the lightest weight drinker of all of them. Deciding it was probably safe, Naruto unzipped and quickly relieved himself. He washed his hands, casting one last glance at the passed out form of their cartoonist. Sai had gotten his wish for Naruto to drop his pants for him. Too bad he was passed out and missed it.

He walked out and headed for the kitchen, carefully stepping over Lee who was sleeping in the middle of the hallway. Naruto paused for a moment, then walked back and grabbed two blankets from his linen closet, laying one over Sai, and the other over Lee. The others seemed comfortable enough as they were.

Naruto resumed his journey to the kitchen. Since he was responsible for the drunken evening, he figured he could take responsibility for its consequences and make up a few batches of his mother's 'morning after' cure, along with a large pot of coffee.

He was surprised to see Shikamaru awake on the couch. Naruto smirked, ignoring the pain in his head. "I think I'm having a drunken hallucination. For a minute there, I thought that you were awake while the rest of us were asleep. But… that's just crazy talk."

Shikamaru snorted, slowly levering himself up to join Naruto in the kitchen, pulling out the coffee pot as Naruto rummaged around for the ingredients for his morning after cure. Of everyone in the house, Shikamaru had the highest alcohol tolerance, with Naruto a close second. It would be a while before the others got up.

"So. Ready to talk about it?" Shikamaru asked as he measured the coffee grounds.

Naruto set an empty pitcher on the counter, staring at it for a moment as though it might contain the answer to his friend's question.

"I fucked up."

Shikamaru said nothing as he poured the water into the coffee maker, pressing the lever and waiting for it to work its magic.

Naruto glanced over at him. "Don't rush to my defense or anything, Shika."

Shikamaru snorted. "If you fucked up, you usually know it. I'm not going to second guess you. Tell me what happened."

"Well… about five months ago, I started running into Sasuke around town… grocery stores, the gym, coffee shops. I didn't even know who he was, at first. He just… he pissed me off."

Shikamaru watched as the coffee machine made sputtering noises and the first hot, dark drips of coffee started to appear in the pot.

"Lots of rich guys piss you off."

Naruto chuckled a bit. "Yeah. And he really did. He's like… arrogant as fuck and all perfect and expensive-looking."

Shikamaru raised an eyebrow. "Not your usual type."

"I know, right? What was I even thinking?" Naruto gave a completely unconvincing chuckle.

He filled the pitcher with water, then measured in some sugar.

"So… what were you thinking?" Shikamaru prodded.

Naruto stirred the pitcher for a moment. "He's… he's actually really amazing. Like, at first, I just sort of wanted to piss him off and…"

"Take him down a peg?" Shikamaru offered.

"Yeah, exactly. But then… even though he's really arrogant, he didn't get all offended or mad when I said stuff. He'd just smirk…" god, that fucking sexy smirk. "... and say something right back. And he's… he's actually really clever. I mean, everyone knows he's totally book smart, but he's also witty and has this sarcastic sense of humor, and..."

Naruto shrugged, going back to mixing up his remedy.

"Got it… you like the guy. He's smart, funny, hot and can tolerate your sense of humor. So what happened? I saw the news about him having a boyfriend that is some other billionaire prodigy."

"Nah, that was just some paparazzi bullshit. They were set up for dinner by their families to try to like… build some sort of business alliance or something but neither was interested."

"That's what he told you?"

"Yeah. And I believe him. He's brutally honest about everything. He temporarily lost almost half a billion dollars and was just like… 'yeah? I lost it. And I found it again, so calm the fuck down' to his crazy uncle who is the head of the board, or something. It was pretty cool. He's got serious stones. If he was in a relationship with someone else, he wouldn't have hidden it. Or lied about it. He'd just have told me about it straight up and said take it or leave it."

Shikamaru frowned. "So far I don't hear how either of you fucked up, then."

Naruto poured two glasses, handing one to Shikamaru.

"Because when we first got together, he said it had to be just casual… nothing in public. It was just sex."

"Which never works for you, so ok, starting to see some stupidity coming in, here."

"Fuck you. But, yeah. I just… that thing with Sasori at my birthday had just happened and I wasn't sure if I was just on the rebound or whatever. He seemed safe, since it was just sex I wouldn't end up hurting him if it turned out I really wasn't ready for anything serious yet."

Shikamaru tilted his head to the side. "Yeah, but you know that wouldn't work for long. You get involved with people. Has he been the only one you've been seeing the past few months?"

"Yeah. We've been… whatever for four months."

"And so what happened?"

"Tsunade Baa-chan had that big party a couple nights ago. Sasuke was there and… I had to just pretend I hardly knew him. Neither of us knew the other one would be there, so I wasn't prepared at all. I hadn't really thought about what it would be like, to be put in that situation. He'd been out of town for almost two weeks and couldn't say anything to him. I spent the whole evening talking to everyone else and… I don't know. It just sucked. I realized I couldn't do this 'secret relationship' thing anymore. I really… like him."

"So you saw the headline, freaked out and - ?"

"And I tried to keep calm and avoid him until I'd gotten my head on straight. But he called me and I'd… I'd already had a little to drink and all this stuff just poured out and I told him if he didn't want anything more than sex then I was done. He said some stuff about his uncle being a problem for me if the guy disapproved of us and how living in the spotlight of the press would be hard, but I said I would manage that. That it was worth at least trying, but… he didn't agree. He likes his private life private. Which he had told me from the beginning."

Shikamaru finished his drink, already looking slightly more alive. "So you blindsided him on the phone."

Naruto was leaning with his elbows on the counter, his head in his hands. "Yeah. Pretty much."

"And have you thought about it? About what his uncle could do, or what it really would be like to live with people snapping pictures of you two together anytime you were out grocery shopping or arguing in a parking lot or whatever?"

Naruto bit his lip. "I mean… his family aren't Yakuza. I won't try to come between him and his family, so if they really disapprove then I'd understand if he wanted to end things. But he isn't even willing to take the chance. As far as his uncle messing with the Daily Ramen, well…" Naruto laughed and even Shikamaru had to smile. "We've had a lot more powerful people seriously pissed off at us. That stuff doesn't scare me. Lots of people have tried to take us down. Shit, you've run so many things on the Prime Minister's office that it's amazing we still can get our licenses. Sasuke's used to people being intimidated by money and power. I'm not."

Shikamaru nodded. "But that's pretty unusual, so it's not surprising that he doesn't realize the amount of practice we have at defending ourselves against people trying to shut us down or fuck with us. But what about living in the spotlight? Every time you smile at a girl… or a guy… they'll try to make it look like you were -"

"- in the process of whipping out my dick. I know. And they do the same to Sasuke. But we're both experienced with the press. I mean, I've always been on the other side of that one, not on the receiving end, but I'm still familiar with how the game is played. Which is why I believed him when he told me what was really happening. It would take a while to get used to the lack of privacy, but… I mean, to me, it would have been worth it. I don't have any major skeletons in the closet to hide. And I really don't give a shit if I show up on some magazine when I'm having a bad hair day or whatever."

"Hm," Shikamaru looked more skeptical on this point. "Well, I'm still not sure you've really thought through how troublesome the press can be when they're as focused on you as they are on the Uchihas, but I agree that it should be your choice as to whether or not you're willing to deal with it."

Naruto shrugged, his tiny bubble of good humor bursting as he thought about it. "I think that - regardless of what I am willing to put up with - he's already decided he isn't. He pretty much said so."

"So, where did you leave it? How did the conversation end?"

Naruto grimaced. "Badly. He got defensive, I threw down a stupid ultimatum. He said something shitty, then I told him we were done and he could go fuck someone else and hung up."

Shikamaru grimaced. That was pretty bad. "Has he called you back?"

Naruto had stopped checking his phone two hours after their disastrous last call. It was still sitting on the kitchen table. He walked over and scrolled through his texts and vmails. The hollowness in his chest and stomach tightened when there was nothing. It really was done. Sasuke hadn't tried to call him back. Though he really hadn't expected him to after the way it had ended.

"No."

Naruto tried to ignore the twisting feeling in his stomach. Was it regret?

As if reading his mind, Shikamaru asked, "Do you think you'd say anything different if you talked to him now, sober?"

Naruto thought about it for a minute. "I think I might have phrased it differently… maybe tried to give him some time to think about it. But really… no. I don't want my life to be like this, where I have to pretend to barely know the guy I like. The longer we drag it out, the harder it will be to walk away later. And he seemed pretty sure that he didn't want anything public. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground."

Shikamaru looked at him thoughtfully. "If the outcome was going to be the same regardless of how you had the conversation, then there's no reason to beat yourself up over it. You went into this looking for a temporary thing. I guess… that's what it ended up being."

"Yeah. I guess." Naruto finished his glass. He didn't really think there would be much to say on either side. They both might have handled it badly, but in the end, they'd both only told the truth. "I sort of wish we'd been able to find a way to be friends, though."

Shikamaru smiled at that. Typical Naruto. Always wanting to find a way to be friends with everyone he interacted with. For the most part. "Then give him some time. And the next time you talk to him, do it in person. Not in a text or on the phone. You can get a better read on where his head's at, that way."

Naruto thought about what it would be like to see Sasuke now that they were no longer together. It would… sort of suck.

But he had learned his lesson from his relationship with Sasori. He wasn't going to wallow this time. He'd been honest, and so had Sasuke. In the end, they'd both done what they could. Naruto swallowed the last of his 'cure', then poured himself a cup of coffee and one for Shikamaru. "We'll give these guys an hour, then we're waking their asses up. We've got a paper to get out. And I need a shower."

Shikamaru sipped his coffee as Naruto began mixing a second batch of the hangover cure for his friends.

He was glad that Naruto seemed to be handling it. It might not have ended the way the blond wanted, but at least he'd stuck to his principles. Not that it surprised Shikamaru. If Sasuke wanted Naruto in his life as anything more than an acquaintance, he'd have to offer more than sex. It was too bad that it didn't appear that the businessman was willing to do so.


Sasuke boarded his flight, settling into first class and pulling out his laptop. He'd been putting off a few trips over the past couple of months, wanting to spend more time with Naruto. Well, that was done. Now he'd catch up on business and his life would get back to normal.

"Excuse me, sir? Could I get you anything to drink? Water, orange juice, champagne, or something from the bar?"

Sasuke thought about it for a minute. "Jack Daniels, neat."

He deserved a break. It was a seventeen hour flight. He told himself he wasn't running from anything. Especially not his empty apartment.

This was just work.


It had been ten days since his fight with Sasuke.

Naruto glanced around the lobby of the apartment building that he used to spend most of his nights as he made his way over to his favorite coffee place. He had been avoiding it lately, not sure what he would really say if he ran into Sasuke. But somehow still half-hoping to bump into him. He regretted how things had ended, but hadn't really been able to think of anything to say that would change anything.

Naruto walked up to the counter and ordered his cup of coffee. Well… his milk and sugar with coffee added. Out of habit, he looked behind him, half expecting Sasuke to show up. But the only people there were other patrons, waiting in line.

He'd thought about sending Sasuke a text asking to meet up, but he didn't want it to seem like he was offering sex. And if he asked to meet somewhere in public, it would seem like he was pushing Sasuke into something the man had already said no to. He'd even considered showing up at his workplace, but - again - to what end? He hadn't changed how he felt, and it was clear Sasuke hadn't either.

Maybe it was all for the best. Even if it sucked for the moment, he'd get over it and find someone who actually wanted a relationship.

Work had been busy, which had helped in a way. He was going to be heading up to Tokyo later that week to meet with the distributor that was interested in carrying the Daily Ramen in print form in other parts of the country, and there was some discussion about translating it to English and possibly Korean. Naruto and Shikamaru weren't really sure how much of a market for 'print' news there really was anymore, but the guy seemed really enthusiastic.

Naruto's cell rang, and he was annoyed at himself for the niggling spark of hope that it was Sasuke. But of course, it wasn't. He recognized the number, and hesitated slightly before setting his cup down on an empty table and answering.

"Sasori?"

" Hey. Am I catching you at work?"

Naruto glanced at his watch. It was only seven thirty in the morning. He was slightly surprised to hear from his ex, because Sasori had never been a morning person. But he knew he was taking his new job seriously. And evidently, sober.

"Nah. I was just getting a coffee before heading over to the office."

Sasori chuckled. "You mean your hot milk and sugar, right? Sexy."

Naruto felt his lips curve into a smile, then stopped himself. "Sasori… we talked about this. I'm really glad you're clean, but…"

" Yeah, yeah, I know. No sex, no fun. But that's not actually why I was calling."

Naruto raised one eyebrow skeptically.

"And put your eyebrow back down. I'm serious," Sasori's amusement was clear in his voice.

Naruto chuckled slightly, if a little sadly. It was hard to feel that closeness again, but know it was still over. "Ok, fine. So if you're not calling to be a perv, what do you want?"

"My first show has its opening night this Thursday. I… was sort of hoping you'd come."

Naruto knew without even being able to see him that Sasori was biting his lip, always his telltale sign of nerves.

He hesitated in thinking through his answer. He'd spoken to Sasori once over coffee about a week ago. It had been awkward and tense, but Sasori had apologized for all the stuff that had happened, and said that he really just wanted to be friends now. Naruto had told him he wasn't sure, but that he'd think about it.

Sasori had called a few times, just to talk. Naruto was knew that it wasn't easy to stay clean after addiction, and he wasn't the sort of person who would just hang up on someone reaching out. No matter what had happened in the end, it had started out good, and the seeds of friendship were still there. But he had made it clear to Sasori that it would never grow into more than that - just friendship. Sasori seemed to accept those boundaries, and hadn't asked to meet up again. Until now.

"Look, I'll understand if you don't want to come. Just... just think about it. I really want you there. That way I know there will be at least one friendly face in the crowd for my first performance."

Naruto thought about it for a moment. It would be in a public place. And Sasori would be busy. It should be safe enough to go. "Kay. I'll go if I can. Gaara might be in town, so if he is, we'll both come."

There was a silence on the other end of the phone for a moment, then Sasori replied. "Thanks. That would be great."

Naruto scrubbed his hand through his hair, feeling tense. He picked up his coffee cup from the small table he'd been paused at to take the call, slung his bag over his shoulder and walked out of the coffee shop.

"Excuse me. Are you Uzumaki Naruto?"

Naruto turned to see the man approach him in the lobby of Sasuke's building. He wasn't anyone Naruto had seen before. He had light brown hair with an almost greenish cast that made Naruto wonder if he dyed it. His eyes were golden, and slightly too close together.  The man glanced at Naruto's shirt, and blinked. Naruto looked down in case there was something on his shirt, but it was just the usual lettering: Bad grammar makes me [sic].

"Uh, yeah. Can I help you with something?"

The man gave a friendly smile and pulled out a small recording device. "I'm writing an exposé on the Uchiha family. I heard that you know the younger of the two brothers quite well."

Naruto's face froze. "Excuse me?"

The man gave him a knowing wink. "You heard me. I have a source who says that you were seen going in and out of Sasuke's apartment building almost every day."

Naruto martialed his thoughts quickly. The last thing he wanted was for their relationship to do damage to Sasuke now that it was over. "Yeah. I buy coffee here, asshole. See?" Naruto waved his paper cup in the guy's face. "Now if you excuse me, I have to get to work."

Naruto turned to leave, but the man grabbed his arm. "Yeah, but I heard that you arrive late at night and don't leave until morning. The coffee shop isn't open that late. See?" The man mimicked Naruto's earlier words, jerking his thumb toward the sign that posted the store's hours, the grin still on his face.

Naruto narrowed his eyes. "You have two seconds to let go of my arm."

The guy instantly dropped his grip and stepped back, lifting his hands in supplication. "Hey, look. I didn't mean anything by it. We're both in the newspaper business, right? You know how it is."

Annoyed, Naruto couldn't help but spell out the difference between a tabloid and the Daily Ramen. "I write political and social satire. People know it's a joke. I don't try to dig up dirt on people and fuck with their personal lives."

The man shrugged, brushing off that minor difference between them as he stepped closer, pulling out a business card from the front pocket of his jacket.

"Don't be so quick to turn this down. You could make a lot of money. More than you make in a year, if the story is as good as I think it is." The man pressed his card into Naruto's hand.

Naruto frowned, hoping this guy wasn't meaning what he thought he was. "What do you mean, 'good'?"

The man smirked. "You know what I mean. People have been trying to get the scoop and either of the Uchiha brothers' sex lives for years. We could both retire off the money we'd make on a sex video of the two of you together -"

Naruto had to use every ounce of self-control not to put his fist through the guy's face. But it would only add to the scandal if he attacked a member of the press. Even a shitty, tabloid one. He settled for grabbing the man's forearm and jerking him close, in a gesture that could appear to be friendly to an outside observer but was likely leaving bruises on the man's arm. "Zetsu, right? Look, I don't care how much money you're offering. There is nothing going on between me and Sasuke."

Zetsu looked at first surprised, then a calculating expression crossed his face. "Oh, really? What, he dumped you already? I've heard that's pretty much par for the course with him. It's annoying for me, since now I'll have to figure out who his replacement for you is."

Naruto fought down the wave of jealousy at the thought. Would Sasuke already have moved on?

"Though, actually, this might work out for the both of us. It would be a perfect chance for you to get back at him. If you don't have photos, you can just give me some details. What's he like in bed? Did he give you the names of any of his other lovers? Did you ever hear him talking about business deals, or family scandals?"

Naruto felt a surge of protectiveness toward Sasuke. Was this what Sasuke had to put up with? Did any of his past lovers actually sell him out?

"I have absolutely nothing to say to you," Naruto bit out. "If you print any bullshit about us being in some relationship, I will make sure you regret it."

Zetsu didn't appear intimidated. "Oh? And just what do you think you could do about it? You're not exactly rich enough to own anyone in government that I'd be nervous about."

"You don't have to be rich to know the ropes. I've had enough 'important people' come at me to know how it works."

"Really?" Zetsu looked skeptical, though slightly curious. "What could you possibly accuse me of other than just asking questions?"

Naruto smiled ferally. "You must be new at your job. You offered me money after I told you nothing was going on. That can be taken as trying to bribe me into making things up. There are lots of fancy legal terms for that, but what it basically sums up to is your ass will be fired and possibly in jail. Not to mention that you grabbed my arm when I was trying to leave. The cameras here would have caught that… it could be viewed it as assault, or at least as coercion."

Zetsu now looked nervous. He clearly hadn't expected Naruto to do more than bluster.

Naruto reached over and turned off the man's recorder. "You need to leave. Now. If I ever catch you following me or making shit up about Sasuke and me, and in addition to filing every lawsuit I can against you, I will find you in a place where there aren't any cameras and this conversation will end very differently. Understand?"

Zetsu nodded his head once, clearly nervous about the blond's threat. But he tried one last time. "You're making a big mistake. This is the easiest money you'd ever have made in your life."

Naruto snorted, releasing the man's arm. "Yeah, believe it or not, some people value things other than money."

Zetsu eyed him for a minute, then shrugged, "Your loss." He turned and walked out of the lobby.

Naruto watched the man leave, his anger not abating. He supposed that this just proved Sasuke right, in a way. Even though they weren't seeing each other anymore, Naruto was still a problem for Sasuke if people had noticed him spending time in his building after hours.

He sighed as he walked over and talked to the security guard, describing Zetsu and asking that they keep an eye out for him. Sasuke had said that part of the benefit of paying rent in this building was the security kept out stalkers and the paparazzi. Naruto wasn't sure which camp Zetsu fell into, but the security guard said he had it covered. He told Naruto he would look through the past few days of tapes to see if he'd been stalking Sasuke. If so, he'd notify the police.

Naruto pulled out his phone. He needed to call Sasuke and let him know about this. The security guard would tell him when he got back, but Naruto felt like he owed Sasuke a heads up at the very least.

It wasn't how he'd wanted to reach out to Sasuke after the way their last phone conversation had gone, but he needed to tell him. His palms were slightly sweaty and his stomach tensed in anticipation of hearing the familiar deep voice after so long. He quickly punched in the familiar numbers, chewing on his lip as he tried to think about what exactly to say.

He told himself he wasn't disappointed when it went directly to voicemail.

He didn't bother leaving a message. Sasuke could be on a flight, in a meeting, or in some country where his phone didn't even work.

He briefly considered calling Itachi, but decided against that. Sakura would have to handle the press side of things, anyway, and she was someone he knew wouldn't be looking to castrate him for the way things had turned out with Sasuke. Not that he thought for sure Itachi was mad at him, but… that wasn't really a chance Naruto wanted to take right now. The day had already been long enough and it wasn't even eight in the morning yet. He called Sakura, describing Zetsu to her and telling her that the man had been asking people in the lobby of Sasuke's building if they were willing to sell any dirt on him.

"But why would he ask you?" she asked, slightly confused.

Naruto decided to stick to the truth as much as possible. "He caught me as I came out of the coffee shop. I go there a lot, and it's in Sasuke's building. Sasuke and I have run into each other a few times there before. Zetsu knew I was a writer and probably had seen some of the stuff I'd written about Sasuke. Honestly, he seemed like he was fishing. He even asked about business deals or family scandals. I don't know if he's approached other people or not. The security guard is checking the backlog of their tapes, so if the guy has been stalking Sasuke for a while, we'll know."

Naruto honestly didn't know how the man had found out about them, since he and Sasuke had been careful to not be seen together going into his apartment. The coffee shop was really the only connection he could think of. He was glad he didn't have to lie about it.

Sakura got down to business right away. She was used to dealing with situations like this, and said she'd be calling the paper Zetsu worked for and putting a stop to it. She had the Uchiha lawyers on speed dial, and they could be very… convincing.

Naruto eyed his now-cold cup of coffee and considered just heading home and going back to bed.

There were definitely days that he fully understood his grandmother's habit of starting the morning with sake rather than coffee. This ended up being one of them.


Zetsu walked down the block and turned into an alley, pulling out his phone.

"It's done."

"Did he give you the story?" A deep, rich voice of an older man came through the phone.

"No. And he's already making trouble for me. I saw him talking to the security guard after I left. Now they'll be going through the video footage, and might even take it to the cops."

"Hm. That was careless of you. What did you do that made him so irritated?" the voice questioned.

"Just what you said! I told him he would make a huge amount of money on any proof or even details about a relationship with Sasuke. Or any of his confidential business dealings or personal information about the family."

"And?"

"He didn't even blink. He just got angry that I tried to bribe him, and threatened me with a lawsuit if I wrote anything about him or Sasuke."

"Did you stress how MUCH money he would make?"

"Yeah, and if anything, it just pissed him off more. The guy was not interested."

"I nteresting. And did you tell him it would be a perfect chance of getting revenge on Sasuke, by leaking this?"

"Yeah. That was the point where he threatened to have me fired, sued and in landed jail if I printed anything about this. He also sort of implied that he was going to kick my ass the next time he saw me. He was… uh… actually pretty convincing, so I'd rather not hang around here much more."

" Then I suggest you simply do what Uzumaki told you to, and forget about the conversation. I'll be in touch if I require anything else. Send the recording of your conversation to my office."


to be continued….

Credits: Hinata's and Kiba's stories are based on true stories.

A/N: So… I am guessing you all know who the guy on the phone was? ALSO - it was a tiny, mini troll, but no sex was had at Naruto's place. They all just hung out then fell asleep. There was no NaruHinaKiba action.

PS: All your comments made me feel guilty about playing Assassin's Creed this weekend, so I spent time working on this instead. LOL. Anyone who thinks commenting doesn't matter doesn't really know how easy it is to get distracted without people prodding you.

 

Chapter Text

Warning: Continued swearing and political incorrectness. Alas, no warning for smut. Yet.

Author's note: This chapter is mostly about Sasuke. Cuz he has the most work to do at this point. :-)


The Daily Ramen, May 15

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

North Korea bristled this week at news that Donald Trump was running for US president. "This threatens our position for 'country with most insane leader'. We refuse to allow the US to steal this hegemony from us." Leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties assured North Korean officials that Trump was basically unelectable after he gave out the personal phone number of a congressman he was annoyed with on live TV. North Korean officials were only partially appeased, and threatened to execute more military operations near the closest Trump Towers to show their position on this matter clearly.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a list of human phobias. Now generally, I have no problem with anyone's mental deals. I mean, we've all got them, right? I have met a lot of people, and I have yet to meet a fully sane one, including myself (just ask my co-workers). But some on the list took me by surprise by their specificity. For example, ephibiphobia: the fear of teenagers. I guess if high school was shitty enough, that one makes sense, though I would have to say just fuck it and go all the way and be afraid all people regardless of their age, since they don't necessarily get nicer as they get older. Just better at hiding it. But there were a few that - if they really become wide-spread - will have buying some cats (or a really big dog) and moving into the nearest lighthouse. Epistemophobia - the fear of knowledge - and cenophobia - the fear of new ideas were pretty bad. But the worst was allodoxaphobia: the fear of opinions. OPINIONS. Like… really? Is this a real thing? This reminds me a bit of my tenth grade political science teacher. Ebisu Sensei. Fucking hated him. I want someone to come up with the name for a phobia of people who have those three phobias. Because that's totally me.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

Sometimes people aren't aware that they're committing acts of PDA when they totally are. As a general word of advice to my readers, I tell people to assume that anything sex-related that you do online is basically fair game for the general public. This week, millions of people learned that lesson the hard way when the notorious "cheater's website" Ashley Madison had their files hacked. The slogan of the company: 'Life is short. Have an affair' attracted millions of married people looking for a little side action. The site promised anonymity, despite the fact that you had to use a personal credit card to sign up. People posted details of their personal life "Manhattan Mother of Four, seeking excitement", as well as reviews on 'successful hook-ups' (the 'mother of four' connected with a 'Brooklyn father of three' they day after Mother's day in a hotel in midtown Manhattan, for example, detailing out the quality of the sex had). Both parties were apparently pleased with the turn of events. Until the site got hacked and now they are all subject to blackmail as the lists of 'active' participants are being sold to the highest bidder based on income level, employer and geographic location. Now, I have to say I have zero sympathy for cheaters. But if you're going to cheat, doing it in an online forum is only appropriate if you want your spouse (and potentially your employer) to find out. Many of the users are now bemoaning how 'the hackers ruined their lives', but really, the hacker wasn't the one who made you put all this information out there, or cheat on your spouse. I give them all zeros, for sexual stupidity. In my personal book, I also deduct an additional 100 points for the grossness of the cheating.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

First of all, I just want to say that everyone in Hinata's column this week is automatically nominated by me as a dumbass. It's only because I'm such a gentleman that I let her take the story.

The 'official' Dumbass of the Day award is instead given to a woman who worked at a high-end clothing boutique. Not able (or willing) to afford one of the party dresses that she had her eye on, she 'borrowed it' from the store for an evening, tucking the tag in so it would go unnoticed as she went to her party. She then posted a selfie of her in the dress after the party, showing the still-attached tag and bragging about her cleverness. Of course, her 'cleverness' forgot to remind her that her manager was on her friends list, and saw the post. And got her fired. And charged with shoplifting. Dumbass.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the sheep: In their infinite wisdom, the gods grant you this advice: watch out for the dog shit on your way to work this morning. To the snakes: It's one thing to lie to your dentist about how many times a week you actually floss. It's another to lie to him about whether or not you are banging his wife after your appointments. To my monkeys: The stars COULD predict your future, but to be honest they're a little pissed off right now that you didn't actually wear the assless chaps to work that they told you about last time.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

With the end of winter, fans of American football around the world look forward to the start of spring training for the NFL, where we can get sneak peeks on who will be the stars of the season! This year, the league has instituted new topics for training that go well beyond the speed, agility, and endurance drills that have taken place before! These new trainings youthfully include: 'Do not leave racially or sexually incriminating statements on people's answering machines, no matter how angry you are!' and 'Do not e-mail discussions about drug use or illegal steroid use!' With all of this wonderful training, we look forward to another exciting season of sportsmanship at its finest! In fact - [The Internet once again apologizes for being full at this time. Please try again later.]


-xXx-

Sasuke awoke feeling cold and unrested. It had been weeks since he'd had a decent night's sleep. He wasn't ready to fully examine why that was. He told himself it was just that work had been hectic, and he'd been in a different time zone almost every night.

He reached over to the nightstand and picked up his cell phone. He'd turned the volume off before going to bed in the hopes of actually getting some rest. Since he was seven hours behind Japan, the chances of someone calling him in the middle of the night were high and he was having a hard enough time sleeping as it was. If it were truly an emergency, Itachi would call the hotel directly regardless of the hour.

He carefully did not look at the chat icon, knowing it would be blank, as always. He had stopped checking more than a week ago.

His eyes skimmed the e-mails, and he quickly replied to the few that warranted his immediate attention. He frowned as he noticed he had six missed calls and four voicemails while he was asleep. That was unusual, since everyone was aware he was traveling on business. He opened the menu to see who had called.

His breathing stilled as he saw the number of the first missed call.

Naruto.

He felt a rush of adrenaline flood through him as he quickly checked to see if Naruto had left a voicemail. And tried to tell himself he wasn't disappointed when there wasn't one.

He flicked back to the list of missed calls, staring at Naruto's number. He clicked on the little blue "i" next to the call to find out when it had come in. The time stamp showed it would have been around eight in the morning in Konoha when Naruto had tried to reach him.

Sasuke's mind raced as he tried to think of a reason Naruto would have called. Was it just a misdial? Did Naruto… want to see him? Sasuke was pretty sure that Naruto wouldn't be calling to hook up after their last conversation, but he couldn't quite stop the slight flush of anticipation at the possibility.

But no.

He knew Naruto well enough to know it wasn't that. He looked at the clock. It was mid-afternoon in Konoha now. Naruto would still be at work. Should he call him back? Sasuke sat up, annoyed with himself for getting worked up over a fucking missed call that in all likelihood was a misdial when Naruto accidentally sat on his phone or something.

He forced the thoughts aside and scanned the other voicemails.

He was relieved to see that none of the messages were from his mother. Mikoto had been calling the past several days, worried because she thought Sasuke was himself pushing too hard and traveling too much. Sasuke suspected it was Itachi's doing that his mother had even been aware of his travel schedule. Something he'd have to take up with his brother when he got back in another week or so. Sasuke kept adding more cities to his trip, so his return date kept getting pushed back. He admitted it was a grueling schedule, but he had already closed six investment deals in one week, topping even his father's record.

Sasuke didn't know what the fuss about his schedule was about. He liked to be busy. And it was good for business.

After all, wasn't that what his family always asked for first from all its members? Business above all else, and at any cost. He wondered when the thought had become such a bitter one.

Shutting down those unhelpful thoughts, he listened to the first message. It was unusual for his head of PR to call him on a trip. He frowned, wondering what had happened as he heard Sakura's voice begin to speak.

"Hello, Sasuke-san. I'm sorry to call you when you are traveling, but a situation came up that I wanted to be sure you were aware of. Evidently there was a reporter from a fairly well-known tabloid that tried to bribe Uzumaki Naruto - the reporter from the Daily Ramen - into making up some story about an affair between the two of you. We are, of course, handling this with the paper directly, and Naruto has already given the man's description and information to the security desk in your building. I don't expect any issues, but I wanted to notify you immediately. We are not sure why the man targeted Naruto, but the security guard is scanning the tapes to see if the man spoke to anyone else. I will keep you posted if there are any updates. Let me know if there is anything that I… should know."

This was not what Sasuke had expected. How had someone found out about them? And why had they waited for weeks before trying to get the story? His eyes narrowed slightly as his mind analyzed the information. This didn't make sense.

He waited for the sense of annoyance or panic to fill him at the thought of people finding out about his relationship with Naruto.

It was odd that it didn't come.

His immediate concern was whether Naruto was upset by it, and whether the paparazzi was giving him a hard time. His frown deepened. Madara would already know about this, if Sakura was involved. The man knew everything that went on inside the company. Sasuke scrubbed a hand through his hair. He'd have to call Madara and find a way to rein him in. He wasn't going to let his uncle fuck with Naruto's life just because they'd been sleeping together. It was over now, so there was no need for his Uncle's interference. A quick scan of Sasuke's bank records would show that Naruto hadn't taken a dime from him. Sasuke snorted at the thought. If anything, the writer had paid for dinner more often than Sasuke.

He wondered how the tabloid reporter had found out about them. They had been pretty careful to never arrive at his place together, and to leave separately as well. They had never gone on a single date in public. The only possible slip-up had been the Mayor's party. But Itachi would have noticed if someone else had seen them.

Setting aside the mystery for now, he looked at the number the second message was from. He tensed when he saw it was from Itachi and pushed play, expecting a reprimand for being caught.

"Otouto. Speak with me before you deal with Madara."

That was… not a good sign. The tension that Sasuke had been expecting began to unfurl in his gut. Something was going on if Itachi was worried about the kind of conversation Sasuke was going to have with their uncle. The next message was from Sakura again.

"Sasuke-san. I just got off the phone with the editor of the newspaper that the man who spoke with Naruto claimed to work for, and they've never heard of him. His name was Zetsu. I am going to call Itachi as well, but let me know if you've heard of this person. It may be another potential stalking situation. I am notifying the security at Uchiha Enterprises as well, so they will be on the look-out for him. We may need to consider calling in the police, but I will wait until I hear confirmation from either you or Itachi-san that we should proceed with contacting the authorities, since that will draw additional publicity. Please call me when you get this and let me know how you want to handle this."

It was amazing how quickly the tension in his stomach had turned into blazing anger. A full-body, visceral surge of it that took him by surprise by its intensity. There was only one Zetsu he knew, and it was Madara's puppet. He didn't think about why he was so angry. It wasn't as though this was the first time Madara had ever stepped in to his personal life, and it had only mildly annoyed him before. But this time, he was furious. If his uncle was fucking with Naruto, he was going to go back to Konoha and put his fist through his beloved uncle's face, respecting his elders be damned

He had played by the goddamn rules his family established, not having ANY serious relationships, focusing on work and driving the company profits higher, and Madara still went behind his back on this?

This time the man had gone too far. Sasuke called his assistant before even listening to the final message.

"I want you to postpone my remaining meetings and book me on the next available flight to Konoha. Text me the new flight details immediately."

His assistant had stammered something about the difficulties of cancelling his meetings at the last minute, but Sasuke had already hung up on him.

The last message was from the head of security in his building, letting him know that they had gone through the tapes of his building and found that the man in question had been hanging around the lobby for the past six days, but the only person he had approached was Naruto. They had informed all the guards that the person was not to be allowed into the building, and wanted to know if Sasuke wished to call the police regarding this matter. Sasuke was tempted to do so, if for no other reason than to annoy his uncle.

But Zetsu wasn't the one whose throat he wanted under the heel of his shoe at the moment. His fingers itched to call his uncle. He better understood now why Itachi had told him to call him before doing anything. In his current mood, he was likely to start a nuclear war. It was probably a good thing he was on the other side of the world at the current moment. At least, a good thing for Madara.

His jaw clenched, he called Itachi.

"Otouto. I assume you are calling regarding Madara and Naruto."

"Itach'. What the fuck is going on?"


Naruto hung up the phone and rushed out of his office.

"Holy shit guess what!" he shouted to no one and everyone. Kiba and Hinata looked up from the mock-up of the latest Daily Ramen merchandising strategy that Hinata was working on. Inwardly, Naruto snickered. Kiba was probably the last person in the office to know about what types of mugs or Tshirts would sell, but Naruto wasn't surprised to see them together. Those two always found every chance possible to work together. When was Kiba going to grow some stones and just ask the woman out?

"S'up?" Kiba responded.

"Shikamaru, get your lazy ass out here! You're never going to believe this!" Naruto called.

Said 'lazy ass' appeared a moment later, an eyebrow arched clearly trying to determine if his business partner was just being a spaz or if something really exciting had in fact happened. He gave it equal odds for either scenario.

"Did you finally decide to let me do a full frontal of you for my cartoon this week?" Sai asked from, flexing his cramped fingers from where he was drawing a cartoon of what appeared to be a literal interpretation of a parliamentary circle jerk with one of its latest, hotly contested bills in the center.

Naruto's eye twitched, but he was in too good a mood to respond.

"No. Naruto will not be removing his pants for you this week, Sai. Why? Because he has in fact already done so."

Everyone turned and stared at Shino for a moment. Naruto's cheeks pinkened, and Sai looked perplexed. Sometimes Naruto wondered how Shino knew unknowable things. It occasionally freaked him out.

"ANYWAY, enough about my junk. I just got off the phone with that crazy guy who said he wants to run a print edition of the Daily Ramen in the rest of Japan and even a few other countries. He said he did market tests in some of the bigger cities he was considering and also in Seoul, and the response was so favorable he wants us to fly up to Tokyo and meet with him tomorrow!"

Even Shikamaru looked surprised at this. "He DOES know that basically everyone with a brain is getting out of the print news business, right? This is a dying industry. It's… pterodactyl-like."

"I know, right? But he thinks if we just improve the look of the graphics on the front of the paper it will be like… the cool new coffee table book or something. I don't know. I think he's crazy but he's willing to put up all the capital to fund the project, and we take in 60% of the profits from any increased circulation."

Kiba tilted his head to the side. Math was never his strong suit.

"Naruto-kun is saying we have nothing to lose and a good amount to gain by doing this," Hinata explained softly.

"Bruh! That is awesome!" Kiba came up and gave Naruto a fist bump. Then he frowned. "But… he really wants ALL of us to fly up there? We've still got shit to work on to get the paper out."

"Naruto should go. The rest of us can stay here and get the paper out," Shikamaru said, leaning back against the door frame. "He probably wants to talk about audience profile and whether different parts of the paper would have to be tailored to market or not. Naruto will have the best sense of that."

Naruto shifted nervously. He and Shikamaru had always made any major decisions about the paper together.

"But if he starts talking numbers and circulation projections and deal terms…." Naruto trailed off.

Shikamaru stretched, popping the bones in his back. "Then you call me and we talk it through. Just don't sign anything. We'll want to take a few days to look through any legal contract shit anyway. You do your thing and get everyone all excited, I'll come in later and make sure all the numbers are tight."

Some of the tension left Naruto. "Ok, I can do that. I gotta go finish up my pieces for this week's paper and book my flight. I'll be there Tuesday and Wednesday. We'll see how crazy this guy is, or if he really knows what he's doing."

"Yosh! We will be waiting with youthful exuberance to find out about this intriguing lunatic you are going to meet!" Lee gave Naruto a big thumbs up.

"I'll swing by Harajuku Street and see if I can pick up any extra special green spandex for you," Naruto grinned as Lee made an expression of ecstasy.

"And if the green spandex happens to come with a lovely, youthful young lady…" Lee began excitedly, but Naruto cut him off with a slightly panicked look.

" - then I'm gonna run like hell in the other direction. Ok, let's all get back to work. Looks like our plan to corrupt the world just got one step closer to reality," Naruto grinned at the rest of the staff, excited for what this could mean, even if it was a little intimidating.


Sasuke's plane from Tokyo finally landed after circling the Konoha airport for nearly an hour due to the weather. Given that he had just finished a seventeen hour flight before catching his connection to Konoha, Sasuke was more than happy to finally be off the plane. He didn't need to bother looking for the signs directing him to baggage claim, given the number of times he'd been in the airport.

He had only just left the gate area when a familiar laugh stopped him short.

Sasuke stepped to the side of the flow of other passengers deplaning so he wouldn't obstruct them as he looked around to find the source of that voice. With so many flights cancelled or delayed, the gate was packed with passengers waiting to board the return flight back to Tokyo. His eye scanned over the crowd, finally catching sight of a bright blond head of hair next to a charging station, speaking on the phone with someone. Sasuke could easily make out the blond's voice, despite the relatively noisy terminal.

"Look, I promise I'll be back in time for Thursday night… Yeah, it sucks. My flight is already two hours late. I won't get to the hotel until after midnight and I have a meeting first thing in the morning."

Naruto was facing the window, looking out at the rain and wind lashing the plane he was presumably waiting for. He hadn't seen Sasuke in the bustle of people flowing past them. Sasuke tried not to read anything into Naruto's words. He wasn't necessarily meeting someone for a date. It could just as easily be one of his friends from work. And even if it was a date, it wasn't any of Sasuke's business. So there was no reason for the tight feeling in his gut at Naruto's words.

"Yeah, well, not all of us get to prance around on stage for a living. Some of us have to wear big boy panties. You should look into some of those," Naruto snickered, leaning back against the wall, clearly amused by what was said. "NO, not mine. Yeah, fuck you... Yeah, I know… Stop perving on me in the airport. Look, I promised I'll be back on Thursday, and I will."

Someone jostled into Sasuke, and he realized he had already walked halfway to Naruto, without any real thought on what he was going to say.

Naruto happened to look up just at that moment, and their eyes met. Sasuke saw the surprise then… embarrassment? flash through Naruto's eyes. He ignored the way his own skin seemed to heat at just the eye contact.

"Uh, hey, Sasori, I have to go. I'll see you later." Naruto disconnected, looking slightly nervous.

Sasuke frowned slightly at hearing the name of Naruto's ex. Why was Naruto suddenly on such friendly terms with a guy who had put him in the hospital? And what did he mean that he would see him on Thursday?

"Hey, Sasuke," his hand went nervously to the back of his neck. "You just got off the flight from Tokyo?"

Sasuke gave a slight nod, suddenly realizing he probably looked like hell after traveling for almost twenty-one hours straight. "My flight from Russia connected from there earlier."

"Shitty weather for flying. You must be dead on your feet," Naruto said awkwardly, clearly not knowing what to say given their last conversation. He shifted slightly, a further sign of nerves. They both tried not to think of how different this meeting was from the other times that Sasuke had come back from a long trip, when they barely waited until they were in Sasuke's apartment before their mouths and limbs would be tangled together. Now it was just… two people making polite small talk in an airport, neither sure what to say.

""Hn." Sasuke wanted to ask Naruto about Zetsu, wanted to ask how he'd been, wanted to ask why he was on the phone with Sasori like they were getting back together, but somehow no words seemed to make it from his brain to his mouth. Sasuke couldn't help noticing that Naruto looked good. Wearing comfortable looking jeans and a tight black T-shirt. I'm not a Proctologist, but I know an Asshole when I see one.

Sasuke felt his lips curve just slightly at the words.

"Yeah, I'm booked on the flight to Tokyo… probably on the plane you just came in on. Though not first class," Naruto smiled slightly self-deprecatingly as he raked his fingers through his hair. Sasuke's fingers tensed as he remembered how the soft strands of Naruto's hair felt when he'd slide his hands through them. The scent of him. Sasuke drew a breath, but he wasn't close enough to catch any of Naruto's aftershave, much less the scent of the man himself.

"Business?" Sasuke asked, finally getting an actual word to come out.

"Yeah. Some lunatic seems to think that investing in newspaper circulation is a good idea," Naruto shrugged, but Sasuke could see the excitement shimmering in his eyes. "Go figure. But he asked me to fly up to Tokyo to meet with him."

"What about your partner?" Sasuke asked, ignoring the fact that his driver was likely waiting for him.

"Shikamaru will handle the business end. He thought it would be good for me to go out there first and talk vision, then he'll talk legal and financial details when the time comes. Someone needed to stay behind to make sure this week's paper gets out on time," Naruto glanced at Sasuke's phone when it started to buzz.

Sasuke shut it off, not bothering to look to see who the caller was.

They both spoke at the same time, realizing they didn't have much time left.

"Naruto -"

"Sasuke -"

Sasuke gestured that Naruto should go first. Naruto shifted slightly nervously, rubbing his hand along his jawline.

"Look, I just wanted to say that - I'm sorry about what happened." Naruto shoved his hands in his pocket, leaning back on the wall and looking down for a minute before continuing. "I know that I sprung things on you, and… and didn't give you time to think. I'm just… I'm not the kind of guy built for casual relationships, and I should have known better before getting involved in something like this. And then the press ended up somehow finding out anyway and are probably giving you a headache and… Anyway. I hope there's no hard feelings. I'd like to try to be friends."

Sasuke looked at him for a moment, not sure what to say. Did he want to be 'just friends' with Naruto?

He'd spent the last couple of weeks trying very hard not to allow himself to think about Naruto at all. All of a sudden, Naruto was standing right in front of him and everything was flooding back to Sasuke. The way Naruto's eyes would light with a mischievous glint when he threw down some clever insult. The way Naruto didn't get all bent out of shape when Sasuke had something come up at work. The way the writer could make Sasuke almost come out of his skin within five minutes of being alone with him.

All he wanted to do was take one more step and close the distance between him and the man standing in front of him.

Just friends?

"... -" Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, but the attendant at the gate had begun announcing the next flight, temporarily making conversation impossible.

"We are now boarding flight 2714 to Tokyo. As the flight is already delayed, we are asking all passengers to please line up immediately to expedite the boarding process. First Class and Business Class is welcome to begin boarding immediately. All other passengers please line up on the other side of the aisle. We have a long list of people hoping for a seat on this flight. Anyone not boarding promptly will be bumped to the next flight."

Naruto glanced at the monitor listing departures, glad to have an interruption for the embarrassing situation he had just put himself in. Again. He couldn't believe he'd just asked Sasuke to 'be his friend'. How fucking lame was that? As far as he recalled, the Uchiha didn't really even had friends. He had business associates that he tolerated, and his brother, whom he didn't really seem to tolerate but interacted with anyway. But that was it.

Naruto didn't fit into either of those categories.

The status for the next flight changed to 'canceled'. This would be the last flight out for the evening, and he had an early morning meeting that he couldn't miss. He picked up the carry on that had been resting by his feet. "Well… that's me. I should get going."

Naruto lifted a hand in a general gesture of farewell, not giving Sasuke a chance to respond before quickly heading over to where a throng of people were assembling into a mass that in no way resembled a line. He did not look back.

"Fuck," Sasuke sighed, knowing that Naruto had taken his hesitation for rejection. He considered going over to talk to Naruto, but he had already been swallowed up by the shoving mass of people trying to get in line in some irrational fear that they would lose their seat if they were not at the front of the goddamn line.

Sasuke stood there for a moment before turning and heading down to baggage claim, where he was sure his driver was by now filing a missing person's report on him. If he had looked back, he would have seen the set of blue eyes watching him walk away.


Sasuke got in the car, directing the driver to take him directly to Itachi's place. The reminder of why he was back in town that night instead of a week or two later had his anger bubbling back up again.

He realized that Naruto still didn't know that Zetsu had been sent by his uncle just to fuck with him. If Sasuke found out that Madara had done anything else to mess with Naruto, his family would be having to fill another slot in the Uchiha mausoleum.

Sasuke glared at his cell phone as he fired off replies to the various e-mails he'd received, many of them wondering about his abrupt change in schedule. He sent an email to Madara:

I will see you in the office tomorrow morning at seven. It would be best if we had this conversation before the rest of the office gets in.

He was more than a little annoyed when he got a reply from the man a few minutes later.

As usual, you follow in your brother's footsteps, but with less intensity.

Sasuke bit back a growl. What the fuck was his asshole of an uncle talking about this time? Itachi hadn't said much on the phone, just that he had the security tapes from Sasuke's apartment, and that he should come by his place to view them before speaking with Madara.

He tried to focus on his anger at his uncle. It was easier and more familiar to deal with than the strange, frozen feeling that had settled through him at the thought that Naruto was ready to… just be friends.


Sasuke didn't even bother knocking. He simply unlocked the door to his brother's house with his key. Itachi walked into the entryway, clearly having been expecting him.

"Did you have a nice flight, Otouto?" Itachi asked smoothly.

"Fuck you, Nii-san. What did you and Madara cook up while I was out of town?"

Itachi smirked. "Well, your manners certainly have declined. Are you not sleeping well, little brother?"

Sasuke growled.

Itachi's lips curved upward a tiny bit more.

"When you finish removing your shoes, you may join me in the library. We can watch the surveillance video that your security man so helpfully sent over. I'm sure you're curious about how your little boyfriend handled his first brush with one of Uncle's minions. You might even find it amusing. I know I certainly did."

Sasuke paused in unlacing his second shoe. Itachi's voice rang with dark amusement. As much as his older brother loved fucking with Sasuke, the one thing Itachi liked even better was being able to fuck with their uncle. Largely because Madara so rarely presented them with the opportunity to do so.

Sasuke quickly finished removing his shoes and placed them in the rack by the door with all the others before joining his brother in the library.

Itachi had already lowered the large viewing screen that covered the entire back wall of the library, but could be conveniently retracted so as not to be an 'eyesore' when not in use.

"We're watching it… on full screen?" Sasuke asked skeptically, wondering if Itachi might not be going just a little bit overboard here. It wouldn't be the first time.

Itachi shot a confident glance to where Sasuke was seated in one of the large, leather chairs.

"I think you'll appreciate the ability to better discern some of the facial expressions in this. I had the tapes digitally enhanced to improve the resolution."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "Just play the damn clip."

The video started with Naruto entering the lobby of Sasuke's building. There was no sound, of course, because it was just a security tape. A well-dressed young woman walked past him, turning to look appreciatively at Naruto's ass as he walked by. Sasuke didn't realize he was frowning. Or that his brother was smirking at him.

He watched as Naruto glanced around as though looking for someone, and wondered if his ex was meeting someone for coffee. But the blond continued to the coffee shop without breaking stride or speaking to anyone.

Was he… looking for me? The idea made Sasuke's hands prickle slightly with sweat.

"According to the security tapes, this was the first time Naruto had been in your building for almost two weeks. Though he had been a regular at the coffee shop there for years," Itachi said conversationally.

Sasuke didn't bother to respond. The video had switched to a different camera feed, one from inside the coffee shop. He watched as Naruto waited in line and placed his order. He felt his lips curve in amusement as he imagined Naruto's cup filled with basically warm, coffee-flavored milk.

The silent movie progressed as Naruto abruptly set down his drink and pulled out his phone, his expressive face going from a look of anticipation to one of wariness as he looked at the caller ID, visibly hesitating before answering the call. Sasuke frowned, wondering who the call had been from. He could see Naruto speaking, blushing slightly then rolling his eyes, his expression slowly easing and becoming more relaxed.

"I'm sure Madara would be willing to have someone who reads lips look at the tape, if you are that curious about the call," Itachi said knowingly.

Sasuke gritted his teeth. It always annoyed him when his brother could read him so well. "Hn. I have no intention of selling my soul to the devil over something so small," Sasuke replied. One of the first things you learned as an Uchiha was 'never ask for favors'. The price was always high. And he knew it was none of his business who Naruto spoke with. He wasn't some crazy stalker chasing after his ex.

Though… he did still want to know who Naruto was talking to.

Naruto had just hung up his phone and exited the coffee shop when the camera angle switched again, showing a man approaching the blond that Sasuke immediately recognized.

"Excuse me. Are you Uzumaki Naruto?"

Sasuke blinked when suddenly there was audio. Itach sent him a very self-satisfied look.

"I… persuaded our dear Uncle Madara to give me the tape Zetsu had made of the conversation, and had someone dub the security video with it."

Sasuke tried not to show that he was impressed with Itachi's resourcefulness, knowing his brother was expecting him to be. Instead, he kept his eyes locked on the video and away from his brother's arrogantly pleased expression. Itachi's slight breath of irritation made Sasuke smirk on the inside. Sometimes life was about enjoying the small victories. Like annoying one's older brother.

Zetsu's expression blanked when he took in Naruto's Tshirt and Sasuke felt his own lips twitch in amusement as Naruto glanced down at his shirt before shrugging.

"Can I help you with something?"

"I'm writing an exposé on the Uchiha family. I heard that you know the younger of the two brothers quite well."

Sasuke saw Naruto's body tense at the man's words and all amusement fled at the sight of his lover's obvious discomfort. Madara had no right to be doing this. He watched the tape, trying to read Naruto's expression for any sign of nervousness or fear. What he saw instead was carefully controlled anger.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. I have a source who says that you were seen going in and out of Sasuke's apartment building almost every day."

"Yeah. I buy coffee here, asshole. See?" Naruto waved his paper cup in the guy's face. "Now if you excuse me, I have to get to work."

Sasuke had to hand it to Naruto for how he handled the situation, his words coming out casual. If Sasuke didn't know Naruto as well as he did, he would probably have bought the blond's story. It surprised him a bit that Naruto hadn't just flown off the handle right away. He knew how short the man's fuse could be sometimes.

When Naruto turned to leave, the man grabbed his arm and Sasuke's finger dug into the armrests of his chair. "I'm going to kill him."

Itachi shushed him. "We're getting to the good part. Shut up."

Sasuke opened his mouth to retort, but Naruto's eyes had gone from cautiously friendly to hard and dangerous in one second flat. It reminded Sasuke of the edge he'd seen in Naruto at the club during the man's birthday.

"You have two seconds to let go of my arm." There was no hint of fear in Naruto's lethal voice. Sasuke relaxed fractionally.

A bit of amusement resurfaced at the way Zetsu's eyes widened and he immediately let go of Naruto and took two steps back. It was rare to see his uncle's lackey nervous. Sasuke felt a surge of pride that Naruto was so quickly able to make his uncle's henchmen falter.

But of course, Zetsu continued to push things, seeking a weakness in Naruto's character. Assuming it was the same as most people's: money. Of course, Sasuke could have told the guy to not waste his time with that on Naruto.

"Don't be so quick to turn this down. You could make a lot of money. More than you make in a year, if the story is as good as I think it is."

Sasuke frowned at the same time Naruto did at the man's words, wondering just how far Madara had instructed Zetsu to take this. Naruto's next words echoed Sasuke's own thoughts.

"What do you mean, 'good'?"

Zetsu smirked. "You know what I mean. People have been trying to get the scoop and either of the Uchiha brothers' sex lives for years. We could both retire off the money we'd make on a sex video of the two of you together -"

Sasuke's face looked absolutely lethal. "He went too far."

Itachi didn't disagree. "He did. But watch how your boy handled it."

Sasuke hadn't taken his eyes from the screen, so he didn't miss the fury that had whipped through Naruto's eyes at the words. Nor did he miss the bruising force with which he grabbed Zetsu's arm.

"Zetsu, right? Look, I don't care how much money you're offering. There is nothing going on between me and Sasuke."

Sasuke flinched at the underlying bitterness he could hear in Naruto's words.

"Oh, really? What, he dumped you already? I've heard that's pretty much par for the course with him. It's annoying for me, since now I'll have to figure out who his replacement for you is."

"That fucking, sadistic asshole," Sasuke growled. He didn't miss the flash of hurt and jealousy that was quickly suppressed in Naruto's expressive eyes. He wanted to punch something. Ideally his uncle's face. Madara had seriously crossed the line with this. But Zetsu's next words had him truly seeing red.

"Though, actually, this might work out for the both of us. It would be a perfect chance for you to get back at him. If you don't have photos, you can just give me some details. What's he like in bed? Did he give you the names of any of his other lovers? Did you ever hear him talking about business deals, or family scandals?"

Sasuke surged to his feet, deciding that tomorrow morning was not soon enough to get his hands on his uncle for this.

"Sit down or you'll miss the best part," Itachi said calmly, though his eyes also had taken on a hard edge of anger. He clearly wasn't pleased with Madara either.

Sasuke didn't sit, but he did manage to stand still enough watch the rest of the tape, fury rolling off him in waves.

"I have absolutely nothing to say to you," Naruto bit out. "If you print any bullshit about us being in some relationship, I will make sure you regret it."

"Oh? And just what do you think you could do about it? You're not exactly rich enough to own anyone in government that I'd be nervous about."

"That fucking –" Sasuke cut off as Naruto began to lay out what exactly he would do to Zetsu.

He had to admit he hadn't expected Naruto to be able to seriously threaten his uncle's henchman in such a detailed, convincing way as the newspaper man spelled out all the ways he could fuck Zetsu over if the man went forward with any of his allegations. It was… strange… for Sasuke to hear someone defending him like that. He supposed it made sense that Naruto was used to people coming at him due to the nature of the articles they published, so of course he wouldn't be the kind of guy to just back down on something. But he hadn't quite realized what a dangerous adversary Naruto could be if he got his back up. It was…

… Incredibly attractive.

Sasuke's unconsciously ran his tongue over his lower lip as Naruto smiled ferally at the now visibly nervous Zetsu. While the threat of getting fired from his fictitious job wouldn't worry Zetsu, the threat of charges of stalking, assault and bribery would. He couldn't work for Madara if he had a criminal record. They weren't Yakuza, after all.

Itachi's eyes gleamed with satisfaction as Naruto reached over and turned off the man's recorder. Having already watched the tape several times himself, Itachi was free to focus on his little brother's reactions to it instead. The audio had cut off when Naruto had turned off the recorder, so his next words inaudible, but there was no disguising the clear threat delivered or the way Zetsu paled and nodded his head jerkily.

Zetsu said something in reply, and the look of utter contempt on Naruto's face made Sasuke smile darkly. He hoped Madara had watched this video and choked on it. Naruto stated the last words clearly enough that Sasuke could make them out by watching his lips. He understood now why Itachi had wanted it on the big screen.

"Yeah, believe it or not, some people value things other than money."

Sasuke couldn't describe the emotion he felt as Naruto remained so clearly untempted by the offer of selling out Sasuke for easy money, even though things had not ended well between them. He could sense Itachi's gaze on him, but refused to meet it until he had his emotions better under control.

He considered for the first time the possibility that Naruto would have been able to handle what Madara threw at him if they had decided to date publicly. He hadn't given it much thought before, since he had never really considered trying to have a real relationship with anyone. But in the back of his mind, he had always assumed that he would have to be the one constantly battling his family, constantly on guard in case they tried to interfere.

He probably still would do that, because if he were actually in a relationship with Naruto, he would want to protect him. But he realized that Naruto would be fully capable of protecting himself, even though he didn't come from a powerful family or have a lot of money.

But the knowledge was cold comfort. None of it mattered now, since Sasuke had already said he wasn't willing to give what Naruto had asked for. And Naruto had walked away. Now all the man was offering was… friendship.

Sasuke's hands fisted at his sides without his noticing. Nor did he notice the way Itachi's intense gaze was reading every flicker of emotion across his face.

He watched as Naruto pulled out his phone, noticing how the writer bit his lip as though trying to decide something before dialing. He held the phone to his ear for several seconds, clearly waiting for the person he called to pick up as he shifted nervously. Finally, he hung up. It was brief but Sasuke was sure he saw a flash of disappointment across the man's face. He looked at the time stamp on the security tape.

It was his missed call.


Itachi waited until Sasuke had left before picking up his phone.

"He just left. He watched the video…. Yes, he drew the same conclusion. And he is probably going to kill you tomorrow morning, which I am very much looking forward to. Sleep well, Uncle."


Sasuke lay in his cold bed in his silent apartment, thinking. Could things really have worked between him and Naruto if he'd been ready to give it a chance? He closed his eyes, thinking about his former lover. He had never really considered what he wanted in a relationship, because he had never planned to have one.

But he… missed Naruto.

Even the mountains of work that he'd tried to bury himself in hadn't managed to erase that fact. And watching him today on the video, seeing him again in the airport, had brought it all back to the surface.

It wasn't just the sex. He hadn't lied to Naruto when he'd admitted that. He missed their conversations just as much. The way Naruto could make him laugh. The way Naruto would unapologetically annoy him, rather than trying to kiss his ass. Naruto was able to read Sasuke, and wasn't intimidated by him when they disagreed about something. Other than Itachi, Sasuke had never had anyone like that in his life. He had never expected to meet someone like Naruto, or even imagine that they existed.

And the sex….

While it wasn't the whole thing, it was still phenomenal. Sasuke had stayed at the same London hotel with the bellhop who had offered him 'extra services' before. He had briefly considered asking him to come by after his shift, but somehow the man had triggered no attraction in him when he saw him again. It just… hadn't felt right. He had kept comparing the man to Naruto, and found the man coming up considerably short.

Could it actually have worked with Naruto?

Sasuke stared up at the ceiling. It was hours before he fell into a restless sleep.


to be continued….

Credits: Hinata's column is real (wtf!), Naruto's is true, and Kiba's nominated by Lauralie

A/N: Sasuke and Madara will meet next chapter, as will Madara and Naruto!

Chapter Text

Warning: Lots of Uchiha family manipulation

Author's note: Sooo... this chapter didn't cover all that I thought it would. Is anyone surprised? I thought not. We have Madara and Sasuke, but the Madara and Naruto scene (which is already written!) comes in the next chapter. This got too long. Also CHECK OUT THE AMAZING THUMBNAIL THAT Lobstirrchwan MADE FOR ME! I had to crop it to get it to fit here, but you can see the whole thing on her DeviantArt page (http://www.deviantart.com/art/Give-us-our-Daily-Ramen-556555193).


The Daily Ramen, May 22

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Another random religious group has made a prediction that the world will end on October 7, 2015. While hoping to be the group to finally call it correctly, they acknowledge that they will be fine with the 'runner-up' prize of at least making the Wikipedia list of 'List of dates predicted for Apocalyptic Events'. Like many others on this list, the group reserves the right to revise its predictions. Of course, feel free to leave them all your worldly possessions in the meantime.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local waitress is really fucking tired of having to say "Have a nice day" to everyone. "Why do I have to tell them to have a nice day even if they are a total asshole to me? I mean, if someone leaves me a good tip, then I'm more than happy to say it. But if I just spat in someone's salad for being a dick, I really don't want to have to tell them to have a nice day. Really, I hope they get the plague. Or at very least, miss their bus." I was careful to be very polite to her while ordering. And I didn't order the salad.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

The concept of PDA was taken to a whole new level at a high school prom when the prom king and queen decided to 'educate' the virgins in the class by demonstrating the proper technique for the basic sex acts including blow jobs and the 'cowgirl' position. By all accounts (which hit facebook, snapchat and twitter within three seconds), they did a passable job. Unfortunately, their parents were 'friends' with some of their 'friends'. Sorry, kiddos. Next time you want to do a demonstration, make sure you have your friends leave their phones at the door if you don't want anyone outside the room to see the show. Needless to say, both teens are now grounded until graduation. At which point their careers in porn will be waiting for them if college doesn't pan out.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

It is sad that there are so many stupid people out there that governments are required to create specific laws to try to control it. Do enough people really try to name their child Adolf Hitler or God or . (a period) or 'sex fruit' that you have to make a law against it? Evidently the US is full of dumbasses, because they have laws that make it illegal to do exactly that. And people actually get caught violating them. wtf. Dumbasses. Like kids don't have a hard enough time in middle school without that shit.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To the rabbits: It's been over a month! Time to go get yourself checked at the local clinic to minimize the number of 'awkward' conversations you'll have to have if you test positive for anything. My dragons: Don't sink to the level of your detractors. Instead, sink even further and show them how it's REALLY done. To the Oxen: You feel relief when you realize that the voices you thought were in your head are actually just your neighbors talking. Your sense of relief fades, however, when you ask yourself why they are creepily giving you instructions to kill people through the walls.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Leave it to the Nords to come up with a truly amazing sport! I have recently learned of the existence of "chess boxing" in Finland! It is a combination of chess and… boxing! Combatants take turns trying to pound each other into the ring, then sit as intellectuals and place their chess pieces! Wins can come from either knock-out or check-mate! I will now demonstrate how this sport is actually [The internet is full and, unfortunately, the video of Lee boxing himself then playing chess by himself is not able to be uploaded at this time.]


-xXx-

Sasuke walked into his uncle's office at 6:55 the following morning, not bothering to knock. He dropped a thick folio on the man's desk directly in front of him.

Madara merely raised an eyebrow, leaning back in his mahogany chair and not even glancing at the folder in front of him. "Your brother made me go see him in his office. Coming to mine is a show of weakness."

Sasuke refused to rise to the man's bait. This was clearly going to be a contest of who had the biggest Uchiha dick, and he wasn't going to lose. He casually sat down in one of the finely appointed leather chairs in the man's office, not waiting for an invitation to do so.

"It has come to my attention recently that my office might not be as soundproof as I had hoped. I am quite sure that you would have had many more reasons than I to ensure your own office didn't have such issues. We'll have the conversation here, so it remains private. For now."

Madara glanced down at the papers Sasuke had set before him.

"Are you expecting me to read all of that? I have work to do. If this is a briefing on your trip, you may do so at the board meeting tomorrow, Sasuke."

Sasuke allowed a cold smile to slowly form on his lips. The arrogance of Madara was almost a thing of beauty, a tangible embodiment of the pride of what it meant to be Uchiha. Sasuke was going to enjoy taking him apart.

"Actually, Uncle, I do not believe you would want these papers presented to the board. Though, of course, I would be more than happy to do so." Sasuke's voice held a subtle threat in it that was much more effective than shouting would have been. He had been trained well.

To his credit, Madara didn't flinch. Which was good. Victory was always sweeter when you had to work for it.

Sasuke continued their game. "If you would bother to open it, what you would find would be your personal tax filings for the past twenty years. There are some interesting discrepancies between the income you claimed as a board member and what our records show you actually receiving. I would imagine there are other discrepancies as well, though I have only started to examine them."

Madara leaned back further in his chair, folding his arms across his chest, the first sign that Sasuke was getting under his skin. "Hm. An oversight I am sure my accountant can remedy. Since you have been… kind enough… to point it out."

"Hn. There are other aspects of your financial holdings that I found irregularities in as well. But I decided to keep those files in my possession for a while. It's never good to show all your cards at once in a negotiation. Isn't that what you always said, Uncle?"

Madara's eyes flashed with something that could have been… pride.

"You have my attention. Is there anything else in this folder that you would like to inform me of?"

"I believe you will also find a copy of a police report. It is fully signed and documented. I have been holding off submitting it, however. The original remains in my possession. For now."

Madara's fingers drummed on his desk before he realized it and stilled them. "And what would be the subject matter of a police report that I would find so interesting?"

Sasuke leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "Evidently, there is a man trying to bribe people into creating a sex tape with me."

Madara's face remained impassive. "I'm sure it's not the first time. And hardly criminal."

"Actually, if a party does not consent to such a tape being made, and the tape is made for the purpose of distribution to a third party, it is – in fact – quite illegal. Moreover, the person who employed the individual to make the tape is fully liable. Imagine the scandal if an elderly man was charged with trying to procure such a tape of one of his much younger nephews."

Both men knew that Madara had no desire to actually see a sex tape of his nephew, just like both men knew that the media would have a field day if the information about Zetsu's proposition to Naruto got out and it was discovered he worked for Madara.

Madara slowly smiled. "Excellent. Excellent, Sasuke. I must say, your threat even surpasses your brother's. Now. I assume you have come with terms?"

Sasuke fought the urge to ask what Itachi's threat had been. He would get that information directly from his brother later, and not give Madara the satisfaction of knowing his curiosity had been piqued.

"My terms are that you stay out of my personal life, and I will stay out of yours."

Madara frowned. "Those are very broad terms, Sasuke. You can't possibly expect me to stand back and let someone take advantage of you."

Sasuke looked at him coldly. "I think it's more than clear that Naruto wasn't going to 'take advantage of me'."

"If you had told me about him earlier, then I might not have had to resort to such drastic measures to find out. I would have had more time."

"I don't need your help with my personal life. And given that you already knew that Naruto and I had stopped seeing each other, I fail to see your sense of urgency in this."

Madara arched an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that you were unhappy with the ending of the relationship. I didn't expect you to simply fold and give up. I wanted to make sure that this Uzumaki was worth your effort."

Sasuke's jaw clenched. "That is my decision to make. And who said I was going to chase after him? He ended it. I agreed. It's finished."

"Hm," Madara said noncommittally. "Well, it's your choice, as you say. Though I must admit I was rather impressed with Uzumaki's character. It isn't often you come across someone who is as immune to bribery as he is. Despite his lack of financial credentials, he is quite possibly satisfactory, particularly given his connections with the mayor. I wonder if Shisui is seeing anyone. He could use someone to keep him in line."

Despite the fact that he knew his uncle was baiting him, Sasuke felt a flare of anger at the idea of Madara trying to pair Naruto up with one of his cousins.

"No."

"Well, if you're saying you have no interest in pursuing a relationship with the Uzumaki, then I really don't see what it has to do with you. Especially since you are so opposed to 'family interference' with personal relationships. You should take your own advice stay out of it."

Sasuke felt a slow burn of anger spread through him, but kept his face impassive, not wanting his uncle to get any more pleasure than he already had from the taunt.

"Naruto won't just go on a date with Shisui because you tell him to. He even turned down Itachi when Itachi was toying with him."

Madara didn't seem surprised at that at all, and suddenly Sasuke wondered if he were being manipulated. "Oh, really? Then why do you think he was interested in you, if it weren't for your looks, intelligence, and money, all of which both Shisui and Itachi also have?"

Sasuke merely glared at his uncle. But somehow, Madara's words made him feel… better. When he stopped to think about it, he really wasn't worried that Naruto would just hop in bed with his brother or cousin, even if they weren't together anymore.

"But I fail to see why you are so upset with this in the first place," Madara continued as though unaware of what Sasuke was thinking about. "In the past, you've never been this upset when I've… looked into your affairs."

"Maybe I just finally grew up and got tired of it. Naruto has nothing to do with you. Leave. Him. Alone," Sasuke's voice carried a clear warning.

Madara leaned forward, resting his hands on his desk and looking pleased. "It is unusual for you to be so confrontational with me, Sasuke. Surely you realized that if I withdrew my support of your position here, it would at the very least cause friction between your father and the board. Not to mention make life extremely difficult for you."

Sasuke didn't bat an eye at the threat. "And if you think that I couldn't start my own company in a heartbeat, where you would have no say whatsoever in my life anymore, then you are a fool. And when I go, I will be taking all my contacts and business connections with me. Which accounts for more than fifty percent of the company's annual growth, in case you haven't seen the latest spreadsheets."

Madara's lips twitched into almost a smile.

"So you would be willing to walk away from the family business to protect a man you aren't even sleeping with anymore?"

"I will walk away from the family business if you are going to use it as a club to wield over my head. You overstepped your bounds, Uncle. This has nothing to do with Naruto. I've more than proven I can handle myself, both in terms of running the business and managing my personal life. I'm telling you to back off."

"And the timing of it happening when I poked at your Uzumaki is merely coincidence?"

Sasuke ignored the questions as he turned and opened the door. "Just don't forget what I said about the contents of that file, Uncle. I won't be warning you a second time."

Madara watched his youngest nephew leave, a small smile playing about his lips. Maybe it was time for him to retire. After his dressing down by Itachi the other day and Sasuke this morning, it was more than clear that his nephews had finally grown up enough to call their own shots.

However, there was one thing he had to correct before he retired. He thought a bit about how to achieve that, given what he had learned over the past several days about his target. It had been a while since he had tried to manipulate someone that could not be bought nor easily intimidated. He looked forward to the challenge. It was good to keep one's mind active in one's old age.


Sasuke reached his office and closed the door behind him before drawing a deep breath. He had meant what he had said to Madara. He stayed in the company to work with his brother and help his father transition into retirement, but that didn't mean he wouldn't walk away if pushed to it. Though he was pretty sure that his uncle wouldn't call his bluff. Sasuke was very good at what he did, and they would have a hard time replacing him if he left.

Madara knew this, and would back off. At least a bit. It was a liberating idea, and he wondered why he hadn't done this years ago.

But somehow, the victory felt hollow.

He walked over to the large glass window that looked out over the city. He'd raced back when he'd found out that Madara was messing with Naruto to put a stop to it. He'd found out that Naruto hadn't really been bothered by it. And he'd managed to put a leash on Madara. Ostensibly, he'd accomplished what he'd needed to. He would write up his summary of the past two weeks, present it to the board, then… he supposed he would continue his rescheduled meetings in the other cities that he had cancelled last minute. Somehow the thought was depressing.

And lonely.

There was a knock on his door.

"Come," Sasuke said, assuming that Itachi had come to grill him on his interview with Madara. He had been a bit surprised that Itachi hadn't been waiting in his office for him, actually.

He was surprised to see Sakura standing in his doorway.

"Haruno," Sasuke frowned. "I had assumed that the situation with Zetsu has been handled."

Sakura closed the door behind her, only for a pale hand to block it as Itachi opened the door and walked in after her. "I assume this is not a private meeting?" Itachi asked, looking from Sakura to Sasuke.

"I have no idea," Sasuke said, his voice betraying a tiredness that caused both Sakura and Itachi to look at him with some concern.

"Sakura. Did you have something pressing that you needed to discuss with my brother?" Itachi asked, in what clearly was a prelude to a dismissal.

But Sakura stood her ground. "Actually, yes. But it is a somewhat personal matter."

Itachi's eyebrows raised at her attempt to turn the dismissal back on him.

"And I was here first," she smirked, reading his surprise.

"Hn," Itachi let his amusement at her brazenness. He had no use for spineless people, and Sakura had proven on a few occasions that she wasn't. "Then by all means, go ahead."

Sakura hesitated, her glance flicking to Sasuke. "It is in regards to Naruto, and the situation the fake reporter was referring to."

Sasuke frowned, thinking that Sakura was somehow just being slow. "I thought we had cleared all that up. The reporter didn't exist. It was just my uncle being a pain in the ass."

Sakura didn't flinch under the condescending tone. "Yes. Which is why I said I wanted to discuss the situation Zetsu was referring to, not Zetsu. I think we should discuss this privately."

"If you mean the affair that Naruto and Sasuke were having, then I already am aware of it," Itachi said blithely. "Though I am curious to know how you found out."

Sakura scoffed. "I'm not an idiot. What reason would someone in the employ of your uncle have to do something like this if Naruto and Sasuke weren't actually seeing each other? I can only assume you did this to get intimidate Naruto to keep quiet about whatever happened. Which is what I want to discuss," her tone had hardened. It was clear that - in that moment - she did not care that they were her bosses.

"Tch," Sasuke snorted, turning back to look out the window. "Interfering with my personal life isn't part of your job description, Haruno."

Sakura's eyes narrowed. "Well, Uchiha, at this moment, I am acting as Naruto's friend, not as your employee. And if those two things come into conflict, then it won't be a hard choice for which to pick."

Itachi smiled. "Well. Uzumaki seems to be inspiring all sorts of minor acts of rebellion this morning. How amusing. Why don't we all have a seat and discuss the situation."

Sakura stood stiffly, glaring at Sasuke. Who ignored her and continued looking out the window.

"Unless we are going to change the subject and discuss business, then you can both get the fuck out of my office and let me work."

"I am not sure that leaving one of Naruto's childhood friends with the impression that you are using the family's influence to get back at your ex is a good strategy," Itachi stated calmly.

"It isn't any of her business. Or yours, come to think of it," Sasuke's body posture radiated annoyance at the two visitors in his office.

"Foolish little brother. Everything about you is my business. Surely you realize this by now."

Sakura spoke up before Sasuke could respond to Itachi. "I don't care who you are or what you own. Naruto is a good guy. He doesn't need you sending your uncle's bag boy to harass him, especially after everything else he's been through."

"I'm not -" Sasuke cut off with a soft huff. "I know he's a good guy. Madara did that on his own. I met with him earlier this morning and let him know that it was… unacceptable."

Sakura looked at him skeptically. "Why would Madara care at all about an ex of yours? Naruto still doesn't know who Zetsu is, you know. I didn't even know how to tell him that he was set up as some sort of… sick test of loyalty after you dumped him or whatever it was supposed to be."

Itachi shifted in his chair. "Actually, Naruto was the one who 'dumped' Sasuke," he clarified helpfully.

Sasuke sent Itachi a glare.

Itachi smirked. "That's why Sasuke's been moping around drowning his sorrows in work."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "I wasn't moping. I closed over four hundred million dollars in new business over the past two weeks."

"Moping," Itachi repeated.

Sakura blinked at the unexpected exchange, and suddenly found herself needing to bite her lip, fighting a snicker. After finding out that Zetsu had worked for Madara, Sakura had been furious. She had assumed that Sasuke had ended his affair with Naruto and was using his uncle's underling to ensure that Naruto wasn't going to try to get back at them somehow, even though it should be obvious to anyone who met Naruto that he wasn't like that. She had heard from Hinata that Naruto had recently ended whatever mysterious relationship he'd had, and it wasn't hard to put two and two together. She had been coming up with all kinds of ways to screw the Uchihas over in return, and had even sent her resume off to a few other places thinking she might quit.

"So… you and Madara were trying to get back at Naruto for ending it?" She still would be angry about that, but it was less awful than the first scenario she'd been thinking of. She could understand being angry with an ex who dumped you.

Sasuke's mouth tightened into a flat line.

Itachi looked at his nails, then spoke. "Actually, I believe our beloved uncle was under the impression that your friend Naruto had broken little Sasuke's heart. Madara possibly felt guilty for causing the situation, so he wanted to vet Naruto and see if he was worth trying to fix things."

"I never said I wanted to get back together with him," Sasuke said tightly, tired of everyone pushing him on this. "Which, at the risk of repeating myself, is still neither of your business."

"Hmm," Sakura murmured. She observed the younger of the two men for a moment, noticing the tired lines of his face and the rigid posture of his body. It had never occurred to her that Sasuke could actually get… hurt by Naruto.

She looked over to Itachi, seeing the worry in his eyes as he looked at his brother. Itachi turned to her, all emotion once again concealed behind his flawless mask.

Sakura drew a breath, trying to marshal her thoughts. "Look, Naruto wouldn't have just… ended it for no reason. He hasn't even looked at anyone for more than a year. Even though he wouldn't talk about it to any of us, we knew he was serious about the person he'd been seeing for the past few months. I assume that was you." Sakura turned to look at the man standing by the window. Sasuke didn't react to confirm her words, but he didn't need to. "So what did you do to him?"

Sasuke shot a glare at her, then went back to looking out the window.

"Naruto didn't believe that stupid article about you dating Yagura, did he? I mean… he can be kind of an idiot, but he knows how the tabloids work well enough that if you just explained -" Sakura began, but Sasuke cut her off.

"I did explain," Sasuke bit out. "And he believed me. That wasn't the problem."

Sakura blinked at the bitterness in Sasuke's usually expressionless voice. "Ok. So then… what happened?"

Sasuke continued to look out the window, clearly not intending on answering. She hadn't really expected him to. If she wanted to find out what happened, she would need to talk to Naruto.

"Fine," Sakura stood, walking to the door. "I know that your family doesn't really approve of emotion-based relationships. If that's still how you feel, then just walk away and leave Naruto alone," she paused at the door, clearly hesitating over saying her next words. "But if you want to try to make something work with him for real, then you need to start over and try being his friend."

Sasuke didn't so much as look at her as she closed the door behind her, but she could tell by the rigid lines of his body that he had heard her. She leaned against the door and drew a deep breath. The aura of the two powerful men had been nearly overwhelming, but she had managed to stand her ground.

She hoped she had done the right thing by giving Sasuke a piece of advice. She had been so sure he had just been using Naruto, and had been filled with righteous anger when she'd walked in. But after really looking at Sasuke, she realized that he was… hurting.

And now that she knew… she would see what Naruto wanted to do about it, or if it was really over.

She was glad she wouldn't have to quit her job. She liked working there. Even if her bosses were intimidating assholes at times. The work was challenging. And the office scenery was pretty fine.


Naruto had taken the first flight back from Tokyo Thursday morning, bursting with excitement. The security guard had looked at him funny and Naruto had made himself settle down. He was pretty sure that the guy thought it was on something when he was practically bouncing up and down in the airport security line.

He boarded the plane without incident, not noticing the way the flight attendant blushed at his enormous grin when he greeted her. Nor the way her eyes followed him as he walked to his seat, making her forget to greet the next two passengers.

He took the first cab and ran up the three flights of stairs to his office just before lunch.

"We're officially an international company!" he shouted as he stepped into the office, his excitement almost instantly spreading to his colleagues. "They're going to start with Seoul and Hong Kong, then go to Singapore and San Franciso!"

"So… the guy was for real?" Shikamaru looked up from where he was going over proofs of the next edition.

"Yeah. He's actually… um… already got a publishing company of his own, and some of his… um… publications come out weekly. He's looking to branch out from his main, uh, areas of focus, and he thought our paper would be a good fit!"

"Dude, why do you sound so… weird about it?" Kiba asked Naruto.

Everyone in the office looked at Naruto for a moment.

"He publishes p-porn, doesn't he?" Hinata asked finally.

"Heh," Naruto rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. "Funny you should guess that, Hina. Actually, he does. But not just porn. He does a lot of other stuff, too. More serious, political stuff. But… mostly he's famous for his porn. Anyway, he said The Daily Ramen is right in the middle of the things he publishes and he thinks it would be a great fit. He's a total pervert, to be honest, but he is really successful. He has connections everywhere."

"How did he even find out about us?" Shikamaru asked.

"You know the publisher who was working with me on the book, Hatake Kakashi? Well, this guy was like… his mentor or something. So he passed along our paper and Jiraiya liked it, so… they're going to take it on!"

"Cool! Do we get free porn?" Kiba asked excitedly.

Hinata leveled a look at him that silenced him instantly.

"What?" he asked indignantly. "Just because you like your porn live, and I like mine photographed or filmed doesn't make it different."

Hinata stifled a giggle, her face pinkening slightly. "Fair enough."

Sai had also perked up at the mention of porn. "Maybe Jiraiya will finally let me publish some of my other -"

"NO!" Naruto cut Sai off. "That will be part of the fucking contract. No naked pictures of any of us."

"Unless some of us want to," Shino added thoughtfully.

No one had anything to say about that. Though Lee did seem even more enthusiastic than usual about discussing his exercise regimen.


They had decided that - if the deal with Jiraiya really did pan out - they would have a party the following weekend with friends and family at Naruto's place. Shino was checking out the company Jiraiya ran and Shikamaru was waiting for Jiraiya to send over the legal terms of their partnership before anything could be decided for sure, but the whole office was buzzing with excitement of suddenly going global.

Naruto was trying to focus on his next column when he heard someone walk into his office. His eyes lit up as he looked up and saw who it was.

"Gaara!" Naruto stood and quickly crossed to the redhead, grabbing him up into a bear hug and ignoring the glare that was leveled at him. He knew deep down it was just Gaara's way of showing affection. Very deep down.

He hadn't seen Gaara since before he and Sasuke had split, but his friend was back in Konoha for a board meeting at Uchiha Financial Friday morning, and had flown in Thursday afternoon to be able to catch up with Naruto.

"How was your flight?" Naruto asked.

"Long," Gaara replied tersely.

Naruto rolled his eyes at the brevity of the response. "See, this is why I never hired you onto the staff here."

Gaara raised a hairless eyebrow. "You didn't hire me because the salary you could offer me wouldn't even pay my taxes on the salary from my real job."

Naruto grinned. "Yeah, there was that, too."

Hinata peeked in to say hello while Kiba may or may not have been hiding behind her. "Hello, Gaara-san. Naruto-kun has been looking forward to your visit."

A snort came from behind her. "Being annoying as hell is what she means. Please, take him out of here so we can finally get our work done. I think his flight attendant gave him one too many sugars in his coffee this morning," Kiba said.

Naruto closed his laptop and stuffed it in his bag. "You guys don't have to tell me twice. Hey, Shika! I'm outta here. I'm not getting shit written anyway. See you guys tomorrow."

"Whatever. Don't say hi to Sasori for me," Shikamaru's voice floated out from his office. "Hey, Gaara. Good to see you."

Gaara nodded as they turned and made headed out of the office.

"We still have a few hours before Sasori's show. Let's just chill at my place. I'll cook us dinner," Naruto led Gaara down and out to the street towards his house.


Gaara leaned against the counter in Naruto's kitchen as the writer made some fried rice on the stove.

"So. You told the guys at your office about seeing Sasori tonight?" Gaara took a swig of his beer.

Naruto grimaced, recalling the conversation. He hadn't wanted to keep yet another secret from his friends, so he had come clean about it. "Yeah."

Gaara arched a brow, clearly waiting for Naruto to elaborate.

"It didn't go over well, but Shikamaru knew Sasori from when things were good, so I think he at least understood that I'm still going to try to be there for him if he needs me."

Gaara's eyes sharpened and narrowed somewhat.

"As a friend. Just a friend," Naruto said, waving the spatula in what Gaara assumed was supposed to be a placating manner.

"I find it hard to imagine the two of you in a non-sexual relationship," Gaara walked up to where Naruto was cooking and looked in the wok. Deeming the food near to being ready, he opened the cupboard and took out two plates, setting them on the table.

"That's just because you had a habit of forgetting to knock on Sasori's door at awkward moments," Naruto snickered.

Gaara's eye twitched. "He was living in my house. Why should I knock in my own house?" Gaara had certainly seen more of his cousin than he had ever intended to on numerous occasions when he would occasionally come home earlier than expected. But it had been how he had met Naruto, so in the end he figured the visual trauma had been worth it.

Naruto smirked. "You just liked to watch. Admit it."

Gaara's lips twitched almost invisibly. "What man turns down free porn?"

Naruto laughed. "I heard that somewhere else today. I need to get you to spend more time with Kiba."

"Isn't he busy slowly growing some balls to finally ask out the one that writes the sex column?"

Naruto shrugged. "Yeah, that is turning out to be a very slow process."

Naruto grabbed a serving spoon and dished out the fried rice onto their plates.

"So you and Sasori are just friends, then," Gaara stated, his voice still somewhat skeptical.

Naruto glared at him as he took a bite of the rice. "He helped me out when I was headed down the wrong path. I'm going to be there for him if he needs me now. But that's all. I'm not an idiot, Gaara."

"No, you're just really good at playing one on TV," Gaara said drily. "If you're so confident that you can be 'just friends' with him, why do you need me to chaperone you tonight?"

Sometimes it was annoying to have friends that were so perceptive.

"Just shut up and eat your dinner."

They ate in silence for a bit. Then Gaara asked. "Have you talked to Sasuke since you guys ended things?"

"We ran into each other at the airport, but there wasn't much time to talk. Or really much to say, either, I guess."

Gaara eyed his friend closely. "So that's it? You're done?"

Naruto shrugged. "Sakura called me and said that she thinks Sasuke is upset about it. But he didn't really have much to say when we bumped into each other. And he hasn't reached out at all. I think she's just… looking to play matchmaker out of boredom or something."

"How did she find out about you two?"

"Some reporter cornered me in the lobby of Sasuke's apartment building when I was getting my coffee. Somehow he'd figured it out, though he was about two weeks too late to really catch us at anything."

Gaara frowned. "That doesn't make any sense. Why would he wait two weeks if he'd noticed you together? Even if it was someone else who called in a tip… they wouldn't wait until it had been two weeks since they'd seen you sneaking into his bed."

Naruto ran his hand through his hair. "I don't know. It doesn't matter. I told the reporter to fuck off and called Sakura. She put two and two together when the security tapes showed I was the only one the guy had talked to. She knew I'd been seeing someone who didn't want it public, and it wasn't hard to connect the dots. She asked me why I'd ended it with Sasuke, and I just told her that I had wanted a relationship and he didn't."

"But she thinks that Sasuke is upset?"

"I guess. Maybe he just hasn't found a new fuck toy yet. Can we talk about something other than my failed sex life? Like… have you hooked up with Itachi yet?"

Gaara froze, then continued to chew. "You do know that I was joking when I said that Itachi asked me out."

Naruto waggled his eyebrows. "Freudian slip. You just said what you were really thinking about."

"You are an idiot."

"I'll still kick your ass at Assassin's Creed tonight."

Gaara scoffed. "You and what army?"

"Come on. Let's try to get a game in before we have to go to Sasori's thing tonight."


The play was an overwhelming success. The actors had been good, but what had clearly stolen the show was the special effects that had enabled the actors and set to appear to fly and move as though the laws of physics did not apply in the theatre house. Naruto knew that Sasori had probably used 'invisible' wires and ropes to make it all happen, but even knowing (or at least guessing) some of the mechanics behind it didn't make it any less amazing. The crowd was abuzz during intermission with discussions of how it was done and who the mastermind was behind it. Naruto felt a surge of pride for Sasori, that he had been able to come back and make such a fantastic debut to hopefully restart his career.

When the lights came up at the end of the show, the actors took their bow to a thunderous applause. A few of them ran backstage and came back dragging out a slightly flustered looking Sasori. Working behind the sets manning the ropes and pulleys with the heat of the lights was hot work. Not expecting to be brought out, he was shirtless, dressed in only black jeans. His bare feet allowed him to move silently and not disrupt the performance with his movements. His bare, toned chest was sheened with sweat, the red scorpion tattoo above his heart clearly visible. The black jeans he wore rode low on his hips, revealing the taut cut of his hip bones. Naruto felt a slight twist in his stomach at the sight of it, but reminded himself that the sexual part of their relationship was all in the past.

Despite the stage presence of the other actors standing with him, the audience's eyes were drawn magnetically to the newcomer. Sasori's deep brown eyes and intense presence more than matched the actors he supported from behind the scenes.

"To the man behind the curtain, who made all the magic happen!" the lead actor said to the audience. The crowd got to their feet, giving Sasori a standing ovation, an unusual feat for someone who wasn't an actor. Sasori's eyes searched the crowd until he found the bright blond head of hair he had been looking for. He smiled and gave a short salute to the audience before turning and heading back offstage.

"Looks like he's living up to his old nickname," Gaara said eyeing Naruto's expression as he watched Sasori leave the stage.

Naruto smiled slightly as he stood. "Yeah. I wonder if they'll start calling him the Puppet Master here as well."

Gaara shrugged as they made their way through the packed aisle towards the exit.

A hand fell on Naruto's shoulder just before they reached the doors. Naruto turned to see Sasori standing behind him. He'd pulled on a tight black tank top, but the effect was still almost the same. Naruto took a step back, breaking the contact, though his eyes made a quick slide over his former lover's body before he realized it. Sasori let his arm fall from Naruto's shoulder as he noted Naruto's perusal. His pale skin was still slightly damp with sweat from his work on stage, making the soft cotton of his already tight shirt cling even more.

"Hey. Great show tonight," Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head nervously, keeping his eyes locked on Sasori's face and not allowing any further slips.

Sasori smiled, pushing his own hair back from his face, then resting his hands on his hips. "Thanks. I'm really glad you came," his eyes shifted to his cousin. "Both of you."

Gaara nodded, but didn't say anything. The two redheads assessed each other warily, but not hostilely.

"So… can you hang around a bit? We're going to have a cast party to celebrate opening night. I'd really like it if you could come."

An arm snaked around Sasori's shoulders, and Naruto found himself looking into the light blue eyes of the lead actor of the play they'd just watched. There was a familiarity in the touch that left no doubt as to the nature of the relationship between the two men.

Naruto wondered if Sasori wanted him to stay just so Naruto could see that he'd moved on. He was happy for Sasori, but he really didn't need to stick around for a second show put on by his ex and his new boyfriend.

"Nah. Gaara and I were going to go out and shoot some pool. Besides, it looks like you've found another 'friendly face' to keep you company," Naruto tried to keep his tone light and friendly, holding none of the internal tension he felt.

Sasori sent a slight glare at the man standing next to him, but the actor stood his ground.

"So you're the one Sas was talking about so much, yeah?" the actor looked Naruto up and down, his expression not particularly friendly.

"I don't know. Am I?" Naruto's tone matched the other blond's in its distinct lack of warmth.

"Deidara," Sasori said in a warning tone. Another member of the cast came up and pulled Deidara away, mentioning something about a repair that needed to be made to his costume before the following night's show. Deidara shot Naruto a parting look before pulling Sasori close and trying to kiss him. Sasori turned his face, so the man ended up kissing his cheek instead.

"Don't make them wait. They're going to be up all night as it is making corrections and adjustments for your damn prima donna ass," Sasori told him. Deidara reluctantly turned and left after whispering something in Sasori's ear.

"Sorry about that," Sasori said, gesturing vaguely after Deidara's retreating form.

Naruto shrugged. "No worries. It's been well over a year. I had assumed you'd moved on."

"It's not like that. It's just casual," Sasori clarified, his tone intense.

"Didn't look like it was casual to him," Gaara murmured.

Sasori shrugged, looking slightly annoyed. "Deidara's… a little intense. He's dated half the cast. You can probably guess which half," he smiled slightly, tilting his head to the side. "He's married to his 'art'. Sex to him is just for sport."

Naruto didn't really know what to say to that. He had read the possessive look in Deidara's eyes and was pretty sure the actor felt more than what Sasori believed.

"Ok, well, we should head out -" Naruto began, but Sasori cut him off.

"Naruto, I really want you to stay."

Naruto found himself trapped in Sasori's warm brown gaze, and for a moment, everything went completely still the way it used to, all the other sounds fading to nothing. He felt Gaara's hand on his shoulder, and snapped himself out of it.

"No. It's supposed to be a party for the cast and crew. I'll just stir up trouble between you and that guy."

"I don't really care. I'd rather be with you than him," Sasori looked at Naruto intently. "I haven't been with anyone seriously since we broke up. And I know you haven't either."

"You don't know that," Gaara said casually.

Sasori sent Gaara a sharp look and his eyes narrowed.

"I'm not seeing Gaara," Naruto stepped in before the tension got too far.

The tension left Sasori's body somewhat.

"But I was seeing someone," Naruto added, wanting to make it clear that he had moved on after what had happened back in the club on his birthday. "Even if it is just casual, you seem to have someone, too. And I'm… glad." It was somehow easier than Naruto would have thought to say that, and once the words were out, he realized it was completely true. It had torn him apart to end things with Sasori, but the hurt was finally gone. He still felt the physical pull for his ex, but for the first time in over a year, he knew he could be around Sasori without getting sucked back in. He was honestly glad to see the man finding a new footing and starting over.

The connection he'd felt with Sasuke had totally eclipsed what he felt for Sasori, even though they'd only been together a short while. If nothing else, Sasuke had at least helped him move on. And for that, he was grateful.

Sasori looked at him for a moment, then looked away. "I wish that night had never happened," he said softly.

Naruto swallowed. They had never discussed the night that Sasori had sent Naruto to the hospital. The ending had been abrupt and complete. Gaara stiffened beside Naruto, but Naruto, place a hand on his arm, letting him know it was ok.

"Sasori. It would have ended even without that. I couldn't handle the stuff you were getting into. And you weren't ready to leave it behind. You made your choice."

Sasori raised his eyes, meeting Naruto's gaze. "But if that night hadn't happened, then maybe there would still have been a chance for us to start over."

"But it did happen," Gaara said, his voice firm. "And the best you can hope for now is friendship. The question is whether you'll take it, or push for more and lose everything."

"Gaara…" Naruto gave his overprotective friend a warning look.

"It isn't up to you what kind of relationship I have with Naruto," Sasori stated. They'd danced around Gaara and Naruto's close friendship in the past, and it was clear Sasori still had issues with it.

"No. It's up to me. And I agree with Gaara, Sasori. You were there for me when I was fucking up and helped set me straight. I want to be able to return the favor. But that's all I can offer you now." There was no wavering in Naruto's direct, blue gaze.

Sasori looked back to where Deidara had disappeared back into the bowels of the theatre. "Ok. I guess maybe… it's better if you leave then. I should head back with the others."

"Yeah," Naruto shifted, feeling awkward at the tension. "But you did an amazing job tonight. I'm glad I came."

Sasori's smile was somewhat sad, but genuine. "Me, too. Even if I had hoped… Well, it doesn't matter. It was good to see you, Naruto. And you, Gaara."

Gaara nodded slightly in farewell.

"Let's go shoot some pool," Naruto said to Gaara.

"Loser gets the couch," Gaara replied.

Sasori's voice reached them before they got to the door. "Do you still hang out at the Hidden Leaf on Saturday nights?"

Naruto hesitated. "Yeah, sometimes. You and Deidara could stop by sometime," Naruto hoped it was clear that this was a platonic offer. His friends would have some adjusting to do if Sasori showed up to hang out, but they had all gotten along before everything had turned to shit. Maybe they could again. As long as Sasori stayed clean.

Gaara frowned, but didn't say anything.

Sasori watched as they left the building. Then he turned and headed back to where the rest of the cast was heading out to celebrate a wildly successful opening night. Deidara wrapped his arms around Sasori's waist and pulled him close. "He didn't stay?"

"No. He had someplace else to be."

"Good. Because you have someplace else to be, too."

Sasori looked at the handsome blond actor, and slowly smiled. "Yeah. I guess I do."


to be continued…

Credits: Kiba's column nominated by Anon, Hinata's by crystalXXX

A/N: A few people have asked me wtf with Sasori, remembering him as the creepy hunched puppet. The mental image I have of Sasori is best captured by Jadeege (http://www.deviantart.com/art/Sasori-LINEART-69838281). There are tons of colored versions of this on the site, all of which are super smokin' hot. Just so none of you have mental images of naruto getting turned on by a hunched up, creepy old turtle.

Next chapter has more Naruto and Sasuke encounters. And the scene with Naruto and Madara that I wrote thinking it would be in this chapter but then it didn't fit.

Chapter Text

Warning: drama… but still no smut. But! smut is approaching. It is in the driveway… almost to your door. (ok so I was camping and we were telling scary stories and I guess I got a little into it).

Author's note: There is a 30% chance that the story will end with the next chapter. I feel like the freaking weatherman, trying to predict this stuff. And I think I'm wrong just about as often. Since the last 2 chapters all took place in the same week there is no Daily Ramen this time around, just a newsflash. There will be one next time, though. Especially if it's the last chapter. Thanks to Mykko_chan for reading/beta-ing this!


The Daily Ramen, NEWSFLASH

DAILY RAMEN TO GO GLOBAL!

For all of you who were planning on leaving Japan to escape us, the selection of 'ramen free' places to live has just been reduced. Evidently, people in other countries are just as sick of sleazy politicians, sex scandals, and acts of monumental stupidity as the rest of us. Who knew? So we have decided to spread the love and go global.

But we want to reassure you that we made this decision seriously and with great deliberation. The staff of the Daily Ramen takes our integrity and image very seriously so we were very careful about selecting a partner in this endeavor who was aligned with our standards, morals, and ethics.

So naturally, we have hooked up with a porn publisher and are planning on riding that gravy train all the way to the bank. Or to world domination, whichever. We're flexible. Though not as flexible as some of the actresses in our partner's videos. Seriously… you gotta see it. That's what we plan to be doing. If the next issue is delayed, you'll know why.

- The Daily Ramen staff.


-xXx-

Sasuke walked out of the board room Thursday evening, his presentation folio tucked neatly under his arm. There was the slightest swagger in his step and a small, self-satisfied smirk adorned his lips. He'd managed to both impress the board and put a leash on his uncle in a 48-hour period. He'd definitely earned the evening off.

"Should I reschedule the meetings in Russia and South America that we had to cancel for next week, Sasuke-san?" his assistant asked him.

Sasuke hesitated, not having thought about it. He'd been so focused on getting back and making sure Naruto was ok and then tearing a piece out of his uncle that he hadn't had a chance to think through when he would go back. Given that the business he'd brought in over the past three weeks had already exceeded their business targets for the entire quarter and most of the next, there was really no need to rush.

"No. I'm going home to sleep. I'll let you know when to reschedule them later."

Sasuke grabbed his briefcase and keys from his desk then headed down to his car, only to find his brother leaning against the door.

A small, rare smile appeared on Itachi's face. "Let's go out to dinner and celebrate, Otouto. I would be surprised if you had time for lunch given your schedule today."

Sasuke hesitated. He really wasn't ready for another round of head games with his brother. But he also wasn't looking forward to dinner alone in his apartment. As if reading his thoughts, Itachi lifted his hands as though trying to convince his brother of his innocent intentions. As improbable as that was.

"We don't have to talk about anything. Let's just go have dinner together, so that the next time Mother asks me how you've been I can at least honestly say that I saw you eating."

"Hn," Sasuke said finally, unlocking the car as they both got in.


Itachi and Sasuke were shown to a table in the corner of the well-known Italian restaurant. They preferred to be out of the main room if possible, and they wait staff always went out of their way to accommodate the two wealthy men.

Neither brother paid any attention to the many sets of eyes that followed their progress… they had both become accustomed to it shortly after birth.

Itachi ordered an expensive bottle of wine as soon as they were seated. Sasuke raised an eyebrow in question. "Celebrating the quarterly earnings early?"

Itachi waved that suggestion away with a casual gesture of his strong, elegant hand. "Business success is expected. However, it's not every day that one outmaneuvers Madara. That deserves a toast."

A small smile appeared on Sasuke's face.

"He mentioned that you'd also had words with him," Sasuke said casually, trying not to directly ask what his brother had threatened.

Itachi smiled slightly as well. "Let's just say that both of us were equally unhappy with our dear Uncle Madara's… approach."

The waiter appeared with a bottle of wine and two crystal goblets on a tray. He opened the bottle, pouring a small amount into Itachi and Sasuke's glasses, awaiting their approval of the vintage before pouring them full glasses. The waiter was young and handsome. His eyes lingered on Sasuke, but he departed when Sasuke made no acknowledgement of the man's interest.

Itachi lifted his glass in toast. "To independence."

Sasuke lifted his glass in return. "To independence."

They spent the evening mostly in quiet company, Itachi honoring his promise to give Sasuke time to think things through things on his own. For at least a short time. Itachi didn't fail to notice when the waiter slipped Sasuke his number and the time his shift ended.

"Are you going to seek further entertainment this evening?" Itachi asked idly, swirling the last of the wine in his glass.

Sasuke glanced at the number. The waiter really was very attractive, and clearly looking for no strings. Just the way Sasuke generally preferred his partners in the past.

He left the scrap of paper lying on the table when they left, not seeing Itachi's knowing look as he did so.


The adrenaline of facing down Madara and making sure Naruto wasn't in danger from his family had worn off by the time he reached his apartment. All that was left was the jet-lag from weeks of constant travel and restless sleep. He had driven home on autopilot, his mind oddly quiet as he unlocked his door. He stepped into his apartment and closing the door behind him before removing his jacket and shoes.

Loosening his tie, he walked over to the kitchen to pour himself a drink, the wine he'd had at dinner long since worn off. He needed to relax. He felt oddly out-of-sorts, and he didn't know why.

He thought briefly about the waiter's offer again. It certainly wasn't the only one he'd had over the past few weeks. But none of them offered any real attraction for him. The only person he would be interested in seeing had ended things between them.

He realized that he hadn't thought about the state of his fridge since he'd left weeks ago. He walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge. A quick glance inside showed him he had basically no food in the house for breakfast. He avoided looking at the carton of half-and-half that was surely going to expire soon. He supposed he should just throw it out. He never took cream in anything.

But somehow… he closed the door to the fridge, leaving it sit there.

Naruto's spare toothbrush was still sitting in the holder next to his own. And the blond's shirts were still hanging in his closet. Sasuke had left town shortly after they'd ended things, and hadn't been home since so he hadn't really dealt with any of it.

Was he supposed to return the clothes? Was Naruto supposed to come by and get them? Was Sasuke supposed to… throw them out?

He didn't really want to do that. He wasn't angry at Naruto. Especially not after their conversation in the airport.

He found himself standing in his large, walk-in closet, looking at the shirts that didn't belong to him. He leaned casually against the doorframe, taking another sip from his glass, feeling the burn of the alcohol down his throat. It was the first time since he'd left on his marathon trip that he'd had time to think about anything. He wasn't really sure thinking was a good idea, but he supposed he'd put it off long enough. Being blindsided by Madara's actions showed him the danger of inattentiveness.

The room was tidy, just like the rest of his apartment. Every article of clothing hanging exactly in its place.

He noticed a button laying in the corner of the closet on the floor.

Levering himself away from the doorframe, Sasuke walked over and crouched down, picking up the small object. He recognized it as belonging to one of his Armani dress shirts. He could remember with perfect clarity how it came to be separated from his shirt.

Naruto's hands finished unbuttoning Sasuke's shirt, then slid up over his bare chest before skimming over his shoulders. Sasuke's back hit the wall hard as Naruto pressed into him, pushing his shirt down. They both cursed as they realized that the cuffs were still buttoned. The ripping sound of the fabric and the small clatter as the buttons hit the hardwood floor was ignored by both men as Naruto's mouth closed over Sasuke's nipple, the tan hands dropping to the fastenings of his trousers.

Sasuke looked down to see his hand fisted around the small button, his nails digging into his palm.

This was why he had spent so much time away from his apartment. This was what he'd been avoiding. Too many memories, forcing him to think about things that he didn't want to. Wasn't ready to.

Everything with Naruto had been so overwhelming. From the very start, it had been out of control. The feeling had been so completely foreign to him. Terrifying. But at the same time, darkly addictive.

Given that Naruto had been able to push him out of his comfort zone in everything else, he supposed it shouldn't be surprising that the blond was still pushing him now.

It was time for Sasuke to think about what he really wanted. If he packed up Naruto's things and dropped them off at his place or threw them out, that would be the end of it. But did he want that? Or did he want to try to make things work with Naruto and have a real relationship? One that would derail his whole approach to his life for something that had no guarantees of lasting.

He thought about what life for an Uchiha male usually entailed. Long hours of stressful work, growing the family's influence through increased wealth and personal connections. Then either marrying someone who the family approved of who would further those two goals, or remaining single, using the nearly endless wealth to procure whatever companionship was desired at any given time.

It was what Sasuke had always assumed his life would be. He never thought he'd find someone like Naruto. Someone he would actually want to be with. Sasuke closed his eyes, thinking about other nights with Naruto in his room.

He had always been taught that having complete control over one's life was the ultimate goal.

But he… liked losing control with Naruto. He wanted someone who could match him, not be subservient to him. Naruto didn't measure Sasuke's worth by the size of his financial assets or the reach of his influence. Naruto only cared about how Sasuke was with him. When they were together, nothing else mattered.

Madara had called him out on it… the fact that Naruto was different.

"In the past, you've never been this annoyed when I've looked into your affairs."

It was true. It was different with Naruto.

But did he really want to try an actual relationship with Naruto? The thought of his life without the blond in it was… not appealing. But the thought of trying to make a relationship actually work, to be accountable to another person in that way, was terrifying.

He stood and walked over to his nightstand, checking to see that his alarm was set for the following morning, and plugging his phone in to charge.

He wondered what his mother would think of Naruto. She'd probably like him. As long as she didn't read his paper. He smirked slightly at the thought of what his very proper mother would make of the Daily Ramen.

His father wouldn't say anything whether he liked Naruto or not, so that was irrelevant. It was odd to think about having Naruto at family gatherings. Sasuke could only imagine what outrageous thing the blond would say at one of their stuffy, formal gatherings. He found himself smiling into his glass as he took a swallow of his drink.

The thought was… not unappealing.

It was strange how the things that Sasuke had always intensely disliked about the idea of an actual relationship didn't seem annoying when he thought of them with Naruto: Doing something special for someone else's birthday. Having them fuss over his. Having someone who would miss him when he had to travel or worked late. The idea of waking up next to the same person over and over and over. The thought of those things used to make him shudder in the past.

But now...

Sasuke wasn't particularly romantic. He didn't believe in soulmates or love at first sight. He wasn't even really sure he believed in love. But what he did know was that no one had ever had the effect on him that Naruto did. He had met people from all over the world, both in social and business contexts. He had taken lovers in the past. But nothing had come close to the intensity that he felt when he was with Naruto.

Was he really going to give it up just because it didn't fit into the mould that the family had cast for him? The one he had believed he had fit into?

Sasuke looked down at the button that was in his hand.

No.

He honestly didn't know if he would be able to make it work, if he would be any good at all at a real relationship. But he was willing to at least try.

In a way, it almost annoyed him that Madara approved of Naruto. He didn't want to give the man the impression that he was letting himself be pushed into something by his fucking manipulative family. It was going to be between him and Naruto to either work it out or not. He ignored the way his stomach twisted at the thought that the blond might not even be willing to talk to him about it, but after their encounter at the airport, he hoped he would.

At least today he had managed to put a leash on Madara. Of course, it would be impossible to fully stop the man from all interference, but Sasuke now had some control over it. In the past, he hadn't bothered because he had never intended to let someone into his life far enough for it to matter. But he didn't want Madara interfering by 'punishing' Naruto if things didn't work out. His family was ruthless, and the last thing he needed was the added stress of worrying about Naruto if things fell apart. Especially since Sasuke was pretty sure that if either of them was likely to screw things up, it was going to be him, not Naruto.

Sasuke swallowed the rest of his drink.

Now he just had to talk to Naruto, and see if he would be willing to give it another a chance. He looked at the clock, noticing it was just past eleven on Thursday night. He wondered how Naruto's evening with Sasori had gone. He hoped Gaara had been there, too, and it hadn't ended up just Naruto with his ex.

Hopefully still ex.

The thought twisted in him. He knew for a fact that Naruto still was attracted to Sasori. He'd witnessed that attraction first-hand at Naruto's birthday before he and Naruto had even dated. And Naruto had always topped with Sasori. Did he miss that? Sasuke knew that what he'd had with Naruto wasn't just about the sex, but still, sex had been a big part of it. And Naruto had known Sasori longer, and clearly had a hard time getting over the ending of their relationship, so presumably that hadn't been all about sex, either.

Sasuke had never felt insecure about his own sex appeal or performance in bed, but it had always been clear that Naruto was… more experienced? Not necessarily in terms of numbers of lovers, but Sasuke always had the feeling that Naruto was holding back… waiting to see where Sasuke's own boundaries were. And he knew that Naruto's range of experimentation likely exceeded his own. Sasuke had never trusted anyone enough to really let go before. But with Naruto, he would have been willing to try things he had never considered before. Was Sasori more Naruto's speed? If Naruto had to choose between them, who would he pick?

Sasuke had never wondered whether or not he'd be able to have the person he wanted. He never even had to try in the past. But this time… he would have to. He pulled off his work clothes, throwing them in his hamper before walking over to the bathroom to take a shower before bed. He stood under the heavy spray, letting the heat of the water relax some of the knots in his shoulders. But did nothing for the tension he felt internally. He had to make it through one more day of work before the weekend.

Then he needed to figure out what he was going to do about his relationship with Naruto.


It was Friday night.

It had been Sai's first time hosting the crew of the Daily Ramen for dinner at his place. The co-workers had been a little nervous to see what kind of home their eccentric colleague lived in, but had actually been impressed by much of the art that decorated the man's walls. Less than thirty percent of it focused on the male anatomy, and even the ones that did were actually very artistically done.

They enjoyed their dinner and decided to go out to the Hidden Leaf to shoot some pool afterwards.

Gaara had returned to New York that afternoon, so Naruto was glad for the chance to hang out with his friends from work for the evening. He watched as Kiba tried to show off his dart skills while Shikamaru and Shino discussed what the equation of motion for a pool ball would be. Hinata was trying to teach Lee the basics of dancing so he wouldn't appear so spastic the next time he took a girl on a date. Sai had disappeared into the men's room. Naruto hoped he hadn't brought his sketch pad.

He wondered what Sasuke would make of his friends. He was pretty sure he would get along with Shikamaru and Shino. And probably be amused by Lee and Kiba. He'd seen the glare Sasuke had shot Hinata when they'd been dancing together at Tsunade's party, but he was pretty sure Sasuke would come around on her if he got to know her. Which, of course, wasn't going to happen.

Naruto thumbed the rim of his beer glass idly. Work had kept him distracted, and he was excited about how things seemed to be taking off with the Daily Ramen. But he'd be lying if he said he didn't miss Sasuke…. his sharp retorts and cynical expressions. He tried not to think about how tired Sasuke had seemed when he'd run into him at the airport, or Sakura's comments that she thought Sasuke was hurting after he'd ended things. Naruto had found himself staring at his phone a few times, wanting to call Sasuke or at least text him, but in the end he never really knew what to say. He couldn't go back to just sex. He wanted more. And Sasuke had given no sign that he felt the same way.

So Naruto had let it be.

Naruto sighed as he sipped his beer. He supposed this was just another example of the old saying about having the cake and eating it, too. No one got to do it, so he should just stop being a pussy about it and move on.

Kiba slung an arm around Naruto's shoulders, breaking him out of his thoughts. "Man, it's good to have you back and hanging out with us again."

Naruto frowned slightly at the implied accusation. "I didn't stop hanging out with you guys."

Kiba shrugged as he took a drink from his beer, watching Shikamaru and Shino's game of pool. "Yeah, but you usually cut out early. You were so whipped, man."

The words cut more than Kiba had probably intended. Naruto had always rolled his eyes at the people who started dating someone and suddenly the rest of the world - including the friends that had known them since infancy - ceased to exist. But it firmed Naruto's resolve that he'd done the right thing. The way things had been with Sasuke just… didn't work for the long term. He gave Kiba a lopsided smile.

"Heh, you're just jealous because you never get any. If you ever manned up and got together with Hinata, we'd never see your sorry ass again unless it was with her leash around your neck."

Kiba's cheeks pinkened as he drove an elbow into Naruto's ribs. "Shut up!" he hissed looking over to where Hinata was standing clearly within earshot of their conversation, her eyes focused on the game.

Naruto rolled his eyes.

"Dude, if you think she doesn't know you have a major thing for her, then you are even a bigger idiot than I thought you were. This isn't a secret. Just make a move already."

Sai walked over and set his beer down on the table between them. "If you're not sure how to tell her what you want, I'd be happy to draw you a picture that you could -"

"NO!" Kiba shook his head frantically, glancing over to where Hinata was trying to hide a giggle by taking a sip of her rum and coke. "No, just… I'm fine. It's good."

Naruto pushed his hand into Kiba's face. "Just don't wait too long, bruh. You aren't the only one who notices her."

Naruto looked meaningfully at the other end of the bar where at least four other guys were very actively checking Hinata out.

Kiba growled, glaring at them.

Hinata finished her drink and set it on the bar, then turned to Naruto. "Let's dance while we wait for Shino and Shika to finish up."

They walked onto the tiny dance floor. Naruto shot Kiba an impatient look, but Kiba just turned back to watch Shino and Shikamaru. They danced for a few songs, drawing the focus of many in the bar, as always. Kiba seemed to be looking slightly more conflicted about it than usual. Naruto had noticed that Kiba had been spending even more time talking with Hinata lately. It was clear that their relationship was already moving in that direction. He just needed a little push to finally get the nerve up to actually do something about it.

A popular song started playing, and more people crowded onto the dance floor, pushing Naruto and Hinata back towards the edge, closer to Kiba.

"This is our new song," she laughed, pretending not to notice Kiba's slight pout.

Neither noticed the set of dark eyes watching them from one of the corner booths.

"You're not going to give Kiba a break are you?" Naruto asked as Hinata began guiding them in a new routine, sliding their hips together.

"If he can't man up to me, he has no chance with my f-family," she bit her lip and glanced over to where Kiba was watching them intently.

"I'm pretty sure he cares a hell of a lot more about what you think than what your family thinks. As long as he knows you want it, he'll face them all down. He just doesn't want to come between you and your family when he thinks you can do better than him." Naruto had a whole new level of empathy for Kiba after facing the same thing with Sasuke. And losing.

Hinata frowned, considering his words. Naruto guided them to the edge of the dance floor, close to the bar where Kiba sat. "That's stupid," she said softly.

"Then show him," he replied.

As the refrain approached again, its words an explicit description of dance club sex. Naruto reached over and pulled the ice cube out of Hinata's glass, gave her a quick peck on the lips, then ran the ice cube along the inside of her wrist, following the lyrics. She squeaked slightly at the cold as Naruto reached over and dragged Kiba off his stool onto the dance floor, then pressed the ice cube to Kiba's lips.

Kiba's eyes widened, but he opened his mouth and allowed the cold cube inside. Naruto grabbed Hinata by the waist, pulling her flush against him as he grabbed Kiba and pulled him close behind him. The three of them danced for a few moments with Naruto in the middle before he switched places with Kiba, pressing him against Hinata, reversing the 'sandwich'. It was now up to Kiba whether he was going to finally make a move or just laugh it off and chicken out again.

He felt Kiba pull in a sharp breath as his body was pressed against Hinata's, every muscle in his body clenching.

He hesitated for only a second, then grabbed Hinata by the waist and pulled her even closer. Picking up Naruto's role of following the lyrics, he opened his mouth slightly, the rapidly melting ice cube held between his teeth as he leaned forward and slide it along her neck before closing his lips around the now slightly salty cube.

Hinata arched her neck back, her eyes fluttering closed slightly before grinning impishly at him and letting her hand slide down to his ass. His hand rapidly followed suit to curve over hers, pulling their bodies even tighter together.

Naruto smirked as he stepped off to the side by the bar.

Looks like Kiba's got game, he thought in some amusement. Which he would need, given the woman he was presumably in the process of asking out. Neither of Kiba nor Hinata seemed to notice the loss of his presence as they danced together.

"About fucking time," Naruto murmured to himself, watching as Kiba said something to Hinata that made her turn beet red before nodding slightly.

He leaned back on the bar to watch his two friends finally coming together, a grin on his face despite the knowledge that he had probably lost his dance partner. He didn't notice the man approaching him until a deep voice spoke from just beside him.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Sorry, I'm not interested in -" Naruto's words cut off as he turned and saw the last possible person he would have expected see in a bar like this.

"Madara?" Naruto asked, not adding any honorific and definitely not being apologetic about it. He knew that what had happened between him and Sasuke wasn't totally this man's fault, but Madara sure as fuck hadn't helped things.

Madara arched an eyebrow. "Most people would call me Uchiha-sama. But yes. I am Uchiha Madara."

"I guess I'm not most people, then," Naruto muttered, trying to keep his temper in check. "I saw you at Itachi's house. For the holiday party." Naruto let his eyes drift back to the sight of his two friends on the dance floor, ignoring the man. He didn't care if he was being rude. Though he realized that Madara must have found out about him and Sasuke, since he was clearly here to talk to him. He wondered what the man wanted. Whatever it was, he had no intention of making it easy for him.

Shikamaru and Shino had paused their game to watch Kiba and Hinata dance.

Madara took a sip of his bourbon, his eyes glancing at Naruto's Tshirt: How about a nice cup of 'kiss my ass'. "Yes. I remember you. You were there with Sabaku."

The older man turned to follow Naruto's gaze, seemingly unfazed by Naruto's unfriendly demeanor. Naruto signaled the bartender to bring him another beer.

"The Hyuuga is really quite a stunning woman. And her lineage is impeccable. Why did you hand her over to your friend?"

The bartender brought Naruto a beer, and took a sip, shooting an annoyed glare at the man next to him. "Some people look for other things in a relationship besides looks or social climbing."

Madara didn't even blink at Naruto's not-so-subtle attack. If anything, he seemed… amused.

"Given that she works for you and you let her put her hand on your ass a few minutes ago, I am assuming she has other qualities that you like as well."

Naruto choked on his beer as he turned to look at the Uchiha patriarch.

"We're friends. But Hinata and Kiba… they will have a long and happy life together, now that he's finally manned up and shown his interest."

"Manned up with a little help," Madara said drily. Naruto couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him.

"So what is it that makes you think the two of them will be happy, but you and Hinata wouldn't have worked?" Madara asked after a moment.

Naruto turned to face the man squarely, trying to see if he was asking the question for real or just fucking with him. Impenetrable black eyes looked back, giving no hint at all as to which was correct. The look reminded him of Sasuke, which was probably the only reason he eventually answered.

Naruto sighed. "There's a difference between someone who is a good friend, and someone you want to go to bed with every night and wake up next to every morning for the rest of your life. Kiba and Hinata… are that, for each other. There's no science that can tell you why, or financial spreadsheet that can predict the outcome. It just is something you either feel or you don't."

Naruto had expected some sort of snide, scathing remark from the notoriously emotionless business tycoon, but Madara's gaze simply turned to watch Hinata and Kiba dance. If Naruto didn't know who the man was, he would almost have said there was a hint of wistfulness in Madara's gaze. Hinata's eyes were glowing, and Kiba had a blush on his cheeks that wasn't entirely due to the physical exertions of dancing. It was clear that they were no longer aware of anyone else in the club.

"And what about you?" Madara asked, turning back to look at Naruto. Any wistfulness in his eyes was gone, replaced with a calculating, amused look. "Have you ever found anyone you felt that way about? Someone you wanted… more than just sex with?"

It was all Naruto could do to not throw the last of his beer in the man's face. He stood stiffly. "Fuck you, Uchiha."

Madara calmly took a drink of the amber liquid in his glass, arching a brow in a manner that painfully reminded Naruto of Sasuke.

"Oh, did I strike a nerve? I was under the impression that you weren't all that interested in my nephew these days."

"You fucking asshole," Naruto ground out. "Your family and your employees might let you mess with them and get involved in their business, but I won't. I stepped back because Sasuke didn't want to take it any further, and unlike you, I respect him enough not to manipulate him into something he might not want. Go play your head games with someone else." Naruto turned to leave, trying to keep from fully unloading on the man. But Madara's next statement stopped him.

"Well, you have nerve, I'll give you that. I was wondering what my nephew saw in you. I suppose that's at least something."

Naruto lunged forward and might have hit the man, but a hand on his shoulder pulled him back.

"Hey. I thought your days in getting in bar fights were behind you," Sasori's voice was low and calm.

Madara's eyes narrowed sharply at the newcomer, but Naruto turned his back the older man to face Sasori.

"What are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd stop by and see if you were up for a game of pool, but I think maybe it would be a better idea if we went and grabbed coffee somewhere," Sasori said as he slowly pulled Naruto by his arm towards the door, feeling the rigid tension of anger in the blond's body.

"Naruto -" Madara began, but Naruto cut him off.

"Fuck you, Uchiha. I don't have to stay and listen to you." Naruto turned to where Shikamaru, Shino and Lee had come over to see what was going on. Sai watched curiously from the bar, not knowing who Sasori nor Madara were.

"Naruto. Are these two giving you trouble?" surprisingly it was Lee who asked, his brows drawn into a fierce scowl as he looked between Sasori and Madara.

"No. It's all good. But I'm leaving. I'll see you guys tomorrow" Naruto told his friends. Sasori hadn't removed his hand from Naruto's arm, and turned with him towards the door.

Shikamaru frowned at Sasori, then looked at Naruto. "You're leaving with him?"

"Just for coffee. He just kept me from probably winding up in a lawsuit, so I owe him one."

"Just like old times," Sasori smiled slightly as they walked toward the door, the rest of Naruto's friends following.

"I'll call you later Shika. You guys go have fun. Tell Kiba he owes me one."

They all looked over to where Kiba and Hinata were still dancing, oblivious to the drama that was unfolding around them.

Shikamaru hesitated.

"I'm fine," Naruto reassured him. "I just need to get out of here. You guys stay and relax. I don't want to mess up everyone's Friday night."

Reluctantly, Naruto's friends went back to the pool table.

Sasori walked out the door with Naruto. They nearly collided with someone else coming in. Naruto looked up and froze as his blue eyes locked with familiar black ones.

"Sasuke?" Both men stood there, frozen for a moment, their bodies inches from each other. Naruto was close enough to smell Sasuke's cologne, the scent triggering a thousand sensory responses and it was all he could do to keep from stepping forward and closing the distance.

"Naruto –" Sasuke began, his eyes tracing over Naruto's form, noting the tight black Tshirt and soft, form-fitting jeans.

"Who's this, Naruto?" Sasori asked, drawing Sasuke's attention.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed and his stomach tightening slightly as he noticed the man standing behind Naruto. Sasori's hand was resting on Naruto's upper arm… clearly they were leaving together.

"He looks like a younger version of that old guy I just stopped you from punching," Sasori said, bristling as he tried to figure out why some rich-looking family was messing with Naruto.

A flash of anger seared through Sasuke's eyes at Sasori's words. "I warned Madara what I'd do if he messed with you again."

Naruto frowned. "Again?"

Sasuke hesitated, glancing at Sasori. But he didn't want to hide things from Naruto now that they were face-to-face. "Zetsu worked for him. He wasn't a reporter."

Naruto's eyes widened, giving Sasuke a clear view of the emotions that surged through them. Shock, then confusion, then hurt. The blue eyes searched Sasuke's face before hardening into anger. Sasuke had braced for Naruto's accusation that Sasuke had put Zetsu up to it, and was somewhat surprised when it didn't come.

"That asshole!" Naruto turned to go back into the bar and likely finish the punch he had been about to throw at Madara, but Sasori grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

"We're leaving, remember? You don't need to get in a bar fight with a guy in a suit that costs more than your rent. You wanna fuck him over, do it another way. One that won't land you in jail," Sasori's voice was low in Naruto's ear, but not low enough that Sasuke didn't hear it.

The door to the bar opened, and a group of people came out, forcing the three to step to the side towards the alley, out of the way of the entrance.

Sasori noticed the almost tangible tension between Naruto and Sasuke, the way their eyes followed each other. His eyes narrowed.

"You're the one Naruto was seeing, aren't you?" Sasori faced Sasuke, his expression hostile.

"Sasori, shut it," Naruto hissed urgently, glancing around to be sure no one would hear them.

"Yes. Naruto and I were seeing each other," Sasuke stated calmly, causing Naruto's eyes to widen in shock.

Wasn't it supposed to be… secret?

Sasori took an aggressive step closer to Sasuke, temper clear in the lines of his body. "So you fucked him over, then had your asshole uncle go after him? Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"Sasori, he wouldn't -," Naruto began, but Sasuke cut him off.

Sasuke was tired of people accusing him of shit he didn't do. The only one who had the right to say that was Naruto. And he was the only one who hadn't. "Who the fuck do I think I am? I'm not the one who put him in a hospital because I couldn't control my drug habit, that's for fucking sure. I don't know why he's even talking to you, much less going home with you from a bar."

Sasori's fist clenched and Naruto had to physically step in between them to stop the escalation.

"Fuck you!" Sasori tried to step around Naruto, but Naruto blocked him, fisting a hand into his shirt and shoving him back. "You don't know anything about us!"

"I know enough to know you're a fuck-up."

"Both of you shut up!" Naruto's voice was hard with anger.

"You," he turned and poked a finger in Sasuke's chest. "You haven't talked to me in weeks except for the one time we accidentally ran into each other in the airport. Don't act all 'protective boyfriend' now, when you were hiding the fact that we were sleeping together from everyone. And you," he turned and shoved the palm of his hand into Sasori's chest, pushing him back a few steps. "You don't have any business getting up in his face for whatever went down between him and me. Whatever happened between Sasuke and me, it didn't end nearly as badly as you and I did. Whatever Sasuke's uncle did, it wasn't with Sasuke's permission. So back the fuck off."

He turned and glared at Sasuke again. "I'm going home," Naruto turned and started walking. Sasori started to follow after him, but Naruto stopped him. "Alone. You have your new boyfriend to go play with. Go find Deidara. We'll grab coffee another day when I'm not so pissed off at you." Naruto looked over at Sasuke, who was standing by the door to the bar. "And you can tell your uncle that he's an ass."

"Naruto… I didn't send him here."

Naruto's anger seemed to lessen slightly at the intent expression in Sasuke's face. "I know that, bastard. I told you before… if you were that kind of guy, we never would have hooked up. Believe or not, I actually have a pretty good idea of who you are."

Naruto turned and walked down the street, his hands jammed in his pockets. Possibly to prevent him from punching something.

Sasori and Sasuke eyed each other in distaste for a moment, then Sasori turned and walked off in the opposite direction. Sasuke opened the door to the bar and went in.


Sasuke walked over to the older man sitting at the bar, anger radiating off him.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Sasuke growled.

Madara smirked at him. "You're lucky. If I were still a young man, I might have given you a run for your money with him."

"Naruto?" Sasuke's brain did a rapid reboot to delete any visual of that from his mind.

Madara tilted his head to the side. "He almost took a swing at me. Even after knowing who I was. I can't even remember the last time that happened."

"Too bad he didn't actually hit you. Of course, then you probably would have had him arrested for assault. I warned you what would happen if you stepped into my business again."

Madara looked at him, letting the tense silence stretch. "Would you like to know what I have learned about your lover?"

"No."

Madara chuckled softly. Sasuke was every inch an Uchiha. Of course he wouldn't admit to wanting to know.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anything. Madara motioned to the bartender. "He'll have what I'm having."

Madara motioned for Sasuke to sit down in the stool next to him. Which Sasuke ignored. "I'll tell you what I learned, despite your lack of appreciation for my efforts on your behalf."

Sasuke let out a hissing breath of anger. "Don't push me, Uncle."

Something in Sasuke's dark tone of voice warned Madara that his nephew was nearing his limit. He decided not to test him further, amusing as it was. "Your writer friend spent his evening with his friends ignoring everyone who hit on him or tried to buy him a drink. He danced with a beautiful, well-endowed heiress, then set her up with his friend on the grounds that they were 'in love' or something equally ridiculous. He implied that I was an elitist old relic, and informed me that he was not one of my employees or family members that would allow me to interfere with his personal business."

Madara paused to take a sip of his drink as the bartender handed Sasuke one of his own.

"Which of those things made him take a swing at you?" Sasuke asked, picking up his drink and taking a large swallow.

"None of them."

Sasuke arched a brow. Madara simply smiled and took another sip of his drink, looking out to watch the younger people dancing in the club.

Sasuke grit his teeth when it became clear that if he wanted to find out, he would have to ask.

"So what did you say?"

"I asked him if he'd ever found someone he wanted to spend his life with. Something beyond just sex. For some reason, he became very angry about it. Why do you think that would be, Sasuke?" Madara asked, still watching the dancers.

Sasuke stilled, but his pulse raced. When he'd opened the door to the bar and found himself face-to-face with Naruto, he'd frozen up. The intensity in the electric blue eyes when they'd locked with his had been anything but casual. But Naruto had been leaving with Sasori. Though in the end, he'd gone home alone.

"By the way," Madara said, signaling the bartender for his bill. "How did you even know I was here?"

Sasuke just smiled, but didn't respond. He had paid Madara's driver to keep tabs on him and let him know if the man went anywhere unusual. When the driver called and told Sasuke that he had just dropped Madara off at the bar that Naruto used to hang out at, Sasuke had been livid. It hadn't even been two days since their confrontation, and Madara was already interfering again. He'd immediately come over to put a stop to whatever his uncle was doing, only to run into Naruto and Sasori on their way out.

Madara paid for their drinks and left a tip, then stood. "Should I be expecting anything from the police or my accountant in the near future?" Both men were perfectly aware of the threats that Sasuke had levelled at his uncle just the other day.

Sasuke arched an eyebrow, sadistic amusement in his eyes. He might understand what his uncle was trying to do, but that didn't mean he was going to let him off for fucking with Naruto like that. "Do you really think I'd tell you?"

Madara's eye twitched.

"I'm sure if something happens, you'll be the first to know," Sasuke said, casually sipping his drink and feeling in control again. "Sleep well, Uncle."

Madara looked at him for a moment, then turned to leave. "I'll leave you to your evening, nephew."

Sasuke spoke as the man walked away. "Naruto was right, you know."

Madara paused, "Yes. He was. About several things."

Sasuke wondered what Madara meant. Somehow Naruto had managed to impress his uncle. It was a feat extremely few people could claim, even within his own family.

Sasuke smiled down into his drink.

"Is he going to be making problems for Naruto?"

Sasuke looked up to see Naruto's business partner standing next to him. He looked behind the man to see the rest of the Daily Ramen staff gathered around a pool table.

"No," Sasuke replied to the question.

"Are you going to be giving Naruto problems?" Shikamaru asked.

Sasuke met his gaze. "No."

Shikamaru looked at him assessingly, then nodded. "I'm the only one who knows about the two of you. Besides Gaara. I'm not going to say anything, if you're worried about it."

There was a hint of derision in Shikamaru's tone. Sasuke looked down at his drink, realizing this was probably not the greatest introduction to Naruto's best friend. "I'm not worried about it."

Shikamaru's eyes sharpened, and Sasuke realized the man understood the implications of that. "Are you planning to talk to Naruto, then?"

Sasuke traced a bead of condensation from the side of his glass. "Yes," he said after a few moments.

Shikamaru appeared to think about it for a moment, then he grabbed a napkin, pulling out a pen from his pocket and writing something down before handing it to Sasuke.

"What's this?"

"Naruto's address. We're having a party for friends and family at his place next Friday to celebrate a big expansion of the paper. Starts at eight. And it's informal."

Sasuke looked at the napkin. He'd never been to Naruto's place. And never met any of his friends or family. Naruto would definitely not expect him to come.

"You're inviting me?"

"If you're his friend. Then yes."

With that, Shikamaru picked up his order of drinks and returned to his friends.


to be continued…

A/N: We are sooooo close to the ending. Can you feel it? :-)

Chapter Text

Author's note: So… there will be one more chapter. It got too long. Of course. But there is LOTS of Sasuke and Naruto interaction in this chapter. Finally! Also, I am doing a Spartan race this weekend! It's my first one and I'm looking forward to getting full of mud. LOL.


The Daily Ramen, May 29

OUR DUMB WORLD - Things that are going on in other places that you couldn't care less about. Weekly international and political news column by Nara Shikamaru

Why can't Tinder exist in reality? The online 'hook-up' app that has taken the world by storm by its 'swipe' technology making the selection of potential hook-ups as easy as swiping right on a photo to 'match' or left to decline makes me wish that the same functionality existed in real life. If someone comes up to me in a bar and begins telling me a boring story about their life, why can't I just slide my finger left and have them magically disappear from my view? Or in the office place. If a co-worker is giving you some unsolicited feedback on your work, can't you just 'slide left' and make them stop? Even better would be when an attractive woman passes you on the street. If you could slide right just when eye contact is made and wind up in bed… now THAT is a virtual reality I would enjoy.


IN OTHER NEWS - If you think you didn't care about Nara's stuff, you REALLY won't care about this. Weekly local news column by Uzumaki Naruto

Local cat, Mrs. Nisbet, finally answered demands and created her own facebook page. Currently, she is 'self-employed and loving it'. She also may have licked one of the burgers that were foolishly left unguarded on the dining room table by the walking can-openers she lives with. Latest post: I don't need feminism, because I am for the oppression of all humans. She found the Facebook app that answers the question 'what type of cat are you' utterly ridiculous.


I SAW WHAT YOU DID THERE - Seriously, people. If you don't know what you're doing sexually, can you please just keep it in your own bedrooms? Weekly column by Hyuuga Hinata

A word of wisdom for the ladies out there who enjoy sneaking kisses in a public space. If you really want to maintain discretion, you should consider your choice in lipstick color, or at least the quantity that you wear. I was recently ejoying an exhibit of ancient Japanese swords at a local museum, when I noticed a young, very proper-looking couple sneak into an alcove for a little body contact. The discretion was done quite well, but when they reappeared in our tour group, the man had bright red lipstick smeared all over his mouth and neck. The woman hand some on her face and cleavage (presumably double-transfer). They were so busy trying to pretend not to look at each other and feign 'friends only' that they clearly missed a pretty obvious sign of their 'acquaintanceship'. Still - it was fairly well done. I give them a seven for artistic use of color.


DUMBASS OF THE DAY - Because some people are just so dumb, they really do deserve an award for it. Weekly award by Inuzuka Kiba

If you're going to be a player, make sure you keep your phone list current. One poor sucker made this rookie mistake. He took the number of a very hot looking girl named Vicki. And didn't realize that he hadn't deleted the entry for Vicky - the sister of his recent ex. Needless to say, the steamy message he left on "Vicky's" machine telling her to meet him at his apartment on Friday night didn't wind up as expected when - instead of a hot hook-up - he got slapped in the face by his ex and her sister. Bruh… you're a dumbass.


BAD SHIT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU - But at least now you know. Weekly horoscope by Aburame Shino

To my tigers: Your life will acquire a new dimension of interest when you finally discover that girls, in fact, do not have cooties and actually can provide some very interesting diversions. Too bad you believed your brother twenty-five years ago. To the sheep: 2015 is your year! This actually means you are responsible for all upkeep and outcomes. Get to it. To the dogs: Your focus on what the stars have to say about your future is undermined when you realized it was the asteroids you really should have been watching. Especially that really big one.


SPORTS NEWS! - Sports are a celebration of endless youth! Join me in reveling in them! Weekly column by Rock Lee!

Hardcore hockey fans have started a petition to have more fights per game! This age-old expression of youthful sportsmanship is ever-growing in its popularity! Who cares if there are concussions! The only thing that would make this even better would be allowing the fans to participate more fully! We should all bring our own hockey sticks to the games and - [The internet is asserting its seldom-used authority to cut off bad ideas before they spread. Thank you.]


Sasuke woke early Saturday morning, still feeling tired but unable to go back to sleep. He lay on his back, shooting a glare at the clock as though it were responsible for awakening him. He wondered if Naruto was still sleeping. After seeing him the night before at the bar, Sasuke felt an almost visceral urge to call him.

He stretched his arms over his head, pressing against the headboard to increase the stretch in his shoulders, feeling the slide of the sheets over his bare skin. Thoughts of the previous night had kept him up, and were still lingering. He needed to decide what he was going to do next.

He had been thrown by seeing Naruto walking out of the bar with Sasori. But when he'd gotten home and cooled off, he'd been able to analyze the situation better. Reflecting on it, Sasuke was pretty sure that Naruto wasn't sleeping with Sasori. The chemistry between Sasuke and Naruto had been immediate when they'd nearly bumped into each other in the entrance to the bar. It had obviously irritated Sasori, but Naruto hadn't been apologetic about it, nor tried to hide it. If Naruto were back together with Sasori, or even considering it, he knew for a fact that Naruto wouldn't have allowed himself to react to Sasuke that way.

Naruto wasn't a player. If he was with someone, then that was it. There wouldn't be side attractions. Whatever was going on between Sasori and Naruto, it was probably more along the lines of friendship. He still didn't understand why Naruto was willing to be friends with someone who put him in the hospital, but he knew that they had history and Naruto was the kind of guy who valued friendships enough to work for them.

Which was good, because Sasuke knew that he'd need someone who was willing to help him learn as he went with the whole relationship thing without quitting at the first mistake.

He left one hand splayed over his stomach, feeling the tension in his body.

Naruto had made it clear that he felt more than just attraction for Sasuke. The question now was whether Naruto would be willing to go beyond friendship at this point, or if Sasuke had been permanently relegated to the 'friend zone' because he hadn't been ready to give Naruto what he needed as a lover.

Sasuke's fingers raked through his hair, thinking back to the previous night. When he had reached for the handle of the door to the bar only to have it open and reveal Naruto coming out, everything had seemed to come to a standstill. Naruto had still been visibly angry from his confrontation with Madara, but there had been no mistaking the desire when they'd nearly bumped into each other, their bodies clearly reacting to each other's presence.

Hopefully that meant that Naruto would be willing to have things be more than friendship as long as Sasuke was willing to offer a real relationship. But he knew he'd have to earn that. Prove it somehow. Naruto had made it clear that he wouldn't go back to what they'd had, and Naruto wouldn't push Sasuke for something he thought he didn't want. Sasuke would have to make the first move.

He considered Shikamaru's invitation.

He would be lying if he said the thought of meeting all of Naruto's friends and family at once didn't make him uncomfortable. He didn't like people in the best of circumstances. To have a bunch of people he didn't know who may or may not be happy about his presence was not a comfortable thought. But it would make the point.

He'd seen the surprised look on Naruto's face when Sasuke hadn't dodged Sasori's question about their past relationship. If Sasuke came to the party, it would make it clear that his intentions had changed.

The only problem with that was that the party was a full week away. And very public, which would put Naruto on the spot.

He was guessing that Shikamaru wasn't going to tell Naruto about the invitation in case Sasuke didn't show up. But he didn't want to just appear out of nowhere when he wasn't sure about his welcome.

Sasuke got up, unable to stay in bed anymore. He walked naked over to the bathroom and turned on the shower, waiting for the water to heat.

Would Naruto be angry if he showed up unannounced?

The argument outside the bar was minor. Sasuke knew Naruto well enough to know that any anger he'd felt would have blown over by then. So that wasn't a concern. He thought back to their previous encounter in the airport. Naruto had said he wanted to try to be friends, and Sasuke believed that to be an honest offer. Which would make it unlikely that Naruto would be pissed off if Sasuke did show up, even if Naruto wasn't expecting him to.

Sasuke stepped into the hot spray, washing himself mechanically as his mind continued to assess the situation with Naruto.

Naruto had told him once before that he wanted him to be with his friends, though in the end, they'd broken things off instead.

"Yeah. I'm having some friends over. And you could be one of them."

He wanted to show Naruto he was serious, that he'd thought about it and was willing to give it his best shot. Sasuke considered simply telling Naruto that Shikamaru had invited him, but he did sort of like the idea of showing up and surprising him. It felt like more of a… statement. And he knew that he would need to make one if he wanted Naruto back.

He decided it was better to test the waters with Naruto. The last thing he wanted to do was to show up at Naruto's party and ruin it for him. If Naruto seemed stand-offish, Sasuke would ask him directly rather than just showing up.

He finished showering, then quickly dried himself off before grabbing his phone off the nightstand. Given the disaster that had happened the last time they tried to discuss the nature of their relationship over the phone, he didn't want to make the same mistake twice. The next time they discussed their relationship, it would be face-to-face.

For now, he simply wanted to get a read on Naruto's state of mind concerning him. He typed out a message, then hit send. Then he waited for Naruto's response.


Naruto had woken up early, full of restless, unfocused energy.

Seeing Sasuke up close last night had sent his senses into a tailspin. Too many mental images of his nights with Sasuke had kept him from sleep, his body responding no matter how much his brain told it to shut the fuck up.

Giving up on falling back to sleep, Naruto had gone for an early morning run to burn off some of his twisting frustration. He had run for more than six miles, but the restless energy still seemed to be constricting around in his body despite the burning in his legs and chest. He was about two blocks away from his apartment when he felt his phone buzz. Waiting at a light for the cross-signal to turn, he pulled it out, still loosely jogging in place to keep his blood flowing until he could get back and stretch properly.

He had assumed it was either Kiba, texting to fill him in on what had happened after he left the bar, or Shikamaru checking in on him.

He forgot about his run all together as he saw who the text was actually from.

I gave my uncle your message. He was devastated to hear your opinion of him, naturally.

Naruto grabbed the front of his shirt and wiped the sweat from his face and hands before typing back a reply. He didn't want to fully acknowledge how much he'd missed this. Just the simple texting of jibes and trash talking back and forth.

Yeah, I'm sure he was. That's what everyone says about you guys. The Uchihas are a bunch of softies.

Naruto bit his lip, tasting the salt from his sweat, not noticing that the walk signal had already changed to allow him to cross as he watched his phone, waiting to see what Sasuke would reply back. The aimless tension that had been coiled in him last night seemed to be winding even tighter as he thought about Sasuke. Maybe Sasuke was still in bed texting him. Or he might be in his kitchen making coffee, leaning against the counter in just his black silk boxers.

Naruto glanced up and realized he'd almost missed the walk signal as it turned from white to flashing red, and he quickly sprinted across the street before the cars started moving again. He felt his phone buzz in his hand, and looked down, slowing again to a walk to avoid running into people as his attention was fixated on the device.

I've been accused of many things. Being soft definitely isn't one of them.

Naruto's foot hit a raised crack in the sidewalk and he stumbled, nearly dropping his phone. Not soft? Was Sasuke implying he was… hard? Was he flirting?

Naruto's tongue ran over his lower lip, and he had to wipe his hands off on his shorts as they started to sweat and his pulse picked back up almost to the speed it had been at while he had been running. He waited to see if Sasuke would follow that comment up with anything to clarify where he was going with this. After a minute, it became clear that Sasuke wasn't going to say anything else. Meaning… maybe he had meant it as simply a response to what Naruto had said. With no innuendo intended. Naruto was annoyed with himself at being disappointed. He was the one who had suggested friendship instead of sex friends, not Sasuke. Sasuke probably knew Naruto would be pissed off if he tried to restart their relationship based on sex.

He told himself firmly that he was not looking to hop back into bed with Sasuke, and that he was glad that Sasuke was being respectful of his wishes on this front.

Though it begged the question of what Sasuke did want from him. He certainly hadn't responded favorably when Naruto had offered friendship in the airport, but maybe he'd had time to think about it since then. Was Sasuke… taking Naruto up on his offer to be friends? Naruto knew he'd have to get over the loss of the physical side of their relationship, but he would be happy to have their friendship back, even without the sex. He missed his conversations with Sasuke just as much as he missed the other stuff.

Fighting the urge to write back something sexual that would send the wrong signal, Naruto kept his text fairly tame.

Yeah. The bastard side of you always shines through. It still amazes me that you're able to find so many people willing to work for you in your evil empire

It's called paying people well. You should look into it sometime. Oh, wait. You run a newspaper.

Bastard. I'll have you know we're just about to double our circulation.

Your parents finally agreed to start reading it? You must be so proud. Seriously, though I saw your last headline. Congratulations on going global.

Naruto blinked. Sasuke had been following the paper? Somehow, it made Naruto happy to think about Sasuke reading it when he was on his trips. Had Sasuke thought about him? Had he missed him? Naruto realized he was standing outside his apartment door. He wasn't sure how long he'd been standing there texting his ex, but he decided he'd be better off inside.

Thanks. We're pretty excited, though we'll have to get a translator, which I have no idea how to do. But the guy we're working with seems to know the ropes, so hopefully it will all work out. How are things with you? You looked really tired when I saw you at the airport.

That happens when you get off a twenty-two hour flight, dumbass. Work has been good.

Naruto couldn't help the smile the appeared on his face at the down-played wording. Sasuke's comment probably meant the man had singlehandedly doubled their business in three days or something.

Completely forgetting to stretch, he continued texting with Sasuke about random things while they both got ready for their day. It felt like nothing had changed, except there were no sexual overtures thrown in. He glanced over at the clock and realized that they'd been texting for over an hour. He was starting to feel pretty gross since he still hadn't showered after his run, and was about to tell Sasuke he'd be back in ten minutes when his phone buzzed again with a new text. Naruto's eyes widened as he looked at the words he had never expected to see from Sasuke.

Do you want to meet up for coffee? I think I owe you one after my uncle ruined your last cup.

Naruto felt a rush of adrenaline at the text. It was casually worded, but it was the first time Sasuke had ever offered to meet him anywhere other than his place. He forced himself to calm down and not read too much into it. If they were going to be 'just friends', then this wasn't a date. Surely even Sasuke had coffee with colleagues or family friends. Naruto took a slow breath, then wrote back

Yeah, sure. I just got back from a run so I need to shower. What time should I meet you?

There was a slightly longer pause before Sasuke wrote back.

In an hour. Your usual place.

Sounds good. I'll be the one in an orange shirt.

Idiot.

Naruto snickered and he turned on the shower, heading to his room to grab some clothes while the water warmed up.


Naruto felt his pulse race as he walked into the coffee shop. He was a few minutes early, and he didn't see Sasuke in the small line. He wondered if he should wait for Sasuke, and offer to buy his coffee, or if he should just get in line and get his coffee.

He jingled the change in his pocket as he told himself he was being ridiculous about it because it was not a date.

"Did you order your warm milk yet?"

Naruto bit his lip to control his grin before turning around to face the man who had come up behind him.

"Nah. I was just scoping the place to see if your uncle was going to pop out from under one of the tables or something."

Sasuke blew out a breath of a chuckle at the mental image.

"I believe we're safe for now. I hope he didn't annoy you so too much." Sasuke's expression was casual, but Naruto saw the flash of annoyance in Sasuke's eyes at the mention of Madara.

"I'm over it," Naruto waved his hand in dismissal of the notion. "He's not nearly as up in my face as some other people I've run across."

"Hm," Sasuke murmured, realizing that statement was very likely true. He looked down at Naruto's shirt. It was orange, as described. He smirked as he read the lettering. Cleverly disguised as an adult.

"Your shirt is very accurate today."

Naruto chuckled as they joined the line to place their orders. He shot a backwards glance at Sasuke. "If you had a shirt that accurately described your personality, you'd have to censor it to wear it in public."

Naruto actually had seen a shirt the other day that had reminded him of the bastard. Maybe he would buy it next time.

"It's good to see you again," the barista greeted Naruto with a friendly smile. "We'd begun to think you had moved or something."

Naruto shifted and rubbed the back of his head with his hand, hoping Sasuke didn't read too much into the comment. "Ah, no. Just… work has been busy. I'll have a cappuccino with extra milk, and my friend here will have…" he turned to look at Sasuke. "Are you going for espresso or green tea today?"

"Green tea," Sasuke told the barista, not saying anything as Naruto paid for both their drinks. There were no free tables, as many people had had a similar idea of grabbing coffee on a Saturday morning.

Sasuke and Naruto both avoiding thinking about the fact that Sasuke's apartment was just upstairs.

Naruto fidgeted, holding his cup. "Uh, I think there are benches outside."

Sasuke looked at him for a moment, and Naruto stopped breathing. Sasuke took a step forward, bringing himself directly into Naruto's personal space. Their eyes locked, and Naruto felt Sasuke draw in a deep breath as though breathing in his scent. The thought made him feel slightly dizzy, and he forced himself to take a step back before he did something stupid.

"Are we going outside, then?" Sasuke's voice was casual, but there was nothing casual about his eyes.

Naruto cleared his throat, trying to dispel the tension that was suddenly thrumming through his body. "Um, yeah. Let's… go outside."

Sasuke eyes flashed with an emotion that Naruto couldn't place, but he simply followed in silence as they walked the half block over to where there was a small city park, and a free bench in the shade.

Sasuke sat down, leaning casually back in the seat as Naruto followed suit. They both sipped their drinks in companionable silence for a few moments.

"So is this… ok?" Naruto asked tentatively. "I mean… it isn't going to cause problems for you if someone you know sees us, right?"

Sasuke took a sip of his tea. "I don't think the media would find it that interesting to have two friends having coffee together."

Naruto rolled his eyes in amusement. "You and I both know that's bullshit. Look at what they had to say about you and Yagura."

Sasuke's lips twitched. "That is true. But I think it's worth the risk this time."

Naruto hesitated, wondering how much to read into that statement. Sasuke's casual expression gave nothing away.

"Yeah, I mean… like you said, we're just friends, so it would be easy to handle it, I guess."

Sasuke's only reaction was a sip of his tea as he looked over to where several pigeons had landed on the walkway just to the side of the bench. There were crumbs strewn all about the ground where someone had obviously been feeding the birds recently.

"Now I wish I had some bread," Naruto said, following Sasuke's gaze.

Sasuke's lips twisted slightly in distaste at the notion of feeding pigeons.

Naruto smirked. "What, one of them shit on your three hundred dollar shoes?"

Sasuke looked down at his perfectly shined black shoes, then eyed the birds with somewhat more wariness than before.

Naruto's smirk turned into full-on laughter, drawing the gaze of a few people walking in the park. Sasuke noticed how Naruto's laughter seemed contagious, smiles forming on the faces of the people walking past them. He relaxed back against the bench watching as Naruto grinned at a little girl that was walking with her mother. The little girl smiled shyly, ducking her head behind her mother's leg before peeking back out and waving at Naruto tentatively.

Naruto winked at her, then smiled over at Sasuke.

Sasuke felt his own lips curve in response. "Makes sense to look for someone at your own maturity level."

Naruto chuckled. "Yeah, that's what I figured as well."

Sasuke couldn't help the small laugh that escaped. He took another sip of his tea, enjoying the warmth of the late spring morning.

"So are they giving you a break, or do you have to fly back out on another trip soon?" Naruto asked, letting his coffee cup rest on his thigh, his fingers lightly closed around it to keep it upright.

Sasuke shrugged. "I've been on the road for the past few weeks, so I don't have to head out again for a bit." His tone was casual, but Naruto thought there was a trace of something beneath it that he couldn't quite catch.

He brushed the thought aside. Sitting with Sasuke felt so natural. He realized just how much he had missed the man, and his desire to make the friendship work increased. He was willing to go slowly this time, and not screw it up. They'd just worked up to coffee. He wouldn't push for too much too soon.

"That's good. From what I hear, your company makes enough money as it is… no need work yourself into the ground over it."

Sasuke thought idly about what the board would say about that. "I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as 'enough money' in this business," he said dryly.

Naruto grimaced slightly. "Yeah, I guess not. That's why I like working for a newspaper. No one expects us to make any money, so it's a pleasant surprise when we do. Low bar." He took a sip of his coffee, his blue eyes smiling as he looked at Sasuke.

"I wouldn't call you an under-achiever, though," Sasuke replied, shifting his legs slightly wider apart so his knee nudged Naruto's slightly. "What with your plans for world domination through subversive humor."

Naruto snickered, returning the nudge with his knee. "Yeah, there's that. Though your uncle seemed to believe my nerve was my only redeeming quality."

Sasuke's face hardened. "My uncle is an ass. He won't be bothering you again."

Naruto's eyebrows raised, and the blue eyes below them darkened. "You sound all Yakuza right now. No wonder all the girls try to jump you."

Sasuke snorted, but it didn't escape him that Naruto was basically telling him he was hot.

Naruto shifted back, breaking the contact between their knees and looking off to the side. "So, uh… what did you threaten him with to make him back off?"

Sasuke forced himself to not lean forward and re-establish physical contact. They were trying the friend thing, and he would try to comply. He swirled his now cold tea in its cup. "I simply appealed to his… understanding of family values," his lips curved into a dark smile.

Naruto hesitated, then shook his head. "Something tells me I really don't want to know."

Sasuke smirked. "Probably not."

Naruto's phone buzzed, and he saw it was a text from Shikamaru. "Fuck," Naruto muttered. "The publisher sent over the final version of the contract and Shika wants to go over it with me." He bit his lip and looked at Sasuke.

"It's fine. You should go. This is a big deal for you."

Naruto still hesitated, and Sasuke arched a brow in question.

"So… we're good? We're gonna try the friend thing?" Naruto asked, trying to keep his voice casual but the intensity in his blue gaze as he looked at the dark-haired man sitting next to him gave him away.

Sasuke tried to think about how he should respond. He wanted to be more than friends. But he didn't want to rush things.

"Do you want to be friends?" Sasuke countered.

Naruto gave a lopsided smile. "Yeah. I mean… I know you don't really have a lot of time to hang out or whatever but… I missed talking with you." Naruto didn't add on the other things he'd missed… that was dangerous ground.

Sasuke held his gaze for a moment. The breeze blew a lock of his hair into his eyes, and he ran a hand through his hair and pushed it back. "Sure. You get coffee in my building most mornings, anyway. When I'm around we can meet up sometimes."

Naruto felt both happy and sad at the statement but he pushed the thought aside as he stood. "Cool. I was missing having someone to text obnoxious things to. Most of my friends work in my office with me, and Sakura is too scary to joke with. Plus you're more uptight than most of my friends, so it's just more fun to mess with you."

Sasuke shot him a look, then tossed his cup into the garbage can near the bench.

"So I'll see you around?" Naruto said in a half-question, half-statement.

"Hn," Sasuke replied.

They walked out of the park together. Naruto turned toward his office as Sasuke headed back to his apartment.

Sasuke wondered how long he'd be able to handle being just friends.


"Is there anyone else you want to invite?" Shikamaru asked casually from the couch in Naruto's office where he had been napping.

Naruto looked up from his work. He'd been thinking about inviting Sasuke ever since they'd met in the park for coffee four days ago. Having the paper taking off like this was a huge moment in his life, and he really wanted Sasuke to be there and be part of it. But every time he'd thought about it, he came to the same conclusion: that it wouldn't be fair to ask Sasuke to come. There would be tons of people that he'd never met, and the only one Sasuke would really know would be Naruto. It would be too much pressure to put on Sasuke right away. They hadn't talked about anything much, or what this new 'friendship' of theirs really was. If Naruto invited him, Sasuke would feel put on the spot to suddenly be VERY public and meet everyone all at once. Even Naruto's parents were going to be there.

Not to mention that Naruto would have no idea how to introduce Sasuke to everyone. Just a new friend? His ex?

No. It would be too much to ask right off the bat. They'd only begun speaking again just a few days ago.

"No," he said, finally answering Shikamaru's question. "Gaara's stuck in New York. I don't think there's anyone else we should invite. We covered most everyone."

"Hm," Shikamaru said, looking up at the ceiling. "Did you invite Sasori?"

"No," Naruto said. "I told him about it but… my Mom is going to be there. And I really don't think Sasori would want to meet up with her any time soon."

Shikamaru snickered. "She still hasn't gotten past it?"

Naruto shot a glare over to Shikamaru. "You've met my mother, Shika. What do you think?"

A soft snort of laughter was his only response.

"Sasori knows that we're going to have to go slow on the friend thing. I want to support him in staying clean and his new job and everything, but… he knows it will be a while before things are 'normal' between us again."

"How did it go with you two after you left the bar on Friday?"

"It didn't. We ran into Sasuke just as we were leaving, and the two of them went at each other and I got pissed off and went home."

Shikamaru looked at Naruto for a moment. "Did you invite Sasuke, then?"

Naruto scrubbed his fingers through his hair. "I wanted to. I met him for coffee this morning, and… things were really good? But I think… it's just too soon. I mean, my parents are going to be there, and my mom will figure out in about three seconds flat that Sasuke and I were involved even if I try to hide it, and I just… I don't want to push him for so much so soon."

"You want to get back together with him?"

Naruto hesitated, clearly conflicted. Finally, he responded.

"No. I think the only reason he's comfortable grabbing coffee with me now is because we aren't involved anymore. He doesn't look at relationships the same way I do. I just can't do casual. But I would like to be his friend. We've been texting and stuff and… I just think it's too soon to ask him to come to something like this when a month ago I had to basically sneak in his bedroom window to see him, you know?"

"You think it will scare him off if you invite him?"

"Yeah, pretty much. I don't want him to think I'm suddenly pressuring him to make this a big, public deal when I know how he feels about it. Plus, we're just trying to be friends now, so it's fine."

Shikamaru said nothing, simply looking at the ceiling and thinking. Sasuke hadn't said he would come. But he hadn't seemed upset by the invitation, either. Shikamaru decided he'd just let the man make his own decision. Clearly Naruto wouldn't be unhappy if Sasuke showed up, so Shikamaru didn't have to worry about that. He'd just see how it all played out. This way, Naruto wouldn't be disappointed if Sasuke didn't show.


The staff of the Daily Ramen had pushed hard to get their work done early and left the office by five on Friday to get ready for the party. Hinata and Kiba went with Naruto to his place to help clean and set up folding chairs that Kiba had borrowed from his sister's place. Shino and Shikamaru went to Chouji's to help with the food. Lee was in charge of music, so he was busy coming up with a playlist while Sai had been put in charge of drinks and was out at the liquor store with the company credit card.

Hinata had made Tshirts for the Daily Ramen crew that had "Fuck off, I'm reading my Daily Ramen" written in Japanese, English, Korean,  Mandarin and Malay all over the shirts representing their new 'global' status.

When they were ready for the party, Naruto handed a beer to everyone there, each of them wearing one of the new shirts.

"To world domination," Naruto joked, raising his beer with a grin and taking a swallow. The rest of the staff joined him, taking advantage of the few minutes of relative peace before people started arriving.

The first 'non-Ramen' guests to arrive were Naruto's parents.

Kushina immediately asked Hinata if she had an extra T-shirt and went and changed into it.

Minato approached his son after grabbing a beer from the cooler on the floor of the kitchen.

"So all those years ago, when your mother would pay you to stop talking when we had people over, we should have been charging admission instead," he said with a warm smile. "This is a big step, in a tough business. I'm really proud of you, son."

Naruto flushed slightly under the praise. His father wasn't stingy with compliments, but his sincerity this time was obvious.

Kushina reappeared in her new shirt, grinning widely and earning an eye roll from her husband.

"I'd accuse Naruto of corrupting you, but we all know that river ran the other way," Minato chuckled. Kushina tried to send him a glare, but she was too happy to really pull it off.

Shikamaru's father arrived next, along with Sakura, Ino, and Chouji with more food. Naruto's small apartment was already rapidly filling up, but people kept arriving.

Kushina looked around the room, scanning it for an unfamiliar face and finding none. "So… am I going to get to meet him tonight?"

Naruto turned, surprised at his mother's question. "Meet who?"

Kushina's eyes twinkled with mischief. "The one you've been seeing. The one you didn't want to talk about after your birthday."

"Oh, uh," Naruto blushed slightly, rubbing the back of his head. He forgot that his mom had figured out something was up way back then. Luckily he'd never told her much about it. "Nah. It didn't really work out. I'm not seeing anyone."

Kushina's eyes flashed with disappointment as she pulled Naruto into a quick hug. "Well, that's ok. You'll find the right person soon enough."

"What's all this about?" Minato asked, frowning a bit at the fact that his wife had clearly not kept him in the loop on things.

"Nothing," Naruto said, shooting his mother a look.

"Naruto found someone he's interested in," Kushina ignored her son's attempt to dodge the issue.

Minato's eyes lit up. "That's great! So when do we get to meet him? Or her?" He shot a glance at his wife, unsure.

"Him," Kushina said smugly.

Naruto rolled his eyes at his mother's expression, but it was more to camouflage the sudden feeling of disappointment that Sasuke wasn't in his life enough to be there that night. He wished things had worked out differently between them. But he would be happy with just being Sasuke's friend. He would make that be enough. "It wasn't a big deal. We're just friends now. He isn't coming tonight. Can we just change the subject?"

They were saved by the arrival of more guests, as Shino's parents and one of his cousins arrived, followed by Kiba's mother and sister. Luckily they'd left the dog at home. Kiba had brought Akamaru once, and the dog had gotten into the beer and nearly torn the place apart.

Naruto went over to greet them, watching with amusement as Kiba grabbed a blushing Hinata by the hand and pulled her over to meet his family. Evidently the news about the paper's success wasn't going to be the only thing announced tonight.

More guests arrived, and soon the tiny apartment was nearly bursting at the seams with people. But no one seemed to mind. There was plenty of food, beer, and conversation to go around.

Naruto noticed Shikamaru glancing up sharply whenever someone new came to the door. Naruto frowned slightly. Shikamaru's parents were already here… Naruto wondered who his friend was expecting. Maybe Shikamaru had invited a girl? Naruto decided he'd keep an eye out to see if anyone new to the group showed up.

Someone's favorite song came on, and the music was turned up loud enough that Naruto was glad he'd invited his neighbors to avoid having them complain about the noise.

He went to the balcony to check on the chicken skewers he'd been grilling. He was in the process of turning them when he felt a hand grab his ass. He spun around to find a familiar face grinning at him unrepentantly.

"Konohamaru, you twat! How many times do I have to tell you you're too young for me?" Naruto's mock scowl was only maintained for a few seconds before it dissolved under the force of younger man's delighted gaze.

"Congratulations!" Konohamaru exclaimed enthusiastically. "Especially about the porn hook-up. Seriously, do you get discounts? Can you introduce me to the guy?"

Naruto rolled his eyes but laughed, turning back to the grill to finish rotating the skewers. "And what would your grandfather think of that? You get in enough trouble as it is without dating porn stars."

"Aw, man! You're just going to hog them all for yourself, aren't you!" Konohamaru accused, laughing.

"Yeah, that's me. Fucking porn stars left and right all day long," Naruto drawled sarcastically.

"Hn, so that's what you've been up to these days?" A smooth, baritone voice came from behind him, causing Naruto to nearly drop the skewer he'd been turning.


Sasuke stood outside the door of apartment 612B. He didn't need to double-check the napkin that the address was written on, as the sounds of music and laughter carried out into the hallway despite the closed door. A hastily written sign taped to the door said: Party goin' on… don't bother knocking!

Sasuke looked down at the black jeans and dark red button-down shirt he was wearing, wondering if he was actually casual enough. He knew he was stalling, but he really had no idea what people's reaction would be when he walked in. He was pretty sure the only two people he would know would be Shikamaru and Naruto. Maybe Sakura would be there as well.

In particular he wondered what Naruto's reaction would be at his presence. Sasuke usually was more calculated in his dealings with people. But he'd never tried for a relationship before. All he knew for sure was that he wasn't going to wait now that he knew what he wanted. He'd ask Naruto directly whether he wanted to be just friends, or try for something more. If all Naruto wanted was friendship, Sasuke would find a way to hold to that. If Naruto was open for more… then even better.

Showing up tonight would show he was serious. It was a gesture Naruto would understand. He just needed to walk through the fucking door and do it.

"Hey, Uchiha! You goin' in or what?"

Sasuke turned to see the grandson of the head of the Konoha Business Council walking towards him down the hall. He quickly flipped through his mental rolodex to remember the boy's name.

"Konohamaru. You're going to Naruto's place?"

The younger man grinned. "Hell, yeah! Naruto's parties are the best. You coming?" Konohamaru opened the door, gesturing for Sasuke to follow.

"Hn."

The volume picked up substantially when the door had opened, and Sasuke hesitated a moment more before following. He stepped inside the small apartment, his eyes immediately scanning for a familiar blond head of hair. He caught sight of what he assumed to be Naruto, taking a step in the direction only to see the man wrap his arms around the waist of an attractive redhead and pull her close. The man lifted his head and looked over at the door, and Sasuke found himself looking into familiar blue eyes that didn't belong to Naruto, but were strikingly similar.

"That's Minato. Naruto's dad. The redhead is his mom, Kushina. She's a total babe, even if she's old," Konohamaru said from beside him, waving at the couple. Sasuke realized that the boy had been watching him, probably curious to see what he was doing there.

"Uchiha," Sasuke turned at the sound of his name to see Shikamaru walking towards him. He was aware of a few curious glances cast their way, as the majority of people in the room clearly knew each other. "Glad you could make it."

Shikamaru seemed sincere in his greeting, and Sasuke felt himself relax slightly. He noticed Konohamaru had disappeared into the room, talking to several people there.

"Naruto's out on the balcony running the grill," Shikamaru offered helpfully. "You want me to show you the way?"

Sasuke glanced around the small apartment. "I can find it."

Shikamaru offered him a smile. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Sasuke said, his voice reflecting some surprise that Naruto's best friend seemed to hold no grudge against him.

Shikamaru's intelligent eyes locked on his. "You helped Naruto get over Sasori. Even if you guys end up as just friends, we all appreciated that. Naruto said you were always upfront about things with him. He didn't blame you for any of it. He just said that you wanted different things." There was an implied question in the last statement.

Sasuke hesitated. He really needed to have this conversation with Naruto, but he supposed Shikamaru deserved an answer given that he'd offered Sasuke the opportunity to come.

"Maybe not so different," Sasuke said, turning to look across the room where he could see the hallway that likely led to the bathroom and Naruto's bedroom, and the sliding glass doors that led to the deck.

"Then go talk to him. You'll have at least a little bit of privacy out there."

Sasuke didn't need to be told twice as he made his way through the crowd. He vaguely noted that Sakura was here. Her face at first registered surprise, then a knowing smile formed on her lips and she tilted her head towards the balcony, indicating where Naruto was. He turned and continued to make his way through the crowded room, not seeing Sakura whip out her phone and text someone.

The door to the balcony was open, letting the body heat of tiny apartment bleed out into the cool spring night.

He saw Konohamaru ahead of him, heading over to where he could make out a familiar blond head of hair in front of a grill where smells of seasoned meat were wafting in through the open door.

He narrowed his eyes when he saw the younger man grab Naruto's ass. Again. Though as Naruto spun around to face his 'attacker', it was clear that the interest was not returned as he scolded the boy. Sasuke smirked a bit at the exchange.

"Aw, man! You're just going to hog them all for yourself, aren't you!" Konohamaru accused, laughing.

"Yeah, that's me. Fucking porn stars left and right all day long," Naruto drawled sarcastically.

"Hn, so that's what you've been up to these days?"

Naruto's head snapped up at the sound of Sasuke's voice as Sasuke stepped out onto the surprisingly spacious balcony. The tongs and towel that Naruto had been holding in his hands dangled loosely as his blue eyes widened in shock at seeing Sasuke standing there.

Konohamaru looked between the two men, feeling the almost tangible tension between them. He stepped around Sasuke to head back inside. "I'll leave you two to talk, then," he called out over his shoulder.

Naruto didn't even seem to register the comment as he continued to stare at Sasuke.

"Naruto. You might want to move the towel."

Naruto blinked. Towel? "Huh?"

"The towel. It's going to catch -"

"Shit!" Naruto felt the heat coming from behind him where he'd stepped too close to the grill and the cloth he'd been wiping his hands on had begun to smolder. He dropped it and quickly stepped on it, putting out the embers.

A slight snicker sent him glaring up at the man watching him with amusement, but the glare morphed into a sheepish grin as Naruto rubbed the back of his head.

"Usually I only end up lighting myself on fire if I do this drunk."

Sasuke hesitated, "That's happened?"

Naruto grinned and shrugged. Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Moron."

"I can't believe you're here! I mean… how did you…" Naruto fumbled, not sure what to say.

"Shikamaru invited me. When I ran into him at the bar last weekend." Sasuke's expression didn't show it, but Naruto could tell he was slightly uncertain about his welcome.

Naruto fumbled over his words to reassure him.

"That's great! I really wanted you to come. I kept thinking about inviting you, but I felt like… I didn't want to push it since there's so many people here and we just started talking again and the last time I invited you over…" he cut off, not meaning to bring up that. Shit! He bit his lip and raked his fingers through his hair. "Anyway, I'm really glad you're here," he smiled, letting Sasuke read in his face that it was the truth. "Even if, you know, you totally startled me and made me almost light myself on fire."

Sasuke chuckled slightly, his body relaxing a bit.

"Do you want a beer?" Naruto asked, gesturing to the extra cooler overflowing with ice and beer that was sitting on the balcony.

"Sure," Sasuke walked over and reached in, pulling out two bottles and tossing one to Naruto.

Naruto caught it, twisting off the cap then taking a drink.

"Did you just get here?" Naruto asked, watching with some fascination as Sasuke took a drink from his bottle. It was the first time he'd ever seen the man drink anything other than wine or hard alcohol, and somehow it felt a little bit surreal. He tried to keep from noticing the way the muscles in Sasuke's throat worked as he swallowed the liquid, or the slightly wet shine on the perfect lips when he pulled the bottle away from his mouth.

Sasuke leaned back against the doorframe, his shirt laying smoothly over his toned body and his jeans hugging his hips and thighs perfectly. Naruto snapped his eyes back to Sasuke's face as the man spoke. "I got here at about the same time as Konohamaru," Sasuke didn't add that he'd stood outside the door for about ten minutes before that debating whether this was a mistake or not. "Shikamaru saw me and told me where I could find you."

Naruto opened his mouth to speak when they were interrupted.

"Hey, Naruto! How much longer until the meat's ready? I'm starving!" Kiba appeared in the doorway, peering over Naruto's shoulder at the contents of the grill before realizing there was already someone out on the deck with Naruto.

"Hey. I'm Kiba," Kiba offered his hand, looking quizzically at Sasuke. He'd been preoccupied with dancing with Hinata at the bar, and didn't recognize him from the previous weekend.

"Sasuke," Sasuke shook the offered hand.

Kiba looked over at Naruto for some explanation of who Sasuke was.

"He's a friend," Naruto said, shuffling his feet slightly. "I wrote a couple articles about him, remember?"

Kiba's face lit in recognition. "Oh, yeah! Uchiha, right?"

"Hn."

Hinata appeared beside Kiba, and his arm immediately snaked possessively around her waist.

"Kiba-kun. Leave Naruto-kun alone. Watching the grill won't make it cook any faster," she reprimanded gently, blushing slightly at the public display of affection, which Naruto found hilarious.

Naruto bit back a snicker at the look of almost wonderment that always crossed Kiba's face when he realized he was finally able to do things like that.

"This is Sasuke! He's a friend of Naruto's. He decided not to kill Naruto for writing shit about him," Kiba grinned good-naturedly, but Hinata's eyes were more perceptive as she took in the slight blush on Naruto's cheeks and the completely unreadable expression on Sasuke's face.

Hinata smiled slyly. "Friend, huh?" She shot a calculating look at Naruto as several things clicked into place. "I remember you from the At-Risk charity d-dinner. Naruto introduced you." Her childhood stammer always appeared if she got nervous or excited.

Naruto began to cough.

"Uh… smoke," he gestured lamely to the grill. Where the smoke was blowing harmlessly in the opposite direction from him.

Hinata's smile widened. "And if I recall, the t-two of you left about the same t-time that evening."

"Hey, Hinata. Um… why don't you try to get Neji to wear one of your new shirts!" Naruto pointed vaguely into the apartment, where Neji was likely to be. Somewhere.

Hinata rolled her eyes, but turned, grabbing Kiba's arm as she all but dragged him back into the apartment.

"But… Hey! Hinata! I'm hungry!" Kiba protested.

Hinata ignored him and gently closed the door behind them, leaving Sasuke and Naruto alone on the balcony again.

"She's the sex columnist?" Sasuke leaned back against the door.

Naruto rubbed his hands nervously on his jeans. "Yeah. She seems really quiet when you first meet her, but… the things that go on inside that girl's head." He grinned affectionately at the thought.

There was a slightly awkward silence as the two men tried to figure out what to say.

"So… Shikamaru invited you. And you came." Naruto said finally.

Sasuke took another drink of his beer. "Yes."

"You could have told me when we met for coffee that you were coming."

"I could have."

"So… why didn't you?"

Sasuke looked down at his beer bottle, then over to Naruto.

"You said you wanted to be friends."

Naruto nodded slowly, somewhat aware that there was a question in that statement, but not quite sure what it was.

"I do. Want to be friends." Naruto bit his lip, feeling even more awkward suddenly.

Sasuke looked at him for a moment. Naruto felt his pulse pick up, and he swallowed, trying to keep his cool.

"Is that all you want?" Sasuke's tone was casual, but Naruto could read the intensity in the man's dark gaze that belied the tone.

"I…" Naruto shoved his hands into his pockets. "I mean, I don't think I can go back to what we were before. If that's what you're asking?"

"No," Sasuke replied, his tone serious. "No, I know you don't want… that. I wouldn't be here tonight if that was all I wanted. I have been thinking about what you said. On the phone when we… when we ended things. But in the airport you said you wanted to be friends. I want to know… what you want right now."

Naruto fought to keep from jumping to conclusions. He didn't want to get his hopes up if Sasuke was just offering 'friends with benefits'.

"If you just want to be friends, that's fine. I don't know what the situation between you and Sasori is, but -"

"No!" This time Naruto cut him off. "It's not like that with Sasori and me. I mean… we go way back, and I owe him a lot. As a friend. But we aren't ever going to be together, or whatever, again."

"You owe him?" Sasuke asked. It was a subject they'd never discussed in depth. Fuck buddies didn't talk about things like that. But Sasuke was here. Naruto figured that if Sasuke was willing to show up at a houseful of Naruto's people when he wasn't sure of his welcome, Naruto could explain his relationship with Sasori. Whether they were going to be friends or something more, Sasuke had earned the right to know.

Naruto sighed, and turned back to the grill, staring at it blankly before he grabbed the tongs again and began turning the skewers mechanically.

"When I was in high school, I… got into a bad scene."

Sasuke waited, not wanting to interrupt as Naruto was gathering his thoughts together.

"The company my dad was working for went bankrupt. Some asshole had raided all the profits and disappeared. My dad was pretty senior, and so he had a hard time finding another job, especially with the scandal associated with it, even though he hadn't been directly involved. It was… tough. We had to sell the house and move into an apartment downtown. I had to change schools. My dad was stressed and he and my mom started fighting a lot. I didn't want to be home much. So I started hanging out with other kids who didn't want to be home much."

"Sasori." Sasuke supplied.

"Yeah. And a bunch of others. Sasori's parents had been killed the year before in a car accident. He and I… connected. A lot of the other kids came from messed up home situations, too. It started off as no big deal. I was sort of just… acting out. Pranks and minor vandalism. But then a few of them got involved in some more serious stuff. Stealing hubcaps. Shoplifting." Naruto rubbed his hand along his jaw. It certainly wasn't a time in his life he was proud of. Especially not explaining it to someone who probably had never seriously fucked up anything in his life.

But he'd decided to tell this, so he pushed ahead.

"We got pretty cocky about it all. But a few of them wanted to take it further. Do more serious stuff."

"Serious?" Sasuke asked when Naruto had paused again.

"Home robbery kind of stuff. Not just shoplifting. They said there would be more money. I had taken on a job to help out with the family finances after school while my dad was still looking for work. My mom was working extra hours to so we could afford to get me back into my old school. Looking back on it, I was out of my fucking mind to even consider it, but my mom was working herself to death and my dad was walking around like a zombie and I just…"

Sasuke felt his chest tighten. He knew that if Naruto had actually been arrested for anything Madara would have already told him. But he wished he could have gone back in time and been there for teenaged Naruto. And beat the living shit out of him for even considering throwing his life away for petty cash.

"Sasori talked some sense into me on our way home the night before it was all going to go down. He'd been talking to one of the counselors at 'At Risk'. Gave him some good advice, which he passed along to me. That was how I got involved with the organization, actually. I don't think I would have gone through it on my own, but… Sasori made sure I didn't. We stopped hanging out with those other kids and just did our own thing. About a month later, they got arrested for jacking a convenience store."

Sasuke took a sip of his beer. "They were idiots."

"They were kids," Naruto defended, then shrugged in agreement. "And idiots. And I was almost one of them. Sasori kept me focused. Encouraged me on my writing. Then my dad got a job and things went back to normal. I finished high school at my old school, and got into a good college to study journalism. Sasori had his theatre. It was great."

"Until?"

"Until someone in the theatre he worked at got him hooked on drugs. He hid it from me for a while, but it was pretty obvious when he was high. I tried to just roll with it at first. I mean… he was an adult. It was his choice. But then he just kept doing more and more. Then selling to pay for his habit since theatre didn't pay that well. Then he got fired for being high on the job."

"But you were still with him," Sasuke murmured.

Naruto grimaced. "Yeah. I didn't want to just walk away from him. I mean… we had gone through a lot together. He was there for me at my lowest. I wanted to be there for him. But then… one night we were at a party one of his friends was throwing. He was totally high on coke. He saw me talking to some girl. Just talking. And he just... flipped out," Naruto's face still reflected the shock of that night, and Sasuke felt his gut clench at the expression of hurt and sadness in Naruto's face. "There was this washing machine in the hall closet and he just picked it up and threw it at me. I didn't even move out of the way I was just so…" Naruto shook his head, then took a drink of his beer.

"Anyway, that was the end of it. Gaara took me to the hospital, and I didn't talk to Sasori again for over a year. Until he showed up out of the blue at my birthday party. High. Again."

Sasuke tried to keep the anger from his face at the memory of Sasori all over Naruto at the club, but Naruto easily read it in his eyes and the tightness of Sasuke's jaw.

"I know you don't like him. Hell, most of my friends don't like him anymore, either, and they were there for the good parts, before he got hooked. But he's clean now. And seeing someone else."

"And you want to help him." Because that's the kind of person you are. Sasuke tried to be annoyed at Naruto about it, but really, he couldn't be. It was part of the blond's character. A part he admired, in most circumstances. Just not this one.

Naruto shrugged. "Yeah. So that's where we are. I won't ever be in a relationship with him again. There are some lines that - once you cross them - that's it. Cheating and putting someone in a hospital are those kind of lines for me."

Sasuke realized that Naruto was telling him this for a reason.

"I would say those are pretty good lines to have. I would probably add major lies to that as well."

Naruto's eyes held his, and they both knew that this was the setting of some ground rules between them. "Yeah. That, too."

"The chicken's probably done," Sasuke gestured toward the grill with his beer bottle.

Naruto turned, then grabbed the clean platter he'd set next to the grill and began loading it up.

"You didn't answer my earlier question, though," Sasuke said.

Naruto paused in his work, not even bothering to pretend he didn't know what question Sasuke was referring to.

"In an ideal world?" Naruto asked.

"Sure. In an ideal world."

"In an ideal world, I'd want to be more than friends. I'd want you to meet my family, my friends. I'd want to meet yours. I'd want…" Naruto cut off, not sure really what to say. "Sasuke - I can't do relationships part way. It's got to be all or nothing if it goes beyond just friends. But I don't want to push you into something you don't want. I'll be friends if that's all you're offering."

Sasuke felt like his stomach was in knots and his lungs were malfunctioning. "I'm here, aren't I?"

Naruto froze, his eyes widening. "What?"

Sasuke took a step closer. Naruto reflexively took a step back, and Sasuke caught him by the waist before he backed into the grill. Again.

Sasuke held him loosely by the hips, their bodies not touching. He waited until Naruto had stilled, wanting nothing to distract from the words he was trying to get out and make clear. He looked unflinchingly into Naruto's eyes, wanting there to be no misunderstanding.

"I want to be more than friends."

"But you said -" Naruto began, but Sasuke cut him off.

"I know. I won't lie to you, Naruto, I have never had… never even considered having a relationship before this. I work a lot, I'm not patient, and I don't compromise well."

Naruto rolled his eyes, but shifted slightly closer, making their bodies just barely brush against each other. "Yeah, you're not selling this particularly well, bastard. But I already knew all that about you."

"I can't change who I am, Naruto. But I… I want to try to make this work. I want more than just sex."

Sasuke's hands were still resting on Naruto's hips, and Naruto had to fight the urge to return the gesture and pull their bodies flush together. Sasuke just said he wanted more than just sex. So did Naruto. He drew a shaky breath.

"So… where does that leave us for now?"

What Sasuke really wanted was to kick everyone out of Naruto's apartment so they could be alone. But he knew that he had to prove that this was more than sex to him. Because it was. So he released his grip on Naruto's hips and stepped back.

"Let's start with friends first. We can go slowly."

Naruto forced himself to nod his head. If Sasuke was serious about making a relationship work, the last thing Naruto wanted to do was to go slow. But he understood that this was new territory for Sasuke, so he'd let him set the pace. Even though he wanted nothing more than to pin the man against the glass doors and kiss him senseless.

"Ok. Slow is good." Slow completely sucks ass. Naruto kept the thought off his face as he grabbed the platter of food. "Let's get this food in there before Kiba starts gnawing on someone's leg. Grab a couple more beers. I'll introduce you to the crew."

Sasuke opened the door for him, and Naruto stepped inside. He wondered what Sasuke would make of his friends. And what his parents would make of Sasuke.


to be continued...

A/N - How long do you think 'slow' will last? Party continues next chapter. ALSO: I have a new poll up on my FF profile on how long people like their fics to be. I have a bunch of stories I want to write, but would love input on how 'in depth' you like to read things from me now that I have stories up that range from one-shots to 30+ chapters.

Chapter Text

Warning: Hard Yaoi this chapter 18+! Includes rimming so if that freaks you out, disengage when the - uh - smutty part starts. (That scene will probably be taken out of the ff version after a week to keep the story from being reported, but I'm leaving it in for now for the people actively following it to be able to read it 'in full').

A/N: Anyone who didn't think this chapter was going to be enormous has clearly never read one of my fics before LOL. AND this was posted just in time for Naruto's birthday (in my time zone). I have a present for him. -)


The scent of the meat had heads turning towards them as Naruto and Sasuke came in from the balcony, with Naruto carrying the platter of the food he'd managed not to burn as Sasuke closed the door behind them. Kiba was on them before they'd made it three steps into the apartment.

"Thank god!" Kiba exclaimed, grabbing two skewers off the platter before Naruto had even reached the kitchen with it. Mrs. Inuzuka smacked her son in the back of the head.

"At least put it on a plate, Kiba! Honestly, even Akamaru has better table manners," she chided him.

"I want to get some before Chouji sees them!" Kiba grinned cheekily and grabbed another skewer, dodging another swat from his mother as he headed to the kitchen and picked up two plates. His mother was slightly mollified when she saw her son place one of the skewers on a plate and hand it to Hinata.

The guests crowded around the food that was spread along the kitchen counter, Chouji having brought several dishes as well.

Shikamaru nodded to Sasuke as he joined them at the counter. "You guys talk things out?"

Naruto looked at Sasuke. "Yeah. We're good."

Shikamaru smiled. "Glad to hear it."

Curious glances were cast towards Sasuke as people moved into the kitchen, but no one said anything. Naruto was suddenly grateful that people were so hungry that they were focusing on the food first, since he and Sasuke hadn't really discussed how Sasuke should be introduced. They were more than friends, but not quite 'boyfriends' either. Were they?

"Kiba has been telling everyone that Uchiha is here because you wrote some shit about him, but that he's cool with it," Shikamaru said, leaning against the counter with his beer, correctly interpreting the source of Naruto's slightly panicked expression.

Naruto grabbed two skewers of meat and handed one to Sasuke on a plate, keeping the other for himself.

"Well, I suppose that's partially true," Naruto began, attempting to pull a chunk of meat of the bamboo skewer with his fingers, then jerking his hand back with a curse as the hot juices burned him. "Shit!"

"Idiot," Sasuke murmured, handing Naruto one of the plastic forks that had been set out on the counter for people to use, along with a napkin to wipe the hot juices from his fingers.

Shikamaru watched as Naruto settled against the counter, wiping his hand, his arm brushing against Sasuke's. Despite there being space on his other side, Sasuke didn't move away, seeming perfectly content with Naruto standing in his personal space. "Are you just going to go with that story, then?"

Still blowing on his burned finger, Naruto looked over at Shikamaru, then at Sasuke. Sasuke simply arched a dark brow, but didn't say anything.

"I don't know. I mean… we talked about it, and we've been sort of trying the friend thing for a bit. But Hinata already knows, and I'm sure my mom will figure it out right away. We don't need to put a label on it. It's not like we're in high school or something," Naruto shrugged, putting his injured finger in his mouth. Sasuke's eyes were latched onto the digit as pink lips closed around it.

Shikamaru sighed. The sexual tension that was flowing between the two could practically be felt from outer space. He gave the 'just friends' status about a week. Tops. Maybe he should take a pool with Shino and Kiba on it.

Naruto noticed the focus of Sasuke's stare on his mouth and froze, blue eyes meeting black. Sasuke turned slightly toward Naruto, leaning on the counter with his elbow. "Let me see it," he said gruffly, his fingers closing around Naruto's wrist as he pulled his hand closer so he could examine it. Goosebumps appeared on Naruto's neck, racing down his arm.

"Uh…" he pulled his hand back, rubbing the back of his head with his uninjured hand. "It's fine."

Shikamaru sighed again, mentally adjusting the timeline of his projection. 'Just friends' wasn't going to make it through the party. He shrugged. They'd figure that out on their own soon enough. It was too much effort to try to spell it out to them.

"Speaking of your mom, she's on her way over," Shikamaru told Naruto, stepping back after grabbing a couple of rice balls and some chicken so that others could access the counter.

Naruto realized that he hadn't really had to have a chance to warn Sasuke about his mom. Kushina could be… very direct. He shot a semi-panicked glance at Sasuke, but the Uchiha didn't seem alarmed at the prospect of meeting Naruto's parents. Sasuke's composure steadied Naruto. Of course Sasuke must have assumed Naruto's parents would be here. Which underscored even more to Naruto just how serious Sasuke must be about this. About them. The thought made him feel… immensely happy.

"What's that grin about?" Sasuke asked, still leaning against the counter as he picked his plate back up, taking a bit of the chicken.

"I still sort of can't believe you're here," the words were out of Naruto's lips before he really thought about them, a heavier emotion than he was comfortable expressing at the moment filling their tone. Sasuke's eyes locked with his and Naruto felt his stomach tighten.

God, he wanted to kiss Sasuke. How many weeks had it been?

Desperate to break the moment before it escalated, he laughed and bumped his shoulder into Sasuke's, turning as a flash of red hair approached the counter.

Kushina placed some cucumber salad, rice, and chicken on her plate. She took a small bite of the chicken before grinning at her son as she chewed and swallowed quickly.

"You did a great job on the chicken, honey. I don't think even your father could have made it better," Kushina put her arm around Naruto's waist, pulling him into a hug and smiling up at him. She turned to look at Sasuke, a friendly but definitely curious expression on her face. "I'm Kushina. Naruto's mother. I don't think we've met?"

Naruto wasn't sure why the hairs on the back of his neck were suddenly standing on end. Except for possibly the extremely dirty thoughts that had just been running through his head combined with his mother's disconcerting ability to read his mind at times.

Sasuke greeted her politely. "Uchiha Sasuke."

"Uchiha? Did you meet Naruto at one of Tsunade's dinners? I seem to recall her mentioning something about the Uchiha family at one of her events recently." Kushina gave Naruto a final squeeze then released him, noticing how he moved back to stand next to Sasuke.

Uzumaki Kushina was no fool.

"I, uh… wrote a couple of articles about him in the paper," Naruto waved his hand vaguely. Kushina's 'mom radar' instantly went off.

"Well, it's very nice to meet you, Sasuke," she said, glancing at her son. "So how did you run into my son in the first place? Usually he has… specific reasons for choosing his subjects for his writing."

"Mom, his family was all over the news. Rich, hot brothers taking over Konoha's high society… what part of that would I not want to write about?"

Kushina took a sip of her beer. It didn't escape her that Naruto had just called Sasuke 'hot'. In front of his mother. The slight flush on Sasuke's cheekbones said the slip didn't go unnoticed by him, either. She bit back a wicked grin. It was so cute to see her baby trying to play it cool. And so fun to mess with, too, as any good mother should. "But I seem to recall that only your first article discussed both brothers," she queried innocently. "So what drew your focus onto poor Sasuke in the rest of your stories? He seems to be a nice boy."

Naruto began choking on something. Sasuke hit him in the back with potentially more force than was necessary.

"Our first meeting was somewhat confrontational. We ran into each other in a grocery store," Sasuke slanted a glance at Naruto. "Naruto was being loud and obnoxious. I let him know."

Naruto glared at the businessman, much to Kushina's amusement.

"Bastard! You were acting all self-important with a major stick up your ass!"

"I believe you said something similar at the time. Didn't they ever teach you about avoiding 'repetitive language' in your writing classes?" Sasuke held his beer bottle by the neck loosely with his fingers, his lips curving up just slightly.

Naruto opened his mouth to retort, but Kushina beat him to it.

"Naruto. I raised you better than to comment on someone's ass on the first date."

Now it was Sasuke's turn to nearly choke the beer he'd been in the process of swallowing.

"It wasn't like that!" Naruto said quickly, blushing slightly. "We seriously pissed each other off when we first met."

Kushina eye the two men for a moment. She had no problem waiting until things were more established between them for him to tell her the full scoop. But she was happy. Naruto needed someone who could handle his energy and over-the-top sense of humor. Like Minato did for her. She balanced out Minato's serious side, and he reined her in when her temper or mouth got away with her. Looking at the two young men before her, she sensed a similar balance between them that pleased her.

"Well, it seems like you managed to work out your differences, since he's here tonight," she smirked. Standing so close that your hips are touching.

"Yeah. It turns out he's involved with 'At Risk', too. We… got to know each other a little better at the last fundraiser. He was the speaker, and I introduced him."

She arched a brow, grinning. "And I'm sure you had lots of things to say if you were introducing him after being somewhat annoyed with him. But it's good that you are friends now. TenTen will be happy to have another supporter of her cause. It's a good organization," Kushina's voice softened, remembering how it had helped her son when she and her husband had been too caught up in their own troubles to notice Naruto's. Not wanting to focus on those things, she turned to Sasuke. "Is At Risk one of the charities that your organization sponsors?"

Sasuke took a sip of his beer before answering. "No. Actually… it's a personal involvement of mine."

Naruto's eyes widened. He had always assumed that Sasuke was basically involved just for the PR for his organization. Or his family name.

"I had a friend in high school who had some mental issues. He was an extremely gentle person, normally. Loved animals. But he would have these uncontrollable rages sometimes, and he got into some bad fights. 'At Risk' had a mentor that specialized in mental illnesses. He got my friend, Juugo, some help, and basically kept him from ending up in jail. He's a veterinarian now."

Kushina smiled at the story. "Well, then I guess you boys have some things in common. I'm glad you were able to make it tonight, regardless of how things started out between you. Or where they will end up," she couldn't help but add slyly, winking at Sasuke.

Sasuke considered her for a moment, wondering what would happen with a showdown between this small, steely woman and his uncle. Something told him that Madara wouldn't stand a chance.

"Naruto's father, Minato, is over visiting with Shika's father. Make sure you introduce yourself to him before you leave. He'll definitely want to meet you."


After they'd finished their food, Naruto and Sasuke had made their way over to where Minato and Shikaku were talking with Shikamaru and Kushina. Minato had greeted Sasuke but clearly wasn't as aware of the undertones of his relationship with Naruto as Kushina had been. Shikaku's dark eyes had flickered between the two, and he had given a small nod to Naruto before greeting Sasuke as well. The conversation had turned to international politics, and Naruto had found himself settling back against the wall listening to the others debating the various factors impacting the geopolitical landscape. It didn't surprise him that Sasuke was more than able to hold his own in the conversation, even with Shikaku, who served on a government advisory board.

He couldn't help the small smile that appeared on his lips as he watched Sasuke. He turned and caught Kushina's knowing eyes on him. He shrugged, blushing slightly as she laughed.

Ino appeared at Naruto's side. "Naruto. We're out of meat, but Chouji brought some extra to grill, just in case. Could you go light the grill for him? He's used to the grill in the store and not yours, so I worry he'll light us all on fire if he does it without supervision."

Sasuke turned towards Ino, having heard her last comment.

"I'm not sure Naruto is the best person to give advice on that," Sasuke smirked. He was on his fourth beer, and definitely more relaxed than usual.

"Ass," Naruto snickered, nudging his shoulder against Sasuke's, light enough to not risk spilling his beer before he headed out to the balcony.


Naruto finished lighting the grill and stayed while Chouji set the meat on to cook. He wondered if Sasuke was going to come out and join them, and was somewhat surprised when he didn't. Feeling a little nervous about whether his friends (and his family) would behave themselves around his boyfriend… friend… whatever, he slipped back inside and scanned the room looking for Sasuke.

He found him still leaning against the wall at the far side of the room still talking with Shikamaru and the man's equally intelligent father, looking completely at ease. Kiba had walked over to the group, handing Sasuke a fresh beer. Naruto watched his lover as he took a sip while listening to something Shikaku was saying. Sasuke's cheeks had a slight flush to them, either from the alcohol or the heat in the small, packed apartment. Sasuke looked good in his black jeans, which were much tighter than the dress pants or loose sweats that Naruto was used to seeing him in.

There was an intensity about him, in the way the dark eyes focused on what Shikaku was saying. Given the way Kiba's eyes had glazed over when he had tried to join the conversation, Naruto was guessing it was pretty intellectually heavy. Not that it was a surprise with the Nara family, but it was clear that Sasuke was more than able to keep up. Sasuke said something that had Shikaku giving a short bark of laughter, nodding in agreement.

"You're d-drooling," Hinata's soft voice came from just behind his shoulder, causing him to almost drop his beer.

He chuckled ruefully. "Yeah. Maybe a little."

Hinata looked over to Sasuke. "He's a very h-handsome man."

Naruto shrugged, trying to get himself to focus on something else. "Yeah. He knows it, too. The bastard," he grinned over at Hinata, forcing himself to look away from his ex/current lover. "But it's not just about that."

If there was one thing that the past month without Sasuke had shown Naruto, it was that sex was only a small part of what he missed about the man. They had met for coffee several times during the prior week, and texted back and forth throughout most of the days. It was amazing how natural it had all felt. Naruto had been worried that, after starting off their relationship focused mainly on sex and arguing, it would be awkward to be friends. But he had found that Sasuke's dry wit made being together even for just a half hour to grab coffee, something that he looked forward to. It made him feel better to really finally know that it had been more than his physical attraction to Sasuke that drew him.

Even though they hadn't been together for very long, he felt like he knew so much about who Sasuke was as a person… how he behaved, what drove him, what he stood for. And he admired all of it.

Hinata bit her lip as she heard the tone in Naruto's voice. This was way more than a simple infatuation. If it ended badly, Naruto could be seriously hurt. Possibly even more so than he had been with Sasori.

"The Uchiha family is pretty s-similar to the Hyuuga family, in a lot of ways. D-do you know what you're g-getting into?" She bit her lip, obviously not wanting to overstep her bounds, but not wanting Naruto to get hurt, either.

He knew that she was just looking out for him by warning him about all that went along with dating someone from old money. "Yeah. We… we've been talking about it. We want to try to make it work. We're going to take it slow."

Hinata looked at Naruto, then over to where Sasuke had noticed them, his dark eyes locked on Naruto. "Hm. Good luck with that, N-Naruto-kun."

Her words were lost on him as Sasuke levered himself away from the wall and began crossing the room towards them, Naruto's eyes following every fluid movement of Sasuke's body.

She bit her lip to contain her snicker. It was like the two of them were the only ones in the room. But she was happy for Naruto. Perhaps more than anyone else, she understood what it must have taken for Sasuke to come here, to open himself up in this way for someone outside his family's 'approved' social circle.

Kiba walked over to her, following her gaze to where Sasuke and Naruto were standing together, talking. Sasuke's gaze dropped to Naruto's mouth as the blond took a drink of his beer from the bottle.

"Weird. It almost looked like Sasuke was checking Naruto out. Do you think he's interested in him?"

Hinata looked over to her boyfriend, unable to keep the mirth from her voice. "Oh, K-Kiba-kun. You really need to learn to read people b-better." She placed a chaste kiss on his cheek, wiping out the indignant expression on his face.

"What, you don't think Sasuke was checking Naruto out?" he asked, not understanding her reaction.

She sighed indulgently, slipping her hand through his arm. "Come on. Let's go see if Chouji needs help running the grill," she said, pulling her boyfriend toward the door.

"But you said earlier when Naruto was grilling that there was nothing to help with!"

Hinata gently shook her head. Kiba might be clueless, but he was still hers.


"So what do you think?" Naruto asked, finally having a bit of time to talk with Sasuke by himself.

"About?" Sasuke queried.

"Everyone. I mean… you knew Sakura from work but this is your first time meeting everyone else."

Sasuke looked over to where Kiba, a little bit buzzed, was laughing loudly at something Chouji had said.

"I think they suit you."

Naruto looked at him. "I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a criticism."

Sasuke's lips twitched. "It's a compliment. They're all very direct, speak their mind, and actually think for themselves."

Naruto smiled, "Yeah. They're good friends. My parents like you. Especially my mom, which is good, because you do not want to get on her bad side."

Sasuke chuckled. "Hn, I can see that about her."

His phone buzzed, and out of habit he pulled it out to read the text.

Otouto. I hear that you made a surprise visit to our little blond reporter. Try not to make the front page of the scandal section. I won't be there guarding the closet this time.

"Tch," Sasuke glared at the text.

"Problems?" Naruto asked, concerned.

"Itachi," Sasuke replied, as though that single name could explain all the problems in his existence.

He quickly typed back.

Fuck you. And tell Sakura to mind her own business.

He looked over to where his head of PR was laughing at something the perverted cartoonist was telling her. Her eyes met his, and he narrowed them, letting her know he had found out about her ratting him out to his brother.

She grinned and shrugged, turning back to her conversation with the Daily Ramen staff. He felt his phone buzz again, and hesitated before reading it.

Now, what fun would that be?

Sasuke didn't bother to reply, and simply turned off his phone and slid it into his pocket.

"Come and meet Lee's uncle. He owns the gym we go to. And he's totally insane." Naruto let his fingers rest on Sasuke's lower back as they made their way through the crowds towards two black-haired men with matching bowl-cuts and enormous eyebrows.

Sasuke's eyes widened as he took in the highly energetic pair before him.

"Just don't let them talk you into a sporting competition, and you'll be fine," Naruto whispered in his ear.

Sasuke nodded, deeming it sound advice.


The party had gone on until one in the morning, but slowly people were starting to head home to their beds. They'd kept the alcohol light, so no one was totally wasted though most lived within walking distance anyway, so there was no worry about driving in any case. Lee and Sai had packed up the empty bottles and said they would take them down for recycling as they headed out.

Ino and Chouji finished wrapping up the leftover food and put it in one of the coolers that they had brought over.

"Goodnight, Naruto! Thanks for having us," Ino gave him a hug, and Chouji waved as they headed out.

The Daily Ramen crew was usually the last to leave, since they would generally help clean up at whomever's house they had been to. But tonight, Hinata was shooing everyone out the door.

"Thanks, Naruto-kun! S-See you on Monday!" she gave him a quick hug, then turned and began pushing Kiba towards the door. "Nice to m-meet you, Sasuke-san."

"But I thought we were going to help Naruto -" Kiba was cut off by a sharp look from his girlfriend as she opened the door.

"It's late, Kiba-kun. Let's let Naruto r-rest. We can come by tomorrow and h-help then."

"In the afternoon," Shino added sagely. "Late in the afternoon."

Shikamaru smirked at his friend, following after the Hyuuga and her bewildered boyfriend, nodding to both Naruto and Sasuke in farewell as they grabbed their jackets and closed the door behind him, leaving Sasuke and Naruto alone in the apartment.

Naruto watched the door close behind the last of his friends, the abrupt lack of conversation and music in the room making them both acutely aware that they were now alone.

Naruto shifted, rubbing the back of his head with his hand as he suddenly felt awkward. It was the first time they'd been alone together in a month. Even though they'd been seeing each other daily, meeting for coffee and chatting over text, it had been casual and in public. Being alone with Sasuke made Naruto suddenly acutely aware of the other's presence, and how incendiary things always had been between the two of them when they were alone.

"Um. Hey, so… I guess it's getting late and all. But I'm really glad you came," Naruto said, wincing at how stilted he sounded.

"Hn," Sasuke looked around the room, noticing the used paper plates, chopsticks, and plastic forks strewn about. "I can help you clean up before I go."

Naruto bit his lip. He was trying to go along with the 'start with friends' thing, because he honestly had enjoyed the past week of talking with Sasuke and just… being friends. Being alone with Sasuke when they'd both had more than a few beers was probably not such a great idea.

"You don't need to. I got it," Naruto waved a hand to brush aside the work that needed to be done before he could go to sleep.

"Don't be stupid. I'm here. I can spend fifteen minutes helping you straighten up."

Sasuke walked to the living room, picking up the paper plates and utensils that were scattered around. Naruto couldn't help but notice the fluid grace of Sasuke's movements, the way his long fingers deftly held the plates, or the way the muscles in his back were slightly visible when he bent over the coffee table to pick up some plastic cups.

"Where's your garbage?" Sasuke asked matter-of-factly.

Naruto snapped himself out of his daze. "Um, let me grab a bag."

He walked to the kitchen and bent down to pull a kitchen garbage bag from the roll under the counter. He stood and turned to find Sasuke standing directly behind him. Dark eyes snapped back to Naruto's face, but there was no disguising the fact that they had been focused somewhere lower while Naruto had been looking in the cabinet.

They stood facing each other, neither seeming to breathe for a frozen moment, their eyes locked together. The temperature in the room seemed to spike as awareness surged between them.

Naruto blinked, then jerkily snapped open the garbage bag. "Here. We can… just put the stuff in here."

Sasuke was still for a moment, then wordlessly put the disposable dishes into the bag. Their hands brushed briefly as he did so, but neither acknowledged the spark created by the small contact, both fighting to regain the easy companionship they had felt for each other earlier in the evening. Naruto abruptly stepped back and hung the bag on one of the cabinet knobs as Sasuke turned and began clearing off the counter.

"I'm going to go check the deck to see if anyone left anything out there," Naruto said, all but fleeing outside.

Sasuke just nodded, not looking up and keeping his steady pace at putting everything away before wiping down the counter.

Naruto slid the door closed behind him and leaned against it briefly, closing his eyes. It had been easy to be 'just friends' when they were out in public. Talking with Sasuke was entertaining, and while he'd missed the physical side of their relationship, it hadn't really been an issue for him.

Until now.

Part of him whispered that there was no real reason to keep it as 'just friends'. Sasuke had said he wanted more. Naruto had fully agreed. Even their friends and family basically viewed them as dating. And the issue that had broken them up in the first place—namely, Sasuke's unwillingness to have a public relationship or interact with Naruto's friends and family—had been firmly done away with tonight.

"Fuck, fuck!" Naruto breathed out, raking his hands through his hair, making it stand even more wildly on end than usual.

But Sasuke had said that they were going to start slow. This was Sasuke's first real relationship, and if he felt like they should go slow then Naruto would abide by that. He took a deep breath, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth as he counted to ten. He thought about Maito Gai in spandex.

And just like that, he was back in control. He grabbed the garbage that was out on the deck and went back inside

He could do this.


Sasuke heard the sliding door close as Naruto went out onto the balcony to clean up. He slowly let out the breath he'd been holding, allowing his hands to still from their mindless work.

Why was this so fucking hard?

He leaned forward, letting his head rest on the counter's cool surface.

He wanted to show Naruto that he was willing to have a real relationship… that he wanted more than just sex from Naruto, and was willing to change his lifestyle to have it. The past week they'd spent together meeting for coffee and texting back and forth had been unlike anything Sasuke had ever had.

Waking up and going to the coffee shop almost every morning, getting texts from the writer describing random moments throughout his day that sometimes almost had Sasuke laughing out loud… all of it was already so much more than what he'd ever considered. And he wasn't willing to give that up just for some spontaneous sex if it meant he could risk sending the wrong signal and messing things up.

But he didn't know how to determine how long it should be like this. How would he know when it was safe to take things further? Was meeting his friends and family and being open about their relationship enough? Was Naruto still unsure about Sasuke's commitment? How would he know when they were ready to move on to being lovers again?

"There should be a fucking manual for this shit," Sasuke grumbled to himself.

He heard the door to the deck open and saw Naruto coming back in, his hands full of plates and cups.

"Here," Sasuke held the bag open as Naruto dumped in the trash.

"Thanks," Naruto said. "I'll just take this and toss it. I think we got it pretty much under control now. Thanks for, uh, staying and helping clean."

"No problem," Sasuke went over to the sink and washed his hands.

"So... do you want to meet for coffee tomorrow, or are you going to sleep in?" Naruto asked, tying up the garbage bag then following Sasuke's lead and washing his hands as well.

"Text me when you get up. We could get lunch," Sasuke said, slipping his hand in his pocket to make sure he had his phone and keys.

Naruto's eyes snapped up to his. Lunch was definitely more date-like than coffee. Both men's subtle nerves acknowledged the shift in status.

"Yeah. Lunch would be great," Naruto bit his lip, noticing the way Sasuke's eyes immediately latched on to the movement. "Ok, well…" Naruto hesitated. Usually they just said goodbye and went their separate ways, but something had definitely shifted in their relationship tonight. Deciding not to overthink it, Naruto stepped forward, tugging on Sasuke's shirt to bring the man closer, brushing his lips over Sasuke's.

It started out simple… an acknowledgement of the evening marking them as something more than ex-lovers, more than friends. Naruto felt the warmth and smooth texture of Sasuke's lips, and brushed back over them a second time, feeling the heat of their breaths float between them.

He forced himself to stop, and began to pull back to end the kiss, but Sasuke pressed in closer, sliding his fingers into Naruto's hair to pull their mouths fully together.

Their lips pressed against each other firmly, not the light brush that Naruto had initiated, but not the devouring kisses of their secret trysts of the past, either.

It felt like a first kiss, not a hundredth.

Sasuke partially parted his lips, forcing Naruto's to do the same, allowing their mouths to meld more fully together.

Naruto slid his tongue forward to trace over Sasuke's lower lip, tasting this small bit of intimacy. Sasuke shivered, closing his eyes and focusing only on where their mouths were joined. He let the tip of his tongue trace over Naruto's, and moved deeper, pressing more fully into each other's mouths. A low sound reverberated between them, but it wasn't clear who had made it. Naruto's fingers slid up to trace along Sasuke's jaw, his thumbs pressing into the hinge of the jaw as he opened his mouth, coaxing Sasuke to do the same. Their tongues moved against each other, deep and languid, savoring the taste and texture of each other's mouths.

The kiss was different from their past kisses. Slower, more deliberate, less desperate. Sasuke had never kissed someone in this way, simply for the pleasure of the kiss as an act of intimacy unto itself. With all his previous lovers, kissing had merely been the prelude to sex. Like a handshake was a prelude to a business deal. But this was different, from his other lovers and from when he had kissed Naruto in the past. There was more trust in the kiss this time, emotion beyond simple heat and a pounding need for sex. They took their time, their breaths mingling as their tongues and lips and teeth moved together.

Sasuke tilted his head more to the side, opening his mouth wider and deepening the kiss, wanting more of it, trying to understand why it made his stomach clench in a way it hadn't before. Naruto's hands tightened their grip in Sasuke's hair, arching his head back slightly, and suddenly the pace and heat of the kiss changed to something darker and infinitely hotter.

Sasuke felt a flash of panic as the familiar pull of his intense attraction to Naruto fused with this new, much more complicated emotion that was swirling through him.

This was too much. He couldn't control this.

Sasuke broke the kiss and stepped back, his eyes wide. "We… should slow down."

Sasuke's pulse was hammering through him, and his hands were prickling with sweat. He looked at Naruto, saw the openness and trust in his face, blended with the desire that he knew was reflected in his own expression. After everything that had happened between them, he couldn't understand how a simple kiss when they were both still fully clothed had left him so shaken.

Naruto shoved his hands into his pockets, forcing himself to not fist them into Sasuke's hair and drag him back into the kiss. He had seen the flash of uncertainty in the dark eyes. He wouldn't push. "Right. Slow."

Sasuke felt himself hesitate. It was an unfamiliar feeling. He was raised to be decisive. To decide what he wanted and take action to achieve it. It wasn't like him to vacillate, or be unsure of himself.

In truth, he wasn't unsure at all of what he wanted. If anything, he wanted it even more now. But it was the size and scope of that want that had him hesitating. Once he started this, there would be no stopping. Even when things had been confined to 'just sex', Naruto had made him lose control.

This was…

Sasuke turned and opened the door.

"See you tomorrow?"

Naruto gave him a lopsided grin. "Yeah. Lunch, right?"

That grin nearly undid him. Sasuke nodded tersely and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind him.


Naruto stared after the closed door.

He closed his eyes and scrubbed his hands over his face, letting his head fall back. "Fuuuuuuuuck."

Going slow was so hard. The pun was not lost on him. He wasn't even sure what they were waiting for at this point, but he wouldn't push things. Every time he was with Sasuke, all he could think was that he wanted more. Of everything. More of his thoughts, his husky laughter, his biting comments, his ruthless intelligence. Just more.

He'd told himself to go jerk off in the shower for the next three hours. Then he'd be fine.

He had just turned back to the kitchen when door to his apartment flew open and Sasuke stepped back in. His eyes dark had lost all traces of the hesitation Naruto had witnessed in them a minute ago.

"Fuck going slow," Sasuke growled, slamming the door closed as he strode toward Naruto, grabbing the sides of Naruto's face and kissing him.

"Oh, thank god," Naruto said vehemently before sealing their lips back together in a feverish kiss.

Sasuke pushed Naruto up against the counter, shoving his thigh between Naruto's legs.

Naruto groaned into Sasuke's mouth at the sensation, but he pulled back. "Not here. I want you on my bed."

Sasuke heard the dark promise in Naruto's voice, making desire pool heavier in his groin. He met Naruto's blue gaze, the intensity of emotion in them erasing any doubts he had. It wasn't just lust he saw looking back at him.

Naruto stepped back, sliding his fingers through Sasuke's hair and bringing their mouths together again as he walked backward, leading Sasuke to his bedroom. Naruto turned on the lights with his elbow.

"I want to see you," Naruto said gruffly, letting his hands slide down along Sasuke's neck to slowly begin unbuttoning Sasuke's shirt. Sasuke glanced around the room—his first time seeing Naruto's bedroom. It was a small room with a large bed. The feel of Naruto's lips brushing across his collarbone distracted him from really observing the space, but he got an overall sense of warm, bright colors and soft, lush fabrics. A sensual room for a sensual man.

Naruto's fingertips brushed over Sasuke's nipples with teasingly light pressure, then his thumbs traced back more firmly. Sasuke's semi-hard cock rose to full attention under the sensation, and he groaned slightly. He didn't understand his desperation. He'd gone more than a month without sex before, but it had never left him feeling this sense of urgency previously.

He grabbed Naruto's hips, pulling their bodies flush together. He rotated his hips, gritting his teeth at the delicious friction of his erection sliding against Naruto's, their jeans frustratingly in the way.

Naruto had finished unbuttoning Sasuke's shirt and slid it off the pale shoulders, his lips tracing a path along the defined collarbone to the sculpted shoulder and finally along the upper edge of the contours of Sasuke's bicep.

There was a slow deliberateness in the movements of Naruto's mouth that had Sasuke nearly coming out of his skin, and Naruto hadn't even touched him below the waist yet.

"Naruto, shit... what are you doing?" Sasuke's voice was rough, his breath coming in pants.

Naruto chuckled darkly against Sasuke's skin, the sound making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Along with his dick.

"This is the first time I get to have you without wondering if it's going to be the last time. And I'm going to fucking enjoy it." Naruto's lips traced back up to the sensitive flesh just below Sasuke's ear, his teeth nipping slightly before laving the slight sting away with his tongue.

Sasuke could hear the possessive vulnerability in Naruto's voice, and he grabbed the sides of Naruto's face, bringing their lips together in a harsh kiss. How had he ever thought he could give this up? He'd been such an idiot.

Sasuke tugged Naruto's shirt over his head and tossed it aside before sliding his hands over the hard contours of Naruto's torso.

"Fuck," Sasuke breathed out. He slid one hand down to Naruto's lower back, pulling their bodies tightly together before taking the two short backwards steps to the bed. He sat down on the bed, pulling Naruto to stand before him between his legs.

Sasuke leaned forward, burying his face in Naruto's bare stomach, feeling the hard warmth of the muscles there, the shivering of desire that made the flesh beneath his lips jump. Naruto's fingers threaded through Sasuke's hair, and he nuzzled down further, his face pressing against the hard ridge of Naruto's cock through his jeans.

"Ahhh, Sasuke," Naruto gritted out, his hips rocking forward unconsciously to get more friction. Sasuke was happy to oblige, cupping the bulge with the palm of his hand before slowly stroking up and down along the clothed length.

Naruto's hands fell to Sasuke's shoulders, gripping tightly as his body arched into the touch.

Sasuke's arousal was painful in his black jeans, screaming for relief of some of the pressure, but Sasuke didn't want to stop what he was doing, fascinated by the tortured sounds coming from Naruto's lips. He'd always enjoyed getting his lovers off in the past, but the need to give Naruto pleasure went far beyond a simple exchange of sexual gratification. He didn't want to explore exactly what it was that he felt, but it drove him further than before, and fixed his attention on Naruto's pleasure above his own.

But Naruto had other ideas, as Sasuke abruptly felt himself pinned down on the bed, lips crushing down on his as he felt Naruto's deft fingers reach between them and undo the fastenings of his jeans.

"Yessssss," Sasuke hissed out in both pleasure and relief as the constriction around his painfully hard cock was relieved.

He immediately returned the favor to his lover, slipping his hand into the open front of Naruto's jeans and wrapping around Naruto's dick. He flicked his thumb over the dripping head of Naruto's erection, feeling the moisture there as pleasure and pride filled him at the knowledge that Naruto was just as needy for this as he was.

"Sasuke, god, fuck, that's it," Naruto's eyes drifted closed at his touch, and Sasuke felt an inexplicable surge of possessiveness and something else at the sight. Naruto's eyes opened again, and tan thumbs reached down and traced gently over Sasuke's cheekbones. The gentleness and reverence of the touch made his chest feel tight.

It was more than he could handle.

"Naruto," Sasuke murmured before rolling them over so he was on top, shoving their clothing down so the zippers were safely out of the way as he brought his lips back to Naruto's, angling his head to the side, bracing himself on his forearms as their mouths moved together. Without breaking the kiss, they kicked the remainder of their clothing off so they were finally fully naked, nothing separating their bodies.

Naruto's hands slid down Sasuke's bare back before cupping over his ass, bringing more force to the contact between them as he rolled his hips up, thrusting against Sasuke.

"God, I fucking missed you," Naruto whispered into the hollow at the base of Sasuke's throat, his lips brushing against the sensitive skin as he articulated the words. Sasuke's skin erupted in goosebumps, and he bit his lip, telling himself it was the touch of the lips and not the words themselves that made him feeling this way.

And knowing he was a liar.

His whole body was shaking and pulsing with the need to be inside Naruto. He had often wanted to fuck before. But he'd never needed to.

Right now, he needed it.

Sasuke's hand fumbled over to the nightstand, hoping Naruto had the necessary supplies there. Naruto's hand slid along his and reached into the drawer, pulling out a bottle of lube and an unopened package of condoms.

"I can't wait anymore," Sasuke said, squirting some lube onto his fingers, ignoring the spurt that shot across the bed as he squeezed the bottle with too much force in his haste. He hoped his own performance would be better. His hands were too slick to open the foil wrapper of the condom, so he used his teeth to rip it open. Naruto took the packet from him, pulling out the rubber and rolling it down over Sasuke's length all the way to the base in one smooth motion.

Sasuke's eyes and jaw clenched shut and he swallowed hard, breathing in sharply through his nose to try to have some control over his arousal. It had been weeks since they'd had sex, and he needed to prep Naruto at least a little or it would hurt.

He forced himself to breathe deep and slow as he slid a finger into Naruto's entrance. He was surprised when he felt a slickened digit circling his own as well. His eyes shot open to see a wicked grin on Naruto's face, blue eyes darkened to a midnight blue with arousal.

"You can top this round," Naruto used his other hand to grip Sasuke's wrist, sliding down to his hand and directing a second of Sasuke's fingers into himself. "But I want to fuck you in my bed tonight."

Sasuke didn't trust his voice to speak, so he just gave a nod and focused on working his fingers to loosen the ring of muscles as quickly as possible. His dick hung heavily between his thighs, and he could feel it jerk with every pulse of his heart.

"Enough," Naruto gritted out, wrapping his hand around Sasuke's cock and tugging him forward, guiding him in. "We both want it hard. Don't hold back."

"Shit!" Sasuke managed to get out. Holding back would have been a physical impossibility. Sasuke gripped Naruto's hips with a bruising force as he drove in all the way in one hard, smooth thrust. His mind went completely blank at the feel of Naruto's tight heat clenched around him, and the expression of exquisite pleasure on Naruto's face as he drove home.

Naruto's hands gripped his forearms as Sasuke began to snap his hips forward, pulling his head almost free of the tight ring of muscle before slamming back in. They would both be bruised in the morning, but it only made the pleasure keener.

Sasuke thought of nothing except the feel of his lover beneath and around him. The intensity of the friction where their bodies were joined… the slick heat of their skin sliding together. He wanted to make Naruto scream with pleasure.

He shifted his grip on Naruto's hips, tilting them up to adjust the angle of his thrusts.

"Fuck, right there! Right there - ah! God, fuck! H-harder, Sa-s'ke!" Naruto's back arched up, stretching the muscles of his stomach taut. Sasuke groaned, feeling his balls tighten at the sight. He dipped his head low to lick along Naruto's chest, tasting the salt of the sweat-soaked skin. He loved the taste of Naruto. The smell of him. The feel of him.

Everything.

It had haunted his sleep in the weeks they'd been apart, when he thought he'd never have it again.

"Naruto!" he groaned, his hips pounding forward as Naruto tightened the grip with his thighs, gripping Sasuke's torso and lifting up to meet his thrusts.

"Nng, Sasuke!"

He felt his whole body clench at the sound of Naruto shouting his name as they came. Sasuke's body continued to thrust as they rode out the waves of their climax.

Their motions slowed, their breathing heavy. Sasuke lowered his head, resting his forehead against Naruto's chest.

"That… that was…" Sasuke didn't really know what he was trying to say. His brain hadn't re-emerged from its haze of sated arousal.

"Yeah," Naruto slid his hands up along Sasuke's biceps, over his shoulder to lace them together behind Sasuke's sweat-dampened neck. Slowly, with a steady force, he drew Sasuke's mouth to his.

"Mmmm," Naruto smiled into the kiss. "I like you in my bed."

Sasuke carefully withdrew, rolling to the side, their bodies still touching. "Moron." The word was spoiled by the smirk on his face.

"Let's go get cleaned up," Naruto suggested, his hand sliding through the slick cum that was smeared across his stomach.

Sasuke looked down to where a matching smear was on him. "Sounds good."

They made their way to the bathroom, and Naruto turned on the shower.

"It's not as big as yours, but there's still room for two as long as we're willing to be friendly," Naruto smirked, pressing his body flush against Sasuke's back.

Sasuke rolled his eyes, but it didn't disguise the heat that flared in his eyes. "Idiot," he murmured, turning and drawing their mouths together.

The bathroom was less than half the size of Sasuke's, but the shower was clean and steam had already started to billow from the stall.

Naruto opened the glass door to the shower, stepping inside as Sasuke followed him.

Naruto grabbed the bottle of shower gel and a washcloth, letting the cloth soak under the warm water before squeezing some of the gel onto the cloth and rubbing it down Sasuke's back between his shoulder blades, watching as the soap slid down the length of his body.

"You have no idea how many times I thought about you when I took a shower in here," Naruto murmured against the sensitive skin at the base of Sasuke's neck, letting the washcloth wash lower. His voice was low and soft as he trailed the soapy cloth around to the front of Sasuke's chest, using his fingers to swirl the slippery suds around Sasuke's nipples, feeling them pebble beneath his touch.

"Fuck," Sasuke could feel his shaft already start to lengthen, his mind focusing on the image of Naruto alone in this shower, thinking of him while he stroked himself off.

"So many nights, I would wake up hard and sweaty, thinking about you," Naruto's dark words swirled around them, mingling with the scented steam.

Sasuke drew in a deep breath, spreading his legs slightly wider apart as his arousal continued to build. The shower smelled like Naruto: the soap he used, the scent of the man.

"Yes," Sasuke let his head fall back as Naruto continued.

"I would be so hard, Sasuke. So fucking hard and all I wanted…" Naruto's hand trailed down over Sasuke's flat, soap-slicked abdomen. It stopped its downward path when it encountered the soft thatch of dark curls, hovering teasingly above them, rubbing in slow circles. "... was you."

Sasuke's hips shifted forward, his dick now fully erect.

"You and your fucking mouth," Sasuke bit out, wondering if Naruto was going to make him cum just from talking to him like this.

"Mmmmm," Naruto hummed into damp, spiky black hair at the back of Sasuke's neck. "You love my fucking mouth."

Sasuke's hands reached out to grip anything he could, his fingers splayed out against the smooth, white tiles of the shower wall. He was so hard. So fucking hard.

He could feel Naruto's erection brush against the back of his thigh, and he fought against the urge to push back against this. He wanted to drag this out as badly as Naruto did.

"My body would be aching, Sasuke. So hard for you," Naruto brushed the back of his knuckle along Sasuke's length, a teasingly light touch that did nothing to provide the friction that Sasuke craved.

"Tease," Sasuke growled out.

Naruto didn't deny it as he traced light kisses along the contours of the muscles of Sasuke's back, admiring the way Sasuke's stance brought them out as he braced against the wall.

"Did you think of me, Sasuke? When you slept alone in your big bed?" Naruto asked huskily.

Naruto dropped the washcloth, all pretenses of still actually cleaning Sasuke were done. He flattened his palms against the plane of Sasuke's stomach, moving them out to the side then sliding them down, his thumbs dipping into the hollows at Sasuke's hip bones.

"Fuck yes. I thought of you," Sasuke's cock swelled, so hard that even the pressure of the water hitting it made his hips flex fractionally.

Naruto groaned at the response, pressing his body flush against Sasuke's, resting his forehead against the back of Sasuke's neck. "Oh, god, Sasuke."

Naruto slid his hands up and down over the cut of Sasuke's hip bones, pulling his body back so his erection rubbed slightly in the cleft of his taut ass. But then he took a half step back, just enough to put a tiny space between their bodies, not wanting the game to end so soon.

He could feel the tension radiating from Sasuke's body, the muscles practically vibrating beneath the smooth, pale skin.

"Do you know what I would do in here, those nights when I would wake up sweaty and hard and thinking of you?" Naruto asked, his lips touching just behind Sasuke's ear. He felt the shiver that went through his lover, and grinned wolfishly.

"I bet I can guess," Sasuke rasped.

"Mmm, I bet you can. But do you want me to tell you?"

One of Naruto's hands slid down over Sasuke's hip, then inward, his thumb making circles along Sasuke's inner thigh.

"Yes," Sasuke's fingers flexed on the wall, his blunt nails scraping along the wet surface.

"I would come here," Naruto whispered. "I would put the water on hot. Trying to think of something else. Someone else."

Sasuke growled at the thought of Naruto thinking of anyone else. He felt firm fingers slide between his thighs, smoothing across his balls then rolling them gently.

"Nnggg," Sasuke's hips flexed forward again, and Naruto increased the pressure of his fingers, rolling and tugging, but still not touching Sasuke's aching cock.

"But it wouldn't work. Nothing fucking worked, Sasuke."

Naruto's lips trailed down from Sasuke's neck down between his shoulder blades. One of his hands continued to work Sasuke's balls while the other slid to his lower back, his thumb pressing into the indentation at the side of Sasuke's spine.

"All I could think about was you," Naruto said, his mouth sliding lower as his hand moved up to finally wrap around Sasuke's erection, earning a groan of relief and arousal from Sasuke.

"Did you think of me? Or did you find someone else?" Naruto asked, his hand now slowly pumping Sasuke's cock as his mouth traced down to the base of his spine.

"Only you," Sasuke gritted out, his hips pumping into Naruto's fist, the water causing a slick friction that was making it hard for him to focus on what he was saying. "I didn't want anyone else."

Naruto made an inarticulate sound, his lips nipping down along the crease of Sasuke's ass before he thrust in with his tongue, tracing down along the seam until he reached Sasuke's opening. He used one large hand to spread Sasuke's cheeks while the other worked his cock.

"Sasuke," Naruto's voice was so heavy with need that Sasuke felt his own legs tremble. He felt something firm, hot and wet circle his entrance, the feeling unfamiliar. If he wasn't so far gone in his own arousal, he would have been embarrassed by the intimacy of it, but he couldn't think outside the haze of the arousal between them as Naruto picked up his pace fisting his cock and plunged his tongue in over and over.

"Oh, FUCK!" Sasuke's shout echoed off the walls of the small bathroom. He'd never experienced anything like this. He arched his back, unconsciously giving Naruto better access as Naruto swirled his tongue, using the tip to press against the ring of muscles before delving back in.

"Oh, my god, Naruto," Sasuke's whole body was shuddering as Naruto suckled, flexing and firming his tongue while his hand kept up the rapid pace. He could feel the tension coiling in his body and knew he would cum soon if Naruto kept this up. "Naruto," he tried to warn.

Abruptly the tongue was gone. He could hear Naruto's heavy breathing from behind him, and felt the slight trembling of the body against his. He heard the soft click of a bottle being opened, and felt two slick digits enter him. It was a strange sensation, but not unpleasant, thanks to the aggressive workings of Naruto's tongue. It brought him away from the precipice of immediate orgasm though, and he drew in a deep breath, trying to regain control. Naruto opened the shower door, picking up something from the floor which turned out to be a condom.

"You came prepared," Sasuke smirked.

Naruto pushed in a third finger, and Sasuke winced. The heat of the shower kept his muscles relaxed and loose, and Naruto's tongue had already worked him over, so the pain eased almost immediately.

Sasuke heard the tearing of the condom wrapper, saw the wrapper float down to rest by the drain, then stopped being able to notice these things as Naruto's hand returned to its original position, wrapped around his cock.

"This is what I thought of doing every single time I was in here without you," Naruto said, removing his hand and lining up his erection. "Are you ok?"

Sasuke braced his hands hard against the shower wall. "Go," he said, pushing back to make the instruction clear.

Naruto had no trouble following, forcing himself to go slow as he pushed in - pausing as he felt Sasuke's body tense - giving him time to adjust. He ran a hand soothingly over Sasuke's thigh. "Lean forward more. It will help."

Sasuke did, and Naruto slid the rest of the way in.

"God, Sasuke. You're so fucking amazing," Naruto panted. Sasuke could feel the restraint that Naruto was exerting to keep himself from pounding into him. He knew exactly what that felt like, and he smirked as he drew a deep breath then slowly rotated his hips, clenching around Naruto as he did.

Naruto's eyes rolled back into his head and he almost came on the spot. "You fucking… bastard. Hold still or I swear I'll…"

Sasuke did it again.

Naruto drew out, then slammed back in. Sasuke's hand slid along the tiles with the force of the thrust, squelching against them. Naruto repeated the motion, changing the angle slightly each time until Sasuke arched back and saw stars.

"Found it," Naruto groaned out in relief as he struck the same spot again, setting up a pounding rhythm that had Sasuke arching back, his eyes wide at the intensity of the pleasure that seared through him.

"Holy, fuck!" It was all Sasuke could do to hold onto the wall.

Their skin slapped together wetly, the cacophony of the sounds of running water, flesh on flesh, groans and curses bounced wildly off the walls of the tiny room.

Sasuke screamed as his orgasm ripped through him, Naruto's arms wrapping around him holding him up as Naruto thrust three more times before shouting out Sasuke's name in climax.

They slid to the floor of the shower, shaking and breathing rapidly. Naruto pulled Sasuke to him, letting the warm water rinse the evidence of their pleasure away. He nuzzled the back of Sasuke's neck, drawing in the scent of his lover.

"I think we're done going slow," Naruto said finally.

Sasuke turned to look over his shoulder at the heavy-lidded blue eyes watching him. "You think?"

Naruto chuckled, then slowly became more serious. "I'm not letting you go a second time, Sasuke."

"Hn," Sasuke closed his eyes, relaxing back against Naruto before reaching over to grab the soap and washcloth to clean themselves properly. "That works for me. I have no plans to let you go either."


Later that night, as they lay together in Naruto's bed, Sasuke felt a small smile tug at his lips.

As he drifted off to sleep, he noticed he was no longer cold. The heat of the body lying next to him relaxing him fully, and he slept soundly through the night for the first time in weeks.

And this time, when they woke, there was no pressure to hurry with breakfast and go their separate paths.

Their paths were no longer separate.


The end.

There might be an epilogue at some point... with an important newsflash and also some scenes in the future (e.g., Naruto meeting Sasuke's family).

Chapter Text

Warning: Lemon - barebacking - 18+

A/N: So, of course you all know that you should never go without a condom if you aren't in a monogamous relationship and you haven't both been checked out… it's not worth the risk, my darlin's.


July 23rd

Sasuke woke up with the warm, solid feel of a naked body pressed against his. He smiled slightly when he remembered that it was Saturday. They'd have the whole day to spend together until evening.

Originally, Naruto had planned to host a low-key birthday for Sasuke with Itachi and the Daily Ramen crew who had gotten to know Sasuke since they started dating. Naruto hadn't been surprised at how well Sasuke and Shikamaru had hit it off. They had developed a habit of finding a quiet corner to play shogi while Naruto and Kiba shot pool, or Hinata killed them all at darts. Since Sasuke hadn't really done much socializing outside of work since moving to Konoha, he didn't have any friends in the area outside of his brother and employees.

When he'd mentioned it to Itachi, the man had insisted that it be held at his house and include the family. Neither Naruto nor Sasuke were happy with it, but Itachi had not relented. Instead, he had brought in Mikoto, at which point Naruto and Sasuke had known to give up.

But that was hours away. Unless they got hungry, they wouldn't even need to get out of bed before noon.

Sleeping in had never been a pleasure Sasuke had enjoyed much in the past. He'd watched his father wake up at six in the morning every weekend before closing himself up in his home office to work for the majority of the day. The Uchiha belief was that it was 'inefficient' to waste time relaxing when there was always work to be done.

Naruto had made it quite clear very early on that weekends were not for working, at least not all the time. Sasuke smirked slightly as he remembered just how the writer had made the point. Sasuke would never be able to look at the desk in his home office the same way again after the first weekend Naruto had spent at his apartment when they'd begun officially dating two months ago.

"Mmmm," Naruto's voice was still rough with sleep, but it immediately set Sasuke's blood warming. "Happy birthday."

Sasuke felt Naruto's tan hand slide over his stomach, strong fingers splaying possessively across the smooth, flat expanse of pale skin. Naruto's hand began moving in slow, light circles, beginning small and gradually increasing in circumference.

The vague stirring of arousal from Sasuke's morning wood intensified with the warm touch, his stomach tightening. The hand on his abs pressed slightly harder, detecting the change in Sasuke's body. A low chuckle came from behind him as the hand began to circle lower and lower, causing Sasuke's toes to curl in anticipation. It was hard to imagine that last year, he hadn't even met Naruto. Now they were practically living together. Sasuke relaxed into Naruto's touch, arching his head back slightly as he soaked in the slowly building heat between them.

Naruto's warm breath ghosted across the back of his neck, causing goosebumps to race across his skin. He felt the tan fingers brush just above where he needed them to touch, and couldn't help the slight flexing of his hips. He was torn between wishing Naruto's hand would move lower more quickly and enjoying the torture of anticipation. He stretched up, bracing his palms against the headboard, the position showcasing the taut muscles in his chest and arms more fully, along with his proudly awake erection.

He felt smug satisfaction surge through him at Naruto's tortured groan.

"God, Sasuke. You're so fucking sexy," Naruto's lips brushed against the sensitive spot of Sasuke's neck as his hand ghosted over the pale man's painfully erect cock. But instead of closing around it and giving him some relief, Naruto let it drift lower, brushing Sasuke's testicles with the back of his knuckles before sliding back up to rest just above the dark curls, continuing to tease him.

Sasuke growled low in frustration, reaching over to the nightstand, grabbing a mint out of the pack that was conveniently kept there and popping it into his mouth. He bit it in half, then captured Naruto's wrist, rolling them over and pinning Naruto beneath him. He gave a heavy-lidded look to his lover before slowly lowering his head to brush his lips against Naruto's before taking half the broken mint and sliding it into his lover's mouth with his tongue. A quick fix for 'morning breath' when they were too horny to wait to brush their teeth...

… a common occurrence most most mornings.

Naruto gave a sloe-eyed smile as Sasuke shifted between his thighs. The writer rolled his tongue over the strong mint, then held it between his teeth, running the tip of this tongue around it suggestively before pulling it back in his mouth.

"How about I suck you off with this mint in my mouth?" Naruto leaned forward and licked Sasuke's lower lip, letting him feel the cool tingle of the mint on the sensitive flesh, imagining what it would feel like on another sensitive part of his body. Sasuke didn't have to imagine too hard, given that it wouldn't be the first time it had happened.

Naruto rolled his hips, bringing their erections together in a slow, hot slide of friction.

"Nnnggg," Sasuke released Naruto's wrists and slid his hands down over Naruto's sides, loving the feel of Naruto's hard body beneath him. He lowered his head, letting his lips and the tip of his tongue glide down the column of Naruto's neck to the dip of his collarbone.

"I don't want you to suck my dick," Sasuke sucked briefly at Naruto's pulse point before his lips returned to his ear. "I want to fuck you."

Naruto's cock hardened painfully at the dark, possessive tone of Sasuke's voice.

Sasuke's lips closed over Naruto's nipple, his teeth scraping slightly before his tongue laved over it, the mint making the nipple bud up tightly. Naruto writhed beneath him as Sasuke blew over it, making it tighten further as Naruto arched up.

"Bastard," Naruto panted out, biting his lip.

Sasuke's thumbs brushed over Naruto's ribs and the contours of his abs before sliding down and gripping firmly over Naruto's hip bones. He brought his lips to Naruto's ear, his hot breath making Naruto shiver.

Sasuke brushed a finger over Naruto's entrance, then probed gently with the digit, hoping there was still enough residual lube from the night before that they wouldn't have to wait. He was already hard and leaking. Every morning, he woke up with the same burning need. He wondered if it would ever dissipate. If anything, it seemed to only get stronger, more out of control. He buried his face in Naruto's neck, breathing deeply, drawing in Naruto's scent.

He would never get enough of this man.

"Shit," Sasuke bit his lip when he felt Naruto's dry entrance. He was dying to be inside him, but he didn't want it to hurt his lover. "Lube," he panted out.

Naruto clenched around Sasuke's finger as though proving a point, then leaned over to grab the lube from the nightstand.

Sasuke noticed that Naruto didn't grab anything else, and he raised a brow.

Naruto's blue eyes were already darkened with lust as he flipped open the cap of the lube and squirted some on his hand. He kept his eyes locked with Sasuke's as he palmed his slick hand over his lover's rock-hard erection.

"No condom?" Sasuke asked, feeling a spike of excitement shoot through him at the thought. They'd never gone bareback. Sasuke had never had a serious relationship before, so he'd honestly never even considered it. He knew that for the receiver, the after effects were… somewhat annoying, so he was surprised at the offer. But definitely appreciative. He'd been curious to know how different it really was to go without a condom. And the trust it implied. The intimacy and permanence.

"If you want," Naruto murmured against Sasuke's lips, guiding Sasuke towards his entrance. "Just go slow."

It felt somehow like a huge step in their relationship.

Sasuke didn't trust himself to actually reply since all of his blood had fled from his brain, so he simply took the lube, putting some on his shaking fingers to at least partially prepare Naruto. He looked down at Naruto, the blond hair disheveled from the prior night's activities, the devilish humor in the blue eyes that were currently veiled with lust. The extent of what he felt for this man… the lust, the trust, the friendship… and more. So much more that it was, at times, a little overwhelming.

Sasuke wasn't a religious man, but he was fervently glad he'd walked into that grocery store so many months ago and decided to annoy the hot blond holding up the line at the meat counter. His life was so different now. Warmer. Fuller.

He was… happy.

In a way that he'd never expected to be… didn't even think possible for a person like him. Unable to wait any longer, Sasuke lined himself up and slowly began pushing in. His eyes widened and he caught his lower lip between his teeth at the difference in feeling. He could feel the slide of his skin directly against Naruto's as he entered, the heat and friction so much more intense with no barrier between them. He gasped, forcing himself to pause just as his head cleared the tight ring of muscles.

"Holy fuck," he groaned, his forearms shaking with the effort to restrain himself, the veins standing out against the muscles in harsh relief.

The sweat that had broken out on Naruto's brow showed that he wasn't immune to the difference in sensation either. But that didn't stop Naruto from being cocky about it.

"Too much for you, Sasuke?" Naruto grinned, fisting a hand in the back of Sasuke's hair, jerking it harshly as he brought Sasuke's mouth down to his. Their mouths were already open before they even connected, tongues surging against each other as soon as they touched.

Sasuke groaned into Naruto's mouth as he thrust home with one harsh snap of his hips. Naruto arched up with a moan, breaking the contact of their kiss as Sasuke's eyes rolled back into his head, nearly cumming at the exquisite sensation. The contact was so much fuller, so much more intimate and raw. The pleasure so intense it was almost painful.

Naruto flexed his hips and Sasuke shuddered, his hands gripping Naruto's pelvis to keep it still.

"Fuck!" Sasuke panted. "Give me a second."

Naruto had never been a good listener.

He slid his hands up over the flat, smooth surface of Sasuke's abs, palming them roughly over his nipples while rolling his hips. His blue eyes were nearly black with lust, fascinated by the expression of almost agony on Sasuke's perfect face as he arched back. He loved Sasuke's face when they had sex. Even more than the sex itself, he loved seeing the way Sasuke's face, open and twisted with pleasure… loved watching his walls break apart. Knowing it was only for him.

"Ungh," Sasuke groaned, his head thrown back in pleasure. "Naruto…"

He pulled his hips back, then snapped them forward again, focused on the amazing sensation, able to feel every inch of the movement of his body into Naruto's.

"Yeah, that's it," Naruto didn't let his eyes close, wanting to see every emotion that moved across Sasuke's face… usually so closed off, but now expressing a myriad of feelings.

Sasuke pulled out then thrust in again, repeating in slow and powerful strokes, letting them both feel the drawn-out sensation and increased friction. Naruto's hand slid around to grab Sasuke's ass, pulling him in tight as their bodies arched together. Sasuke circled his hips, arousal and possessiveness appearing through his heavy-lidded eyes.

"Naruto…" Sasuke sucked in a breath through his teeth as he thrust in again and again. "God, I want you… ah, fuck."

A bead of sweat slid down over Sasuke's collar-bone, dripping onto Naruto's chest.

Naruto pulled Sasuke's mouth down to his, nipping on Sasuke's lower lip, tugging it down before thrusting his tongue inside. Their teeth clicked against each other as their mouths moved against each other.

"I'm right...ngh... here," Naruto panted, breaking the kiss before tightening his fingers in Sasuke's hair, forcing the pale neck to arch back, making room for his mouth to suck and bite at the throat.

"I… I want… god… I… Naruto…so much… you..." Sasuke's hips picked up the pace as he thrust faster and faster, his words tumbling out without conscious thought.

Naruto's hands had to let go of Sasuke's hair to brace against the headboard at the brutal pace, and all he could do was hold on. He heard the words that Sasuke was trying to say, even though they didn't manage to fully form. Felt them swirling around his chest. Naruto closed his eyes, emotion swamping him.

"I love you," Naruto breathed out, the words that had been hovering on his lips for over a month finally tumbling out.

"N-Naruto!" Sasuke's voice was raw and almost desperate as his sweat-soaked body seized, the muscles in his arms clenched and shaking as he thrust harder and faster.

Sasuke looked down at Naruto with an expression that nearly made Naruto's heart stop. And then Naruto was cumming, his head arched back, the cords of his neck straining as he let himself go, feeling the heat within him as Sasuke's seed flooded deep inside him.

"Sasuke…" Naruto cried out as he continued to ride out the waves of his climax.

Sasuke lay over him him, their breathing harsh, their bodies slick with sweat.

Naruto looked down at Sasuke, loving the way his pale skin was flushed across his cheeks, his lips reddened, his hair disheveled. This beautiful and razor-cold man was only his to see this way.

"If you keep looking at me like that, I'm not going to give you much of a rest," Sasuke groaned out, running his thumb along Naruto's cheekbone before pulling out and rolling to lie beside him. There was a tenderness in the touch that said things that the man himself was not able to say.

Naruto grinned up at him, his body feeling boneless and replete. "I personally wouldn't be too sad if we forgot about the party tonight and just stayed in bed until Monday."

Sasuke brushed a kiss at the crown of Naruto's head and the sweat-dampened blond locks.

"Mother would kill me," Sasuke said.

Naruto sighed. He knew all about the perils of crossing mothers. He just wasn't sure he was ready to meet Sasuke's.

"Fine. Should I give you your present now, then?"

Sasuke smirked. "I thought you just did."

Naruto rolled his eyes, then reached under the bed and brought out shoe box. Sasuke eyed it with no small degree of trepidation. He was… particular about his shoes.

"You bought me shoes?" he asked skeptically, not taking the box until Naruto thrust it into his hands. It was far too light to be shoes.

"I'm not that stupid, asshole. I couldn't afford the shoes you wear. I just used the box."

Sasuke didn't know if he should be relieved or insulted at Naruto's statement, and settled for opening the gift. He looked in the box, then back to Naruto. "You bought me a T-shirt?"

Naruto grinned. "We need to get a warning label on you for when we're out together, now that you're starting to occasionally do social things. Check it out."

Sasuke pulled out the black T-shirt, reading the grey lettering across the front: You've read my shirt. That's enough social interaction for the day.

"Hn," Sasuke said. "Maybe I'll wear it the next time we go out to the clubs."

Naruto snickered, knowing there was really no way Sasuke would ever wear it, but it had been fun looking, anyway.

"So does that mean I get to dress you in clothing of my choice when it's your birthday?" Sasuke asked, running his hand over the flat plane of Naruto's stomach.

The way Sasuke's eyes darkened at the comment made Naruto pretty sure Sasuke wasn't talking about buying him a business suit. He let a slow smile curve his lips as he turned to face his boyfriend. "That could be negotiated."

"Hn," Sasuke rolled over Naruto, bringing their mouths together. Naruto was more than happy to let all thoughts about the coming evening be wiped from his mind.

They had spent the past two months largely easing into their new relationship. Work had been busy for them both, and they had wanted to spend the majority of their very limited free time with just the two of them, though on weekends they would often hang out with Naruto's friends.

But mostly, it had been Sasuke interacting with Naruto's world. Today would be the first time that Naruto would be stepping fully into Sasuke's.

Sasuke slid his hands down Naruto's stomach to his hips, and Naruto decided he'd worry about that much later.


Naruto was still nervous when they arrived at Itachi's house later that evening. He had spent quite a bit of time with Itachi over the past two months, but he hadn't met either of Sasuke's parents and wasn't sure how the first meeting would go. They sat in the car as Naruto fidgeted with his tie, shooting Sasuke a dark look that he'd been forced into wearing it.

Sasuke smirked, reaching over to straighten it for him. "You're lucky they gave us two months to settle in. Suck it up and try to behave."

Naruto narrowed his eyes, then slid his hand up the inside of Sasuke's thigh, heading for a destination slightly north. Sasuke grabbed his wrist and glared.

"You said 'suck it up'. I was just trying to follow instructions. It's your birthday, after all."

"Idiot," Sasuke said, tugging on Naruto's wrist, tugging him forward and kissing him thoroughly.

A tapping on the glass of Sasuke's window had them both jerking apart. Itachi stood outside the car, examining his fingernails. "I don't think fucking your boyfriend in my driveway is exactly the right way to introduce him to the family. Do you, Otouto?"

Naruto turned bright red, but Sasuke just rolled his eyes, opening his door sharply and nearly hitting his brother with it. Luckily (or unluckily, according to Sasuke), Itachi was light on his feet and dodged it by an inch.

"Hello, Naruto," Itachi ignored his little brother's show of annoyance and greeted Naruto.

"Hey, Itachi," Naruto said slightly sheepishly.

"Mother and Father are waiting inside," Itachi said as he turned and began walking up the stone steps that curved in a path that led to the house. "Be grateful they weren't waiting in the driveway for you."

No sooner had the words left his lips when Mikoto appeared on the walkway to meet them, giving Sasuke a hug and kissing his cheek before turning her bright eyes to Naruto.

"So this is the young man who has stolen my baby's heart," she smiled, her eyes flashing in amusement as Sasuke inwardly flinched at the reference to anything having to do with overt emotions.

Naruto laughed, the sunlight catching his hair, highlighting it against the dark hair of the three Uchihas. "Well, I am still not sure the bastard has a heart, but if he does, I'm not letting anyone else near it."

Mikoto's eyes widened in surprise at his blunt wording, then she let out a laugh. "Good. He needs someone to make him do something other than work."

Itachi and Sasuke exchanged a glance. It had been years since they'd heard their mother laugh like that. Sasuke slid his arm around Naruto's waist.

"Let's go inside. The rest of the family won't be here for another hour or two," Mikoto said, gesturing gracefully to the front of the mansion. "I wanted us to have a chance to meet privately first."

Naruto tensed, shooting a somewhat panicked glance at Sasuke. "The rest of the family?"

Mikoto smiled. "Of course. All of Sasuke's relatives wanted to meet you. Not to mention the fact that Sasuke hasn't allowed us to have a birthday party for him since he turned eighteen. Even his Uncle Madara will be here. They'll be arriving about the same time as your parents and the other guests."

Naruto swallowed. The last time he'd seen Madara, he'd almost punched the man in the face. And Naruto's parents had been invited as well. If there was one person in Japan who had less personal restraint than Naruto, it was Kushina. He only prayed that Madara didn't start anything. Because his mother would sure as hell finish it.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed at his mother. "You said this was going to be a small birthday party, Mother. With just us."

Mikoto looked serenely at her son. "I meant just the family, dear."

Itachi adjusted the cuff of his shirt. "I had a word with the uncles. They will not be bothering the two of you."

There was a sadistic gleam in Itachi's eyes that made Naruto grateful that he was on their side. He had a feeling that Itachi wouldn't hesitate to raze the entire clan to the ground if it protected his little brother.

The thought had barely crossed his mind when a flash of light over Sasuke's shoulder caught Naruto's attention. Before anyone even had a chance to react, Naruto was in motion. The paparazzi didn't even have time to jump down from the wall he was perched on before Naruto had grabbed him by the ankle and jerked him down. The man landed hard, falling back on his ass sprawled out in the dirt.

The photographer's eyes flared wide as he struggled to sit up, clutching the camera tight against his chest as though it was worth more than his own body. Which it very well might be, depending on whether he'd managed to get a picture of Naruto and Sasuke kissing in the car. So far, there had been rumors circulating in the tabloids about the amount of time the two men had been seen spending together, but nothing 'concrete' had been put out about Naruto and Sasuke being anything more than friends. He struggled to get up, and Naruto leaned down and grabbed him by the back of his shirt, keeping him from escaping.

"I suggest you let me look at your camera before I call the police," Itachi said calmly as he walked over to where Naruto was still holding onto the man.

"I-It's not illegal to take photos," the man stammered, looking first at Itachi, then over to where Sasuke was standing.

"You don't have our permission to take our photos. And either way, it is illegal to trespass. You are on Uchiha private property," Sasuke's voice was low and deadly.

"I… but he pulled me off the wall into your yard!" the man pointed at Naruto indignantly.

"The wall is on his property, dumbass," Naruto glared at the man, still not releasing his grip on his shirt.

The man shot a panicked look at Itachi. Getting arrested for trespassing might be worth it if it meant he could keep the photos. But the police might just delete the photos if a family as powerful as the Uchihas asked them to. Then he'd just be screwed and with nothing to show for it.

"Give me the camera," Sasuke said tersely.

The man clutched his camera tighter.

"Give it to him. Or I will call the police and they will give it to him," Itachi looked almost bored.

The man swallowed, then slowly held out his camera to Sasuke. Sasuke took it, turning it on and looking through the photos. "What do you think?" he held the camera down to Naruto, letting him see the image on the LED screen. It showed the two of them in the car. Sasuke's hand was threaded through Naruto's hair, and Naruto was leaning in. It was just before the kiss, but the intent was crystal clear. The look on Naruto's face was definitely not platonic.

"I deleted the ones he had of the actual kiss. I think we need to break the public in slowly," Sasuke said calmly. The reporter groaned in disappointment. Those photos would have made his career.

Naruto blinked, his expression confused. "But I thought… don't we want to delete all of the pictures?"

Sasuke and Itachi exchanged a glance, then Sasuke shrugged. "I'm not dating you in secret. You're my boyfriend. They're bound to find out sooner or later. At least this way we get to pick the first photo."

The reporter's eyes widened at the admission. He was clearly realizing that he could now confirm that the relationship wasn't just some rumor or even a brief tryst. The two really were dating, and he would be the first to confirm it.

Naruto blushed, an odd feeling of warmth spreading through his chest at the calm, factual way that Sasuke openly discussed their relationship in front of an outsider.

Something about the absolute calmness that Itachi and Sasuke had about the situation began to sink in. "You… you planned this?"

Sasuke shot Itachi a slightly annoyed look. "I didn't."

Itachi shrugged elegantly. "You two were dragging your feet. Whenever we have a large gathering at my home, at least a few of the press generally take note. I assumed one or two would show up. This way, we could introduce you to the public as Sasuke's boyfriend without them breaking into your apartment to try to put a hidden camera on the headboard of your bed."

Mikoto smoothed her already perfect hair while shooting her elder son a glare for his language. "Give the man his camera back, Sasuke."

Sasuke looked at his mother for a moment. "Shouldn't we have security escort him from the property first?" he asked, looking coolly over to where the man was still sitting on the ground. Naruto slowly released his death grip on the man's shirt, glancing uncertainly between Sasuke and Mikoto.

"I'm sure he knows better than to overstay his welcome," Mikoto said mildly, walking over and looping her hand through Naruto's arm.

"Of course, Mother," Sasuke said, walking over to Naruto's other side, suddenly aware that his mother was doing this to ensure there was visible proof of the family's acceptance of the relationship.

Itachi sent the man a hard look. "Security will have your face on our security cameras," he nodded towards the security camera that was clearly pointed at them. The man may have been hidden in his perch on the wall, but he was clearly visible now. "If there are any… misuses of the photos you have taken today, we will know who to contact."

The man swallowed, stumbling to his feet. It would be a big enough career move to get the scoop on the relationship. He didn't need more than that. If he could escape this with his camera and without getting arrested, he would do whatever the powerful family wanted. He followed the clear invitation and took a few photos of the family entering the house together, proof that there was no issue of acceptance of the younger Uchiha's new love interest and his family.

Itachi turned to look over his shoulder at the man. Taking this as his cue to leave, the man fled back over the wall he had entered by before the magnanimous offer to escape without a police escort could be rescinded.


Mikoto ushered them into the kitchen, where she had already brewed coffee and had some small desserts laid out for them. Sasuke poured himself a cup of coffee, while Naruto stood nervously by the plate of desserts, trying to decide if he should take one to be polite, or keep his hands and mouth free for the conversation (or possible interrogation) that he knew was likely to happen.

"Are we going to be eating in the kitchen, or are we moving this to the dining room like civilized people?" a deep male voice came from the kitchen entryway. Naruto looked up to see an older man, his face showing the lines of stress in his mouth and jowls, but his Uchiha coloring was unmistakable.

"Dear, don't be so formal. We have the rest of the family coming for dinner, but I wanted to just get to know Naruto-kun a bit before everyone arrives. The kitchen is perfectly appropriate," Mikoto said, shooting her husband a stern look.

Given that the kitchen was larger than Naruto's kitchen, living room, and dining room combined, he certainly didn't see a problem.

"Hn," Fugaku grunted, his eyes running over Naruto assessingly.

While it was clear that Sasuke had gotten his good looks from his mother, he had definitely gotten his ability to intimidate from his father. Naruto didn't let that faze him however, as he stepped forward to greet the older man.

"Uzumaki Naruto," Naruto nodded politely in greeting. "Nice to meet you."

"Uchiha Fugaku," the man returned. "I've heard quite a bit about you, Naruto."

Naruto gave a slightly nervous grin at the man's unsmiling face. "Ah… all good, I hope."

"No," Fugaku said flatly, pausing to see if he could make Naruto sweat.

Naruto stood his ground, not breaking his gaze from the older man's. Mikoto clearly liked him, as did Itachi. But really, the only person Naruto cared about was Sasuke. He was not going to let Fugaku's antiquated notions of social standing and class lines come between him and Sasuke. Naruto wasn't going to incite the man on purpose, but he also wasn't going to be scared off from something that mattered to him.

"Well, that's good. If it was only the good stuff you'd heard, then I'd be put in the difficult position of correcting any misconceptions," Naruto joked. He wasn't going to pretend to be anything other than what he was. Sasuke's family would have to accept him for who he was, or not at all.

"Hmph," Fugaku eyed Naruto with a look that would have left lesser men trembling. Naruto calmly met his gaze. After a moment, Fugaku's lips twitched. "Madara was right."

Sasuke and Itachi both stiffened beside Naruto, but Naruto asked directly. "Madara was right about what?"

Fugaku's eyebrow raised at the lack of honorific applied to the elder man's name, but then he smirked. "That you might not have the pedigree, but you certainly have the balls to join our family."

Sasuke began to cough at the unexpectedly blunt words from his father, and even Itachi wasn't able to keep his eyes from widening somewhat.

Naruto laughed. "Well, that wasn't the asset I was expecting to win you over with, but I guess I'll take it."

"And just what asset did you hope would win me over?" Fugaku asked, his words sharp, but there was a glint of humor in his eyes that neither of his sons had seen in a long time.

"My natural charm and wit?" Naruto asked grinning in a self-effacing manner.

"Hn," Fugaku gave a short chuckle. Sasuke and Itachi exchanged a slightly stunned look. But his expression firmed as he asked his next question. "I hear you are in the newspaper business. Not a very stable industry these days. What are your projections for how you see your paper doing over the next five years?"

"Father," Sasuke growled out a warning. He had expected his father to grill Naruto, but he wasn't going to simply give the man free reign to do a full anal probe of his boyfriend in their kitchen.

"It's fine, Sasuke," Naruto smirked. "Your dad just wants to make sure I can provide for his little princess."

Fugaku and Itachi both let out a cough of laughter, while Sasuke shot Naruto a glare.

Mikoto giggled. "Oh, Sasuke. He's perfect."

Naruto blushed slightly, shifting his feet. "We just recently expanded circulation into four other countries," Naruto addressed Fugaku's question, deeming it safer than Mikoto's comment. "So far, distribution is up thirty percent, and that will directly affect how much we are able to charge for the advertising, so business is actually going pretty well."

"Hm," Fugaku nodded his head, slightly pleased at the statement. It was more approval than Itachi or Sasuke were used to hearing from the man. "If you need any advice on the financial side of things, we have several people who would be able to help," Fugaku offered.

"Thanks, but Shika's got it covered. He's a genius with that kind of stuff," Naruto said blithely.

Fugaku frowned and looked about to object when Sasuke stepped in.

"He's right. I looked through their finances. Nara had some things in there that even I wouldn't have thought of," Sasuke stated.

"Hm," Fugaku rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I look forward to meeting him this evening, then. Well, Naruto. It seems as though you have your business well in hand."

"We read some of the new translations," Mikoto smiled. "The English and Chinese were quite good, but I think you might need to find someone else for the Korean version," Mikoto said, frowning slightly. "They don't quite have the tone right."

Naruto blinked, not sure if he was really hearing it correctly. "You… read the Daily Ramen?"

Naruto was suddenly flooded with memories of just exactly what he had written about the woman's sons… particularly Sasuke. Not to mention the things that his friends had written about him.

Mikoto arched a brow, well aware of what was going through Naruto's head as her eyes lit with a mischievous glint. "Of course. I read everything that is written about my sons. So when they moved to Konoha, we discovered your paper."

Sasuke had to hold back a snicker as Naruto bit his lip, shifting his feet nervously. "You… uh… both read it?" Naruto asked.

Fugaku smirked, not above enjoying watching his son's significant other squirm.

"I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the staff this evening," Mikoto smiled. "I think it will be… interesting… to have them meet the rest of the family."

Naruto shot a slightly panicked glance at Sasuke, who merely shrugged, an amused gleam in his eyes. "It will definitely be entertaining."


The majority of the guests had already arrived. Mikoto and Kushina had immediately hit it off, and were off to one side talking animatedly (especially Kushina) about a recent article in the Daily Ramen.

Fugaku was talking with Shikamaru, and by the impressed look on the older man's face, Shikamaru was proving what both Naruto and Sasuke had said about him.

"Father is probably going to try to hire your partner into the family business," Sasuke murmured, leaning in so his breath brushed against Naruto's ear as he followed the blond's gaze. Naruto resisted the slight shiver he always felt when Sasuke touched him.

"I'm not worried. Shika wouldn't want to work that hard. Plus he loves what he does. More money wouldn't be enough to lure him away," Naruto turned to face Sasuke, once again struck by just how beautiful his boyfriend was. The evening had gone much more smoothly than Naruto had expected. Aside from the initial conversation with Fugaku, most of Sasuke's relatives had been pretty well-behaved.

"That's good. I'd hate to have anything interfere with your ability to provide for me," Sasuke snickered.

Naruto shot a glance to the glass of scotch in his boyfriend's hand. "How many of those have you had tonight?"

Sasuke shrugged. "I'm fine. You're the one who forced me to have a birthday party in the first place. I might as well enjoy myself."

"Hm. I can think of better ways for you to… enjoy yourself on your birthday," Naruto said, his gaze running along his boyfriend's lean frame.

Sasuke slid his hand along Naruto's lower back, letting his fingertips brush lightly over the top of his ass. "I could be up for that."

Naruto bit his lip, wondering how much longer they'd need to be here, and cursing Itachi for turning this into something they'd need to attend and behave themselves at.

"Not in my closets," Itachi's voice caused Naruto to jump. Sasuke smirked, not moving his hand from Naruto's lower back. "Or any other room in my house when we have a house full of guests."

"You're the one who invited all the guests," Sasuke said, shrugging. "We were just going to go out to a club then come back to my place and -"

"Hey!" Naruto cut Sasuke off, feeling a blush flood through his cheeks as Itachi merely raised an eyebrow.

"How could I resist when I heard that my little brother, who never allows us to throw him a birthday party, had finally relented and was willing to go along with one?" Itachi asked mock innocently.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Clearly a mistake I won't make in future."

Itachi looked out over the room full of people. "It had to be done. Naruto needed to be introduced to the family to show them you are serious."

Sasuke grimaced, taking another drink of his scotch. "We're here, aren't we?"

"Hn," Itachi acknowledged the tacit agreement with his statement. He looked over to where his father and four of his relatives were talking with Minato. "It looks like Father is getting along well with Minato."

Naruto turned, not surprised to see the way his father appeared to have charmed the group of stoic men. He smiled affectionately. "Yeah. Dad has that way about him. People are always drawn to him."

"Has he ever considered politics?" Itachi asked.

"He's too honest, I think. Though, who knows. Tsunade's been trying to get him to follow in her footsteps," Naruto shrugged.

"You need to be a bit ruthless to be in politics," Itachi agreed.

Naruto chuckled. "Oh, Dad's got stones of steel, don't get me wrong. Once he sets his mind to something, he won't back down. But he's just very straightforward about it all."

"Sasuke. Have you seen Madara yet this evening? He wanted to speak with you and Naruto before you left," Mikoto said as she walked past on her way to the kitchen to signal the caterers to bring out the next round of food.

"I'm going to go get another drink. Then we can go find Madara," Sasuke turned and headed over to the kitchen. Naruto was about to follow him when Itachi's voice held him back.

"I am pleased that you were able to draw my little brother out of his shell. I think you are exactly what he needs to avoid ending up like the rest of the men in this family," Itachi nodded his head to a group of extremely serious-looking Uchihas, standing around obviously discussing business.

Naruto smiled, and opened his mouth to make some joke about it, but Itachi stepped closer, cutting off Naruto's path to Sasuke. The older man's body language was still relaxed, but Naruto didn't miss the fact that he had basically penned Naruto it.

"But I don't think I need to say that if you ever betray Sasuke, or in any other way intentionally hurt him, I will do everything in my considerable power to utterly break you," Itachi's voice was not threatening at all, but simply a calm statement of fact. Which made it all the more effective.

Naruto's mouth instantly felt dry as sand.

"Um… ok. I guess… I guess that's fair?"

Sasuke emerged from the kitchen raising an eyebrow at the look on Naruto's face. Itachi nodded, then stepped back, the threatening aura that had surrounded him an instant before vanishing into a calm, friendly air. He patted Naruto's shoulder before heading over to discuss something with one of his uncles as Sasuke arrived.

"Did Itachi say something to you?" Sasuke asked, his eyes narrowing as he took in Naruto's expression.

"Nah, just… typical big-brother kind of stuff." Naruto laid a restraining hand on Sasuke's shoulder as he turned to go after Itachi. "Don't worry about it," Naruto said, giving a lopsided grin. "It just shows he cares. Besides, I'd kill anyone who messed with you, too, so it's not like I don't agree with him."

Sasuke paused for a moment, looking intently at Naruto.

"Let's go before you make me do something in front of my relatives that I shouldn't," Sasuke murmured, turning to scan the crowd for Madara.

Both Naruto and Sasuke found him at the same time, and froze when they recognized the vibrant head of red hair of the woman he was speaking with.

"Oh, shit!" Naruto barely managed to refrain from running as he walked briskly across the room to where his mother was speaking with the Uchiha patriarch. Sasuke followed him at a more leisurely pace, unsure if Naruto was in a hurry to save his mother or to save Madara. He was more than content to take another sip of his scotch and watch the show.

Naruto's eyes darted between his mother's sharp-eyed smile and Madara's amused expression.

"Um… hey, Mom. I didn't know that you… knew… Madara," Naruto surreptitiously checked for any signs of mortal combat that may have recently occurred in the area, but the crystal glasses on the bus tray nearby were all still immaculately assembled and unshattered. He had made the mistake of venting to his mother one evening about his run-in with Madara, back before he thought he would ever get back together with Sasuke. While he had told her that older man had subsequently left him alone, Kushina was generally not one to avoid confrontation. Especially when her son was involved.

Kushina turned to her son, her smile gaining warmth and losing its slightly threatening air.

"Naruto. We were just discuss