Divergent (2)



Ridin along in my automobile

My baby beside me at the wheel,

I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile,

My curiosity running wild-

Cruisin and playin the radio,

With no particular place to go.

-Chuck Berry


After a quick breakfast of western-style omelet and a cold bowl of cereal, Naruto let himself out of the apartment, nearly skipping down the steps while accompanying Hyde in a duet with his earphones on. It wasn’t until he was standing right beside Sasuke’s car (the rain had finally stopped, though the skies were still as gray and murky as ever), did he realize he didn’t even have the damn keys to open or drive it.


Cursing beneath his breath, he jogged up the steps again, hoping Sasuke wouldn’t be upset that he was coming in this ‘late’ (it was about eight in the morning) to get started on his chores. But damn. Last night had been the best sleep he’d had in days! So sue him if he overdid it a bit.


He knocked on the salesman’s door, while stepping aside – with a warm smile - to let the petite cleaning lady walk by him with her rolling cart of sanitary supplies. He knocked again after about five minutes of silence, called out his name, and then tried to turn the doorknob to see if it was open. No dice.


However, just as frustration was about to creep in – and he was ready bang the door down – he stiffened as he heard the faint creaking sound of the bed springs and the shuffling footsteps approaching.


Ah…he’s finally awake.


Heartbeat quickening and seeming to take on a life of its own; he removed the earphones and rubbed his hands quickly down the front of his orange hoodie, wondering why he was suddenly nervous at the thought of seeing the other man. Was it because of the way Sasuke had looked when it appeared as if Naruto was going to argue with him over sleeping arrangements? That intense, almost stern expression, on a face that was almost impossible to read? What was this sudden desire to make sure Sasuke approved of him – well actually that desire had started the moment the trip started, hadn’t it? He was supposed to prove he could be trusted. He was doing this to make sure he got to Yokohama safely. That was all.


“Good morning,” he greeted cheerfully as the door finally cracked open a little to reveal shadows and then a bunch of keys seemingly dangling in thin air.


“Don’t throw out anything that belongs to me,” came the husky order – a voice still thick with sleep – as Naruto held out his hand to let the keys drop into it. “Be back in about two hours. I should be ready then.”


The door was slammed shut before he could say anything else, and for a second Naruto entertained the idea of kicking it down and shaking Sasuke. However, he had to remember that the guy was just waking up, so he probably wasn’t a morning person.


Just for today, I’ll forgive you for being such a goddamn asshole, he mused as he leapt down the steps again. Next time, I’ll probably punch you in the face.


(and then how the fuck are you going to get to Yokohama, wise ass?)


“Damn it.”


Guess he was stuck having to play the nice guy after all.




Curiosity killed the cat – as they say – but at least Naruto was glad to know that nothing looked yakuza-like in the documents he had carefully arranged while cleaning the vehicle. They were genuine (and important) sales memos, invoices and other trading mumbo-jumbo he couldn’t really comprehend. The cardboard boxes contained samples of products Sasuke must have received from different companies; ranging from some cool looking gadgets (a brand new kind of phone that could almost rival the iPhone) to cheap-looking pieces of crap (a Pikachu-resembling toy that could stick out its tongue and say “I like you” in a cheesy voice).  However, while trying to pick up one of Sasuke’s leather-bound portfolios, several photographs had fallen to the floor and it was through these that Naruto got to know just a little more about his mysterious companion.


There were pictures of him posing with (probably) fellow workers in and outside office buildings. Sasuke had something of a semblance of a smile within them, but the full effect of it was seen in a photograph of him standing next to a beautiful pink-haired woman with stunning green eyes.


His girlfriend?


Not that it would have been surprising. Handsome (and well-to-do) guys like Sasuke almost always got the hottest babes anyway. There were a few more photographs of the two, this time a little less formal and slightly more intimate (as in holding hands or making funny faces). Naruto found he was curious to know more about this woman and what she meant to Sasuke, except he was sure if he brought up that topic, the salesman would assume he had been poking around his personal items and would probably toss him out on the highway.


With a heavy sigh, he began to put away the photos, when he noticed one he had missed in his haste. It was a picture of Sasuke when he was much younger – must have been about twelve or so – standing next to an older boy with long hair, bearing slightly similar features. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that they were siblings. The older was wearing a dirty baseball uniform with a baseball bat slung over his shoulder. His hand was upon his younger brother’s head; a brother who was all smiles and holding onto a huge golden trophy. Naruto could almost tell the story of this particular photo. Big brother must have been the MVP of a baseball tournament, and Sasuke couldn’t be prouder of him.


“Wonder where big brother is now?” Naruto muttered. He quickly finished with the rest of his chores, though his mind now spun with all he had learned in those images. At least it was clear that Sasuke had a normal life beside the tedious amount of time he spent on the road. He had a family to return to when this was all over; a beautiful girlfriend and a brother he could share his road tales with. Life must be good for Mr. Salesman, and Naruto envied that with a fierceness that was slightly alarming.


When he pulled up to the motel, Sasuke was already waiting by the front office; now dressed in a pair of black pants and long-sleeved green oxford shirt. Naruto hoped his expression didn’t give anything away as he tossed the keys to Sasuke, who was studying him intently (warily?) as he walked toward the car.


“Do you approve?” Naruto asked with a grin as Sasuke finally tore his gaze away to focus on the vehicle.


Naruto really had done a great job, for the Honda positively gleamed beneath the dull light from the pitiful sun attempting to peek through the clouds. The interior smelled less of the hours spent on the road and was ‘airy’ with the scented packets and polish used on the mats and leather seats.


“Nice job,” he finally praised with a quirk of his lips as he settled into the driver’s seat. “Thank you.”


“You’re welcome,” Naruto replied in a voice that sounded a little breathless to him. Blushing faintly (for he would hate to admit that seeing and hearing Sasuke’s sign of approval had meant more than he would have liked), he excused himself to dash upstairs to his room. He grabbed his backpack, and making sure he didn’t leave anything behind, sped downstairs again to meet up with his travel companion.


For the next hour, the ride was unceremonious except for Naruto deciding to share the story of the horror movie he had watched last night. Sasuke listened but only half-heartedly. His mind was too focused on the telephone conversation he’d had earlier in the morning after a rushed breakfast.


Why now?


It was going to be out of their way, but he would have to make a quick detour to Noshiro for an important business meeting that unfortunately couldn’t wait until his return from Yokohama. This was probably going to add two more extra days to their estimated arrival time at Yokohama, which would mean he’d have to drop off Naruto somewhere if he hoped to make it to his destination.


However –


“…and the stupid broad had the guts to be wailing when she’s the one at fault for running into the freakin’ haunted house!” Naruto was describing in disbelief; his features positively dumbfounded at what he had watched. “Can you believe that shit? I mean I understand it’s the plot and all, but commonsense, man. Commonsense. See? This is why I hate cheesy horror movies. They are just so dumb.”


I’m already getting used to his presence, Sasuke thought with an inner sigh. He didn’t really understand it, considering they had only met barely twenty-four hours ago, but maybe it was because of their shared musical tastes or that Naruto really had done a great job on his car or –


(I really do need someone decent to be with on the road)


…whatever it was, he didn’t want to get rid of Naruto that quickly.


Might as well just tell him now and get it over with.


“Hey…Naruto,” he began quietly.


“Hmm?” The blond paused in the process of tearing open another packet of his favorite ramen snack.


“I have to make a stop at Noshiro for a business meeting, which is obviously going out of our way to Yokohoma.” Sasuke stopped and slid a glance at the other man, who was now watching him with curiosity. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I might have to drop you off at the next station, so you can hitch another ride going to your destination. You probably have something very important to do up there, and I don’t want to hold you back.”


There was a long pause before the loud crackle of the snack bag being opened broke the tension-filled silence. Naruto took a deep breath. He closed his eyes as the sudden thought of being back on desolate roads, thumb out begging and hoping for a decent traveling companion, of cold nights spent on sleeping bags or wooden benches and gave an involuntary shudder. He couldn’t go through that all over again. Maybe being with Sasuke had ‘spoiled’ him to the harsh realities of being a hitchhiker, but damn it all to hell and back. He couldn’t go out there again. He just couldn’t!


“I…I don’t mind,” he finally replied quietly with a slow lift of his lashes. “I don’t mind going to Noshiro…well that’s if you want me there.” He turned to study Sasuke’s profile. “I mean if you’re only saying this to get rid of me -”


“I really do have a meeting to attend,” Sasuke said with a firm shake of his head. “If I wanted to get rid of you, I would have done so a while back.” He stole another glance at Naruto. “Are you sure about this? We could spend an extra two days on the road because of it.”


“What’s an extra two days?” Naruto replied with a shrug and a small smile. “You’re the one doing me a favor, so I’m pretty much in your hands.”


Good, came the pleased thought. He would do his best to ignore the wave of relief to wash through him at the answer received.


“Fair enough,” he said aloud. “…although there’s going to be a little catch to this deal.”


“What’s that?”


“When we get to the next stop, you get to drive for a while.”


Naruto’s brows shot up, and he felt his smile widen as he noticed Sasuke’s lips quirk into a light smirk. And damn if his heart didn’t do that weird skip-a-beat thing again. At least Sasuke wasn’t getting rid of him and that made him feel…




“Heh…aren’t you afraid I might just drive on to Yokohama or do something much worse?” he teased. “You trust me way too easily, aren’t you?”


Yes, I am, Sasuke thought with a shake of his head.


Even he was surprised at himself for this sudden leap of faith. He wasn’t one to trust easily, and making friends – let alone strangers you picked up on a highway – was something that took time. Perhaps - like the Mad Hatter store owner -he had come to sense that the blond with the weird scars had no malicious intent in him. If Naruto really did have any plans to stab him in the back, he had plenty of chances to do so already.


“Doesn’t matter,” he finally said aloud as he fidgeted with the buttons on the radio to get a decent station to listen to. “If we at least establish some form of understanding and get through this trip, we should be fine.”


And fine it was for the next several hours. Naruto had the good sense to switch the girly magazine for his ‘nerd’ collection of Shōnen-Jump and Otakuzine, which he would read aloud much to Sasuke’s amusement.


“How old are you?” Sasuke teased when Naruto began making the fighting noises with his mouth. “I can’t believe you like reading that crap.”


“I’m twenty-two for your information,” came the huffed response as the magazine was lowered a little to reveal the fierce gaze of defense. “Sorry old men like yourself can’t appreciate the finer qualities of well-written manga.”


“We’re the same age, you idiot,” Sasuke replied with slight surprise for he was sure he was older than Naruto by at least a  year or two. Funny how different they really were – at least on the outside.


“No fucking way,” came the gasp of shock. “I could have sworn you were at least thirty!”


Sasuke sputtered and prepared to retort at that, when his glance caught the mischievous glint in the blond’s eye. He reached out to try to smack away the expression playfully, but Naruto laughed and ducked with the magazine as protection.


“Smart ass,” came the reluctant mumble of amusement. “And here I thought you were held back a few years. I could have sworn you just graduated high school a month ago.”


“Touché, Mr. Probably-Got-All-As-And-Went-To-Some-Shitty-Snotty-College-Like-Todai. Right? Am I right?”


“Not even close,” Sasuke replied with a smirk. “Well the part about getting all As was correct, but the rest…no.”


“You didn’t go to college?” Naruto asked incredulously.


“I did…for about a year and then I quit,” Sasuke confessed after a brief inner battle with whether or not to share this information.


The magazine was lowered. Naruto was now definitely interested, and if he played his cards right, he could wheedle out a little more information about the pink-haired woman and big brother he had noticed in the photographs.


“Why did you quit? Too boring for you?”


Sasuke was ready to blurt out that it was more to piss off his father, but he shrugged lightly and replied instead. “I was ready for a change. I didn’t think college could teach me all I needed to know about life.”


“And becoming a salesman did?”


“So far,  yes. I get to meet different people all over the country, and maybe someday…I’ll branch into the international field – fly all over the world and sell as much crap as possible.”


Naruto snorted with laughter. “I hear you. It’s what I keep telling everyone. College ain’t as cracked up as it’s made out to be.”


“So what did you do when you left high school?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow. “What did you want to be? Ah…and don’t tell me the whole being in a band thing.”


“But that’s what I wanted to become,” came the quick reply. “The lead singer of one of the greatest bands in the history of the world.” Naruto sat up and seemed to lean forward. Streaks of sunlight were beginning to burst through the clouds; a sign that the day was going to be a good one. They gave his hair a muted golden glow that didn’t escape Sasuke’s attention. “I really thought I’d make it and become a big hot shot; selling millions of records and all that shit.”


“Then what happened?”


Naruto slumped back with a heavy sigh. “Real life gave me a big ol’ shot in the arm. I guess I wasn’t as good as I thought I was after all. And besides… being the way I am…”


His words trailed away and he pursed his lips, refusing to expound any further. However, Sasuke had caught the tail end of the mumbled words and his curiosity was piqued.


“Being the way you were?” he prodded. “What does that mean?”


Naruto shrugged and then smiled brightly. “An otaku, of course. What did you think I was going to say?”


Sasuke eyed the blond. For some reason, he did not buy the overenthusiastic smile and flippant answer for a second. Naruto was clearly hiding something, and it wasn’t about being some damn otaku.


But that’s fine if he wants to keep his secrets. I’m not exactly being honest with him either. We both know after we get to our destinations, all of this wouldn’t matter. We’re just killing time. That’s all.


“So because you’re a certified anime slash manga nerd, you felt you couldn’t make it in the real world? Did you try getting a job of some sort?”


“I worked,” came the tense reply. Sasuke could feel Naruto’s defensive wall rising again. “I got jobs here and there, and tried to join a couple of bands along the way. Let’s just say having to keep hearing that you’re not good enough can get to you eventually.”


The unspoken yet painful word ‘rejection’ hung over them like a cloud, and though Sasuke hadn’t really experienced the depth of that (well if you didn’t count the number of slammed doors in his face the first few months on the job), he couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Naruto’s plight.


“Maybe you just didn’t go to the right places,” he began slowly, while weighing his words. “ I mean I’m not a music expert, but even I could tell that your air guitar playing skills and your voice are fantastic. If I worked in the industry, I’d probably sign you up and sharpen those skills a little. I dare say you could give Hyde a good run for his money.”


He was met with glum silence after his little speech, and he could feel the heat rising in his cheeks as he wondered if he had spoken out of line. However, when a soft sniffle drifted toward him, he turned in alarm and was just in time to notice the magazine being raised quickly to hide the blond’s face – though a hand shot up behind it to wipe away something furiously.


Eventually a muttered and almost shy ‘thank you’ was heard, causing the dark-haired man to smile a little before focusing on the road again. They wouldn’t talk about Naruto’s musical skills anymore…at least for now. Some things were just better off left alone.




At the next stop – which was an American-styled diner of all things – they decided to have lunch after much-needed bathroom breaks.


“Don’t get anything too heavy,” Sasuke insisted as they browsed through the menu. “I don’t need you falling asleep behind the wheel.”


“Yes, sir,” Naruto sneered, and watched with resentment as Sasuke ordered the daily special of steak burgers and fries with a strawberry milkshake, while he was left to deal with only a turkey sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.


By this time, the sun was finally out in all its glory and compared to the doom and gloom of yesterday, this was a welcome reprieve. Sasuke chewed thoughtfully on his fries and gazed around the diner, which was crowded with customers at this time of the day. He allowed himself to relish the presence of others for a while despite the muted cacophony they created. There was something rather satisfying about observing the human interactions; of seeing couples or families exchanging daily conversation and patterns that he could sometimes not relate to. A father leaning over to wipe his child’s ketchup-streaked face? Another taking pictures of his happy family with a cheap camera? A mother (over) doting on her wailing son despite the kid being a nuisance to everyone around? Amazing. He simply couldn’t picture his father and mother bringing him to a place like this as a child. It would have been too ‘common’ and beneath their status after all.


His gaze eventually fell upon his morose companion; morose because for starters, the diner had no ramen-like food on their menu and the bowl of soup he was forced to eat was not exactly his favorite either. He watched as the blond would chew the sandwich as if tasting sandpaper before taking a painful sip of the broth. He would then sigh heavily and then repeat the process all over again. Sasuke wanted, so very terribly, to burst into laughter at this display of tortured suffering. However, he had a feeling  Naruto would not appreciate how dark his sense of humor was.


Besides, something else was bothering him and he just had to know.


“Those scars on your cheeks,” he said aloud, causing perplexed blue eyes to look at him. “What happened to you? How did you get them?”


Naruto reached out to trace his left cheek, almost as if trying to remind himself that he actually had the scars in the first place. He shrugged and stirred his soup restlessly. “I dunno. It’s always been there since I was a baby. Maybe something happened during my birth, who knows? I never really bothered asking.”


“Do any of your parents have it?”


Naruto shook his head and took the last bite of the sandwich. “Nope. They’re…normal. I’m the only weirdo in the family.” He smirked and dusted his hands together, and as he raised the bowl to his lips to finish off the soup, Sasuke had noticed the emphasis Naruto had placed upon that word ‘ weirdo’. It went in line with the comment about ‘being the way he was’, and the salesman was already beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Whatever it was, Naruto was clearly in the minority and not many people appreciated or liked whatever it was he represented.


“Hey, you mind if I make a quick phone call?” came the sudden question to jar him from his thoughts.


Sasuke shrugged lightly. “You don’t have to ask my permission for that,” he began, but blinked in surprise when Naruto began to stand up. “Where are you going?”


“I need to use the payphone.”

“…don’t you have a cell phone?”


The blond shook his head with a sheepish smile. “Never really needed it. Anyway, give me a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”


“Ah…okay.” You really are an odd one, aren’t you?


He watched as Naruto made his way to the counter, spoke to one of the waitresses there who motioned him toward the back of the diner – toward the restrooms – where the phones were. It was odd for anyone not to ‘really need’ a cell phone considering just about every damn person on the planet had one. It perhaps spoke of Naruto’s (possibly dire) financial situation. Maybe his trip to Yokohoma was to find a good job. At least Sasuke hoped that was the case. He could try prying the reason for going to the town from the blond, but Sasuke had a feeling he would not receive an honest answer anyway.


“Ready?” came the loud announcement about ten minutes later when Naruto’s shadow fell over him.


Sasuke nodded and left the tip on the table. He purchased the local paper on their way out, completely unaware (or perhaps aware and just chose to ignore it) the appreciative glances he received from a majority of the female customers. Even their waitress hadn’t been immune to the man’s muted charm, something Naruto had observed with mingled feelings of amusement and jealousy. In broad daylight, Sasuke carried himself with an air of self-confidence you just couldn’t fake. His entire persona screamed ‘look at me’ even if he didn’t blatantly tell you to do so. It was probably why he was good at the salesman thing, Naruto deduced as he sat behind the wheel. Hell, if Sasuke had come knocking at his door selling a contraption that was guaranteed to make him as strong as a Super Saiyan, he’d buy up a whole box with no questions asked.


“Man, I hate guys like you,” he finally grumbled as he pulled out of the parking lot with the care of a novice driver learning for the first time.


Sasuke eyed him in bemusement. It was strange to find himself riding shotgun, but quite nice as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he allowed someone else to take the wheel, and he could relax a little bit.


“Why do you hate me now? Because of lunch?”


“No,” Naruto replied. He could feel Sasuke’s gaze on him and guessed the other man was inspecting his driving skills. He didn’t want to act nervous and ram into the truck before them, so he focused as best he could. Perhaps engaging in conversation would help ease the pressure. “I meant guys like you who always look so cool without even trying. Didn’t you notice all the women in there trying to get into your pants?”


Sasuke shrugged and opened the newspaper. “I don’t really care about shit like that, Naruto. Besides, you got a few looks yourself.”


“Oh yeah. Sure I did. I know those looks all too well. It’s the I-Hope-This-Guy-Doesn’t-Try-To-Jump-Me-When-I’m-Not-Looking expression. Urgh.”


“Give  yourself some credit,” came the muffled reply as a page was turned. “You have some attractive features. Those scars definitely stand out.”


“Pfft.” A pause while digesting the fact that Sasuke had ‘noticed’ some attractive features…except it had to be the darn scars he’d point out first. He buried his sigh of frustration and decided to change the subject. “You don’t mind if I play my iPod again, do you?”


“Knock yourself out.”


Ironically, the phrase could have been applied to him because Sasuke couldn’t remember when he eventually dozed off. For Naruto, however, it was a chance to finally ease the ache in his shoulders (God he had been so tense when Sasuke was awake!) and to get into a comfortable groove on the road. Besides the brief drive to the car wash earlier in the day, this was unofficially the second time he was driving a vehicle of this kind in God knows how long. His usual modes of transportation had either been his feet, an old bicycle or the delivery scooter-bike for his stint at a local ramen shop. Being in a car like this – one that didn’t make funny clunky noises and didn’t threaten to die on you at the last minute – was freakin’ awesome.


They were back onto the lonesome highway, barricaded by endless rice fields, with fewer cars and fewer sights to keep them company. Not that Sasuke would know since the poor guy was fast asleep.


“He even sleeps politely,” Naruto mused with a chuckle, for Sasuke was curled up against the door, the newspaper he had been reading almost covering him like a blanket. His long dark hair (at least the front of it) prevented Naruto from seeing most of his face. However, when Sasuke stirred a little, Naruto found himself looking at a kid that was probably still in his mid-to-late teens. Not that it was possible since Sasuke had said they were the same age; all the same it was a clear sign that the strains of his job made him look much older than he actually was when awake.


“Sleep well, dear prince,” Naruto teased as his favorite song by Gackt came on. He didn’t have the heart to rouse Sasuke even though he had been told to drive for only a couple of hours before switching positions. Naruto didn’t mind going on a little longer; besides, he had the GPS to guide him. He had no idea where Noshiro was, and he sincerely hoped that whatever meeting Sasuke had there would be a quick one. The phone call made at the diner had honestly left  him feeling a little depressed, and he had tried to reassure the other person that he would be in Yokohoma within the week…hopefully.


“Always excuses, Naruto,” had come the accusatory tone. “Why don’t you just not show up anyway. You never cared about her in the first place, why pretend you do now?”


“That’s not fair,” he whispered harshly, while trying to ignore the sharp flare of pain to race through his heart. “You know I couldn’t be there because of my situation, but I’m making every effort to get there on time. I’ll be there! I promise!”


“We’re not holding our breath. Good bye.”


It hurt. It really hurt to be spoken to like that, and though he felt he really didn’t deserve it, a small part of him was more than aware of why he was treated that way. As a teenager, he had been given the opportunity to choose a life of monotony and duty, but he had chosen to rebel – to run away in pursuit of his dreams and goals – of becoming a shallow rock singer and becoming a failure at it. What a mess all around.


“Urgh…” came the low groan as Sasuke stirred into wakefulness. He sat up, stretched and  yawned, before blinking blearily at the dusky landscape. “Wha…what time is it?”


“Almost seven,” Naruto announced with a smile. “You slept for about four hours straight. You must have been more tired than you thought.”


A scowl of displeasure. “I told you to wake me up, didn’t I?”


“It’s no big deal. I can still manage.”


Sasuke sighed and ran his fingers through his already tousled hair. “…pull over somewhere. I’ve got to relieve myself.”


Naruto did as told; both lucky there was no other car passing at the time to catch them in the act. However, they got into a mini-argument over who could take control of the wheel – Naruto insisting he could drive for at least another hour, and Sasuke not wanting to hear of it. Mr. Salesman – not surprising – won this particular fight and Naruto was left pouting in the passenger’s seat as they began their journey again.


By nine o’clock, Sasuke made the decision that they wouldn’t stop at any motel. He was still alert enough to drive through the night, and if became too tired, he’d switch with Naruto.


“Besides,” he deduced as he calculated the distance on his GPS. “At this rate, we could be in Noshiro sometime tomorrow evening.”


“Sounds good to me,” Naruto replied wearily. Between arguing with Sasuke, pouting, and with nothing much to do; a bone-depth fatigue had finally settled in. The last thing he’d remember – before falling into welcome sleep – would be the fascinating play of colors, from the lights on the car’s dashboard, upon Sasuke’s strong profile. It was the way they made his eyes twinkle though he wasn’t particularly smiling…


(so beautiful)





Welcome to Noshiro – the sign declared as Naruto joined the traffic on the narrow bridge.


They had made good time and as Sasuke predicted, they were finally at their destination an hour earlier than expected. Sasuke, for his part, had been on the phone or his laptop; giving Naruto a good idea of just how involved and tasking the salesman’s job was. As he sighed and ended yet another phone call, Naruto whistled beneath his breath in reluctant admiration.


“When the hell is your next vacation? Seems like you’ve got jobs lined up for the next year!”


Sasuke gave a wry smile as he powered down his laptop. “My sales reports were great for the last quarter and naturally with better sales, you get more customers and businesses wanting a piece of you. I don’t mind the work…keeps me occupied.”


“What about your family?” came the blurted question before he could control himself. Naruto winced inwardly at the long silence this elicited; stealing a worried glance at Sasuke to see if he had finally stepped over the line.


However, Sasuke was busy scrolling through his phone; though there was a frown on his features. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and stifled a yawn. “They’ll manage without me.” He looked up and out the window. “We’ll stop at a hotel for tonight; should be right close to the office.”


“Ah…okay.” Naruto captured his lower lip between his teeth and decided it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. It was clear that Sasuke was not about to talk about his personal life, so who was he to pry? Except his curiosity was now beginning to eat a hole right through him. Even as they finally pulled up to the hotel’s parking lot, Naruto felt he was literally going to burst with the need to know more. Funny how after so many hours on the road with this guy, he still didn’t know much about Sasuke.


(and neither does he know much about you either. All you guys have talked about is either trivial pop culture or eating, sleeping, you stuck behind your otaku magazines and he buried in work. What the hell were you expecting? A kumbaya moment? You two aren’t planning on becoming life-long buddies anyway, so why must you know anything more about him?)


“If you’re done spacing out,” came the clipped voice that jarred Naruto from his thoughts. “Let’s go.”


Blushing at the sort-of-reprimand, he slung his cumbersome backpack over a shoulder and trailed after Sasuke, who was dragging his rolling luggage while talking on his cellphone at the same time. For a guy who had spent over twelve hours on the road, it really was impressive to see how together he looked. Except for a few wrinkles on his shirt, Sasuke could have just stepped out of a damn airplane en-route to his next corporate meeting. His posture was erect, his walk steady yet confident; something Naruto was unaware he was trying imitate as they stepped into the lobby of the hotel.  There weren’t a lot of patrons loitering the place – well it was almost ten in the evening and the hotel wasn’t exactly one of those extra fancy ones either – which was good enough for Naruto. Compared to Sasuke, he was sure he still looked like a bum; after all he was wearing his trusty army jacket and his sneakers were not exactly conducive for this environment either. He wondered what the concierge (and other guests) were thinking when they looked at the two of them.


“Two single rooms please,” Sasuke was saying as he turned on the charm for the lovely brunette behind the front desk. “Adjacent if you can manage it.”


“Ye…yes, sir,” came the flustered reply as she click-clacked trembling fingers across the keyboard. However, the shy smile became one of regret as she looked up with a slight shake of her head. “Unfortunately we do not have adjacent single rooms at this time. There’s a conference happening this weekend and many of the rooms have already been booked.”


“What do you have then?”


“We have a suite on the fifth floor and one single room on the second floor at this time.”


Sasuke winced and turned to Naruto. “Looks like -”


“I don’t mind taking the single,” Naruto blurted out before Sasuke could finish. “It’s cool. A room is a room to me.”


Sasuke beamed at the woman. “Could you excuse us for one moment?” And without missing a step, he dragged Naruto aside and away from the curious female to hiss beneath his breath. “I’m not about to pay for a fucking suite, Naruto. I am using company money even if it seems like I’ve been spending quite a bit. So we have no other choice but to share the single.”


“But isn’t the single going to be too small for two of us to -”


“You sleep on the floor.”


“The hell…!”


Sasuke raised a brow. “Are you about to argue with me again?”


Naruto opened his mouth to protest, but realized that again he really was indebted to Sasuke and he might as well suck it up and do as he asked. “Fine,” he grumbled, while absently rubbing the area of his forearm where Sasuke’s firm grip had once been. “Whatever you want to do.”


Sasuke nodded and headed back to the desk. Ten minutes later, they were standing within a room that was barely large enough for one person to settle in, let alone two. The neatly-made narrow bed was pushed against the wall of pale eggshell; on the opposite was a small desk with a table lamp and a stiff wooden chair right next to a solitary window with a rather nice view of the city and the Mother Yonehsiro River beyond it.


“Fuck,” came the single expletive from Sasuke that summarized both men’s sentiments.


“There isn’t even any room for me to sleep on the floor,” Naruto whined beneath his breath. “You might step on me if you need to use the bathroom. And there’s no extra futon anyway…so -”


“Keep that up, and I’ll really kick you out,” Sasuke growled. “I had to sweet-talk that woman into letting me keep the room. It’s against their business policy to keep an extra boarder, so shut up and deal with it.” He stopped his rant long enough to run his fingers through his hair in frustration. “I’m going to take a shower.”


Naruto slumped glumly onto the chair; watching beneath hooded lashes as Sasuke efficiently unpacked his things. The suit he was going to wear for his meeting was hung in the narrow closet. He set his toiletries on the desk, thought about it, and decided it was better to have that in the bathroom. He set up his laptop and documents on the desk, hardly caring he was doing all this around the still silent Naruto. All this was accomplished in less than ten minutes, yet another hint of how Sasuke had gotten his stays in hotels all over the country down to a science. It would have been impressive, if Naruto wasn’t too busy being in his self-inflicted funk.


It wasn’t until Sasuke began to unbutton his shirt (he didn’t particularly seem shy about undressing before someone else), did the blond finally make himself move; digging quickly into his backpack to find a magazine to keep him occupied. It was a damn pity that the first thing he could grab had to be the girlie one, but it was too late to hide it again. He burned behind the pages as he raised it to his face; the rustling sound of discarded clothing (and muffled curse as Sasuke hit his leg against the bed) seeping into his ears. He flipped another page with fingers that trembled slightly. The silence was too stifling, and was it just him or was it suddenly a little too hot in here?


Need to get out…get some air…


He wished there was a television or something to distract him, but no, he was painfully forced to listen to their un-synchronized breathing. He dared to finally lower the magazine a little to see how far Sasuke was gone, and was glad to see that the other man was finally wearing the courtesy yukata, which had been laid out on the bed for guests. Unfortunately, this outfit did more to show off a pair of toned legs and the hint of a clean-shaven chest. He already knew from Sasuke’s physique that he was quite fit, but the simple item of clothing seemed to emphasize that for some reason.


It would take Naruto another minute to realize he was actually staring into amused dark eyes; and features that were already flushed now literally threatened to melt the flesh off his face.


“Very educational reading,” Sasuke teased with a smirk and light shake of his head. “See about ordering dinner – if you’re hungry that is. I’ll be in there for a while.”


With the close of the bathroom door, Naruto felt he could breathe naturally again. He tossed the magazine to the desk and sunk trembling fingers into his hair.


Not good. This was not good at all. Why did this have to happen now?


He had done well to hide his ‘feelings’ so far, but then again, hadn’t a part of him been worried that they would eventually break through especially in the presence of this man? Hadn’t his inability to control his urges been part of the reason he was ostracized by his family in the first place? His hope was that he’d be in Yokohama by now, and that the attraction he had felt for Sasuke from the get-go would become nothing more than a distant memory. Unfortunately, his decision to go along for the ride; to spend an extra day or two in this city – simply because he was afraid of being alone again – had triggered what he most feared.


I can’t risk it. I can’t be here with him…


He had lost some friends over the years because of ‘his problem’, and though it was unlikely he and Sasuke would ever get that far in their relationship, Naruto wasn’t about to jeopardize it tonight. He respected the salesman too much to reveal this side of him, and so with a deep breath, he reached for the hotel notepad on the desk, picked up a pen and began to write.






“All right, Naruto,” Sasuke began as he stepped out of the bathroom; while rigorously rubbing his hair with the towel. God, he felt so much better and less irritable. “You can use it now.”


He was met with deafening silence; and assuming Naruto was still sulking over the sleeping arrangements, he lowered the towel – more than ready to let the other man have piece of his mind - only to find he was alone.


What the…?


It wasn’t as if he had a lot of places to search for the guy, and it wasn’t as if he could assume that Naruto was coming back because the atrocious backpack was gone as well. Sasuke clenched his hands into tight fists; a throbbing in his chest as he assumed the worst. Naruto had finally run off. The blond son-of-a-bitch had bolted with everything…


Except everything still seemed intact. Sasuke dug through his luggage quickly; the throbbing getting worse. Nothing was taken.


(he’s gone)


He took a step back and tried to control the wave of vertigo to hit him.


(he’s gone. That ungrateful bast-!)


Anger? Frustration? Disappointment? Who knew what gamut of emotions raced through him as he sank onto the bed to try to control his uncharacteristic reaction to this discovery? It wasn’t as if he had been expecting Naruto to be at his side until the end, but considering how easily he had trusted the blond, and how far they had come in the past two days, it felt like a betrayal of sorts. Why the hell did he leave? Just because of the sleeping arrangement? Sasuke had mulled over this while in the shower; deciding that if push came to shove, they could both sleep on the same bed. Sure it was narrow, but at least they could manage if neither of them slept like windmills. Was Naruto really that selfish enough to want things his own way?


“Ungrateful son-of-a-bitch!” he cursed, while resisting the urge to punch something. He rose to his feet and changed into his sleeping wear; though he contemplated (briefly) changing into something else to go look Naruto. However, just as he was about to talk himself out of it, he finally noticed the hastily scribbled note which had been placed on his laptop.


He snatched it up; idly noting how uneven Naruto’s handwriting was including a little smudge the black ink had left on the plain white sheet.



Sorry, I took the keys. I think I’ll sleep in the car after all.

I’ll return them in the morning before you leave for your meeting.




Sasuke read the note twice over before crushing it within his palm and tossing it into the small trash bin. Fine. If Naruto wanted to be bullheaded about this, that was his problem. He had an important meeting to focus on tomorrow and the last thing he wanted to deal with was some idiot who was too selfish for his own good. He had planned to order a light sandwich, but he no longer had any appetite. He settled instead on last-minute preparations; looking over his notes and reading the emails/documents sent to him. By midnight, he forced himself to go to bed but was unable to sleep as he found himself staring blankly at the ceiling for endless ticking minutes.


(damn it)


Naruto was probably curled up against the door in that cramped car…cold…while he was here snug and warm.


(he brought this upon himself. He made the decision to stay outside, so why should I feel guilty?)


He tossed and turned restlessly for the better part of the night, and by morning, he was so irritable and grouchy, he had to take out his frustration on someone. Who better than the cause of his distress finally sheepishly knocking on the door as he adjusted his tie in the small mirror.


“Can I come in?” Naruto asked shyly as he poked his head into the room. “I…uh…brought back the keys…”


Sasuke ignored him; simply reaching for his comb to work out the slightly tangled tresses still damp from his quick shower. Naruto felt his features darken with humiliation. A quick glance at the desk showed that Sasuke must have seen his note, and though he would have loved to have given a more detailed explanation as to why he had made the decision to sleep in the car, it wasn’t worth it. He cleared his throat and placed the keys on the bed, before taking off his shoes and jacket. He might as well take a shower and then head on back to the road to see if he could hitch a ride to Yokohoma. With the vibes emanating from Sasuke at this minute, he doubted the salesman would want him as a companion any longer.


Way to screw things up, Naruto.


He peeled out of his tee-shirt, stealing a worried look at Sasuke who was now slipping his laptop and documents into a leather briefcase. With heart in throat, he stammered out quickly. “Look, I’m really sorry about what  happened. I…it’s just that…I…didn’t want to be in your way…”


The briefcase was slammed loudly, causing Naruto to wince as he met dark eyes furious enough to make him squirm. “To be honest, Naruto,” Sasuke finally replied in a voice cold enough to freeze steam. “I don’t really give a fuck about your apology. I don’t give a damn where you choose to sleep from now on. My mistake was thinking you’d be humble enough to accept whatever conditions presented itself to you. I’m sure by the time I get back, you’ll be on your way to Yokohoma anyway. So…have a safe trip.”


“No…wait…I’m not -!”


But Sasuke was already striding past him without a glance back and the loud slam of the door had the blond clutching the tee-shirt tightly against his chest in dismay. So that was it then. Goodbye. See you…never again.




He bit his lower lip hard enough to draw blood and surveyed the empty room with a vision that blurred. It was stupid to want to cry over something like this, but considering all the emotional bullshit he had to put up with over the past week (including the damn phone call yesterday), his nerves were completely frayed. He stumbled into the shower and allowed the hot water to mask his misery. He nicked himself a little while shaving, but felt it was poetic justice for what he had done. As he changed into cleaner clothes – well as clean as they could be considering he hadn’t been to the Laundromat in a while – he contemplated whether or not to leave the extra money Sasuke had given him on the desk. However, he was sure the salesman would look at the gesture the wrong way, and think him completely ungrateful. He sighed and took one last look at the room; resisting the childish urge to caress one of Sasuke’s shirts as a final parting memory.


(how childish indeed)


He shook his head, took a deep breath and let himself out of the room while shouldering his backpack. The road beckoned again, and he simply had no time for regrets.




Handshakes and smiles; pats on the back and exuberant praises. All of these seemed to transpire like scenes from a silent movie in Sasuke’s world. He responded and nodded in all the right places, found himself talking and listening with a half-heartedness that would have fired him under normal circumstances. He couldn’t believe he was still allowing Naruto’s antics to get in the way of concentration, but that was the reality of it. He was helplessly still upset about it, and his ‘farewell’ hadn’t exactly been the way he had planned on garnering the real reason why Naruto had felt uncomfortable being with him.


He politely declined the invites to join the others for lunch at a fancy restaurant, choosing instead to eat alone at a small local inn. A glance at his watch told him it was just past one o’clock and if Naruto had taken his words to heart, he was most likely in another car or truck on his way to Yokohama. He swirled the noodles in his bowl, before blinking in disbelief at what he had actually ordered.


Miso ramen. One of his favorites.


It was a little nugget of information he had garnered during their many trivial/meaningless conversation on the road. He had come to learn that Naruto’s fetish for anything noodle-ish went far beyond normal human comprehension. The guy could rattle off a list of different ramen dishes including toppings and just what tasted best at what time of the year. He could still see the way Naruto’s eyes lit up when they finally stopped at a road-side inn yesterday and (lucky him!) shio ramen was on the menu. Sasuke had found himself fascinated by the way the blond ate. It was almost like watching a religious ritual, and though he wasn’t really a big fan of the dish, Naruto had forced him to try it all the same. Whatever it was, eating with Naruto was almost always an experience and now…


(no taste)


He could be eating a string of uncooked noodles for all the difference it made to him.


He paid more than the food was worth and wandered around town for a while; aimlessly admiring the shops the seaside town had to offer. When he finally returned to the meeting, it was to simply listen to a brief summary of what had been discussed earlier in the day, with the promise that he’d be contacted sometime next week for a job opportunity with one of the major electronics manufacturers in the county. A big and very important upgrade all things considered.


On his way to his car, however, he felt a sinking heaviness in his stomach. It was the knowledge that there wouldn’t be a noisy blond waiting in the car or at the hotel room for him. It was the realization that Naruto’s scent and presence had more than permeated into his being, and that he would miss the lively (mostly one-sided) conversation and overall company of the other man.


“Oy, Sasuke!” came the loud greeting from one of the other employees. “We’re heading to a bar to get some drinks. Wanna join us?”


A ready “no” was about to escape his lips, but knowing there was no one waiting for him, and Yokohama really could wait another couple of hours, what was the harm? He shrugged and joined the trio – two men and a rather pretty petite woman – who was clearly giving him signals like crazy. He smiled as she blushed and introduced herself again. She would make the perfect distraction for the rest of the evening.





The road can be a lonely place, he thought absently as she writhed and moaned beneath him. It is not unusual to crave the attention every once in a while.


Oh Sasuke, she moaned as he thrust deeper…harder…faster…struggling to find his completion as her legs wrapped around his waist.


He was drunk. Well not exactly; maybe half-drunk. They had spent over an hour at the bar and by night’s end, her blatant invitation to spend the night with him was accepted without any second thoughts. For a brief moment, however, his dazed mind wondered if opening the hotel room door would reveal a certain blond waiting for him, but when he was greeted with an overwhelming darkness and emptiness, he knew for sure that Naruto was now nothing more than just another chapter of his life.


He didn’t have to care about that bastard anyway.


Ooooh God...!


He didn’t want to know if he had arrived safely or if he was currently stuck in some car with a dangerous driver.


I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come, Sasuke!


He didn’t care if Naruto ended up getting in trouble with some psychopath or was stranded in the middle of nowhere hoping for a ride.


Sasuke! Oooh my!


It was his fault if something happened to him. He just didn’t give a fuck about Uzumaki Naruto.




He shuddered as he came; closing his eyes as the sudden image of Naruto’s hurt expression filled his mind. With a low groan, he rolled off the woman, trying to catch his breath and absently pulling her closer to him as she snuggled against his chest in satiation.


What was Naruto going to say besides his useless apology? Why didn’t he give him an opportunity to explain himself? There must have been a reason behind his decision to stay in the car.


Well, too late to worry about that now, he thought bitterly. Forget about him, Uchiha Sasuke. He’s long gone and that was for the best.


“Call me?” she implored come morning as she zipped up her skirt and smiled coyly at him. “I left my number on your desk.”


He reciprocated the smile albeit wanly, accepting her farewell kiss while making an empty promise to do so when he had the time. Both probably knew nothing would come out of this one-night stand and that was fine with them. This was the life of a salesman. Come and go and leave them wanting more.


By noon, he was on the road again, where a light pelting rain had begun. He flipped through stations restlessly, and would have gone on changing when he caught the tail-end of a news report.


“…that the company – UchihaCorp – are responsible for the stocks plummeting at an all-time low. The president, Uchiha Fugaku, gave a press conference yesterday where he reassured worried workers that the situation at the plant will be resolved eventually.”


Sasuke’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel as the familiar sound of his father’s sonorous tone came over the air. He could almost feel the other man in the car with him; could see those usually impassive features tense with anger at his decision.


“If you leave this house do not expect me to accept you as my son when you’ve come to your damn senses!”


“Don’t worry, Father. I have no intention of doing so. Itachi is more than capable of running the company without my help. I’ll live without your interference. This is my goddamn life and I’ll live it however I want to!”


“Very well. Good bye, Sasuke, and do us a favor and try not to bring shame to this household.”


“I was going to change my name anyway. You’ll hardly even know I exist, Father.”


He withdrew the business card from his pocket to eye the name he had adopted. It was rather foolish to have chosen  his great-grandfather’s name as a surname, but Sasuke had looked up to him even though all he knew had been from family history books. Uchiha Madara had been the one to make the Uchiha name what it was today; feared and respected all over the damn country (or even the world for all he knew). And yet with that name came a terrible price; a burden to live up to such high expectations it was nearly crushing with its intensity. Itachi had done his best, and had managed much better than Sasuke ever could. Yes, he was smart and considered a genius in some circles, but at the end of the day – he almost always paled in comparison to his older brother. How the hell did anyone expect him to keep straining for that lofty pedestal that was just always out of reach? The Uchiha name was a goddamn weight on his shoulders, and he hated that more than anything.


(I want to be my own man…find my own way…I want -)


“What the hell?!”


He nearly careened off the road and had to pull the car to a screeching halt. He blinked hard and looked behind him quickly, wondering if he was actually seeing things. The rain was heavier now, and the hitchhiker was now jogging toward the car. There was no mistaking that shock of blond hair even though it was hidden beneath that familiar black wool hat.


It can’t…it can’t be…


And that backpack.


Purely a coincidence.


Then explain that damn army jacket, Sasuke!


Fuck! It can’t be…!


The tentative knock on the window and the subsequent appearance of that scarred face had his heart pounding so much harder and faster than he cared to admit. It would have been amusing to see the shocked expression now appearing on that scarred face, but Sasuke couldn’t muster up the energy to even snicker. As if gripped by an invisible force, he simply pushed the button to unlock the passenger door and clutched the steering wheel like a lifeline. His knuckles were literally white with the pressure.


I don’t fucking believe this.


It seemed like an eternity before the familiar click of the door opening was heard. There was a quick waft of wind and rain into the car before the soaked figure sank into the seat quickly and slammed the door shut beside him.


For a long tension-filled minute, neither man said a word or even looked at each other, until a muffled “Damn it” from Naruto caused a tiny quirk of Sasuke’s lips.


My sentiments exactly, Uzumaki Naruto.


“I am so fucking unlucky,” came the low mumble of disbelief.


The quirk became a small smile as Sasuke finally shook his head and started the engine again.


“Just shut the fuck up and put your seatbelt on, you ungrateful bastard. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”



Chapter 03

Naruto Home































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