Chapter 32:

Revealing Trails


On a mountain slope,

Solitary, uncompanioned,

Stands a cherry tree.

Except for you, lonely friend,

To others I am unknown.

-       Abbot Gyoson




“I do know how to shave on my own, Haku,” I complained though laughing as he brandished the shaving brush, like a weapon, before my face. We were in my tiny restroom, where he had somehow managed to balance himself on the sink (the guy must be light as a feather) without breaking it.  He dipped the brush into the jar of the white gel-like stuff and motioned for me to turn my other cheek.


“It’s no problem at all, Naruto-kun,” he insisted with a warm smile. “I love to help. Now stay still.”


I obeyed with a mock pout; forcing my gaze to remain on my reflection in the mirror – though it was blocked every now with Haku’s head getting in the way as he expertly applied the cream to my whiskered skin. You have no idea how good it feels to get a shave after going a few days without it. Maybe I’m a special case because my hair/whiskers tend to itch if I don’t take care of it on time.


That aside, it was a struggle not to look into those brown eyes (they were so damn close after all), or for a part of my mind not to realize that those slightly parted lips were within kissing distance. If anyone was to come in now, they’d probably get the wrong idea and considering I had just about told Haku that what transpired in the bathroom wasn’t going to happen again, I couldn’t help wondering if he was still thinking I was going to cave in with situations like these.


Still, I chided myself for thinking so negatively about his intentions. He has been nothing but his usual jovial, friendly and helpful self since I returned. He hadn’t offered to join me in the bathroom, and while I was there, he was busy cleaning up my apartment and making a quick dinner for me (or rather just warming up something Temari had already prepared). He hadn’t come across as too flirtatious and had eagerly asked about training; wanting to know every single thing I’ve been doing with Sergei all this time. I was careful not to give away the arguments and fights I had with the Russian. I figured he would have guessed most of my wounds and bruises weren’t just from learning how to shoot a gun, which lessened the obvious queries. It didn’t deter from the fact that I had many a-query of my own for him.


However, I got the feeling he wasn’t letting me do that, for whenever I thought I had the opportunity to slip in my question about his relationship with his master recently, he’d chime in with another topic altogether. I sighed inwardly and allowed him to talk as much as he wanted; obediently following his commands as he carefully used the razor to finish the task.


When he was finally through, I looked like a new man – well except for the band-aids and bruises on my right cheek and temple that was yet to completely heal.


“Not bad,” I praised. I rubbed my chin in appreciation as the sharp scent of the aftershave filled the air while he rinsed off the razor and other supplies used. “Maybe I should hire you permanently to do this...if your master doesn’t mind that is.”


I was quick to notice the slight flinch he gave, and I winced inwardly. So I was right after all. He and Sasuke must have had an argument over the shit that happened, which would mean I’d have to go apologize and explain things to Sasuke ASAP. I mean, it wasn’t really Haku’s fault to begin with. If I hadn’t kissed him, the poor guy wouldn’t have gotten the wrong idea which led to the other stuff.


Damn it.


“Hey, Haku,” I began, not even sure where to begin. “Is everything all right with...hey!”


He had thrown himself upon me so suddenly; I promptly went into panic mode assuming he had passed out or worse. However, when I realized his arms were tightening around my neck, and he was still somehow balanced on the sink, the panic subsided...but only for so long.


“Haku?” I asked tentatively. I tried not to shiver in response as I felt his warm breath tickle my neck. I grit my teeth and tried to think of the most horrendous things (say Sergei for example), while doing my best to ignore Haku’s tender, almost feather-like, kisses now being placed –


Whoa! Slow down now. I know it feels like it’s been ages since I got any, but –


“Please,” came the barely audible words that seared right through my heart at the ache within them. “Just let me hold onto you like this for a while, Naruto-kun. I beg you.”


How do you say “no” to a plea like that? How could I push him away when I could hear the sadness and tears in that voice? In silent resignation, I closed my eyes and cradled him to me; pressing my hand gently against the back of his head to hold him steady. With the other, I caressed his shoulders with slow circles, not sure of what else I could do to ease the turmoil he must be going through. Knowing Sasuke, he must have really said some hurtful things to Haku or shut him out like he did to me. What’s worse is that he’s known Haku longer than I have, so their relationship should hold more weight and mean so much more to him. Why would Sasuke be so quick to break it off? So what if I was a little jealous at first about how close they were? I guess it’s only because I –


(envied them)


“I’m sorry,” I finally croaked miserably. “It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t started that...I mean kissed you in the bathroom, you wouldn’t be in this mess right now with Sasuke.” I sighed heavily. “Listen, let me talk to him, okay? I’ll explain and confess everything. He shouldn’t be upset with you over it.”


“No...” He sniffled and finally lifted his head. I did tell you seeing Haku all miserable made me feel pretty bad inside, didn’t I? This moment is no different. You really do get the urge to hug him tight and never let go. There was a tremulous smile on his flushed visage, and I could only remain helplessly frozen as he slowly reached up to cup my cheeks between his warm palms. “You don’t need to do anything, Naruto-kun. Sasuke and I have already talked about it.”


“Yeah, but it’s all my -”


He shook his head and placed a finger against my lips to silence me. “It’s not your fault, Naruto-kun. It’s something that’s been building up for a while anyway, and what happened in the bathroom made me happier than you could ever imagine.”


“...what do you mean?”


His cheeks were dusted a pretty hue of pink as he lowered his gaze shyly. “My feelings for you, Naruto-kun. From the moment I met you, I told myself that I was only interested because you were different from the other sinners I had seen and spoken to at Byaku-Shinkyou. I told myself that it was only because of Sasuke-sama’s interest in you and why you were such a ‘bother’ to him compared to the others. However, I saw that inner light and spirit within you, so beautiful...unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I wanted Sasuke-sama to experience that light as well, and I was so glad to see that he was willing to listen and open his heart just a little bit to let you in. I truly believed, in my heart, that you’d be the one to remind Sasuke-sama of his humanity, and I did all I could to make you both realize how much you needed each other.”


He sighed softly and lifted his gaze to me again. It was hard to describe the expression in those eyes; whether it was sadness, pity, anger, frustration or admiration, I had no idea. But damn if my heart wasn’t pounding like a jack hammer within my chest as I listened to him.


“I was doing my best to be a matchmaker,” he finally continued in that same quiet tone, his fingertips absently tracing the outline of the scars on my cheeks. “Telling myself that you were nothing more than a friend to me and that was all I would be satisfied with. However, coming Buk-gu...made me realize that I was only bottling up my real feelings. I came to realize that a small part of me actually liked to see you two argue and not speak to each other, as it would give me an opportunity to endear myself to you even more. I wanted you to like me better than Sasuke-sama, to see me as more than just cute-little-Haku you tease all the time.” He gave a small smile. “I told myself that was okay just as long as I made you smile and made you happy. And then...I had to see you both in the hallway that night.”


His voice broke a little and he had to bite his lower lip to control himself. “It hurt more than I cared to admit, Naruto-kun. And yet I should have known it would be inevitable. You did what I had set out to do to Sasuke-sama. You changed him in more ways than one. You made him realize just how wonderful being with others could be. You opened his eyes to the pleasures of being with another male...after all his response and overnight stay was more than enough to tell me everything. You should have seen him the day after, Naruto-kun. I have never seen Sasuke-sama look that...content and I knew I wasn’t the one responsible for it. It was you. You are the one who managed to do something Orochimaru-sama and so many others have tried over the years including Asuma-san. I knew then that I was much too late, that even if I moved in to stake my claim and to confess to you...whatever you and Sasuke-sama shared that night would supersede whatever I could say or do.


“I was so jealous, Naruto-kun; so envious of him and I wanted to punish him in some way for being happy while I remained miserable. What happened in the bathroom was the perfect excuse, for my intention was to reveal it to him someday and to rub it in his face. After all, if it wasn’t for his loathing of my love for Zabuza-san...perhaps he’d still be alive today. Perhaps I would have been happier knowing there was someone out there who really did feel for me like I did for him.”


He took a deep breath and released me, but only to place his trembling hands on the sink and lower his gaze to the floor. “It’s horrible of me to think like that, isn’t it, Naruto-kun? That the sweet, innocent, nice Haku you know is capable of being so vindictive, right?” His lips quirked into a wry smile. “I am human, Naruto-kun, and as a human, I am more than capable of feeling the same emotions everyone else goes through. I might smile and act docile, but it doesn’t stop my thoughts from racing or my mind to be filled with different ideas even malicious ones. Sometimes people tend to forget that because they see me as nothing more than a servant, even Sasuke-sama is guilty of that sometimes. No fault of his, it’s just the way I’ve been “programmed” since I was a child. Always say “yes” to those in authority and never question them in public. I had no voice as a servant, and if I was hurt or angry about anything, I was never to show that to anyone. However, Sasuke-sama liberated me...a little. With him, I found I could talk a little more and be myself...well as much as I could be in the situation. However, life outside the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou really made me open up. You and Sasuke-sama and in some way, Shikamaru-san, have made me realize that I am whatever I choose to make of myself. I had to find my own voice and become my own person. And that is why...”


He paused and lifted his head to pin me with a look that seemed to sear right into my soul. I felt my cheeks flushing with heat as he broke into the most beautiful smile...and yet...a tear still escaped to trickle down his cheek.


“And that is why I can tell you this knowing full well you will never feel the same way for me.”


Oh don’t say it...


“I love you, Naruto-kun.”


I groaned and lowered my head; my knees trembling as the weight of his confession sank into my heart.


Why me? Why me?! I don’t deserve you, Haku. I really don’t, can’t you see?! You need someone who will take good care of you. Someone who isn’t likely to get into trouble by just taking a foot outside. After all you’ve been through; you deserve a quiet and peaceful life with someone who will always be by your side. I cannot provide that for you, Haku. I am a wanderer and the life I am likely to live from now on is one that you most certainly do not need to be involved in. Besides, I was foolish enough to fall in love once before and look where that got me. It really isn’t worth it.


“Haku...” I whispered, but was silenced as he wrapped his arms around my neck again in a hug; perhaps to comfort me because it sure as hell felt that way.


It’s okay, Naruto-kun,” he murmured against my neck. “You don’t have to say anything to that. I just had to get it out of my system, and I’m glad I did.”




“It’s not fair?” he finished off with a weak laugh. “I know. Love is never fair, is it? I always knew I was going to be fighting a losing battle when it came to you, and it was made only worse with the fact that I’d have Sasuke-sama to contend with.”


“Hey now,” I protested with a firm shake of my head. “Don’t get any ideas. Sasuke and I are not like that, okay? He and I broke up...if you want to call it that. So there’s nothing going on between us anymore. He’s back to preaching about sin and me being a sinner and all that shit, so good riddance. I don’t need to hear that all the time from him.”


I realized my voice was rising and I was getting upset for some reason, so I took a deep breath to calm down. Though it still didn’t erase the persistent image of Sasuke with that all too familiar expression of detachment and disdain. What was the point of getting pissed off over a chapter of my life I was likely to regret in the long run?


It took me some time to realize that Haku wasn’t holding me as tight anymore. In fact, he had pulled back and was looking at me with an expression that was a mixture of amusement and sadness.


“Even you...”


“Even me what?” I asked with a raised brow.

Haku sighed and shook his head softly. “Karin-chan was right. You two really are more stubborn than you let on. It’s obvious you’re still upset over the ‘break up’, and yet you say you are glad it’s over.”


“I am glad it’s over,” I insist with a light frown. “You weren’t there that night. You didn’t see the way he spoke to me like I was nothing more than a cockroach to squash. God, he just drives me nuts with the way he acts sometimes!”


“I think you two need to talk -”


“Like hell we are,” I interrupted with a firm shake of my head. “And I’m glad you told me all this now since going to him would have made me look like a big and total fool -”


“But you were going to apologize to him, weren’t you?”


“Not any more I’m not.”


Haku took a deep breath, wiped his face with the sleeves of his kimono and sat up a little straighter with a somewhat stern expression on his visage. “Naruto-kun. Sasuke-sama might not show it, but what we hurt him more than he wants to admit to you or me. I’ve known him long enough to realize that when he holds one at bay, it’s to prevent himself from getting hurt again. Remember how I told you about the kind of life Sasuke-sama has lived? To get to the point where he’s willing to let you touch him let alone kiss means so much more to him than even he realizes.”


I leaned against the wall and folded my arms across my chest. I could feel my brows furrowing in consternation. “For someone who just confessed his feelings to me, you’re not doing too bad trying to get me to feel guilty by going back to him. What is this? Do you want me to go to him? Do you want us to start up whatever the hell we had before?” I eyed him warily. “Isn’t all this supposed to be bothering you? I thought you would be happy that we were no longer together, and now it seems like you’re trying to make us hook up again. Damn it.” I ran my fingers through my hair in growing frustration. “Which is it, Haku?”


“You should be asking yourself that, Naruto-kun,” came the quiet answer that had me looking at him sharply. “I know it sounds like a contradiction, and trust me...everything I said earlier still stands true. It does hurt me to know that you two might be attracted to each other and have hidden feelings -”


“...don’t think so -”


“...beneath this layer of indifference and nonchalance act -”


“If it bothers you that much, then nothing’s happening between us. End of story.”


I turned to leave - this conversation suddenly giving me a headache - when I felt the firm grip of his hand around my forearm.


“Let me go, Haku,” I commanded quietly. “I really don’t feel like talking about it anymore.”


“I love and admire Sasuke-sama despite everything, Naruto-kun. I made a vow to him that his life would come first before mine, and I would still willingly die for him if occasion calls for it. The past few days have been very trying for me, and because I was so buried deep in my self-pity and misery, I …I might have put all our lives in jeopardy.”


I stiffened at this nugget of information and eyed him warily. “What are you talking about?”


Holding my gaze steady, he continued with a bittersweet smile. “I met someone; someone I thought would be a friend and, for a while, a possible replacement for you if things went well between us. However, I’ve come to realize that this person had taken me for a fool and was nothing more than a spy sent by Orochimaru-sama to gather information about us. Though I gave away nothing personal, this person was smart enough to figure things out and has probably betrayed us.”


I could feel my blood chilling at the knowledge that all this time...all this time I was away with Sergei, someone had been keeping tabs on us; using Haku as bait and who knew? Right now at this very moment Orochimaru and his minions could be hot on our tail while we sat here doing nothing to prepare ourselves for a possible attack.




“Haku, listen -”


“You don’t need to tell me what a big mistake I’ve made, Naruto-kun,” Haku admitted with a nod of his head. “Even Karin-chan warned me, but I was too stubborn to admit that Sai could be -”


“Wait...did you say Sai?”


Haku nodded as I tried to ransack my brain on why that name sounded so damn familiar –


“Sasuke-sama said he was the same person who alerted Jiraiya-sama on the night you were attacked by thugs.”


“Son-of-a-bitch!” I growled as I pounded a fist against the wall. It was all slowly falling into place. If it was true that this Sai was a spy, then it was likely he already knew about us and was probably just lying in wait for an opportunity to strike. It was just a damn lucky break that Jiraiya had stopped into the hotel/host club the guy was working at. How convenient for that pale-faced asshole! I had to call Jiraiya immediately to let him know about this. If we could stop this guy before he made any other moves –


“Wait, Naruto-kun!” Haku cried out and blocked my path as I headed toward the door. “Please don’t do anything rash. I have to really certify that he is a spy and Sasuke-sama has suggested I see him one more time just to make sure. If I suddenly stopped seeing him, he’ll begin to suspect something and then we really might be in trouble.”


“He could have others working with him,” I replied tautly. “We can’t risk you going alone. Someone should be with you just in case -”


“You forget I do know how to take care of myself in a fight,” Haku interrupted with a firm shake of his head. “Besides, as I said, we had plans for a quiet lunch tomorrow. I do not plan to give him any idea that I already know who and what he is.” He placed his hands on my arms as if to hold me steady; a small smile on his visage. “To atone for my lack of judgment and probably endangering all of us, I have to do this, Naruto-kun. In your case, you must promise me you’ll speak to Sasuke-sama as soon as you can. Do you have to meet up with Sergei tomorrow?”


I prepared to lie, saying I did though Sergei had (mercifully) decided our training was officially over. He had taught me everything he possibly could in the short time we spent together; the rest was going to be up to me and hopefully Jiraiya. My plan had been to spend the entire day sleeping and eating like crazy, but with this news about Sai, I knew it was going to be spent tailing Haku and seeing what he and Sai would be up to. I knew the date was going to be nothing more than a reconnaissance mission of sorts, but I was still of the mindset that we ought to take him out while we still had the chance. With Sai gone, we could at least nip the problem in the bud.


(But is it too little too late? This all depends on how long Sai’s been here, how much he knows, and how much information he’s delivered to Snake Dude. What if there are others with him? And if there are...just how many are they? Where would they be? Have they been living in this building all this time without our knowledge?)




I forced myself to the present and watched the face before me for a long minute before giving a slow nod. “I’m done with Sergei,” I finally admitted. “So...only Sasuke knows about this, right?”


He nodded. “Yes. Karin-chan has her doubts, but I haven’t yet told her the full story. I think Sasuke-sama did everyone else about the possibility of a spy being around, but they do not know who it is. Please promise you’ll keep it a secret until I return.”


I opened my mouth to protest, but the desperate plea in his eyes had me groaning in resignation. “Fine. Fine. I won’t say anything to the others. What time do you leave for this date anyway?”


“I promised to meet him at the park around eleven in the morning. I don’t know how long we’ll be, but I’ll definitely call and leave a message with Jae Weong or speak to one of you when I’m about to come home.”


“Not a second too late, got it?” I grumbled.


“And you will keep your promise?”


I raised a brow. “What promise was that again? If you mean the not telling anyone else, I already told you -”


“No. Speaking to Sasuke-sama.”


My jaw worked for a second. I hated to admit that the prospect of seeing that guy again and having a decent conversation with him (what the hell would we talk about anyway?!) was making me damn anxious all of a sudden. Which Sasuke would I meet? The one who shut me out or the one Haku insists is actually human and capable of being hurt?


(at least you owe him an apology. Get that out of the way and that’s all there is to it)


“I promise,” I muttered finally with a mock pout. “You do realize this is some serious punishment you’re putting me through, don’t you?”


Haku chuckled weakly and gave me a brief but hard hug. “I know, Naruto-kun, but you both need to get this out of your system. If it does turn out that there really is no hope for anything more than friendship between you two...will you consider me then?”


I felt my heart sink. “Haku...”


“I know, I know,” he interrupted with a soft laugh. “Wishful thinking. You cannot see me as anything more than a good friend.”


“You do deserve to find someone who won’t be a jerk to you,” I said quietly. “I honestly thought you and Sasuke were...I mean that the two of you would kinda be together when all of this was over and done with.”


“Once upon a time I did entertain that idea,” Haku confessed with a wistful smile. “But...Sasuke-sama and I can never be lovers. It would not work out.”


“Why not?”


Haku pursed his lips in thought. “I really don’t know how else to explain it in words, Naruto-kun. He’s like a...I don’t want to say ‘brother’, but it’s almost something like that...but deeper. It’s...complicated.” He finished with a shrug and sheepish expression on his visage. “Same like you in a way, I guess. I love you, but if I were to give you away...I’d want you to be by Sasuke-sama’s side. I really think you’re the only one who can ‘control’ him.”


I would have snorted at the choice of words –


(me? ‘Control’ Sasuke? Yeah right.)


...but when I noticed Haku wasn’t kidding about it, I looked away and scratched the back of my head. “Yeah, well...don’t want you to get your hopes up too much. As you said, nothing might come out of this. I’m really not looking for a relationship with anyone right now. Sakura was more than enough for me.”


“Sasuke-sama is not Sakura.”


I smirked lightly. “You don’t have to remind me of that. know what I mean. Falling in love or giving my heart away to anyone...I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”


He bit his lower lip and seemed to watch me for a long time until I was this close to screaming for him to knock it off. He eventually broke into another small smile and nodded. “If you say so, Naruto-kun. Besides, you have a very important mission ahead. It will definitely not do for you to get too involved with anyone at this time.”


“I might not return,” I stated flatly, and the immediate flash of sadness in his eyes made me ashamed of my blunt assessment of my dangerous future. However, I was definitely not prepared for the soft kiss he placed on my forehead or the gentle squeeze of my hand.


“You will survive, Uzumaki Naruto,” came the quiet words whispered into my ear. “People like you just don’t know how to die.”


He pulled away and released me reluctantly; leaving me flustered and confused as to what his cryptic words meant.

“Try to get plenty of rest, Naruto-kun,” he was saying as he made his way to the door. “And don’t worry about me. I’m much stronger than you give me credit for.”


“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” I insisted, trying hard to eliminate the part of me that felt I was probably seeing him for the last time. “If I don’t hear from you by three o’clock, I’m coming after you. Got it?”


Tears filled his eyes, but he lowered them quickly as if to prevent me from seeing his emotions and giving a quick bow. “Thank you, Naruto-kun,” came the barely audible words of sincere gratitude. “Thank you so much for caring about me.”


He would be out the door before I could say anything else, and in the deafening silence that proceeded his departure, I knew without a doubt that sleep would be a long time coming tonight.








I am loved.


Smiling softly to himself, he hopped over a puddle of murky water and continued his leisurely walk down the busy sidewalk. He gripped the strap of the black bag draped across his chest and peered into windows of some of the stores he passed by; unable to resist the draw of brightly decorated displays and shelves filled with delectable treats.


I have a family who loves and cares for me.


He had chosen to be in Western wear today; looking like any other teenager on a Sunday afternoon outing. Blue jeans, a black and red striped sweatshirt, white sneakers and a baseball cap to finish things up; Haku could blend into any scene without drawing too much attention to himself. Karin, despite her injury, had taken the time to braid his hair, which now fell down his back like a rope, but he would have been a fool not to have noticed some of the appreciative glances he had received from both sexes so far. Ah, if only Karin was with him right now, she’ll probably cling to him as usual and do her best to make everyone else jealous. He giggled into his hand at the memory of the last time she did that; pretending they were dating as they shared a large malt drink at a small café nearby and she all but drooled all over him as if completely smitten.


However, the giggles subsided as he came to a stop before a bridal shop and recalled his brief but enlightening meeting with the woman earlier. He had been alarmed to see her shin bandaged and even more despondent when she revealed what had taken place after he left the laundromart. In his heart, he really wanted to believe that Sai had simply been walking by when the incident happened, but the scenario seemed all too perfect...just too convenient.


(like the meeting with the thugs)


Sai must have planned it all from the beginning in an attempt to get Karin and Temari’s approval. Haku could see how and why he’d do something like that, but at the expense of getting Karin injured? That was simply inexcusable!


He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he failed to notice the dark expression on his visage, the tightening fists he was forming or the hard biting of his lower lip until one of the shop owners knocked on the glass to get his attention. Haku looked up with a jerk; blushing in embarrassment as the woman gave him a bemused yet disdainful look. She shooed him away; assuming he was nothing more than a wandering kid considering stealing something. With a quick bow of his head, he spun on his heels and dashed across the street; not stopping until he saw the park in his sights.




He was early, but it would give him enough time to prepare himself for their meeting.


(or perhaps he’s already here...watching me)


He sat on a bench and closed his eyes; allowing the sounds of children playing by the pond, grown-ups walking past with muffled whispers and cheerful laughter, as well as the cacophony of passing cars and trucks,  to fade into nothing. It was easy to dissolve into this world of meditative silence with just the right amount of concentration. In here it was easy to weed out what was important and what wasn’t; to isolate each sound and to focus on what you needed to hear. In this abyss, he would be able to tell when Sai arrived; for though his mind might have been focused on other things during their last few meetings, Haku’s senses were now accustomed to Sai’s scent and even the way he walked; noiseless yet distinct.


I am loved.


Within the darkness, he could see their faces fading in and out; their concerned voices melting like warm syrup within his heart.


There was Naruto-kun with his incessant demands that Haku call him immediately the date was over or he would come barging in to rescue him should things go wrong.


There was Karin-chan hugging him tightly and saying that she would be by the phone all day waiting for his call should anything happen.


And there was Sasuke-sama, who had been silent for the most part while Haku dressed this morning, but had given his firm but concerned advice:


“Be alert at all times, Haku. Remember not to give anything away and as soon as there’s trouble, please do not attack or start up a fight. We do not know if there are others with him and you risk getting ambushed if you do anything out of the ordinary.” And in a very uncharacteristic move; something that had brought the tears to Haku’s eyes and even threatened to do so now, Sasuke had hugged him quickly and placed a firm kiss upon his head.


“Call us.”


“I will, Sasuke-sama. I will.”


I am loved by all of them. In their own way, they care for me. All my life, I thought I was nothing more than a tool to be used and would never find anyone to care for me as a human being. I thought Kimimaro-sama loved me, but he proved me wrong in the end. I met Zabuza-san and for the first time felt that my life would be complete. Sasuke-sama showed me what it was to be strong and to believe in myself, and just when I thought he’d be the only one I could rely on, I now have Naruto-kun, Karin-chan, Shikamaru-san, Temari-chan, and even Itachi and Shisui-san. I have a new life with people that I can share it with, and I’ll be damned if I let you take that away from me, Sai.


He lifted his lashes and eyed his watch.




Sai was five minutes late. Haku lowered his gaze to his lap and strained his senses. He could not feel Sai anywhere, and a part of him wondered if the other man was not going to show up at all. It hadn’t exactly been a ‘set’ date, since Haku had loosely promised Sai that he ‘might’ show up today if he had nothing to do.


With a light shrug, he dug into his bag for the manga he had picked up the other day at a bookstore. It was a thrilling tale of samurais and princesses, and it reminded him so very much of his favorite Korean drama. It was unfortunate he couldn’t buy all fourteen volumes, so he had to settle for only getting the first five for now.


However, distraction came again as he ruminated over his conversation with Naruto last night. He was glad he had finally been able to tell the blond how he felt, and it really did feel like a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders. He had expected Naruto’s response and, to be honest, had really not felt as devastated as he had imagined he’d be. Unfortunately, what had made things a little difficult were Naruto’s genuine remorse and still obvious concern and care he had for Haku despite it all.


Haku knew he had put both men in a difficult situation, but he sincerely hoped Naruto would keep his promise and speak to Sasuke sometime today. He had no idea what would come out of their discussion, but for all their sakes, Haku prayed they would come to a compromise that would make their relationship as un-cumbersome as it had been before their emotions got the best of them.


If nothing least be friends again -


“Sorry I’m late. My bus was a little slow this morning.”


Haku cursed inwardly and closed the book; turning around to notice Sai standing behind the bench with that all-too-familiar smile on his visage. Unlike his usual black Chinese-style garb, Sai was dressed in similar fashion to Haku, only instead of a sweat shirt; he was clad in a long-sleeved white shirt with the words ‘METAL HEAD’ written in black upon it. Like Haku, he too had a bag which usually contained his drawing materials –


Is that really all, Haku thought ruefully as he allowed a warm smile to come to his visage while rising to his feet. What secrets do you hide behind that smile, Sai? Or should I say...Shin-chan? How could you...lie to me?


“I was going to leave without you,” he said aloud with a mock pout.


“Not with you reading that boring book,” Sai teased as he reached out to snatch the manga from Haku’s grip. “What’s this? Vagabond? A samurai story? How lame.”


“Hey! Give it back!” Haku cried out as he tried to retrieve it. Laughing, Sai stepped away from him and danced out of reach.


“Come and get it, if you want it,” he said playfully while waving it above his head, only to nearly get tackled to the ground as Haku just about leapt gracefully over the bench to seize the book.


“I win!” Haku said with his tongue stuck out. “Now you get to...mmmphff!”


His eyes widened in shock and pure disbelief at the sudden (and definitely not unpleasant) sensation of Sai’s lips against his. The kiss was so unexpected that Haku hadn’t the time to prevent Sai’s tongue from slipping in to caress his in a way that sent a jolt of adrenaline racing down his spine.




When Sai finally pulled away –


(the kiss had only lasted less than a minute, but to Haku, it felt like his entire life had flashed before his eyes)


...there was a dark blush on his cheeks and he looked ashamed of what he had done.


“I’m...sorry,” he stuttered with a gentle scratch of his nose. “I just couldn’t resist especially when you looked at me like that. I apologize. It was too bold of me. I’ll understand if you didn’t want to see me again.”


Haku realized his mouth was still open and he snapped it shut, while struggling to make sense of just what had taken place as well as the rush of heat that was making his face feel too damn hot.


Remember. It is all a trick. He’s doing this to throw you off. Remain focused!


“It’s all right,” Haku finally said with a smile as he bent to pick up the book that had slipped from his fingers. “ time, let me know ahead of time, okay? I really don’t like being taken by surprise like that.”


“So you’re not mad at me?” Sai asked; his features positively beaming with hope. Haku felt sick to his stomach, but tossed the book into his bag and sighed inwardly.


Damn it. This was going to be one very long day.


“I mean it,” he said aloud and wrapped an arm around Sai’s. “Come on, let’s go already. I’m starving. You’re paying today, right?”


Sai blushed and nodded. “Yep! I know the perfect place we can have lunch. It’s right off...”


And as he continued speaking in earnest, both men failed to notice the watchful pair of eyes following them every step of the way.







So I lied. Sue me.


Did you really think I’d be content sitting at home while Haku was out with some guy that might end up killing him once the orders were given? No way was I going to sit back and do nothing. If there was even the slightest hint of trouble, I was going to barge in and –


“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”


I froze and lowered the binoculars; my heartbeat kicking up a notch in what I assumed was due to being taken by surprise and not because it was -  


Of all the people in the world to see now. Fuck!


I looked over my shoulder and sure enough it was him. Standing above me with that same condescending expression on his visage. I noticed he was without his crutches and was dressed just like me...well casual wear I mean. His hands were buried within the pockets of his pants, and the baseball hat on his head as well as the over-sized dark sunglasses made him look a little ridiculous. Except I might be looking at a mirror-version of myself. I was wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses too. Trying to be incognito and all.


“What are you doing here yourself?” I retorted back, trying to hide the binoculars I had been spying on Haku with. I rose to my feet (I had been hiding behind a clump of bushes all this time) and tried to look as dignified as possible. “I thought you would be back -”


“Get down,” he suddenly ordered in a harsh whisper, while placing a hand on my shoulder and forcing me back to my haunches. He crouched beside me as well, and just in time too because Sai and Haku were making a turn around the corner and approaching our hiding place. We could hear their banter and soft laughter (wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying), but it was enough to tell us they were not about to get into a fight anytime soon.


Sasuke and I however –


“They’ve gone,” I hissed and shrugged his hand off my shoulder. “Damn it. We might miss them now.”


I tried to sit up to see better, but damn if Sasuke didn’t get in my way again.


“What the fuck are you -?!”


“Shut up,” he commanded tightly. “You’re too goddamn loud. Looks like they’re going into the museum.”


Not waiting to see if I was following him or not, he stepped over me and began to make his way across the street. Cursing beneath my breath, I strode after him while tucking away the binoculars into my bag.  Goddamn it. Can’t believe he’s here too. I mean what gives? Did he follow me? Or is he just as concerned as I am for Haku? Probably the latter, though it would have been nice to know someone was watching me just as I had been watching them all this time.


So far Haku and Sai had done pretty ordinary things; really nothing to write home about. After meeting at the park, they went to a café that just opened up a few blocks down the street and spent almost an hour in there. They had come out laughing and chattering like kids, and I hated to admit that seeing them look so...comfortable in each other’s presence reminded me of the dates I used to have with Sakura. So what if I had told Haku that I wasn’t looking to be in another relationship anytime soon, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to share a cup of malt with someone you really liked –


“Hold on,” came the voice to jar my thoughts. “We have to pay for tickets. Looks like there’s a special showing or something.”


“But I don’t want to visit a museum,” I protested. “Why don’t we just stay out here until they come out?”


He gave me a look as if I had just stepped out of his nightmares and then shrugged. “You can wait out here if you like. I’m going in.”


Why you...!


For a guy who refused to speak to me the other day, he sure was acting like he was in charge of this little operation all of a sudden. Who was he to tell me what to do?


He paid for this ticket at the window, and again, without waiting to see if I was following him or not, he joined the throng of visitors walking into the building. I hastened to the window.


“Uh...a ticket please?” I asked in Japanese, when it was finally my turn, though I made a hand signal of my intent. The vendor looked quizzical and then to my chagrin, pointed to a sign that could be translated to ‘SOLD OUT’ if I could read Korean. I heard the groan behind me from another customer and my worst fears were confirmed.




Just my luck that he’d have to purchase one of the last few tickets. Well, at least one of us would keep an eye on Haku in there, so I could rest a little easy. I walked over to a bench beneath a cluster of trees next to what looked like statues of famous Korean leaders and soldiers. Sitting down, I knew I couldn’t relax for I was still not sure if we were followed by Sai’s cohorts. I pretended to read a brochure I had snagged from the stand next to the museum’s entrance, while observing the people around me. There were your typical couples engrossed with one another, some children running around the large fountain, some elderly folks sitting like me and reading or dozing off under the sun. No one looked suspicious, but then again...looks could be deceiving.


I decided to kill time by walking around the building and scouring the grounds, now thinking of Haku’s words to me last night, especially having to speak to the very person who ditched me earlier. The plan was to follow Haku for a while then return to the apartment in time to have the chat with Sasuke and then join Karin in waiting for his phone call. However, with Sasuke here now...I’m not so sure if that talk will be going as easily as I planned. I still didn’t know what the hell I was going to say besides apologizing for the bathroom incident. It’s not as if I’m going to invite him or beg him for us to continue messing around with each other that way. If he was through with it, then I’d just have to suck it up and move on with my life.


Except I’d be lying right through my fucking teeth.


I missed it.


I missed every damn thing about it. The touching. The kissing. The fondling. The panting. The gasps. The caresses...and did I forget to mention the kissing? I wanted to feel that guy beneath me or above me again. I wanted to see him look vulnerable or in control, to see those features flushed with heat, those eyes darken with passion, to taste the sweat off his bite that skin until he cried out for mercy. I wanted to hear those sounds he made when he was close to coming and when he did actually come, to feel his arms around me while our bodies shuddered and tried to recover from our orgasms. I wanted to hear his steady breathing as he grew closer to sleep and to cradle him next to me just as he did fall asleep.


Cuddling...I want to cuddle the guy. How pathetic am I?


I sighed and kicked at a pebble on the ground. Haku was right after all. I really had no idea just what I wanted. On the one hand, I was pissed at being dismissed so quickly, but when it came down to the basics, I still wanted the bastard. Knowing that Haku felt so strongly for me made my wanting Sasuke more depressing. I didn’t know how I’d be able to look at Sasuke and imagine wanting to touch him without thinking about Haku and how he was probably feeling. Though with the way he and Sai have been acting today, you’d never believe those two were ‘not friends’ in reality.  


/I met someone; someone I thought would be a friend and, for a while, a possible replacement for you if things went right between us. /


Man, this sucks.


I sat on a stone ledge and lowered my head in thought. If only this Sai wasn’t the bad guy in all this, maybe it would have been my turn to play matchmaker and get those two to hook up. I mean, watching them all this time, they had such good chemistry together. I have never seen Haku look so happy or laugh so much in an outing and even though I’m sure he was supposed to be didn’t look like he was pretending either. Same went for Sai. For a guy who Karin had mentioned was calculated (I had spoken to her this morning), when with Haku, he didn’t look as if he could hurt a fly. If anything Sai looked like he was constantly on a high when with Haku; always doing things to please the guy no matter what.


He looks like he’s in love...or at least acts that way...or maybe he really is and doesn’t know it, but because of the job he feels he’s got to act like a bastard and betray us.


A shadow fell over me and I looked up sharply.


“What happened?” I asked when I saw who it was. “Why are you out already?”


“The show’s over,” Sasuke replied with a light shrug and a slight nod toward the front of the building. I stood up and looked as well; noticing the crowd spilling out into the afternoon sunshine with excitement on their faces. Looked like it was a good show....whatever it was. I could just make out Sai and Haku leaving as well, though they had stopped for something. On closer inspection, Sai was crouched helping Haku to re-tie the laces of his sneakers; a scene that had something hard twist in my chest for some reason.


“They were stuck to each like glue throughout the whole thing,” Sasuke was saying quietly beside me as he too watched the couple. “Sickening if you ask me.”


Hmm…someone sounds jealous…


He snorted and then spun on his heels to walk away.


I blinked in disbelief. “Hey! Where are you going? The date isn’t over yet.”


“I’m done watching,” he replied with a wave of his hand over his head. “I’ve seen all I need to. You can continue if you want. I’m going home.”


“At least let’s grab something to eat,” I blurted out before I realized just what I had said. However, with my stomach immediately growling, I blushed and gave a sheepish smile. “Eh...if you want, that is.”


He looked like he was about to blow me off, but when his stomach gave a growl as well, I smirked in victory. “Hehe, lunch it is then.”


“You’re paying,” he mumbled as led the way (again!)


“Fine...whatever,” I muttered with a roll of my eyes.


I won’t bother trying to explain why seeing his lips quirk into a semblance of a smile made my stomach all funny inside.




We ended up following them anyway.


I sucked hard on the straw; my gaze torn between watching Haku and Sai playing video games in the lower level of the (rather kick ass) arcade and studying the way Sasuke OCDs over his fries. He seems to have a problem grabbing more than one at a time to eat them, insisting on picking each individual fry, dipping it into the ketchup, and chewing it slowly. Man, at this rate, we could be here a while. I was almost done with my burger (the fries were long gone), but he wasn’t even halfway through with his yet!


“You are killing me,” I finally groaned with a mock slam of my head upon the table. “You eat slower than a grandma without teeth.”


“Fuck you too,” he replied though I could detect the embarrassment in his voice. “I don’t go about wolfing down my food like an animal.”


“Hey, watch how you insult me, you dick.”


He opened his mouth to say something about me, but seemed to reconsider and settled for giving me the finger. I was just about to reciprocate the gesture when Haku’s distinct cry of excitement had us turning simultaneously. The arcade was full of young people and because evening was fast approaching, the atmosphere was one of barely suppressed raging hormones and the promise of promiscuity long after the ‘adults’ were gone.


“He looks like a fucking kid,” I mumbled as we watched him clap his hands in delight while Sai pretended to be despondent. “Never seen him smile this much before. Are you sure you told him to pretend?”


“I told him to act normal,” Sasuke replied. I couldn’t read what he was thinking, but I suspect there was a hint of sadness in those eyes. Perhaps seeing what Haku would have been without him - how ‘normal’ his servant would be without the shackles of obligation and duty - must be weighing on Sasuke’s mind.


“Hey...” I began quietly. “ still loves you, you know.”


Sasuke glanced at me with a raised brow as if not sure of what I was getting at. I wasn’t sure either, but what the hell. I’ve started and I might as well finish it.


“He really cares about you is what I wanted to say,” I explained with a small smile. “He wouldn’t do anything to hurt you and uh...about what happened between us...”


“I don’t think this is the time or place to be discussing this,” he began, but I wasn’t going to let this one pass so easily.


“Actually this is a great time because I might get cold feet and never say it again.” I took a deep breath and tried to shut out the noise around me, though it was a bit hard to do so. It was so loud in here with the music and all. “I’m sorry,” I said aloud; hoping he’d hear me over the din of the laughing and chatting teenagers around us.


“I’m sorry,” I repeated again; holding those dark eyes prisoner as I felt something weird stir within me again. “What happened between Haku and I was my fault. I initiated things and was too curious to know how it would progress from there. I had no idea he had those kinds of feelings for me, and I hated knowing I was giving him the wrong idea by kissing him first.”


I lowered my gaze to the table and doodled absently on the napkin with a stray fry from my tray. “I guess what I’m saying is...I don’t blame you for getting upset with me. Looking back now, I realize how much of a dick I was for going behind your back...but I did want to tell you about it! It’s just...Haku made me promise not to tell you and I didn’t want to hurt him either. Heh...ended up hurting you two anyway.”


I dared to look up to see if I still had his attention, and I swear the expression on his face was enough to have a flood of heat rush up from the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair. I almost couldn’t breathe for a minute and it was damn embarrassing to realize I was now sporting a rapidly growing boner in my pants.


Notgoodnotgoodnotgoodnotgood! Goddamnit! Think of something else...something horrible...something...


(isn’t he going to say anything?! This silence is killing me!)


“’s all I wanted to say,” I mumbled and sucked on my straw again; forcing my gaze to the happy couple below, who could give two shits about us up here.


“Ah...” I noticed the time on the large clock next to the exits, just as Haku seemed to be telling Sai something important. “Looks like he’s about to make the call to the apartment.”


Luckily, I could finally feel Sasuke’s penetrating gaze off me as he turned to observe Haku leaving the room and Sai behind. As if on cue, we sat up a little more to study Sai’s actions. He was back on his side of the video games, idly toying around with the controls while sucking on a lollipop. His expression was one of content. In fact, it looked as if –




I nearly gave myself whiplash as I heard my Korean name from a familiar voice. Standing beside our table with a fellow girlfriend (who was just as pretty) was Yoona. I cursed inwardly at having taken off my disguise earlier, because it was somewhat dim up here (except for the neon flashes that went off every now and then), so it was no surprise she was able to recognize me.


“Yoo...Yoona,” I greeted with a wan smile. “What are you doing here?”


“Hanging out,” came the icy reply. Huh? What did I do to her? I realized that she wasn’t smiling, and her hands were crossed before her chest in that familiar pose Sakura was prone to when she was pissed or about to have a ‘serious’ talk with me.


“What are you doing here, Yoonsung? Shouldn’t you be with your girlfriend? Or maybe she’s here?”


She looked about her, while I looked as confused as fuck. I glanced at Sasuke for help, but he was ignoring us; his gaze still trained on Sai though I had a feeling he was deliberately leaving me to fend for myself. Cruel bastard!


“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I tried to appease her quickly. “But I don’t have a girlfriend.”


“I don’t believe you,” she insisted with a huff. “That friend of yours told me you had one.”




“The one I saw with you at the festival that night. I met him the other day on the street and asked about you, and guess what? He told me you already had a girlfriend on the side!”


“Did he now?” I glared at Sasuke’s profile, but all he did was lower his cap to cover his eyes, while continuing to watch Sai. The son-of-a...!


“My friend was only making things up,” I replied through gritted teeth. “I assure you I do not have a -”


“I don’t want to hear it, you liar! All you Japanese boys are the same! You come over here to take advantage of us, is that it?”


“Yeah!” Her friend chimed in like a programmed robot; looking righteously indignant.


“But I’m not like any other...” I began to make my case, but damn if the girl didn’t suddenly reach for Sasuke’s cup to fling its contents against my face and chest. Ice cubes fell into my shirt and had me nearly crying out in irritation (and it was freaking cold by the way), but remembered that the last thing I wanted to do was cause a scene. It would only attract unwanted attention (not that her little stunt hadn’t garnered a few snickers and curious glances our way), but I had to stop this now before it got out of hand.


“Point taken,” I replied with a forced smile. “Now if you’ll excuse me. I have to go home and change.”





“That bitch! What the fuck is it with girls anyway?”


Sasuke hung up the phone and stepped out of the filthy phone booth just in time to hear Naruto’s muttered curse. They had long left the arcade, having decided that sticking around to deal with Yoona’s issues was not going to be conducive. However, her interruption had forced them to leave before Sai and Haku, so as not to attract their attention. Still Sasuke had seen enough of the so-called ‘date’ to last him a life time. If he had to watch Sai act all love struck and in awe of Haku one more time, he was going to throttle the bastard personally.


“You seem to bring out the worst in them,” Sasuke replied with an attempt to hide a smile at Naruto’s distress. The blond had removed the over shirt and was now clad in just the flimsy white tee beneath that didn’t do much to help considering it was a rather cool evening. “Maybe you should give them up altogether.”


“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” came the sneer that brought a flood of color to Sasuke’s cheeks; though he was glad for the fading light so Naruto wouldn’t assume his response had caused the reaction.


“Why the hell did you tell her I had a girlfriend in the first place?”


Because she is not worth your time or mine, Sasuke thought bitterly.


“What difference does it make?” he replied instead. “Look how quick she was to insult you though you tried to make her listen. You should be thanking me for saving you from another Sakura clone.”


Naruto opened and then shut his mouth, not quite sure how to respond to that. He hated to admit that Sasuke had a point…like he always did. Damn.


“What did Karin say?” he asked to change the subject


“Haku did call and said he should be home by around nine. Gives us at least an hour to get back.”


Naruto nodded and rose to his feet. “All right. I have no idea where the fuck we are, so you’re going to have to get us the next bus going to our street.”


“We can walk there,” Sasuke replied with a shrug. Not that he didn’t want to use a bus (his leg – though mostly healed – was now throbbing faintly) but he wanted to spend more time with Naruto and to formulate a better response to his apology at the arcade. There was something else he wanted to know, and the bus ride was not going to be beneficial to knowing the answer.


“Can your leg hold up?” Naruto asked with a glance thrown over his shoulder. He eyed said leg and raised a brow in silent query.


“I won’t die anytime soon,” Sasuke shot back. “Thanks for your concern.”


“I just don’t want to have to carry you, that’s all. My back can’t take it.”


“Why? Because you’re getting too old, or are you saying I’m too fat?”


“Guess which one, smartass.”


“I knew you were a crotchety old coot. Where’s your walker, old man?”


Naruto spun around to give him the middle finger; still walking backwards with a smirk on his features. “This old man will kick your ass all the way back to Byaku-Shinkyou. Better watch yourself, Uchiha Sasuke.”


Sasuke snickered and kicked at a pebble that hit Naruto on the shin. “You watch yourself too, Uzumaki Naruto.”


For that, he got two fingers in the ‘fuck you very much’ salutation which earned a reluctant chortle from his companion.


“Oh! A playground!” Naruto cried out suddenly as they made the turn and onto a quiet neighborhood they were not quite familiar with. The playground was empty except for a hobo fast asleep on a bench at the other end of it. Naruto leapt over a sand box, which still had some discarded bright-colored plastic buckets and spades buried within, to sit on the swing.


“Man, it’s been years since I’ve been on one of these things,” he admitted as he pushed off a little.


Sasuke remained frozen in place.


“What’s wrong?” Naruto asked with a raised brow. “Never been on one of these before?”


Sasuke said nothing, but if the brief shift of his gaze was any indication, it was enough to tell Naruto everything.


“You kidding? How could you not have...? Ah...figures.” There was a pregnant pause before Naruto continued with a smile. “Hey, it’s not so bad. You saw the way Haku adjusted to all the games and stuff at the arcade and I’ll bet he’s never played them before. Swings are the same thing. Just sit on this thing here...and push off the ground like this...and then you keep pushing yourself forward like this...faster...and faster...and harder...and you can go higher...”


“...uum...Naruto...” Sasuke could hear the rather worrisome creak and groan of the equipment, but he might as well have been speaking to thin air for Naruto was literally –






“Higher!” came the loud cry mingled with unbridled laughter that had Sasuke biting his lower lip at the sharp pang to fill his chest.


“Watch this!” Naruto cried out and to Sasuke’s horror, it looked as if the guy was actually trying to stand upon the narrow wooden seat.


“Don’t!” he screamed in panic. “You’re going to fall!”


“Worrywart!” Naruto bellowed and swung even harder. The shirt he had tied around his waist flipped off with how hard he was swinging that it fluttered into the breeze like a feather before billowing back softly to earth upon a see-saw a few feet away. “This is fun, Sasuke! Come on!”


“You’re joking.”




“I am not a chicken!”


“Then get on it!”


“I don’t have a fucking death wish like you!”


“Cluck! Cluck! Cluuuuuuuuuuuck!”


“Knock it off!”


“Then get on the damn swing!”




With a muttered curse beneath his breath, Sasuke made his way to the other swing. He sat on it tentatively, and might as well have taken off with the way Naruto was literally swaying the equipment with every swing he took. He clutched the chains on either side tightly and as Naruto had instructed, gently pushed himself off the ground.


There had been no swings at Byaku-Shinkyou.


He pushed off a little harder.


No playgrounds of this sort while growing up. Playtime had required plenty of imagination with the toys his parents’ bought him and Itachi’s brilliant ideas.


His feet left the ground.


I could fly if I really wanted to, nii-san.


He closed his eyes and pictured his little self in his position. He could see the bright-eyed kid with the innocent smile and laughter happily swinging away with the precocious blond kid with the funny scars beside him. Naruto’s adult laughter mingled with the child’s, and Sasuke felt a hard lump in his throat with regret at what their current lives had denied them both in childhood. And still...knowing that Naruto could find the time to laugh despite his hardships and despite what was coming...


How do you find the fucking strength to do it? he thought as he lifted his lashes and realized just how far off the ground he was now. The wind rushed through him with every motion back and forth, and the higher he went, the more weightless he felt. It literally did feel like flying and even when his baseball cap finally went adrift, Sasuke relished in the sensation of his hair whipping across his face.


“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Naruto called out. “Try standing on it.”


Sasuke was just about ready to say “no” but figured he might as well dare himself to go all the way. He did have to slow down a little, and praying he didn’t do something stupid like falling flat on his face, he managed to balance himself on the narrow seat (wobbled a bit), but did get himself steady enough to –


“Bet you I can go higher!”




He turned to Naruto with an incredulous expression, but the blond wasn’t kidding. Naruto was clearly about to make this a challenge and Sasuke was not about to back down either.


“You are on,” he sneered, and with a heave of his body upwards, he willed the swing to take him to heights never reached before.


A passerby could only stare in disbelief and bemusement at the sight of the teenage boys swinging with all their might on equipment that didn’t look too safe, but at least they looked like they were having fun, so she wouldn’t call the cops on them.


“I win!” Naruto panted as he swung back slowly to earth. “You know I won, Sasuke.”


“Like hell you did,” Sasuke gasped as he too began to slow down. Talk about a rush. He felt like every part of him was still soaring through the skies; every pore on his body opened with the exhilaration of flight. “I beat you fair and square!”


“I was literally almost over the fucking top of this thing!”


“That doesn’t make a difference. If we had jumped off, I would have landed on the street.”


“Then let’s do that.”




“Swing so hard and jump off! The person who lands the furthest wins.”


“’re insane.”






“Then let’s do it.”


Sasuke eyed the space and distance before him. There was the sandbox, which would be a decent place to land, then there was the sidewalk but beyond that was nothing but asphalt and the probability of a waiting car just ready to cream them the moment they landed. This was clearly a suicide pact, and he was blindly going along with what Naruto was suggesting...why?


(because this is life with Naruto by my side. Always daring to do things you’ve never thought possible. Pushing yourself to think outside the damn box you’ve been locked in for so long. Doing the impossible and making it seem...effortless)


“Ready?!” Naruto called out.




“Ready!” Sasuke yelled back and braced himself as he swung as hard and as far as he could. He could already feel the pain from landing upon his legs, and began to think of perhaps crouching or ducking or –


“On the count of three!” Naruto yelled. “One....”


Dear God…give me strength.




Please don’t let it be too painful!




Sasuke – who had been so geared and wired to leap off the swing – tumbled off it at the odd call and fell right into the sandbox with a hard thump.


“You son-of-a-bitch!” he roared as he heard Naruto’s cackle of mirth. “You did that on purpose!”


“You think I want to die so soon?” Naruto replied as he jumped off the swing to reach out to Sasuke. “I’m still aching from Sergei’s brand of teaching, man. I don’t have the time to...ouch! What did you do that for?!”


He was rubbing his forehead, where a plastic bucket had connected with seconds earlier. Sasuke staggered to his feet; his heart still racing at a mile a minute at his near death experience. He glared at Naruto as he walked past; his intention to head straight home, but his knees wouldn’t corporate and he sat down heavily on the swing again.


“I hate you, you irrational crazy asshole,” he muttered.


“...sorry,” came the unexpected mumble of remorse that had Sasuke looking up with surprise. This was the second time Naruto was apologizing so quickly over something, and he was still to recover from the apology at the arcade. “I just thought it would be fun that’s all.”


“It was fun,” Sasuke agreed quietly. “Until you pulled that shitty stunt at the end.”


Naruto sat upon the other swing with a small smile. “ was good to hear you laugh. I think that’s the first time I’ve really heard you do that.”


Sasuke could feel his cheeks burning. Laugh? When the hell had he done that?


“ much fun,” Naruto was saying.




“I said you looked just like Haku today...having so much fun.” Naruto gave him a shy smile before looking away with a shake of his head. “Never mind. I’m just rambling to myself.”


Sasuke clutched the chains tightly and pushed himself off a little. He thought back to Haku throughout the day; recalling how happy and carefree his servant had been with Sai. It was hard to reconcile what they thought of Sai and what they had witnessed today. If it was indeed the same Shin he had known back in Byaku-Shinkyou, then it was likely that he was indeed one of Orochimaru’s spies. Sasuke had never been told about the secret police, but Asuma had mentioned something like that one time. Sadly, Sasuke had been so blinded by his loyalty he refused to believe Orochimaru capable of doing something like that. To think that Sai could be pretending to this extent; worming his way into Haku’s heart by playing the doting boyfriend...God, it made him so furious! Haku deserved to be with someone who wouldn’t betray him, and since his heart was set on Naruto –


Oh right…about that.


“Naruto?” he called out quietly, feeling his heart begin to beat a little faster as he struggled to phrase this in the right way. He didn’t want to give Naruto the impression that he was jealous or desperate for his answer. “Back at the mentioned something about knowing Haku’s true feelings?”


“Ah...that...” Naruto sighed and kicked at some sand. “Yeah...last night we had a talk. Haku says he’ love with me...”


Sasuke stole a glance at his companion. He couldn’t be sure but that tone of voice...


“Well?” he prodded when it seemed like Naruto wasn’t going to speak again.


“Well what?” Naruto asked with a raised brow.


“Did you say “yes” or “no” to him?”


Naruto sighed again and scratched the back of his head. “I told him I couldn’t return his feelings. It wasn’t easy for me you know, and it still bugs me that he feels this way for me when -”


He froze; his cheeks turning a bright red as he realized what he had almost let slip out.


(...when I still want us to continue where we left off. I want us to get back together again, and I’m mighty worried because it’s not just about the foreplay and messing around we do. It’s all the other little things I’m beginning to notice.)




“What?” he snapped with more vehemence than he would have liked. “Sorr...sorry. I’m just a little stressed out right now.”


“I understand,” Sasuke replied with a soft nod. “Like you, I want Haku to be happy, but he seems to think you’re the one for him so...I...that was the reason I broke things off with us that night. I didn’t want to be in your way or rather his way. I just had no fucking idea how hard it would be -”


“What’s that?”




“That part you mumbled at the end there.”


“I didn’t say anything.”


Naruto raised a brow. “Yeah, you did. I heard you mumble something.”


“It was of no concern of yours. I was just muttering to myself.”


They eyed each other warily; as if daring the other to finally cave into what their hearts were really screaming out to be said, until Sasuke finally looked away.


“Hopefully Haku’s okay,” he mumbled.


“He’ll be fine,” Naruto insisted with a nod. “Didn’t look as if anything too fantastic happened today. They really did look...happy together.”


“All a ploy.”


“Could be, but still...maybe Sai isn’t such a bad guy. I mean...maybe he really does like Haku but is just messed up right now and can’t really decide which side he wants to be on.”


Sasuke snorted in exasperation. “Oh, please. Are you trying to tell me that if Sai falls that hard for Haku, he’s likely to defect from Orochimaru’s ranks? You have no idea how loyal his officers are do you?”


“You were once like that,” Naruto replied with a smirk. “Look how you turned out with just the right influence in your life.”


Sasuke blushed darkly. “Shu...shut up. I am ...I already didn’t like him from the beginning -”


“But you were still loyal to him -”


“Yes, but -”


“People can change.”


“I know that, but -”


“If we can isolate Sai -”


“It’s going to be pointless. Besides Haku doesn’t really love him. He’s crazy over you, remember?”


“I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but even you had to have seen how Haku was behaving today. Was that all acting?”


“Haku’s skills are better than most give him credit for. He can make you believe anything if he so wills it.”


Naruto bit his lower lip in thought. “I still think it’s not all acting. If those two hang around each other long enough, they might end up falling for each other.”


“Why are you so desperate to get them together?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow.


“Because I don’t want him to be unhappy. If he sees us together, it’s only going to remind him of my rejection.”


Sasuke struggled to ignore the skip of his heart at Naruto’s admission, even if it seemed the blond wasn’t aware of just what he had said.


(if he sees us together)


Does it mean that he wants us to...?


“Damn it,” Naruto muttered in frustration. “Why can’t things be so fucking easy when it comes to relationships?”


“I don’t think it’s ever supposed to be that way,” Sasuke replied quietly. “I think I’ve learned that the hard way the past few weeks.” He gave a weak smile. “You had years to learn yours with Sakura. My crash course is a lot more difficult to swallow.”


Naruto looked up with his heart in his throat; the raw emotion in Sasuke’s voice causing his pulses to race like the flutter of a million butterflies in flight. He looked into twin pools of darkness that seemed to shimmer with the promise of tears; a sight and thought that seemed incomprehensible when it came to the man before him.


I think I now see and understand what you were saying, Haku. This...this is the Sasuke I’ve been searching for all this time, Naruto thought with a rueful smile, only to give a barely audible gasp as he suddenly heard it. Like the breathless waver of a child seeking permission into a forbidden place, Sasuke’s voice filled his mind just like it had happened back in that hellhole of a prison.


Giving you up was the hardest thing I had to do, Naruto.


His lips quirked in acknowledgment as he closed his eyes.


So we both agree that what we had and did was not a sin after all.


Sasuke turned crimson at the sound of Naruto’s voice as he too allowed his lashes to flutter closed. He could feel them slipping into that welcome void again; that place of solace where only two of them mattered.


If it is a sin to be with you, Naruto, then I willingly concede that I am the guiltiest sinner that ever lived.


Your confession is worth a purification rite, don’t you agree?


I am ready for my ablutions, Naruto. What exactly did you have in mind?


“Only this...for now,” came the breathless response which had Sasuke finally lifting his lashes just in time to feel Naruto’s warm lips against his. When the other man had moved, Sasuke had no idea, but he could care less about that for this was a kiss he had longed and craved for so long. He welcomed the questing tongue with a soft groan; stomach muscles clenching, nerve endings triggered, ever so grateful he was sitting for he was sure his knees would have trembled in resignation.


Naruto’s hands enclosed his on the chains and held on tightly; perhaps with the secret promise that this time he would make things right. For though their days of being together were all but numbered, Naruto vowed to make every moment with Sasuke count. They certainly had a lot of catching up to do.


Except for one little problem they would come to realize much later…





…Haku failed to return as he had promised.






Chapter 33

Naruto Home

































Web page layout designed and coded by {suser:ladyoz}