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“Wasting time,
Let the hours roll by,
Doing nothing for the fun.
Little taste of the good life,
Whether right or wrong,
Makes me want to stay, stay, stay,
For awhile.”

Sasuke sat on the living room sofa and stared pointedly at the front door. Neji stood, leaning against the wall across from the couch, his eyes boring into Sasuke's forehead. They hadn't spoken or really shown any signs of movement for the past hour or so, identical sneers painted on each face.

It was during this tableau that Naruto entered, one hand on the doorknob and the other scratching the back of his neck embarrassedly.

“Hey guys, I'm sorry I had... to...” he trailed off, goofy grin fading. Both men turned slowly toward him and scowled.

“Er... what's going on with you two?” he asked uncertainly. Neji pushed himself off the wall.

“You couldn't find a replacement, then?” There was just a hint of a verbal wince in his voice. Sasuke looked similarly unimpressed with the thought of having to spend his days with Neji.

“I... uh, I didn't look. I changed my mind, actually.” Two simultaneous breaths of relief could be heard.

“I see.” Neji gathered his things and moved toward the door. “Good luck.” With those words, he disappeared in a flourish of leaves and smoke. Naruto turned to Sasuke.

“What was that about?”
~    ~    ~

Sasuke knotted his fingers in Neji's thick, silky hair and pulled hard. He was rewarded with a groan and a veiled hiss of pain. Neji attacked Sasuke's collarbone with his tongue and teeth, making a hot, wet trail from his neck to his belly.

Two hours later, Neji's chuunin battle with Naruto was about to begin, and Sasuke was trying to forget it ever happened.

~    ~    ~

“We don't get along,” Sasuke stated with a shrug.

“Oh. Okay.” There was a pause before Naruto smiled brightly. “So, what's for dinner?”

I guess he got it out of his system. “Make it yourself, dobe.”

Though the conversation was strained, the night went fairly smoothly. Sasuke noticed Naruto's reluctance to speak of anything deeper than the weather and which children had made chuunin, but that was fine with him. He had never been the talkative type, anyway.

That night, Naruto slept on the living room couch.

*    *    *

Days passed without much incident. As Sakura suggested, Naruto did not train with Sasuke, although he occasionally came to watch. Instead, Sasuke fought with Neji, Lee, or more rarely, Sakura. Without his Sharingan, Sasuke posed a much lower risk of learning anyone's techniques -- a precaution to be taken in case he somehow managed to escape. On top of that, each of Sasuke's partners was instructed only to use taijutsu. Tsunade didn't want to take any chances.

Sasuke and Naruto were sitting in the kitchen after a long day of training with Lee, eating in comfortable silence. Naruto had ramen take-out from Ichiraku, and Sasuke had made himself a simple lemon rice dish.

“You've been training hard,” Naruto commented around his noodles. Sasuke glanced up from his food and shrugged.

“Not hard enough.”

“You don't feel stronger? You look better these days... y'know, with some colour in your face.”

“I hadn't noticed,” was the dry reply. A pause.

“Are you going to leave again?”

“Probably.” I won't lie to you.

Naruto looked furious. “Is that all you can say?!” he shouted, slamming a fist down on the table and causing the dishes to clatter. “You're just going to ruin everything we did for you?”

Sasuke dropped his chopsticks. “I never asked for any of that!” he countered angrily. “I'm still not asking for it! You and I both know what you did, you were doing for yourself... for some crazy, idiotic dream that you could create your own sad little family!” He shoved his chair away from the table and stood up. “Look, I'm here. I'm playing along with your pretend game.” His eyes narrowed. “But don't expect me to keep this up forever. I'm here because you promised me one thing, and as soon as I get it, I'm gone.” With that he stalked out of the kitchen, leaving a stunned Naruto at the table.

A few minutes later, Sasuke heard footsteps approaching his room. He listened as a hand slid across the door, but did not push it open.

“If you hate being here that badly,” Naruto whispered from the other side, “just leave. I won't try to stop you again. I'll even release your seal and give you a head start before I hunt you down.” Sasuke moved closer to the voice. “I didn't bring you back so you could resent me for the rest of your life. So yeah... just get out if you don't think there's a point in staying.”

After that, Naruto left, and Sasuke slumped down beside the door, head in his hands. Free to go... he thought. It was tempting. But where could I go? The only person worthy of teaching me anything useful is gone now. Even if I bring him back, he won't help me. He brushed his fingers across his shoulder and shuddered. No, what little freedom I have here is still more than what I had with him. But Itachi... you are still out of reach. He grimaced bitterly. And I owe Naruto for releasing me. He slammed a fist into the floor, splinters piercing his knuckles.

“Goddamn you, Naruto.”

* * *

The sun rose on another summer morning, and Sasuke woke just as it hit the windowsills. He cleaned and dressed quickly, having become accustomed to the brisk routine he and Naruto had set for themselves. Though, the thought of Naruto made Sasuke frown. I should say something to him.

He strolled down the hallway, expecting to see the usual messy living room, floor littered with ramen cups and sheets in disarray on the couch -- but today was different. The hardwood floors were spotless, the couch clean, sheets folded neatly and piled on a frayed armchair that Naruto had brought from home a few days back. There's a surprise, Sasuke thought sardonically. Dobe must've cleaned-- His thoughts jerked to a halt when he saw Neji, not Naruto, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of tea and browsing a scroll.   
“What the hell are you doing here?” Sasuke bit out.

“Naruto had a mission. He asked me to substitute until he returns,” Neji replied with a scowl.

Sasuke frowned, grabbed a leftover dumpling from the fridge, and marched straight back out of the kitchen.

As he slid open the door to the porch, towel in hand, Neji rose from the table.

“Where do you think you're going?” he asked in that unnervingly flat tone.  

“Swimming,” Sasuke growled, slamming the screen shut behind him. He ignored the predictable sound of the door sliding open and shut again a few moments later as he stalked toward the dock. But instead of footfalls following him, he heard only the soft scrape of cloth on wood. He glanced back to see Neji sitting cross-legged on the weathered porch, eyes shut and hands resting on his knees. With the quirk of an eyebrow, Sasuke slipped into the water.

Later that day they trained with the ease that only strangers could share. Sure, things had happened the one time when they were younger, but really came down to it, Sasuke and Neji knew nothing about each other and preferred to keep it that way.

Although he seldom had use for it, Neji was uncommonly proficient in taijutsu, due to his training with Maito Gai. He was thus an interesting sparring partner for Sasuke, who was quick to learn even without the eye of insight. Unlike other ninjas that agreed to help Sasuke –of which there were very few, as Sasuke's return had not yet been publicly announced—  Neji could also monitor his chakra levels, and in case of emergency, could block Sasuke's chakra flow forcefully. Though Sasuke understood Naruto's reasoning for choosing Neji as back-up, he still disliked the idea of the Hyuuga breathing down his neck.

Neji was good for dispelling Sasuke's bad mood, however. By the time they finished sparring, Sasuke was too tired to be angry that Naruto had left without a word.

“When will he be back?” he asked on the way home.

“A few weeks.”

“What kind of mission is it?” It must be important if that idiot had to accept on such short notice.

“None of your business. It's dangerous, if that's what you're wondering.”

“Hmph. Like I care,” Sasuke muttered, folding his arms over his chest. You'd better come home.

* * *

It rained the night Rock Lee proposed to Haruno Sakura. Lee was not his usual talkative self, hands shaking and sweaty as he fumbled for the ring. The only words he could manage were “P--please marry me, Sakura-chan.”

She stared at him mutely for a moment before she remembered herself, whispering “Of course, Lee,” and pulling him into her arms.

“Oh thank goodness,” he sighed into her hair. “I promised myself I'd climb every single tree in Leaf Country if you said no!”

* * *

Sasuke treaded water and watched as Neji's milky eyes traced the movement of a swallow overhead. “Why do you like them?” he asked suddenly. Neji's gaze flickered to Sasuke's face before returning to the sky. He was sitting on the edge of the dock, bottoms of his feet just touching the water.

“It's hard to believe something with such tiny wings can still manage to fly,” Neji replied, ignoring the question. “Do you like birds?”

Sasuke was silent as he considered. “Well, there's one kind that we get a lot around this house. I don't know what they're called, but they sound like they're crying,” he replied after a while.

“Mourning doves, probably.”

“They remind me of mom,” Sasuke murmured. A frown passed across his face as he realized he'd said it out loud. He climbed out of the water hastily and brushed past Neji. “I'm going to see the Hokage today, so make whatever preparations you need in the next half hour.” As he walked away, he turned back and said in a clipped voice, “I'm leaving as soon as I'm showered and dressed.”

Neji listened thoughtfully to Sasuke's heels thumping on the damp wood for a few moments before he rose and followed the boy inside.

Sasuke gripped the edges of the sink and coughed harshly. Spots of blood clung to the faucet, the mirror, a droplet forming on his lower lip. It fell into the basin, splashing deep red in stark contrast to the white porcelain. He glanced in the mirror shakily and licked the metallic residue from his lips. Everything was fine a moment ago, he thought, alarmed. He'd reached the bedroom when he was overcome with a coughing fit. When he saw blood on his hand, he had rushed to the bathroom. I wonder if this is Naruto's fault, too.

He thought the worst of it was over as he straightened up, raking pale fingers through his hair. Then suddenly, his left side erupted in a paroxysm of pain. He doubled over and clutched his shoulder, biting back a scream so Neji wouldn't come running. His eyes watered from the agony and he fell over and curled up on the bathroom floor, willing away the horrible sensation.

“Fuck,” he hissed between his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut. After a few excruciating moments, it receded.

He waited for his heart to slow and his breath to come normally before attempting to move. Eventually he stood up, placing a hand on the sink for support. Satisfied that nothing else would happen, he undressed quickly and turned the shower on.

Sasuke paused briefly as he debated with himself whether Tsunade-sama needed to know about this little incident, but decided in the end that what she didn't know probably wouldn't kill her. Or me.

*    *    *

“I want to go on missions.”

“Absolutely out of the question,” Tsunade snapped. “You know the conditions of your stay. How could you even think to make such a stupid request?”

“My life is dangerously simple right now. It's beginning to bear a little too much resemblance to the years I spent in Sound.” Sasuke paused. “Am I being used, Godaime?”

She snorted. “Of course you're being used, brat. It's your job. But just because you have paranoid delusions about your purpose here doesn't obligate me to give you missions. Now, unless you have something important to tell me, shoo. I've got work to do,” Though her voice betrayed nothing, Sasuke noticed the shrewd, appraising look on Tsunade's face.

I could give her intelligence on Sound's lair, things that only Orochimaru knew... Sasuke knew this was what the Hokage was waiting for. It could be the information that would set him free. But he was stubborn, and he hated it when others used their power to manipulate and control him. I won't be under anyone's thumb anymore. I'll find a way to set myself free on my own. He clenched his jaw and gave her a curt nod.

“Good day, Hokage-sama.”

She narrowed her eyes almost imperceptibly. “And to you.” He stood before her, searching her face for a few tense moments, before turning on his heel to leave.

Sasuke didn't get halfway across the room before he fell on his knees with a strangled cry, clamping his shoulder in an iron grip. His vision swam, dizzy from the pain. Slowly the blackness wrapped around him, until he gave in and collapsed on the carpet, unconscious.
Word Count: 2264
Pairing: SasuNaru and others
Rating: Currently PG, eventually R

Song: Dave Matthew's Band: Stay

A little more insight into Sasuke's thoughts here, and moving away from Naruto. My favourite part about writing this whole fic was/is the Sasuke-thinks-one-thing-and-says-another bits. There's lots of that. He's a big fat liar most of the time - even to himself. And I *love* it.
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yaoiFangirl293 Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Soo cool! Can't wait till next chapter.
Strayfish Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2009  Professional Interface Designer
Thank you!
yaoiFangirl293 Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Your welcome ^^
lailuzza Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2009  Hobbyist Filmographer
LOVELY CHAPTER...*snif*<333333333333333333 hope the 7 sooooooooon
Strayfish Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2009  Professional Interface Designer
Thanks! It'll be awhile before the next one, but I appreciate it :)
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