Chapter 5 Skin Deep

T Minus 17 Days

Some last-minute preparations saw Naruto out the door late that night, long after everyone had gone home to bed. Sweet heavenly cradle of pillows and blankets, that bed. He couldn't wait to crash after such a long day of cramming Sakura's convention into his building. Heaven knows why her boss would give her a convention to plan during her transition between jobs. As far as he know, she hadn't even moved into her new desk and position.

He had just eased his tired limbs into his baby, when his cell pinged twice. A hand-me-down from Gaara, actually, after Naruto lost his phone to the sewers when some poor kid bumped into him one day. Gaara never needed it for anything more than calling and texting, and so until he saved enough for a newer model or bribed one of his friends for theirs, he was stuck with the clunky dinosaur.

He had two messages from Sasuke:

Are you busy?

I thought I'd drop by with dinner.

As ever, a man of few words, he chuckled.

Sure, he texted back, I'll be home in 10. As soon as it was sent, his phone pinged again.

I'm already at the door. Your doorman let me in.

Naruto easily maneuvered his Beetle down the vacant street. It was just like the bastard to assume he was free for dinner. Though they usually spent at least saturdays at his place, he was often free on tuesdays, his day for slacking off after submitting his own work and signing off on final projects on mondays. Tuesday was usually a good day. Usually. Though, a heads-up would be nice every once in a while. After all, his flat was often the rendezvous point for his crazy staffers.

They ran amok around his place so often that he'd had to offer tribute (in the form of cooking or baked goods) to his neighbours to stay in their good books. Though it paid back with every party or 'small gettogether'; at least one of his neighbours showed up with party treats. When, of course, his staff and neighbours jointly raided his fridge for his cooking, and lit up the entire block with their noise. In the end, he still had the odd noise complaint from the old lady three blocks down.

These spastic forays into his privacy were part of the reason why he hadn't given Sasuke a key. In fact, no one but Gaara had a spare. His close friend had demanded a key after that one time he had passed out in his flat from overworking himself. (It was only one time!) He recalled waking up on the stretcher to the near-palpable worry in his friend's eyes. The rescue-and-transport team, however, couldn't see past the redhead's stoic and intimidating exterior. He nearly laughed out loud as the terrorized paramedics asked him nervous questions under Gaara's watchful gaze. He had good friends.

Pulling into the street parking, he quickly made his way up to his flat on the fourth floor, where he could see Sasuke leaning detachedly by the door. He had the figure of a model and even better posture. His long legs were emphasized by the pressed navy slacks, a simple button up that tapered about the waist to accentuate his slim torso, and expensive shoes. A paper bag of takeout sat next to his feet. He was captivating. A darkly handsome libertine.

When his eyes met and lingered a little longer than polite on Naruto's battered form, he arched an eyebrow.

"Long day?"

"Too long," Naruto chuckled feebly. He passed by to unlock and open the door, "C'mon in."

With a faint frown, he took off his shoes, placing them neatly by the door and followed the blonde in. "I brought Mediterranean," he commented as he unpacked the trays of rich smelling food. Naruto immediately whooped and oohed appreciatively. Good food was well-received on any day, good or bad, apparently.

On the one hand, Sasuke sometimes mused that food would always be the number one love of Naruto's life. On the other hand, he was glad the blond was easily mollified. He'd had several lovers who, at first, appeared low-maintenance, but quickly became stifling to be around. They demanded attention, restricting his nightly outings to venues where he couldn't catch unwanted attention, which admittedly were very few. When it had gotten dangerously one-sided, obsessive almost, he had cut it off. He succeeded more often than not but these few insane hangers-on had stalked him, staked out his apartment to the point where he just didn't invite anyone over anymore. When he'd explained, Naruto understood; some people just had certain peculiarities and varying comfort levels. In exchange, Sasuke reasoned he would turn up at Naruto's flat. Save him the trouble of commuting.

"Did you bring baklava?" The blond had a sweet tooth, for sure.

"Of course."

They had set up at the kitchen island since the place settings were already set up there.

"Thish iz goohd," Naruto said around a mouthful of olive and chicken pizza. Something he did (along with overstuffing his mouth with food) in order to gross out his more prudish friends. Hey, they eventually laughed along with him.

"Idiot! Close your mouth while you chew!" Though his lips twitched in amusement as Sasuke took a decently-sized bite into his slice.

"Yes, Gaara." To which, Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

"I don't think I need to hear about your Oedipus complex, do I?" He smirked, "For your puerile brain, that's sexual attraction for your mother."

"Fuck you!" Naruto laughing slightly as he reached for a slice of the traditional Hawaiian pizza. "I know what it is. And you're just jealous of what we have." He stuck his chin out at him.

Instead of the light-hearted T-M-I he was expected, Sasuke's dark, dark eyes regarded him seriously.

"Have I something to be jealous of?"

Naruto, though slightly put off by the question, lightly scoffed at him, "No, you know we've been besties since the womb. What brought that on?"

Sasuke gave a small shrug and turned back to his last bite. "It's obvious he cares about you a lot, maybe a little obsessively. Maybe you should.. reconsider his point of view."

It wasn't outright, but Naruto noticed the tension in his tone. He frowned, "Gaara's not obsessive. He's just very loyal to the small group of friends that he chooses. You could be one of them, you know. If you would get your head out of your ass enough to actually try."

His guest shrugged again, with noticeably more tension in his jaw. He didn't look up from poking at the tomato slice on his plate. "Its just an observation, it's clearly more than loyalty on his part."

Naruto turned in his chair, hands fisted on the counter, to face Sasuke. "It's clear? To who, Sasuke? You? And you're the expert on emotions, are you?" There was no mistaking the animosity in his tone and Sasuke turned to face the fire in those blue eyes. If he had to admit, it had been a long time since he'd seen that burn, felt the rush of adrenaline that always came with their 'exchanges.'

"I didn't say that-"

"What, what did you mean to say? 'Cause it's pretty clear you're thinking Gaara has a thing for me."

"Well, you haven't discouraged it, have you?"

"So what? You're thinking I've left it alone 'cause I'm using him? That I'm leading him on for what? For jokes?"

"No, I didn't say that. But you can't deny that you let him in more than most people." More than me.

"He's my best friend, Sasuke!" He threw his hands up almost violently. His finger catching on the empty plate and jolting it with a loud 'Clang.' It echoed in the stilted silence between them, their eyes locked, anger and frustration unmistakable in Naruto's heated gaze. Why he was so angry, Sasuke didn't know. The blond was being unreasonable, more so than usual. He only told it like it was.

Finally Sasuke, in a coldly impassive tone, broke his gaze. "Considering how many 'best friends' you have, do you even need a lover?"

Naruto heard more than felt the blood rushing to his head. His ears burned furiously and the muscles in his jaw jumped with each heated breath. His voice was cold, colder even than Sasuke's when he breathed lowly, "Are you seriously asking me that?"

Seeing that cold fury in those icy blue eyes, Sasuke suddenly regretted his decision to come over despite his migraine. He hadn't meant to accuse Naruto of cheating, or even the near-occasion of cheating, but he couldn't take it back. It was true; it had crossed his mind more than once, seeing Naruto's closer-than-normal relationships with his 'friends.' But that didn't give him the right to point fingers. Not when he knew he was being hypocritical.

"Are you serious?" The blond repeated, "After what you've said, and your less-than-caring attitude. You're an emotionless bastard. Don't pretend that you care one bit about my 'friends' or their feelings."

He stood up rapidly, the chair scraping the floor with force as he snatched his keys up. "Whatever, Naruto," He spat coldly, ignoring the slight hurt he felt at those words. He wouldn't stay a second longer to listen to Naruto's tirade about friendship and loyalty and shit. His head felt like it was being split in half, and his eyes twinged slightly. As he slipped on his shoes and walked out the door, he heard Naruto sigh through his teeth.

Damn. He left his aspirin at his apartment.

Naruto cleaned with lethargy, dumping the pizza crusts into the garbage and piling dishes into warm water to wash tomorrow. It was supposed to be a relaxing evening with wine and conversation and Sasuke. Instead his long day just became longer. Lately, it seemed all his time spent with Sasuke banked that way. The initial bite and burn that faded into occasional twinges, like a cut that penetrated his skin.

He didn't want to think about it. He had to get up in 5 hours to rush to Kyuubi for auditory adjustments and catering. The staff were dismissed for tomorrow, so it was up to he and Sakura to make sure the convention ran smoothly. He was excited about it earlier, but his fatigue took the wind from his sails. Hopefully he would have energy enough after a good nights sleep. It would be another long day.

Sorry for the wait!

Author's Note: Chapter 3 & 4 have been fleshed out a little bit but with no major changes. I'd like to redo the first chapter too since it's a bit too dramatic for my tastes.