A/N: Personally, I really do feel like Naruto and Sasuke's bond went way deeper than just friendship, and they were too thickheaded to realize it. I hope you enjoy reading this and if you did, feel free to review, I'd love to hear what you think.
Disclaimer: All Naruto characters, settings and the like are property of Masashi Kishimoto. No copyright infringement intended. Credit for the beautiful artwork goes to the artist.
After years spent traveling, Sasuke stopped calling Konoha "home".
It still was, in a way - after all, his wife and child lived there. But then again, he wouldn't call Sakura and Sarada his family, either. Family: To Sasuke, that word was too closely connected with pain and heartache. It meant having to distance himself from them in order to avoid too much attachment. He didn't know how to handle attachment, hadn't known for years.
Sasuke Uchiha really wasn't cut out for family life.
He took a deep breath and another step forward and then the hokage mountain rose up in front of him. Something small and anxious fluttered in his chest: Konoha might not be home anymore, but something, someone else was. And although he would die before saying it out loud, Sasuke had missed that someone. He went straight for the Hokage's office and ignored the little shred of guilt nagging at him. There was plenty of time to see Sakura and Sarada later: Besides, he'd already sent word to Naruto, who'd surely expect him already.
While walking through the building, Sasuke thought, not for the first time, about how all of this could have been his. If he'd stayed, if perhaps he'd abandoned his plans of revenge and vengeance.. No doubt he would've been prime choice material for Hokage. He shook his head almost imperceptibly chasing away the fleeting thought. His anger and his temper were tools he'd learned to use well. They enabled him to survive. Sasuke smirked to himself: How typical it was of him to think of anger and vengeance while he was on his way to see Naruto. Nothing much had changed over the years.
Suddenly a tall and slender figure crossed his path and Sasuke found himself eye to eye with Shikamaru Nara. Nothing much had changed about him, either- the biggest visual difference was the goatee he now sported, which made him look even more like his father. The resemblance was almost shocking.
The two men acknowledged each other with a curt nod: Sasuke couldn't help but stand taller, square his shoulders just a little more. He hadn't lost the urge to intimidate his opponent, even though it wasn't necessary anymore. His name was intimidation enough by now.
"He's in there." Shikamaru said in that familiar gravelly voice, pointing at the door behind him. He cracked a half grin. "He's been saying the whole day that it was time for you to show up. It was a drag, honestly."
Sasuke didn't bother responding: He just lifted his chin and the Nara took his cue to leave. Sasuke decided to enjoy just a few more seconds of quiet before he opened the door and would undoubtedly find himself being interrogated, crossfire style. One more exhale, and the door handle was pushed down.
Silence greeted him.
That was odd. Subtly, Sasuke activated his sharingan to check if any threats waited for him in the office, but there were none. There was just Naruto - and stepping into the room, he could see why he was so uncharacteristically silent: The seventh Hokage had fallen asleep with his head on his desk. A bit of the tension in Sasuke's body loosened and he pulled the door shut behind him. For a moment, he indulged himself in the guilty pleasure of simply watching him, as he was never able to do with Naruto aware of him being around (even now he could hear that slightly hoarse voice with the bratty tone he hadn't lost, even as an adult: "Wat'cha looking at me for, baka? Do I have something on my face?").
Naruto looked tired. Even leaning against the wall Sasuke could make out the grey paper-thin skin under his eyes. His cheeks were an unhealthy shade of red: That could most likely be blamed on the bottle of sake next to his laptop. He was, Sasuke thought to himself, a mess. And yet, he knew that if he opened those sky-blue eyes of his right now, they'd be glowing and it would spread down the rest of his face along with his trademark grin. Sasuke didn't know how to grin like that, carefree and happy. On most days, he just smirked. It was hard enough to force a smile for Sarada once or twice a year.
Naruto could coax smiles out of him without even trying. Sasuke only noticed when his cheek muscles hurt afterwards.
Looking at him now, Sasuke felt a peculiar squeeze in his chest. It was like a tiny hook caught in his flesh, pulling him forward. He didn't stop until the tips of his shoes touched the desk. If he'd lean down now, he'd be close enough to hear Naruto breathe. He'd be close enough to touch his face.. He wanted to touch it. He wanted to wipe away the grey color under the Hokage's eyes.
What was wrong with him?
Sasuke leaned down, as he had years ago, when they were still children. His hair framed Naruto's face and his breath moved the finest hair of Sasuke. Any closer, and their noses would bump. Sasuke's eyes wandered to Naruto's mouth, slightly open. It was a little too big for his face, even worse when he smiled. Everything about him was too broad to be considered attractive.
Still, Sasuke, couldn't look away.
Who was Naruto to him, exactly?
The boy who saved him.
The boy Itachi said he could trust.
The part of home he always carried with him.
The red thread in the labyrinth.
The one he wanted to protect.
With his remaining hand, Sasuke undid the clasp of his cloak and slid it off his shoulders. Very gently, he covered Naruto's shoulders with it. It was only a small thing, but it felt right. Sasuke's hand hovered over the mop of golden hair that was always tempting to the touch.. But no. The cloak, he could explain away, but touch was definite. Touch was dangerous. The imprint of Itachi's index and middle finger still burned on his forehead. So Sasuke turned away and sat down on the nearest chair - one eye always on Naruto. He didn't notice himself drifting off into sleep.
When he woke again, Naruto was looking at him, his face propped in his hand. Sasuke was pleasantly surprised to see that he'd kept his cloak on.
"So, you're awake, Sleeping Beauty." There he went again with that too-big grin. Infuriating, that moron. "I was worried I might have to kiss ya."
Sasuke made sure to keep his expression in check, didn't allow himself the slightest hint of a smile.
"You drooled all over yourself." He said coolly.