Inari may have stopped proclaiming doom and death to everyone he runs across, but he's still a supremely irritating brat and he can not keep his nose out of other people's business. By the end of the first day, Naruto's ready to strangle the kid, and as soon as Sakura finishes restocking their supplies, he drags his teammates out the door. Not even the chance of home-cooked ramen could make him spend another night in Tazuna's house.
"That kid," he grumbles as they leap through the forest. "I swear, if I run into him again, I'm gonna kill him."
"Yeah," Sasuke agrees, and Naruto must finally be figuring out how to read him 'cause even though the bastard looks just like normal -- meaning blank, bored, and irritated -- Naruto can see underneath how glad he is to be out of the town, and how much he hated putting up with the brat.
Naruto shoots her a wounded look. "What?"
"Hey, hey, come on, what's funny about it? Inari's a total brat."
"Of course he is," Sakura says. She grins. "He'd almost have to be, considering he acts like a perfect cross between you and Sasuke -- it's no wonder you two don't like him!"
"It is not!" Naruto turns to Sasuke. "Come on, bastard, help me out here. I'm nothing like Inari."
Sasuke just shrugs, red-and-black eyes darting from side to side as he watches for signs of attack or clues to Zabuza's old hideout. Naruto scowls, and tries a different tack. "He is a lot like you, though -- Mister 'I'm So Cool I Only Have One Expression.'"
"Oh, don't be mean, Naruto," Sakura says, and he blinks for a second, wondering if she's going back to always taking the bastard's side. Then she grins. "Sasuke-kun has lots of expressions! First there's bored." She lowers her eyebrows into a glare and scowls.
"Then there's angry. And curious. And happy. And--" Her face doesn't change, and Naruto starts to snicker, seeing where's she's going with this.
Sasuke, true to form, scowls at them. "Pay attention -- we've reached the clearing. Moron, which way did Haku go when you met him?"
"Eh? Oh, that way, I think," Naruto says, pointing vaguely eastward into the heart of the forest. "But I was kinda tired so I wasn't really paying attention, and he probably circled a few times anyway, so I don't know how much help that's gonna be."
"Well then," Sakura says, clapping her hands and pasting cheerful optimism on her face, "let's start looking."
It takes them all morning and half the afternoon to find Zabuza's old hideout -- the Demon of Hidden Mist was, after all, a skilled and experienced ninja -- and when Naruto finally tracks down the elusive scent of Haku's wildflower shampoo, the bathhouse is caved in. "Probably what broke the bottle," he mutters, as he whistles his finding to Sakura and Sasuke. Well, at least Haku used something easy to smell, or Naruto might not have noticed the decaying wood under its cover of vines and fungus.
Sakura sighs when she leaps down from the trees and looks over the hideout, and Sasuke's stillness takes on a deeper tinge of irritation, but this is their best bet for staying hidden. So Naruto leads the way into the carefully-disguised buildings and tunnels, trying to find someplace that isn't such a wreck. The rest of the hideout isn't much better, though. Oh, the room where Zabuza and Haku stayed is clean and sturdy enough -- just dust, spiderwebs, and Haku's old kimono to clear out -- but that's because it's built half into a natural cave and the other walls are stone. The minions didn't get nearly so much shelter, and their walls and roofs have rotted, mildewed, or just fallen in.
"O-kay," Naruto says after he, Sakura, and Sasuke wander and climb through most of the ruined complex and return to Zabuza and Haku's room. "Who gets Zabuza's bed, and who sleeps on the floor?"
This is one of the times Naruto wishes Sakura were a little less serious about her vow not to be left behind. Most girls -- Ino, for example, or even Tsunade-baba -- would take the bed 'cause it's their right, or something like that. Then he and Sasuke could claim bits of the floor and feel fine.
But Sakura won't do that. And Naruto knows that he won't feel right taking the bed, and he's pretty sure Sasuke doesn't want to take it either. Maybe that's 'cause Sasuke doesn't want special privileges, or maybe he just doesn't want to be stuck in between Naruto and Sakura without a good escape route, but either way, he's not opening his mouth.
This, Naruto decides, is ridiculous.
So he says so -- says, "Hey, hey, this is stupid," -- and walks over to sit on the bed; it creaks like a rusty iron hinge. Naruto pulls a face. "Okay, so maybe none of us wants the bed, but it's stupid to just stand around like dead fish. I say we get rid of it -- unless you want to share?"
Sakura squeaks, casts a wild glance at Sasuke, and flushes. Sasuke scowls, trying not to act surprised, but Naruto can see the hint of pink in his cheeks. Still uptight, hey, bastard? Jiraiya may be the world's biggest pervert -- hell, no 'probably' about it! -- but at least spending three years with him forced Naruto to learn how to deal with stuff like sex. Okay, so he's never actually tried anything himself, but still.
This could be fun.
He grins. "Right, we'll get rid of the bed." Yeah, there's the flinch from Sasuke and the flush from Sakura... and a hint of anger in her green eyes. He'll quit while he's ahead. "Let's start cleaning up!"
His teammates are very quick to carry the mattress, box spring, and bed frame out to the collapsed area they've designated the rubbish heap. Naruto whistles to himself as he makes a bunch of clones and has them transform into brooms, dustpans, and buckets -- he's more used to making them into weapons, or a bunch of naked girls, but the principle's the same and it's kinda hard to clean things with a knife. Haku's old kimono will do for rags -- it's a pity to rip up such pretty fabric, but they're too short to be anything but yukata now and somehow he can't picture Sasuke in flowers and lilac.
Well, he can, actually, and it's a damn funny idea.
But not yet. The bastard's still too twitchy, and Sakura-chan will kill him if he scares Sasuke away now.
Sakura grabs her supplies and vanishes into the roofless kitchen with a vow to have the wood stove and hand-pump sink both clean and functional in time for dinner. Sasuke walks up the wall and starts knocking down cobwebs, glaring at Naruto. So Naruto takes his broom and heads out to clean the hallways and find something to prop across the empty doorframes leading to the habitable parts of the hideout.
It would be better to work together -- help them build real teamwork -- but at least nobody's being stupid this time around. Tomorrow, though... "Yeah, tomorrow we're gonna head back into town and get some nails, and then we're gonna start rebuilding this place. And we'll have to work together for that."
Sakura yells for him near sundown, and Naruto lets go of the clones as he runs in to see if she's decided to cook ramen.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I love any and all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing which parts of the story worked for you, which parts didn't, and why.
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