Title:By Any Other Name

Author: CrownsofLaurels

Rating: M

A/N: This is meant to be a parody/re-imagining of the original story with a happy ending. I promise there isn't a double suicide waiting for you in the last chapter. Anyway, installment 2/5.


Act II. Prologue.

Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groan'd for and would die,
With tender Naruto match'd, is now not fair.
Now Sasuke is beloved and loves again,
Alike betwitched by the charm of looks,
But to his foe supposed he must complain,
And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks:
Being held a foe, he may not have access
To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear;
And she as much in love, her means much less
To meet her new-beloved any where:
But passion lends them power, time means, to meet
Tempering extremities with extreme sweet.

Right.


Act II. Scene I.

"No, I'm sorry Itachi-sama, I didn't see him at all last night and he's not stopped by this morning," Uchiha Uruchi squinted in concern at the young man who'd stepped inside her senbei shop. "Should I let you know if I see him dear?" The elderly woman patted her hands absently on her apron, dusting the wheat flour from her fingers.

Itachi blinked slowly, unsurprised by the lack of information. Of course Sasuke would disappear in a sulk after their exchange the prior night and refuse to come home. The pinched look on his mother's face when she shook Itachi awake at dawn alluded to a sleepless night spent pacing the kitchen, waiting for his foolish little brother to stumble home. Consequently, this meant Father had been in a foul, muttering mood that morning as well, and for the sake of peace in the household, Itachi had obligingly taken to the streets of the compound to search for his errant sibling.

It was fairly early still, and with the festival the night before, the usual businesses were opening late and fewer people were wandering the streets. Itachi had been asking a few of Sasuke's favorite vendors if he'd stopped by their stalls the night before, and if they remembered what company he'd been keeping. While Itachi had gained several bags of experimental wares for "that wonderful mother of yours," he hadn't garnered any information which would help pinpoint his foolish brother's whereabouts.

He tilted his head slightly in a bow, "Thank you Obasan, but that's not necc—"

"Eh, eh, what's this now?" Uchiha Teyaki popped his head out of the back of the shop, unintentionally speaking much too loudly for the small space on account of his failing hearing. "That brother of yours run off again?" The feeble looking man braced his hands on his hips and smiled good-naturedly at his wife and visitor.

Itachi winced, "He's not 'run off.' I'm sure he simply forgot to tell our mother he was going home with friends."

That was a lie. Sasuke was friendly with many of his peers, but he didn't really have "friends" his age, either among the clan or the general shinobi or civilian population. Not the traditional type of friend, those of the same gender in which he could confide and share experiences. Of, course, Itachi didn't have those either, nothing was wrong with that. What Sasusuke did have though, was an adoring mob of female 'friends' whose affections he toyed with on a regular basis. Itachi had practically given his approval for Sasuke to find such entertainment for the night, and now Itachi was having to face the consequences of those ill-advised words.

Uruchi clucked in the fatigued manner that only women who suffered through rearing several sons mastered and picked a wooden spoon off of the counter, "Your Mother ought to be concerned, what with foreigners in town it's only a matter of time before someone gets pounced on loses their eyeballs."

Itachi kept his face expressionless, but internally sighed. Konoha was perfectly safe and for the Suna-nin to make such a move would be tantamount to suicide, but with the older Uchiha generation, everything always boiled down to someone being after the clan's eyes.

Teyaki sniffed dismissively, "Nonsense, nonsense, that 'uns just a hooligan out havin' a time of it." He sounded inexplicably proud.

Itachi smothered his grimace and tightened his grip on the bag of vegetables in his arms, a gift from a distant relative two stops prior.

Teyaki's wife sniffed and punctuated her words by waving her kitchen utensil under her spouse's nose, "Mark my words, he better watch those pretty eyes of his or they'll wind up in a jar—"

"Oh, are nefarious plans afoot, Obasan?" A firm hand clamped down on Itachi's shoulder and the taciturn young man found his personal space invaded by his exceptionally nosy cousin. Shisui grinned charmingly up at the shopkeepers.

Uruchi scowled at the newcomer and set her spoon down with a heavy clunk on the counter. "Young Sasuke-kun is missing, not that a miscreant like you would spare any time or thought for the matter."

"Oh, poor Sasuke-kun," cooed Shisui, batting his eyes in mock sorrow, "we best head out and look for the boy right away, who knows what kind of trouble that helpless little kid could get into." He gave a dramatic sigh as he hooked arms with Itachi and nudged the other man toward the door. "It's not like he's inherited superior genetics or been trained his entire life by an elite ninja of the village or—"

"Oh, stop it you," Uruchi threw her hands in the air, "wait, wait, Itachi-sama, before you leave, take a bag of these senbei, they're a new recipe I want you to try—"

"Ah, not again dear," huffed Teyaki, crossing his arms and shaking his head, leaning against the counter. "You nag me about wastin' money, but every time I turn around you're givin' food away for free!"

Itachi held his hands up to ward off the kind sentiment, "That's completely unnecessary, Obasan, I'm not hungry at all—"

"I am," Shisui blurted, unabashed, eyeing the woman's brown bag with interest.

"These aren't for you," snapped Uruchi, forcing her bag of senbei into Itachi's arms, "and you can't just eat vegetables, I know that bag is from Ami-san, you're far too thin for that, you need more meat on your bones."

"They're just for my family," protested Itachi, struggling to redistribute the weight of the bags in his arm with Shisui acting as a personal leech.

"Then you can take the crackers, back to that dear mother of yours," Insisted Uruchi, swatting her mumbling husband upside the head. "Hush that, the boy's far too skinny and you know it."

Teyaki sighed and waved the two young men away from his shop.

Shisui "rescued" the bag of senbei from Itachi and liberated some of the crackers happily, "I love how everyone knows that Aunt Mikoto is too polite to ever refuse a gift." He hummed happily as he consumed Itachi's rejected food. "'Swheresf'lsh'ttle'ther," said Shisui around a mouthful of food.

Itachi raised an eyebrow at his companion, watching the crumbs fall from the man's mouth and catch on his police uniform. He sniffed and looked away, taking a left onto a road which led outside the compound.

Shisui rolled his eyes and swallowed his cracker. "I said," he continued with exaggerated enunciation, licking crumbs from his fingers, "where is Foolish Little Brother this morning, then?"

The younger ninja pursed his lips, "Out."

Shisui scrunched his nose, "and without your express permission, how rude!"

Itachi shifted the remaining bag in his arms, "He didn't let anyone know he wasn't coming home last night. Mother is worried."

"Ah," Shisui nodded knowingly, "which means Fugaku-sama is in a pissy mood, which means everyone at work will be developing ulcers and most likely I'll mouth off to the wrong person, drag you into it, and we'll both wind up scrubbing coffee stains out of the break room floor until Foolish Little Brother is safely tucked in bed again, is that it?"

"More or less," agreed Itachi, nodding his head in acknowledgment to a group of older men playing shōgi under the aging awning of an apartment building. The gravel crunched under their feet as the two ambled forward.

"Your mother does remember that Foolish Little Brother is what, seventeen now?" Shisui licked his fingers as he tried to check his math in his head.

"sixteen," corrected Itachi gently, "and I do not believe it would matter to her if he was 20."

Shisui grunted, "The perks and pains of being the baby, I suppose." He stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked at the gravel idly.

Itachi made no comment.

"So," drawled the elder of the two, "will we be dragging him from the bed of his latest conquest then? Because I missed out on that last time and I hear it was quite entertaining."

Itachi grunted dismissively. He knew Sasuke was desperate to develop a reputation in the clan, but the one the boy was actually earning left many things to be desired.

"Who is the latest conquest?" Shisui pondered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, "I thought he was dating that medic-nin with the funny hair? What's her name? Fauna? Flora? Pinkie-pie?"

"Sakura-san," corrected Itachi. He'd been treated by the girl a few times after missions, and but for her taste in romantic partners, had found her to be an unusually intelligent and very capable individual. He had no idea what she saw in his sibling.

"Oh, right. Sakura-san," Shisui sounded out the name carefully, as if savoring the name of his prey. "Foolish Little Brother," crowed Shisui, loudly, "Come out Foolish Little Brother, you've had all night with your darling Sakura-chan," Shisui imitated some of Sasuke's more sensational lovelorn sighs, "I know she has the most beautiful eyes, the most shiny hair, the most melodic voice," he pressed the back of his palm to his head and playfully collapsed onto Itachi, who shrugged him off and murmured an apology to the grandmother giving them the stink-eye as she watered the flowers in her window box.

"If he hears you say those things he'll be angry," Itachi said calmly, attempting to restore Shisui to an appropriate distance.

"Eh," shrugged Shisui, "It's only the same things he says every time I see him. So where is the abode of Sasuke's latest sweetheart? Perhaps we should wake the lovers with a rousing serenade."

Itachi eyed him warily. "We will not be harassing Haruno-san."

Shisui grinned roguishly. "Oh, it's Haruno-san, now is it? It's a pity to be so formal with someone whose bedroom we're about to crash."

"We will not be crashing into anyone's bedroom," said Itachi stiffly, after all, he hadn't forgotten who'd trained the girl. "Besides, I highly doubt my brother is in Haruno-san's company, from what I could determine from his most recent lamentations, she has spurned his affections and is adamantly refusing to rekindle the relationship."

Shisui barked a laugh, "Seriously? Wait," Shisui furrowed his brow, "Is this why my mother has been whining that her garden looks ratty? Has he been stealing flowers to try and coax himself into Pinky-pie's pants?"

Itachi paused at a crossroad, trying to remember if he was supposed to turn right or left to get to Haruno's residence. He doubted the boy was there, but it couldn't hurt to check, hopefully she'd at least seen his brother at the festival. Sasuke hadn't sounded like he was done dogging her steps and begging for her attention. It was probably to the right— He'd accompanied Sasuke to the place on a few occasions, but he hadn't been paying attention—

"Really?" Shisui complained, running a hand through his hair. "I swear Foolish Little Brother owes me a few hours of yardwork."

Better to simply turn right and channel Shisui's current burst of motivation into actual productivity, Itachi decided, steering them down the road and pulling a rambling Shisui out of the way of a young girl with Inuzuka facial markings trying to herd a trio of large dogs in the direction of the training fields.

"I'm so glad you're the one stuck with a Foolish Little Brother," Shisui continued to prattle, "I probably would have murdered all of mine several times over by now."

XXX

It was awfully warm, almost uncomfortably warm with how the sunlight was heating the comforter. Sasuke grimaced and pressed his cheek firmly into the pillow. Mother didn't usually let him sleep this late, so he wasn't in any hurry to wake up before he absolutely had to do so. Unfortunately his body seemed to be on a different page than his mind, and his return to consciousness continued, along with the awareness that the temperature was high because there was another body tucked against his under all these covers, clinging to him as if he was a favorite stuffed toy.

Sasuke tried and failed to open his eyes. Too much light, and he had a headache. Surely I didn't drink that much last night? He rolled over, from his side to his back, and his bed partner whined at the change in position. Sasuke held up a hand to rub at his face and shield his eyes from the bright light as the slighter body next to his squirmed to get comfy, leaving no doubt in Sasuke's mind that his companion was female as the soft curves of the girl's breasts pressed against his side. Her head knocked roughly against his chin and he let out a low grunt as he was assaulted with the contrasting scents of alcohol, some fruity shampoo, and…ramen?

Sasuke's eyes shot open and he popped up in bed with a yelp, dislodging the sleeping girl using him as her pillow. "Why are you—I mean we—I mean," Sasuke gestured about the bedroom as he inarticulately stuttered, his startled gaze taking in his surroundings for the first time. He quickly processed the bright orange and blue décor of the room, highlighted by the morning sun filtering in through opaque yellow curtains which covered some sliding glass doors with a view of a balcony and the woods.

Naruto sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, further tangling the mussed mess. She blinked sleepily back at the boy in her bed. Her free hand rubbed at her eyes and she yawned, "What's wrong?"

The Uchiha's eyes snapped back to her, cheeks immediately turning pink, voice high with shock and stress, "Loser, you've got no –" he looked down, grabbed a fluffy orange pillow to cover his lap, and began to take on the color of his favorite food, jaw clenching. Oh god, Sasuke thought frantically as the events of the prior night came crashing to the forefront of his mind, Oh god, I am in so much trouble. With my mother, with Itachi, with Sakura, with my mother, with Hatake, with the Hokage, my mother—

Naruto's blue eyes quickly lost their sleepy sheen and gained the alert, intense character that they normally possessed as she cast her gaze upon her bedmate. She grinned, looking more predatory than usual with her whisker marked cheeks, and slowly leaned forward, pressing her arms across the bed in a stretch and rolling her shoulders back before scooting the foot or so across the bed spread until she was right next to him.

Sasuke's brain stopped functioning, other than the vaguest flicker of the notion that he should be cursing his teenage hormones and poor lack of self-control. He watched the girl advance with wide dark eyes.

"You didn't mind the lack of clothing last night," Naruto spoke, batting her eyes in a mocking manner as she wiggled herself into a sideways sitting position across the pillow on top of Sasuke's lap, swinging her arms around his neck to steady herself. "In fact, you were quite insistent on removing them if I'm remembering—"

Somebody made an embarrassing gurgle (Sasuke was sure such a sound couldn't come from him) and Naruto's eyes widened cheerfully in response, she laughed and cuddled closer as Sasuke tensed up, feeling like he should probably toss her across the room except that his mother had told him bodily tossing someone in their own home really wasn't polite— She pressed her chest against his and her lips against his ear.

"You know Ass-turd, you weren't that bad and I wouldn't—"

Several solid thuds against Naruto's bedroom door drew the girl's attention away from Sasuke and he never got to hear what she wouldn't.

"Naruto," came a male voice, "is someone in there with you?"

Sasuke was slower to respond to the sound, mind quite oblivious to anything outside a two foot radius of his body at that instant, but his heart leapt into his throat when he registered just to whom that particular voice belonged.

"No," the girl yelled back at the door, from next to Sasuke's eardrum. "But don't come in, I'm naked!"

The Uchiha dropped the screeching girl to clasp a hand to his ringing ear and found himself being pushed by forceful tan limbs to the edge of the bed. He didn't catch what Hatake Kakashi yelled back in response, as Naruto was busy untangling them both from the sheets and trying to shove Sasuke under the bed, if he was interpreting her nonverbal gestures correctly.

"Hide," hissed the blonde in a low, urgent tone and Sasuke hastily crawled under the foot gap between the bed and the floor, batting away the dust ruffle and hoping that Loser had cleaner housekeeping habits than he'd previously predicted.

Naruto straightened, grabbed the sheet, and quickly sprawled on top of the bed, rearranging some pillows. "I said don't come in, I'm busy!" She howled at the door, sounding fussy and bouncing with energy.

Sasuke gave an "oof" as the bed gave a bit with the bounce and the beams dug into his back. He poked his head, hair now covered in dust, out from under the bed. "Stop that," he hissed, turning on his back so he could better see the blonde.

Naruto glared and pushed his head back under the bed with a foot, "shut up!"

Sasuke struggled to push Naruto's toes away from his face with one hand (as the other was pinned under the bed). He was in the midst of snarling back an answer when he sneezed.

"Naruto?" Kakashi's concerned inquiry carried clearly through the wood.

The door squeaked open and Sasuke was grateful he was on the side of the bed not visible from the door. He inched fully under the protecting furniture. Being found naked in the Hokage's only daughter's room by Hatake Kakashi was not how he expected to start any day of his life. It would also probably be the last start to a day of his life, so he tried to regulate his breathing as much as possible, pressing his tongue to the tip of his mouth to ward off oncoming sneezes.

"Naru—clothes!" Came the horrified, squawk/squeak from Hatake, followed by the sound of several pillows being thrown and hitting a non-defending body. Sasuke could only blink quickly, trying to get the dust out from his eyes, and stare at the wooden beams above his head, imagining the expressions attached to the voices.

"Is that my Icha Icha?" Kakashi asked, sounding incredulous.

"So? Get out, get out! Stop interrupting my fun!" More thuds, muffled swearing, the sound of what was probably Kakashi hitting the door frame in his haste to exit, and then the firm slam of the door. Soft footfalls against the carpet, and a hand grabbed his arm and to drag him out from under the bed and onto the floor of the brightly lit bedroom.

Sasuke sneezed twice more and then blinked watery eyes up at the naked girl kneeling in front of him holding out a box of tissues begrudgingly. He swiped them with a miserable snuffle and blew his nose, rubbing his eyes. "Don't you ever clean, Loser?"

Naruto frowned down at him, "No. I pay other people to do that."

"Of course you do," muttered Sasuke, balling up the used tissues and tossing them in a waste basket at the base of a desk covered in journals. "You may need to consider giving them a paycut—" Naruto pulled him up to his feet and he swatted her hands away. "Stop that—what's wrong now," he asked with a huff, reacting to her tense expression.

The impatient blonde rested her hands on her hips. "Well, for one, we've only got about two minutes until Kakashi-nii realizes that was a man's yukata he saw hanging from the ceiling and he storms back in here," she pointed toward the rafters.

Sasuke's eyes followed her finger up and, sure enough, there was his yukata swinging gently from a slowly revolving ceiling fan. "How did that get up there?" He asked, bewildered, scratching his head.

"I have no idea," answered Naruto, mildly amused. She paced about the room, bending over to collect other items of clothing which had been hastily and enthusiastically discarded the prior night. Sasuke cleared his throat and averted his eyes, not sure what he should be doing himself.

Naruto popped into his line of sight anyway, holding out some dark fabric as if making an offering, "here's the other half of it."

Sasuke paused and took in Naruto's serious visage, marred by the slightest upward twitch to the right corner of her lip.

He scowled and snatched the garment from her hands, unfolding it and turning it over for his own examination. "How did this even get torn like this? I don't remember this at all!"

Naruto laughed at his dismay, and he looked back at her to discover that she was tossing pillows in the air to knock the rest of his yukata down. It fell lifelessly to the bed and he picked it up, trying to see if there was any way to tie the two pieces together.

There wasn't.

He threw his hands up in the air and wheeled about to face the sniggering girl leaning against the wall. "I can't wear this home!"

Naruto shrugged, far too comfortable with her own nudity for Sasuke's own peace of mind. "Not my problem."

Sasuke expressed himself with his best wounded-cat noise.

Naruto tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. "You can always wrap yourself in the sheet," she suggested, walking over to the bed and balling up the fabric in her hands.

Sasuke grimaced in distaste and crossed his arms.

Naruto raised an eyebrow, "Or there's that fuzzy pink bathrobe Sakura-chan gave me last year—"

"I'll take the sheet," Sasuke managed to get out through grit teeth, stalking forward and yanking it from her arms. He tried to drape it about himself as Naruto donned the pink bathrobe she mentioned, circling around him and making cynical comments about his own fashion choices.

When he was finally confident that the bedsheet was secure, she hooked him by the arm and tugged him toward the balcony. She paused before opening the doors, "Here," said the blonde, pressing her fingertips against the bare skin of his collarbone, a faint tingle on his skin the only warning Sasuke had that she'd actually done anything.

"What's that?" Sasuke said, ineffectively trying to crane his neck and see what had happened.

"It's a temporary version of the seal I activated last night," she explained, fussing with the front folds of the sheet. "It completely hides your scent and chakra presence, so no one should be alerted as you make your daring escape," she teased, reaching up to press a brief kiss to the corner of his mouth, distracting him from asking further questions as she opened the doors and pushed out onto the balcony.

Sasuke sniffed, more miffed that the kiss wasn't a proper goodbye kiss than angry at the whole putting a seal on him without express consent issue, "I'm an Uchiha," he said in his best snobbyish tone, "we don't do seals." And he had standards for kisses, damnit. Even if they were with the Loser.

"Mmm," agreed Naruto licking pink lips and drawing Sasuke's attention to them. She grabbed the front of his bed-sheet robe, pulling him in close and then backing him up against the balcony railing. His hand automatically rose to rest in the small of her back, wondering if, after all, maybe he was going to get a proper goodbye kiss before he left. Naruto leaned up on her toes, pressed a hand against his chest, "That's why—"

Sasuke's eyelids lowered, he leaned down—

"—It's a temporary seal, Ass-turd." And with a firm shove and a startled yelp, Sasuke fell backward over the second story balcony railing, hitting the cushioning shrubbery below with some awkward flailing and the snapping of many twigs. He jumped to his feet, snarling and pulling scratchy sticks from places they shouldn't be and smearing strange colored across his sheet-robe. He glowered up at the girl, ready to give her a piece of his mind—

"That seal will last for about 45 more seconds Ass-turd," Naruto cheerfully called down at him, leaning over the balcony railing. "And it doesn't hide sound, so I suggest you start running," she executed a cute little half-wave and blew him a kiss before spinning on her heel and disappearing back into her bedroom.

Sasuke swallowed back the insults he wanted to spew at her retreating back. He took a deep breath, straightened his posture, and took one parting glance at the Loser's Lair.

"Bitch," he muttered, and then a wave of horror washed over his face as he realized how fond the word had sounded. Without further ado, he sped to the nearest boundary line of the Hokage's estate.

XXX

Naruto closed the door behind her, humming happily. It's really too bad he's an Uchiha, it's just soooo much fun riling him up. If he were anyone else—She cut off that train of thought quickly with a derisive snort, shucking the pink bathrobe and tossing it onto the floor of the closet. It came to rest on top of her preferred orange robe. It would have been amusing to send Sasuke home in an orange bathrobe, but she knew better than to send Sasuke home in something she regularly wore.

She turned on the water in her en-suite bathroom, letting it warm up as she went around the room and collected dirty linen and clothes, stuffing them down the laundry shoot before her "brother" could come back in and raise a fuss.

She deactivated the seal on her nightstand, one of her many personal creations. She loved that thing. She was able to modify it to consider so many factors now, sound, smell, chakra…not that she shared that information with many people. The only downside that she'd yet to figure out was that, for some reason, it countered the seal she'd created to act as a doorbell. Her "doorbell" seal was a much simpler creation which alerted her when anyone approached within ten feet of her bedroom door. (Nobody actually locked doors in this house—when several people could use hiraishin in the household, locking rooms became a useless endeavor).

She continued her off-tune humming, tracing the lines of the seal on the wood and turning the problem over in her brain. She crossed the room to make a note of an idea she hadn't tried yet in one of the dozens of sealing journals littering her desk. She shut the notebook and reactivated her doorknob seal, quickly testing everything else just to make sure she hadn't accidently deactivated anything else last night.

After that, she gave the room one last cursory inspection to make sure she hadn't done anything stupid, like leave Sasuke's underwear out on a chair or something. She blinked, had he actually been wearing underwear? Huh, she couldn't remember. She gave the room a bemused smile and walked across the plush carpet, enjoying the feel of the thick, springy material under her feet until she reached the tile of the bathroom, where she proceeded to take her shower.

She sang loudly in the shower, and offkey, using the shampoo bottle as a microphone and belting out silly pop songs. Her "doorbell" alerted her to the fact that company was waiting for her in the bedroom, but since they didn't barge into the bathroom she knew it wasn't her mother or Karin so they could just wait until she finished the chorus of the best break-up song ever, thank you very much.

Snug in her orange robe and padding her hair dry with a towel, she walked out of her bathroom to greet her father. He was sitting on her bed, absently thumbing through one of her sealing journals with a distracted expression on his face. He wore the standard Konoha long-sleeved navy shirt and pants, signature robe folded next to him.

"Morning Daddy," she chirped. She bounced down next to him, leaning her head on his shoulder to better peer at what had caught his attention. He was looking at some of the modified hiraishin she'd been working on with Jiraiya for the past year.

"Hmm," Minato raised his head, dislodging her, "You're getting pretty good at this!"

"Thanks," murmured Naruto dryly. She'd only been training intensely with fuinjutsu for roughly twelve years now, counting her mother's private tutoring and Jiraiya's more recent supervision.

Minato grinned, snapping the journal shut and waving it, "Sorry, I haven't had time to look at any of these in a while, have I?" He stood on his feet and put the journal back with its siblings.

"Nope," agreed Naruto, popping the 'p.' "But it's all for the best, I'm going to have to be a super awesome fuinjutsu master if I'm going to be Hokage one day, aren't I?"

"Right, right," agreed her father with an absent smile, rearranging the journals and paying more attention to the seals he found within them than the conversation.

Naruto's shoulders slumped inward a bit, she suddenly felt very tired. "Watcha' here for?"

"Oh, the usual," said her father, still studying the journals, "Kakashi came to me sulking about some prank you pulled and claiming you were hiding boys in your room or something."

Naruto snorted, leaning back, gesturing to the room with a wide-sweeping arm, "as you can see, no boys here."

"I can see," said her father with a drawl, making a few notations of his own in one of her newer books.

"Even if there were, it's really not any of his business," said the teenage girl, crossing her legs on top of the bed with a pout and grabbing a pillow to fold herself around.

"Your mother would generally agree with you," murmured Minato with a faint smile, "but please stop trying to mentally scar your brother. His hair's already prematurely grayed from having to deal with you, I'm not sure how much more he can take. You've only got one remember, try not to break him."

The younger blonde snorted into her pillow. "Liar, I've seen his baby pictures. His hair has always been that color, he was just born old."

Her father laughed, crossing through some of his own notes, making some more marks, and turning the page. "No matter the truth behind his hair color, while the Suna delegation is here you should probably be a little conservative on the dating front. Please just focus on Gaara-san while he's here."

Naruto buried her scowl in her large fluffy pillow, flashing blue eyes the only thing visible.

Minato looked up briefly from making his notations, grimacing when he caught his daughter's expression. "I know it's not ever something you considered, Naru-chan, but I just want you to be open to the idea." When Naruto didn't respond he sighed and snapped the journal he was holding shut, crossing the room to sit next to her and placing the annotated journal in her lap.

He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her in to his side. "I get it, It's asking a lot of you, especially when you have never thought of Gaara-san that way, but it won't hurt anyone for you to entertain his suit for a while and show him around town. Suna isn't that far away and if you did get married, you'd probably go through a two year engagement period at the least, so you wouldn't leave right away. The council's still talking but—"

Naruto felt he father's posture stiffen the way it usually did when someone was trying to summon him through a hiraishin seal. He pulled away from her and she blinked resentfully up at him.

"Sorry darling," he apologized, "duty calls." He kissed the top of her head and rose to his feet, pulling his white and red robe about his shoulders. "We'll finish this conversation later," he said gently, before forcing an old smile across his face, "I've got to go but I'll be back in a—"

"in a Flash!" Naruto finished the saying in the vacuum left by her father's disappearance. She gave a dramatic eye roll and fell back onto her sheet-less bed. "How the hell I am supposed to become the first female Hokage if I'm married to the Kazekage and living in the desert!" She turned onto her belly and wailed into the mattress, kicking her feet and fists, giving into the sudden overwhelming urge to throw a tantrum and knocking the journal to the floor, unopened.

XXX

Sasuke kept to the back ways as he snuck home, red-eyes whirring and steadily maintaining a simple area genjutsu which hid his presence, distorting the viewer's perception of Sasuke and everything around him in a one foot radius. It was a simple, but effective tool. Most of the clan learned it as children, but once perfected it was hard to detect and dismiss, not that Sasuke was staying in one place long enough for any of the few shinobi to notice any oddities and investigate.

Still, it paid to be cautious and when he noticed individuals approaching who were likely to be shinobi, he ducked behind bushes and trashcans and such in an extra effort to stay hidden. He exited an alley and took a left between a back road lined with fences on either side. He was just about to reach the end of the fenced road when he heard two male voices conversing, and realized that whoever the pair were, they were about to round the corner and come his way.

Cursing internally, and realizing that he had only a few seconds of preparation time, he first looked for anything nearby with which he might execute a body replacement technique, and found only solid fence lining his view in any direction. Sasuke decided to trust his family's jutsu and knelt down, pressing himself as flat as possible against the fence line. After all, even if they were ninja, it would be highly unlikely they would be able to detect his presence unless they were clan members walking around with activated sharingan—

"Really Shisui," murmured Itachi, "I doubt scanning residential houses with your sharingan is going to reveal my brother's presence. It's a bit invasive," added Itachi, "and probably rude." Because his mother would expect him to make that comment.

"You never know," said Shisui agreeably as they ambled down the lane, "I'm learning lots of information about some of my former squad mates. Looks like Dai-kun spent the night with a girl I'm pretty sure Goro-san was—oh, what's this now?"

Oh nonononono, Sasuke thought furiously, scrunching his eyes shut in panic and fingers clenching tightly in his bedsheet. This is not happening. This is just a bad dream, the likelihood—

"Kai!" Came the firm voice of Sasuke's most irritating cousin.

And with that, Sasuke's simple cover broke and he slowly opened his eyes, blinking fiercely, vehemently hoping that the shocked visages of his brother and cousin would fade away any second.

No such luck.

After roughly five seconds of perturbed silence, Shisui folded in on himself with a loud guffaw, slapping his knee and pressing a hand against his gut.

"Oh Itachi," wheezed Shisui, "I take back everything I ever said about Foolish Little Brothers. If they provide this much entertainment, I want ten of them, right now."

Sasuke felt the heat rise to his cheeks and he reluctantly tore his eyes away to focus on his brother. His older brother. Who just last night Sasuke had been thinking about, wondering how Itachi could be so patient with Sasuke's recent ungrateful, childish behavior.

Just perfect. Well, no time like now to carry through on that promise he'd made to himself last night.

Sasuke swallowed, "How has your day been, nii-san?" He asked weakly.

Itachi blinked, taking in the fact that his missing sibling had suddenly appeared, wrapped in a bed sheet and looking like he'd literally had a roll in the hay (or rather, a berry bush of some sort, some twigs, and was that dust in his hair?). He cupped his chin with his hand and considered his sibling. This was a new one. He didn't have a manual for this scenario and none of his mother's lectures, which he usually fell back on when he found himself at loss for words, felt applicable to this situation.

"How was his day?" Howled Shisui, still doubled over, "Obviously not as good as last night was for you!" He grinned at the boy and suddenly jolted forward, catching Sasuke, who cried out in surprise, by the back of his neck and pulling him into a side hug, spinning them both about to face Itachi.

"This, Itachi-kun," began Shisui seriously, easily maintaining his grip on his squirming younger cousin, "This moment is made of so much win. This is the winningest moment ever." Shisui nodded gravely.

"Let me go," hissed Sasuke, embarrassed, trying to shrug off Shisui's hands and glaring at the ground.

"You stop talking," Shisui said, tugging on the boy's hair, "I own you now."

"You don't own me," snapped Sasuke, settling for crossing his arms and trying to look like he was standing in this awkward manner on purpose.

"Not forever," agreed Shisui amiably, "but I think this is good for a week at least."

Sasuke opened his mouth to protest, but Itachi chose that moment to speak.

"Whatever you are about to say, otouto," Itachi spoke in a soft, strained tone, "I would consider that unless you wish to appear before mother in your current state of undress, it is Shisui who will be providing you a change of clothes."

"And a bath," agreed Shisui with a sniff, pushing Sasuke a bit farther away. "If I'm feeling generous."

Sasuke slumped in defeat as his older brother and cousin began to prod him forward to the Uchiha district.

"Of course, this is the best walk of shame ever, the bed sheet is an especially nice touch, points for creativity there, but there's been this issue with my mother's rose garden lately and—"

Sasuke groaned and resigned himself to a week of "volunteering" to assist his aunt with yardwork. His eyes flickered toward Itachi, who was staring straight ahead, a faint tick in the muscle of his brother's jaw the only indication his brother was disturbed by the scenario. His shoulders sagged inward and his stomach dropped.

How do I get myself in these messes? No more girls. For like a long time. At least six months.

Sasuke tried to look objectively at his ability to keep that promise.

Ok, two months.


Act II. Scene II.

"You look like shit," commented Jiraiya when Naruto sought him ought for their usual bi-weekly lesson.

The blonde dug her fingers into her notebook, gouging the leather with her nails as she sunk down next to Jiraiya on the riverbank. He was busy writing on a scroll sprawled across his lap, and waited for Naruto to start the conversation.

"Thanks," muttered Naruto finally, looking bitterly at her notebook, "You'd look like shit too if the majority of the village wanted you to marry the Kazekage."

Jiraiya nodded, "I'd probably look worse," he agreed. He set his ink brush down and scratched at his nose, unintentionally smearing ink across it.

Naruto didn't mention it. Just because.

Jiraiya looked at his scroll longingly, "Are we actually going to talk about your projects," he pointed to the brown leather journal clenched tightly in her hands, "or is this going to be another one of those sessions where you tell me how unfair the world is and I grunt in agreement every three minutes when you to pause to breathe?"

Naruto scowled at him and swatted him with her book. "Some godfather you are! I come to you for advice and you try to scare me off so you can finish writing your porn in peace! I'm having a crisis here, help!"

Jiraiya had the decency to look a bit sheepish, "sorry, It's an important scene that's all, and I'm on a roll. Yulene and Kichiro have just decided that they are so passionately in love with each other they are going to run off on a lover's journey rather than obey their parent's orders to separate—"

"How am I supposed to get out of this?" Naruto cut the old man off before he could get wound up explaining his newest novel, best to keep him focused on the important issues. "You're on the council, how are people talking about it? Is there really as much pressure to go through with this as I feel like there is?"

Jiraiya sighed and rolled his neck from side to side, settling in for a long talk. "It looks pretty serious, kid." He folded his arms, "Suna is pushing heavily for the marriage, and the council doesn't see it as an unreasonable request. In fact, they think it's not a bad request at all in light of the injuries Suna is reporting."

The sannin paused and glanced guiltily at Naruto, "Sorry about that, I thought I'd finished off my teammate. It's unpleasant, to say the least, to realize that I was mistaken on that account." His voice grew a bit deeper and more gruff. "It's even more unpleasant for that mistake to come back and cause trouble for you and Minato-kun."

Naruto pulled at the grass, shredding the blades between her fingers and refusing to make eye contact with the man. She knew he needed to hear a verbal offer of forgiveness, but she wasn't quite ready to give one yet. Her father would have already brushed it off, but this was hitting her a lot more personally and the words just weren't coming today, even though she knew her godfather, who she loved dearly, sincerely felt awful about the whole thing.

After a few awkward seconds, Jiraiya cleared his throat and continued. "The main grounds of the debate are that, as an Uzumaki, you are valuable to the village as a potential jinchuriki. It just seems to be easier for members of your clan to handle that burden, and likewise, any children you have are valuable for the same reason…but there is Karin, of course."

"Great," muttered Naruto, "glad to see I'm useful enough to cause at least some people to protest selling me off."

"Hey now," said Jiraiya, "there are a lot of stodgy old idiots on the council, but there are also some people who genuinely care about you and are arguing for your best interests. Hime and I are doing our best, and I know Kakashi has talked to your father in private several times about the matter."

Jiraiya scratched his head, "and some of the older clans are upset that this may set precedent for marrying off politically important clan members to other villages. The Uchiha won't shut up about it, they see it as a violation of a treaty a lot of the founding clans signed when they joined the village, promising that they wouldn't allow individual members to join other villages, for fear of leaking village secrets and giving opposing villages insights to clan secrets which could be used against Konoha. Of course, the problem is that the Uzumaki weren't a founding clan, and they didn't sign that treaty. However, the Uzumaki are so closely tied with the Senju that the Uchiha really don't see that to be a valid point, they see the Uzumaki as an extension of the Senju, which is, admittedly, a nearly extinct clan."

Naruto bit her lip, "Is anyone talking about how I'm going to be a Kage level shinobi and maybe it's not a good idea to let Suna have one of those."

Jiraiya inclined his head, "Yeah, the Suna-nin themselves brought it up. Said gaining a shinobi that powerful was only fair considering they were being forced to combat a shinobi of that level and that it makes up for the cumulated potential power of the children they've been deprived."

"Wow," blinked Naruto, "they're being that cold about it, huh?"

"I think that's politician words they're repeating," said Jiraiya as he watched the blonde closely. "I don't get the feeling that the little red-head thinks that way at all. The couple of times he's spoken on the issue he's stressed he'll only marry you if you consent. Nobody else seems to have caught on to that issue yet, the whole they'll have to gain your consent thing."

Naruto rested her hands on her knees and stared out at the water.

"You know," began the sannin, "your parents aren't unreasonable. If you tell them you don't want to do this, they'll honor your decision."

Naruto tensed, then forced her muscles to relax. "That's not the problem," she tried to explain, "They might not make me, but they need a reason why. I've had them hammer it into my head over the years that as the Hokage's daughter I have a responsibility to act for the good of the village." Naruto huffed, "I've taken that to heart, I want to be Hokage one day. But every time I try to tell them that they just nod along as if it's the same cute thing they've heard me say since I was four. They're not actually listening to me, I can't get them to realize that being Hokage is what I really want, I can't get them to see me as a serious candidate and that's so frustrating."

Naruto pressed her lips together. She took a moment to catch her breath, because she sure as hell wasn't going to cry in front of Jiraiya, not over this.

"I take you seriously," said Jiraiya gently, "Tsunade does, Kakashi does, your peers certainly do…I've seen the way they react to you."

"Yes," admitted Naruto with a forced laugh, "I just can't get anyone else over the age of 25 to give me the time of day right now!"

"You're sixteen—" Jiraiya began.

"I know," stressed Naruto. "And because I'm only sixteen, there aren't a lot of people giving credence to my thoughts and ideas right now, they don't yet see me as having important long-term personal goals. If I say 'no' to marrying Gaara-kun, without having a good reason, one I can get people to listen to, it's going to be seen as selfish. My parents will see it that way, most of the rest of the village will see it that way. And that's not going to help me when I do press forward with my bid for Hokage. If I refuse to do this without a worthy explanation, then when I'm old enough, powerful enough to force them to listen to that explanation, most of them will have already written me off as that selfish little girl who didn't act in the village's best interests when they needed her."

"Well," Jiraiya rubbed at his eyes tiredly, "the logic is a bit convoluted, but I think I understand you. If you refuse to marry Gaara right now, no one will believe you if you tell them it's because you want to be Hokage. At least, none of the village elders?"

"Right." Naruto nodded. "Because I'm a sixteen year old girl who should listen to my betters."

"And then," Jiraiya continued, "the sense of distrust in you created by your refusal will further damage your efforts to actually become Hokage."

"Yes." Naruto kept nodding.

"So," added Jiraiya, "What you need is a good reason for refusing to marry the red-head, one that won't politically offend Suna and one which the population of Konoha will see as a 'good,' age and gender appropriate reason for refusing the marriage?"

"Exactly," agreed Naruto leaning toward Jiraiya hopefully.

The older man sat ponderously for a few minutes, then shrugged, "Good luck, kid. I got nothin'"

Naruto fell backward in frustration, looking up at the sky. "I thought you said you know everything!"

"I knew everything when you were four!" retorted the man, "Then you grew older and made really messy—well, messes. I can't be held accountable for the knowledge of how to resolve any issues created past the date I made the original statement."

Naruto turned her head in his direction and stuck out her tongue. "I just need a good reason for not marrying Gaara-kun…" she trailed off, lost in thought and watching the blue and white of the sky swirl together overhead. "Hey old Pervert," she tossed a wad of grass at him, which predictably, the wind caught and blew in the opposite direction.

"Not old," said Jiraiya, automatically, unfurling his scroll and going back to his writing

"When your book characters don't want to marry someone, what reasons do they give?" Naruto intertwined her fingers and rested them on her belly. What was that game Shikamaru was always playing, trying to make pictures from clouds, right? Well, that one kind of looked like a kunai. The one to the left of it could be Pakkun.

"Uhh…" Jiraiya tapped his brush against the paper resting in his lap. "Usually they don't want to go through with an arranged marriage because they are in love with someone else."

"Oh," said Naruto, disappointed. She really didn't have anyone could she claim to be in love with…bwahaha, that cloud looks like Ass-turd's hair.

Oh, thought Naruto, eyes widening, this may be my best prank ever.

"Hey, hey!" Naruto cried, bolting upright, crawling to place herself directly in front of the sannin.

Jiraiya's eyes widened in surprise, "Yes?"

"You've already admitted you feel responsible for this mess, right?" Pressed Naruto, leaning in with focused blue eyes.

Jiraiya narrowed his own in response. "Partially," he agreed.

"So you'll help me get out of this, right? Because you're my godfather and you love me and you helped make this mess and I didn't do anything to cause this problem, it was all your crazy teammate's fault?" babbled the energetic blonde. "You'll do whatever you can, right?"

"Within reason," promised Jiraiya, already knowing he was going to dread whatever crazy scheme the brat had dreamed up. Maybe it was time to go one of those extended vacations again—

"Excellent," purred Naruto, grinning in a feral manner, before jumping to her feet and sprinting off into town.

"You forgot your—"Jiraiya called after her futilely, "journal. " He groaned and collected the girl's notebook as well as his own materials. He better get home and start packing his bags. He'd need to write a letter to Minato today, too. Most likely, he was going to want to split town the moment the kid let him in on whatever insanity she'd concocted.


Act II. Scene III.

"A little more mulch," advised Shisui from where he sat on the shaded edge of his mother's porch, directing his younger cousin's work.

Sasuke clenched his jaw, but tore open a new bag and poured out more mulch onto the new rosebushes he was planting in his Aunt's garden. He'd been working for a few hours already, and while the assignments weren't physically demanding, he couldn't deny that the heat was getting to him. He stopped to wipe the dirty back of his gardening glove across his forehead, trying to keep drops of sweat from beading down his forehead and getting into his eyes.

Shisui and Itachi reclined on the porch behind him, supervising. Apparently neither was sure he wouldn't run off if they left—which was actually kind of embarrassing that they couldn't trust him like that, now that he thought about it.

"I'm not going to disappear," Sasuke called back to them, "I know you probably have other things you need to do. I'll finish the garden, I promise." He grunted as he heaved the shovel into the ground to start a fresh hole.

"Oh no, nothing better to do, carry on," Shisui said, waving at him cheerfully before taking a large bite of the watermelon he and Itachi were sharing.

They hadn't offered Sasuke any.

Sasuke's older brother ate his portion more daintily than Shisui and swallowed completely before speaking. "I have devoted my entire day to training you, otouto. Please proceed."

Sasuke scowled and thrust the shovel more forcefully into the dirt. He hated it when his brother relegated him to what were, essentially, D rank missions and insisted on overseeing them as if Sasuke was a green-behind-the-ears genin fresh from the Academy. He got the message, he'd behaved like a child, rushing off and not thinking about how his actions worried others, and now he was being given a childish punishment.

"Besides," added Shisui, "If I left, who would tell you that you planted that last row of roses two inches too far to the right?"

Sasuke stopped shoveling and turned to glare at his cousin. "You're telling me this now? After I've mulched the entire row already?"

Shisui nodded gravely, "Well I had to tell you sometime, didn't I?"

Sasuke felt his back tense in aggravation, "You can't just expect me to—"

"Chop, chop," said Shisui cheerfully, imitating that Daimyo's wife when she was in a particular hurry to repossess that damn cat of hers.

"Sasuke," came Itachi's cool voice, "the client is always right."

"The client is always right," muttered Sasuke under his breath, grip tightening on his shovel as he stomped over to the previously planted rose bushes and began to dig them up again.

Shisui was by far Sasuke's least favorite cousin. He thought he was such hot stuff because of his mastery of the body flicker, and for some reason Itachi would let the older man get away with murder. Sasuke wished he'd just go stick his head in a river and drown.

All of his cousins had the habit of not taking Sasuke seriously and going out of their way to taunt him. It was like they were too scared of Itachi and his father to ever say anything against them, and his mother was just too nice, so all the cousins took their anger out on Sasuke when the clan head came down with some unfavorable policy.

Second son. Second son. Just a little less smart. Just a little less gifted. Just a little less politically inclined. Just a little less dangerous. He'd had lots of talks with Itachi on the matter, especially when they were younger. Sasuke graduated at the top of his class, always got top marks on missions, advanced more quickly than all of his age mates, and yet the only person who seemed to acknowledge how excellent he'd done was the one he was constantly being compared against.

Sasuke huffed as he pulled the fifth rose bush out of the row and started reworking the holes so that they'd meet Shisui's specifications. What did a guy have to do to be taken seriously around here? He was never going to be let in on political discussions the way Itachi was, but he'd still had to memorize the entirety of Konoha's clan laws and the Uchiha's clan ordinances, the same as Itachi, just in case. He'd had to memorize all of the clan's in the village, their strengths and weaknesses, leaders and heirs, and known political preferences. Aside from Father and Itachi, no one else in the clan could say that they had that knowledge.

It was true that Sasuke had taken fewer missions than his clan member peers. He'd heard the rumors about Mother babying him, and admittedly, Sasuke didn't act like the most mature teenager in the world. But the truth behind the issue was that Itachi and Sasuke weren't allowed out of the village at the same time and the Hokage relied on Itachi, a lot. So Itachi got praised for his numerous high-profile missions and great relationship with the Hokage and Sasuke got stuck at home, twiddling his thumbs.

Sasuke hissed as he repotted the first bush too forcefully and he crushed a thorn through his glove and into his finger. He put some pressure on the glove to stop the bleeding and continued, more gently, with the plant a few moments later, dimly aware that Shisui was chatting about nonsense in the background. Sasuke'd even tried to work with the police force briefly, as his brother did on his downtime in the village. The problem was that his clanmates' behaviors were exacerbated in the police station, and after that fifth something went disastrously wrong and got blamed on Sasuke (the changing room was covered in paint, the toilets stopped up and flooded the station overnight, all the uniforms in Sasuke's size disappeared, etc…), even Father noticed something was strange and suggested that Sasuke resume general mission work for the Village.

But there'd been an odd number of graduates in Sasuke's year, and Sakura had apprenticed directly to the hospital while Sasuke had been apprenticed to Itachi. He'd been ecstatic about it at the time, but it meant that Sasuke was used as a substitute on other teams. And, as according to Clan rules, he couldn't leave the same time that Itachi was out, Sasuke's usefulness to the Village was limited. This left Sasuke floundering, trying to figure his role in the Village and Clan, how he could be useful. And it gave him plenty of time to goof off and get in trouble.

Glumly, Sasuke finished re-spreading the mulch over the row of plants and turned to face his temporary supervisors. "Is that acceptable?"

Shisui started, as if he'd forgotten the younger man was there. "Well," he drawled squinting critically at the plants as Sasuke worked on reigning in his temper.

"Shisui," Itachi briefly rebuked their cousin.

"Oh, I suppose it's fine," said Shisui with a sniff. "I'd offer you some watermelon, but I'm afraid we're all out."

Sasuke stuffed his hands in his pocket so he wouldn't give in to the urge to give his cousin the finger. He walked over to the opposite side of the garden, to continue his work on the other row of roses. There had to be some way he could be useful to his clan, to his brother. Sasuke refused to believe that the only purpose he had in life was to be kept safely tucked away as Itachi's less-gifted replacement. He was more than a back-up plan. He knew that, he knew Itachi knew it and Mother. Father was a different matter.

He just didn't have the answer right now. Sasuke blinked, realizing he'd been done potting the rose bush for a while now and was just staring at his hands resting on the dirt. He pushed himself up and went to get the next rosebush, his cousin's irritating voice ringing in his ears.

"—And then they said Suna was demanding that the Hokage fork over hime-chan for marriage to the next Kazekage? Did you hear that?"

"Yes," said Sasuke, absent-mindedly responding to his cousin's question. It took him a few seconds to realize and awkward silence had fallen over the garden. He paused and looked up from the bush he was carrying over to the other two men, who were staring at him in mild surprise.

"Where'd you hear that?" Demanded Shisui, brow crinkling as he tried to come up with the answer to his question on his own.

"I—," Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, and then realized why he couldn't give an honest answer to that question and flushed. If Itachi knew Sasuke had a recent conversation with Loser in which she shared intimate details about her life, it'd probably lead the man to other conclusions that Sasuke would rather Itachi avoid making. "—I heard it from Hatake," finished Sasuke weakly, trying to busy himself with potting his plant so as not to face the suspicion written across his brother's face. "He sounded upset about it."

"Oh Hatake," started Shisui, in his infamous 'don't get me started tone,' which was exactly the tone Sasuke had hoped the answer would provoke.

"Like Hatake cares anything at all for clan law, he's the worst sort of ninja," ranted Shisui darkly. "He's 100% blind loyalty to the Hokage, not an independent thought or wish in his head. He's a bully and a thief, famous for something he stole and yet too proud to actually ask anyone for training on how to use something he claims was a 'gift.'"

Having heard most of the rant before, Itachi and Sasuke mostly ignored their rambling cousin and each continued their own train of thought.

"Why has he never asked for help? If it was really a gift he'd ask. He doesn't ask because he knows it's a lie and he's worse than a grave—" Shisui stopped his rant, blinking as a Konoha messenger hawk swooped into the garden, landing on the ground and awkwardly holding it's leg out to Sasuke.

"What's that?" Shisui watched his younger cousin curiously.

Sasuke took the message from the hawk and let it climb onto his wrist before he stood and launched it back into the air. He then unrolled what looked to be, from the simple blue band of color around it, a summons from an official. He frowned down at the words on the paper, before looking back to his relatives' expectant faces. "Senju-sama wants to see me," Sasuke offered with a confused shrug, having no explanation for the order to report to her at his earliest convenience.

"Tsunade-sama," said Itachi, straightening and sounding concerned.

"What's that old bat want?" Shisui grunted, offended a non-relative was interfering with his manual laborer for the day.

Sasuke tried to give his brother a reassuring smile. Itachi had a nasty genetic illness a few years ago, and Tsunade-sama was brought in as his primary physician. Sasuke had been tested too, but his results had been negative. Itachi was probably worried she'd been re-doing tests and found something. "I'm sure it's fine, I'll just finish this up and go see her." He slipped the paper into his pocket and began to return to his work.

"No," said Itachi, ignoring Shisui's squawk of protest, "let's go see what Tsunade-sama wants."

Sasuke stiffened, "I can go by myself!" He did not need his brother to hold his hand to the doctor's office.

"No," echoed Shisui with a sigh, "She's a Senju, we'd better go too." Shisui jumped down from the porch and strolled over to Sasuke, pinching his younger cousin's cheeks. "No tellin' what she wants with cute little boys now, is there?"

The only thing that kept Sasuke from kicking his cousin was seeing Itachi roll his eyes behind the older man's back.


Act II. Scene IV.

"You," hissed Tsunade with a vehemence that startled Sasuke into taking a step backward, when she finally looked up from her medical paperwork to discern the identities of the trio of men who'd invaded her domain.

Itachi placed a hand on Sasuke's shoulder, preventing him from retreating any further.

She gave Sasuke a glare so severe he started frantically mentally recounting every single action he'd taken the past two weeks, trying to figure out what he'd done to offend the woman.

"Tsunade-sama," began Itachi, "you summoned Sasuke-kun?"

Tsunade finally tore her gaze away from the youngest in the room to address Itachi. "Yeah, I summoned the brat. Not any of his keepers. Is there a reason you felt he needed his hand held when he came to see me?"

Sasuke fought down his blush, as well as the desire to turn to Itachi and snippily say 'I told you so.'

Itachi's hand tightened briefly on Sasuke's shoulder and he looked at the younger man with dark eyes.

"I'll be fine," bit out Sasuke stiffly, wishing he felt as confident as he sounded.

"Yes, yes," promised Tsunade in a mocking tone, "He'll be fine. No matter how ticked I am at him, I won't do anything I can't fix before he goes home."

All three Uchiha tensed and the woman seemed to sense what a bad joke that was, she could fix a lot of things.

She narrowed her honey colored eyes in exasperation, "I swear, on the grave of my grandfather, I won't touch one hair on his pretty little head, got it?"

Sasuke felt Itachi relax next to him, and his older brother gave a respectful bow.

Shisui just gave a snort.

Tsunade bared her teeth in what would pass for a smile, among sharks. "Scram."

His relatives left the office and Sasuke once again wondered what he'd done to be left alone with the woman in this mood.

"Sit," barked Tsunade as she leaned back in her chair.

Sasuke sat, back straight as pole, in the uncomfortable leather chair in front of her large office desk. He tried to stare straight at her, like Father had coached, but his eyes kept sliding to the side so he focused on a strange clock over her left shoulder.

Tsunade crossed her arms and observed him, studying his features, trying to find the answer to some question. Sasuke would gladly help with the answer if only she'd ask, anything to get out of this office quicker.

Sasuke counted as the second hand moved three hundred and twenty three times before the blonde finally spoke.

"So," drawled Tsunade, "you're in love with the brat?"

Sasuke blinked, startled for the second time, "I—excuse me?" He settled on asking, not sure who about whom the woman was talking. Does she mean Sakura? He knew she trained Sakura, but surely she would know by now that the two had broken things off. Is that why I was called, is she mad at me for making Sakura-chan upset?

Tsunade mis-interpreted Sasuke's growing concern. "Don't worry, the office has privacy seals on it. No one will hear anything said in here." Tsunade leaned forward, continuing her study of the boy.

Sasuke scooted his chair back an inch.

"I'm just going to say this once," Tsunade finally said, waiting for Sasuke to nervously meet her eyes. She allowed a few seconds to pass for the importance of whatever she had to sink in with the boy, then she levelled a finger at him and said flatly: "Hurt her and they'll never be able to reattach your balls."

Sasuke jumped a bit, "I—ok, yes." Because really, what else could one say in response to that?

Tsunade kept eye contact with him for about ten more seconds before turning away with a disdainful snort and reshuffling her paperwork. "She's in the last room on the left. She's got that room sealed too so you can talk freely there—" she paused, a thought occurring to her suddenly and her head snapped back to Sasuke, who'd shakily begun to stand. "If you have sex on the lab desks so help me god I will have you emptying bed pans for a month!"

"Got it," Sasuke hastily agreed. "No hurting her, no sex on lab tables—will lose balls and be emptying bed pans for eternity."

"Right." Agreed the blonde, flipping a pigtail over her shoulder, "Just so long as we understand each other."

"Perfectly," murmured Sasuke, tripping over the transition from carpet to tile flooring while trying to make his exit. He hurriedly closed the door behind him and pressed his back against the hallway wall to avoid being run over by two orderlies who appeared to be having a supply cart race down the hallway.

"I see that shit, STOP IT RIGHT NOW," came the bellow from behind Tsunade's closed office door.

The orderlies paled and immediately slowed, looking the epitome of professionalism as they finished the length of the hallway and rounded the corner, leaving Sasuke's sight. Sasuke tried to collect his thoughts, but didn't succeed. He had no idea what had just transpired in Tsunade's office. He started walking down the hallway, stopping before the door to the last room on the left. The only way he was going to make heads or tails of this situation was to talk Sakura, which was why he squawked in undignified surprise when the door opened, an arm reached out and latched onto his collar, and he was bodily dragged into the room by a petite blue-eyed blonde.

"Let me go, Loser," snapped Sasuke as the door slammed shut behind him.

"Well then don't just stand in the hallway gaping like a stupid fish, Ass-turd!" Naruto pushed him toward a stool at a lab table. "Where've you been, I asked Granny to send for you ages ago!"

Sasuke took a seat and looked up resentfully. "She pulled me in to her office to have tea and crackers, Loser."

"She did what?" Naruto scrunched her brow in confusion.

Sasuke rubbed his forehead, "Do you have any idea why she thought it was necessary to pull me aside and threaten my potential to sire children if I hurt Sakura?"

Naruto frowned, "why would she be talking about Sakura?"

"I don't know," hissed Sasuke, "I thought you would since you apparently sic'd her on me!"

"I didn't sic—," Naruto paused and huffed, "look this is starting all wrong. I asked you here because I need your help."

Sasuke opened his mouth to let loose a sharp retort, but cut himself short at the last moment. He assessed the blonde's agitated posture, and then he decided to savor the moment. He leaned back against the countertop and put on the smirk he knew she found most aggravating. "You need my help?"

Naruto took a seat on the stool across from his, crossing her arms, "I need your help," she grumbled.

"You need my help," Sasuke drawled—

"Yes, we've established I need your help!" Naruto snapped, blue eyes flaring

"Fine then," sniffed Sasuke, making a show of examining the dirt under his nails, "Tell me why the Loser just simply must have my help and I'll tell her what it costs."

Naruto fumed silently for a minute, then pulled herself together, closed her eyes, and took a deep, calming breath.

Sasuke waited, uncharacteristically patient.

"I need you to marry me," said Naruto bluntly.

A lesser person, a non-Uchiha, might have fallen from their stool in shock. Sasuke just twitched.

"I'm sorry?" Sasuke asked, looking around, he just had the weirdest out-of-body experience for a few seconds—Loser hadn't managed to poison him or put him in a genjutsu, had she?

"I said," repeated Naruto, opening her eyes and gazing directly at Sasuke, "I need you to marry me."

Sasuke looked to the left, then the right, and then shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "Kai," he murmured trying to throw off any genjutsu, frowning when he didn't feel anything dispel. "I'm sorry," he addressed Naruto again, "I keep hearing you say you need me to marry you."

"I do," Naruto confirmed, nodding, "It's not a genjutsu, I need you to marry me."

It took Sasuke roughly three seconds to realize his jaw was hanging unattractively open. "I don't—" he shook his head again. "Where is this coming from?" She seemed absolutely serious, which was making him feel something that was probably close to panic, but must be something else, because Uchiha didn't panic. "On what planet does this possibly seem like a good idea? Why would you think I would ever agree to that?"

Naruto, also being uncharacteristically patient, let him ramble.

"We hate each other!" Burst out Sasuke.

"We don't hate each other," corrected Naruto, "our ancestors have a history of aggressive opposition in matters of public policy and we've inherited that legacy and adopted it to our own daily interactions."

Sasuke couldn't spare the brainpower to try and unravel that statement right now, "We try to knock the shit out of each other every opportunity we get!"

"That's only because we each know that the other is the best and can take it, it's evidence of an unspoken admiration for each other's abilities," responded Naruto, still sounding calm.

"You stabbed me with a kunai," insisted Sasuke, "when we were four! For accidentally falling on your stupid sandcastle!"

"I stabbed you with a senbon for insulting my brother," corrected Naruto, "and you gave me a black eye for the same reason, so I think we're even on that account."

"Where are you even coming up—do you have notes on your hand?" Hissed Sasuke, noting that the girl's eyes kept darting down before she spoke.

"No!" Naruto turned her palm down.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes.

"Ok," admitted Naruto, "for the sake of turning over a new leaf and honesty, maybe. But that doesn't matter, what matters is that I need your help, and at the moment that means I need to know if you are willing to hear me out on this plan."

"This isn't a plan," groaned Sasuke, "it's a sudden insanity and I don't want to catch it. Why do-you said we would wake up and everything would go back to normal! That we'd go back to hating each other and never trust each other or have weird conversations again!" Sasuke so very, very badly wanted to go back to the night of the festival and tell Hatake Kakashi that yes, he had seen Naruto, she was hiding under the table across the way with five empty liquor bottles keeping her company. Would he please kindly haul her off and get her head examined? Thank you.

"I did," agreed Naruto, "and I'm sorry, but that was before I realized how serious this whole 'marry Gaara' thing was and I can't let that happen. This is the best way, trust me," she sounded bizarrely sincere, leaning forward and accosting him with earnest azure eyes.

"In what alternate universe does 'us getting married' become the best solution to any problem?" Sasuke's gestures were becoming rather animated and Un-Uchiha-like, so he clasped his hands together and set them in his lap. He leaned back against the countertop and tryied to regain control of his facial muscles and seem uninterested in the girl's plight. Which was difficult, because of all the many things the Loser was, uninteresting had never been one of them.

"Right," said Naruto, gathering herself to explain. "It's like this, I'm going to be Hokage someday. It's my goal, I know it, you know it, everyone our age knows it, Tsunade and Jiraiya know it—right?"

Sasuke nodded slowly, "I think I can recall you screaming something along those lines in three-fourths of our interactions."

"And you know I seriously mean it?" Asked Naruto, gaze piercing.

Sasuke grunted, "I've never really thought about it, but I didn't think you were yelling for the fun of it, if that's what you are asking."

Naruto made a sour face. "Well I am, serious about it. I always have been."

Sasuke sighed, "What does this have to do—"

"I'm getting there, keep your pants on As—" Naruto seemed to remember that insulting Sasuke wasn't the best decision when you were asking for extreme favors, and the realization looked physically painful.

Sasuke felt a bit of joy for the first time that day.

Naruto took another deep breath. "My parents don't think it's a serious goal, and no one older than twenty will take me seriously either." Naruto looked upset, and Sasuke tried to push down the twinge of sympathy in his own heart at hearing someone else complain of not being taken seriously.

"So," continued Naruto, "if I tell people I don't want to marry Gaara because I want to be Hokage someday, it's going to seem unrealistic, silly and selfish. And my parents will look like they are indulging their spoiled only child, again." She sat stiffly and looked at the floor.

Sasuke felt as uncomfortable as she looked. "I still don't see how this led you to decide that marrying me is the answer."

Naruto intertwined her fingers, "Well that's just it, I can't refuse to marry Gaara based on the Hokage issue, because that is a 'bad' reason, people won't buy it. So I need a 'good' reason to avoid marrying Gaara, one that people will believe and acknowledge as reasonable. But the only one I can come up with, and believe me I've tried to brainstorm on this issue with several people, is that I'm already in love with someone else, and I elope with this person to avoid marrying Gaara."

"That," Sasuke wanted to say that was ridiculous, that it was the cliché plot-line of every trashy romance novel he'd caught the girls at the Academy gossiping over, but then he realized that it was perfect for just that reason. It was a story-line people already bought into, and respected. The clan-less civilians, especially, would respect that it was Naruto's decision to marry, and from what he remembered of Shisui's and Itachi's earlier conversation, the clans didn't want her to marry out of the village either. They'd frown at the logic, but they weren't going to protest, especially if it secured her ties to the village, didn't offend Suna—

"This isn't going to start a war with Suna?" Sasuke asked quickly, mind racing.

"No," Naruto shook her head, "I know Gaara, part of his conditions is that I marry him willingly. He won't care why I refuse, he'll honor my choice and we'll still be friends." She reluctantly added, "I'm not trying to be mean, but he doesn't have enough friends and allies that he can write me off because of that."

"Why does it have to be me," pressed Sasuke, "Surely Kiba, or Shikamaru, or even that creepy boy Sai would be better!"

Naruto continued to shake her head, "It has to be you. You're the only person I know with both a recent personal history, and a family history, which allows me to get away with this. Because you've been seeing Sakura, I can pretend we've been having an affair the past few months. And because our families hate each other, everyone will believe that we would have hidden an affair rather than publicize it."

Sasuke froze, dreading the answer to this question, "What does Sakura have to do with any of this?"

Naruto elaborated, "If this was going to work, I knew I'd have to bring Sakura-chan in on it. She'll vouch for us that all those times you were sneaking off to see her, you were really going to see me." Naruto looked smug, like a cat licking the cream off its' paws. "And everyone believes Sakura-chan."

Sasuke felt a bit ill, "Why would she agree to this!"

"Sakura-chan is all about the power of the individual against the institution, especially when it comes to the rights of women to be heard and have choices in the military. You should know that Sasuke-kun," said Naruto with a simpering smile.

Sasuke felt his stomach twist, they'd have to address appropriate names and—oh no, oh no, he was not going to be drawn into this. "This requires us to fool half the population of Konoha, including our families and parents, and, you know get married," sniffed Sasuke, "which is a permanent commitment, if you haven't heard."

"First," ticked off Naruto on her fingers, "We don't need to fool half the village, people like love stories and will be willing to believe this unless we give a clear reason to them to believe otherwise. Second, our families, will, admittedly be slightly confused. Think of it as a Declaration of Adulthood. Third," she wiggled her eyebrows, "haven't you ever heard of divorce for irreconcilable differences?"

"Uchiha don't get divorced," said Sasuke stiffly.

Naruto looked at him doubtfully.

Sasuke cut her off before she could start listing off names, "Uchiha related to my mother by the third degree of consanguinity don't get divorced."

Naruto snorted, "Don't worry, I'll be the worst, most un-submissive, un-traditional daughter-in-law ever. Your mother will think I'm insane, she'll be ready to throw you a party by the time you finally announce we're divorcing. Now, for this to be believable, we're probably going to need to be married for at least three years—"

Sasuke made a sound like one of Naruto's toad summons had lodged itself in his throat.

"—But, we're only sixteen now. That means we'll be roughly 19 by the time we end our marriage. That's plenty young to remarry, and in a few years everyone will write our marriage off as youthful indiscretion." Naruto cleared her throat and eyed Sasuke speculatively, "I believe that leaves us to discuss, Sasuke-kun, what your terms would be for the relationship."

"I never agreed—" began Sasuke urgently.

"I know," soothed Naruto, "you may not be considering anything at the moment. But I want you to know this, Sasuke." Naruto kept eye contact with him, and poured all the intensity she could muster into the next few words. "I will be Hokage one day, Sasuke. That's a promise of a life-time. And when I am, I'll be the most politically powerful person in Konoha." She leaned back, "I'm in a bad position right now Sasuke, you have all the power at the table. Make your demands, I'll see what I can do to meet them."

Sasuke blinked and sat back, for the first time seeing the potential political power that Naruto might wield and trying to think through the implications of what she was offering. Anything he wanted-he wanted power, a way to be seen as useful to his clan, as someone other than Itachi's less capable back-up. Being married to the Hokage's daughter—even if only briefly would give him some of that…but, also—

Sasuke cleared his throat, ready to pretend like he was considering this nonsense and lay his demands out on the table. "A written, witnessed contract with definite terms. Three years. Then we divorce for 'irreconcilable differences.' I want a mutual no-disparagement clause for after the divorce, and a mutual confidentiality clause protecting clan-related matters learned, by either party, during the marriage."

"That's workable," murmured Naruto, trying and failing to keep the excitement off her face.

"You will teach me fuinjutsu," Sasuke demanded, "everything you know."

"But," Naruto looked confused, "You said Uchiha don't do fuinjutsu?"

"Exactly," Sasuke purred, enjoying the moment when her eyes lit up with understanding.

"Oh! So that would make you the only one who knows that then, ok." She paused, "I can't teach you everything though, some things are Uzumaki clan secrets and Hiraishin is being kept within my family."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, "How much of what you know would you classify as 'family secret' and unteachable?"

Naruto mulled over the question, worrying one of her pigtails. "Well, lots of stuff I use is my own creation. I can teach you all of that. But probably, somewhere between 6-10% of what I know I'd refuse to teach you."

The Uchiha rubbed his chin, "can you tell me the subject matter of what I won't be learning?"

"Yeah," Naruto nodded amiably, "there's hiraishin, like I said, and there's some water controlling seals, some seals that interact with chakra chains, some seals which can control people which I know the principles behind, the theory, but Mom's forbidden me from using, and then uh—" Naruto rolled her head back in thought for a minute before snapping it back, "how to seal bijuu, I won't teach you that."

Sasuke nodded, "I'll agree to that. Expressly summarize what you won't teach me in the contract and promise to teach me everything else."

Naruto was practically bouncing in her seat.

Sasuke wouldn't smile. He wouldn't. "AND," he drawled, "I will work with you to make you Hokage."

Naruto grimaced, "I don't need—"

"No," interrupted Sasuke, "you do need. You may have had some political training but you clearly haven't had what I had, or you wouldn't have let me know just how much bargaining power I possess at the moment. I will teach you politics, and you will agree to do your best to learn from me or I walk away."

Naruto settled back down. "Fine," she said grudgingly.

"Good," said Sasuke, "Because my next demand is contingent upon you becoming Hokage."

Naruto beamed, clearly pleased with hearing someone else verbally address her goals as a realistic possibility.

"When you become Hokage," continued Sasuke, "I want to be your first choice, for the first open councilor position available on your council."

Naruto held up a hand, indicating she wanted to think on that request for a minute. Sasuke let her consider the matter, her face was so full of expression he could practically see all the different thoughts dancing through her brain. They'd have to fix that, if she was going to be Hokage. If she wasn't going to be Hokage, all this trouble really wouldn't be worth it in the end, even though knowing fuinjutsu would be nice.

Finally, Naruto straightened up and nodded. "Ok," she agreed, "I think that'll be fine. I mean, I want to run it by Sakura-chan first, but you've—" she hesitated, looking as if it cost her something to admit to this, "you've always shown good logic and decision making on your missions, I checked," admitted the girl. "I think you've shown good judgment, and even though we've almost always disagreed, on everything, that's actually what the council is for, to get different opinions to act as a check and balance on the Hokage's own viewpoints. It'd be a bad idea to fill it up with people who just agree with everything I say. So yes—that is, contingent upon Sakura-chan also approving the condition."

Sasuke tried not to let it rankle that the Loser had been digging through his private files. Instead he concentrated on the compliments, secure in the knowledge that Sakura admired his political points of view based on their past debates. Eat that Itachi, Sasuke thought, You may be Clan Head, but I'm going to be Advisor to the Hokage.

"Is that all," Naruto asked, looking at him curiously.

Sasuke wasn't sure how he could gain more power from this transaction, but still, "Just a few housekeeping matters."

Naruto scowled, "I don't keep house."

"That's not—It's a figure of speech." Sasuke decided it was best to keep talking. "First, we can't be calling each other Ass-Turd or Loser anymore, I suggest we agree to suitable names, lest we start a row in public over something ridiculous."

Naruto scrunched up her nose, "You sounded so much like your brother just then. Fine, I'll call you Sasuke-kun? Is that right? Or just Sasuke?"

"That's acceptable," agreed Sasuke.

Naruto rolled her eyes at the brevity of his response. "You can call my Naruto or Naru or Naru-chan, I don't really care. But don't call me hime-chan, I hate that." She glared at him and crossed her arms in a challenging manner.

That bodes so well for our upcoming marriage, thought Sasuke dryly. He fought down a flash of panic that he was both agreeing to marry this girl and wondering how the hell he was going to pull this one off.

"Speaking of brothers," Sasuke gave a cough and cleared his throat, not sure how to approach the subject. "I'm sure by now we're both aware that we have over-protective older ones with dangerous reputations and abilities."

"Yes?" Naruto sounded uncertain.

"I'm just proposing," said Sasuke, "that while I'm sure both of us could be discreet if we either decided to have an affair, that it would be safer for the general health of us both if we agreed to be, for lack of a better word, 'faithful,' during our marriage." And wasn't that painful to think of? Three years of just Lo—Naruto. Not that she wasn't attractive.

"Oh," blinked the blonde, twisting one of her pigtails between her fingers, "Yeah, that's probably for the better, I wouldn't want Itachi coming to threaten me and nii-san would probably be one to act first and ask questions later."

"It's not just them," drawled Sasuke, "Tsunade-sama already threatened to manually remove certain parts of my body that I'm rather attached to, if I don't treat you properly."

Naruto grinned nervously, "Yeah, I kind of told her and Jiraiya about it already. I needed to gauge their reactions to it and see if it was worth pushing forward. Neither of them know its, you know," Naruto gestured wildly, "staged. Just Sakura-chan knows that."

"Well," said Sasuke, feeling even more awkward but needing clarification on this next issue if he was going to be "faithfully" married to Naruto for three years, "now that we've agreed on that, I'd like to clarify whether intercourse is on the table?"

Naruto raised an eyebrow, "I'm pretty sure Granny would kill us if we had sex on the lab tables. Potential contamination issues and all that."

Sasuke could feel his face turning red and he glared at her. "It was an expression."

Her blank face broke into a mischievous grin, "I know."

Sasuke glared harder. He glared as if his glare could melt sunshine and rainbows and kill puppies.

Naruto giggled, "The other night was pretty fun wasn't it?" She hopped off the stool, "I wouldn't be opposed to repeating the procedure," she drawled, flicking her hair over her shoulder. "But let's agree that we'll ask beforehand and only proceed if both parties agree, ok?"

Sasuke was still blushing, "Right, I mean. That's good, I just wanted to know—"

Naruto grinned wider. "It's cute, you know, that you ask instead of just expecting. I like it."

"Cute," muttered Sasuke, rolling back his shoulders before standing to stretch.

"Where are you going?" He called out to the blonde heading to the door.

"To get Sakura," informed Naruto, "I had her draw up contracts, because I knew you'd want it all professional, you're so up-tight on those things, but she'll need to add some of the provisions you requested and then she'll witness the documents to make them legal."

"Good," nodded Sasuke, appreciating the girl's foresight for the first time in his life. Wait—"Sakura suggested that didn't she?"

Naruto looked offended for three seconds, then her posture collapsed with an indifferent shrug. "Yeah, she did." She gripped the door handle, but turned to face him instead of heading out. She bit her lip, "I told her about the other night too, just to be honest about things."

Sasuke stiffened. That was embarrassing, he and Sakura hadn't been together anymore, but still, no girl, in Sasuke's experience, liked to hear of their ex getting together with someone else so quickly. Especially when it was the ex getting together with that girl's best friend.

"I told her we were stupid and sad and drunk, and we'd planned to never repeat it," continued the blonde. "She was a bit miffed at us, but she says she's forgiven us about it and I believe her. She's the best like that," muttered Naruto sounding guilty.

Sasuke relaxed.

"But she said she still expects an apology from you," added Naruto.

He tensed up again.

Naruto cackled, "Oh, calm down, Sasuke-kun, it'll be fine."

Sasuke gave her a sulky look. Clearly, Naruto hadn't been on the other end of Sakura's 'I'm disappointed in you lectures.' He could swear the girl took lessons from his mother. But then again, maybe the blonde was just immune to those types of speeches. She had to have developed a fairly thick tolerance to them to come up with this plan.

"Actually," Naruto drawled thoughtfully, "I think she may even like you better for going through with this crazy plan." She sounded mystified.

Sasuke perked up a bit.

"Don't even," Naruto said with a warning shake of her head. "She's still too good for you."

The Uchiha snorted, "And you're not?"

Naruto shrugged, opening the door, "I'm desperate."


Act II. Scene V.

"I said within reason," said Jiraiya slowly, taking in the tableau in front of him. "I'm not sure this qualifies."

Tsunade gave an affirmative grunt as she perched on the edge of the desk in her office, Jiraiya having stolen her chair for the moment.

Haruno Sakura blinked innocently back at them from across the desk. "It's all perfectly legal and permissible," she stated calmly. "Naruto and Sasuke are both consenting adults. I've told you, they've been seeing each other for a while, but I've pretended to be the one in a relationship with Sasuke because we all knew that their parents would forbid them from seeing each other if the relationship was made public. Unfortunately, the current political climate has accelerated matters more quickly than I believe any of us desire, but we all know the easiest, least objectionable way to keep Naruto from marrying Gaara is if, of course, she's already married." Sakura smiled sweetly, "which is why we require your assistance." She pushed the marriage certificate across the table, along with the lines for the traditional marriage speech in Konoha.

Uchiha Sasuke stood to Sakura's left, studying the wall as if it might hold the secrets of the universe.

Naruto beamed at both Jiraiya and Tsunade from Sakura's right, as if she'd never been more excited to do something in her life.

Tsunade poured herself a drink from the bottle of sake that was supposed to be used for the wedding ceremony.

"Look," said Jiraiya, refusing to reach for the papers, "I know it's legal, and I understand it's the best political option, but just—" he sighed, "It feels wrong going behind Minato-kun's back like this and marry his daughter to the son of one of his biggest political rivals. Can't you—"

"No." Snapped Naruto, suddenly sounding angry, enthusiasm dimmed. "He won't listen, and it won't reflect well on him otherwise. We've been over the options and you promised to help because this is somewhat your fault. It's both of your faults, because neither of you could stomach hunting down your insane teammate and taking care of your problems before everything blew up." Naruto really didn't care about how unfair and rude she was being at the moment. "I love you both, but I'm not going to sacrifice my dreams because of your mistakes." She put her hands on her hips and faced Jiraiya. "You are my godfather," reminded Naruto, "and this is the best option. We've already agreed on this and I know you've been approved to take vacation starting tomorrow, so get on with it already. I'm not leaving this office until that certificate is signed."

Jiraiya deflated a bit, ruing the day he agreed to be a village elder, and as a certified public official of the village, became legally capable of officiating marriage ceremonies. He perked up, "Don't your Clan heads have to approve your marriage?"

Naruto gave him a disbelieving look, "No, that's so last century."

"Sasuke?" Sakura asked, knowing that 'last century' was kind of popular with his own clan.

Sasuke shook his head, studying the carpet. "They can exile me if they disprove of my choice of wife, but they're not going to. And no one has to approve my marriage." He was marrying the Hokage's daughter. Once his clan got over the shock, they'd probably decide it was the political coup of the century. They might even find it, dare he say…funny.

"I'm not sure I believe this still," chimed in Tsunade, cradling her cup with one hand. "Do you even know what each other's favorite color is?" She wasn't going to play witness for this sham of a wedding if they couldn't even answer simple questions like that, she'd look like an idiot.

Sakura elbowed Sasuke. He jumped and scowled, but also reluctantly muttered, "orange," before disdainfully looking away again.

"Well," mumbled Jiraiya, "Like that was hard. What about you, Lover Girl?"

"Black." Naruto answered, then a beat, "like his soul—Ack!"

Sakura smiled at her elders and pretended she hadn't been pulling Naruto's hair.

Tsunade eyed the Uchiha grimly, "sounds right to me."

Jiraiya sighed, deeply. Rubbing at his temples he made one last-ditch effort to end this nonsense, by addressing the more logical of the pair. "Look, Boy," Jiraiya began, "I don't know what she's promised you, but it can't be worth the nightmare the two of you are going to face when this becomes public and the shit hits the fan."

Sasuke turned to face Jiraiya, "She's promised me nothing," he said calmly. "Your suspicions are unfounded. I love Naruto, I always have, and I don't enjoy the idea of her being forced into a marriage with Gaara." He'd practiced saying that in his mirror all night, until he could say it without twitching. It took longer than expected, but he was proud to be able to show Jiraiya the fruits of his labor today.

Jiraiya stared at him a few seconds with a firm frown before deadpanning, "Seriously, what'd she say she'd give you?"

Ok, Sasuke thought, sulking mentally, maybe he still needed a little work.

Silence filled up the small office until it became clear nothing was going to happen until one of the trio offered some kind of explanation.

Naruto cleared her throat, "the sex is good," she offered.

"The sex is great," absently agreed Sasuke, apparently with too much enthusiasm because Sakura whacked him upside the head. Hard.

He blushed and scowled at the girl, who glared right back at him, until the thud of Tsunade's cup hitting the desk brought all of their attention to the sannin.

"I knew this was all your fault," said the older blonde, scowling darkly at her teammate.

Jiraiya could only twitch, face torn between looking horrified at the announcement or proud of his student's apparent prowess and bargaining abilities.

Naruto cleared a throat and held a hand up to obscure the words she was silently mouthing to her godfather. 'You will sign those papers,' her lips formed the silent words, eyes narrowed, 'or I will tell Granny Vol. 5 was about her.'

"It was not!" Burst out Jiraiya as Tsunade looked suspiciously between the two.

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Naruto gave an indifferent shrug.

It didn't really, Jiraiya acknowledged with a scowl, as long as Hime thought it was about her there would be hell to pay. "Give me a pen," he grunted, leaning forward in resignation.

"Ooops," said Tsunade, shaking the now-empty sake bottle upside down "look at that, the sake is all gone, guess we'll just have to postpone—"

"It's okay," said Sakura cheerfully, jade eyes hard, "I brought extra." She pulled another bottle out of her purse and set it on the table. "Just in case anyone was feeling too," her gaze flickered toward her mentor, "celebratory," she settled for saying.

Tsunade pursed her lips at her apprentice, expression displeased and re-assessing.

Jiraiya was glad he wasn't the only one regretting having taught the next generation a little too well today, he pulled the papers in front of him with a sigh and began to recite in a flat, unenthused tone, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of these witnesses to join Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto in matrimony…"

He was going to regret this. Jiraiya just knew it. This was going to be worse than the time he convinced Orochimaru to dress up in drag to compete against Hime in a beauty contest. He just knew it.