Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, it belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Breakfast with a Princess
Sakura and Naruto sat on the floor of Naruto's room, staring at each other in silence. The Hokage had been gone for an hour, and neither had spoken a word.
Sakura was tired of that. "So what d'ya do for fun?" She asked.
"Um." Naruto nibbled on his lip. "I like to read, I guess…?" His eyes strayed to a small bookshelf next to the foot of his bed.
"Really?" Sakura's eye widened.
"I'm not very good at it," Naruto admitted, cheeks reddening. "But—" Sakura put a hand on his shoulder, and he fell silent.
"'Ruto," Sakura declared. "Bein' able to read at our age is really cool."
"I-It is?" Naruto stuttered.
Sakura nodded vehemently. "My father…" Her voice hitched. "My father said so, an' he was always right."
"O-Oh." Naruto had a hesitant smile on his face.
"What else do ya do? Any games ya like?" Sakura asked.
"…Yurika-onee-chan sometimes plays catch with me," Naruto mumbled. "An' Kei-onii-chan brings the dolls he makes for us to play with sometimes…" His eyes lit up. "Oh!" He ran over to his bedside table and pulled something out of the drawer. He hurried back over and held it out to Sakura. "He made these ones for me!"
Sakura carefully examined the small wooden dolls in Naruto's hands. They were of a rougher make than she was used to, but there was something about them… and with how Naruto was cradling them as if they were the most priceless things in the world… "They're really good!" Sakura beamed back at Naruto. "They look really loved!"
Naruto nodded, a hint of pink in his cheeks. "Y-Yeah…" He began to turn around, but Sakura caught his arm.
"Wanna play with 'em?"
Naruto's smile was blinding.
"Naruto-kun? Sakura-chan? It's time for—" Yurika cut herself off, gazing fondly down at the children.
They had fallen asleep lying against each other in a small nest made out of what she strongly suspected were the blankets and pillows from the rooms belonging to both of the children. The dolls Kei had made for Naruto were still out, the arrangement of books suggesting that they had been adventuring in some kind of castle.
"I suppose you both did have a big lunch," Yurika let her voice fall to a whisper. "Sweet dreams, you two." She flicked the light off, but not before turning on Naruto's night-light and moving it closer to the nest on the floor. As she closed the door with a soft click, the orphanage worker allowed herself to hope for the first time that Naruto's future would truly be as bright as she had always wanted it to be.
Sakura woke up to sunlight on her face and a soft tickling in her ear. She rubbed at her eye, wondering where she was — it didn't feel like her bed.
The events of the last few days came rushing back to her when she turned her head and saw Naruto's face. It was still and peaceful, and… Sakura nearly screamed, but then she felt a breath ghost across her cheek, and so she cried silently instead. He was alive.
Naruto was alive, and Sakura was alive… but her parents weren't. Her sobs grew more pronounced when her mind flew to Itachi-sensei and the Hokage — were they okay? Itachi-sensei was a ninja, and wasn't that really dangerous? And the old man… he was so old! What if his oldness had killed him during the night, like her Nana's had? King Enma was probably okay — Sakura couldn't imagine the Shinigami itself being able to do anything to him — and Yurika-onee-chan was young and seemed healthy, but what if…
A pair of arms wrapped themselves tightly around Sakura. She wasn't really able to make out Naruto's expression through the film of her tears, but she could tell that he was awake, and buried her face in his hair as she returned the hug with all the strength that her shaking arms could muster.
"Yes, Sak'ra-chan?" Naruto sounded worried.
"C-C'n we go see the old man…?"
"Of course!" Naruto's head bobbed rapidly underneath Sakura's face. "Um…" He twisted a little. "'s almost six… he should be in the Tower by now, so…" Naruto helped Sakura to her feet. "D'ya wanna take a shower 'n change first?"
Sakura looked down at herself. She would have liked to, but… "I don't have any clothes ta change into…"
"Oh." Naruto nibbled on his lip. "Um… You're a little smaller'n me, but…" He shuffled his feet. "If ya wanna borrow some of my clothes…?"
"Ya mean it…?" Sakura's eye widened.
"'Course!" Naruto nodded. "We're, um… friends, right…?" He looked nervous, and that made Sakura angry.
"'Course we are!" Sakura gave him her fiercest grin.
Naruto beamed back, and grabbed two pairs of clothing from his dresser before showing Sakura to the bathroom.
"Good morning Naruto-kun, Sakura-chan." The Hokage gave the pair a tired smile as his secretary departed. "You're up quite early this morning."
"Yer okay…" Sakura felt tears beading in her eye, and she launched herself at the old man. He caught her effortlessly and cradled her gently against his chest.
"I am indeed," the old man murmured, his hand stroking her back. "I don't plan to go anywhere for some time yet, Sakura-chan. I promise."
Sakura sniffled, but nodded. "I-Is Itachi-sensei okay…?"
"I'm sure he is." Hiruzen's voice was soft. "Would you like me to send a message to him?"
Sakura nodded again, trusting the old man to feel the motion against his body.
"Just a moment."
Sakura felt the Hokage's arm move and heard a soft puff, and then there was silence. The old man sat down and shifted her onto his lap, then his arm moved again and she felt Naruto climbing up beside her. One of his arms wrapped around her, and Sakura tried to focus on the feeling of being hugged rather than her fear.
"Itachi-kun has received my message." There was a smile in the Hokage's voice. "Have the two of you eaten breakfast yet?"
Sakura shook her head.
"Would the two of you like to eat with Itachi-kun?"
"Y-Yes!" Sakura was slightly ashamed at how desperate she sounded — her mother had always called that tone of voice unbecoming — but she needed to see that Itachi-sensei was okay.
"W-Would he want me there…?" Naruto sounded scared.
"'Course he would!" Sakura growled, twisting so that she could gaze into Naruto's eyes. "'tachi-sensei's the most awesomest ninja ever and he's gonna love you, you'll see!"
"…Okay." Naruto still looked worried, but it was tempered by an air of slight resignation. "Will you be coming, old man?"
"As much as I would love to, I'm afraid that there are matters that require my personal attention." The Hokage frowned. "I will, however send a clone to show you the way to the restaurant Itachi-kun has selected." A smile appeared on his lips again. "And Itachi-kun will be bringing a surprise with him that should more than make up for the absence of a boring old man like me."
"Yer not that boring!" Sakura protested, even as her mind went to work imagining what kind of surprise Itachi-sensei would have for them. A dragon? A princess? Sakura's eye widened as she considered the ultimate possibility — what if Itachi-sensei brought a dragon princess?
The old man roared with laughter, causing the children in his lap to bounce. "I'm glad to hear that you only find me a little boring, Sakura-chan," he teased.
"Yer welcome!" Sakura beamed up at him.
She could still hear the old man's laughter echoing through the hall as she and Naruto followed a shadow clone out of the room.
"'tachi-sensei!" Sakura waved wildly. That was really him — he was really okay! And… what was that hiding behind him…?
Sakura's breath caught in her throat. She barely noticed the popping noise as the Hokage's shadow clone dispersed.
"A real princess…" She whispered, eye almost painfully wide.
"Wow…" Naruto breathed. He sounded as stunned as she was.
The girl behind Itachi was smaller than Sakura, and her skin was as pale as Itachi's. With her long, straight black hair and delicate features, she almost looked like a doll.
There was no doubt at all in Sakura's mind that the girl was a princess. Who else could be that beautiful?
A soft smile appeared on Itachi-sensei's face, and he tried to nudge the princess forward — but she clung to his leg, refusing to meet Sakura's eyes. "Good morning, Sakura-chan. This is my younger sister, Kiyoko."
"Ya din't tell me ya were a prince, 'tachi-sensei!" Sakura gasped. If his sister was a princess, then Itachi-sensei was a prince, right? That was how it worked. And… didn't that mean she had been saved by a prince, just like in the stories? Sakura felt her lips twisting into a pout. She didn't want that! She was supposed to be the one doing the saving! She'd just have to save Itachi-sensei twice someday, to make up for it.
"I assure you, I am no prince." Something in Itachi-sensei's expression looked pained. "…However, I will not deny that Kiyoko is a princess." His hand came down to gently ruffle the princess's hair, careful not to disturb its perfection.
Sakura's brow furrowed as she tried to figure that one out. How could Itachi-sensei's sister be a princess if he wasn't a prince…? Was there something she didn't know about princesses?
"Say hello, Kiyoko-chan." Itachi-sensei had knelt and wrapped his arms around the princess' shoulders, turning her gently so that she was facing Sakura and Naruto. "These are Sakura-chan and Naruto-san. They are good people, I promise. You do not need to be scared of them."
Sakura heard something almost like a sob from Naruto's position.
"H-Hello…" Kiyoko-hime whispered. She immediately spun back around and buried her face against Itachi-sensei.
"Hi!" Sakura replied, beaming. Internally, she was scheming — poor Kiyoko-hime was obviously shy, and Sakura wanted to help break her out of that shell. She was way too pretty to keep hiding her face!
"H-Hi!" Naruto's voice was choked, but he sounded happy.
"Shall we go inside?" Itachi-sensei's voice was warm. "This establishment makes wonderful pancakes. The meal is my treat, so you may feel free to have as many as you would like." He cut off Sakura's immediate attempt to protest with a stern look, and she conceded defeat.
"T-Thank you very much, Itachi-san."
Sakura reached out and gripped Naruto's hand — he still sounded overwhelmed. Yurika-onee-chan had said people were bullying him… Was it really bad enough to make him be this surprised when people were nice…?
Sakura resolved to find the bullies as soon as possible and deliver a righteous kicking.
They settled into a table with booths, Sakura and Naruto on one side and Itachi-sensei and Kiyoko-hime on the other. Kiyoko-hime was still clinging to Itachi-sensei, but she had begun shooting Sakura and Naruto curious looks. Sakura made sure she was smiling every time their eyes met — even if Kiyoko-hime always pulled her gaze away immediately, Sakura hoped it was helping.
"How old are ya, Kiyoko-hime?" Sakura bounced in her seat. "I'm five!"
"So'm I," Naruto chipped in.
"…Five," Kiyoko-hime mumbled into Itachi-sensei's side.
"We're all five! Isn't that great?" Sakura beamed. "What do ya like ta do for fun?"
Kiyoko-hime slowly peeled herself off of Itachi-sensei, eyes finally really meeting Sakura's own. "I…" She glanced down at the table, then back up at Sakura. "I like spending time with Itachi-onii-chan…"
"Yer so lucky," Sakura complained. "'tachi-sensei's super cool! I want him ta be my older brother, too!"
"He's mine!" Kiyoko-hime looked terrified, and she immediately grabbed back onto Itachi-sensei's arm. "Y-You can't take him away from me! Please…" Tears were beading in the corners of her eyes.
"I-I would never do somethin' like that!" Sakura's eye widened. "Promise!"
"Y-You mean it…?" Kiyoko-hime's unshed tears glistened.
"Yeah, Sak'ra-chan's real nice! She'd never do that!" Naruto agreed, nodding rapidly.
"O-Oh." Kiyoko-hime's grip on Itachi-sensei's arm weakened, and she let her arms fall into her lap. "…Okay."
"I… I like reading," Naruto volunteered.
"I like playin' tag." Sakura smiled widely. "'s not much fun with jus' two, so… You wanna play with us sometime, Kiyoko-hime?"
Kiyoko-hime's eyes widened. "You want to play with me…?"
"'Course we do!" Naruto sounded earnest.
Sakura glanced up at Itachi-sensei. He was gazing down at them, a gentle smile on his face. It looked like a weight she hadn't noticed had been lifted from his shoulders.
"A-And you…?" Kiyoko-hime was gazing at Sakura, something desperate in her eyes.
"'s why I asked!" Sakura nodded her head rapidly, eye staring directly into one of Kiyoko-hime's.
Kiyoko-hime looked down at the table and closed her eyes, her shoulders tensing. "I-I would like that!"
"Yes!" Sakura cheered.
It was then that their breakfast arrived, putting an end to the conversation. Sakura stuffed her face, envying the perfect way in which Itachi-sensei and Kiyoko-hime ate but not quite willing to eat as slowly as she would need to in order to attempt to mimic their grace. Naruto was the real surprise for her — rather than shoveling his food down like he had with the ramen the previous day, he was eating at a sedate pace. Sakura wondered why that was.
Sakura only managed to eat one stack of pancakes, still a little stuffed from all of the ramen she had eaten the previous day. Naruto ate three stacks, and Sakura suspected he'd have eaten more if it had been the old man who was paying. Itachi-sensei, like Sakura, had eaten only one stack… but Kiyoko-hime had eaten five.
Sakura held in a giggle — she didn't think Kiyoko-hime would appreciate being laughed at, even if Sakura didn't mean anything cruel by it. She just thought it was funny that the smallest, most delicate one at the table was the one who ate the most.
Itachi-sensei checked his watch. "It appears that I have several free hours remaining." His gaze swept around the table. "If Kiyoko and Naruto-san are amenable, I would be willing to give you your first lesson alongside them, Sakura-chan."
"Really?" Sakura's eye widened.
"I dunno if I wanna be a ninja," Naruto whispered.
"You're allowed not to be?" Kiyoko-hime's voice was barely a whisper, and her eyes were wide as she gazed at Naruto.
"E-Everyone is, right?" Naruto rubbed the back of his head.
"I thought so," Sakura agreed, frowning.
"Things are somewhat different if you are born into a ninja clan." Itachi-sensei grimaced.
"Oh." Naruto gazed down at the table. "Um, I don't wanna be the reason Sak'ra-chan doesn't get the trainin' she wants, so, um… could I just watch…?"
"Certainly." Itachi-sensei inclined his head. "If you change your mind, you are welcome to join in." He looked down at Kiyoko-hime and raised an eyebrow.
"Can I watch with Naruto-san?" Kiyoko-hime whispered.
Itachi-sensei's eyes were sad. "Of course you can."
So I sat down to write the next chapter of Acheron, but I ended up with this instead. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm not going to complain, either — I really like some of the backstory work I did for this fic, and since I did literally all of it by hand that means that this is the only (posted prior to the whole mess) story I have that I didn't really lose anything critical for when my hard drive died. So that's nice!
Despite this delay, an Acheron update should be showing up sooner rather than later.