Dedication: To the lovelyKuriquinn, because bby girl has been going through the absolute roughest time. I wasn't sure I wanted to post this before I'd written most of the story, as it's only going to be about 4-5 chapters max, but… when I learned she was looking forward to this story, I was set on doing it, if only for her! Love you, Kriss.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
It is only on days like these, as he hears someone knock on his office doors for what has to be the fiftieth time in the past three hours, where Sasuke wonders to himself why he ever became Hokage at all. Buried in paperwork as he is nowadays, Konoha apparently still shows no restraint in giving him more labour than he is able to take in right now, dragging him into meetings left and right, seemingly unable to handle anything on their own. Sasuke has half a mind to hire a second assistant, but with the given reality that no other Kage has ever resorted to it, his pride keeps him stingy on the subject.
Running a hand over his tired features, Sasuke sighs and reaches for the next pile of papers demanding his attention. Gruffly, he calls to his visitor, "Come in."
The doors creak open—it really should be time to get someone to oil these damn things up, he thinks to himself—and Sasuke's eyes briefly flicker up from his papers to glance at whoever so needs his governing powers. It takes half a moment of understanding before he suddenly finds himself pausing in his contract reading. His gaze flies up again.
"Sakura," he acknowledges, brows furrowing curiously as he leans back into his seat; it has to be the fifth time she's visited his office, today, after all. When she bows politely and smiles at him, in that sweet way she always does, he forces himself to ignore the way his stomach does an odd sort of tumble. "You're back. What is it this time?"
The words must come across displeased, he realizes, because her smile seems to fade quickly at this, green eyes flashing with something like hurt. He nearly curses himself aloud, lips mulling out into a thin line. Complicated as their relationship is right now, the last thing he wants is to give her more reason to think that he doesn't appreciate being around her.
(that he doesn't want to fix this mess he so stupidly caused nearly five years ago.)
He can't even bring himself to be relieved when she bounces back into cheeriness again, because the smile to her lips is too clearly fake.
"Sorry Hokage-sama," she replies, cradling a small stack of documents he's just noticed closer to her chest. His hand curls tighter around his quill—he hates it when she calls him that. "I know you've been busy today but it's just—these papers are pretty important."
Sasuke's jaw tightens. Great, he muses. More paperwork.
Exhaling the most patient breath, he shifts his eyes back to the contract on his desk and carries on with the reading, before eventually responding, "And this can't wait until tomorrow?"
He hears her shift as he nods to himself and graces the tedious document with his signature, but when he glances up again, he's not prepared to meet the sight of her, looking small and utterly apologetic. It is just like her to feel so much culpability for adding to his seemingly endless duties, and it makes something in him soften.
Sighing, he looks down to his work once more.
"All right, fine. Give them here," he relents, reaching out with his free hand to accept the heap of important hospital documents. "I'll have them ready within the hour. Make sure to come back by then."
"Oh that's so great, thank you so much, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura gushes, stepping quickly to his desk to hand him what he needs. "Kakashi-sensei was never as good to me when he was Hokage, that lazy coot, so I really can't tell you how much I appreciate this."
Sasuke doesn't know what to reply, though, because his mind finds itself stalled at the return of the familiar suffix; it has been too long since he's heard it. It reverberates deep, throws him back in nearly too distant memories, where everything in him warms and brightens at the thought of how simple things were between them.
(compared to now, anyway—because truth be told, nothing between them had ever been near the world of simple.)
For this alone, Sasuke looks up again. Takes in the too-happy blush to her cheeks and her crinkling eyes, remembering the days where that alone felt enough to him. His throat grows tight.
His grip squeezes the quill. There's that damn honorific again.
"It's nothing," he dismisses, looking down once more. He pretends to move forward with the next paper, but his mind won't allow him to read through. "I'll see you in an hour, Sakura."
"I—yeah," she says, though her tone seems noticeably quite confused. He doesn't blame her. "Thank you, Hokage-sama."
As she leaves, he grits his teeth. God he fucking hates when she calls him that.
"You remember that time that I was angry at you for getting the job instead of me?" Naruto prompts him a few days later, as his dim-witted friend dictates it is time to annoy him again.
"How could I forget?" Sasuke answers him blandly, more interested in the blueprints splayed out before him. His lips purse in concentration—this underground system is more intricate than he'd first estimated. "Those months were the most peaceful I'd ever had, and I'm obviously never going to get those back."
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees his friend flip him off, but chooses to ignore, leaning more closely to the southwest corner of his plans to inspect something.
"Anyway," Naruto goes on, "I'm actually pretty damn happy you're the one who got it these days, if you could believe that."
"And why's that?"
He snorts. "Have you seen your office? You're buried in work. You haven't even been out of the village in a year."
Sasuke's eyes narrow at that; he doesn't need to be reminded of what he is incredibly well aware of.
"Gods know that wasn't what I was expecting when I thought I wanted to be Hokage," Naruto says, smug as he'd ever heard him. "At least I get to go out and lead a squad of ANBU into reconnaissance missions and carry out badass assassinations—when will you ever do that again?"
That hits a nerve and Sasuke finally looks up to glare at the boasting blond, eyes sharp and venomous and threatening castration.
Naruto simply crosses his arms, and whistles lowly. "Wow, you sure are pitiful today. Do you want me to train with you or something, bastard? You're usually much less easy to get to."
Sasuke shakes his head, and turns back to his work. "In case you haven't noticed, idiot," he says, gesturing plainly to his desk, "I have work to do. This infiltration mission isn't going to write itself."
Unsurprisingly, this captures said idiot's attention instantaneously. "Infiltration mission, you say?" he inquires, stepping closer. His tone suggests he is probably grinning. "Anything your best ANBU captain can help you with?"
"No," Sasuke replies without missing beat, "because this ANBU captain is on unpaid suspension for a month."
It is all too satisfying the way Naruto recoils at this, and Sasuke can hardly keep his lips from twitching as his dumb face reddens in pure outrage.
"What!" he shrieks."What the hell for,you asshole!"
"For that comment you made about my boring job."
Naruto sputters, and points an angry finger at him, reddening all the more. "You—You can't do that!" he says. "That's abuse of power! That's totally illegal! I'm gonna—"
"You were being insubordinate, and as your Hokage, it is well within my abilities to establish a punishment for it," Sasuke cuts in, fixing him a flat look. "If you want to go ahead and complain to the Council, be my guest. But until then, dobe," he waves him off and looks down to inspect the blueprints again, "get out of my office. You're dismissed."
A full silence takes place, one in which he can only assume the blonde is glaring daggers at him, but after no more than two minutes, he finally hears his furious friend trudge his way out, slamming the heavy doors shut.
It is only then that Sasuke finally allows himself to smirk; the idiot deserved it. Yet he is forced into careful composure once again as the doors come wide open a few moments later, the lack of a knock indicating Naruto's return.
Exhaling a patient breath, Sasuke settles on him an expectant look. "What?"
Calmer, but still evidently most unhappy with him, Naruto crosses his arms. "There's a team dinner next weekend," he grouses. "Sakura wanted me to ask you if you're going to come, this time, or if you're going to ditch us again."
There is such resentment here that Sasuke knows without a doubt that Sakura must have phrased herself differently, but he brushes this aside regardless, cocking his head instead. "Next weekend," he echoes, "you're sure about that?"
It wouldn't have been the first time Naruto mixed up dates, after all.
"Are you deaf or something? That's what I said, bastard!"
Naruto makes a gesture at that, like he doesn't understand why his best friend is asking such an obvious question. "At the same time it always is, what do you think?" he says, rolling his eyes. "Then again, I guess maybe you'd think that could have changed in the entire year you refused to show up."
Sasuke's eye twitches at the taunt, but he replies nothing, all too aware of the blonde's overtly sour mood. Instead, he remains quiet and takes a moment to think, considering the schedule he has set up for this week. Brows furrowing pensively, he eventually gives a slow, almost uncertain nod. "All right," he concedes. "Next weekend should be fine."
Naruto seems thrown off by this. "…Really," he says, after a lingering pause, wary eyes watching him most carefully. "You're sure."
"But you'll try?"
Sasuke doesn't answer, here, and finally returns to the task at hand, a frown forming to his lips. If Naruto has been paying any attention since he's returned to the village after defeating Kaguya, he should already know the answer to this question, he reasons.
Whether he actually does or not, Naruto seems pleased by the outcome anyway, seemingly back to his cheerful self as he makes some sort of noise of triumph. Swinging the door shut more amiably, he declares, "See ya next weekend, bastard!"
Sasuke sighs slowly afterwards, once again finding silence at last. Absentminded, he wonders to himself if Sakura's katsudon is still as good as he remembers… or if perhaps, it is even better.
(and does she even make okaka onigri anymore? or has she quit, now that he stopped showing up at all?)
Lips tightening, Sasuke returns his attention to his work instead, and tells himself he will only find out, eventually. But now is not the time to dwell on that.
He is walking along the path leading to Konoha's main market when his ex-teacher approaches him the following evening, wearing the same retired Hokage robes that he'd last seen him in, and holding an old, too-familiar orange book. At first, Kakashi says nothing as he slides next to him and matches the languid pacing of his strides, carrying on his reading most peacefully; Sasuke's eyes narrow at this, but he keeps his silence and continues on his way regardless, unconcerned.
"So I heard you suspended Naruto for a month," the Rokudaime finally says, after a few moments have passed. There is a strange sort of quality to his tone, like he is most absolutely amused by the notion.
But Sasuke is too tired to smirk, now, even as his chest swells with unrepentant pride. "I did. What's it to you?"
"Nothing," Kakashi replies, though he finally looks away from his book, this time. He is most definitely finding this situation hilarious, Sasuke deduces as Kakashi looks at him. "It's fun having so much power, isn't it?"
"I didn't do it on a power-high."
"Of course you didn't."
"He was being insubordinate."
"Of course he was."
There is a certain something to his tone that Sasuke doesn't like, and draws a glare out of him. Kakashi merely smiles beneath his mask, feigning innocence.
"How is the office doing?" he asks, then, putting away his book at last. "Still keeping up the good work?"
"Still picking up whatever slack you left behind two years ago," Sasuke retorts, nose scrunching up with distaste. "You really were the laziest Hokage."
"And yet still more beloved than you," he sings.
Sasuke's eyes narrow at him again, more viciously than before, and yet Kakashi appears unfazed. It is unbelievably aggravating how smugly the man can act when he had barely really lifted a finger in the time that he led Konoha—even moreso when Sasuke knows that he's actually right.
But then, voice gentler than before, he hears Kakashi inquire, "How long has it been since you last slept in your own bed?"
This has him pausing in his steps. Because for a moment, just for a moment, Sasuke truly does not remember when was the last time he'd been home for more than just a few hours. It has certainly been well over a month, he muses. His lips press together.
"A while," he answers, at last. "Probably close to six weeks to my best guess."
The Rokudaime's expression softens with sympathy—that of which Sasuke neither wants, nor needs. He is still content with the choice he's made for his career, no matter the heavy workload and lack of personal life. There are things that he must do for his family, things only a Hokage can, and that alone is enough to bear through the hard days.
"You do know you can ask to take a few days off every once in a while," Kakashi points out as they start walking again. "That's what assistants and former Hokages are for, after all."
"So I can come back with even more work than I had before?" Sasuke snorts. "I don't think so."
His ex-sensei smiles behind his mask again, and cocks his head. "Who says it has to be me?" he says. "I'm officially retired, remember?"
Rolling his eyes, Sasuke shakes his head and shifts his path towards two nearby merchants. Kakashi follows without a word, waiting patiently for him to make a purchase. The two of them step away moments later with a bag of fresh tomatoes and a plastic box full of freshly cooked shrimp tempura and rice, and start their way back.
"Late lunch?" Kakashi asks.
"Early dinner," Sasuke corrects. "I doubt I'll be able to step out later with all the papers on my desk."
"You could always take breaks."
"If I do, I lose motivation—which I suspect is what always happened to you when you were in charge."
He fixes Kakashi with a pointed look, but the latter only shrugs.
"Can't lose motivation if you never really start," he chimes. "What are assistants for, if not for boring paperwork?"
Sasuke's features twist with disgust; there is a pride to his tone that he will never understand. Kakashi laughs lightly as he looks at him, apparently finding some strange humor in his expression.
"Moving past that," he says, "have you told Sakura that you're coming to the next team dinner?"
Sasuke gives him an odd look. "No." He slips his unoccupied hand into his pocket. "I assumed Naruto would."
"He did," Kakashi relents.
This throws him off. "Then why ask if I did?"
The Rokudaime shrugs. "She's very excited for you to be there. I haven't seen her quite like this in a long while, and I thought you might like to as well."
Sasuke frowns, but answers nothing.
"When are you going to stop pretending that there's nothing between you two?" Kakashi questions, then, a hint of sharpness to his tone. This takes Sasuke by surprise.
(it is a subject his ex-teacher seems to be touchy with, even cautious—but one he has apparently lost all sense of patience for.)
Looking away, Sasuke feels his throat grow tight. There is a surge of quietly suppressed shame that seeps into his stomach, and he doesn't wonder why. He has been too familiar with it, in these past few years.
Swallowing the knot in his throat, Sasuke keeps his gaze to the ground. "I've never pretended otherwise."
He can basically feel Kakashi's eyes narrowing at him. "And does she know that?"
Sasuke pauses again. His mouth parts, closes. And then parts again. "…Of course she does," he eventually answers. But, even to him, it doesn't sound convincing at all.
Kakashi shakes his head, displeased; knowing. "It's been years, Sasuke… Time works in cruel ways. Whatever certainties Sakura had about you and her back then—she doesn't have them now. Especially not after what happened. Why do you think she's always so insecure around you?"
Sasuke's frown worsens at this, and he starts forward again, kicking a rock in his path. "It's none of your damn business," he says, belatedly. He's talked enough about his private life, about a matter that concerns only him and Sakura, and he refuses to go on about it with anyone but her. "Keep your nose out of places it doesn't belong, Kakashi."
At least, there is enough of a sense of finality to his tone that Kakashi understands he will no longer carry on with this conversation. He sighs.
"You're right," his ex-teacher acquiesces, somber. "I'm sorry for worrying about my students' happiness. How terrible of me."
Jaw clenching at the jibe, Sasuke turns and snaps his gaze to the nosy Rokudaime, whose face is suddenly grim as ever, rousing guilt to his gut once more. He glares anyway. "We're not your students anymore," he tells him.
Shaking his head once more, Kakashi turns on the heels of his feet and gives him a dismissive wave, before he calls, "You always will be, Sasuke."
Luck doesn't seem to want to present itself to his side at all that week, as it turns out, because as he is finally finishing up the last of his work and getting ready to leave (miraculously) early, Shikamaru emerges into his office.
"You're not going to like this," he declares, brows furrowed heavily.
There is such severity in his expression that Sasuke feels all of his hopes for a leisured evening dissipate in an instant, nearly bringing him to swear. He grits his teeth. "What is it?"
"The Council wants a meeting again tonight."
Sasuke stiffens. "Tonight?" he repeats, features hardening. Anger seeps into his tone; he's already way too worn-out for this. "They can't schedule a few days from now like everyone else?"
"It's the Council, Sasuke—You know how they are."
Grumbling darkly under his breath, Sasuke runs a hand over his face, rubbing at his eyes. He then leans back into his chair, looking up at his assistant once more. "Any news from our shadow crew, at least?"
Shikamaru shakes his head. "Nothing that can help us yet," he says. "We need more time—more intel—before we can do anything."
"You've had four years already," Sasuke deadpans. "I need results. Soon."
A sigh escapes the other man at this, and he gives him an exasperated look. "It's slow work, Sasuke," Shikamaru proceeds to explain. "Undermining the Council to create a new one won't be easy. We need more allies—and most importantly more proof. If you don't want Konoha and the whole of our allied countries to think that you've betrayed your own people yet again, you're going to need a lot more support."
Whether it is because he is entirely too tired to have much patience anymore or because he is entirely too irritated to have everything blamed on him merely on accounts of him being Hokage, Shikamaru's words strike a chord with him. "Kakashi was the one who started this," he growls, narrowing his eyes. "Not me. If anyone should take the fall for this, it should be him."
"That's true, it should be," the Nara agrees, which brings Sasuke some degree of calmness back. "But unfortunately your face is the one that's on the operation now. When you became Hokage, you became lead. The people won't look to who started it in the shadows… they'll look to who started it with them."
There is too much truth to this, and Sasuke finds it more aggravating than he can explain. Still, there is nothing he can do—for now, anyhow—and so he relents and waves his hand vaguely, sighing.
"How much longer?" he asks.
Shikamaru pauses, and his eyebrows furrow a bit, as if pensive. "Six months at best," he replies, slowly, "but to be safe I'd stretch that out to a year."
Sasuke's fingers twitch. His lips thin. "Better a year than another four, I suppose," he mutters.
It is the Nara who sighs now. "You know my wife hates you for making me work on this on top of my usual hours at the office, right?" he says, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Your wife never liked me anyway," Sasuke replies, rolling his eyes.
A smirk graces the other man's lips. "Very true."
Dismissing the subject, Sasuke takes a moment to run a hand through his hair wearily, before exhaling a long, quiet breath. "Do you know what the meeting is about?"
Shikamaru nods. "The upcoming chunin exams. Apparently the Council was unhappy with the last meeting and changed their minds about its organization."
Sasuke almost groans, reaching to pinch the bridge of his nose. That meant it was going to be a long, long meeting, probably; tedious and stupid and frustrating, too, at that. He sighs heavily.
"Fine," Sasuke mutters. "I'll handle it, then. You go home to your wife."
Expectedly, Shikamaru seems surprised; he blinks once, twice. "Are you sure?" he asks, brows furrowing. "You'll be in there for a while—"
"Shikamaru," Sasuke cuts in, leveling him with a tolerant look. It isn't often that he spares such unexpected acts of kindness to his subordinates, and his assistant is just about getting him to regret it. "You've done good work. Go home to your family."
Hesitant, Shikamaru lingers for a moment, seemingly uncertain as to whether or this is a trick, before he finally seems to soften. "Thank you," he says. Bowing, more out of appreciation than respect to his rank, Sasuke suspects, he nods. "Good luck in there, Sasuke."
Responding with his own curt nod, Sasuke watches his assistant stride out of his office quickly, envying the faint, satisfied smile to his lips. His jaw tightens when he finds himself alone once more, teeth gritting as he glances at the time.
Today of all days… The world has to hate him.
He doesn't even have the energy to shower, when he finally gets home later that night. His head is pounding and his eyes are as achy as they are overtired, beckoning him instinctively towards his bedroom.
Dragging his feet over the hardwood floors, Sasuke sighs and palms the back of his neck, free hand shrugging off his Hokage wear as he goes. He lets out the faintest groan when his body hits the mattress, exhaustion weighing so heavy on his limbs that he doesn't even bother with the blankets.
It really has been too long since he's been in his own bed, since he's had a proper night of sleep; six weeks is already six weeks too many. The one provided in the suite of the Hokage tower isn't exactly bad, if he's honest, but it isn't his, and he never seems to manage more than a few hours of sleep before being dragged out to his office again. Some nights, he never even makes it there, passed out over his papers instead.
(at least, he usually wakes up to a fresh cup of coffee in such times, made and served just the way he likes it—and there is only one person who has ever bothered remembering this, he knows. warmth and guilt tear at his chest; it is always a conflicting storm when it comes to her.)
Listless, drowsy, his eyes slowly slip shut, arm extending to the empty side of his mattress. It is too big for one, he thinks, half-lidded gaze taking in the abundance of extra room at his side. Twenty-seven, and still unmarried—his mother would have taken his head for this. A sleepy smile tugs at his mouth.
What would it be like, he wonders, to have someone to wake up to?
An image flashes to mind, of short, pink hair splayed out over his pillows, and sleep-hazed green eyes crinkling up at him.
No, he thinks to himself, not just someone. He knows exactly who he'd like to see at his side.
(an irrefutable fact—one that hasn't changed since his feelings came to light not long after the war.)
Chest tightening, Sasuke shifts onto his other side, back now facing the empty space.
Who he wants is of no question. He just isn't sure that the notion of them is one he can make happen anymore.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! So much more angst to come, and for those wondering what in the world happened to them, no worries, you'll find out in the next chapter already! Stay tuned :)
Leave some reviews as it's my birthday and they'd truly be the most wonderful gifts ;) but omg plz avoid from reviewing with just "happy birthday", I want to hear what you think of the story first and foremost lmfao.