Pain17: Sup, guys! It's pain17ification here alongside Dylan Millwood giving you our version of a Naruto/Sāra story! We decided to post this on Dylan's profile because I have too much crap on mine… *sheepish*

Dylan: For the record, the stories done by my friend pain17ification are NOT "crap", and besides, I wanted to do a Naruto/Sāra story for a while anyways. Rewatched "Lost Tower" and made a slight goof, that being Jiraiya died before the movie, but eh...time travel makes things weird, so I say "What the Hell? Jiraiya hasn't fought Pein yet" in this. Hope you all enjoy this story!

Disclaimer: We own NOTHING!


My Heart's Desire

Chapter 1: From Past to Present

[]

Minato gazed with pride as Naruto – who he was more than sure was his son from the future – struck down Mukade with the Supreme Ultimate Rasengan. With a grin, he saw Naruto burst out the other side of Mukade, the attack having gone all the way through the puppet body and destroying the weak point created by him and Sāra. The two watch as the rest of Mukade writhed.

"The Five Shinobi Countries...History itself should have been mine!" Mukade roared furiously as he began moving towards the pit leading to the Dragon Veins. "I can't die like this! You are all going to die together with me and the Dragon Veins!"

Then, to the shock of everyone, he had his puppet body cause an explosion, shaking the chamber they were all fighting in. The rest of the barely functional puppet writhed for a few seconds before falling over the edge and into the purple ooze that was the Dragon Veins. The foreign energy caused the Dragon Veins to begin reacting violently, turning from a majestic violet to a maliciously dangerous red.

Minato's prideful look turned into horror at the sight. "This is bad! The Dragon Veins are going to erupt any minute!"

The room shook violently once more, and Naruto quickly realized something before turning to someone he had fought so hard to protect.

"Sāra! Run!" he exclaimed in worried panic.

The Queen of Rōran, Sāra, was still standing on the center platform, trying to escape across the walkway to join Naruto and Minato. But, at the worst moment, the walkway began to break apart beneath her feet.

Worry fueling him, Naruto quickly dashed forward to save her with Minato right behind him. The portion of the walkway under Sāra's feet collapsed before they could reach her, sending her tumbling down towards the red ooze beneath her. Fortunately, Naruto was able to reach the edge of the broken pathway and slid forward to grasp her hand, trying desperately to pull her back up.

"Don't let go!" Naruto cried out to Sāra, and she nodded fearfully as she tried to avoid looking at the malicious energy below.

However, the portion of the walkway under Naruto began to break apart as well. Minato tried to reach him, but the portion of the walkway under him collapsed as well, sending all three towards the Dragon Veins.

But then, as if a miracle happened, all three were saved by the timely use of Wood Style by Yamato, who just arrived with Kakashi. Controlling the wood beneath them, Yamato brought all five back onto the center platform, where the interface to the Dragon Veins was located.

"Thank goodness," Naruto sighed out, hugging Sāra to him, much to her comfort. She had been terrified of dying before he caught her and being in his arms made her feel safe once again.

Minato had a soft smile on his face, wondering if him and Kushina looked similar whenever they behaved intimately in public. However, he didn't dwell on that and turned to the interface before he quickly came up with a plan. "Naruto, the Flying Thunder God kunai I gave you! Let's seal the Dragon Veins completely!"

Nodding in understanding, Naruto pulled away from Sāra and retrieved the kunai before handing it to Minato, who then stabbed it into the interface and

"Seal!" Minato declared as he stabbed the kunai, causing a blue glowing light to erupt from the interface, as well as a glowing blue seal to form around it. Turning to Naruto, he explained, "This will work, but when the seal finishes, you and your comrade will be sent back to your time."

The words spoken rang hollow in Naruto's heart. "…I understand," he muttered, turning to the redheaded Queen.

"You're…leaving?" she asked sadly, looking heartbroken at the notion.

He gave her a smile, but it was a disheartened one that showed he shared her sentiment. "There are people back in my time who need me… And something I need to take care of…"

"But I need you, too!" she proclaimed, tears forming in her eyes before turning to Minato. "Please! Isn't there another way…?"

Minato looked guilty at her desperate expression, but it was Naruto who spoke again.

"Sāra… I don't want to leave you either, but you have people here who need you to look after and guide them. You're their Queen, and you have to put your peoples' needs before your own. I told you my goal was to be Hokage," he missed how Minato looked proud once more, "and I know I'll need to do the same… No matter how much it hurts me in the end…"

Tears falling, she stayed silent at that and just let them fall. She then blinked when a familiar weapon was handed to her; Naruto's chakra blade that she had used to get her people to safety.

"Hold onto this for me… And maybe someday in the future I'll come see you and get it back." He tried to smile, but everyone saw that he was struggling to do so. "You can tell me all about your life, and I'll listen to every word of it!"

Her hands gripped the handle of the weapon tightly, grasping the only memento she would have of the whiskered blonde for years to come. She then tried to give her own smile, struggling just as much as he was.

"You were right, Naruto… Rōran may end up in ruins, but there will always be a people…"

His smile became more genuine at that as he and Yamato started to glow white. Minato stood up and walked over to stand before Naruto, giving him a look of pride.

"I'm sure you already figured out the connection between us…"

Naruto nodded once.

"I want you to know…that you grew up to be more splendid than I ever dreamed you would. And I believe, without a doubt, that you'll be just as splendid a Hokage in the future…"

He chuckled through his joyful tears. "Thanks… Tell Mom that I love her, okay?" he requested.

"Of course," Minato promised as he stepped away and watched as the light encompassing his son and Yamato grew brighter.

However, to the surprise of everyone, just before the light hit its zenith in luster, Sāra rushed over and embraced Naruto. Within seconds, the glow around his body surrounded her body as well, and the three of them vanished in a flash.

The Leaf Jonin and Kakashi looked worried at that while Minato simply sighed with a hapless smile. "I probably should've expected that to happen… I'm just surprised that she waited until she was almost out of time to do so…"

"What do we do, sensei?" Kakashi asked with concern in his voice.

"For now, we release the people of Rōran from the bunker Sāra had them wait in. We'll try to explain what happened and escort them to the Hidden Sand. After that, we return home and give our report."

"But what if-?"

"Kakashi, it'll be okay," Minato assured his student, smiling determinedly. "After all, my son's looking after her. She'll be fine, and I'm sure the timeline will be, too."

[]

Atop an ink bird, Sai and Sakura looked around for Yamato and Naruto, who had been taken away after a brilliant flash of light erupted from the ruins of Rōran. They had been searching for hours without any luck and were concerned about the need to return home and report what happened.

But then, in a familiar flash of light, the two reappeared; but there was a third person as well. And this person was a young woman who was clutching Naruto's body almost desperately while the blonde had his arms wrapped gently around her form.

Landing and getting off the bird, the two headed over to them just in time to hear Naruto speaking to Yamato.

"…something happens to the timeline?" Naruto was heard finishing his question.

"There's nothing we can do to send her back, Naruto," Yamato replied before turning to the redhead, who refused to let go of Naruto's arm. "What you did was foolish and beyond risky; possibly even suicidal."

She looked to the ground in slight shame. "I know… But I couldn't imagine living my life without Naruto-kun in it… My people will be fine without me, seeing as Rōran is in ruins anyway."

"She might be right, Captain," Naruto hesitantly agreed. "Nothing seems to have changed, and we could always ask Gaara about what happened to the Rōran people over the years."

The Jonin sighed at that, conceding the point. "I suppose that's the best we can do considering the circumstances. Will you be returning to…?"

He stopped when he saw Sāra frowning at him as she gripped Naruto's arm a bit tighter.

"Right… I'm not looking forward to what Lady Tsunade will say about this mess…"

"You're both okay!" Sakura finally cut in, sounding relieved despite a strange feeling bubbling within her at the sight of an unknown – to her, at least – woman holding Naruto so…intimately.

"Sakura! Sai! You guys made it out!" Naruto exclaimed in relief. "I was worried what had happened to you two when that flash of light happened. Glad to see I didn't need to be so anxious."

"We were just far enough to avoid being taken in by the flash," Sai explained. "You two were gone for a few hours."

"Huh… Was definitely longer than that," the Uzumaki mumbled before looking to Sāra was a gentle smile. "You ready to go?"

While concerned about what her actions could've done to the timeline, a larger part of his heart was pleased she had come with them to the present. He may have given Sāra that speech about putting others before yourself, but he wouldn't lie by saying he wasn't tempted to say screw it to everything else and stay with her.

They had connected so deeply that he believed his life would've been hollow without her in it. And if she had stayed in the past, visiting her would've been his top priority.

If only to see her one last time…

Thankfully, she didn't stay in the past, and he was beyond happy to have her at his side.

She smiled back, and this one came to her with ease. "Yes. I'm ready," she answered softly.

Despite the situation on their hands, Yamato couldn't fight the smile on his face. He and Kakashi had seen the emotional struggles Naruto lived with, and he knew that Sāra's presence would only help Naruto break away from the loneliness he had gone through for most of his life.

He gave a sidelong glance to Sakura as the group made their way out of the ruins. When it was obvious that the pinkette looked bothered at the sight of Naruto and Sāra's closeness, he shook his head and mentally stated, 'You missed out, Sakura… You were so focused on the Uchiha that you didn't notice Naruto until another girl won his heart. You only have yourself to blame.'

Sai simply observed everything with a curious expression. Ever since he met Naruto, he had begun to question things regarding human interaction and emotion. He had been concerned for his teammate-

No, for his friend.

Smiling to himself, he decided to simply wait and see what would happen next, believing his friend would come out of this odd scenario okay.

Oblivious to what the other three were thinking or feeling, the blonde young man and redheaded young woman used the trip back to bask in the moment; both relieved they wouldn't be without the other for the rest of their lives.

[]

The Fifth Hokage looked at the young woman that had accompanied Naruto, Sakura, Sai, and Yamato back from their mission; the same woman who was grasping Naruto's hand nervously.

She was Naruto's age with long red hair, violet eyes, and fair skin. Her clothes looked to be in rough shape; especially the pink skirt that looked like it was once a dress. Despite that, she still was a lovely looking girl with a black sleeveless and strapless top, a golden necklace with a red jewel, equally gold arm bands, and sandals with straps similar to what some of the kunoichi wear. Finishing off her look was her hairstyle, which was a long, rough ponytail with two loop-braids on either side of her face.

The way she stood next to the orange loving blonde as if she belonged there made it rather obvious who Tsunade had to ask about this.

"Naruto… Who is this, and how did she end up with you after your mission to stop Mukade?" Tsunade questioned.

It was worth noting that a visible shudder ran down the girl's body At the mention of the nukenin's name, and her grip on Naruto's hand tightened some. She also was impressed that Naruto immediately gave the redheaded girl a look of concern, to which she smiled gratefully.

By the kami, those two… Did they not realize what these actions were doing to her? That they made her mind replace their images with two parallel people who had died so long ago?

"I am the former Queen of Rōran, Sāra, Lady Hokage," the girl introduced herself.

'Rōran? But that place was destroyed roughly twenty years ago! That must mean…'

Groaning, Tsunade rubbed her temples as her head started pounding at what she was being told. This just got complicated…

"I can't believe you, Naruto… You just up and yanked this girl out of her time period?! How was that even possible?!"

She just knew that this was Naruto's fault somehow. How close Sāra stuck to him was proof of that.

Sāra glared stubbornly back at Tsunade's accusation. "Excuse me, but this isn't his fault. Mukade and that giant centipede-like puppet body he merged with attempted to cause the Dragon Veins to explode back in my time. He did this after Naruto-kun bested him with the help of Minato-san and his squad."

Tsunade felt another urge to groan. Chances of Naruto knowing about his father's identity just skyrocketed.

"Due to what had occurred throughout the fight, I almost fell to my death and was nearly swallowed by the polluted energy of the Dragon Veins. Naruto-kun risked his life to save my own, with Minato-san doing the same to try and help us. Thankfully, Yamato-san was there to catch us and carry us all to safety."

Taking a moment, she turned to the Jonin and gave a bow to him.

"I never thanked you for that. I apologize…"

To Tsunade's surprise, Yamato dropped his usually serious expression in favor of giving Sāra a small smile. "You don't need to apologize. I just did what I needed to."

She smiled back before returning her attention to Tsunade. "After Minato-san sealed away the Dragon Veins so that they could restore themselves, Naruto-kun and Yamato-san began to glow; signifying their eventual return to their timeline. I…"

Her grip on Naruto's hand tightened again, almost desperately this time. It was as if she was terrified that he would vanish if she relinquished her grip.

"I couldn't bear to watch someone who did so much for me – someone who inspired me – just vanish. Admittedly, I pleaded to Minato-san if there was a way to stop the process. But Naruto-kun was able to help me accept the fact by reminding me of my position, and the sacrifices we must make for those we must watch over…"

The Hokage was visibly impressed by this, pleased to hear about Naruto's mature outlook on what people of authority need to do. No doubt he used his goal of becoming Hokage to help convey his message to Sāra.

"I thought I was ready to watch him leave when he promised to come find me in the future. But just before they vanished, I couldn't take it. I was terrified of losing him, so I ran to his side and held onto him…The rest you know."

She had gotten a little emotional at remembering what she had gone through, and she turned her body to move closer to Naruto's side. Almost instinctively, he wrapped an arm around her while giving Tsunade an apologetic, almost guilty expression.

Tsunade sighed at this, but she couldn't help empathizing with the displaced girl. When she had first met Naruto, she had written him off as a brat with a suicidal dream of becoming Hokage to an ungrateful village. But as she watched him drive himself into the ground to prove himself to her and win the bet that she made with him, she began to respect his drive.

It wasn't until Naruto risked his life to protect her when she was frozen by her fear of blood that she became inspired by him. On that day, unknown to the boy, she had promised herself to look after him; to be there for him and help him achieve his dream.

So yes, Tsunade completely understood why Sāra did what she had done. If she were in the girl's place, she was positive she would've made the same decision.

"Granny," Naruto spoke up, earning her attention. "I promise to take full responsibility for this. I tried to convince Sāra to let things happen, but I was mainly trying to convince myself. I don't think I fully understand why, but she became important to me in such a short time… I wanted to do the right thing and have us go our separate ways; but I can't deny that I was relieved when she came back with us…"

His team, sans Yamato, looked surprised at his confession while Sāra had a faint blush and a soft smile. Tsunade herself gave him a faint smile that held undertones of somberness.

She should've anticipated something like this, considering how Naruto craved acknowledgment from others. His inhibited social growth and lack of parents to help raise him made him ignorant to his own feelings at times. And that ignorance was shown here by him not understanding that he had more than likely fallen for the girl at his side.

And rather hard, too.

"So, I'll look after her and do whatever I need to help her adjust, Granny," Naruto finished.

Tsunade felt her smile strain a bit at the use of that insufferable nickname for her. She was ready to turn her growing irritation on Naruto, but it was appeased when Sāra elbowed him in the ribs.

"Be respectful," she gently chided to him out of the corner of her mouth, earning a sheepish look from him.

The Slug Summoner felt her mouth twitch upwards once more in a show of amusement. The royal one most certainly had plans to whip him into shape manners-wise, that much was obvious.

Good. He would need it for when he finally took the hat from her.

Turning to the two of them, Sakura shook her head. Even if Sāra hadn't practically declared it to the word, anyone could tell this chronologically displaced girl had it bad.

Really bad.

And with Naruto of all people… Sakura had always liked Sasuke, but still…

She shook her head as thoughts of Naruto's best qualities conflicted her thoughts. Why did the pinkette suddenly find herself feeling confused about this? Had Naruto really changed that much over the years?

'Am I…?' she started asking herself but was unable to finish her own internal question.

Looking the girl over, the Kage wondered something. "Are you aware of what happened to the people of Rōran over the years of your absence?"

"Actually, Lady Hokage," Yamato spoke up, "we crossed paths with a traveling caravan of nomads when we were making our way out of the Land of Wind. Their clothing held the insignia of Rōran, and the leader of the caravan was able to recognize Lady Sāra."

Sāra smiled at that. "They were surprised to see me still looking so young, but they expressed that they were relieved to see me again. I thanked them for looking after our people, and they promised me to keep doing so. I guess you can say that I've been absolved of my position and am now free to live my life how I choose."

Tsunade nodded in understanding, looking notably relieved. Sāra's kingdom may have ended up in ruins over the years, but the people were safe and happily living their lives. That was what was important. Buildings could be repaired, clothing and possessions replaced; but a person's life couldn't be regained no matter what.

As a medic and with her past experiences of the deaths of her little brother and her lover, she fully understood that.

This young woman, Sāra, had learned that lesson well. A good quality in a leader was that they valued those who looked to them for guidance. Besides, with her no longer needing to be responsible for the people of Rōran, the situation had become much less complicated.

Sāra glanced at Naruto and looked thoughtful, earning a confused smile from him. She simply smiled back at him and shook her head to let him know nothing was wrong, which got the legendary medical kunoichi's attention.

"Something on your mind?" she asked.

Jumping in surprise as she was broken from her thoughts, Sāra turned back to Tsunade with a pink hue dusting her cheeks. "I… might I tell you privately?" At Tsunade's nod, she went over behind the desk and leaned in, whispering to the woman, "I was just thinking about how Naruto-kun would have made an exceptionally fine king."

"What makes you say that?" Tsunade asked in amusement, once again seeing just how much Sāra had been smitten by her knucklehead of a ninja.

Sāra smiled as she went back over to Naruto, losing her blush in the process as she retook his hand in hers. "Trust, respect, and loyalty aren't gifts to be given freely, Lady Hokage. They're values that must be earned. Naruto-kun's actions for both the sakes of myself and the rest of the people of Rōran earned him those values from us all. He knows what matters, what it means to be strong and knows what it costs, what it's worth, and – most of all – why it's important. He also has a strong sense of empathy and is willing to put all that he is on the line to do what his heart tells him is right."

Naruto was blushing at the praise being sent his way while Sakura once again felt something strange bubbling within her.

"How could a person like that not make a fine leader?" Sāra finished proudly.

Tsunade chuckled softly, finding herself in agreement with Sāra's reasoning.

Her grandfather, Hashirama Senju, had been the same way. It had been why he'd been nominated to be the First Hokage. In fact, back in the Warring Clan Era before the Hidden Village system had been set up, Hashirama had sent members of the Senju Clan to fight alongside some of the other Clans that had been around their territory. His choice to help others to survive together rather than alone had earned the trust, respect, and loyalty of those whom the Senju Clan had aided.

Under the leadership of her grandfather, the Senju had earned the reputation of accomplishing with a peaceful handshake what took others warfare, domination, and subjection to.

It was easy to admire the strong, and easy to respect the kind. Hashirama had been both, and, according to this young woman, Naruto was the same as her grandfather. It was welcoming news.

At least, it would've been at any other time. For now, Tsunade needed to find out what to do with these two thanks to the situation Naruto had unknowingly and unintentionally created, despite his promise to take responsibility. She had investigated the studies surrounding the Dragon Veins, and Sāra's bloodline was worth concern.

Someone who could channel the power of the very essence of the planet itself and someone with the power of the Kyuubi…

There was no way her militant-viewed political rival, Danzo, would allow this to slip through his fingers if given the chance. And then there was the Akatsuki to factor into account. While Sāra wasn't a Jinchūriki, with her energy manipulation abilities she didn't need to be one to have the kind of immense power that would eventually draw their attention to her.

And knowing them thanks to Jiraiya's findings, they wouldn't ignore what the possibilities could be if they could get their hands on her. She would need to come up with something.

Tsunade looked at the five people before her. "All of you are dismissed," she said. "I need some time to figure things out, so I want Naruto and Sāra to return later tonight. In the meantime, I think Sāra here should be shown around and be given the chance to purchase some new clothes."

Reaching into a drawer, she quickly filled out an order before offering it to Naruto, who took it with a curious expression.

"Take that to the village treasury. It's an order for funds to be taken; just enough to help buy some clothes. Once you finish, keep them in your apartment for now and show her around. Maybe introduce her to your friends."

Sāra smiled gratefully to the woman and gave a respectful bow to her before she wrapped her arm around Naruto's. Tugging him along and earning a small chuckle from him, she pulled him out of the office while looking visibly eager to see this present era with him. The rest of Team Seven, not having anything better to do, followed the pair.

Though Sakura left with a slightly faster pace than Sai and Yamato.

Once the young former queen and Naruto's team had left, the Hokage groaned. Circumstances just kept building up on top of one another with Naruto at the center of it all. Did he enjoy causing trouble like this?

Tsunade rubbed her temples and mentally decided that he didn't look for trouble; it usually found him, and he was left carrying it long enough for others to get involved. It didn't help that he was a bleeding heart who couldn't ignore the struggles of others. A good trait as a person, but it inevitably caused tons of headaches in the end.

"He was trying to do something good and it only created more issues," she groaned out. "I can't even be upset with him since he was trying to do the responsible thing this time. But it still boils down to him as far as the issues are concerned."

"I agree. It's pretty irritating that a lot of headaches involve the brat, huh?" a familiar voice asked in amusement.

Tsunade nodded with a sigh. "Tell me about it…" Then her eyes widened, and she whipped her head to see who had spoken. "Jiraiya?" she asked in surprise.

The white-haired old man entered through the window, as was usual with him, and leaned against the wall as he gazed to the door of her office. "Gotta say though, it's strange and ironic - almost eerie, really – how much those two remind me of Minato and Kushina…" he said with a deeply nostalgic expression. "I almost mistook them for the brat's parents when I saw them together…"

Tsunade couldn't help nodding, despite the smile gracing her face. "Tell me about it…"

[]

"Your home is so beautiful," Sāra complimented, walking beside Naruto as they strolled through the village streets, money from the treasury stored safely in his toad wallet that she thought was adorable. "It's like a perfect blend of civilization and nature."

He chuckled at that. "Yeah, the village was made by the First Hokage and Madara Uchiha. The Hokage was famous for his Wood Style jutsu, and rumors say that her literally made the forests that surround the village."

"Incredible… Oh! Look at that!" she exclaimed, rushing to a window and looking at the mannequins showcasing new clothes. "Those clothes look so different from what Rōran usually had."

"A lot can change after twenty years," Naruto reminded her. "You want to check it out?"

She nodded with a smile and they entered the store. He chuckled again when he saw the delighted look on her face, taking closer looks at the clothing options and holding them up to her body for a precursory glance.

"Need some help?" a female employee asked them.

"Maybe," the Uzumaki confessed. "I'm not much help when it comes to clothes, but we're looking for something that is both comfortable and durable."

"Understandable," she replied with a nod. "We get plenty of shinobi customers, so we make sure our products can handle the ninja lifestyle while also looking stylish." To Sāra, she asked, "Was there something specific you were looking for?"

The redhead set the top she was looking at back on the rack. "Well, I mainly wore robes back in Rōran," she explained. "When I took off the robe and tore my skirt, I was able to move much easier. I guess I'd like something I can move well in; like what I'm wearing now, but less damaged."

The employee hummed and looked Sāra over. "Well, the skirt will obviously need to go, but your top looks fine. The sleeveless look works on you pretty well, if you ask me; really shows off your shoulders. We'll just look for some skirts and maybe some pants while keeping your sleeveless look."

"We'll also need clothes for when the colder months come in," Naruto spoke up. "We're basically getting a new wardrobe for her since she's new to the village."

"Alright, we can do that. It shouldn't take too long since she seems to have a style that works for her. We can simply expand on that and compensate for when it gets colder with longer, warmer clothes."

Nodding in thanks, Naruto stood back and let the employee assist Sāra in finding clothes she liked. At some point, he sat down and watched her showoff her new clothes, which made him blush a few times since they made her look lovely. Sāra blushed a few times as well, not used to modeling for someone; but she was glad to see that Naruto liked how she looked.

When it came to getting more personal clothing, he respectfully stepped away so that he wouldn't be caught staring. Sāra was thankful for the respect he was showing her, but she blushed at the thought of him seeing her wearing such clothes.

All-in-all, it took a couple hours before the clothes shopping finally ended. Sāra was all smiles as she wore her new dark blue skirt with a shoulder-less lilac shirt with sleeves that reached just past her elbows. Naruto made sure to leave a nice tip for the employee who helped them before sealing away the clothes into a storage scroll.

"Hungry?" he asked her, earning a nod. "Let me introduce you to the glory that is Ichiraku Ramen, then."

"The glory, huh?" she repeated teasingly.

"You know it!"

She giggled at his exuberant attitude, grasping his hand again as he led her to a food stand with curtains for the entrance. When they entered, they were greeted by a slightly elderly man and a young woman slightly older than them who looked rather pretty.

"Naruto!" greeted the man. "Good to see you!"

"Come to eat us out of our wares again?" teased the woman.

The three of them shared a laugh, and Sāra smiled softly at seeing him look so…carefree. It was as if everything that could weigh him down didn't matter anymore.

"Sāra, this is Teuchi and Ayame Ichiraku. I've known them since I was a kid and have been enjoying both their ramen and their friendship for many years," Naruto introduced. "Guys, this is Sāra."

"It's lovely to meet you both," the redhead greeted politely.

"Well, well, well!" Teuchi exclaimed. "Finally decided to bring a lovely young woman here for a date, kid?"

"W-What?!" Naruto exclaimed with a blush, tripping over the question.

Despite knowing the man was simply teasing, Sāra still blushed at the idea of this being considered a date. As Queen of Rōran, she would've eventually been offered suitors for her eventual hand in marriage. But…

"C'mon! It's not like that!" Naruto tried to explain almost comically, making the father-daughter chefs laugh at his attempt.

They would've never held a candle to the man who had done so much for her… The one who had so easily stolen her heart…

[]

"I can see why you enjoy their ramen so much," she commented as they resumed their stroll. "The atmosphere is so inviting in that place, and their food is rather delicious."

"See? The glory that is Ichiraku Ramen!" Naruto declared, earning a giggle.

"I'd love to meet your friends next. Is there a way to see them?"

Naruto hummed thoughtfully. "Well, we can walk around and see if we bump into any of them. I'm sure they'll all love to meet you, too."

She smiled at that, returning her attention to observing the village as they walked. Her smile remained as she saw the peaceful atmosphere, with people simply living their lives while children ran by without a care in the world.

"I think I will enjoy living here," she admitted softly as she slowed to a halt, looking up to the Hokage Monument before gazing towards the sky.

"I'm happy to hear that," he replied just as softly, stopping beside her. "Having you here makes me happy you came back with me…"

She turned to him and saw that his blue eyes held such raw emotion in them that she couldn't look away. Instead, she moved in and embraced him, making him pause for a second before he returned it.

"I couldn't go through ruling Rōran knowing that I wouldn't see you for so long… When I said that I needed you too, I meant it. I want to stay beside you, living my life the way I wish to…"

He said nothing and simply held her, oblivious to the stares they were attracting with their rather public display of affection. Some smiled for them – mostly couples and some of the elder villagers – while the others went back to whatever they were doing after looking for a few moments.

However, it was the forlorn gaze of a certain Hyuuga girl that would go totally unnoticed. Seeing the man she had long admired holding another girl almost tenderly made her realize that she had waited too long to try winning his heart.

And yet, despite seeing that he had seemingly chosen another, she was still happy for him. Hinata had watched Naruto struggle and get back up, watching from afar as he was constantly left alone while wishing she had the courage to reach out to him. And seeing how peaceful he looked with his arms around the unknown redheaded girl gave her a bittersweet feeling.

He deserved to be happy, but she still wished that it was she who had made him happy. But this wouldn't deter her from being his friend. It may not be what she wanted, but it would be enough for her to hopefully try and move on.

With that decision made, she left the area to go find the others. She had overheard how the girl wanted to meet them, and she would make an effort to be polite and accepting of her.

[]

The two had found themselves seated atop the bust of the Fourth Hokage, gazing across the expanse of the Hidden Leaf from their vantage point. "I still can't believe my dad was the Fourth…"

"Was he the Hokage when he was in Rōran?"

"Nah, he was most likely a Jonin. He and mom probably hadn't even considered having a kid at that time either, since I'm only sixteen. That mission was four years before my birth year."

"I see… Well, you certainly have an impressive pedigree, Naruto-kun."

He chuckled. "You make it sound like I'm some prize-winning animal, or something," he joked.

Gently smacking his arm while fighting her giggles, she replied, "I'm serious. You're the son of a village leader, and considering how you've only had five so far, I can only assume that obtaining such a position is incredibly difficult."

"Difficult yeah, but that won't stop me from becoming the Hokage someday."

"I'm sure you'll make for a wonderful leader…"

"Thanks, Sāra…"

They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the company the other provided. Feeling a bit bold, she scooted closer to him before resting her head against his shoulder. She smiled when she felt his arm wrap around her, allowing her to get more comfortable beside him.

"…Do you ever worry that what we're feeling may be a bit much?" Naruto asked softly.

"A little…" she confessed. "Are you worried that the feelings might dull over time?"

"I don't know… I've never felt like this before, and I'm not sure what to do… All I know is that having you here, having us like this, feels nice. It's something I'm scared to lose…"

"Naruto…" she said softly, pulling her head away so she could look at him better. "That's completely normal; fear of losing someone important to you. I'm scared of losing you, too; of losing the chance for us to have moments like this."

"…Could you accept that my life will be more complicated than most other guys?"

"I don't care about that; I care about you," she promised.

He felt incredibly touched by her words, but there was something she needed to know. "Sāra… What do you know about the Bijuu?"

She frowned thoughtfully, wondering what he was getting at. "Not much, other than they were great beasts with incredible power and that the Hidden Sand was responsible for the Ichibi."

He nodded, confirming what she had said. "When a Bijuu is placed into someone, they become something called a Jinchūriki. They become a living prison for the Bijuu and could sometimes even access their chakra. But most Jinchūriki are looked at as if they were the beast themselves and not someone burdened with a huge responsibility…"

It was rather obvious what he was steering the conversation towards, and she grabbed his hand supportively. "I don't care if you hold a Bijuu, Naruto-kun… Like I said before, I care aboutyou. So, don't think that this changes anything between us."

At first, he looked surprised before he chuckled softly, and Sāra saw his body relax as if a huge weight had been taken off his shoulders.

"Thank you…" he choked out, giving her such a heartfelt smile that she was briefly stunned.

When she recomposed herself, she smiled back and retook her position of resting her head upon his shoulder. "…Which Bijuu do you hold?"

"The Kyuubi, strongest of the Nine."

She giggled. "I guess that makes sense, what with your cute whiskers and all."

He pouted at that. "Hey, I'm supposed to be a badass ninja; notcute…"

"Is that so? Would you prefer if I called you handsome instead?"

His cheeks turned red at that, and he gave a suspicious cough as he tried to compose himself again. "I… I wouldn't mind if you did…"

Another giggle escaped her lips, but nothing else was said as they resumed their peaceful silence.

[]

When they finally were called back to Tsunade's office, they saw that Jiraiya was there as well as Kakashi, who Sāra recognized.

"Oh, you were that young man who was with Yamato-san when he saved us. It's nice to see you again," she said happily.

The Jonin gave her his signature eye-smile at that. "Nice to see you too, Lady Sāra. How did you enjoy your tour of the village?"

"It was wonderful. This place is absolutely beautiful, and I can easily see myself having a life here. I just hope I don't cause any problems with my presence."

"Well," Tsunade began, "that's what we're here to discuss. Do you have any plans to return to your people, or to the Land of Wind?"

Sāra shook her head negatively. "No, I don't wish to return to what my life should've been. My people are living their lives in peace, and I'd rather stay here."

Nobody but the blonde in question missed the way she glanced at him as she said that.

"Then there's something we need to discuss."

"I already told her about the Kyuubi," Naruto spoke up. "I also told her about how I'm being targeted for the fox…"

"That saves us some time, then. However, there's still a potential problem at play."

"Problem?" the two repeated in confusion.

Jiraiya took the lead. "Do you still feel any sort of connection to the Dragon Veins, girl?"

Sāra looked surprised at the question before taking a moment to search within herself. After a moment, she felt something pulse like a heartbeat, and she nodded once to them. "Yes, I still feel a link to them. Does this mean I'll become a target once again?"

"It's a possibility should your ability become public knowledge," Tsunade answered. "We'll do what we can to help keep this under wraps, but I need to know if you plan to better understand your abilities for the future."

She was silent for a moment, thinking over the question before mentally reminding herself of the danger Naruto was in. Making a decision, she answered, "I'd like to try… I'm not sure where to start, but I still want to give it my best efforts if it means I can help Naruto-kun."

"Sāra…" the Uzumaki whispered in surprise, feeling grateful for her wish to help.

"Alright, then we'll make plans to begin training you on how to harness your own chakra. From there, we will work on better establishing the connection between you and the Dragon Veins. Is that alright with you?" Tsunade offered.

"Yes, I can agree to this plan. Who will be helping me train?" the former queen asked.

"For now, I'll be temporarily taking over Naruto's training again," Jiraiya spoke up. "Kakashi will help me when I need him to, but he'll mainly be the one helping you understand how to control your chakra."

"I understand. I look forward to your instruction, Kakashi-san."

He chuckled and waved her off easily. "Maa, just call me Kakashi or sensei. No need for formalities."

"Then I ask you all to do the same for me. Seeing that I'm no longer the Queen of Rōran, I wish to be called simply by my name."

The adults nodded while Tsunade fished around her desk drawers before pulling out a familiar headband with a black cloth. "Since you will be staying here and receiving training, I think it's only fitting that you be inducted into the ninja forces. You'll start as a Genin, obviously; but you can always advance in rank in the future."

Gratefully accepting the headband, she fastened it like a belt around her skirt before giving the Hokage a smile. "I promise to do my best, Lady Hokage."

"Glad to hear it. Now, given the circumstances, I've decided on a couple things. First, I'm moving you to a better apartment, brat."

"What? Really?" he asked in slight shock. "I don't mind where I live."

"That may be, but I do. Besides, I'm going to give Sāra an apartment beside yours so that you can fulfill your promise of taking responsibility. It'd be pretty hard if your apartment were so far from hers, wouldn't you say?"

"I guess," he agreed, though he was a bit confused on her reasoning.

Sāra, on the other hand, gave Tsunade a grateful look that earned a knowing smile from the blonde woman. It was obvious the two cared for one another, so there was no harm in taking steps to nudge them together.

"We'll start the training in a couple days," Jiraiya spoke up. "This will give you more time to get used to the village and give me a chance to get in touch with some contacts of mine. Sound good?"

"You bet, Pervy Sage!" Naruto exclaimed.

"Naruto…" Sāra sighed out, amazed at the ease he could throw out such a slanderous title.

"Oh, don't get so worked up," Tsunade spoke up in amusement, earning Sāra's attention. "For once, one of the brat's nickname is well warranted."

"Tsunade!" the Toad Sage exclaimed indignantly. "I am shocked and appalled that you would say such a thing!"

"Says the old fart who peeps on the hot springs and writes erotica," Naruto grumbled, earning a gasp from Sāra before she gave the man a disapproving look. "The same books Kakashi-sensei reads in public…"

That same look was now aimed at the Jonin, who gave a weak chuckle. The expression she was giving reminded him so much of Kushina, and it was throwing him off.

'Still, looks like you were right back then, sensei. Naruto will be there for her, and it's obvious she'll be there for him just as much,'he mused, feeling happy for his student for finding someone to help him emotionally.

Observing Jiraiya try to fix the cracks made on his reputation while Naruto laughed, Sāra held his hand, and Tsunade looked amused, the man couldn't help thinking that things would work out in the end.


Ray: Well, that was a thing! Didn't realize how difficult co-op stories were, but we got the first chapter done!

Dylan: Difficult, but rewarding. Hope you all liked it, and be sure to review if you did! We aim to please and there'll be more on the way!

Ray: And if you DIDN'T like it, then ya don't gotta read. We appreciate critique but NOT flames. If you got time to flame, then you're just wasting that time.

Dylan: But we digress. To the fans, we aim to please; and there'll be more on the way!

Ray & Dylan together: So until then! Stay safe, healthy, and positive!