Title: Hope is a Thing With Feathers
If you honestly think I own Naruto, you're, no offense, but a wee bit slow. It's © Kishimoto, and so it will remain until I somehow writhe my way into his will. Somehow. I haven't figured out how.
Pairings: Okay. Deep breath, now. SasuNaru ( -main pairing), SasuSaku, SakuNaru, SakuLee, NaruHina, HinaKiba, ShikaIno, ShikaNeji, probably a couple more. At least, that's what I expect to do. I'm not one-hundred percent sure, say SakuNaru will work out... But anyway. We all love. 3
Warnings: Alright. There will be yaoi, for those of you not quiiiite slick enough to have caught on yet. Het, though most people are just fine with that. The whole thing starts off with SasuSaku, which I hope won't scare off SasuNaru fans... Some angst, possibly more than I intended- you all know how this sort of thing gets away with you. Erm... Profanity, some violence, some smex (lemons, limes, the occasional zest to give a boring chapter a new zing of flavor), bad humor, and the tendency to rant like all hell in the Author's Notes.
Dedication: To those reviewers who kept me writing for Fireworks, which as my first (almost ever) completed fic, I am absurdly proud of. -preenpreen- Namely though not solely Evvy, HeeroTomoe, Ruby Love, Magical flying-dragon, and Pale Rider. I hope to keep up the same and finish this one... If I start slowing down, someone has to whack me over the head with a large, metaphorical net-hammer. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed any of my stories, will review, or is reviewing right now.
The strands in your eyes
That color them wonderful
Stop me and steal my breath
Emeralds from mountains
Thrust towards the sky
Never revealing their depth
This Uchiha is a touch-free zone.
Please refrain from hugging, clinging, holding hands with, or engaging in any public displays of affection with this Uchiha. Avoid physical contact unless you intend to have sex with him. If you have something to say, please think it over very carefully, write it down, read it over, and throw it away, because chances are very good he doesn't want to hear it. Loud, open declarations about how you 'caught Sasuke' are permitted so long as they are restrained to an area more than fifty feet from said Uchiha. Any declarations of love are discouraged unless you're naked and kneeling in front of him. While wearing clothing, please respect his personal space, and make few sudden movements or loud noises while around him, because you're only going to piss him off more.
Sakura sighed and jammed her hands into her pockets. She was, tops, three inches from Sasuke. Their arms were actually touching, the sleeve of his light jacket brushing against her bare arm. Their footsteps were completely synchronized, the quiet impact of sandal on dust amplified by two. She could smell the slight citrus of his shampoo. She knew the exact brand of shampoo he used; she'd known it for years, but it always smelled better in person than in the bottle.
But if they were this close, this very, very close, why did she feel like she was miles away from him? If she had this glaringly vivid memory of lying on her back in the dirt, beaten down on her first mission as Chuuin, then being rescued by the same person she walked beside now, whisked back to shelter and nursed back to health, kissed on the lips and laid on her back while a quiet voice assured her that it wasn't all a dream, then why did it feel like she was walking down the street all alone?
It was probably because they weren't talking. Or touching. Sasuke was staring straight forward, like he didn't even know she was there. If 'Sasuke and Sakura' wasn't such public knowledge right now, she would be mistaken for just another of the black-haired shinobi's fangirls- in fact, rumors about them breaking up had circulated so many times over the past two months that sometimes Sakura worried- had Sasuke really told Ino's little sister's best friend that he was planning on dumping her! What if he was? But he hadn't, and they'd been together for three months, so that was something. Right? Sakura shot a glance at her boyfriend and smiled to herself- it was awesome, being here with him- she felt, for the first time, like she was really, really loved.
And, as if hearing her thoughts and wanting to complete the day for her, Sasuke deigned, at long last, to speak, his voice running over her like wet velvet. "We're almost there." He had such a sexy voice.
The edge of the woods was familiar turf- Sakura vividly remembered the first time they'd been there as official ninjas- yeah, she and Ino had played here as little kids, but the first memory was fresher, and a little more bittersweet. This was the exact place where they'd become real, live Genin- there was the tree Naruto had hung from, there was the bush Sakura thought she'd seen dying Sasuke come up from, there was the rock the blonde had been tied to when Sasuke had given in and helped him out.
"God, we were such idiots," she whispered to Sasuke, remembering the loud abrasiveness of Naruto, Sasuke's refusal to work together, her own fluttering flirting. For the first time that day, Sasuke turned towards her, a smirk spreading across his face. He'd come to the same conclusion.
"Come on," he muttered under his breath, running straight up the trunk of a tree and perching in the branches. Sakura followed him, a little slower but right on his heels.
Kakashi had told them to stay discreet and quiet. It must have worked- of the three kids on the ground, two girls and a boy, none looked up as they approached. One of the girls sat boredly on the ground, while the other girl leaned against the trunk of a tree and fiddled with the lengths of her hair and the boy paced. "Are you sure this is where he said to meet him?" he asked, after a second. "He's really late if it is."
The second girl shrugged minimalistically. "This is the place. Right? I mean, unless we were given the wrong directions."
"I think we must have been," the first girl interjected quietly. Her tone reminded Sakura of Hinata. "It's been over an hour."
A familiar voice broke in, there. "Yo," Kakashi said, walking out of no-where like he always did. Sasuke smirked again as the three kids jumped. "Sorry I'm late. There was an assassination attempt on the Hokage right after lunch, and I had to run by there to clear things up."
The standing girl stared at him in disbelief. "That's... a lie," she said, dumbfounded, as if the idea of Kakashi lying was entirely absurd. Which, considering that he was her new teacher, and a Jounin besides, it might have seemed.
Sakura looked up as Sasuke straightened and began to walk away. She hurried to catch up to him. "Do you think they'll pass his test?" When that failed to elict a response, she continued, "I mean, we were the first ever, you know, to pass, but Naruto has a big mouth and the whole trick-question thing is probably ruined." Once again, Sasuke didn't answer. Sakura hesitated and looked over her shoulder, though they were already too far away for her to see her old teacher and his new students. As Chuuin, Team 7 was now in charge of their own training, their own missions, and their own teamwork. That meant Kakashi got a new team, Team whichever-number that one was- maybe the second generation of Team 7, for all Sakura knew. She'd wanted to see them, when Kakashi met them, and Sasuke, after a little begging, had eventually agreed to come. Naruto had declined the invitation.
After seeing them, Sakura thought maybe she understood why. Those three were going to inherit their life, were going to take over after everything they had been doing for the past half-decade. It was an odd thought, accompanied by a painful pang of nostalgia. Naruto had never been good at dealing with nostalgia- as it generally required good memories and Naruto's childhood was anything but pleasant, he hadn't gotten much experience at it.
Sasuke had never been good at dealing with nostalgia, either. Which was probably why he was walking so fast.
The black-haired Chuuin dropped to the ground, followed closely by his pink-headed girlfriend. "Sasuke?" she called after him.
"No," he replied after a second. Sakura reeled back for a second before he clarified what he was refusing. "I don't think they're going to pass."
Sakura stared after him for a second. "Oh," she said, in response, and hurried to catch up to him again.
Naruto didn't even bother to knock. The door swung open and he stormed in like he owned the place, collapsing bonelessly into one of the chairs lined up in front of Tsunade's desk. The fifth Hokage looked up at his arrival, then patiently waited for him to sit down, studying him- he'd done some growing up since she'd become Hokage, and it amused her to see how much every time he came here. He was taller than Sakura, now- finally, the poor kid- though still not quite as much as Sasuke, and had gotten a little broader than both. He'd grown the golden hair a little bit, so it hung down a little past his earlobes, though brushing it still wasn't going to happen on a regular basis.
"Tsunade-baba," he greeted her, cheerfully using the nick-name he'd given her when he was a kid. He grinned for a second, a flash of the cheeky Genin- gods above, had it only been three years ago that he'd TPed the academy- showing on his face. Then the grin was gone, replaced by a more subdued smile. He looked more like the Chuuin who had stopped an attack on the village last year by a small but skilled group of bandits. "Something wrong? Why'd you call me here?"
The- more-or-less, at least by sight- young woman leaned across her desk and met the kitsune's blue eyes seriously. "Naruto, we have a bit of a problem."
The blonde frowned. "A mission? Are Sasuke and Sakura still on their way?"
Tsunade frowned and toyed slightly with the end of her sleeve. "I'm asking Rock Lee and Hyuuga Hinata to go with you, Naruto. I don't want Sasuke and Sakura getting involved." Naruto didn't ask why, but his quiet glare visibly tried to pry the answer from her. What was she supposed to tell him, though? She pretended she couldn't see the inquiry in his eyes. "You'll do fine with them. You work perfectly well with Lee, remember when you tutored those kids from the academy, when Iruka was sick? And Hinata, I'm sure, is perfectly easy to get along with." Maybe not with Naruto, though. Naruto was naturally loud, he'd smother the quiet, shy Hyuuga who would be too distracted by him to try and get a word in edgewise- but she and Lee were the only people available. Kiba and Shino were off undercover in Wave country, Neji and Tenten were on a relatively small envoy mission to Sand, Shikamaru wouldn't want to do anything that Sasuke could do just as easily in his place, and Chouji and Ino had yet to pass the Chuuin exams.
Naruto looked at her quizzically for another second, then shrugged, visibly dismissing the question from his mind. "What's the mission?" He didn't like the meetings to drag on too long. The Hokage's office was always a little stuffy. One day, when he was Hokage, he'd get a couple of windows put in, and damn assassination protection to hell, anyway.
He would be able to handle any threat, anyway. He was himself.
"There's been a... problem, near the Sand-Leaf border. Lee will get a map." Naruto was hopeless with maps. "Important people have been dying. Lee will get in-depth details." Naruto was helpless with details, too. "He'll fill you in when you get there, you'll remember it better. I want to know why they're dying, and who's killing them off. We're pretty sure it's assassination, if it's not, the mission will be easier. Arrest him if you can, if you can't or don't get the chance, just come back and we'll send out a Jounin." The implied command- don't do anything stupid. Chuuin were never given assassination assignments, those only went to Jounin and even then they were rare. Tsunade could hire hunter-nins if she had to, but she had no wish for an abundance of assassins living in Konoha.
"Be packed by noon, three days from now." She rose her hand to keep Naruto from getting up to leave. "Please try and pack like a ninja, Naruto. I don't need Sakura complaining to know you don't always pack for missions like you have a brain larger than the size of a beetle. That's saying, nothing stuffed or cute or obscure and absolutely no-"
"Ramen," the blonde broke in, grinning. "I know, Tsunade-baba. We went over this last time."
"And you ignored me last time, too," she replied, and sighed with resignation as the kyuubi bearer laughed. "Okay, Naruto. Just be careful, alright?"
Naruto nodded. "Alright." He didn't need to know anything more, he'd just ask Lee for more information as they got closer to their goal. He was never really in charge of missions, which was fine with him- he didn't need to do all the planning or any of the stupid shit, so long as he got to be at the head of the game when it came down to kicking ass.
"You can go, now, Naruto." But the dismissal was spoken to the back of an orange shirt. Naruto waved without turning around as he saw himself out.
Tsunade sighed again and examined her desk as the door closed behind the blonde. It was freakishly neat. It always bothered her; in her own time, she was never this neat. But her hands yearned to do something while she sorted out her friends like numbers, shoved one after another into a situation that could kill them, but a situation she couldn't ever go to again, herself. And she was a Healer. They could need her.
She reached over and pulled a pile of papers off her desk. It was a formal stack of A-ranked requests, some from weeks ago that she couldn't throw away because they had never been complete, and that piece of paper had killed one of her friends. Almost frantically, she started to try and rearrange it, this time, by date.
Naruto met Sakura and Sasuke on the walk home. The pink-haired shinobi was clutching her boyfriend's sleeve, smiling brightly, looking for all the world like some little Genin who had just caught the world's biggest fish. "Hey, Naruto!"
Sasuke, looking patiently tolerant, like an old cat being petted backwards, looked up at him and raised his hand in a half-hearted salute. A grunt that could have been "Hi" and could have been "You're not dead yet?" emerged from his mouth.
Naruto forced a grin that was more than he felt like giving and waved cheerily at Sakura. "Sakura-chan!" he greeted enthusiastically. Then, dramatically less so, "Sasuke." He looked away so they wouldn't see the jealousy on his face- not so much that it wasn't expected, though they probably expected him to be jealous of Sasuke... more because he didn't want to make Sakura upset. She was so much happier, now, than she had been when they were Genin and Sasuke barely even bothered noticing her. If she thought Naruto was jealous of his black-haired teammate, she'd be upset.
If she knew Naruto was jealous of her, she'd be more than upset.
"Lee-kun says you're going on a mission," Sakura said, cheerfully. She shoved her rose-colored bangs out of her eyes and grinned up at her teammate. "Did Tsunade tell you why we aren't coming?"
Naruto shrugged and said, honestly, "I didn't ask." He grinned brighter, a sort of false cheer commandeering his face. "Maybe it'll be fun, working with Lee and Hinata. I've never done a real mission with Lee before and I hardly do anything at all with Hinata. And hey, maybe they won't constantly call me an idiot and say I can't do anything right," he said, the last part aimed at Sasuke.
The black-haired Chuuin blinked at him, then shrugged. "If you have any useful abilities beyond throwing copies of yourself at an enemy and tying your shoes more-or-less without making mistakes, be sure to use them and try to impress Hinata. Idiot."
Naruto snorted and wrapped his arm around Sakura's shoulder to cover up the time he took to think of a good comeback. "Unlike some people," he said after a second, "I don't have to try and impress women. Some of us can charm naturally, Sasuke."
Sakura waited for Sasuke's reaction to the blonde's casual embrace. When it didn't come, she shrugged off Naruto's arm herself. Sasuke smirked. "I'm sure the bullshit you spew out of your mouth is a real turn-on," he barbed back.
Was it absurd that he wanted to kiss him? Naruto assumed it wasn't, after all, he'd come to terms with his crush, long-term crush though it was, a long time ago, and it had long since graduated past the point where he was freaked out every time he wanted to make out with his rival. The... other stuff, he wanted to do with him, not so much. But the making out, he'd come to terms with, almost. It still hurt that it wasn't happening, not in this lifetime and probably, as he wasn't exactly the type of person that was really likely to find salvation hiding under a rock- shinobi often weren't- not in the next, and it still hurt to see his crush getting it on with his other teammate and one of his best friends. So, yeah. Painful, yes. Absurd, no.
He opened his mouth to respond when Sakura cut him off with a roll of her eyes. "Yeah, Naruto- rubber-" she jabbed her finger at the blonde, "glue," and pointed at Sasuke, "defense mechanisms remain intact. When do you have to leave?"
The kyuubi vessel grinned. Sakura used to hate it much more when they spent all their time bickering- like him, though, she'd gotten over the problems of their Genin days. (It had only been three months, and already, so much nostalgia. What would happen to him when he became Hokage?) "Three days from now," he replied. "Leaves time to pack."
Sakura smiled. "And time to say goodbye. You want to meet us for lunch at Ichimaru's the day after tomorrow? I'll buy."
Naruto smiled in response, probably his most genuine smile of the day. "Sure," he replied, then grinned at Sasuke. "That is, if no one minds..."
His teammate shrugged languidly. It was as close to assent as Sasuke came, and Naruto, never one to read too deeply into the Uchiha's gestures, took it at face value.
A/N: Oookay. Well, for those looking for efficient plot-making techniques, here's the reverse-psychology way- if you want two characters to get together, give one of them a girlfriend and then send the other one far away on a life-threatening mission with a girl who is secretly in love with him! That'll work!
No, seriously, I have a plan with this one. If the characters want to be agreeable with me on it; you know how they all can be...
Next chapter will mostly deal with how and why Sasuke is with Sakura, and I hope it can justify my writing SasuSaku. Not that I really mind the pairing, I just never thought I'd write it...
Reviews appreciated, reviewers worshiped.