Title: Sacrifice and Acknowledgement
Author: Blue Jeans
Theme(s): LJ's 30deathfics community theme #1: Regret
Characters: Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, NaruSaku hints
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: This is a future-fic. There might be vague mentions of the manga and you may be spoiled.
Disclaimer: Kishimoto's characters and my words.
Summary: Naruto's the Hokage now, but there's still a lot of firsts and they are never easy. Sakura walks him through this one with the care of a former teammate and the patience of Tsunade-hime's apprentice.

The first time for anything is always the hardest.

Sakura thought that was how she should approach this, because she wasn't quite sure how else to deal with it. Naruto had not said anything more than he had to since the ANBU report on the remains came in. The blonde's brittle, too-wide grin was still plastered on his face as he read through the scroll. She had already seen it twice, and he's not going to fool anyone because this was the fifth time that night he's glanced at it. Sakura had barely left his side since they heard of the possibility of a botch up in this recent A-ranked surveillance, keeping an eye on him during this crucial time was the only thing she could really do and Sakura was nothing if not thorough. Tsunade had made sure of that.

He was still in shock, Sakura concluded as she gently closed the door behind her without a sound. Her swift feet took her quietly across the room to stand before his desk. A warm cup of tea rested in her hand as she held it carefully, hovering slightly to observe and to wait for him to acknowledge her. The sake was running low and his cup was once again empty, she knew if she didn't bring him some stimulant he would crash too soon and the night was still young. There was still a lot of paper-work to go through and he shouldn't linger on that one anymore. There was nothing they could do to change what had happened there and the funerals would eventually have to be planned, though its importance, in that department, will have to take a back seat to more pressing matters.

"Hokage-sama," she softly interrupted him. He scowled at the honorific, but Sakura had been adamant about this tradition so long as they were inside the Hokage's office. Mostly it was to teach him some manners and to force him to comply to certain protocols. Tsunade had trusted her to keep him on track after all, but right now it was to remind him of the tasks at hand. Whether he wanted to be reminded of them or not, Sakura could care less and had already reached over and taken the mission report from his hands. "Naruto!" Sakura growled warningly when the Rokudaime gave a minor struggle, starting a small tug-of-war across his large desk. "Are you five?" she demanded when he tugged a bit harder and refused to let go.

"Sakura," he replied with an equal warning. Sakura paused, so surprised at how he said her name that he was able to triumphantly take back the document from her momentarily slackened fingers. Naruto very rarely called her just by her name. There were only a few incidents when he had used it that bluntly and it was never a good sign when he did. She paused and studied her leader with a critical eye then, frowning as she scrutinized him and his solidifying mask. "I'm working," he added pointedly, as if that would really get her out of the office and off of his case. Naruto's animosity for paper-work was even more legendary than Tsunade's had been, and this was the woman who once tossed her desk out of the Hokage's office window out of sheer frustration.

"I can see that you're working, but it's not your job to still be working on that." Sakura replied heatedly once she got ahold of her bearings. She then retaliated by trying to snatch at the scroll again but this time her attack was foreseen and Naruto pulled it safely out of her reach. Briefly, the kunoichi contemplated jumping over the Hokage's desk and stomping over his corpse to get to the scroll, but she repressed her frustrations and tried another, more diplomatic, route. "Naruto...-sama," Sakura grounded out forcefully, tagging the last part on there out of sheer force of will, "give me that scroll. You know there is still the uprising in the Rice Field Country that we need to have a plan for before Thursday's meeting, and you haven't even checked over the new missions we're assigning out tomorrow. If you want to look at it, do it when you've finished everything else."

"Knowing you, Sakura-chan," Naruto replied, reverting back to his usual self while seeing that twitch in her eye-brow at the blatant disregard for her attempt at protocol, "you'd work me into the ground so I wouldn't even have the energy to crawl over to the sofa to sleep. Tomorrow, I'd have crinkled paper marks on my cheek and forehead while you keep me busy until you're sure I can't do anything for this." He pointed out, waving the mission report in his other hand in a taunting manner.

Sakura snarled at him. He nailed her plan on the head. But, there were plenty of reasons for why she was doing what she was doing and she knew that he was willfully disregarding the parts that mattered. "Naruto-sama," she said as her fists clenched at the blank face her old teammate was giving her. "They're dead," she said cruelly because being nice was not what he wanted and it wasn't going to work. "Rereading that report is not going to bring them back. The mission was a partial success and we should honor them for what they did that made this possible."

Naruto watched her watch him and there was a great silence between them for a long time. Sakura almost wondered if she over-stepped her boundaries, but they had been through so much that she also acknowledged that this may be the only way. The first time is always the hardest, she reassured herself. She was here to help him through it and he was going to get through it. That was what Tsunade would want her to do, what she was trained to do.

"I know," he sighed out tiredly, shoulders sagging as if a great weight had suddenly descended upon him. In Naruto's case it was simply him, taking off the mask of cheerful apathy. Apathy, though, was the one thing Naruto failed at miserably in every occasion and Sakura knew this very well. "But, I keep thinking, there must have been something in here that would prevent it from ever happening again. Something I could have done differently..." He looked up to her then with this indescribable feeling in his eyes and Sakura, despite not being able to name it, felt her chest tighten and ache at what he said while he faced her. "I failed them, Sakura-chan. I swore to protect this village and every citizen and every member that resides here... And I failed them."

Sakura looked at him to gauge the seriousness of his words. She sighed when she saw how much he had meant it, but she straightened before her posture could slouch and she marched around the desk to stand next to Naruto. He didn't look up, his face the epitome of depression. Then, without further ado, Sakura lifted her hand and, even though she saw Naruto flinch and tense ever so slightly, she leaned over nonetheless and surprised him with the force of her actions.

She hugged him.

"Idiot," she said softly as his hair caught between her lips and tried to worm its way into her, the way he had done a long time ago. She pulled back a little and cupped her hands gently around his cheeks. He had already turned to look at her sharply, but there wasn't a reprimand on her lips or a frown on her face. "Naruto," Sakura said intimately, "a Hokage's job is to help the people come together when they are too weak to defend themselves on their own." His eyes shifted down guiltily but Sakura bent down more and slowly she rose when his eyes followed her own and met hers once more. "However, you cannot live that life for them. We, Naruto, as the people of Konoha - ninja or civilian - are responsible for our own lives as well. You can only protect us so much because you are just one man. We have to decide the rest of it ourselves and that decision isn't within your control."

"I'm the Hokage," Naruto declared angrily, chin jutting out stubbornly and eyes as fierce as when she had first met him as a child. "What's the point of this job if I can't protect you guys? I am the strongest ninja in the village. There must be a reason--"

"And many lives are saved because you are the Hokage, Naruto." Sakura told him softly, thumbs caressing the lines of his whiskers. Naruto paused, since Sakura so rarely showed him any affection in this room. She was adamant about professionalism to a fault, and only then did he take note that she must have been really distressed to have shown him this much, now.

His lips quirked and he smiled up to her widely. "Ah, you're right, Sakura-chan. I'm just being an idiot again."

He didn't even get to see her frown, but the blow sent his face onto the desk, rattling the tea and sending a few scrolls onto the ground. "I hate it when you lie to me like that," Sakura hissed, hurt evident in her face even after Naruto recovered. "Why must you always rely only on yourself? Being Hokage means that everyone's behind you, isn't that what you wanted, Naruto? To be acknowledged by others... you must also acknowledge them as well. It's not fair when you don't..."

"I acknowledge you," Naruto retorted, rubbing his smarted cheek and thanking the heavens for his accelerated healing.

Sakura was silent. "If you did," she finally answered him, head turned to the window behind him so that he could only see her profile, "You would have relied on me more."

Naruto paused, surprised by Sakura's reasoning. "Bu-but Sakura-chan--!"

"You never yelled at me, Naruto," she interrupted him with a firm shake of her head. "Sasuke-kun, Neji-san, Tsunade-shishou, even... Everyone you've met, when they were cowards, when they didn't try hard enough or they didn't face their responsibilities, when they ran blindly forward and hurt those close to them without thought, you always yelled at them, Naruto. Yet, when I was scared and useless, when I failed you because I was weak and hurt you because I was ignorant and naive... You've never yelled at me, Naruto."

"But you're not weak, Sakura-chan," Naruto protested. "You were always so smart and your inhuman strength..."

"Because you and Sasuke and everyone else, no one would acknowledge me if I didn't get stronger, Naruto. But, even now, it's not enough." Green eyes looked down at him then with a fierceness that surprised him. "Stop feeling like the mission was a failure because those shinobi died. They understood what was at stake and they took on that responsibility when all four chose the mission over themselves. If you do not acknowledge them for that, Naruto, then you are only being selfish. They were not powerless, they chose what they did because they believed in you, because they had a choice and they believed that they could do it. They did it, Naruto. They were right." Naruto wanted to protest but Sakura laid a soft finger to his lips. "Can you not honor them by believing in yourself, in the ideals that this village stands for, that they had died for? Or will you sit here and regret their strength, the conviction that made them heroes? Will you not move forward despite their sacrifice?" Sakura shook her head and her eyes was clouded with all the things she had never said and always felt. This was more than the mission spoken here, but right now, Sakura just wanted Naruto to see himself clearly and the wishes of those that weren't able to come home tonight. "I'm yelling at you now, Naruto, because I acknowledge you. For every success, for every miracle and failure and lucky strikes you've managed to accomplish. That is your strength. Don't you dare take it away from them, the honor of being a shinobi, of dying for your village and the trust that the Hokage will make that decision, that sacrifice, count in the end. You are not the only one who feels this strongly for Konoha, so don't you dare sit there and wallow!"

Naruto was silent, his eyes wide as he regarded her, as if he was seeing her for the first time. Then, ever so slowly, he looked down at the mission report in his hand and then slowly reached out and handed it to Sakura. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I may not understand everything you said, Sakura-chan, but I always--"

Sakura repressed her urge to roll her eyes, though that tic at her temple was something she couldn't help too much. "The Rice Field Country," she cut in before Naruto tempted her too much on the notion of killing him and hoping the Kyuubi would bring him back from the dead in the aftermath. "You should look at that first. I left you some notes so you don't have to drool on the scroll like you did the last one," she sniffled but then smiled at his sheepish expression as she plucked another scroll and put it in front of him. "And then the missions... Well, I've already started to sort through them, but you know you should check over it just in case."

Naruto and Sakura were always careful about missions, as much as they could, since their own brush with a B-ranked one when they were only Genin. If Kakashi hadn't been so good, they'd have all been killed on that one. After becoming Hokage, Naruto and Sakura tried their damnedest to make sure that such a thing never happened again, or if it did, at least not half as often.

Strategically, Sakura put the tea next to the documents concerning Rice Country and their current civil wars since the fall of the Hidden Sound. "Your tea will get cold if you don't drink it soon," she reminded him as she turned to leave. There were other works she'll have to look over before the night was over. This was just paper-work for today and with Naruto as Hokage, Sakura had to make sure she prioritized everything. She was working in the hospital for the majority of the day tomorrow, and if she wasn't prepared, the Genin team assigned to keep him on track would probably quit as ninja. It was what happened that first time Sakura foolishly left Naruto's supervising team unprepared for his antics, and it took her and Neji's forceful presence to restrain the Jounin from strangling the Hokage when the day was over. Not that Sakura didn't do it for the instructor in the privacy of the Hokage's office...

Naruto caught her wrist before she got very far and Sakura paused, looking back at him curiously. "I acknowledge you too, Sakura-chan," Naruto blurted out. "Always, always," he insisted. "You were always the strongest kunoichi I know!" His blue eyes burned with his conviction and he wasn't letting her go till she understood.

"Naruto," Sakura answered with a smile, her free hand touched his cheek and the muscles on his face relaxed. "You're the strongest ninja I know, too." She then gave that cheek a swat, softly this time, but enough to make him grimace. "So don't disappoint me, okay?"

"Alright, Sakura-chan!" Naruto cheered.

"And it's Sakura-san, to you while we're in this office, Hokage-sama!" Sakura lectured him.

"Aw, not that Hokage-sama shit again!" Naruto whined.

"What did I say about swearing in the Office, Hokage-sama?" Sakura demanded, yanking her hand from his grip so forcefully that Naruto wobbled a bit from his seated position. She glared down on him while placing both hands on her hips. Naruto only grinned, knowing his Sakura was back to her normal self again. "And stop stalling. Read the damn scrolls I spent the entire day on before it becomes morning outside. I'm not going home at three in the morning just because you can't concentrate!"


It was going to be a long night before they were finished, but Sakura was confident that everything would be alright. The first time was the hardest, but as long as Naruto learned that he wasn't going to be alone in dealing with it, they'll get through this. It wasn't like he had a choice, anyway. Sakura was going to be there with him every step of the way even if she had to stomp all over his twitching corpse to make sure of it.

Tsunade did teach her that skill best of all.


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