I know I've said that there would be another chapter. However, for now, Shade of the Leaf is finished. The muse has checked out and is apparently content with this ending and I sucked at epilogues. If the muse bites, I'll be happy to put out more, but for now, this story is finished.
Hope everyone enjoys!
Kurenai's little boy did not have a name (or I could not find it) so I came up with one for him. So yes, it won't match whatever it is in the manga. Whenever we're told it.
Ayumu: (ayu) "walk" and (mu) "dream, vision". So I suppose Walking Dream/Vision.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto characters. I just want to rough them up a little.
The gates to Konoha always looked wonderful after several weeks of being away. Part of her was extremely nervous to hear how things had gone in Water Country – Naruto was not going to be happy – and the rest of her was too thrilled with the idea of hot water and food to care.
"Home sweet home," Naruto murmured as they slowed out of their run into a walk, his grin firmly in place. Lacing his hands behind his head he watched her from the corner of his eyes. "How about I buy you dinner?"
"That's sweet, but I'm more interested in a hot shower than actual food. I swear, I still feel sand in places it shouldn't be. Even after we stopped at the river."
He grinned. "You have to wonder if Gaara is limited to the sand in his gourd or if he can feel everything, because you know that has the possibility…"
She glared down at where he had fallen flat thanks to her fist. "Idiot."
Before he could respond, there was a flicker out of the corner of her eye and Sakura blinked when she turned and found herself starring at Tenten and Hyuuga Neji.
"Hey, what are you two doing here?' Naruto questioned as he picked himself up. He dusted off his pants and grinned. "Baa-chan got you on message duty?"
"Actually, we're here to escort you to Hokage Tower." Tenten said cheerfully. "Hokage-sama has been awaiting your return impatiently."
Sakura felt her stomach drop to her toes. So things had gone badly in Wave Country. Exchanging a look with Naruto, she shrugged and tried to smile. "Then lead the way."
"Yeah, hate to keep Baa-chan waiting."
Sakura sighed. "One day, she's going to punt you clear through the Hokage Monument for your lack of respect."
"I respect her!" Naruto protested.
Sakura snorted. "Right."
"Hey! That's not fair, Sakura-chan! I do too!"
"You'll have to forgive my teammate." Sakura said mildly as she caught Neji watching them with faint exasperation in his eyes. "Sasuke has kicked him in the head one too many times."
"Hey! Has not!"
"You're right," Sakura said cheerfully. "It's all the times I've hit you for stupidity."
Naruto pointed at her, a grin wide on his face. "You know you love me."
Sakura ignored the butterflies and rolled her eyes. "Do not."
"I'll kill you both." Neji warned, "If you do not stop this display of foolishness."
Naruto looked hurt. "You don't love me anymore, Neji-chan?"
The Hyuuga's brow actually twitched. Tenten was clearly fighting laughter, her bottom lip tucked tightly between her teeth, shoulders shaking slightly. Neji turned and faced her, eyes narrowing.
"Yes, Neji-chan?" She replied, her voice vibrating slightly as her eyes danced. "Did you need something?"
Naruto looked delighted. "Tenten! You do know how to tease him! All these years I thought that only Lee ever dared to cross such a stoic example of shinobi!"
Sakura slapped a hand over her eyes. "You know what? Tenten and I will meet you two there. That way we don't get killed."
"I can beat him!" Naruto assured her, grin firmly in place. Neji's eyes were narrowed into slits.
"Do not worry, Sakura-san. We have agreed to deliver Naruto to Hokage-sama in one piece." Neji got the words out through clenched teeth. "That is what we will do."
"Oh, look," Tenten cut in before Naruto could open his mouth. "We're here!"
Sakura reached over and grabbed Naruto by the collar. "Bye Neji-san, Tenten. We'll see you two around."
"Bye Sakura!" Tenten said. Neji turned on his heel and began to march home, Tenten laughingly following.
"Well that was fun," Naruto said cheerfully as he walked down the familiar halls.
Naruto's expression was sly. "You still love me."
She snorted. "You're going to have to work a little harder than that to get me to admit anything."
"With pleasure," he assured. "I never give up."
"I know. I'm rather counting on it." She admitted before tucking into Tsunade's office before she could see his reaction. "Sensei, you wanted to see us?"
"Sakura, Naruto… I'm glad you made it back in one piece."
Naruto looked confused. "It was only a mission to Sand."
Tsunade sighed. "You better sit down, both of you."
"Why? What happened? Was it those assholes from Akatsuki?" Naruto demanded, eyes narrowing with temper. "'Cause I swear…"
"Naruto. Sit. Down."
"And yes, it involved the Akatsuki, but isn't what you think." She sighed and quietly explained. Naruto sat ramrod straight jaw clenched tightly together as she recounted what happened. Sakura reached out and gripped his wrist halfway through Tsunade's story.
When Tsunade finished there was a long silence.
"So what happens now?" Sakura said finally, not willing to process exactly what all this meant outside of the fact that she had not lied to Naruto by default… even if Tsunade lied to her.
"Ibiki is still working on some of the individuals involved. For now, we are operating with a replacement council that we fully expect to be voted in position in a few hours."
This meant something. Sakura could feel it but she was too dumfounded to put all the pieces together. Rubbing her eyes she sighed.
"Yes." Tsunade said quietly. "You two should be careful. There are still one or two instigators that have not been caught and we are unsure as to if they will try to target you in revenge."
"I hope they do." Naruto said coldly. "I have a few things I want to say to them."
"Be as that may, you two will keep your heads low until the rest of this passes over or you will have me to deal with. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes." Sakura said.
"Good. Go home and get some rest. Things are being sorted out. I expect to see one or both of you tomorrow for a verbal report on what occurred in Sand."
Both of them knew a dismissal when they heard one.
"We will," Naruto assured her. "No need to worry, Baa-chan."
He barely managed to avoid the scroll that came flying at his head. Sakura didn't say anything as they walked the halls. Naruto's expression was pensive. He ran his fingers through his hair and Sakura curbed the urge to reach for him. They didn't need that sort of distraction right now. Swallowing, she glanced around the growing dusk.
"I could use a drink."
Naruto continued to stare at the ground and she reached out and poked him in the shoulder. He lifted his eyes to her face and she tugged on his sleeve.
"Wanna go to Sasuke's and see what kind of booze he has?"
Sakura lifted the bottle of sake that Sasuke had procured from somewhere. He seemed a little disgruntled at sharing his stash, but a little arm-twisting was all it took before they found themselves in his living room. Getting totally trashed right then probably wasn't the best idea, but Sasuke wasn't drinking and the high level of traps she could feel humming against her skin told her that it would take a small army to break through. Tossing back a mouthful, she let it burn all the way down and blinked several times.
"Where did you get this again? It's good quality."
Sasuke gave her a look that was a cross between amused and exasperated. Naruto had been right. It was definitely the eyebrows. Naruto just snorted from where he was flat on his back, his own bottle cradled between his knees.
"Will you even remember if I tell you now?" Sasuke asked mildly as he settled in front of his couch, his long fingers cradling a ridiculous looking teacup.
Sakura waved her hand lazily, ignoring the way her peripheral vision was starting to turn fuzzy. "Sure. This can't be as bad as the time Tsunade, Shizune and I holed up in the tower and played shot games all night."
Naruto sat up so fast he wavered. "You did what?"
Sakura was impressed. The fact that he could sit up (even if he was tilting) and manage clear speech was impressive. She really thought it was unfair how her boys could burn up alcohol so quickly… even if she cheated by stimulating her liver before she even started drinking.
"Hmm. One of many learning experiences in how to hold my liquor." She blinked a little and nodded when her vision cleared. Sasuke was starring at her with those dark eyes and Naruto's mouth was agape.
Naruto pointed a finger at her. "You turned the Hokage Tower into… into… a…a…a bar!"
Sakura snorted. "No I didn't. Tsunade did. The day she was made Hokage!"
Sasuke sighed. "I'm going to need some of that if you two don't shut up."
Two sets of eyes narrowed in on him.
"You're too much of a lightweight for this stuff." Naruto informed him merrily. "Bet you would be passed out before Sakura-chan there!"
Sakura considered the sake in her hands. She wondered if she had the control to pick the coffee table up and beat Naruto with it. Probably not. If she needed to knock down a wall she would be able to, but fine control was beyond her.
"I can out drink you, idiot."
"No you can't."
Sakura leaned forward and pointed. "Ino's birthday last year."
"Oh and like your ability to burn up alcohol like you do isn't cheating!"
"I'd already had one drinking match with Kiba!"
Sasuke reached over and steadied the jar that Naruto almost kicked over. "I'm going to cut you both off if you don't stop."
Naruto flopped back onto his back and waved a hand. "Yes, yes."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed to slits and Sakura sighed. "Behave. Both of you. I may be a bit tipsy, but that doesn't mean I can't put you both in traction. Besides, we need to talk."
Naruto sighed. "Yeah. That's right. What the hell is going on, teme?"
Sasuke took another sip of his tea. "What do you know?"
"Hyuuga. Akatsuki." Naruto lifted his fingers into the air as he rattled off one-word sentences. "Council."
"They will be announcing the new Council in the morning or late evening."
Naruto propped himself up. "Yeah, Baa-chan said that she thought the replacements were voted in. Do we know who they are?"
Sakura took another swallow and waited for the world to tilt back into place. "Who?"
Sasuke gave her another amused look and started to rattle off names. By the time he was done Sakura was sitting up ramrod straight and was sure her expression mirrored Naruto's open-mouthed gape.
Sasuke leaned back and sipped his tea. "I realize you're both halfway to drunk, but I don't care to repeat myself."
"But… but…" Naruto sputtered.
Sakura stared at him. "How?"
Sakura's lips curved just a little. "I might have made a few suggestions."
"You blackmailed them?" Sakura and Naruto demanded together.
"Requested. Nicely." Sasuke corrected.
"But… but…" Naruto tried again. Sakura nudged his foot and lifted her bottle helpfully.
Once his expression was a little more relaxed, Sakura turned back to Sasuke. "You blackmailed the clans into putting who you... or rather Tsuande, wanted into place?"
Sasuke smirked. "I suggested a few names to the people Tsunade thought would listen."
"You sneaky snake bastard." Naruto rasped.
"I would kiss you," Sakura said seriously, "but I don't have a lot of balance right now."
Naruto grinned at her. "You can kiss me."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Not when you're seeing three of me."
Sasuke lifted a brow in a silent question.
Naruto's smile was lecherous. "She likes me. She kissed me."
"I'm going to thump you if you don't shut up." Sakura said reasonably. "We were discussing the fact that Sasuke and Tsunade set up the council so that you could be Hokage." She paused and then added thoughtfully, "and so Hinata could take over Hyuuga."
Naruto lifted his bottle. "All the more reason for celebration!"
She couldn't argue with that. Lifting her bottle she tilted in a salute at Naruto and shivered as another mouthful burned down her throat. "Where did you get this stuff?"
"You both are staying here tonight." Sasuke informed them as he gathered, stood and took his teacup to the sink, ignoring her question. "Ibiki has a list that hasn't been completely accounted for."
Naruto cranked open an eye. "Thatsa why you wanted us drunk. Baa-chan already told us. 'Sides, Sakura-chan wants a shower!"
"Dobe." Sasuke said with a sigh. Reaching down he offered Sakura a hand. "Come on. Let's get you both sobered up."
Sakura nodded sagely and accepted his hand. She staggered into his side and blinked.
"I think that's probably a good idea. And the shower."
"Yup." Naruto agreed. He grinned. "You got any rice balls?"
"Your alcohol." Sakura said with a grin. She paused, and feeling brave, grinned at him mischievously. Some things you just saved for when you were a bit tipsy. Reaching out, she poked him in the abdomen. "Very nice."
"Hey! I'm the one with the abs. Sasuke has the ass, remember?"
"You should ignore him," Sakura said reasonably. "He dumber when he's drunk."
"You just wait until I'm finished seeing three of you," Naruto warned her as he stood unsteadily. "I'm going to bend you over my knee and spank you."
Sakura lifted a brow and flexed her fingers in a silent challenge. "I can still put you through a wall."
"It'd be worth it." Naruto returned.
"No kinky sex in my apartment." Sasuke said flatly. "No kink period. No sex. You can't even hold hands."
"Ah, Sasuke! You ruin everything."
"Naruto!" Sakura growled. "I'll rearrange your vocal cords with your lungs if you don't drop it!"
"… right." He said finally. "Is that possible?"
"We can test it if you like."
"So, Sasuke… you said something about food?"
"I hate you both."
Sakura woke up to someone playing with her hair and the smell of miso. Cracking on eye open, she glared at Naruto. He was sitting on the bed and braiding her hair, a small grin on his face.
"Why are you here?"
"Bastard is making breakfast."
"That doesn't explain you."
"I came to wake you up!" He said cheerfully. "It's almost ten."
Sakura pressed her face under the pillow and grunted at him. He laughed and slapped her butt. "Up, up, up, Sakura-chan!"
"I'll bribe Neji into killing you."
"Neji doesn't take bribes. It's beneath him!"
"You'd be surprised what he will do for a good neck rub." Sakura returned as she pushed herself up.
Naruto paused. "What?"
"Don't worry about it." Sakura said sweetly as she staggered towards the bathroom. "Tell Sasuke I'll be out in ten."
She was done in eight and when she stepped out of the bathroom, feeling a little more awake. Naruto and Sasuke were waiting on her in the kitchen. Naruto was sprawled across a bar stool watching Sasuke finish breakfast, eyes narrowed in concentration.
"Do you need any help, Sasuke?"
"I'm almost finished and dobe set the table."
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Don't make it sound like I didn't offer to help either. You turned me down."
Sakura breathed in the pungent smell of fish and grinned. "Still eating simple?"
Sasuke shrugged. "It's good."
"It's boring," Naruto corrected. "You need more ramen in your diet."
"You don't have to eat it." Sasuke returned mildly. "That leaves more for me and Sakura."
Naruto put a hand over his heart and sulked. "I'm hurt. Right here."
Sakura ruffled his hair as she went by. "You'll live."
"I'm feeling a distinct lack of love in this apartment," Naruto grumbled as he deliberately moved the chair so that Sasuke had to sidestep or trip over it as he laid breakfast on the table.
"What you're feeling is a distinct lack of the correct ratio of blood and caffeine." Sakura informed him as she flopped into a chair and smiled her thanks at Sasuke.
Naruto rolled his eyes and tried to steal a piece of fish off Sasuke's plate. Sasuke speared Naruto's hand with his chopsticks and glared.
"Absolutely no love."
Sakura rolled her eyes as she poured herself a cup of tea. "When do you think you'll have time to head over to the Tower to talk to Tsunade about what happened in Sand?"
"Probably after lunch. I've got a few things to take care of this morning." Naruto said around a mouthful of fish.
"A few things?" Sasuke asked quietly.
"Just a few loose odds and ends." He smiled at them. "What about you Bastard?"
Naruto shifted forward towards his plate again and Sasuke narrowed his eyes.
"I'm not reattaching fingers." Sakura said firmly, setting her cup down and leaning forward. "Behave."
"Awe, Sakura-chan, you take all the fun out of breakfast."
"I'm going to take all the fun out of breathing in a few minutes." She replied serenely, fingering her own chopsticks.
Naruto pouted. "Fine, fine. No love."
Sakura shook her head. "Is there anything else we should know about, Sasuke? About the council. Before we find ourselves neck deep in backlash?"
Sasuke stared at her for a long moment. "Hiashi placed the bird seal on his youngest daughter."
Naruto froze, his hand hovering over the rice bowl. Sakura bit her lip at the curious way Naruto's eyes had gone flat and hard.
"A few days ago." Sasuke said calmly as he lifted his chopsticks to his mouth. "Hinata-san stopped by to inform me of the decision."
Naruto's fingers curled into fists. "Fucking Hyuuga."
Sakura sighed. Sasuke sure knew how to kill an early morning meal. Still, she supposed it was better for Naruto to hear about it now, with them, than on the street with no one to buffer his temper.
His shoulders were tight but he turned to face her.
"You weren't here. You couldn't have stopped it." She closed her fingers around his wrist. "Even if you were here, all you would have done was complicate matters. Hanabi-san wouldn't have wanted your help and Hinata wouldn't have asked."
"You can't save the world, idiot."
"I can try." Naruto snapped back. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I can try."
"We'll, you've got to start with things you can change." Sakura said briskly. "The Hyuuga's have a chance to change with Hinata. The way they went about enforcing his decision is terrible but it is the best thing for the clan."
Sasuke lifted his tea. "Hinata-san said she had a promise to keep."
Naruto stilled and finally nodded. "Yeah."
Naruto shook his head, the tension slowly easing out of his shoulders. "I'll tell you some other time."
Sakura nodded and exchanged a look with Sasuke. Time for a distraction. What Naruto really needed right then was to beat the hell out of something. Sasuke had just volunteered himself for that duty. "Right."
Sakura leaned over and smiled at him. Naruto blinked at her expression and narrowed his eyes as she leaned back and popped the last of his fish into her mouth.
"Well I gotta run. I'll give Tsunade-sensei my report after I stop by the hospital!"
"Sakura-chan! You can't eat and run! That's cheating!" He lunged for her, but she dodged him with the expediency of kicking his chair back into his legs. He grunted and slammed into the table.
Sasuke glared at her.
"I'll see you two later."
Naruto tilted his head as the door shut. "Do you think she does these things on purpose?"
Sasuke snorted and started collecting dishes.
Naruto flopped on his back and tried to ignore the feeling of his ribs mending themselves. He had needed that. The tension from breakfast was gone, leaving him with mending bones, heaving lungs and the sort of relaxation only the satisfaction of beating your best friend to a pulp could bring. Heaving for air, he grinned a little to himself as he realized that Sasuke was just as winded. The curl of satisfaction was from knowing his friend was going to end up getting Sakura to check his own ribs.
The narrowed eyed glare told him that Sasuke knew what he was thinking and didn't particularly care for it. Grinning even wider, he turned his attention to the puffy clouds.
"You're such an ass."
Sasuke snorted. "Still bitter that I won?"
Naruto grunted. "Like hell."
"When are you going to talk to her?"
Sasuke sighed and rolled himself to his feet. "Sakura."
"No, no, I got that." He waved his hand. "What I want to know is why you want to know? And where the hell this conversation came from?"
Sasuke pinned him with a look.
"Okay so I guess I know why you wanna know, but I still don't know."
"When I'm gonna talk to her. Dunno."
Sasuke looked uncomfortable for a second and then it disappeared behind his eyes. "Girls like to know where they stand."
Naruto shot to his feet. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Sakura-chan knows she's my precious person."
Sasuke snorted. "If you don't know, I'm not telling you."
Naruto narrowed his eyes. "I'll kick your scrawny Uchiha-ass if you're not careful."
Sasuke looked bored. "If you say so." His eyes flickered upwards. "Don't you have babysitting duties?"
Naruto pointed his finger. "You're not… hey, crap! I forgot! Hey, how did you know about that?"
"We're not finished here!" Naruto informed his he turned to bolt out of the training grounds. "I'll beat it out of you later."
"It's about time you got here, forehead. I was about to give up and change my order to go."
Sakura flopped down into the chair across from her and grimaced. "Sorry. I stopped by the hospital after giving my report and got caught up in surgery."
Ino lifted a brow. "Ouch."
"Yeah." She gave a weary smile. "But I'm off for the rest of the afternoon. In theory, at least."
"Right. We'll, I've only got time for lunch. I'm running the flower shop myself this week. Which is fine, if fairly boring. Shikamaru is covering for me right now."
Sakura lifted a brow. "Shikamaru?"
Ino smiled serenely. "Yes."
Sakura grinned. "I thought Chouji and Shika had sworn off babysitting the shop for you after that time Gai and Lee went in looking for flowers."
"I blackmail them into it occasionally." Ino said with a shrug. She took a sip of her tea and smiled. "You missed all the excitement you know."
"There was plenty of excitement in Sand, Ino."
"Right." Ino dismissed her words with a wave of her hand. "Crazy Kazekage, Jounin fighting in the heat, sand everywhere it's not supposed to be; besides the potential for ogling men in those very attractive Sand Uniforms, that's not a job I would have wanted."
"Probably why you weren't invited!" Sakura teased.
"Invited! Ha! That was a mission, not a pleasure vacation!"
"It had its bright points." Sakura argued, eyes scanning the menu.
Sakura didn't bother to look up. "No."
"You're no fun forehead. No fun at all."
"I don't know why you're bothering with the menu. I ordered for you already. Should be here soon."
Sakura huffed and shut the menu. Ino just grinned.
"I figure if I keep this up you'll eventually show up on time. It's my new strategy."
"I show up on time!"
Ino pursed her lips. "I suppose. Usually only when it involves your precious team, although if I had to choose between Sasuke or Naruto ordering for me I'm not sure who I would pick."
Sakura smothered a laugh. "Yes. It's a choice between bland, boring but nutritional or exciting and the chance of ruining my stomach lining."
"Or Ramen," Sakura agreed with a smile.
Ino paused and narrowed her eyes. She paused only because the waitress dropped off their lunches. Taking her time, she broke her chopsticks open and stared at her.
"Something happened between you and Naruto, didn't it?"
"Ha! I knew it!" Ino's smile was triumphant. "Shika owes me money."
She waved her hand looking smug. "Tell me everything."
Sakura crossed her arms. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Ino waved a piece of beef around like it was a Kunai. "I saw Naruto this morning. Kurenai roped him into baby-sitting Ayumu and they stopped by to see Shika. He bounced. Granted, he always bounces around after a mission, but this bounce is more of a "pretty girl likes me" bounce instead of his "omg, I just got the best ramen ever" bounce."
"… You catalogue his bounces?"
"Shika figures the kid has enough luck to actually make it to Hokage. I figured I might as well start getting used to trying to read his body language now while I can. Before he is obscured by a ridiculous cloak and hat."
"Naruto is going to be Hokage," Sakura firmly told Ino, staring her down. "Believe it."
Ino laughed. "Now you're even sounding like him!"
Sakura stuck out her tongue. "Oh shut up."
"Your distraction isn't going to get you out of this conversation. What happened?"
Sakura glared at her before giving in. There really was no hope for it. "I kissed him."
"We'll it's about damn time!" Ino said looking satisfied. She popped a mouthful of vegetables in her mouth and fairly vibrated with satisfaction. When she swallowed she shoved a chopstick at her. "He's been moping after you for years, forehead!"
Sakura dragged her chopsticks through her lunch. "I know he had a crush on me as kids… but saying 'years' is a bit much, don't you think?"
"Ha! Don't be an idiot! You've spent your entire career too focused on one thing or another to really pay attention to that boy. Man. Future Hokage! He. Is. In. Love. With. You." Clearly satisfied with her speech and picked up her tea and smirked.
Sakura shook her head and stared down the street. "Maybe."
"There is no maybe, forehead-girl. Trust me. I know these things." She paused. "And speak of the devil…"
Sakura turned and blinked. Naruto was walking down the street with Ayumu on his shoulders. Both were working their way through cups of instant ramen. Naruto was going to have to wash his hair soon if the mess along Ayumu's front was anything to go by.
"You know, forehead, if you don't want him, I think I'll take him." Ino teased. "My grocery bill would be cut in half with all the ramen."
Sakura was only paying half attention, as Naruto looked over in their direction at that moment. His face lit up as he saw her and he waved, careful not to overbalance the ramen cup on his head or the child on his shoulders. He stood easily in the crowd, uncaring that he was blocking several civilians from the store's entrance, happy and content to just stand there and watch her.
Right up until Ayumu spilled his ramen. Jerking forward he yelped as the hot water rushed down his neck and hopped around as he got a good grip on Ayumu and lifted him from his shoulders. The little boy was laughing and grinning and soon Naruto was laughing with him and pulling noodles from his shirt. Her chest tightened at the picture he made. It was just so… so… Naruto.
A slow smile curled her lips. She was such an idiot. "You know what Ino, I think you're right."
Naruto shook the last of the noodles out of his shirt and swung Ayumu back onto his shoulders and pointed in their direction waving. The little boy waved, his smile missing teeth and as large as Naruto's. The realization that she wanted that – Naruto, ramen and messy little boy all – wasn't as startling as she thought it would be.
It was amusing, really. That it would take a mishap with ramen for her to realize what was going on. Ino was right. The smile on her face widened as Naruto sauntered off, exaggerating his walk, knowing that she was watching.
Turning her eyes back to her friend, she sighed. "I'm really in love with that idiot."
Sakura slammed the last file into place with a triumphant smile. Dropping into her chair she groaned, propping her feet up. Her afternoon off had completely disappeared under a pile of paperwork. She really should know better than to peek into her office to see what was waiting for her. Well, at least it was done now. And she had the time she needed to think about how she wanted to handle her realization from this afternoon. In love. With Naruto. Her smile was bordering on silly.
A soft knock caught her attention. "Anou… Sakura-san, do you have a moment?"
Sakura blinked and stood up. "Hinata! Please, come in!"
Hinata nodded and stepped inside, her eyes roaming the office before coming to settle back on her. "I won't take up much of your time."
Sakura waved her hand. "I just finished. What can I do for you?"
Hinata folded her hands neatly in front of her and took a deep breath. "I'm sure you're aware of the current standings in my clan?"
Hinata bit her lip and continued, even as her cheeks turned a pale pink. "Do I have a chance?"
Sakura froze at her words. "Hinata?"
She made a small motion with her hand. "I would like to know where things stand with you and Naruto-kun, if I may."
Sakura bit her lip and gave a helpless shrug. How did you tell someone who has been loyally in love with the same man you just realized you cared about for years? Honestly. "I love him, but I don't know if he returns it."
Hinata was silent for several moments before nodding. "I thought so."
She shook her head, a faint grin in place. "This was selfish of me, Sakura-san. I wanted to make sure because… because I wanted to make sure that you would love him."
"If I may ask… why?"
"Because I must marry into the Clan now." She said simply. "It will be my choice, but in order to begin to mend the rift between Branch and the Main house I will take a husband from inside the clan." She gave a little shrug. "It is not as painful as I feared it would be. It helps that you love him."
"I'm sorry." Sakura said simply.
Hinata shook her head. "Don't be. You deserve him."
Sakura shifted her feet, suddenly uncomfortable. "I don't think anyone deserves anyone, Hinata-chan. I think we just get lucky sometimes."
Her pale eyes turned distant. "Perhaps that is so. My luck has never been so good."
Sakura's lips twitched a little. "Tsunade-sensei insists that luck is what you make it."
Hinata looked thoughtful. "I think I like that."
The door to her office swung open and Naruto sauntered in, pausing when he saw Hinata. "Hinata-chan!"
"N-Naruto-kun," she stammered, surprised. She took a deep breath and smiled. "How are you?"
His eyes went back and forth between the women before they landed on Hinata. "I'm doing great! How are things for you? No one's giving you any trouble are they?" His tone was hard.
"N-no. Neji-kun would never a-allow it."
"Well, at least someone in your family has some decency." Naruto grumbled.
Hinata's face took on several more layers of red and she sketched a hasty bow. "Well, I have taken up enough of your time, Sakura-san. I'll catch you some time and perhaps we can talk then."
"I would like that." Sakura agreed.
"Yeah! You'll have to come and eat dinner with us sometime. I haven't seen you eat a good bowl of ramen in ages, Hinata-chan."
The girl flushed again, waved, and disappeared.
"You're going to have to go a little easy on her for a while." Sakura told Naruto quietly.
Sakura gave him an impatient look. "Because she's in love with you."
"Hinata. She's in love with you."
Naruto blinked several times. "Oh…"
Sakura propped a hand on her hip. "How are you still alive with those observational skills?"
"Hey!" Naruto crossed his arms. "I just thought she was nervous talking to guys."
"Did she have that trouble with Kiba or Shino?"
"They're her teammates?" Naruto grumped. "They're exceptions to the all the normal rules?"
"Are they?" Her tone was soft, and she must have given something away because his head snapped around and he studied her with narrowed eyes.
He stalked to the edge of her desk. "What's that supposed to mean, Sakura?"
She sidestepped to keep the desk between them. "What is what supposed to mean?"
"You're hiding something." He mused, following her movements with his own. His eyes gleamed at her. "It's not nice to keep secrets, Sakura."
"Shizune said she thought you were here. I know I gave you the afternoon off but could you… Naruto?" Tsunade settled her hip against the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
Naruto never took his eyes off Sakura. They were almost glowing. Suddenly he grinned, an open, boyish smile that set off butterflies in her stomach.
"Sorry, Baa-chan, but she can't help you!"
Tsuande lifted a brow. "Why not?"
Naruto's smile altered into something utterly mischievous. "'Cause I'm taking her with me!"
Sakura had hardly a moment to process it when she was suddenly lifted and flung over Naruto's shoulder.
"This is an emergency you know."
Tsunade's other brow slowly arched. "It is?"
"Naruto!" She banged on his back. "Put me down!"
"No can do, Sakura-chan. I'm kidnapping you."
She paused. "Why?"
He ignored her question and shifted his hands behind her knees. Crouching a little, he smirked. "You'll have to excuse us."
Tsunade's lips twitched. "Of course. Bring her back in one piece."
"Naruto! If you don't put me down you're going to find yourself in pieces!"
He just grinned and lifted his hands away from her knees and quickly formed the seals to transport them out of the tower.
Tsunade grinned to herself and shut the door.
They appeared on a bridge so familiar that she didn't have to look around to see where they were. The charred imprint of a hand – left behind years ago by Sasuke – was a dead give away. She growled low in her throat as Naruto set her down and glared up at him.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pound you?"
His hand slid into her hair, nails scrapping faintly against her scalp as his lips crashed into hers. She staggered into the railing of the bridge, off balanced and surprised. Naruto didn't seem to mind, instead he lifted her up and stepped in-between her legs, an arm sliding around her waist. Sakura froze with shock for a second before leaning into him, hands digging into his biceps as she kissed him back.
When he pulled back she stared up at him. "I'll suppose I can give you a few more moments to live so you can explain yourself properly."
He chuckled low in his throat, hand wondering along her spine. "I was hoping you would be doing the explaining?"
Sakura arched a brow at him. "Oh?"
He bent down and grinned, nose almost touching hers. "You have a secret."
Her lips twitched. "What if I do?"
He looked thoughtful. "Well, I suppose we can do this the easy way or the hard way."
He brushed his lips across her mouth lightly. "You can tell me or I can throw you off the railing."
She snorted. "You can try to throw me off the bridge."
His arm tightened around her middle and his smile was all fox. "Is that a no?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Maybe?"
He grinned and flung them both off the bridge. She swore at him as they crashed under cool water. She came up sputtering and he laughed, throwing his hair out of his eyes.
"Nice day for a dip, eh, Sakura-chan?"
She lunged. He yelped and tried to swim away. Slapping the water with chakra, she buried him under a wave before landing him on his back and shoving him under the water again. He retaliated by grabbing an ankle and pulling. Twisting, she formed fast seals for the only water jutsu she ever really got down. His eyes widened under water before he was flung away from her.
She sucked in a lungful of air when she cleared the water and stuck her tongue out when he came out coughing. "I win!"
He grinned and lunged back into the water. "Not yet!"
By the time they made it to shore they were breathing heavily. Flopping down she glared at him. "Only you could turn a make out session into a water fight."
Naruto grinned at her. His eyelashes were clumped together and she had never seen his eyes so bright.
"I love you." He said simply, suddenly. "Have my entire life. Never been anyone else and I really hope there never is. You're my most precious person, Sakura-chan."
She stared at him, eyes wide. "Where did this come from?"
Naruto shrugged. "Figured you would want to know."
He reached over and flicked her bangs out of her eyes. "So, you gotta secret?"
"I'm not so sure it's such a secret." She managed.
"I'm sure hoping its not." He said solemnly.
She flicked water at him. "I've known that I love you for half a day and you've already figured it out?"
He shut his eyes for a moment and smiled. "When you've been looking for as long as I have, you tend to notice a lot of things."
"Then what am I thinking right now?"
He opened his eyes and studied her. "How about some ramen?"