TITLE: Torikoshi Kurou
TIMELINE/SPOILERS: AU. Non-massacre. Sakura's still a medic-nin and apprentice of Tsunade. Spoilers up until rescue gaara arc.
WARNINGS: Still contains some doses of ShikaTema. And suggestive themes. Between them. XDD
DISCLAIMER: Masashi Kishimoto owns Naruto and all related characters, etc etc etc. If I owned Naruto, it wouldn't be Naruto. ;)
"Yeah, but who knows what that Fugaku bastard will think of next. Let's just get some rest in the mean time. Good thing the Suna festival is coming up. It's easier to go around outside when everyone's too busy to recognize us."
Naruto had always believed that there was a solution to everything. No matter how dire a situation became, there was always a way to turn it around, no matter how dangerous or preposterous.
He had always believed in giving it all in whatever he was doing. He had a 'never say never' attitude— that was a principle that made him stronger and stronger. He had initially followed this principle so that he could prove himself worthy of the village's respect and love. Now that he had become close friends with a lot of people, and even formed a relationship akin to being siblings with his teammates, he followed the same principle in order to continue living in his web of friendships and to keep safe the village that he had grown to love.
"Good morning, Uzumaki-san, Hinata Hyuuga-san."
The couple turned around and were surprised to see Fugaku Uchiha out in the public. Since when did the Uchiha clan head grace the streets of Konoha if not to head somewhere important? And as if to add more suspicion, he was walking all by himself.
"Uchiha-san." Naruto forced a greeting. While he frequently visited the compound because of Sasuke— and the teme's mother always insisted on having meals with his teammates at their house from time to time— he had rarely come across the clan head, much more so speak to him.
"It is good to see that the Hyuuga heiress is in good hands," the man said. "Uzumaki-san, you still aim to become the Hokage, do you not?"
"… What about it?" His frown was evident, and Hinata placed a hand at his arm to calm him down.
"I just admire your determination. A Hokage's job is hard. You have to make sure you get yourself a reliable assistant, otherwise you'd get stuck in the office overnight. I suppose Hyuuga-san will be handling her clan's affairs?"
"Y-Yes," Hinata said as Naruto in turn held her hand in support.
"Haruno-san is one of the administrative staff of the hospital, isn't she? And she's had practice with helping the Godaime. I'm sure she'll do a great job. But, it doesn't matter if you get a good assistant or not." A faint smile came from his confident demeanor and Naruto's frown deepened as the man was clearly smirking. "You'd be stuck in the village anyway, because Kages aren't allowed to leave their village— it's for their own safety. Good luck on your goal, Uzumaki-san."
Recognizing the gentle voice calling his attention, Naruto turned to his pearly-eyed girlfriend. Her warm hands squeezed his, and he felt his shoulders relax.
"There's always a way, Naruto-kun, don't worry," Hinata said with a small smile. She had been worried as well, but she knew Naruto was the one affected the most, and so she did her best to placate his anger and anxiousness.
There was only one person Naruto could thank for his relationship with the Hyuuga heiress, and she was the person who was in need of help the most right now.
Ever since his years in the academy, he had always had a crush on Sakura. Even as the years passed he still held on to his feelings, asking her for dates that she always turned down just like how Sasuke would always turn her invitations down. However, even as Sakura's infatuation with their Uchiha teammate was replaced with friendship, Naruto's love for her only continued.
With his affection focused solely on Sakura, he hadn't noticed another girl who had fallen for him ever since their academy days. He only realized this when waking up from a two-day coma after an A-rank mission had gone bad. Sakura told him about forgetting about his love for her as she only thought of him as a brother. He was bent on leaving to clear his mind when Sakura quickly followed through with an advise— 'because I want you to receive the kind of love you have been giving me, even though I kept on refusing it, you dolt'— that told him to keep his eyes and feelings open, because there was someone who had been giving him the feelings he had wanted to receive from her.
With this advice in mind, Naruto eventually realized Hinata's feelings for him. During hanami three years ago, Sakura had prodded Hinata until the timid kunoichi finally approached Naruto and asked him if they could go out for lunch sometime. It wasn't instant, but slowly and surely, Naruto's feelings for the girl deepened, and a few months later, he approached Hiashi Hyuuga with the intention of becoming a couple with her. At first the head of the Hyuuga clan didn't approve, but Naruto had been persistent in visiting Hinata at the compound and making his intentions clear on the clan head, and soon the man gave up— after a heartfelt speech from his eldest daughter— and made Naruto swear he'd take care of his daughter.
There was only one person to thank for his loving companion, and now that she needed help, he couldn't think of a way to return the favor other than killing some people— which, of course, wasn't going to happen. He wasn't that angry yet.
"Oh, good morning, Naruto-kun," Shizune greeted from her desk.
"I need to talk to Tsunade-baa-chan."
The Hokage's assistant paused from her paperwork. It was rare to see the usually energetic ninja with a grave countenance. It only happened during particularly hard missions, and even then Shizune hadn't personally seen him react as such. "S-She's alone in her office right now…"
Naruto only nodded before following the woman inside the Hokage's office. Two white-blonde brows rose as he stood before her table with Hinata at his side while Shizune waited nervously by the door.
"Aren't you two supposed to be leaving for a mission?"
"Tsunade-baa-chan," Naruto said with a controlled voice. "I need to find out who the candidates are for the next Hokage title."
The Godaime leaned back on her seat. "That's classified."
"I need to know right now, please!"
The wall clock's ticking sounded like deafening bangs in the sudden silence of the room. 'Please'. That was a word Naruto rarely used. And what was even more disturbing was the fact that he really looked like he would crack any minute now, and most especially when his request would be refused.
"Why do you need it, anyway?" Tsunade asked.
"It's about Sakura-chan."
More silence, and then Tsunade let out a heavy sigh.
"I really thought this affair was funny at first. Interesting, even," She said as she took out a ceramic bottle of sake. "But now that it has come to this, I'm afraid of discussing it. He talked to you, didn't he? That Uchiha."
Naruto nodded grimly.
"Well, what did he say?" Tsunade continued. "Did he tell you to stop becoming a Hokage? Or did he encourage you to become one?"
"Tell me the candidates for the position first."
He was met by an impatient glare, but as he was unrelenting, Tsunade let out a huff and downed a cup of her potent liquid.
"Jiraiya's still on the list," She started. "But he still doesn't plan to become one. There's also Kakashi, but he'll only agree if there was really no other choice.
And then there's Shikaku Nara— but he said he's still set for an early retirement. His son, Shikamaru Nara, is also a good candidate, but he said that the highest position he will only accept is being a Jounin Commander, just like his father.
And of course, you're on the list. The Fire Daimyo has recognized your potential, and even the two elders couldn't refuse your candidacy."
"Who else?" Naruto insisted. "There's more, I'm sure."
Tsunade sighed once more. "Itachi Uchiha. But he's more useful in the field rather than here— not that his administrative skills are low, but the council would most likely choose that he continue to work as a shinobi rather than a Hokage stuck in the village."
"How about Sakura-chan? Is she on the list?"
Tsunade's silence was enough of an answer.
Hinata quickly held on to her frustrated partner, lest he went on a rampage due to his anger.
"Now you know what you wanted to find out," Tsunade said. "What did that bastard tell you?"
Naruto relayed to the Godaime what had happened in his brief encounter with the Uchiha clan head, and it wasn't much of a surprise that the woman downed the whole bottle of sake afterwards as if to wash down the unpleasant taste of the situation.
"Well," Tsunade said as she wiped her lips. "Are you going through with your plan regarding being Hokage?"
Naruto clenched his fists.
"If I didn't become a Hokage after you, there's a chance that Sakura-chan will." He said with a quiet voice. "If that happens, the Uchiha will make sure they have direct control over her decisions."
"But if you become a Hokage, you won't be able to go outside the village and take on missions. Are you sure you want to be stuck here that early? There's also the matter that it'll be hard for you to get the Hokage position if you're going to be pitted against Sakura, who would then be made sure to win by Fugaku's manipulation and insistence. It wouldn't be too hard, given her impressive track record."
"… But if I managed to win, I had always planned to have Sakura-chan as my assistant because Hinata-chan will be busy with her clan."
"Maybe we could convince Shikamaru Nara to accept the position?"
"Teme's father won't let me have any other assistant aside from Sakura-chan, will he?"
The Godaime gave him a steady gaze, and Naruto slammed a fist on her desk.
"That's it!" He shouted. "I'll challenge him or Itachi to a duel! I know Sakura-chan will get angry, but if people are too stubborn to realize something, a good beating will loosen them up! I'll beat their sorry shitface if that's what it takes to help Sakura-chan!"
"Sakura tried that already, if you can't recall," Tsunade said evenly. "What happened? She was forced to leave the village to hide."
Naruto's fists started to shake.
"What else can we do for Sakura-chan?"
He was only met by silence pierced by Tsunade's heavy sigh.
"I am to become an elder after I quit being a hokage," She said. "But even if I'm an elder before Sakura is to become a hokage, I can't easily put down the two prunes especially with that Uchiha urging them on. Makes you wonder who's worse— them or Danzo. And I don't know if I can convince Jiraiya to become an elder as well. He loves 'researching' more than putting down a couple of stubborn elders."
Naruto kept silent, and Tsunade took out another porcelain bottle of sake from one of her desk's drawers.
"You two better get going and let me think about this in the mean time," She said. "Naruto, I don't want you to fail your mission. I know how much Sakura means to you, but remember that the whole village is more important than a single person."
"I understand." Naruto answered, almost inaudibly, and he left the office without another word. Hinata gave an apologetic bow to Tsunade before leaving as well.
Tsunade downed a cupful of sake as she heard Shizune sigh from her position by the door.
"Tsunade-sama," The assistant said as she approached the older woman's desk. "If Sakura is to become the Hokage, she can easily choose to separate from Itachi Uchiha-san."
"It's not too common to hear of a separation, and Fugaku will make sure that won't happen. Imagine the shame it would put the clan in."
"What if we delay the wedding until your suspicions will come true and Sakura becomes the hokage? That way, Sakura can have more leverage for herself."
"The problem is thinking of what would delay the wedding for at least three years."
"… If Tsunade-sama was like Danzo, I'm sure you'd sent your own ROOT squad to eliminate the main source of the problem," Shizune said with a wry smile.
"Even if I do that," Tsunade answered wearily. "I don't think they'd stand a chance, as long as Itachi's there."
"It's surprising how a brutish woman could come up with such graceful movements."
Temari's laugh resounded in the room as she continued with her tensai kata as a warm-up for her fan dance practice. Sakura knocked Sai's head, but the artist's smile remained. Lying down like an outstretched cat on another couch was Shikamaru, who chose to sleep in.
"You should have seen his face when I told him you're wearing something too sexy for the performance," Sakura said with a grin as she pointed at the Nara genius. "Such a prude…"
"Hah!" Temari said with a grin wider than Sakura's. "So that's why he was on aggressive mode last night. And he made me swear I'd wear something decent at the festival or he'll punish me more."
"Woman," Shikamaru's annoyed voice came. "Is it necessary to share that information with everyone?"
"The Kazekage's going to flip if he finds that out," Sakura said with a snigger.
"Find out about what?"
Three people froze as no one but the Kazekage himself entered the room. Ever the type to help people in need, Sai turned his smile at the leader of Suna.
"I'm not sure," He said. "But based from what I can understand, because of a lie the Hag told to Shikamaru-san, he proceeded to 'punish' Temari-san— and by punishment, based on their obvious relationship, it would be possible that it meant sexually."
The three other ninja in the room had gone so pale that they were nearly the same shade as Sai. Cold sweat beaded their faces as Gaara slowly turned towards Shikamaru's direction.
"O-O-Oh!" Temari said as she tried to get everyone's attention. "I just found out that we still need one performer for the party! Sakura, how about you do a warrior's dance?"
"Eeeh?" The other girl said in panic as all eyes went to her, even the Kazekage's. Sensing the need to change the thick atmosphere, she schooled her best 'smile in the face of impending doom' face. "B-But I can't perform, especially at a festival— that will defeat the reason why I'm out here hiding—"
"You can use hair dye," Temari suggested. "Right, Gaara? That way, she doesn't need to perform a henge and give herself away— right?"
The Kazekage turned to Sakura once more, who felt pinpricks on her skin as she recalled how easily he could kill people with his sand.
"T-Then I guess it should be fine," Sakura said with a nervous laugh.
"Kazekage-sama, the ambassador is at the meeting room."
Three people thanked kami for the arrival of the messenger while one observed everyone curiously, his inky black eyes going from person to person.
"Take care of the arrangements for Sakura-san's performance," Gaara instructed to his sister before leaving the room.
Several tensed moments passed, and when they were sure the Kazekage wasn't going back Sakura hurled Sai across the floor while Temari expertly threw her iron fans at his head, effectively adding more bumps to what Sakura had already given the pale nin.
"Moron!" Sakura seethed. "Look what you did! What're you going to do if we died?"
Rubbing the bruise on his forehead, Sai smiled at the two irate kunoichi. "The Kazekage wouldn't kill Konoha shinobi. That will cause a war between Konoha and Suna."
"And this guy is supposed to be part of your team." Temari turned to Sakura with a raised brow. "I'm surprised he's still alive."
Sakura huffed as she crossed her arms across her torso. "Same here."
'How troublesome…' Came Shikamaru's unsurprising thoughts.
He didn't know he was putting too much pressure on his legs until a tree branch broke at a mere touch of his chakra-ladened feet.
"Shit," He hissed as he tried to land decently on the forest floor.
Hinata paused and went back to check up on Naruto. His thoughts were obviously elsewhere, and it could be bad for their mission. Granted it was only to save a kidnapped mayor's daughter, and their targets weren't even shinobi, but being unstable and distracted, he could get himself in danger. He knew that, but he couldn't help it.
"I can go ahead and finish the mission by myself," Hinata suggested from beside him. "Go back and think of something to help Sakura-chan."
Naruto shook his head.
"I won't leave you alone," He said, and he let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry; it's just— I can't think of anything to help Sakura-chan! How can this happen to her? She didn't do anything to deserve this—"
His voice was muffled as Hinata held him tightly— one hand rested firmly on his back while her other hand pulled his head to rest at her shoulder. He didn't realize what had compelled his partner to act so until he finally felt warm tears make their way down his whiskered cheeks.
"How can we help her, Hinata?" He whispered as he held on to his partner like she was his lifeline. "They're only going to use her…"
"I wish I had an answer for you, Naruto," She answered just as quietly, her lips trembling on his cheek. "I really do…"
: to be continued :
Author's Notes: So. I initially thought of writing this as a light story. Unfortunately (well, for me) it seems that I'm heading down the road of drama again. Oh well. Now you're warned. And I didn't expect I'd be working hard for the plot of this thing. Gah.
I had planned on releasing two chapters per week, but sadly, the notebook where I write down my ideas and stories when I don't have my laptop with me was left at the resort we went to this weekend, and it's six hours away from my house. I had them send it back to me but I have no idea how long until I get my notebook back. I'll try to rewrite chapter 14. Maybe it'll come out better than what I originally penned down...
For anyone looking for Sasuke, don't worry. You'll see him soon. And Sai. Oh, Sai. XDD
Much thanks to my beta, Mokulule. Lol good thing she's still available to beta for me. And thank you for the reviews~ I'm also glad I continued it hahaha :D Sorry for the very long delay.
Until next time: Reviews, comments, corrections, and bursts of fangirling squee are most welcome :)