Grace

By: LilyDraken

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor do I make any profit from this fanfic.


The looming gates of Konaha village, fully reconstructed and beautiful as ever, brought joy to Haruno Sakura's heart. It had been nearly a year since she'd passed through those gates, having been on an extended mission at the border with her ANBU unit.

She removed the ANBU mask and lifted her face into the sunshine. Beside her, Hyuuga Neji removed his long gloves and pushed his mask up, a trace of a smile on his lips.

The rest of their unit had lagged that morning, taking a leisurely pace since Haruno and Hyuuga were so keen on racing ahead. Neji as captain of the unit would be the one to make the report to the hokage; Sakura, as medic would do likewise. The rest could take their good sweet time in returning.

Sakura however couldn't wait to get back. Border security was necessary, especially as Konoha underwent reconstruction, but it was isolating, and at times quite lonely. The members of her ANBU unit were good friends, people she had known her entire ninja career, yet she found it difficult to really connect with most of them. She would work with them, eat with them, heal their injuries, yet when it came to socializing, she found her smiles empty, and more often then not would at some point retreat into the woods for solitude.

It was in this that she came to develop a close friendship with Neji. He was quiet, unobtrusive, and didn't press issues of a personal matter. They could sit together in silence for hours at a time. Other times, they would talk quietly about whatever was burdening their minds. Neji never pressured her to discuss things she didn't wish to, and he never judged her on the things she did. Despite their closeness however, he wasn't Naruto, and her heart ached to see him above all others.

"It's good to be home," she sighed, giving Neji a bright smile.

He smiled back with a nod before turning his face upward to see the sentries staring down at them with apprehensive expressions. Sakura felt it too. She followed Neji's gaze up to see Kamizuki Izumo immediately avert his eyes. Her brow furrowed.

"Something's up," Neji said with a frown, noting the unusual presence of jounin perched atop various roofs in strategic formation.

The two picked up their pace to hustle straight to shinobi headquarters. As the tower came into sight, they could see security was tripled, and with jounin rather than chuunin. A rock formed in the pit of Sakura's stomach.

"Neji, Sakura," Hagane Kotetsu said coolly. "You should go straight up to the Hokage."

They didn't need to be told twice.

Outside the closed doors of the Hokage office, they heard the angry but controlled voice of Hatake Kakashi and the unrestrained shouting of Uzumaki Naruto.

"This matter should be handled by Ibiki." Kakashi rested against the large oak desk as Naruto paced frantically about the expansive office.

"No!" Naruto yelled, "No, I am the only one that's going to handle this!"

"Naruto," Kakashi said, his tone edgy, "you are Hokage. And you're not qualified to interrogate him. It's to be handled by Ibiki and his team."

"You're right Kakashi, I am Hokage, so I get the final say."

Kakashi looked up casually toward the door, then got up and opened it. "Neji, wait out here. Sakura, come in." Neji and Sakura exchanged a look before she crossed the threshold. Kakashi shut the door behind her.

Naruto paled at the sight of her. "Sa-Sakura-chan."

Sakura noticed immediately cuts on Naruto's face, his worn, exhausted expression, and the sadness in his eyes.

"Naruto, what happened? Are you-"

He shook his head then took a deep breath. "Sasuke."

Her green eyes widened in shock, then narrowed into slits. She pushed past Kakashi, placing her chakra filled hands on Naruto's chest.

"Sakura-chan," he said, taking her hands in his, "I'm fine."

"What happened?"

Naruto squeezed her hands. "We fought. He lost. I brought him back."

Sakura's mind reeled with the information. "You… brought him back…" she shook her head, trying to grab a single thought out of thousands, "Without me?"

Naruto sighed heavily, "It's not personal, Sakura-chan. There was an opportunity; I took it. Simple as that."

"Simple as that," she echoed quietly. She raised her hand, gently fingering the nearly healed gash on his forehead. "How long ago?"

"Yesterday."

So that explained the heightened state of security. "How are you?"

"Just fine, Sakura-chan," he smiled bravely for her.

She caught the look he exchanged with Kakashi. "What aren't you telling me?"

"He's in bad shape, Sakura," Kakashi said factually.

"He…" her voice trailed off, she whipped her head back to Naruto for clarification.

"Sasuke," Naruto said quietly. "Sasuke's in bad shape."

"What kind of bad shape?" she asked warily.

"Kakashi, I know this involves you too and all, but could you please give us a few moments," Naruto requested.

"A few minutes," replied Kakashi, "but our conversation isn't finished." Kakashi quietly stepped out.

Naruto led Sakura to the large sofa in his office, sitting her down beside him. "We fought, hard, at first."

"Naruto, how bad?"

Naruto looked away, unable to meet her eyes. "I think he wanted me to kill him, Sakura-chan."

Sakura's jaw dropped, but words failed her. She could feel Naruto squeeze her hand.

"I didn't. I couldn't. I beat his sorry ass to hell, but I couldn't kill him. So I brought him back."

Sakura could see tears forming at the corners of Naruto's eyes just as they burned in hers. He blinked. A teardrop began to roll down his cheek; she wiped them away with the back of her finger, then swept him into her arms and held him, her own tears now falling freely. Naruto clung to her desperately.

Kakashi quietly slipped in, watching their exchange, his own emotions hidden behind his mask. "Naruto."

Naruto pulled himself from Sakura's embrace, slipping back into the role of hokage. "Is he medically stable?"

"Yes."

"Then send in Ibiki's unit for interrogation," he said, resigned.

"Of course." Kakashi briefly turned his attention to Sakura, "It's good to have you back."

She could only nod as he walked out the door. She caught a glimpse of Neji still waiting in the hallway before the door swung shut. She reopened the door, motioning for Neji to enter.

"Hokage-sama," he said, bowing respectfully. He pulled a scroll from his pouch, "I have the details of our successful mission outlined in here. I'll trust you to contact me if you require further briefing."

"Thank you, Neji."

Neji glanced at Sakura. Sakura looked to Naruto. Naruto said wearily, "Sasuke is back in the village."

"I assumed as much," he stated quietly. "As always, Naruto-sama, I will do whatever you ask of me."

"I appreciate it." Neji cast Sakura another quick glance before stepping out.

Another jounin stepped in before they could continue, handing Naruto a scroll. Naruto quickly glanced at it. "Yes." The jounin left just as quickly.

Sakura turned to Naruto. "I want to see him."

"Sakura-chan, please. This is the argument I just finished with Kakashi. Not until Ibiki's team interrogates him to assess whether or not he's a threat to the village."

"Naruto, you and I both know that Sasuke's more than equipped to withstand whatever Ibiki or his team might send his way. We'll get nowhere that way."

"Which is why I've given the order that Ino be the one to do it."

"Ino!?" Sakura cried. "If he-"

"He's restrained Sakura, and he's injured, so he can't hurt Ino. She worked with Kakashi enough to have a basic understanding of the Sharingan, and I believe she's in the best position to handle this."

Sakura was clearly not pleased, but did not push the issue. "I'll stand by your judgment, but as soon as their interrogation is finished, I want to see him."

"Sakura-chan-"

"I'm the head medic of the village, Naruto-sama," she said, using his honorific to make a point, "and as an S-class prisoner, he should be given a full physical by me to see what kind of shape he's in in order to determine what he's capable of handling right now."

"Nice try, Sakura-chan. He's been looked over, and tended to. You don't need to involve yourself."

"Naruto-" her voice lowered.

"End of discussion, Sakura. Not until he's been fully debriefed."

Sakura started at the lack of his usual honorific for her. It too made a point about their relationship. As casual as they always kept it between them, even after he was made Hokage, he was her superior, and she couldn't disobey an order.

She sighed. "Understood."

She turned to leave when his hand grabbed her arm and fiercely wrenched her to him. "Sakura-chan…" he whispered, "Stay with me for a little while."

Sakura collapsed in his arms. Slowly they sank to the floor, losing themselves in each other's embrace.


A/N: This is my first fic in a while, so please review! The feedback is always appreciated! Thanks

~Lily