So I'm back after a long, long hiatus. 2012 was FAR from the best year for me at all. But its now 2013
So unless I god-forbid become incapable of writing I will continue to update this story from time to time. I understand it's been a long ass time, because I believe since my last update, the NarSaku fandom has been hit pretty hard by the rest of the fandom.
I believe we had an upswing of Hinata development, and also a Sakura sequence with the fodder nin that seems to "reconfirm" her feelings for Sasuke. And not pairing wise there's been a character death or two and some really strange revelations about the history of the world and certain characters.
So plenty has happened since my last update and though I've somewhat tried to keep the story in line with the manga Kishi is throwing me some serious curve balls. But it's not too bad. I'll try to continue writing the story with that mindset.
Also IMO NaruSaku is nowhere near as dead as some people are declaring.
Now a reviewer did make a good point. I should have mentioned in the first chapter that the story would be Sakura-centric and it would not be strictly romance. Now obviously there is going to be plenty of romance but there will be other things going in the story. And when I end a chapter with some romance its simply because I think that's a good place to leave off. Also like I mentioned earlier Naruto's role will not be a small one.
But now of course on to the story.
In the morning I found that Ino had already settled down to her usual breakfast of toast with jam, eggs, and a few slices of vegetables. She looked up from her morning paper and gave me a swift appraising glance.
"You can tell?"
"You look like you slept on a couch."
"I did sleep on a couch, your couch."
"But before showing up to the breakfast table, you usually tidy yourself up just enough to make sure you don't look like a person who just slept on a couch."
I ran my fingers through my hair like a comb. "Well played."
"So what? Nightmares?"
"What does that mean?"
"I had dreams, dreams that were very pleasant yet perhaps in the grand scheme of things troublesome."
Ino rolled her eyes at my vagary. I took a seat at the breakfast table and stared passively at her plate. On one hand I was hungry but on the other hand it felt like I had spent all my energy getting to the kitchen table.
Abruptly Ino put down her paper and stood up.
"So I hear your stomach growling which means you're hungry. And your forehead is drooping which means you're too tired to do anything about it."
"My forehead does not droop! And I can make my own breakfast."
I made a move to get up but Ino swiftly placed a hand on my shoulder. "However you are technically still my guest. As the beautiful hostess it is my duty to be hospitable….at times. So sit."
So I sat and watched as Ino worked on my breakfast.
"By the way Hinata is trying to get everyone together for some sort of important announcement. It's short notice so I couldn't reserve a room anywhere tonight. Do you know a place where we could all hang out?"
"Well there is a friend of my family that owns a tavern named Ebisu. That should do."
"Ebisu...that's not too far from the flower shop. It looks like a classy place from the outside. At least it doesn't look like the type of place where we would have to shoo away low level geishas"
"I've never been there, but knowing Nakatomi-san I assume classy."
"Good enough, give me the address later and I'll pass along the info. Oh and you're going to be there at eight sharp. I don't want to hear about any sudden emergency tonsillectomies keeping you away."
There was a night during the war that I had an odd dream about Ino and I. We were at a playground playing tag with a group of other children. I was "it" and when I managed to tag Ino instead of continuing, I simply abandoned the game. I ran right off the playground. An immeasurable amount of time passed but I eventually returned, as an adult, to a now dilapidated and decaying playground. To my complete surprise Ino was still there but she was also an adult. I approached her slowly, apologizing profusely for leaving her alone. When she saw me, instead of the anger I had expected, there was a smile on her face. She then reached out and tagged me on the base of my forehead.
"You're it" she said.
After waking from the dream I sought out Ino out and gave her a big hug. To this day she say has no idea what my sudden outpour of emotion that morning was about. .
"You might be interested to know that I kissed Naruto last night."
Ino slowly turned away from the frying eggs with one eyebrow arched in amusement. She stared at me with the piqued interest of a cat eyeing a cornered mouse.
"I don't recall asking for your permission piggy."
"But you have my blessing regardless. So how was it? The first kiss."
Ino looked disappointed. "And why wasn't I made immediately aware of all these kissing escapades!"
"I didn't feel the need to say anything because the kisses didn't change anything."
She took a moment to study me intently before turning back towards the eggs.
"I am very tempted to bounce this pan across your forehead for keeping such details away from me."
"I would completely understand if you did."
"I won't, because I'm sure you'll tell me everything Naruto-related that happens from now on."
"That implies you are expecting things to happen."
"Who knows what time will bring, Sakura."
Well I knew for sure that time would bring a delicious meal. I grudgingly conceded that Ino was a better cook than I was. But she wasn't so much better that I couldn't close the gap with a little practice. If I put my mind to it I was sure I could deliver a world class meal. I started to experiment with different spices in my mind and before I knew it, Ino had slid a few small dishes of food and a cup of juice in front of me.
Needless to say I tore greedily into the toast and then quickly turned on the eggs and vegetables. I happily shovelled chunks of food into my mouth, while Ino polished off the remaining bits of her food. To her credit she waited until I was halfway done with my meal before rekindling the conversation.
"So how was the kiss? The most recent one."
I thought about it in between two gulps of orange juice. "You know the feeling of slow watery shivers sliding up and down your spine."
Ino nodded sagely. "That's a good kiss."
"It was a very good kiss," I agreed.
"So I ask you, Sakura, with much curiosity. Why don't you give him a chance?"
"Obviously Ino, there is more at stake here than would be involved in a casual dating experience. Something of a casual nature does not have the potential to lead to emotional angst for both parties involved. Naruto and I, even without dating, already have a history of angst."
"Alternatively Sakura you could… Not over-think things?"
The room fell into silence once again, during which I concentrated on my meal under Ino's expectant gaze. "So tell me about the pleasant but troublesome dream. I assume they are Naruto related."
"They were. But you know how it is, when you wake up its just fragments."
"Give me some fragments then….humour me your good friend."
I drew in a deep breath. "OK fine. So do you want me to start from the beginning or should I start from when I reached under his shirt…."
A loud knock on the front door brought us back to the present. Annoyance masked Ino's face as she stood up and walked out of the kitchen. I hoped whoever was at the door had something important to say because there was nothing gentle about Ino's wrath. Before I could make any real headway on polishing my plate Ino returned to the kitchen.
"Got an ANBU guy here to see you."
"Hokage requests your presence."
My eyes cut from Ino to my plate to Ino again. "You think he'll let me finish my breakfast?"
"Better question is if he'll let me finish hearing about this dream."
The option to finish breakfast and to slate Ino's curiosity had been taken off the table. It simply wasn't wise to keep the village head waiting. Judging by how my escort was shrugging off my questions, he either didn't know what I was being summoned for or he wasn't allowed to say. From that I concluded that I wasn't being called on for a trivial matter.
I walked into the Hokage's office to find it Hokage-less. However, Lady Tsunade and Shizune were there. We exchanged greetings, and I took a seat bracing myself for big news. It couldn't be anything but big news if we were all here together.
"Does anyone have any idea why we're here?" I asked.
Shizune shook her head and turned to my shishou, who shrugged.
"I do not, but my intuition tells me we're not waiting for good news."
The fact that Master had her misgivings didn't exactly put me at ease. But we weren't meant to remain in the dark for long, Kakashi strolled through the door of his office before another word was uttered.
"Excuse my lateness everyone. Hopefully I didn't pull anyone out of bed."
He cut through the room, rounded his desk and slid into his seat. "I have a simple question. How advantageous to you all would it be for us to have access to Orochimaru's research?"
Tsunade answered. "Insight into Orochimaru's research could lead to a solution to potential problems in terms of weeks instead of months."
Kakashi leaned back into his seat and sighed. "Kabuto Yakushi has been a spy for most of his life, extracting information from him has been tedious, risky, and time-consuming. And the Alliance hasn't gotten as much out of him as you'd expect over the last three years. However it now seems that Kabuto is willing to talk."
"That sounds like good news" Tsunade remarked
"He wants to talk to Sakura" Kakashi stated as he brought his attention to me.
"You" Kakashi replied. "He wants to talk to someone he's comfortable with, or so he says."
If the term confused silence had never existed before it had been born at that very moment.
"That's already been established Sakura, the question is why?" Tsunade asked.
"Kabuto is likely up to something." Shizune added.
"I don't know what the motivation behind this could be. But we're not exactly in the position to disregard this opportunity. There's someone out there using the enzyme Orochimaru created. It's caused the death of a Leaf shinobi, and we're not sure if it was intentional or not, but it has also caused the death of a fire nation noble. And with some of the information we're getting about the shinobi who attacked the villages, well it's safe to say there are some potential complications headed our way in the future."
"I'll do it Kakashi-sensei. I'll talk to him."
"We can't bring him here so you'll have to go to the prison."
"That's not a problem."
"Excellent, when can you leave?"
"I can leave tomorrow."
Tsunade coughed loudly. "Sakura if you had a patient only one day removed from a fever caused by chakra exhaustion would you recommend they take a long trip the day after they checked out of the hospital?"
A sheepish chuckle escaped my lips. "With plenty of rest and adequate nourishment I'd be perfectly capable of leaving by the end of the week Kakashi-sensei."
"Good enough, with that settled do you have any idea why Kabuto wants to specifically speak to you?"
"Honestly the last I interacted with him he did say he owed me."
I was offered a curious look by everyone in the room
"Owed you for what?"
"Well after he was captured, the other medics during the war didn't see much reason in looking over him. And to be fair they likely assumed his regenerative powers would take care of most of his injuries. Also the guards didn't exactly care about his condition so it was rather easy for Kabuto to be ignored…Anyway, long story short, at one point I happened to notice that he appeared thirsty and well I gave him some water. A brief conversation about some trivial things occurred and then he said he owed me."
Kakashi shrugged. "Well whatever the reason. We have an opportunity and we should take it."
I looked over at Tsunade and Shizune and they nodded respectively showing their quiet approval of the Hokage's assessment.
I wandered away from the Academy grounds lost in my thoughts and resolutions. So lost in fact that I failed to notice Mari until she was literally walking right beside me.
"Wow either I'm completely forgettable or you're really out of it."
"Sorry I've got a lot on my mind Mari. What are you doing here?"
"The hospital staff let me know that you were staying over at that busty blonde's place. I stopped by there and she told me you were headed to the Hokage's office."
"Busty blonde….You mean Ino?"
"You know any other big boobed blonde?"
"Her name is Ino."
"That's good to know. Hey so I was just wondering if you're still working on that new jutsu, you know the one from yesterday."
The specific complications regarding Ito's death still remained highly confidential. So I had been in no position to be entirely truthful with Mari about the research material I had been asking her to gather. As far as she knew my primary objective was simply in creating a functional Fuinjutsu that could in theory suppress sudden spikes in adrenaline or even chakra.
"Well yes, I'd like to move it past the conceptual stages eventually. But something has come up I have a mission that will take me out of the village for a few days."
Disappointment flashed on her face for a moment. 'Oh well that's OK. Hey you remember the books you told me to bring back to the library. I kept them for myself and I've been doing a little research of my own. See there was, uhm, something-it's more like a mini-theory that was in the back of my mind when we were working together. It's not a big deal or anything but I'd like to tell you about it, if you don't mind."
It wasn't hard to note the tinge of eagerness on her face and in her voice.
"Can you walk and talk Mari?"
We walked and she talked, rapidly. The research we had done on the seal had been a source of inspiration for her but instead of a Fuinjutsu that suppressed, Mari envisioned something that would do the opposite. She formulated the basis for a theory on a seal that once activated would force the pituitary gland to produce triple the amount of endorphins it could normally distribute to the bloodstream in a time of crisis.
As she imagined it, there would be times a medic could be out in the field, and low on supplies such as sedatives. Such a jutsu would be beneficial in matters of pain management. After a few days of research she'd come to this on her own.
"It's a good theory." I said
"You used Lady Tsunade's Creation Rebirth as an inspiration didn't you?"
She smiled sheepishly, like a young child who had been caught stealing cookies. "Yeah it was like a jumping point, but it was mostly your research."
"The way I see Mari, it such a jutsu as you've imagined it wouldn't require a large distribution of chakra for the medic of the patient, which makes it very suitable for usage in the field."
"So I'm good?"
"Well you're not bad." I teased.
She grinned happily, suddenly there was bit more spring in her steps.
"You know us together-I think we have a special thing going on here."
"Yeah, hey what do you think about entering in a kind of mentor-protégé relationship?'
Apparently it was the day of unexpected surprises. "You want me to be your mentor?"
"Yeah if we put our heads together we could figure some stuff out!"
"You want to be my protege?!" I asked incredulously.
"Yes. I said that twice already. I think I can learn a lot from you."
I found myself flattered and momentarily at a loss for words.
"No rush, y'know." Mari said. "I mean take all the time you need to think about. Meanwhile I've got a few more ideas if you want to hear them?"
I nodded. "But I've got to make a quick stop somewhere if you don't mind tagging along."
"Hey, I have loads of free time! "
It was the third weekend of the month so I was fairly certain that my mother had closed her boutique early and would be at the village theatre. My mother and I did not quite see eye to eye regarding the shinobi lifestyle but we shared a common love of a good story. And indeed our love extended beyond literature to the theatre as well. Which was something my mother avidly embraced when I had move out. Her professional work selling arts and crafts was her enthusiasm, but putting on plays and directing young girls and boys had become her passion. So with Mari in tow, I entered the Hiruzen Sarutobi Theater we walked in right into the middle of a rehearsal. This would have likely caused a stir with any other production crew but my mother had always been a advocate of open rehearsals. According to her everyone should get a chance to see the creative process at work.
The theatre featured traditional style seating so Mari and I grabbed a pillow and as custom dictated we sat on the floor some distance away from the centre stage to not draw attention to ourselves. With a few glances at the set pieces and after hearing some of the dialogue from the actors I recognized the play immediately.
"You're in for a treat" I told Mari. It hadn't been my plan to take in a show, but this was one I recalled seeing as a child and it brought back fond memories.
Mari eyed me sceptically "Kabuki?"
"It's great stuff, trust me."
We watched quietly and after a few scenes I was immersed enough to have lost track of time. When the play's heroine took the stage alone, I sat up anxiously. What was to come next was the feature song of the play, if the actress pulled it off well it would set the tone for the rest of the production. I sat at the edge of my seat as the heroine drew in a breath.
"You are The Prince
I am no one
You can carry me away if you want to
And if I tread upon your feet you just say so
You're The Prince, and I am no one
Only my life can repay what I owe you-"
"I'm not sure I'm following this storyline" Mari remarked.
I turned to her stunned. "You've never heard of the Illustrated Pillow Book of the Bandit Maiden?"
"Can't say that I have" she sighed.
It seemed today's youth had no appreciation for the finer arts. "Well, ok, the heroine, Masuyo, was orphaned when a plague hit her village."
"Let me guess, she was the only survivor?"
"Miraculously…..Since she had no means to fend for herself, she joined up with a group of bandits. Act I shows her beginnings, using her talents to lure potential victims into dark alleys as a child and then scoping out the homes of wealthy paramours as a young woman. When she aided in the robbery of a powerful noble's naïve son, the daimyo of the land caught wind of the situation and Masuyo became wanted by the law. There is not much honour amongst thieves so her bandit "friends" left her to be executed. But the honourable and courageous captain of the guards who captured her falls in love with her and asks the judge to spare her. And so the judge ordered her to be the captain's lowly servant."
"Alright happy ending all is well that ends well" Mari declared.
"Well, no see that was just the Act I. Act II is far more complicated. The Captain loves her but she doesn't know if she's in love with him. "
"She doesn't know?"
"Well thanks to her previous experiences, it's not easy for her to let people in. However she knows that she owes the captain her life and she is sincerely grateful for everything he has done for her."
"So is The Captain supposed to be ugly in the story? If so judging by the actor there's been some questionable casting."
"No, actually according to the play he is quite handsome."
"Then he's boring?"
"Well no, it is actually emphasized that thanks to his larger than life personality, if he pushed she would not be able to resist his will."
"OK I don't really see a big problem here. He is handsome and cool. So judging by the era this play is based on, her being a servant and a convicted thief means she's got almost zero serious romantic prospects in her future. The Captain treats her fairly, the play lathers on the sexual tension, and she happens to feel supremely obligated… So what is her problem?"
"The problem is that gratitude and obligation does not equal love."
"Okay maybe she knows that. But he doesn't know, she gets to be loved, and he gets someone to love. It's like win-win."
It took a moment or two of anxious shifting in my seat before I was ready to reply. "Ignoring the ethical issues involved with trying to fool someone in such a manner...The Captain would know."
"What makes you say that?"
"He would know. Some people just seem to know."
The play came to a complete stop and I looked towards the stage to see my mother waving me forward.
"Wait here, I'll be back in a few" I told Mari before approaching the stage.
The actors and actresses gathered around my mother.
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to my darling daughter Sakura. Sakura allow me to introduce you to the staff that will be the talk of this year's theatrical season."
I waved. "Hello all. Just from the little sneak-peek I've seen from this rehearsal I can tell my mother is not exaggerating."
"Exaggerating?" My mother snorted. "It's impossible to exaggerate with the level of talent in the room."
"You won't find me disagreeing with that." I said before stepping towards my mother. "Mom can I speak to you for a second? Privately."
"Of course" she clapped loudly. "OK everyone continue on to Act II, We've still got a while to go before the premier!"
When we had reached the far end of the stage I spoke up, "I'm going to be leaving for a mission very soon."
"Already?" She said not particularly surprised. "You just got out of the hospital."
"The Hokage has entrusted me with a task and I plan to see it done."
"Uh-huh, obviously I do not approve but I'm sure you'll do your duty anyway. I do not want you to go but I do wish you success."
She reached over and brushed a strand of hair from my face. "Isn't it a little odd that you would come out here to have this very predictable conversation? We could have easily argued about this the morning or night before your mission like usual."
"Well I also wanted your opinion on something."
She opened her arms wide. "You've come to the right place, no one has more opinions to give than a mother, whether one asked for them or not."
"That is very true," I sighed. "Well you probably noticed a while ago that Naruto might have had a crush on me. Well it wasn't a simple crush and it turns out he still has feelings for me."
My mother took a half step back then she then she reached out and cupped my face.
"Sweetie, you're going to be the wife of a Hokage! With the Hokage's ear you can usher in some real changes around this village. For example the difference in property taxes between civilians and shinobi is getting out of hand-"
I pulled my cheeks from her grasp. "Mom! I didn't say Naruto asked for my hand in marriage, I just said he had feelings me."
"I thought you were going to tell me something I didn't know."
"So you jumped to the conclusion that I was engaged?"
"Well a mother can dream can't she?"
I groaned running my fingers along my throbbing temple.
"Well Hokage or not, Naruto is a very sweet boy. I don't really see the problem."
"The problem is things are complicated."
"What exactly does complicated mean?"
"Mom you don't know the history involved. When i was younger, well you probably heard me crying in my room more than few times. It wasn't just about my team being broken up I..."
So I gave my mother a concise history of the Team 7 I knew. It spilled out of me easier than I had initially thought. The entire dramatic story came, the unrequited love, the miscommunications, the hurt feelings, the poisoned kunais, the murder attempts, the assumptions, the bad ideas but good intentions. My mother stood before me and soaked in the entire story.
And then she said. "I think you shouldn't let the past complicate your future."
I was incredulous. "Weren't you listening? There's a pretty dramatic history here that I can't just erase. I can't just act like things never happened."
"I never said ignore the past sweetie, acknowledge it but don't handicap yourself because of it."
I shook my head. "Easier said than done. Maybe you'd have to have lived it to understand how I feel."
"Perhaps. But from the outside looking in it seems simple. If you don't like Naruto, you don't like him. Let him know and let him move on. Sakura you are a shinobi but at the moment your actions are not befitting of one."
I considered the implication of what she said. It was something I had thought about for awhile.
"You're saying as a shinobi, I should understand that life is brief. So I should seek happiness while I still can."
She sighed deeply. "Actually it was something far less philosophical. Shinobi are supposed to be courageous, right now you're acting like an elephant with a mouse in the room."
I bristled at her comment. "Are you calling me a coward? What would I be afraid of?"
"I don't think I'm close enough to the situation to answer that."
We stood there just staring at each other. I wondered whether or not I should be angry or depressed at her assessment of me. But it seemed somewhat immature to be angry when I asked for her honest opinion in the first place.
"I guess I should go."
"That's fine. As long as you plan on coming back." My mother said softly.
'I'll be back. Don't worry."
"You can say that but I'll worry anyway. Now before you go take these."
She reached into her pocket and pulled out some slips of papers.
"Here is my advice. Well it's not my advice as much as it's a quotation from an obscure play. "A clever maiden does not give her heart away. However she can allow there to be opportunities for it to be stolen."
She handed me two of the slips. "Do with these what you will."
I returned to Mari and found her with a mask of contempt on her face. She mumbled something under her breath as I followed her gaze to a girl on the stage.
"You know her?"
"Aibu Shozaburo. I'm aware of his family of deadbeats. She has two brothers, twins; my team bailed theirs out during the chuunin exams. We had extra scrolls, so I gave it to them because they promised to pay later. Apparently their family is rich-and cheap seeing how they never paid up."
'You handed over exam scrolls to your fellow academy students in exchange for money?"
"I never got the money. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Hey have you given any more thought to being my mentor?"
"Yeah but I've just got one question. Why do you want to be a medic?"
Some energy seemed to deflate from Mari before she answered
"Because I want to help. You know protect your friends-the will of fire."
She was lying, badly.
"If you don't tell me the truth, I will refuse to be your mentor."
My tone was sharper than I intended. Its brusqueness surprising even me. She stared at me and I wondered if Mari even knew the reason why.
"They need us."
"Since Lady Tsunade created the medical-nin system, almost everyone from the strongest Kage to the weakest genin have had need of a medic. All shinobi value the existence of a medical-nin. It doesn't matter what clan you came from, if you're wealthy or poor, or who your parents are, shinobi need us!"
I saw then that it was acknowledgment but also a sort of power that drew Mari to the medical field. There was power in being a medic, power in holding a human life in your hands.
"You say us but you're not a medic just yet. Someday maybe if you listen to me very carefully."
"So I'm a protégé?" She said excitedly.
"Yes you're a protégé. And your first assignment will be to finish watching this play with me."
Mari and I went our separate ways after the play ended, leaving me to contemplate what I was going to do with a protégé. Then I started to wonder what Kabuto could be thinking when he requested to speak to me. Then my thoughts wandered to my kiss with Naruto, by then of course I was late for the get-together Ino had mentioned earlier that morning.
After some last second grooming I hurried over to The Ebisu.
The atmosphere of The Ebisu was more like a cafe-bar than a ultra traditional sake-house. Though that didn't mean it didn't have its fair share of rough and grumpy looking shinobi customers. Still I was right to assume it was a classy place. It was well lit and there was even a female flute player filling the tavern with soft and delightful notes.
When I walked in everyone was already seated on tatami and dining from the largest of the low tables in the building. The place was lively with chatter so I quietly slipped in and found a spot between Sai and Lee.
"What did I miss guys?"
Lee shrugged. "Not much. When we all got here Hinata said there would be a special announcement soon. We're all still waiting,"
"Any reason there is such a buzz in this bar?"
"Actually the village itself has a buzz" Sai replied.
"You'll have to enlighten me guys. I've been in my own head for most of the day."
"Rumors say the Fire Daimyo might be visiting the village in the next few days." Lee stated.
This was surprising news indeed. "But the chuunin exams aren't for a few months."
"We can only guess that he is coming to meet with the Hokage."
'In person?" I turned to Sai. "What's going on?"
"Have you noticed the delegates from the Land of Iron around the Hokage office? I believe it has something to do with them."
Lee appeared to be as curious as I was. "Why specifically the Land of iron delegates, we've been getting people from all the great nations showing up recently."
"Most of those people are here to hire shinobi for various missions. Which is only natural since the other shinobi villages have not recovered from the war as quickly as Konoha has. The Land of iron however has been significantly destabilized. It's on the verge of civil war, I have reasons to believe they might ask us to intervene."
Lee tsked. "Another war so soon, seems so wrong."
My thoughts echoed Lee's sentiments. I looked across the table to Naruto wondering how the news would affect him. It was no exaggeration to say Naruto was the key player in ending the last great war but that had more personal ties to Naruto then simply a defence of his village's interests. I didn't know whether or not Naruto had heard any of the rumours but from across the table he seemed his usual chipper self. He in fact had been chatting quite cheerfully with Hinata and Neji who sat to the left and right of him respectfully. He suddenly turned, catching my gaze, I raised my hand and discreetly waved to him. He shot me a knowing look and smile.
I am embarrassed to say it made me blush.
Abruptly Hinata stood up and addressed the group.
"OK, I'm glad everyone was able to make it. The reason why we're all here is because we have a special announcement from Shino."
The table went quiet as she waved Shino up. He slowly rose up out of his seat and stood stoically before us. "This was not my idea. This is entirely Hinata's doing."
"Just tell them already!" Kiba shouted.
Shino sighed. "Good evening friends. In the following summer, I will be getting married. You shall all be getting your invitations in the mail."
With that said he sat back down.
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat!" Was the collective noise coming from everyone excluding Hinata and Kiba who beamed happily from their seats.
Shino was then mobbed by the table. While the rest of the Konoha eleven interrogated him on the who, what, where, and when, I went to search for Nakatomi. I found him in a backroom nose first in what I assume was the tavern's ledger.
He was very happy to see me.
"You've finally come to visit!"
"Nakatomi-san I have a table of friends here and if it's not too much to ask we're going to need a round or two for our table. We're having a bit of an impromptu celebration." I said excitedly.
"Oh what's the occasion?"
"Marriage is in the air!"
I was suddenly pulled into a bear hug. "You're engaged matchstick! Finally! Your mother will be so happy!"
"No, I'm not getting married a friend of mine is!"
He put me down.
"Ah well no worries. You're time will come soon enough."
I ran my hands across my face. "I'm not worrie-I just need some refreshments for my friend if that's all right?"
"For your friends, anything!"
When I returned to the table, Shino was getting questioned by TenTen and Ino in a manner that would make ANBU members cringe.
Also Naruto was now sitting conspicuously in Sai's seat.
"What happened to Sai?" I asked casually sitting down.
"Oh he said he had something to discuss with Neji. So we switched seats."
"Did he now?"
"Yes he did."
I gestured toward Shino. "So what do you think?"
"Shino getting married kind of makes me feel a little old, like a real adult."
I snickered. "All the things we've been through and this is what makes you feel like an adult?"
He scratched at his cheek sheepishly. "Marriage is actually the most adult thing I can imagine."
I felt then the sudden urge to tease him. "The funny thing is I didn't see Shino as being the first of us to get married."
"Tell me about it!" Naruto replied.
"Could have sworn it would be you. You are the most eligible bachelor in the village after all."
"Are you forgetting about Sai's best-selling portraits?"
His face turned red. "Oh yeah...You're not still upset about that are you?"
"No, I'm just saying with that and Tsunade suggesting you find a wife. I thought you'd be the first."
"That actually felt like more of an order than a suggestion, though granny might have been joking. Sometimes you can't really tell with her."
"Yes Tsunade's sense of humor is a bit...unpredictable" I conceded. "But still maybe you should take her advice find yourself a nice girl and settle down."
He leaned in close and said. "Well I don't know about marriage but if the first step is finding the right girl, maybe I've already found her."
I leaned in closer still and whispered. "Maybe you haven't searched long enough?"
"Maybe I don't need to search if I already know what I want."
"Are you sure you know what you want?" I said demurely.
"Sakura-chan I know exactly what I want."
Oh yes, we were much better at flirting than I had initially assumed. But as fun as it was, and boy was it fun, I had come to a decision and it was time to get serious.
I pulled back a little. "Naruto, I'm going on a mission soon."
This was clearly news to him. "Where are you going?"
"Can't really say, promised the Hokage. But it's nothing dangerous."
"How long will you be gone?"
"A few days, but when I come back-"
"So Naruto," Chouji broke in suddenly with a mouthful of steamed chicken. "When are you going to become the Hokage?"
Naruto opened his mouth to answer but TenTen jumped in. "He just got back Chouji, he can't just jump right into politics."
"Politics? Now I am not saying Kakashi-sensei is not doing a great job and is not a legendary shinobi. But wasn't Naruto like the key guy in saving the world?" Lee asked.
Again before Naruto could say anything Shikamaru decided to weigh in. "The villagers are very grateful to Naruto but the Hokage title is not a popularity contest."
Neji seemed to agree. "Naruto must not rush his ambition. Timing is the language of politics."
Ino groaned. "That sounds very logical and profound Neji. But Naruto practically saved the world I mean what are we talking about here?"
'He did pretty much save the world" Chouji added.
"Hey, hey!" Kiba started. "Naruto still owes me a rematch. I'm not going to let go off the hokage title without one!"
"Hold on there, what're you kids deciding on your own."
Everyone at the table simultaneously turned their attention to the four approaching shinobi. They were older ninja, middle aged, ranking from Jounin to Chuunin.
"The election of a Hokage isn't as simple as that young ones."
Nakatami-san and some of his staff suddenly appeared with our drinks. "Yuuto, they're having a celebration."
"Ah come on, we're shinobi. We can talk freely to each other. Now there is no one here who will deny that Naruto-kun is the strongest one in room."
"In the village to be honest." Said a shinobi to Yuuto's left.
"Right Taruo, in the village. And the boy is a grand hero and a legend, like his father, but with all due respect, unlike his father, we don't know for sure that he can run a village. See Minato was strong but he also knew his way around an office and political intrigues. Naruto-kun, are you an office type?"
Naruto opened his mouth to speak but he then seemed to catch himself.
"I am learning."
"That's a good first step." Yuuto nodded. "But it's only a first step. There is still much for you to learn."
"Heck, there is much for all of you here to learn" Taruo announced rather obnoxiously in my opinion.
"You young ones are strong but do you know your history. This generation doesn't appreciate the village's legacy."
"Naruto knows more about this village's history and legacy than you could imagine." I said pointedly.
Amusement came to Yuuto's face. "Oh really, I suppose then Naruto, you can sing Fortunate Sons without flubbing a note or missing any words?"
I looked over at Nakatami.
He sighed. "It's a contest we here every once in awhile. "Who can do the best rendition of Fortunate Sons?" It's usually for fun-"
"Who says we wouldn't be having fun?" Taruo interrupted.
Nakatami continued. "See everyone who has been in the academy should know the song by heart. But it's one thing to sing it along with a class or in a chorus of comrades; it's another thing to handle the song alone. The notes and seemingly difficult lyrics have made for some priceless flubs even with the most patriotic of shinobi over the years."
"So are you up for it Naruto-kun? A little embarrassment should be no big thing for a Hokage candidate."
Not one to ignore a challenge Naruto stood up. "First thing though, tonight is not about me. It's about Shino."
He turned to Shino who nodded and said. "I feel this can only add to a somewhat memorable evening."
"Yosh!" Naruto grinned. "Let's, do this."
"Excellent" Yuuto turned his attention to the flutist. "Umeko-san, prepare the Fortunate Sons."
On his way to the middle of the room Naruto stopped by my seat. "Sakura-chan you've heard me sing right?"
"How good am I?"
"Not very." This brought out a chuckle from the table.
Naruto chuckled himself. "Ah, that's going to make things a little harder."
Nakatami walked over to me. "Don't worry match stick, if he gets in a pinch I'll signal Umeko and she'll switch to a good old fashion pub song. Those guys will drop the contest like a hot pot."
"There's no need" I replied. "Naruto will finish the song and he'll win by whatever it means to win this contest."
Nakatami appeared confused. "But you just said he can't sing."
"Oh he can't. But it won't be about the singing."
The Fortunate Sons is a song that is steeped is tradition. It actually predated the founding of the village. The lore behind it goes that Kuribayashi Senju who to my recollection was an uncle of Hashirama, was in the position to abandon a village he had been hired to defend. The fact was Kuribayashi had been tricked by the heads of this village into taking a paltry sum that did not reflect the difficulty of his mission. Though the village heads were devious, Kuribayashi knew the villagers themselves were innocent. If he simply moved on Kuribayashi knew they would be defenseless. So he took his men and engaged an enemy whose forces outnumbered his own four to one. Kuribayashi didn't survive the battle but his rousing speech before and his war chants during were posthumously transcribed into the lyrics of a song that would be passed down by Leaf shinobi for generations. Sung sombrely and proudly by those who headed into battle with low odds of a survival, or sung loudly and proudly as a jaunty pub tune by those who were most likely intoxicated.
Now well into the second verse I looked over at Nakatomi and noticed his befuddlement. More than likely since he opened the tavern, the singing of Fortunate Sons was accompanied by a rowdy atmosphere and a raucous crowd. After some initial laughs, chuckles and snickers the tavern only grew quieter as Naruto plumbed deeper into the song. Naruto had far from perfect pitch and I was fairly certain he had started off on the wrong key but none of that deterred him from singing. It was as I told Nakatomi, it wouldn't necessarily be about the singing.
For example Naruto may have tripped up on a syllable here or there but he didn't really miss a word. Many forget the words because they haven't thought about how meaningful they are. When someone understood the power of the words they become easier to remember.
Then there were those who are very aware of the tradition behind it but intend to add their little bit of legacy to it. These people end up being overwhelmed by the song or intimidated by it even. Anyone who approached the song from a place of narcissism would be eaten alive by it. Naruto approached the song with sincerity and respect. Respect that I imagined was not simply born out of a strong sense of civic pride. It was one thing to be taught to revere the song but another to understand and convey the emotion behind it. And who else would have shared true nature of the song with Naruto beside his Godfather Jiraiya? I knew that for Naruto the song was actually testament to the teachings of the Toad Sage.
So when Naruto entered the final verse, a call and response segment that represented the war cry of Kuribayashi Senju and the responses of his men; aside from Naruto's somewhat cracking voice and the soft whistle of a bamboo flute, the tavern was deathly quiet.
"Ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahhh ahhhhhh."
Shikamaru was the first to respond to the call. He lifted a cup of sake and sang. "Lead me to the truth and I will follow you my whole life."
"Ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahhh ahhhhhh."
Shino, Hinata, and I were next to lift our cups. "Lead me to the truth and I will follow you my whole life."
"Ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahhh ahhhhhh."
The rest of the table was with us now.
"Lead me to the truth and I will follow you my whole life."
"Ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahhh ahhhhhh."
Soon enough the rest of the tavern lent their voices to ours.
"Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life."
His eyes closed Naruto drew in a deep breath. "A true shinobi fights..."
"Oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life"
"Oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life"
"Oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life"
"Oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life"
"Oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life"
"Ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh ahhh ahhhhhh."
It seemed funny to me how life moved at its own pace. Whether that pace is quick or slow was just a matter of perception.
There was no doubt in my mind that Naruto would become Hokage. It might happen too quickly for some and not quickly enough for others.
The war, a war that could have changed reality as we know it, occurred three years ago. Already the Leaf was returning to form or perhaps even emerging from the aftermath as the undisputed strongest shinobi village of them all. Even with the recent attacks, we all felt far enough away from the war for there to be great optimism in the air. Had the war only been three years ago?
It didn't feel so at the moment.
As I lifted my voice along with my friends the academy did not see so far away. However Shino would be having a wedding and then perhaps even children soon. Had the chuunin exams really been that long ago?
It didn't feel so at the moment.
I guess the past and future would sort themselves out. Maybe all I really needed was to focus on the moment.
Our little group assimilated the rest of the Ebisu customers and soon the entire tavern was celebrating Shino's engagement. We sang, ate, drank and made merry well into the night. Eventually after much mingling I managed to draw Naruto outside to a tiny bench just outside of the tavern. The second we sat down Naruto yawned dramatically before putting his arm around my shoulder.
'Where did you pick up this move?"
"Move?" he said stiffly
He was a terrible actor, but it was cute. So I turned the tables him by simply nestling myself into his embrace.
He didn't expect that and it amused me greatly to see him visibly caught off guard.
"Well Naruto once again you caught people underestimating you and you won them over. How does it feel?"
"Well my throat kind of hurts. And I'm not sure if I won them over."
"At the very least you shut them up. So when do you think you'll be Hokage?"
"I guess I'll be Hokage when I'm ready."
"So you're saying you're not ready now?"
"Sometimes I think I am, like I'd do it tomorrow if they asked."
"And other times?"
Shrugging, he said. "I'm going to the Hokage...I'll be the Hokage when I know how to be a good one. Until then..."
His trailed off into silence. We stayed silent for awhile until it was apparent that he wasn't going to say anything more.
"I don't have to tell you that I think you'll be a great Hokage do I?"
"Because you should already know that."
"I do, thank you."
"Hey Naruto, can I ask you for a favor?"
"I want you to cancel my date-debts. "
He winced as if I had pinched him. "Why?"
"I think it would be for the best."
Straightening up, Naruto studied my face as if searching for answers. "OK wait; listen to what I have planned first. On the first date I was going to take you to-"
I cut him off. "Naruto please, this is important to me."
He looked up at the sky and let out a heavy sigh. "OK, debt's cancelled."
"Thank you Naruto." I reached into my pockets and pulled out the two slips of paper my mother had given me.
"These are two tickets to one of my mother's plays. When I come back from my mission would you like to go see it with me?"
It was a backless bench so when Naruto jerked back backwards dramatically he fell right off the bench onto his back
"What are you doing?" he said from the ground.
I held the tickets out to him. I blurted out "I'm leaving the door unlocked."
"I'm asking you out Naruto!"
He scrambled up to his feet and plucked one of the tickets from my hands. He quickly scanned it.
"This is a romantic play!"
'Yes it is."
"You're asking me out to this romantic play? On a date?"
"And I'm hoping you will say yes."
"Yeah because after all these years I'm going to say no Sakura-chan." He looked the ticket over again.
"Here's what I don't understand, why did you make me cancel the dates we already had, if you wanted to go out with me anyway?"
"This way...it feels right."
He stared at me blankly for a moment. "I am never, ever, ever, going to understand how women think am I?"
I giggled. "I guess there are some miracles even you can't pull off Naruto."
"Wait, are you still going to finish reading that story to me?"
"You want to hear the rest of it?"
"I do, there's some..." He cleared his throat. "...Uncomfortable stuff but it's interesting."
I nodded. "OK we can keep doing that."
He grinned triumphantly at the ticket once more.
"You seem mighty pleased with yourself, Naruto."
His eyes cut to me and they were brimming with mischief. He threw his head back to the sky and shouted "Sakura asked me out!"
I leaped up off the bench at him. "Whatareyoudoingdoyouknowhowl ateitis?!"
He sidestepped me and shouted again. "And I said yes!"
I could feel the heat rushing to in my cheeks as I rushed at him again but he simply grabbed me by the shoulders.
"Sakura-chan did you hear, we're dating!"
This fake seriousness he had on his face made me laugh, hard. Then he laughed, all excited like a little boy.
"I heard-like finally huh?" I said.
"Better late than never." He replied.
When the laughter died down we plopped back on the bench.
"Naruto can I ask you a stupid question?"
"Only if I can give you a stupid answer."
"Why do you still like me?"
The question felt a bit childish once out of my mouth.
His eyebrow arched. "That is a stupid question."
"I know but..."
He ran his hands through his hair. "I'm not sure you understand how beautiful I think you are. But that's not why I have feelings for you."
"Because you are you. You're still you. Just you being you(Sakura-chan) is the reason."
He sighed before I could reply. "That is a stupid answer."
"Hey" I said. "A stupid answer is perfect for a stupid question."
A whistle suddenly pierced the air. We look towards the tavern to see Kiba waving excitedly at us.
"Guys, guys! Lee's drunk, Neji's drunk, they're going to have a dance contest. You can't miss this, isn't going to be the greatest thing ever!"
Kiba then ran back inside the tavern. Sparks ignited in Naruto's eyes and his face lit up with childish delight. He started forward but I grabbed his hand.
"Naruto hold on."
He turned back towards me, and I cradled his face between my hands. I kissed him, and I mean I kissed him, deep and slow, with lips, tongue and sincere emotion. In a way that he would know I enjoyed it.
We broke away taking deep breaths.
"Ok let's go back in" I said.
"Yeah-I-I'll do whatever you want." Naruto said breathing hard.
Smiling, I slipped my hand into his and we started back towards the tavern.
"Interesting night." Naruto said.
"Yeah this is the kind of night you fight wars to protect."
A/N Some musical notes. I used a few lyrics in this this story from the following songs
Mumfrord and Sons White blank Page for the song Naruto was singing.
The Captain by Kasey Chambers for The song from the play.
So anyway hope you liked it. Leave a review if you've go something to say