They were there, both lying in bed, staring at the ceiling where the ceiling fan slowly made rotations, continuously. Sakura's pink hair was splayed over the pillow in a sexy way, her hands on her stomach, her nightdress hitched up mid-thigh, revealing a shapely pair of legs. Naruto didn't have a shirt on; his muscular chest and tight stomach rose in rhythm with his breathing. He had his hands behind his head.
"Give me the key, Sakura."
"Why should I? There's no reason."
"I shouldn't have given that to you."
"Not my fault."
Naruto let out a loud sigh. "You're making this a habit and it's annoying me."
"Annoying you? How?"
"I'm not used to sleeping with someone."
"I don't see anything wrong with sleeping with someone."
"I can't sleep when there is someone beside me."
"Come on. Is that why? Sounds childish."
"I can't sleep when there is a girl beside me." His voice was louder here.
"We're best friends."
"I can't sleep when you are beside me. This will be the last time, Sakura. I'll be changing locks."
Sakura's playful expression soured. "That hurts. It sounds like you hate me so much."
"It's because you're so stubborn. I've told you over and over that I don't like you spending the night here."
"I'm just afraid that you will try to leave me, again."
Naruto let out an exasperated sigh. "That again. I don't know if you're sincere or you're just making excuses. You know the best that I don't have such plans."
"How could I know if you were telling the truth? Everyone can lie."
"You don't trust what I say, but you trust me enough to think that I won't do anything to you while you sleep."
"Oh. That means something's on your mind?"
"Oh, yeah. Lots of things." Naruto's expression was tight. "Especially when you wear such a provoking dress." He ran his left hand over her exposed thigh, waiting with an impassive expression how Sakura would react. Sakura just stared at him. Challenged, he slid his hand higher until he could feel the edge of her underwear. Sakura did not flinch at all as if she was already prepared for this. Knowing now that it was no use, he pulled his hand, sat up, and lit a cigarette. He sucked at the filter and slowly blew white smoke. "Damn it."
"I know you can't do it. You already saw every inch of me so I wouldn't mind if you touch me next."
Naruto shot him a glare. "What kind of reasoning is that? And the hell if I do it with you."
"Bastard. You make it sound like I'm unattractive."
Naruto checked for himself. She had this heart shaped face, those expressive green eyes, those cute pinkish lips, a natural rosy complexion, and that sexy pink hair. In addition, she had grown big in the front and was now taller than before. Who would not be attracted? Imagining things about her was not difficult.
"You've just grown weird," he said.
Sakura turned her back on him. "You should be telling that to yourself," she muttered.
"Don't go muttering weird stuff on me, sis. It's not funny when you do that."
Sakura glared at him. "Stop that 'sis' thing! I told you I didn't want you calling me like that."
"We are like that, officially, right? Comparing it to your midnight invasions, it's mild."
Sakura scowled and suddenly cried, "You…Rape! Someone help me! Rape!"
Naruto's eyes widened in astonishment. He lunged forward. He tried to cover her mouth with his free hand, but she got away and continued her hysterics. Naruto was trapped, his left hand being occupied by the cigarette. He had to stop her before someone accidentally made sense of her ramblings. He swiped her down to the bed with his right arm and kissed her. When he got his bearing, he pulled away and covered her mouth with his right hand.
"Stop it now!" he hissed.
Sakura went on despite of the hand over her mouth.
Naruto reached out to the floor and stubbed his cigarette. When done, he got back to business.
Sakura suddenly bit his right palm.
"Ouch! What the fuck!"
She then bit his left arm.
"Aaah!" He quickly took his arm away from her. "Are you crazy?"
Sakura was breathing hard. "Now you know what I'll do when you irritate me too much."
Naruto looked disgusted. "I don't understand you anymore."
The left shoulder strap of Sakura's night dress had fallen down and it had exposed her left breast, a splendid sight, but Naruto did not care. He inhaled a lungful of air. He reached out and put her dress's strap in place. Turning to his lamp table, he reached for his pack of cigarette, shook one out, and lit it. Sakura was glaring at him.
"You won," Naruto said. "I surrender. Do what you want." He got up, putting his jacket on with one fluid motion.
Sakura began to casually change behind him. She wanted him to look. "Hey."
Irritated, Naruto walked to the door. "Please. If you have something to say, say it downstairs."
Sakura arrived at the kitchen. There was a cup of chocolate on the table. Naruto was sipping coffee, looking out the window. The rice cooker was on and only three minutes remained on the cooking timer.
"Don't you want to cook for yourself once in a while?" Sakura went to the fridge. She gathered some eggs and tomatoes.
"I don't. Sis—"
"Don't call me that."
Naruto gave her a look. "I let you stay here whenever you like. I call you 'sis.'"
"Don't start, Naruto."
"Aren't you unnecessarily making your parents worried?"
"Of what? Me staying here? I even know some parents who would push their daughters to sleep with you." Sakura got the pan and began heating the cooking oil. "Uzumaki Naruto, the Yellow Thunder. They would even jump for joy. Besides, they already know."
"No. You're only making that up."
"Of course, I'm exaggerating, but they really trust you." Sakura sliced the tomatoes into small dices. "They trust you as I trust you. They know that I'm safest when I'm with you."
"Aren't they worried that, you know, something happens?"
"You wouldn't dare."
"There are factors."
"Stop brainwashing me. I've been sleeping on the same bed with you for more than two months. Nothing has happened, yet." Sakura started cooking the tomato omelet. "It even makes me think you're gay."
Naruto sighed. "Sakura, I'm not comfortable with what you're doing."
"Could you tell me why you are doing this?"
Sakura threw an I-can't-believe-you glare at Naruto.
"We're adults, already. It's not right for a woman to sleep with a man if they're not married."
"When did you start caring about norms and standards?"
"When I realized that I was already twenty and should be acting like a true adult."
"A true adult, huh?" Sakura transferred the omelet onto a plate and put it down on the table. "It's still a long way to go, Naruto. Adulthood doesn't come with age. It comes with time. Come. Let's have breakfast."
Naruto got the rice cooker. He scooped some rice for Sakura, and then for himself. They sat opposite each other. The omelet was delicious, and Naruto couldn't resist another serving that made Sakura smile.
Later, Naruto went to the porch and smoked as he waited for the food to settle. The breeze was refreshing. He enjoyed the warmth of the early sunshine on his skin. The smell of grass mingled with the pleasing fragrance of smoke, making him relax. After accomplishing three consecutive missions, the Hokage had forced him to have a two-day vacation. He had originally planned to use it to have a peaceful time alone with himself when, to his surprise, Sakura also filed for a two-day leave starting on the same day as his vacation.
"Dear," Sakura said, sweetly.
Naruto took a sip. "What do you plan on doing with your vacation?"
"Hang out with you, I guess. I haven't thought of anything, yet." She sat beside Naruto and inhaled the sweet breeze.
"Nothing much is happening. We only get kids and the elderly these days."
Naruto nodded. For a while, he just watched the blue sky with thin, feathery clouds passing serenely under it. Then, he grabbed Sakura's hand. Sakura let out a gasp. Naruto looked at their entwined hands.
"I never thought that one day I would be able to hold your hand like this. Before, I would even be too nervous to talk to you. Now, you even sleep with me at your own will. Many things have truly changed."
Sakura was trying her best to hide her embarrassment. Naruto's hand was warm and gentle. "Yeah. And you even had the guts to kiss me this morning!"
"I had no choice. Besides, I did not feel anything from it."
"That was my second kiss." Naruto gave the impression that he knew she was lying. Sakura missed it. "You were also my first."
"It was an accident."
"A kiss is a kiss."
"I don't care very much. One thing is clear between us. We're best friends and that's it."
Naruto stared at her for a while, and then he stood up. "I'll go now. I have some business to attend to."
"I'll go with you."
"No. You should go home and spend some time with your mom."
Sakura reluctantly agreed.
"So, see you, later."
Sakura's mom came running down the stairs when she arrived.
"Are you all right, honey?" Mrs. Haruno asked.
"What's up? Something the matter?"
"Naruto came here last night. He told me that you were staying at his place. He said that you suddenly collapsed."
That sneaky bastard! "Naruto came here?"
"Are you all right?"
"Nothing's wrong with me, mom. It was just…I was just a little exhausted." Geez, Naruto! What did you tell mom?
Mrs. Haruno sighed in relief. "I was worried. I'm grateful that sweet man came here to tell me where you were."
"Yeah. That guy is really sweet. Later." Sakura started to climb the stairs.
"Sakura, are you sure everything is okay?"
Sakura stopped. "What is it, now?"
"That man…his eyes were quite troubled."
"Did he tell you anything other than what you told me?"
"He said you'd always done that. What did he mean? Are you sleeping with him?"
"It's…it's none of your business, mom." When she tried to continue her climb, her mother grabbed her wrist.
"I know you know that I have a say in this."
"You won't understand."
"I'm prepared for anything. Tell me if your overtimes are really overtimes."
Sakura couldn't answer.
"I thought so," Mrs. Haruno said. "How long are you intending to keep this from me?"
Sakura did not reply.
"Sakura, this isn't like you. Don't you care about your reputation?"
"Naruto is my best friend. I think I'm not doing something wrong."
"It's not what it seems to me. Whatever relationship you have with him, Naruto remains a man. It's not hard to think of things that could be going on between the two of you."
"He's not that kind of man. Besides, if that was true—that I assure you not—would it matter that much? I mean, he's single, I'm single, and the whole village knows who he is, even you. As he is, he's actually a good catch."
Mrs. Haruno reined herself for a while. When she was sure it could do no harm, she asked, "Do you have feelings for him?"
Something delayed Sakura for a split second. "None, of course! He's like a brother to me. Could we stop this, mom? We're going nowhere."
Mrs. Haruno ignored her. "Tell me your reason, then. Why are you doing this?"
"Okay. Naruto's apartment is near the hospital. I've been recently instructed to stay for a little while. There is shortage of nurses because of the large number of missions that require one nurse per team. Usually, when I'm finally permitted to leave, it's already very late. Our house is too far. Naruto's apartment is only a hundred paces away."
"You could go to the Yamanaka's, instead. Why to his place?"
"I feel more secured with him. He's one of the best, after all."
"It's not the point. You still haven't answered the question. I can list a lot of other alternatives for you if you want." Mrs. Haruno shook her head. "Really, Sakura, I can't understand you. It's more like you are trying to seduce him."
"I'm sorry. Maybe I haven't recovered yet from the shock of hearing about your collapse. Anyway, if you're going to sleep at his place, let me know. You could send me a message, couldn't you? There are a lot of courier birds available these days, right?"
Naruto! Look what you've done! "O-okay."
"Sure. I promise." Sakura went upstairs.
Naruto went to the Konoha Ninja Academy. The business he had to attend to was the meeting for the upcoming Chuunin exam that would take place after two months. The meeting was scheduled in the afternoon, but he came early to get away from Sakura.
"Hey, Naruto!" a man behind him called out.
Naruto turned to see the owner of the voice. "Shikamaru. Good morning."
Shikamaru had a cigarette in his mouth, and his same carefree disposition met Naruto. "Yo! What are you doing here? It's too early for the meeting."
"Just went for a stroll. I ended up here."
"Crap. You are the type of man who won't leave his flat if everything is normal. So, she's at it, again?"
Naruto sighed. "You really do know me, huh."
Shikamaru blew a sigh of smoke. "Really, you two. Care for a smoke down the grounds?"
Naruto went with Shikamaru. They sat under a tree. They had an unimpeded view of the grounds where a bunch of young ninjas did their routine technique training. Shikamaru offered Naruto a cigarette and lit it himself.
"There's a lot of promising kids this year," Shikamaru said.
"That's good to hear. Who are you rooting for?"
"Suzuki and Kuronoha."
"Kuronoha? Sano-san's daughter?"
"Yup. The pretty kid who has a major crush on you. She's top notch in Ninjutsu. The Academy has already let her study A-Rank techniques."
"Impressive. That kid has a bright future."
"She's always asking for you. She wants to know when you will handle a team."
"I don't think I would be doing that sometime soon."
"Yesterday, she went to me and begged me to tell you that she would be celebrating her birthday two weeks from now and she would not wish for anything more if you came."
"When that time comes, tell her that I have a very important mission."
"Come on, man. Don't be like that."
"Sorry. I would've been glad if she didn't have that stupid crush on me."
Shikamaru sighed. "That's why girls avoid you."
Naruto kept quiet.
"Why don't stop being ridiculous and accept Sakura's feelings. She's clearly seducing you," Shikamaru said.
"All that's in my head right now is to be a Sennin. Having a relationship with someone will just slow me down. I want to be stronger until I convince myself that I deserve the title of Hokage. Till then, I'll make sure nothing unnecessary will hold me back."
"You know, I sympathize that having a relationship right now is too troublesome, but sometimes a man that aim high like you needs a woman beside him. A woman could stop you from straying from the right path."
Naruto gave Shikamaru a funny look. "Where did you get that?"
"My father is a pathetic man. Without my mother, he would have been a disaster. My mother keeps his direction toward something with purpose."
"I believe I'm not that pathetic. Having loyal friends is enough to keep me on the right path."
"You can't be sure of that. Sometimes, there are needs that only a woman can satisfy."
"I wonder how you can talk like that. You don't have a girlfriend yourself."
Shikamaru blew some smoke and shrugged.
"Kurenai-sensei is not that old, right?"
Shikamaru choked and repeatedly coughed. "Where are you getting at?"
"Just curious. If I'm not mistaken, she'll be twenty-nine this year, right?"
"You're twenty one. Eight-year difference…" Naruto said in a dreamy voice.
Shikamaru said, "Stop it. Kurenai-sensei is already a mother. Moreover, the child's father was Asuma-sensei. Even if I developed some feelings for Kurenai-sensei, it would be disrespectful."
"I don't see anything wrong with that. In fact, I think Asuma-sensei would be happy if you took Kurenai-sensei as your wife."
Naruto shrugged. "That's only my opinion."
Shikamaru stared at Naruto for awhile. Then, he crushed his cigarette on the leg of the bench. "I should be going, now. I have a class schedule, nine AM."
"Okay. Will you be at the meeting?"
"Sure. See you."
Naruto stayed for a second stick. He had no other place to go, so he decided to wait a little longer on the bench. As he moved to look up at the beautiful sky, a more beautiful view blocked his vision. It was Ino. She looked serious. Suddenly, she plucked the cigarette from his mouth, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it under her foot.
"I told you, I don't want to see you smoking," she said.
Naruto could smell her sweet fragrance. Was it just the smell of flower sticking on her skin or a high-class perfume from another country? He knew that she should be in the hospital right now. What was she doing here?
Ino came around the bench and sat beside him.
"What are you doing here? Don't you have work?" He said this as casual as he could, but he wouldn't be able to deny his discomfort around her. She was too damn pretty!
"My mother is sick. I'm taking care of her. Father has a job too important to miss so I volunteered to take a vacation in his place."
Why is everyone taking a vacation and keeps on popping out to pester me? Don't I have some time to be with myself? "I see."
"So, what are you doing here?"
"Relaxing, I guess."
"Relaxing? Oh, yeah. You are also on vacation."
Ino leaned on the backrest and looked over at the ninjas practicing on the ground. "The number of students entering the academy has grown five times ever since you defeated that White Fang."
The White Fang had been a group of rebels after the world war ended. Mostly, they had been warriors that didn't have a place to go back to so they decided to conquer other villages to build a nation they could call their own.
"It's not because of that, I think. That statistic only shows that Konoha is growing little by little."
"We are not growing from the inside. We get the numbers from immigrants from other countries. They think with you here, they can have peace."
"You think too highly of me, Ino. Of course, without everyone's help, I couldn't have done it."
"I don't think too highly of you. I only tell what I saw and see."
Naruto looked at Ino, incredulously. What is this girl trying to do? Does she want to have a date with me? He stood up, abrupt enough to give the effect that something had suddenly occurred to him. "I just remembered something that I must do. Sorry."
"Huh? Wait! Do you really have to leave?" Ino stood up. "I'm sorry if I said something offensive."
"Of course, you didn't. I'm sorry. To tell you the truth, I'm already late. Sorry."
Ino looked at her feet. Sadness filled her eyes. "You're doing it, again. Why is it that you always avoid me?" she muttered.
Ino filled her lungs with air and sighed. She forced herself to smile. "It's nothing. Go! It seems important."
Ino widened her smile. God, what a pretty girl! If Naruto could only see. "I'm sorry and thank you for being understanding. I'll make it up to you some other time."
The meeting went smoothly. It was all about the tests that they would be conducting in the Chuunin exam. After the meeting, Tsunade called Naruto to report in her office. Tsunade, looking young as usual despite of her age, sat behind her desk full of papers for signature. From the aura coming from her, no one would ever make a mistake that she was the current Hokage.
"An invitation came this morning," Tsunade said. "The Capital City is inviting Class SS Jonins all over the world for a twelve-year Technique Specialization Training. Once you complete this, you will be promoted to Sennin, immediately. Are you interested?"
Naruto clapped his hands. "Of course, I'm interested! How will I register for it?"
"You seem pretty excited. Are you sure? You'll be gone for twelve years."
"This is a big opportunity! I'm sure my friends are excited as well."
"Everyone refused the invitation."
Naruto hung his mouth open. "What?"
"Yes. Among the Jonins here of your level, no one has accepted this invitation."
"But why? What's the matter with them?"
Tsunade frowned. "You can be a Sennin eventually even without joining this training. Duration-wise, this is unreasonable. I'm the one wondering about your misplaced enthusiasm."
"Wait. Sasuke. What about Sasuke? I'm sure—"
"Sasuke-kun refused. Besides, even if he accepted, he could not leave Konoha for more than ten years. He had been a criminal."
"I almost forgot," he said, weakly. Questions came rushing into him. What's wrong, guys? What are you afraid of? Why don't any of you realize that this is a one in a million chance?
"So, what's your decision?" Tsunade asked.
Naruto looked up with flaming determination in his eyes. Tsunade immediately felt anxiety from that. "I'm decided. I'll go."
Tsunade accidentally crumpled the side of the invitation letter. She grimly looked at Naruto. "Are you sure? Naruto, you'll be gone for twelve years. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, I fully understand."
Tsunade moved her eyes toward the letter in her hand. She shook her head. "I can't understand you," she mumbled.
"Master Tsunade, please tell me how I can register for the training."
"Y-yes. First, I must tell the Capital City that you are interested and ask for the requirements. After I receive their response, I'll summon you."
Once he was out of his office, Naruto couldn't help but shout for joy. Tsunade heard this and his voice felt like an arrow piercing through her heart. As far as she was concerned, she would rather not allow Naruto to leave the village. It was too dangerous for the village's ace to go alone outside even if the Capital City was trustworthy enough in terms of security. Because of Naruto's popularity, many enemies had emerged to eliminate him. Tsunade treated Naruto as her son. If anything happened to him, she wouldn't be able to forgive herself.
"You called for me?" Shizune, Tsunade's ever-loyal assistant, asked.
"Yes. I want you to do something for me." Tsunade told Shizune what was on her mind.
"What?" Shizune was flabbergasted. "What do you mean do it with him? Are you serious?"
"Of course, I'm serious!"
"I can't believe you see me like a prostitute." Shizune was about to cry.
"Shizune, you're the only one I can count on."
"Would you tell me why should I do this?"
"The invitation. Naruto is taking it."
"What's wrong with that?"
"He'll be gone for twelve years. Do you understand what that means?"
"It's the required duration. We can't do anything about that."
"Shizune, you know how famous Naruto is right now. There are many groups that want him dead."
Shizune couldn't help but sob. "But what does it have to do with me? Please, let me out of this, Master." She was crying now.
"Shizune!" Shizune flinched. "I don't remember apprenticing a cry-baby!"
"But you're talking about something very important to me! I haven't done it with anyone, yet. Please, not me, please!"
"Is Naruto that disgusting you're actually crying just from the idea?"
"It's not that. I've preserved myself for a long time because I want to do it with someone I love."
"You tell that to yourself!" Shizune stomped out of the office.
All that Tsunade could do was clench her jaws. She couldn't blame Shizune. It was really a ridiculous request.
Shizune ran hastily down the corridor. Because she was crying, she did not notice that she was about to bump into someone. She hit the person's chest and was thrown backwards. Losing her balance, she dropped on her butt. She knew she had bumped into a man.
"Shizune-san?" Naruto asked. He hurriedly ran to help her. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you."
Shizune glared at him. "Don't touch me!"
Naruto stopped. "I was just trying to help."
Shizune tried to stand up. "Go away!"
Naruto was beginning to find her reaction funny. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Aaaarg!" Shizune pushed back Naruto and briskly walked away.
Naruto snapped. "What the fuck is wrong with you, for fucking hell's sake!" He couldn't control himself no more. His frustration on Sakura surged forward like a barracuda going for a chunk of meat on the water's surface. "Fuck you!"
Shizune abruptly marched back toward him. "What did you say?" Her eyes were burning with rage. Her tears were flowing like lava from an erupting volcano. "What the fuck did you say?"
A vein throbbed relentlessly on Naruto's temple. His eyes were filled with confusion, frustration, and anger. "I said fuck you." He had spoken this with clear intensity.
Shizune slapped him, but he did not even flinch a millimeter. She slapped him again, but got the same reaction. "You got a gigantic head now because you believe you're the strongest? Who the fuck do you think you are!"
Naruto's glare never left hers. "Tell me what I did wrong."
"You don't know? You're selfish. Do you understand? You're a fucking selfish person."
"What did I do to deserve those words?"
She opened her mouth but shut it close, abruptly.
The intensity in his eyes was making her weak. The sincerity and transparency of his gaze began to dissolve her resolve. She could clearly see the mix of emotion happening inside him. Never in her life had she felt something like what was currently happening in her. Never in her life had she met someone so honest and pure. There was no mask. Right now, Naruto was like a river where you could still see the riverbed despite of the water's turbulent flow.
She could not answer Naruto's question. He had not done anything wrong. Finally, she broke her stare-off against him and buried her face in his chest. "I'm sorry." She gently put her arms around him, still crying. She could hear his heartbeat, and it was wild.
After a few seconds, Naruto exhaled loudly.
"I'm sorry," Shizune said. She still had her head in his chest so the sound came out muffled.
"Come on. Let's go get something to drink."
Naruto held her hand and led the way to the vending machine. Naruto got two warm coffee-in-cans from the machine, giving one to Shizune. She sat on the bench beside the machine, while Naruto stood across her. When asked, Shizune told Naruto everything. Naruto was surprised to hear the true story behind their little squabble.
"That old woman, geez," Naruto said. "I did not expect something like that coming from her. Talk about selfish." He got his pack of cigarettes and shook one out. "Do you mind?"
"No. Go ahead."
Naruto lit himself a cigarette. "I'm sorry I said all of that stuff."
"I should be the one apologizing."
"No. Really. I lost myself back there. I acted without even thinking about your reason."
She laughed. "If somebody suddenly did that to me, I would have done what you did. No. I might have done something more severe."
Naruto sipped from his can. "I'm sorry, again, Shizune."
"Stop apologizing. It's making me feel guilty."
"I wanted you to feel like that." Naruto told this with a straight face.
Shizune frowned at him. She waited for him to take that back. He did not. She glared at him. "You're totally rotten!" she hissed.
Naruto laughed hard. "Kidding! I'm just kidding!"
"Geez, this man!"
Naruto just went on laughing at her. Gradually, she smiled, taken by the contagious laughter he was making.
"Don't worry. I'm never going to make you do something you don't want to do. I respect what you believe in."
Naruto was about to take a sip out from his cigarette when she suddenly plucked it from his fingers and had a drag from it herself. She blew out the smoke, smoothly.
"I used to smoke before."
"The way you blew that out, you seem to smoke even now."
Shizune put out her tongue. "Occasionally."
Naruto did not notice that, but Shizune had deliberately made an indirect kiss with him.
"This oddly tastes like lemon," Shizune said.
That afternoon, Mrs. Haruno never thought something unexpected to happen. She caught Sakura carrying a large bag.
"I know it's your things. Where are you going?"
"I've decided to live with Naruto."
"What? No. No! No way in hell I will let you do that!"
"Come on, Mom! I'm already an adult! I can already take care of myself. Don't worry 'cause Naruto's harmless."
"It's not that he's harmless or not. What will I tell your father?"
"I'll tell him myself when he gets back."
Mrs. Haruno massaged her temples. "I'm getting a headache."
Seeing a chance, Sakura tried to sneak out.
"Stop!" Mrs. Haruno ordered. "You are not allowed to make another step."
Sakura ignored her.
Now that stopped her. Mrs. Haruno's voice was full of anger and contempt.
"Sit down, now!"
Sakura reluctantly sat down.
"Sakura, what is this? What are you trying to do?"
"Don't be so paranoid, Mom. Come on. I'm not going to do something that would bring shame to our family. I'm merely going there to board."
"No! No! I will not allow that."
"Sakura, if you keep insisting on that, I will request your resignation from the hospital!"
"Hey, that's not fair! Mom, come on! I'm a grown up, now!"
"Then act like one! An adult doesn't act out of selfishness. Think about the people around you, too! Now, carry your bag to your room!"
"Stop treating me like a child, mom!"
"Carry your bag to your room! Don't let me repeat it a third time, Sakura."
"Shit!" Sakura hissed. She snatched her bag from the floor and went up, angrily.
Still holding her temples, Mrs. Haruno slumped on a chair.
Naruto went up to the temple to watch the sunset. He was smoking beside a large statue of a lion as his eyes savored the reddish light of dusk. As he flicked the ash away from the ember, he felt a light tap on his shoulder. He looked up and saw a pale, handsome, raven-haired man.
Sasuke sat beside him. He was carrying a bottle of sake and two small wine cups. "Care for a drink?" He gave Naruto a cup and poured it with wine.
Naruto took it from him. "Sure." He drank it. The warmth of the drink climbed down his throat before exploding inside his stomach. The feeling was great. "Delicious."
Sasuke drank his wine. "So, why did you pay a visit?"
"Oh, you actually accepted a day-off." Sasuke put out his tobacco pipe, put some ground tobacco leaves in its mouth and lit it. He puffed some smoke.
"You should quit the pipe and go for the stick," Naruto said.
"I prefer to prepare the leaves myself."
"Your taste." He shrugged. "How is it going with you?"
"Nothing short of ordinary. Anyway, I'm fine."
"That's good." Sasuke poured him another shot. He drank it.
Sasuke and Naruto had already finished six bottles and a slight slur was now audible in their speech. They had put their cups aside and were currently drinking directly from the bottles.
"Say, Sasuke, do you find Sakura attractive?"
"Sakura? I think she is. Why did you ask?"
"It just occurred to me. I thought that Sakura and you would look good if you two became a couple."
"Why don't you court her yourself?"
"Are you crazy? You're the one she likes!"
"Drink up, pussy! Sake will wash that illusion away!"
"Illusion? What is your proof? Ever since then, she's only loved one man. Unfortunately, that man is presently my drinking buddy!"
"Eh? Why haven't I felt loved by that woman, then?"
"You're just dense, man! Dense like a rock!"
"Then, you're dumb like a dead fingernail!"
They looked at each other and foolishly laughed.
Naruto took a swallow and stared at the distance. "Sakura has been quite a pest these past months," Naruto said.
"Oh. The one who actually loves her speaks ill of her."
"Nah. She was just a childhood crush. But, seriously, man. She's been acting strange. She's not like the Sakura I once knew."
"Hmmm…What could be the matter?"
Naruto gave Sasuke a look. "Don't you think you already know?"
"Hey, hey, are you trying to blame me?"
"She began acting like that after our last mission together. And I hate it."
"What particularly is she doing to you?"
"She's trying to seduce me."
Sasuke was surprised at first, but he laughed, eventually. "Sakura? Sakura is seducing you? Are you sure you're not imagining things?"
"Only an imbecile won't notice it."
Sasuke became serious. "Really. Hey, aren't you supposed to be happy she's doing that?"
Naruto drank from his bottle. "I don't appreciate feelings that root from disappointment or pity. I'm not that kind of guy."
Sasuke changed the subject. "Enough, enough. I understand your frustrations. But a day when we can drink freely only comes occasionally. Forget your problems and drink!"
Naruto succumbed to Sasuke's persuasion. Eventually, Naruto fell asleep. Sasuke brought Naruto inside the temple where he had already prepared a futon for his friend. After making sure that Naruto lay comfortably, Sasuke went out.
"Sakura, come down, now. Dinner's ready." Mrs. Haruno was outside Sakura's room. "Sakura?" She got suspicious. Was her daughter sleeping? "I'm coming in, okay?" She opened the door. Sakura was not inside. She only found Sakura's bag on the bed. The open window caught her attention. "Sakura! Are you there?" She peeked out the window to see if Sakura was just getting some fresh air on the roof. No Sakura. She went to search the bathroom and the closet. Sakura wasn't in both. Now, she understood. She looked at the open window. "That little…Sakura!"
Sakura walked down the dim streets with a small bag in her hand. She was deep in thoughts.
"Good evening, Sakura."
She was startled. She looked up. "Sasuke-kun..."
"I want to talk to you."
"What is it? Don't tell me Mom—"
"Come with me." Sasuke turned around and began to leave.
"No. It's all right here. Let's talk here."
Sasuke looked at her. When he realized that she would not move from where she was, he stepped towards her.
Sakura couldn't look him in the eyes. "What is it that you want to talk about?"
Sasuke inhaled and exhaled out his mouth. "It's about us."
"What about us?"
"Sakura, is it true that you still have some feelings for me?"
"No," Sakura told him without hesitation.
"Look at me."
Sakura looked into his eyes. "I don't have any feelings for you, anymore."
"Are you sure?" Sasuke moved a step forward.
Sakura did not move. "Yes."
Sasuke pushed her to the concrete fence. "Don't lie to me."
Sakura set her jaws and told him again. "Yes. I'm sure."
"Why now, Sakura? Why now when I've finally learned to love you?"
Sakura suppressed a gasp. "W-what are you trying to say?"
"I love you, Sakura."
"I love you."
Sasuke kissed her. Sakura couldn't believe her eyes. Right now, the man that had filled her dreams before was telling her he loved her and kissing her. She waited for something. However, the heat on Sasuke's lips remained on his lips. It did not flow into her lips. She too did not feel weak anywhere, a sign that her body was not affected by what he was doing.
Sasuke became aggressive. He let his hands explore the front of her body. He squeezed one of her breasts while trying to intrude her mouth with his tongue. She remained immobile. When Sasuke opened his eyes to look at her reaction, he was surprised to see that she was looking away. He immediately stopped. He stepped away from her. He smiled.
"So, it's true," he said.
Sakura fixed herself up. "Is that all you want to know?"
"I thought I might still have a chance."
"I'm sorry to burst your bubble."
Sasuke locked his gaze on her. "Who's the lucky guy?"
Sakura stared back with the same intensity. "Naruto."
"Naruto? You're in love with Naruto? Are you kidding me?"
"I'm not kidding anybody."
"Are you serious?" Sasuke laughed, derisively, shaking his head.
Sakura slapped him. "If you don't have any more questions, you can leave."
Sasuke put up a challenging face. He rubbed the burning patch of skin of his left cheek. "I'll stay as long as I want—"
Sakura began to leave.
"Hey, wait! Okay, okay! I've gone too far. I'm sorry," Sasuke said. Sakura ignored him, so he held her wrist.
Sakura harshly pulled her wrist away. "What?"
Sasuke raised his hands as if giving up. "Whoa, there! I'm sorry, okay."
"What the fuck do you want?" She suddenly realized something. "Was it Naruto? He asked you to do this, didn't he?"
"Calm down. Let me explain."
"Where is he?" Sakura did not wait for a reply and began to march past Sasuke. "That bastard!"
Sasuke held her in the shoulders, gently stopping her from going further. "Stop it. He's at my place. He got drunk and now fast asleep. Will you calm down?"
Sakura swiped his arms away. She glowered at him.
"I'm so sorry. I did this on my own. I just wanted to confirm something."
"That's how you confirm something? By sexually assaulting me?"
"I couldn't have gotten any result through normal means knowing how cunning you are. I'm sorry. I know I offended you. Please forgive me."
Sakura grunted in irritation. Was Sasuke this bold before? How much did he change? "I don't want to waste too much time in here."
"Okay." Sasuke licked his lips. "I had a conversation with Naruto. He told me what is happening between you two. Honestly, I was surprised. Sakura, are you really trying to seduce him?"
The question caught Sakura off-guard. It was difficult, but she composed herself.
"I don't think you have the right to meddle in our business."
"He told me he hated it."
She clenched her jaws, telling herself not to cry. However, the disbelief in her eyes betrayed her emotion. "He told you that?" she muttered.
"Sakura, why don't you just tell him?"
"If it was as easy as you say, do you think I would keep on doing this?"
"If you really love him, you can tell him face to face."
"He will not believe me."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I already told him twice in the past. The first time was when I tried to stop him from chasing after you. The second time was when I tried to stop him from leaving the village. Now, tell me. What will he think if I confess to him the third time? Will he believe me? It's clear, right? He will think that I'm just doing it with a hidden purpose like before. You know, I think this is a punishment for a conceited girl like me. I thought that there was no way in hell I would ever fall for him. I did not expect things to be like this. Why should things have to change? It would have been easier—much easier—if things remained as they were. If the one I loved was still you. I never thought that one day that idiot whose feelings I always ignored and took for granted would make me feel desperately in love like this. It's so funny and pathetic it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time."
"So what will you do? The way things are going, he might end up hating you for real."
"I don't care. I just have to endure everything. I'll wait no matter how long until he understands how I feel."
Sasuke closed his eyes as if to endure a pang in his heart. "Sakura, tell me, honestly. Do you think Naruto still has feelings for you?"
Sakura looked at the ground.
"Naruto told me that he didn't appreciate feelings that came from disappointment or pity. Okay. Let's say that he accepted your feelings for him. Will you be happy if you learn that he accepted them out of pity?" He waited for a response. When none came, he said, "Sakura, as a friend, I don't want any of you to be hurt. Earlier, the impression that Naruto gave me was—" Sasuke looked into her eyes, "—he doesn't have any feelings for you, anymore."
Sakura suddenly recalled things that she would rather keep obscured: Naruto's cold stares, his exasperated sighs, his bored expressions, his irritated voice… "I let you stay here whenever you like. I call you 'sis.' "We're best friends and that's it." She couldn't stop her tears from falling.
"He loved me. I felt it. I saw it in his eyes," she said.
"I understand what you're trying to say. You can leave, now."
Sasuke inhaled as if the air suddenly forced itself into his nose. "I understand." Sasuke walked away.
Sakura couldn't take the pain, anymore. She struggled for breath as the involuntary gasps brought about by the erratic beating of the heart when some painful emotion is trying to eat it came. She clutched her heart as the pain began to spread on her chest. She backed off to the fence and slid down on it until her butt reached the ground. She cried and cried, the kind of crying someone does when a love one has passed on.
Nearby, Ino also cried. She had overheard the conversation and was now filled with compassion for her friend.
A little while later, Mrs. Haruno found her daughter. Sakura was still sitting at that fence, face buried in her arms. Seeing how fragile her daughter was, Mrs. Haruno forgot about her anger.
Mrs. Haruno hunkered in front of Sakura. She reached out and tucked her daughter's stray strands of hair behind her ears. "Honey, let's go back. You'll get a cold here."
Sakura slowly got up. When Mrs. Haruno saw her, she felt her pain. She almost cried if she did not tell herself to be strong for her daughter.
"Sorry, mom," Sakura muttered.
Mrs. Haruno stood in front of Sakura, forcing a smile while using her thumbs to wipe her daughter's tears away. It would have been easier to cry. That was the first time she had seen her daughter so devastated.
"Look at you," Mrs. Haruno said. "You look like a mess."
Sakura embraced her mother. "Mom…mom…"
Mrs. Haruno stroked Sakura's hair. "Yes, honey. I'm here. I'm always here for you."
When they were back at the house, Sakura told her mother everything.
It had been three days ever since Sakura stopped coming to sleep over at his place. Naruto was rather relieved than troubled for the sudden change of situation. For three days, he had been able to sleep peacefully resulting in a more relaxed disposition.
Now, as he walked down the busy street of the shopping district of Konoha, he wondered what he should do. There was no available mission, yet. I wished I accepted a team. Sigh. So boring. Across the street, at a vegetable stand, he saw Ino selecting vegetables. He brightened up.
"Hey, Ino!" he called out, waving a hand.
Ino glanced at him, then, as if seeing no one, looked back at the vegetables.
Naruto's smile faded into a confused frown. He stood by her side. "Hello!"
Ino ignored him. "How much for the radish?"
The vendor seemed uncomfortable with the ongoing scene. "Fifty Ryu a kilogram for you, Yamanaka-san."
"Give me a half. And onions as well."
Naruto found Ino's attitude weird. "Hey, Ino! Hello! Naruto? Do you remember me? Have you hit your head on something?"
"Haha. Very funny." Ino was sarcastic.
Naruto remembered their last encounter. "Is this about the last time we saw each other? I'm sorry. I really had something urgent to do that day."
"Would you please not talk to me anymore?"
Naruto blanched. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Here you are, Yamanaka-san," the vendor said, handing over her purchase.
Ino rummaged for her purse.
"I'll pay it, Gonzo-san," Naruto said.
Ino found her purse and hastily handed the vendor a hundred Ryu. "Keep the change." She grabbed the paper bags and walked hurriedly.
Naruto chased her. "Hey, what's wrong? Let me help you with those."
"Here, let me carry one." He reached out and attempted to take hold of one paper bag.
Ino kicked his leg. She glared at him. "Go away! My mother doesn't want me to associate with people with bad vices!" She turned into a corner.
Naruto rubbed his knee as he watched Ino disappear from his sight. Her reaction had completely taken him aback.
That afternoon, Naruto went to Ino's house. When he was there, he thought of backing out, but, deciding that he was not doing anything wrong, he knocked at the door. No one answered on his first knock. He did not persist. He stood there and waited, trying to organize his thoughts. When no one came after five minutes, he knocked once more. Ino opened the door. Seeing him, Ino recoiled as if he was a cockroach.
"Why are you here?" she said.
"I just want to clear some things with you."
"We can do it when I get back to work. I'm busy."
"Please. It's not about a mission." He showed her his most irresistible puppy eyes. "Do you have even a couple of minutes?"
Ino suppressed with utmost difficulty not to grin. His expression was melting her pretense. She sighed. "Okay. But only for a few minutes. I still have a lot of chores to do. My mother is still sick."
Naruto followed Ino to a cozy receiving area. She made tea for them. She also had the time and hospitality to slice him a cinnamon cake. Only for a few minutes, she had said, but her actions were like telling him to stay a while. She sat across him.
"So?" she said.
Naruto took a sip from his teacup. "This is delicious. Are you sure this is not instant?"
"Get to the point."
"This is the point."
"You're being difficult with me." He put down the cup and put a mouthful of cinnamon cake into his mouth.
"Oh, yeah, I'm being difficult with Naruto-kun," she said, sarcastically. "I invited him in, I prepared tea and cake for him, but I'm being difficult."
"Did I do something wrong to you? Have I offended you in some way? Honestly, I don't think I've done something to deserve such attitude from you."
"I also have friends. Don't assume that I wouldn't be affected if you did something to them."
"So you're doing this for a friend. Who, Sakura?"
"So you think that I did something to her."
Ino snorted. "Didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did. I told her to stop sleeping with me because I needed my privacy. I told her that she was acting like a child. I told her that she was making her parents worry unnecessarily for her. Is that wrong?"
"I know you know what she is trying to say to you."
"Yes. I'm not that dumb. She is seducing me."
Ino stood up and shouted, "She loves you!"
"Ino? Is anything wrong?" her mother called out from the other room.
"Nothing mother. I'm sorry." She turned back to Naruto and lowered her voice. "Don't you see that she loves you?"
Naruto laughed, cynically. He shook his head. "Love me? Do you think I haven't considered that possibility, yet? No, Ino. She just wants to make someone jealous."
"Sakura is not that kind of person."
"Well, believe it or not, she is."
"She doesn't love Sasuke, anymore."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"I'm telling you the truth. Sakura loves you."
Naruto observed her face. He shook his head. He stood up. "Okay, fine. If you want to be like that with me for the rest of your life, I don't care. Stick with your whore friend—"
She slapped him. "You have really changed. You are not the same Naruto I admired a long time ago. You're making me sick."
"Tell that to your friend!" he hissed. "I'm tired of being manipulated and used for the pleasure of others. I've had enough of everyone taking me for granted."
That ended it. Naruto walked out on her.
At the park, Naruto smoked furiously. His hands were shaking so much it was hard for him to get the filter of his cigarette into his mouth. He was distracted. The conversation he had had with Ino stirred memories he had already stowed in the back of his mind. It came back with a vengeance, automatically filling his eyes with uncalled for tears. He covered his eyes with one shaking hand. He tried hard to steer away his mind from the heartbreaking recollection that was rushing out like water from a punctured tank. However, he could not.
It had been on a night during their surveillance mission at the Valley of Bones in the outskirts of the Country of Sound where rumors about sightings of Kabuto had come from. He was walking back to their encampment after he had gone to spy on Kabuto's suspected hideout, a large cave deep in the forest. He was the one scheduled to spy that day. A few yards from their tents, he heard voices. The sound mingled with the chirps of cicadas and the rustle of leaves. He stopped and instinctively ducked behind a tree. He could not be mistaken. What he was hearing were whimpers and moans. Instantly, a horrible thought occurred to him. He hesitantly peeked from the tree to confirm his suspicion. He froze at what he saw. Out there, beside the red tent, masked with the impending darkness that would eat the surrounding when the sun had set, were two entwined figures, writhing like snakes on the ground. Sasuke and Sakura. Abruptly, he turned around and leaned his sinking shoulders on the trunk of the tree. His stomach pushed something up his throat and he suppressed the urge to retch. He covered his mouth as if his precious life would go out from there anytime. He willed himself not to breathe. His nose ran. He could hear the throbbing of his heart behind his ears. His eyes stung as if being incised by a razor. Shaking, he tried to stand up and get away from there. Fast. He didn't notice the streams of tears on his face. Drops converged and dripped from his chin. He succeeded on reaching the bank of the river. His vision was whirling and he couldn't make out anything in his surroundings. Both hands cupped in his mouth now, he bawled. Some heads of animals perked up to look in his direction. He cried like a child, trying desperately to contain his howls in his hands.
After a while, he sat there, dangling his bare feet in the cold water of the river, looking at the half moon. He had recovered himself. That scene had broken his heart and he knew that he would never forget that day. It would be a reminder that he would never make her love him no matter what he did. He loved Sakura, yes, but the thought that she could be so bold with her feelings for Sasuke, forgetting that he was with them, that they were on a mission, that he could arrive on them doing what they had been doing made him despise her. Her indiscretion was like telling the world that he was a good friend and he would understand completely and would have the decency to look away or busy himself with something while they finished, a proof that his feelings didn't matter to her that much. He sighed. What was he expecting?
On the other hand, no matter how painful it was, Sakura had answered the question he had been itching to ask. It was also timely. It was because he was beginning to hope that he had a chance. He was not that dense not to feel that she had been making passes at him these past months: the meaningful glances, the insinuating talks, the pinches on his butt. He was grateful it didn't come when he had already hoped too much. At least, she had spared him of a few degrees of pain. Now he was feeling both betrayed and relieved, but more of relieved. He had to accept it as it was. She made her choice. She picked Sasuke. He had known for a long time, anyway. Only, he didn't know if he would forgive her for being so inconsiderate of him. If, at least, they had done it in a private place where he could not have seen them, he might have been able to swallow it more easily. But what's done is done. He was too late to wish for better deliverance. He made his decision. Sakura was only a friend and she would be forever.
In the following morning, Sasuke was gone.
"Where is he?" he asked.
She put on a miffed expression that he thought sincere enough. "He's gone searching for you! Where have you been?"
"I just stayed for a while. I got a feeling that they would show up. They didn't."
"Why didn't you tell us first? Is it hard to return here, report what you saw, and tell us that you have this intuition so you're planning on returning there to observe a little more?"
Naruto stared at her hard. He was searching for guilt to surface on her face. Why was she talking as if nothing had happened? He frowned. Was Sakura this thick-faced?
"I'm sorry," he said. "I haven't had any sleep. I think I'll have a nap."
She grabbed his collar. "Before that, you eat first."
As best as he could, he tried to suppress the dark feeling in his chest, but it persisted. He harshly parried her hand away and threw her a baleful look that made her wince. He marched to his tent, the blue one, and collapsed on his futon.
Sasuke arrived in the evening. He had done his spying duty while searching for him at the same time. Sasuke seemed relieved to see him and, like Sakura, he sensed that Sasuke, too, didn't remember anything that had happened the night before. Suddenly, he knew the answer. He was sure that one way or another they had realized that someone had witnessed their imprudence and used a Mind Technique to manipulate their memories. It was not easy to feign ignorance on matters like that. Small signs would show on their faces—averting eyes, small gasps of breath, slight blush on the cheek, unconscious stammer—however hard they tried to hide it. On their level, all of them knew a variety of Mind Techniques to perform such procedure. Using one of the Mind Techniques was the only way to attain that casual indifference.
But why did they need to hide their affair? Were they ashamed to him? Whatever their reason, he was glad they had chosen to forget. He thought that it would be best for them to forget the incident.
After that mission, Naruto didn't talk with either Sasuke or Sakura for two weeks. Then Sakura began sleeping with him, exasperatingly invading his privacy.
Naruto went back to his apartment and considered what to do next. The fury he had felt and dismissed on that fateful night gnawed inside him now. He thought of reminding Sakura about the incident. Their professors had taught them that all Mind Techniques for manipulation of memories had one pattern. One could make another recall manipulated memories if he or she said or did things that were associative and could possibly trigger the "dead" memories back to life. If he told her what had happened, she would definitely remember. But was that the right thing to do? No. He would let it be. If they had decided to forget about it, they had their reasons. Maybe they were not prepared, yet. Or they felt guilty doing it during a mission. Besides, it would only make him look desperate.
But why was Sakura trying to seduce him? Wasn't it Sasuke that she should be seducing? He didn't see any reason why they would choose to manipulate even the feelings they had for each other, if that was the case. It was also unlikely that they would have committed a mistake in the process and had accidentally erased those feelings. They were top-ranked Ninjas, for goodness' sake. And Sasuke, too. Why had he reacted as if he couldn't believe that Sakura loved him? He had even said that he didn't feel loved by Sakura. Was what he had witnessed an illusion then? Genjutsu? Materialization of his fears?
He gave up. He couldn't fool himself that everything he had witnessed in that forest was just an illusion. An illusion would never break him that ruthlessly. He should stick to his original conclusion that Sakura was just trying to have Sasuke's attention. Maybe Sasuke had grown cold towards her and she was desperately trying to get him back by using him to make him jealous. That would explain why Sasuke had been trying to avoid the subject the last time they met. Maybe they had had a fight.
Anyway, it didn't matter. The point was he felt abused, mistreated. The village always went Naruto, Naruto, Naruto. Naruto I have a favor to ask. Naruto can you help me. Naruto would you go and assassinate this person. Naruto this, Naruto that. Even for questions like "Whose fault is that?" it would be Naruto. In the past years, they had been grateful. Now, they only took him for granted.
Because he had been so nice to everyone, he forgot himself. In time, he had unconsciously done what they wanted. He spoiled them so look at him now. Nobody would even listen to him. He was reduced into a tool, a weapon, a dummy-friend. Sakura still believed that she could sleep with him anytime she wanted even after he had bluntly stated his discomfort. Tsunade didn't want him to take the invitation for the specialization training even though he told him that he really was aching to take it. Shizune had yelled into his face that he was selfish without something as polite as asking why first. Ino didn't want to listen to his explanations because Sakura was a friend. Was he not a friend? He was losing his freedom. It was not like this before. He felt that his right to run his own life had been taken from him. If he stayed in Konoha…
If he stayed! He bolted up from his bed. He knew now what to do. This was the best solution to his problem. He had already brought back Sasuke. Konoha was at peace. There was only one promise that he hadn't fulfilled, yet: being the Hokage. But, he had every opportunity to be a Kage in another village. He just needed to be strong enough to prove himself capable for the title. That was it. He would take hold of the wheel again.
Naruto marched into Tsunade's office with a request letter. He slammed it down in front of the young-looking old woman. "Please, sign this, Tsunade-baachan."
She read the letter and was shocked. "You're going to the Capital City?"
"No. I'm not gonna sign anything like this."
"There are no laws that you can press against me for wanting to study abroad."
Tsunade stood up. "This is not a request to study abroad. This is a request to migrate! What is wrong with you?"
"I had enough of this village! I'm already twenty years old. I'm now entitled to choose my permanent citizenship."
Tsunade was about to cry. "What did we do wrong to you?"
"If you don't sign it," Naruto said with conviction, "I'll write a complaint to the International Citizenship Society against Konoha. I mean it."
Tsunade was horrified. "What?"
"Please, sign it, Hokage-sama. I know you don't want to shatter the brittle peace our little village is enjoying right now by inviting criticism from such a powerful organization. Not to mention what the immigrants here will think after news about this reaches them."
"What's going on? Why do you want to leave the village so much?"
Naruto considered for a few seconds. "It's none of your business, Tsunade-baachan."
"What do you find unsatisfactory in here? Your salary, your assignments, your shelter? I can do something about that."
"It's the people." Naruto looked into her eyes. "Yes. Including you. Do you think I'm ignorant of the fact that you are doing everything to stop me from taking the Technique Specialization Training? You even tried to use Shizune-san to do that. I'm tired of people like you who believe that you can always manipulate me to do what you want. I need a new atmosphere. I will never have peace in here."
"I only did that because I'm worried about you."
"I have already defeated you in battle. I defeated Sasuke. I defeated Kakashi-sensei. Do you think I will let anyone to harm me just like that? Don't treat me like a kid!"
Tsunade sat back. She closed her eyes and did not make a move for a long time. Then she sighed. It was obvious that she was trying hard not to cry. Naruto found pleasure in that without reason. She reached for her fountain pen, posed her hand over the request letter, and let it hang for a moment there. Sighing, she signed the paper. She handed it back to Naruto without looking at him.
"Thank you," Naruto said. "I'll never forget this."
"I have a lot of things to do. You can go now."
"I'm sorry for disturbing you." Naruto had a sickening smile on his face.
"Go to the Konoha Council and sign your Temporary Citizenship Certificate. It will severe your ties to Konoha. Forever. Just keep in mind that after that, you will not be allowed to enter Konoha without a Citizenship Certificate from the country of your choosing."
"Don't worry. I'll never come back."
She felt like her heart had stopped beating. When Naruto was out of the office, she cried in her hands. That was the first feminine gesture she had ever done in her life.
Naruto stood in front of the two old Councilors. They sat in high chairs, looking down at him. They were women, identical twins the village fondly called the "Twin Towers."
"Are you really sure about this, Uzumaki-san?" Yue, the one at the right, said.
"Yes. I'm already decided."
"It will take at least two weeks before we complete the Records and Documents for Legitimate Migration for you. Please be patient and treat this conversation classified," said Nue, sitting at the left.
"Are you sure only the Hokage knows you are severing your ties with Konoha," Yue said.
"Please keep it a secret from anyone else," said Nue.
"I will. But how about if somebody leaks this out?"
"It will not be your responsibility. It is not a law. We just don't like somebody trying to change your mind when the processing of your papers starts. There is a large penalty and a year of imprisonment when you renege."
"I never go back on my words."
"I'm curious. Why do you want to leave?" Yue said.
"Do your job. Don't ask questions," Naruto said, smugly. He turned and left the room.
A courier hawk flew down and perched on the window of Naruto's bedroom. It was eight in the morning. Naruto turned his head towards it like an owl. He was sitting on the edge of his bed. He hadn't had any sleep. Naruto approached the bird as it wiped its beak on the feather of its breast. He plucked the small scroll from its foot and read. "A class-S mission came. I'm assigning you for the job. Report at ten. Hokage's office." Naruto smirked. He put the scroll back into the container on the bird's foot. Recognizing the gesture, the hawk flapped its wings and flew away. He glanced back at the forehead protector on his lamp table, glistening under the morning sun. He went to it and put it in his pocket. He pulled the drawer under the lamp table. A parchment and pen were inside. He straightened the parchment on the table's surface and started to write. Resignation Letter.
At ten, he arrived at the Hokage's office. Sakura and Hinata were already there. Tsunade and the girls were waiting for him. She saw him and said, "There you are. Come and let's start the briefing."
"I'm sorry but, starting today, I'm not a shinobi of Konoha anymore," Naruto said.
Hinata jerked her head towards him. Sakura remained silent. Naruto placed the forehead protector down on Tsunade's desk.
"Please pick someone else," he said.
"It's up to me if you stay or leave."
"I'm sorry but I'm not doing it."
"You're doing it. You have no choice."
"Leave him alone," Sakura said. "I don't want to work with someone who has been forced into the job."
"Hear that?" Naruto said.
"No one tells me what to do." She held his forehead protector to his face. "Take it."
Naruto turns around. "I'm leaving."
"'Article 37. Insubordination is punishable by two years of detention and hard labor,'" Tsunade said.
"I don't want to work with a coward," Sakura said. "Sasuke has no mission, right?"
Tsunade ignored her. "Naruto, one more call and I swear—"
"I can't believe gays are also deaf," Sakura said.
Naruto disappeared and instantly he was in front of Sakura. Sakura was surprised. With incredible speed, Naruto punched Sakura in the face. Sakura hit the scroll shelves and writhed in pain on the floor as she held her nose. Blood was oozing from it. She began to sob. Hinata couldn't believe her eyes. She did not know who to look at first. Tsunade lunged at Naruto. When she reached him, Naruto dispersed into smoke. It was only a clone. The real Naruto was standing in the doorway.
"'Article 12. If a shinobi deliberately inflicts injury to a friendly unit or a civilian, his forehead protector and his or her rights as a shinobi shall be revoked temporarily. If the victim chooses to abstain from pressing charges against the shinobi, the shinobi shall be given back his forehead protector and his or her rights as a shinobi within 120 days from the exact time of revocation.' I don't care if my shinobiship is permanently revoked."
"I'll charge you with something else! You will not get away with this," Tsunade said, as she knelt beside Sakura.
Naruto glared at her. "Who provoked me! You were already prepared to charge me with Article 37, weren't you? I'm telling you, Hokage-sama. Don't' try to stop me, again. I will do what I want to do and nobody has the right to stop me. If you bother me again, I'll be your worst nightmare. Treat what I did today as a threat." He went out the room.
As he walked the corridor, he felt glad. This was the first time in years that he felt satisfied with something.