Thanks for reading this story, my little fantasy of how things would be later.
This 7 chaptered story is post time skip and borderline AU. Involuntarily, it contains many cliché Naruto fanfics situations.
I do not own Naruto.
"Oh, hell!" Yamanaka Ino muttered, and Haruno Sakura quirked her eyebrows up, causing the blond to look ruffled as she caught the pink haired medic-nin's amused glance.
"Is that just a general remark about the restaurant, or was there something particular that you had in mind?" Sakura queried innocently.
For a second Ino looked a little exasperated with her, eyes flashing as she glared at the beautiful but mocking face of the twenty two years old nationwide famous medic-nin. The years had brought many changes in Haruno Sakura, resulting in the now poised, beautiful, sleek figured, though war waned young woman. She had regrown her hair slightly past her shoulders, which was currently tied in her usual low napped ponytail from which some tantalising bangs escaped, the jade green eyes held a discreet glow of confidence which her spectacular growth had alighted, and the most noticeable change on her face was the green diamond shaped chakra point on her forehead- proof of one of her many outstanding achievements of the past years.
It has been after a while that the two friends had managed to meet for lunch, and for that day, they had decided to try the new food outlet which boasted to have the best tempura in town.
Sakura held her friend's eyes, her amusement growing, and Ino suddenly gave an impatient sigh, her tight expression relaxing.
"You can laugh all you want, Forehead, but our conversation is not over yet."
"Are you going to explain the sudden oath or do I have to look around the room and guess?" Sakura asked wryly, at the same time inwardly grimacing at the warning.
Ino had been right in the middle of giving her the you-should-find-a-boyfriend lecture; lecture which Sakura should not have been too surprised by - seeing that the last couple of times that the two friends had managed to meet for lunch Ino had insistently brought the subject up - but which still did not cease to exasperate her. It seemed that her love life, rather, the lack of it, was the hottest topic of conversation whenever the two of them met now.
Lowering her head and bending closer, Ino whispered, 'I've just spotted someone that I could very well do without seeing. It's this Jounin who've been asking me out constantly the past couple of weeks- he doesn't seem to understand the word NO. "
Sakura raised her eyebrows in surprise. Ino having trouble to lay someone off? The Yamanaka girl was known to be blunt to the point of harshness when needed, so how come she could not keep an undesirable admirer at bay? Sakura curbed the reflex to look around, her curiosity piqued on what sort of man it could be.
"I'll just pretend not to have seen him," Ino whispered. "Hopefully he'll get the message and not come over."
"Have you told him you're already engaged?" Sakura asked, intrigued. She found it rather hard to believe that the man would still pursue an engaged girl. And Ino Yamanaka was a very much engaged gal. Since two months now.
"Maybe I haven't…yet," Ino shrugged vaguely. Seeing Sakura's eye roll, she said defensively, "I haven't got the opportunity yet! It's still all so recent."
Ino's two-years story with Chouji had finally been concluded by an engagement, with the wedding planned at the end of the year. Sakura was very happy for her friend; she and Chouji were so much in love with each other, and it was clear on how much Chouji doted on her. It seemed that her engagement had not stopped her from flirting around, though, Sakura thought ruefully.
"I'm sure he'll back off when he'll learn that you're engaged," Sakura said firmly, her almost accusing eyes not lost on Ino.
"Now, don't get all lecturing on me, Haruno. You, who've yet to kiss a man, let alone date one!"
"Geez, why do you make it sound like it's a mortal sin?" grumbled Sakura, torn between mortification and annoyance, the latter winning finally as she glared at the blond girl.
"It is a sin, at your age!" Ino exclaimed.
Sakura glared even harder at her. "Hey, I'm twenty-two, not hundred years old!" she protested, rubbing her temple, a dull headache beginning to grip her. What is it with everybody nagging me about my love life? She fumed to herself. It was as if she wore a banner on her forehead saying: 'Nag me, I'm single!' the way she had been getting comments on her single status recently. Her mother had been at it since some time now, her most used argument being that she was getting old. There had even been this random old woman at the hospital, who had snarkily commented that at her age, Sakura should find herself a husband.
"By shinobi's standard, twenty-two years is considered old!" Ino said dramatically.
"Ino!" Sakura felt like banging her head on the table. It was great to be able to have lunch together, to catch up some girls' talk, but she now wanted to throttle the friend of hers.
"You don't know when we can get killed in duty," Ino insisted, "your life could end tomorrow and you would have died not knowing one of the basic the pleasures of life."
"In case you've conveniently forgotten, we've been at war during the past years! Romance or the pleasures of life was the last thing on my mind!" Sakura retorted indignantly. They have had this argument so many times that she felt like a broken replaying recorder.
Blond brows arched. "It's been almost two years since war is over now, so that's not an excuse!"
Sakura sighed. True, war had been over for two years now, but the rebuilding up of the almost totally destroyed Konoha had been as strenuous as the war itself. It had taken two hard, long, painful years, but they had made it. Most of the destroyed buildings had been rebuilt and life was slowly getting back to normal. Finally, their beloved village, once more, stood in its proud glory.
Ino's eyes suddenly got a telltale thoughtful look, which made Sakura squirm in her seat.
"I could arrange a date with that guy for you," she mused, looking behind Sakura, presumably at her mysterious persistent admirer whom Sakura had yet to see.
"Ino!" growled Sakura menacingly, "Don't even think about it. Besides, I'm not going to hook up with the first guy coming my way because you feel that I'm getting too old! You should know me better than that!"
But of course, Yamanaka Ino was not one to drop her most favourite topic: romance. Concerning Sakura, on top of it."Okay, okay, no stranger for you," she conceded. "Let's look into someone you know, then. You have to at least start somewhere, Forehead!"
That only made Sakura quiver with nervousness. She felt that the conversation was steering into dangerous waters.
"Are you totally sure that Sasuke is out of your list?" Ino ventured, and Sakura expelled a sharp, warning sigh, a vein ticking on her forehead as she glared at her friend. "Guess yes," the blond hastily retracted, waving her hands defensively in front of her.
She could understand Sakura's reaction, as she herself had gotten over the Uchiha. Both girls had been able to wrap up that part of their life, with the conclusion that their childhood crush for Sasuke had just been that- a huge, juvenile crush of two twelve years old girls.
Ino gave a whimsical smile. "We finally did it, eh?" she murmured, her eyes drawn in the past. "The two most ardent Uchiha fan-girls…and the two biggest rivals…We finally got over him. Moreso when he's back here in Konoha, single, available, and you must agree, still as cool as ever."
A slow responding smile appeared on Sakura's face. Yes. We did it, she thought. It had taken a lot of hurt emotions and self evaluation to finally admit that whatever she had felt for Uchiha Sasuke had been a twelve years old little girl's dreams, and nothing more. The older she had got, the more wisdom she had acquired, the more Sakura had realised that the feelings she had always harboured for the boy had been so futile. The Sasuke she had always chased after didn't really exist. For so many years, she had clung desperately to a false image in her heart; she had created a Sasuke which she had wanted in her mind, and finally, she had to agree that she had always chased a mere fantasy.
When Sasuke had finally returned back to Konoha, that feeling had been concluded. The young man who had faced her had been a total stranger; albeit with traces of her twelve year old former team-mate, which had been the driving factor that she and Naruto had held on and slowly rebuild their bond of friendship with him afterall. It had been liberating to learn that she had indeed got over her childhood crush on the boy.
Sakura was so immersed in her own memories that she missed the devilish gleam in her friend's eyes.
"What about our Hokage?" The coy voice broke her through her thoughts.
Sakura immediately snapped her attention back to her friend. The suggestive way the blond was waggling her eyebrows made Sakura suspicious that she had been angling towards this particular topic since the beginning.
Schooling her features into a neutral expression, emerald eyes guarded, she replied casually, "What about him?"
Ino gave an impatient sigh. "Come on, Billboard Brow, what do you intend to do about what you try so hard to hide?"
Ino smirked as Sakura did a double take.
"What do you mean?"
"Sakura, we've been friends, then rivals, then friends again for ages now. Trust me, I know when you are interested in someone."
"It's nothing like that!" protested Sakura. "He's is my friend." My best friend. "So, naturally I tend to look after him."
Ino rolled her eyes. "Okay, whatever makes you feel safe; but seeing that he has always had a crush on you, why don't you two get together?"
"Ino! Please," Sakura groaned, as she rubbed the ridge of her nose, feeling her headache mounting.
"What? You know that he'll jump at the occasion of going out with you," Ino persisted, scrutinising the medic nin's face closely. "And you must admit that he's not a bad catch at all. He's sooooooo hot!"
Sakura willed herself not to get too reactive. "You're wrong," she said quietly, "he's long over his crush for me."
"No. He's not," Ino insisted. "He has never gone out with anyone too; it must be because he still feels for you. I'm sure he would be more than willing to go out with you if you show the slight interest!"
Sakura felt she had to stop this conversation, now. She did not like the way their Hokage was being talked about, as if he had a weak point. It felt so demeaning to him.
"Ino, stop it. He's no more that twelve year old boy." Ino opened her mouth to protest, but Sakura quickly pressed on. "The only reason he has not gone out with anyone yet is because he has been so dedicated in his Hokage duty," she said, looking at the blond girl almost accusingly. "He had been devoting all his time to protect the village, you know that."
"It doesn't mean that he's not interested in you anymore!" Ino argued. "Why don't you ask him out and see?"
Sakura remained silent, trying to keep her cool.
Ignoring her friend's mounting exasperation, Ino continued, "Sakura, we're emancipated women, we should not be expected to sit back lamely and expect a man to fall on our lap! If you like someone, take things in your hands, why should you hesitate to make the first step?"
"Ino!" Sakura hissed, fighting to keep her voice low so as not to attract attention. "Emancipated? In case you don't know, at twelve years old, I confessed to Sasuke that I loved him, and all I got in return was a 'Thank you' and was knocked unconscious and left on a cold bench for the night. At sixteen years old, I told Naruto that I love him, and what I got this time was an 'I hate people who lie to themselves'!" Her green eyes glowered with the memories as she glared at her friend. "Trust me, I've had my share of taking first steps and being rejected; enough to last me for a lifetime!"
Ino stared open mouthed at her. "Sakura…"
A short silence ensured. Sakura took a deep breath to calm herself. She began to feel guilty for her outburst; Ino had only meant well, she should not have flared at her like that.
"Ino, I'm sorry. I overreacted." She looked apologetically at her friend. "I_"
"No. I'm the one who's sorry," Ino interrupted quietly.
Sakura, not liking the dejected look on Ino's face, forced a laugh. "Hey, Ino pig, don't be so glum. Life goes on!" she said with a forced gaiety. She did not want pity.
"Sakura, this does not negate the fact that you do have feelings for him."
Sakura was about to vehemently deny the statement again, but the shrewd eyes of her friend stopped her. She gave an inner sigh of defeat.
"It's of no importance, anyway. I was too late," she said in a low voice, giving a nonchalant shrug and avoiding the sharp scrutinising gaze. "That's called Karma," she continued derisively. "When he was interested in me, I always rejected him. Remember the bitch I was back then? Eventually, when everything was set that I started to get interested in him, it seemed that he was already over whatever he felt for me."
The derisive tone did not fool Ino; she could detect a flash hidden pain behind those green orbs.
"Sakura…we were all twelve-years-old drama queens and bitches at that time. Surely you can't be beating yourself about that…?"
"Well, he does deserve someone who does not have the taint of having been nasty to him, ever."
"Sakura!" Ino gaped at her, dismayed.
"Hey, it's okay, Ino. I'm fine." She flashed a reassuring smile. "I'm not 12 years old anymore; I have other priorities than my heart story. I'm happy with my life." Grabbing her chopsticks, she made a big deal out of filling her plate from the platter which they were to share. "Now, let's get back to these delicious tempuras while they are still hot, and tell me about the admirer of yours," she said firmly. "Maybe I can help you to find a way to put him definitely off."
On her way back to the hospital a while later, Sakura automatically rose her head towards the Hokage Monument Mountain. A small smile, holding a mixture of fierce pride and tenderness, broke out on her face as she gazed at the latest addition to the mountain, Konoha's 6th Hokage. He had not been too keen to have his face carved at that time, claiming that it was not a priority, that Konoha needed the funds for more important things. But his protests had been unanimously swept away. Everybody had wanted to see the effigy of their beloved hero as soon as possible up along the other Hokages.
The dozens sculptors who had worked on the portrait had done a fantastic job, Sakura thought once again. Even though it was carved in cold stone, they had managed to capture the unique warmth which the Rokudaime, Uzumaki Naruto, always emitted.
Sakura thoughts went back to the conversation she had with Ino. It was true what she had told her friend, she was content with her life. Just as many predicted, namely, Jiraiya, Chiyo and Kakashi, Sakura had surpassed Tsunade, her master, in both the medical field and battlefield. The girl who came from a civilian family, who had no bloodline limit or shinobi legacy given to her, had worked extremely hard and had managed to overcome all the obstacles to rise high. She was now a name which was recognised and very much respected throughout the five nations. She had finally made the summoning contract with the Slugs, feat which had been possible with her mastering the chakra reserve technique taught by Tsunade. The chakra reserve has also raised her to many higher levels of ninjutsu, genjutsu and had further perfected her medical ninjutsu.
She now occupied two very important positions as a Kunoichi: one as head medic nin of Konoha, with Tsunade as consultant and Shizune shouldering her, and the other, most important for her, as the med-nin security escort of the Hokage. Just as Gaaraa, the Kazekage, always moved with Temari and Kankura by his sides, the Rokudaime did not move without his two escorts, one being Sakura. And Sakura prized that position above all. As his escort, she could accomplish the vow she had made to herself long ago: that to do all she could to protect her cherished friend, now their Hokage.
If on one hand, one truth was she was definitely over Uchiha Sasuke, on the other hand, her feelings concerning her blond former team mate was a conclusion which she had carefully kept locked within herself, and avoided to ponder upon. Whatever burgeoning feelings she had developed for him had been staled at a status quo. It's not as if she had much choice too; he had seemed so sure of himself when he had implied that she was lying to herself, those years ago. She did not have the emotional stamina to go through another part of her life by trying to prove her feelings to someone– again… She was done chasing loves which finally, maybe were never destined to be hers. Though she may have become an impressive Kunoichi to be feared and respected, when it concern heart matters, she was still more vulnerable than most. But she worked hard not to let her life be overruled by her romantic emotions.
She and Naruto may not be romantically involved, but the closeness they already shared was precious above all. She was happy with that. He was her best friend, her buddy, her confidant, and still a bit her punching bag. What they shared was sweat and blood and tears and an unbreakable bond, and she fiercely treasured that bond. She would never do anything to jeopardise that bond, even if it meant having to stifle her feelings.
She sighed wistfully as the hospital came into view. As soon she set foot in the familiar setting, her mind immediately tuned into the work awaiting her; she could not have the luxury of doing otherwise.
"I can't believe that it's six years already."
Cheeks slightly flushed, brown eyes slightly blurred with pain which she tried to hold, the former fiftth Hokage gave a deep sigh and took another sip from her sake cup.
"Yeah," the low, gruff voice of Uzumaki Naruto resonated, as he gazed at the kanji which was etched in the stone; kanji which himself had etched years ago.
"Teacher" it said. It was the sixth anniversary of the death of Jiraiya.
The two Hokages, the former Godaime, which had stepped down from her position two years back and the actual Rokudaime, sat cross legged in front of the tombstone, the warm summer sun shining down on them. Tsunade had ceremoniously set out three cups – she brought spares, just in case, she said – and a bottle of sake, and the two made a toast to the much missed Sannin. Naruto solemnly took slow, tiny sips of the only cup he's had so far, never having had a liking for the thing, while Tsunade was at her umpteenth cup, thus the flushed cheeks.
They made a striking pair, both blond, one tall, lithe, subtle muscle exhibiting the vitality of young strength and masculine, the other emanating wisdom of numerous years, still curvaceously beautiful and feminine.
"He wouldn't have wanted us to still mope for his death," Tsunade said whimsically. "He said his job was to help the next generation and set a good example for them, that he'll gladly put his life on the line, and keep smiling throughout."
A silence fell over them, as both set out in a short journey of memories. Giving a mental shake, Tsunade expelled a deep sigh.
"War is over, life goes on." She raised her cup to take another swig of the fiery drink.
"Hmm." Naruto looked at the almost empty bottle of sake, deep affection etching in the cerulean eyes. "And you still drown them like a champ," he teased. He grinned as she glared at him.
"Hey, Gaki, don't go too cheeky on me now," she warned.
"As of I would," he quickly retorted, mock scared, the blue eyes dancing.
Tsunade contemplated the handsome face of the young man; face, which, much to her dissatisfaction, had been too serious and rarely smiling the past couple of years. He was a far cry from the little twelve years old boy she had met for the first time those years ago. His face was now leaner, more angular, masculine, though he still wore his hair in the same spiky, untamed style; his body was totally cut and excluding a subtle power which the red Hokage robes did not hide. And he now towered over her, having undergo his last growth spurt.
His ascension to the much cherished title has not been an easy task. She recalled the fight she had with some of the council members two years back when she had announced her intention to retire and proposed him as her next successor. One of the main front of resistance had been that he was too young for the job. While they were indeed right in some ways – at only twenty years old, Naruto had still lacked some of the maturity that was needed to rule a village, she had argued that if there were anybody who could really take care of Konoha and protect the village thoroughly, it would be him. He was already the popular choice and approved by the mass as the future Hokage, being the hero several times by then.
Another claim had been that he had not had any students or apprentice studying under him. Tsunade would never forget the opposers' expression of dumbfoundness when Ibizu had immediately contested that.
"Sarutobi Konohamaru, grandson of the late third Hokage, and my student, had been Uzumaki Naruto's unofficial apprentice since he was seven years old," he had proudly announced. "Among many jutsus, Naruto had taught him the Sexy Jutsu_"
"You count that as a teaching?" had immediately scoffed Koharu Utatane. "It shows what a poor teacher the demon fox child is!" she had said spitefully.
"AND the rasengan."
Gasps of shock had resonated in the room. It was widely known that the fourth's Jutsu, the Rasengan, was mastered by a very selected few. For someone to have taught it, and the learner to have mastered it, was quite a big feat.
But still, the Feudal lord had hesitated, and wanted Tsunade to maintain her position for a longer while. It was only when Tsunade had revealed that her lifespan had dramatically decreased due to her chakra reserve having been overused too many times, and her only hope to extend her life was to retire from the Shinobi life, that the Feudal Lord began to give in. The decision was finalised when Nara Shikaku had intervened, and vetoed that Naruto being undoubtly the strongest shinobi of Konoha, the Hokage title was his by right.
And Naruto was made the sixth Hokage of Konoha.
Tsunade felt a bit bad that his much cherished dream had been realised at a very difficult time, when Konoha had been bent totally on its knees by war. But the young man had pulled through with flying colours. Due his uncanny, unique ability to win people over, and his vast network of international friendships, much help had come forth to re-construct Konoha, and old alliances had re-solidified even stronger.
Looking at him now, and seeing his achievements, she was so glad that her decision had been right. But she dearly hoped that it was not at the cost of him losing his unique, sunny character.
"Naruto, don't try to grow old too fast," she said softly. "Don't let yourself get brittled into a work addicted man."
Blue eyes looked quizzically at her. "I though you always complained that I was too immature, that I needed to tone down a bit?"
The older blond smirked. "Well, true, but I miss the knucklehead that you were," she admitted. "Just don't let yourself be hardened into a dark being."
Naruto grinned widely, his eyes creasing in the old familiar way as he did. "Don't worry, Baa-chan," he chuckled. His thoughts went to his mother, Kushina. "After all, being a knucklehead is in my blood," he said softly, as the memory of the cheerful attitude that his mother had when they first met in the fox realm, despite all the hardship that she had been through, came to his mind.
Tsunade smiled ruefully, knowing exactly what he was making allusion to. "Kushina…Yes. It's unquestionable that you have inherited her character," she agreed.
He felt a deep sense of pride at her words. The painfully brief time he had met his mother had been enough to make him love her with all his being, and any allusion that he resembled her fill him with a fierce pride.
"Thankfully things are looking much better now," Tsunade said after a short silence. "It's high time you relax and have some fun. Time for romance." A mischievous glint crept into her eyes as she looked at him. "Surely it's not too difficult, what with the horde of willing, screaming fan girls that you now have at your heels."
"Hey, it's not as if I ask for that type of attention!" Naruto protested, a pink hue creeping up his cheeks.
"Well then, do you have someone particular in mind?" she queried. She had a knowing look in her eyes while she observed him carefully.
Oh yes, he did have someone in mind. He has had her in mind ever since his tender childhood.
He did not reply immediately, his thoughts on his mother again. "Find a girl like me to love!" Kushina had told him. And he could not think of anyone who would be more similar to Kushina that the one he had always had in mind.
"Yes, I do," he finally murmured, his thoughts on the scariest, most hot-tempered, most loud-mouthed and smartest Kunoichi of their generation in Konoha. The one for whom his heart had always raced.
But actually doing something about it was another whole story.
Tsunade smirked, guessing who his thoughts were onto and guessing the reason of his hesitance.
"Don't be discouraged by past refusals, Naruto. Among the lasts words of your teacher said," she pointed her chin towards the memorial stone at this, "was that 'getting rejected always makes a man stronger'."
Naruto chuckled, internally agreeing. He noticed the deeply sad and remorseful look that had crept onto the woman's face.
"If only…" she sighed heavily. If only I could turn back time, she thought, at the same time chiding herself for the weak, foolish hope. It was too late for regrets now. "Naruto, some things need to be done in their right due time, and I think now is the good time for you to make your move," she said softly, firmly. "Take some time for yourself, for your personal life, you highly deserve that."
"Your shadow must be somewhere around?" Tsunade asked later, as the two made their way back to the village.
Naruto chuckled, "Yeah."
He was technically outside Konoha, even though they were just on the outskirt of the village, so naturally as Hokage, he would have someone at his tail. He was glad that it was one of his two security escorts, not some anonymous ANBU. He stopped at a tall tree. The glacial aura was too obvious to be missed.
"Teme! Are you sleeping up there or what?" he called out.
The next instance, with a graceful landing, Uchiha Sasuke appeared besides the two.
"We are done," Naruto announced cheerfully, stating the obvious.
Sasuke nodded a greeting at Tsunade.
Watching the two, Tsunade felt a nostalgia swelling up her stomach. Her old team, consisting of Jiraiya, Orochimaru and herself, had been a mirror image of the legendary team 7. But with totally different outcome, though. Where her own team had failed, team 7 had succeeded. Team 7 had been reunited again.
It shows that the new generation would indeed always surpass the older one, she thought.
Naruto smirked at Sasuke. "Hope you weren't too bored up there?" he asked, only to be met by an expressionless face. "Oh, I forgot, snakes like to bask under the sun, right?" he added slyly.
This time he was met with a narrowed glare, the black eyes flashing. Naruto's grin widened. Any reaction from his cold, silent friend made him feel triumphant.
One of his most prided achievements was that he had managed to bring his best friend, his brother, home. After all the long years of chasing after him, the final step has been almost easy, finally. When he had, at last, faced the Uchiha, the long awaited, destined confrontation, Naruto had struck a deal with him.
"If I defeat you today, you have to give me your word that you would return back to Konoha. You will have to make the pledge to become a shinobi of Konoha again."
Sasuke had laughed arrogantly. "You really think you can beat me, Dobe?" he had sneered. "I'll crush you in a jiffy!"
"The more reason that you shouldn't be scared to give me your words then, right?" Naruto has shrugged.
"Okay, just on a whim, I'll agree to the foolish deal of yours."
Many things had driven Naruto that day when he had fought with Sasuke: the vow that he had made to himself to save his bond with his friend; to save the wish that both their mothers made - that they would be friends; to save the wish of Sasuke's mother, who had expressed to Kushina her wish that Sasuke become a good shinobi. And not least, Sakura's words to him just before he had stepped into the fight.
"Promise that you will get out of this safe," she had growled, eyes flashing with an indescribable emotion. "You are way more important to m-us. If you let something happen to you, I swear I'll punch the daylights out of you …"
Sasuke had been wild with rage when his Amaterasu failed to harm Naruto, who had been protected by Itachi's power. As Amaterasu has faded out, Itachi's image had briefly appeared to him, and had again appealed him not to follow the power-crazed Maadaraa.
"It's up to you to chose who you want to follow now. The ones who had always cared for you; or the one who is only using you as a tool and has caused the downfall of your own clan. I really expected more from you than being a mere, weak puppet to such a man as Madara."
It was not a defeat of Sasuke against Naruto on that day; it was more an eye opener for Sasuke, and an acceptance of what had always awaited him: his home, his two team mates, and people who really cared for him.
A month later, Naruto and Sasuke combined their forces and finally brought Madara down. That fight had been epic; wind element combining with fire, eye power combined with body power: the lethal combinations. Madara did not have any chance in front of their combined force.
Back to the village, Sasuke had to undergo the trial that had been awaiting him. The still allied force at that time had followed the trial closely, as it had been quite a controversial case. The major role he had played in bringing down Madara, stopping the war and bringing peace to the world could not erase his past crimes. He had had to face the accusation of being a deserter, for attacking the Kage summit and killing many Samourais in the action, and for killing Danzo.
Finally, the verdict had fallen: he was striped of his mangyekou Sharingan, and a bird cage seal of the Hyuuga clan was placed on him, and he was imprisoned for a year. His punishment has been quite lenient because the allied force had to grudgingly admit that without him, Madara would not have been brought down. Sasuke had willingly agreed to the verdict; he had wanted to redeem himself.
A long year later, he had finally released. It had been a slow, painstaking process to get the Uchiha to open up to his two team mates. But with the dedication of Naruto and Sakura, they reached there. The village were more willing to accept him now.
And when Naruto had announced his intention to take Sasuke as his personal bodyguard, many had openly voiced their disapproval of such decision, claiming how such a traitor could be given such an honour. But the new Hokage had not budged from his decision. Though it had shocked many, Naruto had asserted his total trust on the Uchiha, proclaiming that he knows that Sasuke would protect him with his life. And he had not been wrong.
As soon as they reached the gates of Konoha, Tsunade parted ways with them, leaving the two to make their way through the village. As usual, all the people they crossed enthusiastically greeted them; the two famous friends, totally opposing in looks and character, yet both attracting attention to the same intensity.
Naruto smiled. Life was good. He had been able to achieve most of his dreams. Now remain to woo the girl of his heart.
"What's the silly smile for?"
Naruto slid a glance across his friend. He had been thinking about dropping by the hospital.
"What's the scary look for?" he countered.
Sasuke sighed. "What are your plans for now?" he asked instead.
"I think I'll drop by the hospital."
Black eyes slanted sideways towards him. "Hn. In this case, I'll leave. I have some things to attend to."
Naruto frowned. Was it his imagination, or had Sasuke had been avoiding them the past couple of weeks? "You're welcome to come by too," he said.
"Are you avoiding us?"
"Don't be paranoid," Sasuke said lazily.
Naruto eyed him, suddenly serious. He had never dared openly asked Sasuke about his feelings for Sakura. Sure, he had never showed any romantic inclinations towards her, but still, with Sasuke, one can never tell. The Uchiha was as closed as clam when it came to emotions, and things would be tricky if he had an interest in her.
"Baa-chan was telling me that it's the right time to make a move."
Black eyebrow raised questioningly.
"To find a girl," Naruto said.
"Hn. She's right."
"So, I was wondering…You and…Sakura…?"
Sasuke flashed him narrowed gaze and gave an impatient sigh. "Do you need to ask that?"
At the blond nervous silence, he snorted. "You know that I never had anything like that for her. She was and is just a team-mate. Nothing more."
Naruto remained silent, though he was relieved to hear that.
Sasuke the blond friend from the corner of his eyes. Tchh... "You're moving too slowly. If you want something to come out of this, do something. Don't just wait for things to fall into your lap. I've been making myself scarce so that you two can work things out. Make good use of it!" With the longest speech that the Uchiha had probably made till his return to Konoha, he walked away, leaving Naruto looking open mouthed after him.
As Naruto approached Sakura's office, he heard her clear, low grumble coming from the opened door. "Gah! Why do I always have so much paperwork?"
"A better question would be," Naruto's deep, gravely voice made Sakura gave an involuntary yelp as she snapped her head up from the high pile of reports to see the blond young man propped against the doorframe, arms crossed casually, grinning widely, "why was paperwork ever invented?" he finished.
"Can't you knock?" She looked like a child caught in the act of having her hand in the cookie jar. The prim and proper, meticulous medic nin did not like being caught with anything that hinted at her slacking, most especially not by their Hokage, whom she was always chastising about being too slow on his paperwork.
"At an already opened door? And miss your complaint?" Blue eyes danced in laughter at her discomfort.
"Paperwork are very important, it keep clear tracks of what is being done!" She recited what she was always drilling in his mind whenever he complained about that aspect of being the Hokage, though he delegated most of the paperwork to his two secretaries which he had recruited. "It's just that today I had particularly a lot of reports and since I took a long lunch break, I'm lagging," she grumbled, going back to her attempt to locate a specific report from the pile.
"Sakura-chaaaan, it's okay to admit that paperwork is a pain!" he chuckled, at the same time surreptitiously let his eyes drink the sight of her; he couldn't help himself. He gave an inner sigh. The more the years had gone by, the older he got, the more intense his feelings for her had become. His admiration and respect for her had only increased. Added to the mix was now a growing longing, an increasing desire for her. Physical desire. That ever present basic human need.
But he was no more that brash twelve years old boy; he knew there would be consequences to his words and action. She was probably the closest friend that he had, his most precious person, and he did not want to risk jeopardising that bond by doing anything thoughtless and rushed. Furthermore, he doubted that things would be easy, what with his rejection of her confession years back. He had been harsh, but he could not have accepted her immense sacrifice back then. It would not have been fair to her if he accepted her at that point. He had not wanted to interfere for the feelings she still might had for Sasuke, despite her saying the opposite; not when they had been so close to their aim, after all those long, hard working years to get Sasuke back. He had not wanted to be responsible for regrets she might have had if she were to discover afterwards that she still loved Sasuke, despite everything.
It had been horribly hard, holding his feelings in tight check the following years, but he had to do it; for both their sakes. When Sasuke has returned, he had patiently waited to see how things would proceed, even going as far as staying away from them for a while to give them the space needed; but she had never showed any deeper affection for the Uchiha than mere friendship. She had Sasuke within arm reach the whole time– and yet she never showed any hint of wanting to be romantically involved in him. It was a bit more than two years that Sasuke had been back now – long enough for her to have sorted her feelings for the Uchiha, and a light of hope had started to build up within Naruto. He just hoped that he was not too late.
"It's never okay to slack," her stern voice broke his thoughts.
He held his hands up. "Okay, okay, I take back what I said!" he grumbled. "So, you've had lunch already?"
"Yep. Ino and I decided to try the new Tempura house," she said, triumphantly retrieving the report she had finally managed to find.
He felt disappointed, he had been thinking about asking her for ramen.
"You should give it a try," she suggested, giving an exasperated huff at his doubtful expression. "Don't you ever get tired of ramen?"
"Sakura-chan!" he protested, as usual obfuscated on how anyone could suggest that he would ever get tired of his beloved ramen. "You know that me and ramen, it's a lifetime love story!" he said solemnly, palming his chest on his heart area, making her roll her eyes in exasperated amusement.
"At least now you do have some veggies in your diet," she remarked, satisfied that the weekly food shopping she monitored for him, since a coupe of years now, contain a variety of fruits and vegetables that she ensured he ate. She had been quite surprised when he had been readily agreeable to the new diet; she had expected a lot of grumbling and arguments.
Seeing that he was still standing by the door, she motioned the empty chair by her desk. But he shook his head.
"I'll go and grab a quick lunch."
"You haven't eaten yet?" She frowned as looked at her desk clock. It was almost 14:00.
"It's Ero-sennin's anniversary today," he explained quietly.
Her eyes immediately warmed. He and Tsunade always went to the memorial stone on the anniversary, it was a ritual neither missed. She knew how much both of them still missed Jiraiya. She crossed the office to move to his side, and gave his arm a light squeeze, trying to pass on some comfort.
"Six years already. It seems like yesterday," she mused.
"Hmm." He looked down at her, being taller than her by at least a foot now. "Time flies, only the memories remained."
"And the strength he has instilled in all of us."
Giving a sigh, he reluctantly straightened himself. "I'll leave you to your work, then."
"Hmm. Take care."
With a cheery wave, he left. She wondered whether she should have still accompanied him for lunch; but she did have lots of paperwork to complete, and a late operation scheduled. She really could not afford another break.
Later that day, Naruto stood at the wide glassed window of his brand new Hokage office, looking out at the village spread in front of him. Konoha, his beloved village. His love for Konoha and its inhabitants was so fiercely encompassing that he had never thought twice to invest all he had, sometimes more than he had, for them. He had never backed out from stretching himself thin to cater for everything and everyone during the difficult after-war time. And he was lucky to have a strong support from his friends, without whom he would have been surely run down by the massive task of taking over the village at such a difficult time.
His face darkened when he thought about all that they've lost during this war. He was at least greatly thankful that the major lost had been buildings; that the human lost had been kept to the barest minimum. All the civilians had been safely sheltered in the secret hideout – reason why he had allocated a handsome share of the reconstructing finance into re-enforcing the shelter again. And most of the Konoha shinobi war force still stood; he had made sure that he protects as much shinobi as he could during the war.
Amy, his secretary, a Kunoichi in her thirties, came in the office.
"Sai-san called for a meeting. He is on his way," she informed him, as he turned to look at her.
He frowned. Sai was now an ANBU captain, chief of the secret ops. His task comprised, among many others, to gather information on what was happening around in the other nations. For him to call for meeting mean that he had some serious news to impart.
"Okay, send him in as soon as he arrives," he told Amy, and she left with a nod.
He walked back to his old desk. The Hokage tower being the last building to be built, the office was still bare, saved for the old desk and chairs borrowed temporarily from the academy; he had preferred to direct the funds into more important matters. A carpenter was supposed to work on the furniture and fixtures the following week, but he was in no hurry.
Some while later, Naruto had Amy calling out some others members of the Hokage team for a meeting; what Sai had to tell was important enough to be shared with them.
Slowly, one by one, they all arrived, all greeting him by his name. It was one of the things that Naruto had insisted upon: that none of his close ones called him by the formal Hokage title. Himself having always disregarded calling the two previous Hokages by their titles, he could not digest the thought of his close friends calling him "Hokage-sama."
He looked around at his team. Among the first thing he did when he took seat as the Hokage was to build a team in which he could place his total trust, a team which he was comfortable with. The Hokage team, as he liked to call it; his most important, vital cell, which had shouldered him throughout the hard time. Not surprisingly, most the members were from the ten teams of his Genin graduation year.
Nara Shikamaru, probably the most intelligent man out there, as his intelligence ops and strategist.
Hyuuga Neiji, as his chief of defence security.
Sai as his chief of secret ops. He was shouldered by Ino, who attended meetings when he was out for missions, which was quite often.
Sakura as chief medic nin.
Sasuke, as his right hand man.
Also members of the team, though only present for more important meetings, were Kakashi and Tsunade, acting as elders and consultants. The council, comprising of all the clan leaders, still existed, though they only interfered in major decisions, same as it was with the previous Hokages.
With such an outstanding team by his side, Konoha could only shine, Naruto thought proudly.
As the initial clatter subdued, Sai was the one to open the meeting. "There had been an unusual attack in a small village found on the Kumo/Kiri border," he told the others, having already briefed Naruto.
Naruto glided a report towards Neiji, the first one sitting to his side.
"Six patrolling Kumo shinobi have been found dead. No signs of battle, and the cause of death unidentified. The attacker or attackers' target is still unknown, as the village does not hold anything of value. None of the locals are implicated, at least not yet," Sai reported.
Sakura raised her eyebrow questioningly. "What do you mean, cause of deaths unidentified?"
"All six of them had died in the same way; there were no external or internal injuries, no poisoning detected, nothing. The six shinobis just seemed to have …died."
That definitely caught Sakura's attention. "You mean even the autopsy did not reveal any cause of death?"
"We do not have the autopsy report yet," Sai replied, "but the first unofficial news is such."
Sakura frowned as she looked through the report which had reached her. The autopsy must have been carried out under the supervision of Mayuri, the head medic nin of Kumo village. She knew the man personally, having worked with him during the war. He was competent, but still, Sakura find it hard to accept that no cause of death had been found. Even under the rarest Jutsu, shinobi's deaths are caused by the body failing at some sort. Shinobis were human being, after all, and the six shinobis described in the report showed that they were standard Kumo Jounins.
"Is that something to be worried about?" Naruto asked Sakura.
"Six healthy shinobi cannot drop dead without any valid reason," Sakura said slowly. "Shiba Mayuri would not have missed the cause of deaths, if there would have been any."
No one even questioned the validity of the reports. Sai would have investigated the case more than thoroughly for correct info before bringing it to the meeting.
"Unless there's someone in the league of Orochimaru out there," Sasuke slowly said.
A deep silence followed his statement. That man had been able to do anything with the human body. He had transgressed all limits concerning the law of the human body. But he was dead. As was his apprentice, Kabuto.
"Six powerful shinobis dead, all at once, all seemingly of the same cause," repeated Shikamaru. "If we assume that they were assassinated, then it is cause for concern. The five nations have been at peace since the war now, so this eliminates any theory of attack from a foe nation. It means there is a new enemy group, with a new jutsu which we are not aware about, or, as Sasuke correctly said, someone with the calibre of Orochimaru, out there."
An uneasiness gripped each of them.
"Such type of attack can only be perpetuated by a group," Neiji declared, as the report lied open in front of him. "For the shinobis to be attacked without any of the villagers having been aware of it – the attack must have been highly organised, smooth and swift. A single person would not have been able to achieve that. Unless someone with incredibly immense powers."
Naruto frowned. The idea of another terrorist organisation threatening the peace which they had all fought so hard for angered him. He knew that he would have to keep a close tag on this case.
"It's been two days already, and Kumo had not made any progress yet in the investigation," Sai stated. "I am working to gather as much intel as possible on that."
"I will immediately send a hawk to the Raikage. However much we would like to interfere, unless Kumo ask us for help, we cannot dip in," said Naruto, guessing that Sakura curiosity must be at the highest and wanting to have a look at the bodies herself. "Keep a close eye on this, Sai," Naruto said.
The dark haired boy nodded.
"I'll increase our patrol force immediately," Neiji announced.
No one in room contradicted him. The fourth ninja war had been instigated by a mere organisation, after all, and they all unanimously agree that it was never too careful to be on alert, however remote the probability of an attack in Konoha there might be.