Another story about Naruto and Sakura after the war. I hope everyone enjoys. I don't make any promises that canon will be followed perfectly. This is based on event up to Chapter 552 in the Manga.
No promises on an update rate for this story. It will be sporadic at best.
Sakura saw the front gates of the village. A happy sigh escaped her lips. This mission was finally over. She'd been sent to gather intelligence from a crime syndicate operating across the Shinobi nations. They weren't a threat to world peace at this point but they certainly enjoyed the lack of attention from the Five Great Nations because of the Fourth Great War. The leader of the syndicate supposedly was seeking a new herbalist. He had a fixation on herbs curing all his injuries and extending his life. The rumor turned out to be true. Sakura found an in by impressing one of his underlings with an energy drink. It took months to work her way to the boss's level. At each turn she had to keep her identity secret and keep herself safe from underlings that felt the women around them were sex toys. Her goal was to fade into the background of his organization and she was successful. She heard a number of key discussions during her time in the syndicate, but she was only around for some. She never got the entire story but it was enough to recommend surgical assaults on key parts of the syndicate business. The ninja may not be able to take them out completely but they could weaken them substantially or cause an internal war for power. Before her extraction, she was successful in dosing the boss with one part of a two part poison. The poison was persistent so the Kages had the option of finishing him with a simple smoke bomb laced with the second part of the poison which was harmless alone. Sakura preferred methods like this. It was specific, low risk and low collateral cost. The target could be taken out easily with no risk to those around him. The part of the poison the boss ingested could not be replicated by normal means so no one would accidentally have it in their body.
After months away and her hair fire red and half way down her back instead of pink and shoulder length, the guards at the gate had to perform a full entry analysis after opening the main gate. She was tired and her temper was short. Traveling for two solid days wasn't helping. Dragging Naruto the gate to identify her would be ideal but he was too busy. The Hokage hardly had time to rush to the gate at her demand. Her thoughts wondered to her longtime teammate. Their friendship was strained after the war. Deep down, she knew saving the world meant killing Sasuke, but knowing something didn't automatically turn off her feelings. She never had closure with Sauske. Why did he thank her? Why didn't he kill her when he left the village? Her uncertain feelings about Sasuke allowed her to push Naruto away. He was hurting after the war as well. Sasuke was like his brother. The last Uchiha probably meant more to Naruto, but she was too blind to see it at the time. It took a year for her to come to terms with no closure. In the last four years, Sakura worked to rebuild her friendship with Naruto. It truly was a friendship now. The love in his eyes was different now. She saw real romantic love in his eyes before the war, but now it was something different. She knew he cared. He still showed it, but it wasn't the concern of one that wishes to be more intimate. Naruto and Lee used to be in a competition to get her to go on dates. Lee was the only one asking now. Naruto didn't even bat an eye when the Green Beast asked Sakura to the Spring Festival last year. She expected and slightly hoped he would say something. One some level, she missed the attention of two boys fighting over her. It was flattering in a childish way. Ino got her to admit it one night after too much Sake.
"Ino," muttered the former rosette.
Ino would view her return as a chance to go out and celebrate. That meant a night at a club with alcohol and men looking for a one night bed buddy. She wasn't going to get caught up in lust and risk the consequences. The last thing she wanted was to be tied to a man for the rest of her days because of a one night fling. Unfortunately, Ino would insist and she would have to go. It was far less painful to subject herself to the loud and annoying environment than listen to Ino complain and whine for weeks on end. Her other friends would be happy to see her. Her mother would probably squeeze her to death in a hug with her father smiling happily. The small joy of her mission was freedom from her mother's constant worrying about her future.
"You need to settle down," said her mother not long before she left on her mission.
The medic nin was happy with her life and she didn't need to 'fill the void' with a man. Her mother married young and had Sakura young. She was content being a housewife and mother. She was living her dream by the time she was twenty-one. Sakura had different goals. She wanted to be world class medic nin. Elite was the only title she would accept. It wasn't a matter of ego. She promised herself that she would protect her village and her precious people. She had to strive to be the best since her friend was notorious for returning from battle near dead. His chances of going into battle were far less since he was Hokage now, but it was still a concern. People would be seeking his life simply for the bounty on his head. Killing a Kage could set a bounty hunter or an assassin up for the rest of his or her days. Sakura refused to let her friend live less than a full life. He still had a dream to realize. A family was the last part of his dream. He deserved to have a loving family and many years to enjoy them.
The Hokage tower looked the same as Sakura approached it. Her thoughts distracted her for the walk to the tower. The extraction team was still walking with her. ANBU were not known for their conversation skills while on duty. She was left with silence or short replies at every turn. They walked into the tower. The usual foot traffic was nearly non-existent due to the late hour. Sakura walked with a purpose toward the Hokage's office. She hoped he was in or she'd have to spend the night in an observation quarters. That was the last thing she wanted. Her sorely missed bed was calling to her. The syndicate provided her with the minimal comforts and a very small allowance to spend. Even a chuunin's salary was superior. A number of syndicate employees muttered about the poor finical compensation for their services, but they seldom complained loudly. The boss was an impatient man with no sense of humor. Greed was also a trait he had. He paid the minimum for everything so he could hoard his wealth. What he couldn't buy fairly, he stole or extorted. If the Kage decided to kill him, it would be a relief to his servants and those he abused. She wasn't authorized to finish the job but she was tempted on more than one occasion. However, this matter had to be handled quietly. The ninja were not a worldwide police force. This was really a job for conventional soldiers and police but the boss managed to insulate himself from such people. The Lightning Daimyo asked for intervention by the ninja but it had to be discrete. Sakura was sent because of her skills as a medical ninja. She was a top notch herbalist which wasn't commonly known. Dying her hair and playing a more submissive character was all that was required. Her identifying trait was her pink hair.
Sakura reached the Hokage's door and knocked. After two times the ANBU squad leader told her it was observation for the night. She sighed. Those beds were terrible. The showers were cold. Meals were only served at specified times. It was far too late to get a meal tonight. She was starving. All that gave her hope was Naruto seeing her first thing in the morning. After her report, she was entitled to two weeks vacation. She could gorge herself and sleep late as she pleased. A day trip to the local hot spring was also in order. This A-rank mission paid really well.
The medic nin walked slowly toward the observation area. There was a chance she would run into Naruto along the walk and he would spare her but it was unlikely. She was entering the lower levels of the Hokage Tower. Two ANBU were waiting at the check-in desk. Observation was a waiting area for ninja that returned from extended missions in enemy territory. It was to ensure they were still loyal and to prevent vital information from leaking before the Hokage could hear it. Depending on the situation, she could be ordered into observation for months or more. She was confident Naruto wouldn't do that to her, but there was always a chance.
She would have to turn over her equipment before being assigned a room. The rooms were above a prison cell but they weren't anything special. She would be locked in for the night. The ANBU squad leader requested a check-in when the two ANBU looked at each other.
"Haruno Sakura," said one of the ANBU.
The squad leader nodded. One ANBU at the check-in desk nodded to the other. He vanished in a puff of smoke. Sakura waited silently as her check-in was stalled. After waiting nearly twenty minutes another ANBU appeared.
"Sir," said all the ANBU.
The man wore an owl mask.
"I need to speak with her alone," said the man in the owl mask.
The ANBU squad guided her to an observation room. After entering the room, Owl went about disconnecting various things hidden under lamps or located under the furniture.
"This is a private conversation," he said.
"What do you want Neji," said the rosette with more than hint of irritation.
The Hyuuga genius stood silently for a moment. He was tall. His brown hair was still down his back with a tie near the end. He maintained a lean build. Sakura considered it an attractive build, but his personality killed any hope of a relationship on her end. He was too serious and too clan oriented for her liking.
"I have a mission for you," said the masked ANBU.
"The Hokage assigns missions; not ANBU," replied the rosette.
"That is normally true. However, we received a credible threat against the Hokage. Forces are in place to counter the threat, but I would feel better if a medic nin was near him as much as reasonably possible."
Sakura raised an eyebrow.
"You didn't tell him," she accused.
Neji removed his mask. His caged bird seal was visible on his forehead. His face was stoic as ever.
"When the Godaime was about to retire she modified some laws in creative ways. She did it in a way that was difficult to trace if you didn't know the path."
He pulled a scroll and handed it to Sakura.
"Those are the numbers of the laws that were changed. Read through them if you wish. The modifications allow for ANBU with the support of the commanding Jonin to keep the Hokage in the dark when threats arise against him specifically."
"Naruto won't like this," said the rosette.
"You know how he reacts to threats. He isolates himself to protect others. That could be his downfall. Despite being the strongest ninja alive, he is vulnerable to poison and genjutsu. You are skilled in both areas. Should he be attacked, ANBU will be ready to defend him but a skilled medic could make the difference between life and death. You are already a part of his life so it will appear natural for you to be around him. It will allow the attackers to operate according to their plan. We will be able to watch and wait for a critical moment."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. She didn't like this at all. She didn't keep secrets from Naruto.
"How credible is the threat?" she asked.
Neji didn't change his expression. He took a step toward her.
"We have two confirmed reports that the syndicate you infiltrated sees the Kage as a potential threat to expanding their business. The last war increased their greed and they want to sow the seeds of chaos again. Naruto is the best target. He is viewed as the strongest. If they can take him out, it will give the other nations pause."
Sakura nodded. The boss's ambition seemed limitless.
"Very well. What else do I need to know?" she inquired.
"I will fill you in later. Right now, you need to brief the Hokage on your last mission so you can start your new mission immediately."
The rosette's short temper was at its limit.
"What do you expect me to do? Seduce him. Never leave his side afterwards," she growled.
Neji shook his head once.
"The biggest concern is the Spring Festival. He will be in the open for an extended period of time. While in his office and his apartment, the threat is minimal. When he walks through the village, it is a concern. He is most vulnerable in a dense crowd. If you are with him, we have another layer of defense. However, the attack could come at any time. I need you to be near him whenever possible."
Sakura rolled Neji's words around in her head. If Ino was filling her in it would seem more like a set up than a mission but Neji wasn't one to participate in Ino's games. He was an ANBU captain. His mission was to protect the village and the Hokage with his life. If he was letting her in on this situation, it was because he calculated it was necessary. Neji wasn't one to share information needlessly.
"Very well," she agreed.
Neji put his mask back on. He knocked on the door in a specific pattern. The door opened.
"I am escorting her to the Hokage for a debriefing. Her guards will come to maintain protocol."
The other ANBU didn't give any sign of a response. Neji led her to Narutro's private apartment. He knocked firmly four times. The door opened a moment later. Kiba poked his head out.
"What? The Hokage is very busy," said dog trainer.
"Haruno Sakura needs to be debriefed," said Neji.
"You are a pain in the ass, Owl," he said. "I was finally winning some money."
The door swung open.
"Put some clothes on Naruto. Sakura is here to be debriefed."
Sakura glanced across the room. Naruto was sitting at a table with a sleeveless shirt on. She had to admit from the simple glance that his arms were very appealing. He had a lean build as well. His golden hair and blue eyes were inherited from his father. Sakura could admit she had a schoolgirl crush on the Fourth before she chased Sasuke. Naruto looked more like his father every day. His hair nearly reached his jaw these days. She moved her eyes after a moment. She wasn't going to stare at him. She turned her attention to his apartment. Despite being the top ninja in the village, Naruto lived a modest life. He had a reasonable number of things in his apartment but it wasn't over done. She'd probably say his apartment was Spartan if asked. The walls had few pictures and the furniture was functional. It was obvious he was a single male.
"You're back early," he said with a small smile.
Cards were covering the table. Shikamaru and Choji were sitting with Naruto. Kiba rejoined the table. He picked up his cards again.
"Hokage-sama," said the ANBU.
Naruto waved his hand and they left. Neji turned to leave when Sakura caught his eyes. She saw the message clear as day. The ANBU captain closed the door.
"Let's keep this simple," said the blonde.
Sakura turned her attention to her former teammate. She nodded.
"Success or failure," he said.
She knew what his expectations were of this mission. She could sum it up in a few words.
"Success with a bonus," she replied with a bit of pride in her voice.
"Bonus," said the blue eyed Kage with a bemused smile.
They liked to play games with each other from time to time. She figured a little friendly banter would help her new mission.
"I was able to infect him with one part of a persistent two part poison. The second part is compatible with air transport. He can be removed at any time for the next year."
"Nice," he said.
Choji nodded in agreement.
"Well done," Naruto complimented.
"Thank you Hokage-sama," she said with a bow.
"Stop acting all formal. You know I don't like that," he complained.
She stood. An amused smile spread across her face.
"I had to tease you a little," she said.
He shook his head with a smile trying act annoyed.
"Go home and rest. You have the usual two weeks vacation," he said. "I want a full report after your vacation unless there is something pressing."
She nodded. He turned his attention back to his cards.
"How about breakfast in the morning," she said.
He looked up from the cards.
"You know how early I eat breakfast," he said.
"I want to hear about what's been going on before I get the village gossip," she said.
He groaned. Something interesting must have happened.
"Sure," he said half heartedly.
"I'll bring it by if you want," she said in a sing song voice.
"That's perfect," he said happily.
"Or you can stay the night here, relieve his massive sexual frustration and cook him breakfast in the morning," said Kiba with a smirk.
Sakura didn't see who did it, but Kiba's chair tipped suddenly leaving the loud mouth on his back. He rubbed his back as he got to his feet. An angry glare was passed around the table.
"I'll see you in the morning," Naruto said to the rosette.
She rolled her eyes. This was going to grow into an all out battle and she wasn't in the mood to break it up. She was only going to get a few hours in her bed so she had to make the most of it. She needed to be alert and ready to start her new mission. After breakfast she was going back to bed before looking into these laws. She was unaware that her master changed any laws. She might have to ask her directly.