Disclaimer: Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto, Shueisha, VIZ Media, et al. No money is being made from this story and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I wrote this for cherokee1, in response to the prompt: Naruto AU, summer camp counselors Naruto and Sakura. Camp by the lake. The sociopolitical details of the AU ended up dominating the fic, despite my occasional attempts to remember the camp setting. Oops. :-/
Summary: Sakura and Naruto discuss their futures during their last summer as camp counselors.
"Hey, Sakura-chan, looking good!"
Sakura turned slightly in her folding lawn chair at the end of the dock to smile at Naruto. "Hey yourself. Aren't you meant to be supervising arts and crafts this afternoon?"
Her best friend shrugged and dropped down to sit on the dock boards beside her, lounging back on his elbows. "Eh, you know how it goes. Glue fights, glitter and feathers everywhere, and suddenly it's time for the kids to have fun cleaning the showers instead of making tacky picture frames for their 'special memory photos' or whatever. I figured Iruka-san didn't need me around reminding him I'm the one who let the fight get started. Much more fun to watch girls in bikinis than get yelled at."
"They're fifteen, you pervert," Sakura said, swatting him affectionately. "We're going into our last year of college. Ogle someone your own age."
Naruto rubbed his damp blond hair with a falsely injured expression. "Well, if you'd wear a two-piece, I wouldn't have to rely on silly fangirls with obnoxious crushes. Take one for the team! You used to wear bikinis for Sasuke. Why not wear one for me?"
"Because I'm not a silly fangirl with an obnoxious crush anymore," Sakura said dryly. "Bikinis are useless for real swimming, which is what I might have to do as a lifeguard. Also, I am not an object placed on this earth solely for men to judge on my sex appeal. You don't see me asking you to wear a thong-style Speedo, do you?"
"Aw, but I would for you, Sakura-chan!" Naruto said. He rolled sideways into the lake to avoid Sakura's retaliation and surfaced with a brilliant smile, neatly treading water despite his laughter. Water sluiced down his tanned skin and highlighted the faint, pinkish scars on his face and shoulders. Sakura flicked at him with her towel and fell easily into a mock game of tug-of-war when he seized the far end.
"See, there's the old Sakura! I was starting to wonder if you remembered how to smile. You're way too serious this summer," Naruto said after a minute, tossing his end of the towel back up onto the dock and swimming toward the ladder. "What's eating you?"
Sakura looked down at the towel she was folding in her lap. "Oh, things. I guess it's just hitting me that next year we'll all be out in the real world, like actual adults. Sink or swim. Sasuke will be going to war. You're going to jump headfirst into the shark tank - don't grin at me like that, it's a totally valid description of politics! And I'm... I'll do something."
Naruto sat cross-legged at her feet and rested the back of his head on the rim of her chair seat between her knees. "You're not going to med school, then? What happened to 'I'm going to be the best doctor ever, and invent new medicines and surgeries, and end up Surgeon General and rearrange all the hospitals so nobody falls through the cracks, and also inspire a thousand people to join Tsunade-hime's Red Cross agency while I'm at it!" I mean, yeah, that's a lot for one person, but you can do it! You're awesome like that."
Sakura sighed. "Yes, well. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but considering how many government secrets you know just by breathing, I doubt it matters. I got a recruitment offer from ANBU. I'm thinking of saying yes."
Naruto tipped his head back to stare at her upside-down. "Whoa. Haruno Sakura, secret agent of Fire Country. Super-spy extraordinaire. You know, I can see it."
"Really? Because I can't," Sakura admitted.
Naruto flapped his hands, his shoulders jostling against her shins. "Well, yeah! You're smart, you're sneaky when you need to be, you never give up, you're good at meeting new people and making them like you without having to fight them, you don't look like you're dangerous even though you totally are... Perfect spy."
Sakura hummed noncommittally and scanned the lake, making sure the campers weren't in trouble. The canoe flotilla was busily negotiating today's obstacle course, the diving lesson on the mid-lake platform was proceeding as planned, and the younger kids splashing about in the roped-off area by the artificial beach were noisily engaged in some kind of volleyball-water polo hybrid. Situation normal, everything fine.
"The thing I don't get is why you'd want to join ANBU," Naruto added, looking serious again. "I know you don't like the government much, and you've always been anti-war. You and Sasuke argued about that forever. So why jump into everything you hate?"
Sakura carded her fingers through her friend's messy, water-spiked hair as she tried to formulate her answer. "I don't like fighting and I don't like how the clans dominate the government, but Fire Country is my home and I want to protect our people just as much as you and Sasuke do. I just never figured there was any way for me to do that directly, and also I do honestly like the idea of being a doctor. But if I can help..."
Naruto practically purred under her touch. "Yeah, yeah, if you can help...?"
"Then don't I have an obligation to do whatever I can?"
Naruto caught her hands, stilling her fingers. "Bullshit," he said, abruptly turning to face her. "Nobody's required to do anything. This isn't a police state, no matter what laws that asshole Danzo wants to pass if he ever gets elected."
"Yeah, well maybe I wantto do something! Maybe I want to make sure things like what happened to Sasuke never happen to anyone else!" Sakura said. "You know it's not healthy for him to be in the army, but you never said one damn thing to stop him from applying to the Academy. He's going to get himself killed before we're thirty, and even if he lives, I'm afraid he's going to end up like Danzo and too many other retired soldiers. Especially on top of everything else! I mean, you know he's not stable. How could he be? If your family had been killed in a terrorist attack-"
She stopped, swallowed her words.
Naruto watched her silently, his hands gentle around hers.
"I'm sorry. That was horribly insensitive of me. I can't believe I forgot," Sakura said.
She really couldn't believe it. After all, the footage of Naruto's parents' death was only replayed on every national holiday and every other time television commenters talked about the origins of the current cold war with Water, Thunder, and Earth Countries. It was etched into everyone's memory, a national moment of shame and catharsis. Namikaze Minato, the first commoner elected as prime minister, standing on a platform at a rally, campaigning to rouse public support for the free trade agreement he'd negotiated with Wind Country. A grenade arching through the air. The prime minister shouting for people to run, throwing himself on the weapon. His wife turning to shield the infant son in her arms. The explosion. The bloody ruin emerging from the smoke and flames. The fearful wail of an orphaned child.
"You know, my dad wasn't even that popular until after he was dead," Naruto said.
Sakura blinked at the non sequitur.
"Everybody always says stuff like, 'Oh, he was such a brave man,' 'Oh, I bet Fire Country would be so rich and strong if he were still around,' 'Oh, he and your mother were such a romantic couple.' All kinds of junk. But you know, he probably would've lost the vote on the trade pact, and people were pissed off that a no-name, no-clan guy married to a foreign shaman somehow got the support of the Senju clan and beat six actual nobles in the elections," Naruto continued. "Nobody ever found the assassins, which means they had support in high places, which means at least some of our own people wanted him dead."
Sakura twisted her hands to lace her fingers through Naruto's.
"So yeah, I know what you feel about wanting to tear down the government, and I know what Sasuke feels about wanting revenge on whoever killed his family. But I'm gonna do it right. We already made a start, getting Tsunade-hime to leave the Red Cross and run for prime minister last year, so Danzo couldn't just sweep in and say, 'Hey suckers, military dictatorship time!' I mean, why do you think I'm studying history and psychology and poly-sci? It's not because I likethat shit. It's because someday I'm gonna run for office myself, and then we are going to clean this world up."
Sakura bent her head to their joined hands. "The crazy part is that I believe you," she told him. "But you can't do it alone."
"Well, duh. But by then I'll have Sasuke in charge of the army - assuming he even still cares, the bastard - and you... well, I thought I'd have you to run the health ministry, but if you're gonna be a spy, I guess I'll make you an ambassador or something big and diplomatic instead," Naruto said.
"Or your bodyguard," Sakura said. "We have a terrible record when it comes to prime ministers living to leave office and peacefully retire. I'd rather you not imitate your father that closely."
"Pffft, as if," Naruto said. He leaned against the other side of their joined hands, locking his eyes onto Sakura's. "So hey, if you want to be a spy, that's cool. If you decide not to, that's cool too. It's not like I'm ever going to stop being your best friend - and Sasuke isn't either, no matter what he tries to tell himself about being Mister Tough and Stoic now that he knows how to shoot a gun. I'll beat him up if he tries."
"I went down to the Academy to visit him this spring, did I tell you?" Sakura asked.
"Yeah, only five hundred times," Naruto said, faking annoyance. "You're totally still a silly fangirl with an obnoxious crush. I bet you went swimming and wore a bikini."
"No, we just bathed naked in a hot tub," Sakura said, with as straight a face as she could manage... which wasn't very. Naruto clearly didn't believe her for a second, judging by how quickly he broke into helpless snickers.
"Anyway, he was the same as always - grumpy and snooty and telling me all my ideas were annoying but he'd go along with them because I was his guest - but one of his classmates pulled me aside one morning and said now she knew why he'd stuck an icon of the Cherry Blossom Goddess into their communal shrine, but did I know how an Uchiha had ended up as a devotee of the Nine-Tailed Fox when the Fox and the Eternal Flame were supposed to be rivals?"
Naruto blinked and pulled back. "What, seriously?"
"Seriously," Sakura confirmed. "So yeah, maybe he won't answer your letters or your phone calls, but he remembers."
Naruto grinned. "Ha! I'll have to tell the Fox tonight when I give him his sake. That'll piss him off so bad, having an Uchiha as a follower even in name only. Hey, maybe I can send him south and make him fuck around with Sasuke's luck or something."
Sakura kicked his knee with her bare foot. "Don't you dare. Just because you have a big bad nature spirit tied to your family line doesn't give you the right to abuse the connection, any more than you have a right to abuse your father's name or your connections to the Senju."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, but it's fun to daydream," Naruto said. "Anyway! The sun's just about hit the trees on the far side of the main complex, which means it's nearly five o'clock. Better whistle the campers in."
Sakura looked down at her wrist, checking the time against Naruto's estimate; he was, as usual, correct within five minutes. "How do you do that?" she asked, and then tuned out his babble about nature and looking underneath the underneath and his godfather's evil wilderness hiking trips. She lifted her whistle from the cord around her neck and blew three long, steady blasts.
Across the lake, the canoers turned and began paddling back to the landing site. The diving class splashed into the water one last time and began swimming for shore. The rugrats' ball game, on the other hand, continued at full speed.
"Hey! Pack it in!" Sakura shouted. The kids continued to ignore her.
"Were we that annoying at their age?" Naruto wondered. "Do you even remember being that young?"
"You were the most annoying seven-year-old brat I have ever had the misfortune of meeting," Sakura assured him. "Now pretend you're a responsible leader and come help me herd these brats out of the lake. I might even wear a bikini tomorrow if you do."
"What, really?" Naruto said, scrambling to his feet with an eager expression. "Did you bring the green one with the string ties and the mesh patches? Because you totally rocked that outfit. Even Sasuke admitted it when we got back to our cabin. Do you promise you'll wear a bikini if I help out?"
"No," Sakura said, and shoved him into the lake.
This might be her last summer at the camp, her last break before the troubles of the real world swallowed her alive. She might as well have some fun while she could. Sakura dove cleanly into the water beside Naruto and struck out toward the roped-off shallows, trusting her friend to follow.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.