Just Pretend

Summary: Just close your eyes and pretend it never happened. OneShot.

Warning: Who was last? Tsunade, if I remember correctly. Well, it's time for my favorite couple again.

Set: Story-unrelated, future-fic

Disclaimer: Standards apply

Just close your eyes and pretend.

Pretend you never were part of Team Ten.

You didn't grow up as the son of a good shinobi and his wife. Your father isn't called lazy ass by your mother, among other names, and you never think he has found exactly the right balance between enjoying his free-time and working loyally and dutifully for the place you don't grow up in calling it your home. Your mother isn't annoying and loud and impatient and she isn't a good mother. She doesn't prepare dinner every evening and doesn't makes lunch packets for you to take to school. And she never takes a thermos of hot chocolate and cookies to your father's and your favorite place and sits and watches the clouds with the two of you.

You don't start at the Academy at the age of seven and the next three years don't pass too slowly to follow and too quickly to watch. You never meet a kind boy who is just like you and a loud girl who annoys the heck out of you and a prankster who practically screams loneliness but always smiles and a too-enthusiastic boy who never goes anywhere without his mini-dog and many more. You might think the lessons are boring because most of what Iruka-Sensei talks about either is clear or logical but you don't listen even though your eyes are closed. You don't watch, either, you never watch all the people in your class because one day whatever you know about them won't be important.

You never are selected to be on Team Ten, with a jounin teacher whose name is Asuma and who seems to smoke non-stop. Your team-mates aren't the kind boy and the annoying girl and you aren't unsure whether it will work out or not but you never think it just might. You never give what you think you can without giving yourself away and your team-mates never do the same. Your teamwork never isn't flawless and you never argue even though you think it troublesome because the annoying girl and the kind boy and you aren't exact opposites. That way, the three of you never grow into an almost perfect unit.

Pretend you never became part of Team Ten.

Pretend you never failed on your first mission.

You never made it chuunin on first try. You didn't fight the kunoichi from Suna and you didn't trick her and didn't forfeit. You weren't given your chuunin vest that day and Asuma-Sensei never invited you out for dinner to the favorite restaurant of the kind and loyal boy you never met. The annoying girl you never saw wouldn't bitch at you and you would never know she was trying to tell you she was proud of you and wanted to congratulate. You wouldn't have spent two blissfully peaceful days with your friends and your father.

You aren't there when the news of Sasuke's defection reach Tsunade-hime. You never heard of Sasuke Uchiha before and you never wondered how a human being can be so empty on the inside. You don't take the responsibility the Fifth Hokage puts onto your shoulders and you never would have chosen the people you never watched for the mission. You never could have known they were exactly the right people. You don't follow Sasuke and you don't plan the strategy to capture him and bring him back and you never decide to leave behind one of your mates after another. You do not win in your fight against Tayuya and the Sand kunoichi and her siblings never come to your aid and the prankster does not fight his best friend and brother and neither one of your friends ends up in the hospital.

You don't have any reason to doubt yourself. You needn't fear for the life of three friends of yours and neither the Sand kunoichi nor your father has to talk sense into you. You never realize how important it is to never give up and to always be careful and to always plan well. You never grow in mind and character.

Pretend you never failed your first mission.

Pretend Asuma-Sensei never died.

Your team never developed a bond that is deeper than you ever thought it could be. You don't get to know each other on a level you never would have believed possible: the annoying girl isn't so much more than annoying and the kind boy isn't so much more than kind. She isn't loyal and intelligent and kind and down-too-earth and quick and pretty. He isn't thoughtful and compassionate and his faith in you isn't anything absolute and amazing. And you don't change either; you needn't shoulder responsibility and start to listen more closely instead of only watching.

Unlike any other team, your team isn't sent on missions. There aren't easy and there aren't difficult ones and you don't accomplish them one after another. And one day your teacher doesn't die and you mustn't watch him do so.

The loss isn't worse than anyone of you would have imagined. He never leaves a last message for every single one of you and hole nobody can fill and the only thing you think of is taking revenge. And you don't succeed, together with your friends. It's never not revenge because shinobi do not let their vision be clouded by such emotions. And it never feels good. The decision to stop being a team never is made and you and your former team-mates still don't meet and share a cigarette even though none of you likes the taste but but you all crave the memories.

Pretend Asuma-Sensei never died.

Pretend the war never took place.

Life was never meant to be peaceful and calm for the generation of shinobi you belong to. The last war wasn't over twenty years ago and you never had to fight enemies like Orochimaru, Pain and such. Tsunade-hime never fell into a coma and never left the Hokage post open to Danzou and Danzou never attended the Kage's meeting and allied with Akatsuki. Sasuke never murdered Danzou and never fought Itachi and never found a reason to betray Konoha fully and entirely. The five countries didn't find common ground for an alliance and never fought side by side. Orochimaru's place never was taken by Kabuto and the alliance never faced the worst enemies they could imagine.

You never would have learned to live in a war. You don't watch your friends get used to fights and ambushes and stealth attacks. The so-annoying girl wouldn't die so many times because she never needed to leave an enemy's body quickly after she killed it with its own hands. The always-kind boy wouldn't feel sick every time he doesn't crush children wearing hitai-ate and vests. There aren't nights full of doubt and fear and days full of blood and fights. There isn't worry for the other ones, the prankster-who-is-learning-control, the still-overenthusiastic-boy-with-the-once-tiny-dog, the shy-girl-who-can-kill-a-grown-man-with-a-touch and all the others. There never are injuries and scars and there never is the knowledge that it is all of you against a mutual enemy and that the fire has to continue burning.

You never meet Asuma-Sensei again. The once-healed scars never re-open and you never get the chance to tell your teacher that everything you now are is due to him. Neither you nor your not-team-mates ever fight the man that is like a second father to all of you. Kabuto's puppets never rebel against their conductor and you and your best friends never need to kill your former teacher and he never thanks you for it.

Pretend the war never took place.

Pretend Ino never joined ANBU.

Peace never returned to the five shinobi countries. Suna never installed a permanent diplomat in Konoha and you never became the head of the diplomatic corps of Hidden Leaf. You never woke up sweating and grabbing for a weapon-that-isn't-there because of a nightmare about the war and you never met the once-annoying girl on the Hokage's Tower at night. You never wouldn't have noticed the way she talked less and watched more and you never wouldn't have wondered how she could have changed so much. There wouldn't be a new holiday in Hidden Leaf and strangers all around and there wouldn't be the need to establish a Konoha Tourist Office.

You wouldn't have enough work to bury yourself in but you wouldn't have time to meet Suna-Gakure's ambassador that often, either. You never would have thought her company wasn't that unpleasing and you would never have agreed to meet her again. You wouldn't have done many things you hadn't ever thought you'd ever do in your life. And you never, ever would have been surprised to suddenly see a list with new ANBU recruits and read the name of the once-annoying-now-strangely-quiet girl on it.

She wouldn't have been able to somehow bring Mitarashi Anko to agree to train her. She wouldn't have abandoned her beloved flower shop and made her parents fear for her life daily. She wouldn't have almost been killed in training about three times and she never would have returned to Hidden Leaf with serious injuries more times than that. The pink-haired girl never would have anxiously asked you to please talk to her because she was growing more and more distant every day. You would never have started to watch her even more carefully and thus messed up your relationship with the Suna kunoichi, official ambassador and sister to the Kazekage. The now-still girl's father wouldn't have chased you around Konoha calling you a stalker and pervert. She wouldn't become withdrawn and never would lose her way back home and her heart in the cold, dark lands of her mind. She never would need someone to anchor her to earth, to give her warmth and love, and you never didn't realize that person had to be someone close to her.

Pretend Ino never joined ANBU.

Pretend Chouji's genin team never shattered.

Your best friend didn't agree to take over a team of genin and thus needn't spend all his time to train and to watch them. His students weren't the orphaned twins and the quiet blond boy and they never really grew on each other. Rather the opposite: they didn't develop a relationship based on need and love, guilt and hate and jealousy. Your best friend wasn't with them often and never invited them for lunch or dinner and he never introduced them to you. You never saw the potential in the blond boy and the strength in the dark girl and the emotions in her twin brother and you never didn't try to warn him that they had the potential to hurt him, as well. You never saw and didn't say and you never felt like things were going in circles, like history was repeating itself.

Time didn't pass. Spring never came to Hidden Leaf and the dark boy never left and the other two of your best friend's kids didn't disappear behind an ANBU mask and in a crowd of other shinobi. You never saw your team-mates suffer and hurt and you never felt absolutely helpless. You never searched for the blame in yourself and you never didn't come up with an answer. The nightmares never returned and you didn't apply for a mission somewhere far away because you couldn't stand the empty faces of your once-friends anymore. The nightmares and the memories never haunted you and you didn't return after three months and the situation wasn't different when you came back to the place you never called home.

You never tried to get close to your once-friends after your return. You didn't wait for the once-annoying-now-silent girl for hours only to talk to her for a minute and see her give you a fleeting but beautiful smile. You didn't take the still-kind-now-steeled boy to your not-favorite place in the world and talk. Years never seemed to pass and you never felt like you were changing and the world around you never changed either. Your best friend's students never didn't recover from the loss of one of them and you didn't see them sitting on the bench at the Great Gate, waiting, always waiting, never touching. You never asked the once-annoying-now-interesting girl out for dinner and she never smiled and told you you'd only be allowed to take the tab if she paid the next time. Chouji's missing kid never returned and scars never healed and summer never faded to fall.

Pretend Chouji's genin team never shattered.

Pretend Naruto never became Hokage.

Jiraiya-sama never died in the fights against Pain. You never noticed how much Tsunade-sama seemed to miss him because she never woke up calling his name softly and she never watched the sky absentmindedly on rainy afternoons. You never wondered how she could find the strength to go on even though she had lost everyone she loved and you never realized she still had someone and something to protect. But you never didn't wonder, either, when she officially declared her successor.

Hidden Leaf didn't change. It never grew and became softer and harder and more colorful and black and white. You never felt change because you never changed, either. You never felt older and tired and yet full of energy because this wasn't the time of your generation anymore. You didn't enjoy evenings off with the still-kind-now-married boy and the once-annoying-now-beautiful girl. On those evenings, you never talked much and you never remembered a lot. You never started really, really missing them (her) and really, really looking forwards to returning to the place you never called home.

You didn't officially vow your loyalty to the once-prankster-now-Rokudaime. You didn't look at him one day and saw an adult, a grown person who had lived through much and had seen even more. It never felt strange, either, to see the person everyone once hated in the person everyone loved now. It didn't feel strange and it didn't make anger rise in your throat like acid because you never didn't know just how much this boy would be capable of doing. Having not seen a lot, you still don't wonder. He's not strong, he's not devoted, he's not entirely loyal and he's, last but not least, absolutely not full of love. He doesn't love anyone, doesn't feel responsible for every single person in the village you and he never called home. You never think he was the best choice for the Rokudaime Hokage and never are sure Tsunade-hime made the best decision.

Just pretend Naruto never became Hokage.

Pretend your parents never died.

You never loved them, anyway. They weren't good parents, they never took care of you and they never loved you. There never were times you didn't wish them to hell but they weren't your parents so it wasn't normal. You didn't know people don't live eternally and you probably didn't realize the way they never looked different, the way they didn't change. Their hair never grayed, their eyes never seemed tired. They never seemed weaker to you, older, worn and weary. You never noticed because you never loved them and never cared for them.

Your generation of shinobi wasn't children of winter. Your parents' generation wasn't children of summer. They never saw wars and fights, they never felt losses and death. You never did but you never were born to do so. Your generation wasn't born for sadness and despair and happiness and loss and love and freedom. Winter isn't cold and never seems to end. You weren't born in winter and your parents weren't born in summer and they didn't die in summer, either.

They don't die together. They don't die where they wanted to and they don't die how they wanted to. And they don't die as your parents. They don't die by protecting you and the people you have come to love more than anything else – the still-kind-and-brave boy and the once-annoying-now-loved girl. It isn't a generation Ino-Shika-Chou that gives its lives in exchange for the generation of winter children you don't belong with. It isn't a sacrifice and it isn't a gift and you never don't recover from it. You don't weep inwardly, you don't feel like the world has lost its color. The still-kind boy and the once-annoying girl don't join you in your not-grief and you never share your pain and you never grow closer that way. And time does never heal wounds and the still-kind boy does not ask you to be the godfather of his son and you never ask the once-annoying girl to marry you.

Pretend your parents never died.

Pretend you never were happy.

You never dreamed of marrying a simple, easy, moderately pretty wife and having two children. You never hadn't imagined you would fall in love with her, the once-annoying-now-more-than-everything girl who isn't troublesome at all. She never didn't stop being ANBU and you never worried days and nights for her safety. And you never anchored her to earth and to reality, either. She never found someone she could hold on to when the mask became too heavy and you didn't think that life had a strange way of giving hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved and warmth to the cold.

The child never was named right after her mother. Because she didn't protest you decided to use her full name nobody ever used and the child became Inoshia. And you never loved your daughter, you never watched her with your heart full of happiness and love. There never was jealousy, sometimes, because Inoshia could anchor her to reality even more than you could. But you never loved the two of them more than your life so it was fine. You never went out on Sunday afternoons and she never smiled at you and her scarred hand never felt more real than anything else in yours. And Inoshia never laughed and cried and started to walk and to talk and to run and to talk back. She never fell in love or got injured or met other girls or attended Academy or went on missions and you never thought she and her were the most precious things in your life.

You never were happy. You never wouldn't have thought so before but happiness came to the generation of children of winter, as well, and you never saw the spring sun shine through the leaves of the forest. You never experienced times of peace and calm. The once-prankster-now-loved-Rokudaime never married his first love, the pink-haired girl, and the still-enthusiastic-boy-with-huge-dog didn't win the Fire Nation's dog-breeding contest five times in a row and the quiet-lethal-strong Hyuuga heiress didn't change her clan and never married her cousin. Tsunade-hime never disappeared one day, quietly and unseen, and never didn't return. And you never gave away Asuma-Sensei's daughter you never trained, you never taught your godson to become a good shinobi and you never listened to the song of the wind with your beloved wife and watched the play of the clouds.

Pretend you never were happy.

Just pretend.

Pretend nothing of all happened. Pretend you led a normal life, never met the members of Team Ten, never saw Asuma-Sensei die. Pretend the war never took place and you never learned to kill without hesitation. Pretend Ino never joined ANBU and lost herself, pretend Chouji never was hurt by the destruction of his team. Pretend sad times never were followed by good ones. Pretend your loved ones never left you, pretend you never learned, never saw, never taught, never cried. Pretend you never made mistakes and never felt emotions, pretend you never watched people leave and never felt alone and completely lost. Pretend you never made experiences, good or bad. Pretend you never hurt people and never were hurt. Pretend you never felt loneliness and happiness, love and hate. Pretend you never had a fulfilled life.

Pretend you never pretended.

And then open your eyes and see the sun.