"The target is in my range."
"No, don't pursue."
"Purs—okay, going now!"
"RYUU, I said don't—"
There was a sigh that tickled her ear and she reached up to take off the headset for a quick second, letting out her own sigh and deciding that she hated this stupid mission. It was hot outside and their target kept running through the entire village; they've already had to go and convince it to get off of the Memorial in the cemetery, coax it out of a garbage dump, try to follow it in the rooftops but they weren't able to succeed at all.
She didn't even understand the point of this mission other than just doing their sensei's work because he was far too lazy to do it himself. Then you had morons like Ryuu who couldn't follow simple orders and got himself into trouble and made them lose track of their target again.
There was murmuring and she turned her dark eyes to the headset in her hands. Glowering, she slipped them back on and muttered an annoyed, "What was that?"
"Pay attention, stupid."
"Ryuu, shut the fuck—"
"Watch when I find you—"
"Yeah and wha'cha gonna do?"
"Come find me to find out, jerk!"
"Please, you're not worth it."
Eiko stomped her foot and let out a low growl. Her anger only continued to eat at her when she heard Ryuu laughing into her ear. She hated her teammates—okay, maybe not Yukio. Just Ryuu; she can't stand him and his stupidity and— "Any of you see the stupid cat?"
"No one cares."
"I found him."
There was silence as they all tried to regain their breath. Ryuu was hissing to himself, probably trying to hastily treat his scratches wherever he was in the village. Eiko flipped some of her dark pink hair over her shoulder and exhaled lowly.
"What do we do?"
"Shut up, Eiko, I'm thinking of a plan."
"Alright, Yukio. Tell us your location, we're going to capture this cat and get this over with."
Eiko stared at a little boy as he ran by, jumping up to the rooftops a second later and heading off to find her teammates.
This time of year was beautiful—the very start of fall with the sky at its bluest and the trees slowly, slowly beginning to drop one leaf a day. The breeze was cool and welcoming after a season filled with unbearable heat and dry air and the entire village seemed to be basking in the humidity. The afternoon was cool; sun slowly beginning it's descent from the sky, controlling the wind and making a perfect combination of weather.
He stood on the balcony of his office, hands gripping the metal railings and staring down at his village with hidden approbation in his sole eye. He did this a lot, standing out on the balcony and watching the city that rose from nothingness boom with life; villagers wandering to and fro, merchants calling out their latest sale, shinobi walking among them battered and bruised from another successful mission.
Otogakure was a fine work.
He listened to three hollow thuds and he slowly turned around to acknowledge his students.
"We've returned with the cat!"
They were all messy—clothes marred with dirt and mud, arms and every inch of their skins angry and red with claw-scratches. It would seem they had more trouble than he had originally thought.
He smirked, "Well done."
One of the two boys walked towards him, handing him the black cat.
"He's always running off," he drawled, noncommittally. "And how did you manage to capture him?"
He watched them take off their headsets, wincing when the wire feathered one of the many scratches on their body.
"Ryuu came up with a plan," the single girl of the three said, begrudgingly. "We singled him out in an alley and Yukio caught him."
"I see." He gave a satisfied nod, two of his fingers petting the cat's head. "Good. You're dismissed for the day."
He paused, mid-turning back to the scenery, sparing the girl a glance with an eyebrow raised in question.
"You call that training?!"
"And what do you call training, Eiko?"
She glared at him with her dark eyes, huffing and crossing her arms in front of her chest. "I don't know—hand to hand combat? A match to see who can pin who first? Anything but chasing a cat all over the village!"
He nodded his head, slowly, squatting down and releasing the cat; he watched it run off into his office, perhaps to hide under one of the furniture. His eye rose up to look at the angry girl from under his dark lashes, lips contorted into a neutral frown. He had come to realize there was always a knucklehead in a team. Eiko just happened to be the one in his.
"You have missed the entire purpose of your mission, I see."
"Explain to me your tactics, before you managed to capture Scarecrow." He stood back up to his full height, the ends of his lavender haori ruffling with the soft breeze. "Go on—Yukio?"
The blond boy swallowed thickly before explaining their futile attempts at capturing the cat individually: the thorn bushes in the forest, the mishap at the training grounds and all the merchants' baskets destroyed before they regrouped and begrudgingly agreed to form a plan.
He had sent them off with their training session before noon; it was close to four in the afternoon. It took them quite a while to come to the realization, not that it dawned on them why they were successful.
"I see," he said, "So you worked together to capture Scarecrow."
They paused and Ryuu's blue eyes brightened, a crooked grin on his lips.
"A lesson in teamwork, sensei?"
"Bah!" Eiko pouted, looking away. "I'm leaving. I suppose tomorrow it's gardening, again?"
His single eye gleamed with minor amusement. "Who knows?"
She glared at him before she took off, her teammates soon following after bidding him a more polite goodbye. He watched them disappear from view, lips twitching at the corner. A few minutes passed before his mood sobered up and thoughts about the village's progress consumed him.
He was freshly twenty-two, maelstrom of emotions finally at rest after a lifetime of anger. The village's rebuilding began just as soon as the Fourth Shinobi War ended, upon finding survivors of Orochimaru's experiments struggling to survive in the barren village. One more village for an ally would do well for the villages now at a settled peace and a leader was appointed upon its rise as a proper settlement rather than one of makeshift.
And who else could lead Otogakure but the man that lived there for roughly three years?
Uchiha Sasuke hadn't had another choice but to cut his slowly rekindling bonds with his teammates and accept the duty, becoming Otokage and giving the wayward villagers a motivation of sort. It had been a messy beginning, but a system was eventually established and an academy had opened and Uzumaki Karin had appeared at his front door, angry and refusing to live in any village other than this one with anyone other than him.
Speak of the devil.
Sasuke spared her a glance. "Shouldn't you be somewhere?"
"Shouldn't you be doing your paperwork?"
He scoffed. "I was handling the monsters."
Karin snorted, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "The village isn't all too happy with the mess they caused, you know."
"So I assume." He watched the village for a second longer before turning his back to the scenery and walking back into his office. "How is the hospital?"
She sat on one of the two chairs positioned in front of his desk, crossing a leg over the other and resting her chin on her palm. "Well. Obviously, since I am running it."
Karin sneered at him just as he lifted his head, his single eye staring at her antic with empty annoyance.
"We need more medics, Sasuke."
He stared at her.
"I am only doing the best I can." She sighed. "I'm not a medic, you know that. I am a tracker."
"So what are you asking?"
Karin's red eyes locked with his dark one, an eyebrow railiising as if explaining how blind he made himself come off as. "Get me Haruno Sakura so we can train shinobi and kunoichi alike to get us medics."
His jaw tensed and he swallowed forcefully enough to cause his Adam's apple to protest. Denying her request was at the tip of his tongue, but the rational side of him knew that what she said—what she demanded—was right. And the wellbeing of the village depended on it. Karin was not a medic, but she knew the basic and the most she could do was allow any injured to bite her arm.
But giving her chakra away every time a battered shinobi was brought through the door was not good. Not for her… His eyes lowered to her concealed abdomen… And not for her child.
It was a just a matter of cowardice; not wanting to pick up something that was left at a standstill because he didn't know how to react. It was stupid and pathetic and Sasuke knew it.
"I…" He glared. "I will make sure to contact Konoha's Hokage."
"Good. And tell that asshole I say hello, while you're at it."
Sasuke rolled his eye and scoffed. "How about you go and debrief the genins being sent to Kiri to help Tazuna."
He watched her eyes glaze over at the name of the village—of what it meant to her—and he couldn't help but sigh with minor irritation. "Get out of here."
Karin threw him a haughty glare before walking out. Sasuke took out an empty scroll and began to write an old friend a letter.
The Memorial was a nice cool gray, standing tall and silent at the heart of the cemetery. There was a ring of flowers going around it, and right at the base of it, sat more flowers that visitors would place in honor of a loved one lost. Names were engraved from the very top, down to the very bottom and as he stood there, in front of it, with his hands in the pockets of his nin-pants, he stared at the names that meant the most to him.
The wind ruffled his messy blond hair; he pursed his lips, closed is blue eyes and said a very quick prayer before looking up and watching a hawk head straight to the Hokage Tower.
Sighing, he looked down at the memorial for one last time before turning and walking away.
Konoha was always warm; fall was no different. Fall was actually his favorite season to be at home, watching the leaves of the infamous village slowly turn orange and yellow before falling to the ground. Fall is the season that gave justice to the village; one would argue it being spring or summer, when the leaves were at their greenest. But fall… Fall showed the gradual way leaves died and made room for new ones.
Fall had a double-meaning, to the leaves.
Walking into the village, down the main roads, he grinned at the villagers that waved at him; greeting him both in a friendly manner and in one of respect. Gone were the days where he was looked at with disdain and disgust. He was finally a hero, in their eyes. And though it came with a trail of blood, he accepted it. Naruto wasn't one to hold on to grudges, anyway. He basked in the happiness of others and if his heroism—if the fact that there was no Bijuu inside of him, using his body as a house, was what made everyone finally accept him, then fine.
It wasn't long before he cut his slow-paced walk short and jumped up to the rooftops, making his way towards the balcony of his office where the hawk from earlier awaited him with patience.
He eyed it, half grinning because of whom its owner was—and, oh, he knew who its owner was. "Wha'cha got there for me, huh?"
He untied the scroll from the hawk's leg and opened it, eyes scanning the neat calligraphy and slowly raising his eyebrows in a combination of disbelief and amusement. He turned back to the hawk, "Heh, whattaya know? Thanks, birdie, I'll send a reply soon, yeah?"
The hawk stared at him, tilting its head before taking flight and disappearing into the distance.
He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, placing the scroll on his desk and turning towards the door. "Moegi?"
The girl appeared a second later, "Yes, Hokage-sama?"
"Get me Sakura-chan, will ya?"
"Alright, shrimp. Today, we're going to—"
Sakura paused, standing straight and dropping her hands back to her side. She shifted, half-turning to face her current visitor with an eyebrow raised and her lips pursed to one side. The breeze was insistent, in the training grounds—not cold at all, but warm and refreshing. It was a rare day when Konoha's temperature dropped, but today wasn't one of them.
She jutted her hip out and placed her hand over it. "Well, come out, then."
She watched Moegi approach, sheepish grin on her lips and rubbing at her forearm in embarrassment. "Sorry, Sakura, I know you teach Minori at this time but, ah…"
Sakura turned to face the girl, arms crossed in front of her chest. Moegi had grown up, over the years—a bit taller, a bit stronger and, while she wasn't away on missions, she worked as the Hokage's messenger. Sakura smirked at the girl, shaking her head to get her to stop stammering and letting it be known that she wasn't as annoyed as she was coming off.
"Naruto-sama has requested your presence," she finished.
Sighing, Sakura blew a raspberry, deflating and turning to Minori with an apologetic smile.
Her pupil was a clever little idiot; twelve-and-a-half and exceptional at chakra control. He made her think a lot about herself, when she was that age; surpassing her teammates even when they were packing massive amounts of power. She hand picked him, giving him the offer to become her pupil upon lazily watching him train with his teammates while she hung out with Hinata.
"Sorry, Minori," she sighed, ruffling his dark hair. "How about you practice on one of the injured puppies at the Inuzuka veterinary, today?" At his look of dejection and annoyance, she quickly added, "I promise we'll get some actual training done tomorrow!"
She turned around, walking after Moegi; she heard her student exhale an affirmation and she really did feel bad. As head of the hospital, her training sessions with Minori were always interrupted or she had him practice in her office while she went on rounds, went into surgeries with high ranked shinobi—once, she even walked in on him reading her paperwork and telling her a document of sort didn't seem to be beneficial. Not that he knew what he was talking about; he just didn't like what he read.
Sakura stepped into the village's main roads and walked slowly as she greeted friends and patients she had once treated.
Konoha was different than what it had once been, in her youth. All the bad seeds were plucked out and life was synonymous with peace and comfort; shinobi went on missions without having to worry about leaving their village vulnerable to attacks, and their precious Nanadaime had to worry about paperwork more than anything else. And she knew, for a fact, that Naruto despised paperwork more than her late Shishou did.
A grin appeared on her lips as she entered the Hokage Tower and headed up and down the halls to the main office. She slipped through the crack of the door, head still turned to face the lobby as she grinned and laughed at a conversation slowly going into a pause.
Naruto quickly lifted his head up from his desk, taking a deep inhale and furiously blinking his eyes to will any sort of sleep out of them.
"Save it, moron, I know you were sleeping." She glared at him, placing her hands on her hips. "What do you want, I was rather busy."
Naruto deflated a bit, a pout on his lips and Sakura could already tell what he was thinking. No subordinate should be talking to the Hokage like that—it was a line that Naruto used a lot and that never got him out of any of the trouble he got himself into. He never learned and Sakura rolled her eyes at the tragedy.
He stood up from his seat, taking to pacing back and forth around his office, one hand holding onto his other wrist, behind him. Thanks to Moegi and—sometimes, when she wasn't busy—Shizune, the office was rather neat. Neater than anything he would actually keep, anyway, she amended. She had the unfortunate experience of going into his house and seeing just how messy Naruto was in his natural habitat.
"Well, Sakura-chan," he started off, still pacing, brow knitted together in concentration. "I have a new mission for you—an extended mission."
Sakura snorted. "Naruto, we both know I'm not taking up missions, right now—I have the hospital to take care of as well as Minori."
Naruto shook his head. "Sakura-chan, this is needed."
She pursed her lips, breaking their eye contact and looking down at the burnt-orange rug. Was something amidst, she wondered. Did one of the villages break the Alliance and there was a chance of another war? It was far too soon, she told herself, shaking her head and furrowing her brow. She looked up at him, crossing her arms in front of her chest and leaning against the edge of his desk, "Give me more details."
"Your mission is to go on an extended leave… To Otogakure to help my cousin train some medical shinobi."
A ringing in her ears made Sakura's veins freeze. There was a prickling sensation somewhere but she couldn't really identify where it was coming and she couldn't decide if it was because she was suddenly nervous or excited.
She swallowed, her throat dry, pressing her lips into a thin line and breathing out a soft, "Fine."
"Yeah?" the grin on his face was wide and Sakura scoffed at him, moving away from the desk and raking her fingers through her short pink hair.
She nodded her head, her mind already distant as she began to plan on who would be taking care of the hospital and who would be taking care of Minori.
"Great! I'll send my reply to Sasuke then. Tomorrow, I'll have your permit and your debrief ready."
Sakura gave another curt nod and left the office.