AN: I've gotten a few guest reviews about this that I can't respond to, so I've decided to create a warning before anyone reads this fic: the characters act a little different than normal!
I wrote this because the canon story pissed me off the moment Sasuke returned. I know that Naruto is an understanding, loving character, but I don't think he'd be too happy to see him. In fact, if I were Naruto, I'd be pretty pissed off (especially given how Sasuke gets back in my story). I tried to make their reactions to Sasuke's return a bit more realisitc, so as a result some of the characters may seem a little OOC. Yes, I've been keeping up to date with the story, but overall I don't like the direction the manga has taken recently. The goal of this story is to present a different view of how things could have gone if Sasuke had returned as a prisoner as opposed to an ally.
I hope you all enjoy it. On with the show.
Darkness surrounded him. Sasuke figured that was probably due to the blindfold he was wearing. It tugged his hair painfully in the back. He needed to fix it. Problem was, the damn chains around his wrists wouldn't let him lift his arm high enough to touch them. He grit his teeth in anger. It was annoying.
And speaking of annoying…
"What? Come down to gloat a bit more, Sakura?" He stood up and walked in the direction of her voice. He wanted her to see he wasn't afraid of her, despite everything.
"I am not gloating, Sasuke." She sounded irritated, offended, and condescending all at the same time.
"Dropped the kun I see. Good. Your act wasn't fooling anyone."
"I wasn't trying to fool people. There was no act. I was just trying to exhibit some courtesy, which you apparently –"
"Che. What do you want?" He stepped closer towards her voice, the chains around his ankles rattling around him. "And what are you doing without Kakashi anyways? He's not here to save you this time."
Sasuke felt himself hit the bars of the cell. He tried to move his head, but couldn't; Sakura's hand was against the back of his neck, holding him there. He was truly pinned.
"Listen, Sasuke-kun," Sakura hissed, "the only reason I didn't kill you back there is because a certain someone wanted you alive. But if you keep tempting me, I will kill you instantly."
He knew he shouldn't taunt her. He was in a terrible position for that.
"You sure sound brave when I still have my Sharingan covered don't you?"
Dammit. I must be an idiot.
In one fell swoop, the blindfold was flung off his face. He blinked at the sudden onslaught of light; there wasn't much, but he had been in the dark for so long. When his vision returned to him, he found his face was not far from the pink haired girl's. And she looked pissed.
"If I sense any change in your eyes, I'll snap your neck instantly." She tightened her grip as if to prove her point.
He believed her. "You still haven't answered my question. Why are you here?"
She loosened her hold a bit.
"To warn you."
He raised his eyebrows. "Warn me about what?"
She said nothing for a moment. He was about to make another snide remark, but something in her eyes stopped him. So instead he waited.
"I…I know that he wanted you to stay alive. Of course it's only because he saved the village the leaders even listen to him. And he hasn't even been here to see you yet…" She averted her eyes.
Sasuke was surprised by the sudden hesitation in her voice. He voiced his opinion. "That is not a warning."
Her gaze sharply returned to him. "If you hurt a single hair on Naruto's head, I will kill you in the most painful way possible."
He flinched at the name. "Where is the Hokage-to-be anyways?" He hoped she wouldn't notice his attempt to avoid mentioning the ninja's name.
"Naruto is waiting for the vote to be complete, as I've heard some of the elders think Naruto is too young and hotheaded to be Hokage."
"Fascinating. Well if that's all you had to say to me…"
"You have my warning. Heed it." And with that, she threw him back a ways before walking towards the stairs leading up to the outside. Just as she got there, she stopped. "I wouldn't hold your breath thinking he'll come see you, though; he's ashamed of what you've become." A wave of her arm, and she departed.
He sunk to the ground, trying to control all the thoughts swirling around in his mind. Sakura was a completely different person from the girl who'd once begged him to stay behind in the village. Even from the time she'd first tried to kill him and couldn't, she'd changed. She'd somehow transformed herself into a confident, strong, loyal woman. It was terrifying.
But the more terrifying thing was his reaction to the subject of the blonde ninja. Even the mere mention of his name sent Sasuke into a rollercoaster of strange emotions. Despite his sarcastic tone of voice in response to Sakura's explanation of where he was, he did find it fascinating. After all he'd done for the village – he couldn't even bring himself to think the other's name in his mind – they still weren't willing to simply acknowledge him.
That bothered Sasuke.
He idly wondered who the elders would pick as their new leader if not the fox's jinchurikki. Probably Kakashi, he thought. Nobody else is as powerful and has the same amount of experience.
But the thought Sasuke was trying to avoid, was the memory of Sakura's parting words. He's ashamed of what you've become. Was he? Is that why he hadn't come? The raven haired ninja buried his head in his hands at the thought. I didn't want to see him anyways, he tried to convince himself.
He ignored the salt water dripping through his fingers.
Naruto tapped his feet impatiently. He did not enjoy waiting. Based on where the sun was now, relative to when he first sat at this bench, he'd been sitting for several hours. I could've eaten two bowls of ramen by now, the blonde thought with mild irritation. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled loudly.
"Dammit. I'm done waiting," he grumbled, before standing to leave. He began walking to Ichiraku, when he spotted a familiar mop of pink hair.
"Sakura-chan!" He ran towards her.
"Naruto? What are you doing over here? I thought you were waiting to hear what the elders had to say?"
He shrugged. "They're taking too long. I'm going to eat. Hey, you want to get dinner with me?"
She nodded, and together they walked to get ramen.
"So what've you been up to all day, Sakura-chan?" He put his arms behind his head as he talked, just like the old days.
"Oh, uh, nothing much. Just running errands for the hospital. Nothing special." Something about Sakura's tone made Naruto feel as though she were keeping something from him. He decided to just let it go; if it were important, she would tell him.
They walked the rest of the way in silence. As soon as they reached their destination, Naruto's stomach growled again. It seemed to him as if it were making a point that it needed to eat soon, or risk devouring the girl sitting next to him. With that in mind, he ordered two bowls. "No wait, make that three. I'm hungry and still growing dattebayo!" Teuchi laughed at that and set to work cooking his three bowls and Sakura's one.
It was awkwardly silent between them for a moment.
"Naruto!" The familiar voice of Kiba drifted in from outside. He turned to see, not only the dog boy, but Shino and Hinata as well.
"Yo, Kiba, what's up?"
"The elders need to see you right away," the other responded.
"What? But I'm hungry! Can't I eat first?"
"It seemed urgent. I'd go now. Your food isn't even done yet."
He got up. "Fine, fine. I'll go." He turned back to his eating partner. "I'm sorry Sakura-chan; we'll finish our date later." And before she could respond he ran out.
"Don't eat my ramen, Kiba!" He shouted over his shoulder, running towards the Hokage residence.
It didn't surprise Naruto to see Kakashi sitting in front of the building. What did surprise him was his former team leader's lack of book to read.
"Naruto, about time. They're waiting for us in there."
"Mhm. Seems they wish to speak with us both."
They walked in together. It was a good thing Kakshi was leading the way; Naruto had no idea which room they would be in. The older man did, however, and in no time they were standing in front of a bunch of old people Naruto couldn't recall having ever seen in his life. He stood before them and awaited their verdict. He fully expected to be immediately crowned – he had no idea what it was called, come to think of it – and be back in time to eat two still steaming hot bowls of ramen with Sakura-chan. Let's get this over with, old people.
"We cannot, in good faith, name you as the sixth Hokage," an old woman started.
"No. It would've been the seventh Hokage. Danzo was sixth," an old man chimed in.
"Danzo was never made official, and Tsunade-hime was not dead at the time," a second old man chimed in.
But. But what?
"That's not really important, is it?" Kakashi interrupted their debate.
Right. That isn't important.
"Why can't Naruto be Hokage?" The white haired ninja had an edge in his voice as he said this, as if to say there were no question in his mind Naruto should be Hokage. Immediately.
"We have never before, not since the first and second, had a ninja ranked so low as our leader." The woman spoke again.
Wait. Is the reason really because of that damn Chunnin exam all those years ago?! Are you kidding me right now?! They couldn't even finish the test! A war happened!
"Naruto has proven time and time again that he is more powerful than any other ninja in this village. He was able to defeat enemies even I couldn't, and you're saying you would rather have me as Hokage?"
Have Kakashi as Hokage? Is that why he's here?
"It is not a question of the boy's strength; we cannot have someone who has never proven himself as a leader lead the entire village."
Never proven myself as a leader?
"I'm begging you all to reconsider."
"I'm sorry, but if I remember correctly, he barely passed the test to become a Genin. He cannot be Hokage."
…What. The. Fuck.
"So you're saying if he can pass the Chunnin exam, he'll have a shot?"
"Well, not exactly."
"Then what's the problem?"
"It's not simply the Chunnin exam. He would need to be ranked as high as a Jounin in order to be considered a worthy leader."
A Jounin? That level takes years to obtain! How do they even test for that?!
"It's settled then. The Chunnin exam was cancelled due to the war. It was time for us to reschedule it anyways. Naruto will participate in the exam. After he passes, he will move on to the Jounin test. In the meantime you will all act as the leaders."
The old people looked troubled at Kakashi hijacking the meeting they were supposed to be in charge of. The old man who had first spoken up in the debate looked particularly troubled.
"Kakashi-san, we were hoping you would be willing to become the new Hokage." Most of the others nodded in agreement.
"I am flattered to be considered as a candidate, however I'm not interested. I hope you'll consider what I had to say on the matter and give Naruto a chance. If he isn't able to pass the tests, then I will reconsider your offer."
They turned and chattered amongst themselves for a bit. Naruto's heart was beating painfully fast in his chest. He didn't even notice when the white-haired man shot him an encouraging eye-smile.
"We agree to your conditions. If he cannot pass the tests he faces, then he will no longer be in the running to become Hokage, and you will be the prime candidate." The woman was the one who spoke again.
"Thank you very much." Kakashi placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder and led him out of the room, and the building. The younger ninja's mind was whirring at an unreasonably fast speed, and he didn't notice they were no longer in the room until they were outside. He looked up in surprise; the sun had set and the stars were starting to come out. He suspected his ramen was cold.
It was silent for a moment.
"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei." He finally mumbled, staring back at the ground. He felt numb.
"Naruto." Something about the way Kakashi said his name caused the younger man to look up. "This isn't going to be easy for you. You may have gained the acknowledgement of everyone else, but they still only see you as the Kyuubi's Jinchurikki. They will make your tests as difficult as they can."
Naruto still had nothing to say.
"Knowing that, do you still wish to continue?"
He nodded. He had no words.
"Good." Kakashi eye-smiled again. "I believe you may have been taken away from your dinner. Am I right?"
Naruto's stomach could've been a damn clock, because it rumbled right at that moment. He grinned a little sheepishly at the sound.
"Go ahead and eat. I won't keep you."
Still silent, Naruto nodded and turned to leave.
"For the record," Kakashi said quieter, "I believe you can do it."
Naruto turned back, wanting to say something. But Kakashi was gone. How does he do that? He's like a damn ninja. Grinning stupidly at his internal joke and feeling noticeably more hopeful, Naruto made his way back to Ichiraku.
Chunnin exam, huh? He recalled the last one and felt the familiar pang of loss when he recalled the Sasuke from that time. Somehow, he felt, this time around wouldn't be as much fun without him.