Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. This is fanfiction, after all.
Official Start: six years after canon – "AK (after Kyuubi) 22, January 2"
Konoha General Hospital, Konoha – January 2, AK 22
"I can't take no for an answer! You don't understand! I have to help her!"
"Sorry, there's just nothing I can do. Medical ninjutsu tells me that this is a vegetative state and my clan techniques confirm that diagnosis. And her condition is getting worse. I don't think she'll survive the night."
"Ino! Aren't you one of the best medics in the entire village? Do something!"
Shikamaru closed his eyes as a blond black-clad boy wearing a white cloak depicting his Sage status grabbed a sobbing Ino by the shoulders and shook her repeatedly. Normally, Shikamaru would have told his friend to calm down, but Shikamaru knew that this was Naruto's way of showing grief.
"Naruto!" Ino yelled back, in tears. "Sakura may be your girlfriend but she is my best friend! Don't you think I would do something if I could? Even if Lady Tsunade were still alive, she wouldn't be able to do anything to help. It's almost as impossible as bringing a dead person back to life!"
"Gaara died! And he's still alive! There must be—"
"Naruto," Shikamaru interjected. Naruto was beginning to spout nonsense. Shikamaru knew that it was time to get involved before Naruto started suggesting forbidden techniques. Many evil ninjas had started their walk down the path to darkness with the best of intentions. "You know as well as I do that the technique Lady Chiyo used was a forbidden technique. Unless you're asking Ino to exchange her life for Sakura's, you might want to stop this. This isn't just hard on you; it's hard on all of us. You're hardly the only person in the village who cares about Sakura."
"B…but!" The blond Sage retorted before falling silent.
Shikamaru slowly nodded in approval as Naruto calmed down. Shikamaru had to admit that Naruto matured a great deal over the last six years. He figured it was the gauntlet of high rank missions that Naruto was constantly sent on. Seeing people regularly die and seeing the bloody unwanted ramifications of words said in a heated fit of anger were the fastest, although not necessarily the easiest, way for a person to mature.
"Sorry, Ino," Naruto said in a low tone. "I should have been more mature about this by now. After all, all of us know the risks of being a ninja."
Ino gave the other blonde a hug. "But your concern and compassionate for others makes you who you are. That's not a bad thing, Naruto. I'm just glad that Sakura has a caring boyfriend like you."
The door swung open, revealing a breathless Kakashi and Shizune.
"I heard the news from Naruto's clone and I came as soon as I could. What happened?" The masked ninja asked without preamble. "More details."
Shikamaru nodded at Naruto to signal for him to elaborate.
"Kakashi-sensei, Sakura and I got into an argument and she had just left my place. It had been around thirty minutes since she left when I heard her scream from a few blocks away. I rushed out and found her entire body covered with seals. I managed to disrupt the sealing from taking complete effect, but after that Sakura just fell down and didn't move." Naruto recounted.
Shikamaru grimaced in trepidation. Naruto sounded rather calm, but there was hurt and anger just beneath the surface. Naruto clearly felt that he was partially to blame considering since he and Sakura had gotten into the argument that had Sakura running outside late at night.
Shikamaru didn't know who the culprit was, but the culprit would not get to live for long once Naruto got his hands on him or her.
"And the prognosis?" The Sixth Hokage looked at Ino, the village's master on the mind.
Ino shook her head. "She might as well be dead, Lord Hokage. Her brain is a complete mess. I checked with both medical ninjutsu and my clan ninjutsu."
Kakashi nodded. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to ask Shizune to take a quick look as well. It can't hurt to have another opinion."
Kakashi signaled for the medic to run through some diagnostic tests.
"Sorry, guys," Naruto interrupted sadly, "but I think I'm going to go back home since there's nothing I can do here. I'll be back in the morning."
Kakashi nodded. "I'll be here then to give you an update. Let's hope that she survives the night."
Naruto didn't comment on that. Shikamaru watched as Naruto just slipped by them to leave the room with his head down.
"You're taking it better than I thought," Shikamaru commented to the Hokage after the door closed. "Even if you're the Hokage and have to look at all of your subordinates equally, she's still your student."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time I had someone close to me pass away before their time," Kakashi said grimly. "I suppose you could say that I'm used to it by now." He looked towards the door. "It's probably much harder on Naruto. Lord Hiruzen, Lord Jiraiya, Lady Tsunade, Chuunin Umino, and now Sakura. I'm worried that he's going to have no one he's close with in the village."
"There's you," Shikamaru pointed out with a frown. "Don't sell yourself short. You know Naruto cares a lot about you."
"Perhaps," the Hokage allowed. "Nonetheless, I'm still concerned about his state of mind."
"About that," Ino stood up and wiped away her tears. Shikamaru narrowed his eyes when her eyes went hard. Ino only got that look on the most dangerous of missions. "Something about Naruto's story doesn't add up."
"What do you mean?" Kakashi inquired. "Are you saying he lied? Naruto has definitely matured in the last six years, but he's still very open and emotional when it comes to Sakura. I doubt he could hide his feelings."
"Since when did Naruto let Sakura walk back home by herself?" Ino demanded. "Even when they weren't dating, he always followed around her like a guard dog. It doesn't matter if they were fighting. He would have tried to apologize to her the entire way back."
Shikamaru closed his eyes to think. That was true. Naruto hated it when others thought he needed support or protection and would lash out angrily. But Naruto himself always treated those around him like fragile pieces of art that needed to be handled with the utmost care. Despite Sakura being the strongest kunoichi in the village, Naruto made her protection as one of his top priorities. It was a poorly kept secret that Sakura acted annoyed but was secretly delighted with all the coddling.
"You're right," Shikamaru admitted. "At the very least, he would have sent a clone along with Sakura. Even assuming Naruto genuinely forgot, what are the chances that Sakura would be attacked the one moment that Naruto took his eyes off of her?"
"I am assuming that's why you lied to all of us about Sakura's mental state?" Shizune looked up from Sakura. "Sakura's perfectly fine as far as physical health. Mentally, she just appears as if she's asleep."
Ino crossed her arms. "When I used my Mind Body Dive technique on Sakura, I noticed that her consciousness was locked away with a seal. It was incredibly advanced fuinjutsu and covered extremely well with a genjutsu that made her appear as if she was brain dead. I don't know what exactly happened, but something seems wrong about this entire situation."
"Fuinjutsu? Naruto did mention seals earlier," Kakashi murmured. The Sixth walked over to the pink-haired woman lying on the bed. "Here, take me in with you. I'll try to see if I can break it."
There was only silence for a few minutes as the two entered Sakura's mind.
"Nope," Kakashi said as he opened his eyes. "There's nothing I can do. Whoever put this on her is definitely a master at the sealing arts. It's too risky to try and disrupt the seal. It might destroy her mind if we tamper with it carelessly."
"Are you saying Naruto placed this on her?" Shizune asked incredulously as Ino opened her eyes as well. "Naruto doesn't even know fuinjutsu. And we know that Naruto loves Sakura! He'd give his life for her!"
Ino shook her head. "No, I know that Naruto cares. I also did a Mind Body Dive on him without him knowing earlier when he was still here. He has no memory of hurting her. Naruto was distracted with thoughts of ramen just after Sakura left and forgot to follow her."
"Only Naruto…" Kakashi muttered.
Shikamaru could tell that Kakashi wanted to slap his forehead. Shikamaru didn't blame him. Who the hell liked ramen of all things so much that it would be more important than protecting a loved one? Even Naruto normally didn't have that short of an attention span.
Shikamaru's eyes widened before understanding what Ino meant. Someone had put a genjutsu that disguised the seal inside Sakura's mind.
"You're saying someone put a genjutsu on Naruto to keep him out of the way?" he asked suddenly.
His old teammate nodded at him. "Considering that the genjutsu made it appear like Sakura was cognitively dead for all practical purposes, I think someone was hoping that we'd pull the plug on her ourselves. It would be an easy and untraceable way of killing someone. No blood and no outside damages. The genjutsu and fuinjutsu would disappear the moment she was killed leaving no chakra traces as well. Since it was obvious that the attacker made contact with Naruto, I felt it best to fool Naruto in hopes of getting the attacker to think that the ploy was a success."
Shikamaru nodded in approval at her quick thinking. To trick the enemy, you often had to trick your own allies as well.
"I see," Kakashi said. "I suppose this helps in other ways too. Naruto would be here all day and night until Sakura woke up if he didn't think she was going to die."
Shikamaru agreed. Naruto would adhere to his never-give-up nindo and stay next to Sakura as a show of support, refusing any missions that would take him away from her side for more than a few hours. But given Naruto's strategic importance out on the field, it was bad for Konoha.
"This entire thing is just too troublesome," he muttered. "Why do I have to think about the ramifications of every single event that goes on in our damn village?"
Kakashi didn't have to tell Shikamaru that it was because he was the ANBU Commander. Shikamaru had a duty to ensure the protection of the village at all costs. He was the knight on the chessboard, often placed strategically and hard to predict, but ultimately a sacrifice for the village. His complaints were minor in comparison to what would have to the children and the future generations of people if Konoha fell.
Still, Shikamaru hated keeping things from his friends, especially someone like Naruto who would never understand why. Naruto still had not completely forgiven Kakashi and the now deceased former leaders for keeping information about his heritage hidden.
Kakashi gave a bitter chuckle. "I understand you more than anyone else. But we don't have that that kind of luxury."
All four of them in the room knew what the Sixth was talking about.
There was a long pause. Shikamaru met Shizune's look. She wasn't too happy with this either but looked willing to comply for now.
He sighed in resignation. "Alright, I won't tell him."
As of that moment, Sakura Haruno was officially dead.
Hokage Monument, Konoha – January 2, AK 22
"Love. What a foolish emotion. It makes us hope for the best and never be prepared for the worst," Naruto whispered as he stared out at the village. "I really was an idiot for hoping that my love would cure all. In the end, people only care about themselves."
In the end, no one truly loved him. They loved what they thought he was: protector of Konoha and someone who sacrificed everything for those precious to him. They didn't love who they thought he was: prankster and someone who jumped in before thinking about anything. And they didn't even know who he truly was.
"Underneath the underneath my ass," he snorted, "they can't even see beneath one layer."
He sighed as he looked up at the stars. "No more. I…I don't think I want to love again. It just isn't worth it."
He would die before he let himself be betrayed again.
AN: And so we begin! I have the first twenty or so chapters (rough drafts) written out and a plan for the next twenty mentally written out in my head. So updates should be pretty frequent for some time. Hopefully. I like to go back to previous chapters and edit them a lot once I get new ideas and stuff, so I'm only going to post a chapter after I'm absolutely sure there will be no more revisions.