the greatest pretenders @snowyseas

A/N: We've reached the first ten chapters of this story! I want to thank everyone who has been reading up until this point, and I hope you will continue to read until the very end! A new exciting thing I decided to add to this fic, since it's been requested by people who have contacted me personally, is a point of view change! This fic will still stay primarily Sakura-centric in terms of the point of view, but starting with this chapter, I'll shift to Naruto's perspective every few chapters or so, but don't worry because you'll know it's his perspective by the chapter title - Nanadaime! This way, the story takes both of their lives and feelings into account! I hope you enjoy.

As a side note, I know that this has taken a while to update. Things have been going on, and I got an internship that I didn't think I would get, which essentially means I didn't have any time for myself. But I'm trying, and I'm going to start trying with this chapter x

the greatest pretenders

Chapter Ten: Nanadaime

The paperwork seemed to be endless, as was his desire to just sleep.

It didn't matter where, really. Since becoming the Seventh Hokage, Naruto fell asleep often at his desk, or on the sofa that Shikamaru had set up in the office a few months after he was officially instated, or while eating his lunch. To everyone's chagrin, he often had to strain to keep his eyes open during meetings sometimes. Everyone knew he wasn't doing it on purpose, but it still made official matters more difficult to get through, and deal with, on time. At the end of the day, they couldn't complain, because contrary to mannerisms he had as a child that everyone thought he wouldn't get rid of, his signature and seal would always be at the bottom of documents, signifying he took his job very seriously.

Regardless of the fact that he knew sleep was crucial to being able to do his job properly, the Seventh Hokage refused to miss out on anything, even if he died by lack of sleep.

"You can't keep doing this to yourself," Shikamaru scolded him one evening after their final meeting of the day.

"Konoha needs me."

"Which is exactly why you being half slumped over your desk isn't conducive to your job. You need rest, you need a bed."

"Install one here like you did the sofa," Naruto chuckled, "better yet, install a whole damn studio apartment in here if you're so worried about me snoozing."

"Don't think Hinata would be okay with that."

The blond drew in a breath. "You're probably right. I work so much, I hardly see them."

"So take some days off."

"I can't just-"

Shikamaru walked over to his desk and patted a hand on his shoulder. "You can. I think she would appreciate it, too." He paused, shifted his weight from one leg to the other, and sighed. "Coming home to a cold meal is better than no meal at all."

Blue eyes lost their usual glimmer as they turned to look at Shikamaru, who offered a sympathetic smile and began walking towards the exit.

The Hokage watched his trusted advisor open the door and he parted his lips slightly, his words barely audible. "The meals are never cold." Shikamaru came to a brief halt, turning his head slightly to look back at Naruto, an unreadable expression on his face. The dark-haired man let out a quiet sigh and waved, closing the door behind him as he left for the night.

As his office became eerily silent, Naruto's eyes averted to the photo frames on his desk. He examined each one without lifting them from their spots, remembering the day that Hinata had helped him set up the photo frames in just the right order, telling him that they were perfectly placed. He had smiled at her then, kissed her on the cheek, and bade her farewell, promising that he would be home for dinner that night.

He stared at a photo of her now, feeling nothing but something akin to tolerance.

Did he love her?


At least, that was the official response, because there was no way he could spend fifteen years with someone and have the audacity to say that he didn't love her. Not after she spent endless nights waiting for him after putting their two children to sleep, and not after fifteen years of dedication to her role as the Hokage's wife. He always came home to a smiling Hinata, who rarely complained that he came back late - and even if she did, it felt like she was too afraid to say what was really on her mind. She'd kiss him, tell him that dinner was in the fridge, and wait for him in their bedroom.

Not like they ever did anything in the bedroom anymore.

Cerulean eyes fell upon another photo frame, one that he'd placed on his desk a few weeks after he began his job as the Hokage. He examined it fondly, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

Where would he be without his grey-haired, porn-reading teacher?

Where would he be without his two teammates?

Roots were important, knowing where you came from was important.

Mostly because he didn't have that while he was growing up.

Naruto sighed, leaning back in his chair. It wasn't that late yet, but he knew that once Shikamaru left the building, any other staff would begin packing up, too. Normally, he would have a shadow clone either stay in the office, or send it home to at least eat dinner with the family while he worked into the late hours of the night. He felt that something was amiss, but he wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the fact that he, oddly enough, couldn't muster the chakra to form the seals. Or maybe it was the fact that he was lying to himself and what he didn't have the energy for was himself.

He was becoming someone he didn't like.

Drawing in a sharp breath, he stood up and fumbled to put on his coat. In just a few strides, he was out his office door and was heading towards the elevators. Thankfully, there weren't many people around, and of the ones who were, they merely bowed their heads at him before bidding him a good evening. He smiled, becoming painfully aware that he had gotten incredibly good at faking it, and stepped into the elevator, letting the doors close in front of him.

The lobby was a ghost town as he walked out, towards the harbor where trade ships would come in during the early hours of the morning. He remembered sitting there with Sakura, remembered almost grazing her lips, and wanted to kick himself. It wasn't that he thought he should've done it, because of course he wouldn't have.

It was that he let indulgence take over, even if just for a second.

Biting his lip as he approached closer to the harbor, he looked for a spot to sit on one of the docks closest to the water. The wind was biting at his knuckles and his cheeks, and he could feel the cold wood against the back of his legs as he sat. He breathed, seeing his breath before him.

If he wasn't going to sleep, he could at least listen to the water.

The insomnia only had started getting worse in the last couple of years, though he liked to tell everyone it had only been a few months. They would worry less, and no one would even dare to insinuate that he couldn't do his job as Hokage. He had once been full of hope, full of determination to do whatever it took to protect his village.

But he was growing weary.

He turned his head slightly when he heard a rustle behind him, not at all surprised. Entwining his fingers together, he sighed.

"What're you doing here, Sai?"

"Doing my job," the pale man answered, "since I am ANBU."

"You're supposed to just watch from the shadows," Naruto whined, "I need some peace here, man."

Sai shrugged, but didn't take a step forward to sit down next to his friend. Instead, he stood straight, his arms at his side like a soldier waiting for orders. He didn't move even when Naruto turned around to look at him directly, and only relaxed when Naruto sighed and gestured with his head to sit on the docks beside him.

"While you're here," Naruto breathed, "you got any updates for me?"

"Just that Kakashi-senpai and Sakura are preparing for their trip tomorrow."

"Anything else?"

"Sasuke isn't happy about the mission you're sending him on."

"That's no surprise," Naruto sighed, "that guy only wants to do what he likes."

"But he listens to you."

"For selfish reasons, I'm sure."

The wind whooshed around them and Naruto felt a deep chill, shivering as he pulled his coat tighter around him. He looked to Sai, whose coat was definitely something more of an autumn jacket. The Hokage chuckled.

"Do you never learn from your countless colds during the winter-"

"Why is Sasuke back?" Sai asked suddenly, cutting Naruto off. "He left for fifteen years, and suddenly he's back?"


"You're okay with that?"

"It's not my job to order him around-"

"That's a load of horseshit."

"Sai," Naruto said sternly, "he's back because I asked him for help."

"Isn't that ordering him around?"

"I asked as a friend."

"Some friend, leaving you, his village, and his wife for fifteen years."

In all the years the new each other, Sai never got angry. There were the few rare times, and all of them seemingly had to do with Sasuke. Having been ANBU-trained, Sai was not allowed to show feelings, but for some reason, there was just a different level of disdain that he held for the guy. While Naruto - and clearly, Sakura - had forgiven Sasuke for leaving Konoha all those years ago, not many others did. It was why he was always in the shadows, it was why whenever Naruto asked for his help, it was in silence.

Still, he didn't send the Uchiha on the same mission as his wife, because something was nagging at him and telling him that it was impractical. It was Shikamaru's voice, mostly, telling him that separating the two would be more strategic and waste less time. It made sense, and he remembered feeling relief at the revised strategy for looking for utsuhō outposts. He sighed now, looking at Sai.

"What am I supposed to do?" he whispered, shaking his head "I mean, the guy is also from Konoha, and he's investigating things for me without protest, like this whole fucking mess of an S-ranked mission. I mean what the fuck, Sai?"

"You care about him," Sai answered, "and obviously, I don't think the reason you keep him around sometimes is merely because of your friendship with him."

Naruto's heart skipped a beat. "What do you mean?"

"He's married to your best friend," Sai remarked, his eyes fixated on the water before him, "and we both know his commitment to her is important to you."

"Yeah, because they're both my best friends. They were my teammates."

Sai snorted. "If that's what helps you sleep at night, sure. That can be the answer."

"I don't sleep."

Sai had begun to move to stand up and retreat back into the shadows, he stopped in his tracks and turned to look at Naruto, a genuine expression of concern on his face. "What do you mean you don't sleep?"

"Haven't been able to in years."

"Go to a doctor, Naruto," Sai urged, "before something terrible happens."

"You make it sound like I'm dying."

"You're not," Sai admitted, "but you will collapse and you will fail to do your dream job properly."

"Yeah," Naruto breathed, "you're right. I should go soon. Just like you should."

"You gonna be here for much longer?" Sai deadpanned.

"No," the Seventh replied, "Hinata is probably waiting for me at home."

Without another word, Sai disappeared back into the trees, rustling slightly as he found a position he could safely watch the village from. Naruto sighed and slowly stood up, giving a short wave at the dock workers who sometimes gave him some fresh fish to take home for dinner. He walked home now, hands and heart empty, but his head filled with migraines he knew would last until he actually tried to sleep.

The nightmares - every single one of them - were horrid. How could anyone sleep well after what he found about this mission that fell into his lap? Human experimentation on people of all ages, even if they didn't have a freaking kekkei gengkai. Regular civilians, shinobis with no special abilities weren't even the main targets- they were just tests. He thought of his son, his daughter, Sakura's daughter, and a deep fear settled into his veins. Lady Tsunade had thought to keep doing her job, and to investigate herself, but despite her young looks, Naruto knew she was getting tired, and just wanted to sit at home and drink sake all day.

He also knew that Sakura had a tenacity that was needed for the job.

The path to his home passed by hers, and as he walked by the path that led up to her front door, he began to walk slowly, averting his eyes to the only light on in the house. It was on the second floor, and he knew it had to be her bedroom.

Hers and Sasuke's.

He bit his lip and pushed thoughts away from his head, looking to the path ahead of him and taking deep breaths. The nightmares were waiting for his head to hit the pillow, after all; he had to be ready to face them. Details of the mission ran through his head, how there were actual outposts that were harvesting utsushō, which no one knew was man-made or not. For the purposes of it, it seemed as though it was created by man, but there were doubts in the Hokage's head-

There's no way a person could make something that cruelly killed innocent people.

He thought of his mother and how she was often in his nightmares, chained in the same way she was when Uchiha Obito tried to extract the Nine-Tails from her. Since he heard about the incidents through Gaara, Kushina appeared in his nightmares frequently, her strangled screams something Naruto had memorized by now. Ice-cold fear filled his veins at the thought of his son or his daughter in the same position, being held against their will as a Tailed Beast was sealed into them. Of course, the utsushō would have significantly weakened them first.

The Hokage shuddered at the thought.

Approaching their front door, he took three deep breaths and opened the door. Before him was the sight of his two children sleeping on the sofa, comfortably and safely nestled on each of Hinata's laps, with the fireplace casting a warm glow upon them. Boruto slept on his back with his mouth open, and Himawari slept on her side, cuddling a stuffed toy he bought for her birthday three years prior. A soft smile graced his lips as he watched his children - the lights of his life - sleep soundly. Cerulean eyes moved up to look at Hinata, who now regarded him with a warm smile. The warmth, he noticed, didn't touch her violet eyes.

"Okaerinasai," she whispered.

Naruto smiled back at her. "Tadaima."

Naruto had no idea how he managed to do it, but he carried both Boruto and Himawari in his arms to their beds without either of them stirring awake. He vaguely thought to himself that it was an absolute achievement, but when he heard Hinata's soft chuckle behind him, he was glad he wasn't the only one to think so. He held onto Himawari as Hinata helped to tuck in Boruto, and he planted a kiss on his son's forehead before tucking in his daughter and doing the same. Both he and Hinata tiptoed out of their bedrooms, and breathed a sigh of relief once the doors were closed.

"That seemed almost impossible," Hinata exasperated, "I don't know how they didn't wake up."

"They seemed extra tired," Naruto replied, "were they waiting for me to come home?"

"They wanted to surprise you."

"With what?"

Violet eyes blinked, confused. "Nothing. They just wanted to see you."


Hinata's eyes lost their glimmer as she looked at him, but she still offered him a smile. "It's okay, they'll see you tomorrow morning, right?"

Naruto's thoughts flashed to the fact that Sakura was leaving for Suiren in the morning. He pursed his lips. "Actually, uh…"

"That's fine," Hinata waved her hand in the way she did whenever she tried not to be upset about something, "they can see you after work. For dinner maybe?"

"Yeah," Naruto nodded, "of course."

A smile spread across her lips, and this time, the warmth seemed to touch her eyes just a little. "Do you want me to eat with you? I already had dinner, but there's some leftovers for you."

"If you're tired, you can sleep," Naruto responded as they turned towards the stairs, "I might be up for a while."

"Are you sure? You can talk to me."

"I'm sure. I just have some things to do for work before I head to bed," he lied, "so I don't want to keep you up."

Hinata nodded, keeping her smile intact though Naruto knew she wanted to say something. He would always wait for her to express disdain, but she never did. It was getting tiring - for both of them - to keep up this routine. If she at least yelled at him or got mad at him for not being home enough, he might've actually felt like she gave a shit, which wasn't even fair, because he knew she gave a shit.

He looked at her as she spoke, not hearing a word she said, and remembered a time that every man in Konoha had wanted to marry her and thought she was so incredibly beautiful. Who couldn't find the Hyuuga heiress to be so, with her long, dark hair cascading down her back all the way to her waist? With her pastel violet eyes that, despite their appearance, always held kindness and showed her gentle nature? Her soft, papery voice that could make threats sound like poetry made multiple men become infatuated with her.

But she loved the Hokage.

She loved him.

But did he love her?

He felt a lump in his throat, knowing that he was asking himself questions he didn't want to answer.

"Naruto-kun?" Hinata called his name gently, waving her hand in front of his eyes. "Did you hear what I said?"

"I'm sorry," he blinked, "no. What did you say?"

She let out a soft sigh. "I said that the food is in the microwave, and I've wrapped it with saran wrap. You can just leave the plate in the sink, and I'll do the dishes tomorrow."

"Oh. Okay. Thank you."

"Goodnight," she said, leaning in to kiss him lightly on the cheek before she turned around and walked to their bedroom, her hair swishing behind her.

Naruto sighed as he watched her walk away before turning towards the stairs and slowly making his way down. He crossed the living room where his wife and children sat earlier waiting for him, then into the dining room, and finally into the kitchen where - as promised - a wrapped plate of food waited for him in the microwave. Setting the button for one minute, he moved to the countertop opposite the microwave and watched his food rotate as he aimlessly thought of his wife.

She waited for him every night to come home from work, even though she did nothing during the day except take care of their children. He always felt guilty, always felt as though he wanted her to do more - but she had insisted.

"I want to raise the kids," she said after they first got married.

There was nothing wrong with what she wanted, of course. The guilt that he felt deep in his core was related to the fact that she wanted to stay home to raise their children. He couldn't be there as often as she was, and especially with his duty to Konoha, which everyone seemed to understand but it still didn't feel right. Having made a vow to Hinata to always be by her side, none of it felt right. She should be mad, she should be adamant about wanting him at home more, even though he knew the reason she wasn't angry at all. It absolutely made sense that she accepted his late working hours and his lack of being around, but somehow, he knew some part of her felt that it wasn't okay.

He had taken her from her home and from her family's legacy, even though she said she never wanted to be the one to continue it, that she didn't have the drive to continue it herself.

Maybe she was lying to him, or maybe he was lying to himself that it was a good enough reason to not feel guilty about what he'd done to her, and what kind of life he had given her.

The microwave beeped once it reached the one-minute mark, and suddenly, he wasn't hungry anymore.

Without even opening the microwave door, he exited the kitchen through the back door, which had a path that led into a greenhouse he had built when they first moved in. He'd always loved gardening, and because he didn't live in a cramped one-person apartment anymore, he could actually create a little haven just for him and the seeds he planted. His long legs made big strides and finally, he opened the door and took in the mixture of scents from the flowers he had planted earlier that winter, and he instantly calmed down.

His eyes swept the array of andromedas, camellias, and the crocus that he'd planted just a few weeks ago with Himawari, and he smiled that they seemed to already be growing well. Walking over to them, he regarded them with admiration and thought that the colors complement each other nicely, especially during the winter. His eyes focused on the andromedas, which had turned out to be pink instead of the white that he thought he bought the seeds for. Unable to move his eyes, he reached out to touch them lightly, seeing a flash of pink in his eyes that reminded him of cherry blossoms in the springtime.

He hoped that winter would soon end, so he could see the cherry blossoms bloom.

Naruto ended up barely sleeping on the couch, after he had transferred the plate of food from the microwave into the fridge. The migraines were beginning to pound on his temples, and though he was not fully asleep, just closing his eyes seemed to reduce the pain. He stayed that way for a few hours, idly going in and out of sleep, silhouettes of his nightmares dancing behind his eyelids.

If he allowed himself to fall in too deep, he may wake up screaming and inadvertently wake his children.

He was exhausted, and could barely move, even when he heard Hinata come down the stairs before sunrise to prepare breakfast for their children. Her footsteps were lithe, but he could still hear her walk towards where he lay, and she let out a sigh before she gently pulled a warm blanket over him and walked away. Opening his eyes slightly, he looked out the window next to the fireplace that was still ablaze and keeping him warm, and he noted to himself that if he was to see Sakura off, he had to begin making a move.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. They felt like they would be permanently bloodshot at this point, but every morning when he checked, they never were.

He never looked as weary as he felt.

Gently pushing the blanket off him, he stood up and stretched, hearing a crack in his back and feeling it in his arms. He took another deep breath and rubbed his eyes again, looking towards the door that led to the kitchen, debating whether he should go and kiss her good morning. Standing there for a few minutes mulling it over, he only decided to just go upstairs and take a shower once he heard the clank of the spatula against the pan. He already knew she was making scrambled eggs for their children, before he could even smell it.

He walked up the stairs and passed by his children's bedrooms, knowing that they were still asleep. Usually, he was the one to wake them up to eat breakfast right before he left for work. They would get up with incredibly messy hair, the same sleepy look on their faces that he had in the morning, and his heart would always fill with so much love at things so simple. Making a note to himself to wait until he could smell Hinata's scrambled eggs, he got into the shower in their bedroom and let the warm water wash over him. He was always quick, and in no time, he was dressed and putting on cologne, his face hardly showing his fatigue at all.

Once he stepped out of the bedroom, the familiar scent of his wife's cooking hit his nose and he smiled, walking to his children's rooms and opening both doors at the same time.

"Wakey wakey!" His raspy voice boomed, jolting Boruto awake, but Himawari barely opened an eye.

"Jeez," Boruto whined, "you're so loud."

"Time for breakfast, then for school."

"Go away," his son muttered, pulling his pillow over his head, "five more minutes."

"I know what your five more minutes are," Naruto laughed, stepping into his room, "and you ain't getting them today."

"Dad," Boruto whined as his dad pulled the pillow off his head, "I want to sleep."

Naruto moved to the end of the bed and lifted the blanket off his son's feet, and wrapped his hands around each of his ankles. Knowing his father's tactics, Boruto held onto the metal railing at the header of his bed as tightly as he could while his father pulled his legs. The metal groaned as Naruto pulled, refusing to let up.

It was like this every morning.

"Stop pulling, Dad!"

"Time to get up!"

"Go away, old man!"

Naruto smirked when he could hear Himawari's pattering feet get out of bed and walk towards her brother's room to see what the fuss was all about. She was in her pajamas that had little pictures of cats all over them, and wore her fuzzy bunny slippers that oddly fit the look. Her eyes were fully open now and she smiled as she walked over to Boruto's bed, standing at his side.

"Himawari, don't you dare poke me," Boruto yelled, "I will end you!"

Ignoring her brother's threat, Himawari giggled and poked him in the side relentlessly until he finally let go of the railing, too ticklish to keep holding on. Naruto guffawed and pulled Himawari close to him, kissing her on the top of her head. "Thank you, sweetheart."

"You're dead," Boruto said angrily, looking at his sister, "I'm eating all your eggs."

"No fair! You wouldn't wake up!"

Boruto, having learned Minato's hiraishin, was already out of the room and in the dining room, where Naruto could hear him laughing. Still, he picked up his daughter in his arms, and transported them as well. Boruto's face at the sight of his father and his sister made him frown, but at least now they were both awake. Himawari sat down across from her brother and jeered at him, but they soon made nice and waited excitedly for their mother's cooking.

Looking out the window, Naruto decided that if he was to see Sakura off, he had to leave now. He quickly kissed Boruto and Himawari on their heads and turned towards the front door.

"Tell Mommy I'll see her later," he yelled as he opened the door.

"Bye, Daddy!" Himawari shouted back.

The Hokage was already out the door, racing to Konoha's front gates where Sakura was waiting.

Of all the people he lied to about his insomnia, he felt the most guilty at having lied to Sakura.

She was an iryōnin, which meant that she was the person who was most qualified to help him get back to sleep properly. Although, to be fair, he wasn't sleeping because of nightmares, and not because of physical conditions that disabled him from being able to sleep. It was all psychological, his fears manifesting themselves into monsters that appeared in his nightmares and hurting those he loved.

Even if it was all fake, he couldn't bear with it.

Plus, he didn't want to stress her out even more than he already had.

Still, talking with her and Kakashi before they left for Suiren had felt nostalgic, and like for a second, things were normal again. He felt more like himself, and it was easy for him to fall back into his usual self with Sakura there. He didn't know what it was, but it was almost as though she reminded him of who he once was.

Before all the fame, before all the politics.

She remembered who he had been.

"When I come back, you can tell me everything."

The words had sounded sweeter to him than she probably intended, but there was a softness in her voice that made his heart ache as he listened to her speak in hushed tones like it was supposed to be a secret. He watched her walk away from the gates, and he prayed to whatever higher power there was to keep her and Kakashi safe. The green gates had closed as soon as they stepped out of Konoha and Naruto wondered if she had looked back at him before they did. He could picture her beautiful spearmint eyes and he sighed at the image.

He turned around, his heart still heavy with worry. Cerulean eyes fell upon the Hokage Tower, and he huffed out a harsh breath before using hiraishin to arrive in his office. Documents were untouched and the lights were still off, of course, since Shikamaru hadn't come in yet. Quickly making himself comfortable, Naruto turned on the lights and organized some of the documents he knew he had to look at in a neat pile, separating the mountain of paper in half so he could deal with what was urgent first. Surely, Shikamaru would appreciate it, too. Meant less work for him as well.

As soon as the sun had fully come up, Naruto could hear the Tower fill with his employees.

Multiple people were coming in and out of his office, dropping off and picking up documents, and he swears the last time his hand cramped this much was when he was sixteen years old and lived alone. When the first round of "Hokage Rush Hour" finished, he breathed a big sigh of relief and settled back into his chair, suddenly aware that he was hunching over the entire time. He looked to the door, knowing that Shikamaru would come in at any moment. The rules apparently didn't apply to him where he had to be in by 8AM, not that Naruto cared.

Gave him more time to relax.

Just as that thought entered his mind, the door opened, and there Shikamaru was, his expression as cranky as ever.

"Someone looks pissed," Naruto commented as his advisor shut the door behind him, "fight with Temari?"

"No," Shikamaru retorted, "why would you ever think I would bring my marriage problems into work?"

"So you do have them."

"Not as much as you do."

The Hokage glared at him, but huffed and decided to let it go. "So what's the rest of my day looking like?"

"You have a visit today from the Kazekage."

Naruto looked up from the documents before him and stared at Shikamaru. "What are you talking about? That meeting is not until after Sakura-chan and Kakashi-sensei come back."

"Lord Kazekage decided he would pay an old friend a visit," Shikamaru answered stoically, "and apparently, this visit has nothing to do with the mission."

The only thing Naruto could do was squint his eyes and furrow his brow in suspicion. "Is he serious?"

When his advisor merely nodded, Naruto sighed.

"I guess it's better than stressing over the mission."

"Over the mission or over someone's safety?"

"I appreciate all the jokes," Naruto responded coolly, "but I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm married now."

"Bold of you to think they're jokes," Shikamaru scoffed, "as if anyone would ever joke about that."


"Anyway," Shikamaru quickly retorted, "the Kazekage will be here in an hour. He decided to take the train instead of the usual secret route."

Naruto cocked an eyebrow. "Is there a reason why?"

"Says the whole world knows you and him are friends. No need for secret routes. Public transportation is perfectly fine, and if any enemies were to attack him, they wouldn't. Too many civilians would be involved."

"Since when did the Kazekage decide he's not strong enough to fight off some lowly people who have nothing better to do than to try and attack him?" Naruto laughed.

"He says it's the safety of the people that matters," Shikamaru shrugged, "plus I hear from his inside circle that he really loves the new trains. Says it makes traveling so much easier than it used to be."

The Hokage laughed. "He makes us sound like we're freaking a hundred years old."

His advisor shrugged again. "Need me for anything before you meet him?"

"Just get his favorite tea. He'll keep asking about it until he gets it."

Shikamaru nodded, bowed, and walked out the door. Naruto shifted his attention to the documents before him, though in the back of his mind, he idly wondered if it was true that Gaara decided to come to Konoha just to see an old friend. The more he thought about it, the more it didn't make sense, but it was only particularly so because of what was currently going on in secret regarding a drug that they didn't know much about. Since Sakura was a Konoha resident, she wouldn't be obligated to tell the Kazekage her findings, but since this was supposedly a casual meeting, Naruto wasn't sure if he should share information yet, since this meeting wasn't at his own behest.

He drew in a sharp breath and drew his attention to some approval requests for renovations of old buildings in the central part of Konoha, barely reading through them and only reading what seemed to be important. He signed each of them for the better part of an hour, and before he knew it, a knock came at his door.

"Come in," he said without looking up, his hand still signing documents, "it's open."

There was a pause once the door opened, and Gaara's voice resounded in his ears, making him look up. "It's nice to know that you really suit the role of the Seventh Hokage incredibly well."

"It's been fifteen years," Naruto rolled his eyes, "I could say the same about you and your position."

"Except I was Kazekage for longer," Gaara chuckled, "so I've had more time to grow into it."

Naruto glanced at his outfit, his familiar and simple red garments that he wore all the time, even during the Shinobi War. "But you don't come here with the formalities of wearing your Kage uniform."

"Do you? Every single day?"

"Kind of."

"Well," Gaara cleared his throat as he closed the door behind him, "like I told Shikamaru, this is a visit to an old friend."

Silence hung in the air as Naruto stared at him, unable to read the expression on his face. Gaara's eyes betrayed nothing, but something still felt off. The Hokage leaned back in his chair, entwining his fingers together, pensive.

"Is it really a visit to an old friend?" He whispered. "Right now, it seems like you have some bad news for me."

Gaara had been smirking at him the entire time, but at the Hokage's words, he let it falter. "It is a friendly visit, but unfortunately, I also have some news."

"Why didn't you just push up the meeting we were supposed to have when Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan got back?"

Gaara sat in the seat across from him, neatly crossing his legs and resting his arms on the armrests, his expression serious. He was quiet and didn't say a word, lest for occasionally opening his mouth every now and then as though trying to find the right words that wouldn't cause panic.

"We don't know who's listening," he finally whispered, "so if I announced it was an official diplomatic meeting, there might be those we can't trust."

"Is that why you took the train instead of the usual route?" Naruto asked, his voice just as hushed.

"It also got me here faster."

It seemed that while there was clearly some new information to share, the two men didn't seen to have any motivation to begin the conversation first. Eventually, one of the underlings under Shikamaru came inside with a pot of peppermint tea, setting in on the Hokage's desk and pouring each of them a cup. She bowed, and quickly scurried out the door. They drank in silence, but they never stopped looking at each other, noticing that each Kage's expression was growing more and more concerned.

"You go first, or I go?" Naruto finally said. "Because this is literally killing me."

"We still don't know what it is that makes victims have their veins poisoned, and the condition of their bodies once they've been killed is one that I would rather not see again." Gaara paused, then sighed. "Internally, everyone is freaking out because we don't know anything, but one of our researchers said that utushō is not a man-made invention."

"Meaning it's native to a land?"

"Yes. It's an herb, that when mixed with some chemical and compounds, becomes useful in controlling people and can hold something with great chakra together."

"That could be a Jinchuuriki or anyone with a kekkei gengkai."

"Exactly. You, me, and anyone else who is a Jinchuuriki wouldn't be the targets, but Naruto, your children-"

"I know."

Gaara was silent for a moment. "There was another incident in Suna. A girl with a kekkei gengkai was abducted a few weeks back, Sasuke-san was probably looking for her when you sent him there. Internal reports say that she was force fed crystals-"

"I'm sorry, what?" Naruto asked incredulously. "Crystal? Are you fucking with me?"

Gaara's eyes seemed to have lost the usual kindness that he held, and he watched Naruto's face as he began his next sentence. "She's the first one to not have died from the procedure."

Naruto felt his veins grow cold.

"What does that mean?"

"It means she didn't die because the crystal was too much for her, but it also means that she is too valuable for these people to let her return to her normal life. They're going to use her."

"To do what? Attack more people? Start another fucking war?"

"It's hard to say what is going to happen," Gaara said softly, "but we have people in Suna looking for as we speak, but I thought that I would share this information with you, that the experimentation does unfortunately, work. It just has to be someone with a kekkei gengkai."

Naruto let out a sharp breath.

"Something about this information irritating you, Lord Hokage?"

"Just fucking call me Naruto, Gaara. This isn't the time for formalities."

"Fine," Gaara sighed, "do you have any information for me since you put Sakura-san on the case?"

"I take it she hasn't told you anything."


Naruto took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. He thought back to the conversations he had with Sakura, the nightmares he suffered of his mother being chained against her will, his insomnia, the fact that he had to worry even more about his children and his wife. He rubbed his temples, then clapped either side of his face.

"Sakura-chan has told me a few things since she did an autopsy on a body that was left near our border."

Gaara's eyes widened. "They left a body on the border?"

"Probably as a way to scare us or threaten us into not finding them."

"Did you know her?"

"She was a young girl who often came into Konoha to sell treats at the markets."

Gaara nodded, his expression revealing that was merely trying to process the situation as it was right now.

"And what else?"

"Sakura-chan thinks that there's a port town near where my mother was from, and thinks that it's possible that the outposts throughout each country are getting their supplies from there."

"Near where your mother was from?"


Gaara's eyes widened. "The village that was destroyed during the Second Shinobi War? Why would she ever think that?"

"She does her research," Naruto sighed, "but I told her to start small. Going there is dangerous, especially because it's a port town for criminals and people like that. I wouldn't want her going alone just for some recon."

"So you sent her where?"

"Kiri," Naruto replied, "got some intel that there's an active outpost there, and they're selling their shit to people in Suiren. Probably trying to test who has a kekkei gengkai without actually knowing." Naruto frowned. "They're involving a lot of civilians, and putting them in danger."

"Is Chōjūrō aware that you sent them there?"

"Yeah," Naruto nodded, "we drafted a letter and sent it out a while ago. I didn't have the details of who would be going then, but he replied and said that his ANBU would figure it out once our people got to Suiren."

"Good thing you sent Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-san, then."

They stayed quiet for a few minutes, silently sipping tea as they were lost in their own thoughts. Naruto had been aware that there were other incidents in which people were being tested, but the fact that there was someone who survived the torture - the ingestion of these poisonous crystals - was making him on edge to the point that he felt that he had to do something in that exact moment. Would Sakura and Kakashi-sensei be able to find enough information to take home, or would it lead them somewhere else? Naruto thought once again to his children and to his wife, knowing that it was his job to protect them. Still, he couldn't say anything until they had more information. He sighed in frustration.

"You know," Naruto said quietly, "Sakura-chan told me that it's not just utsushō that's the problem."

Gaara cocked an eyebrow. "Then what's the other problem?"

"We did an autopsy of the girl found at our border," the Hokage said slowly, "and upon closer inspection on her veins, it wasn't only the substance that was inside her veins, poking at them like sharp bristles."

"So what was it?" Gaara asked quietly, almost afraid that if his voice got louder, someone would be listening.

"When they ingest this thing, they're sealing the drug to their veins, and it takes their body over."

"When you say sealing…"

Naruto nodded, his expression filled with a sadness he hardly showed. "I mean fūinjutsu. The Uzumakis' specialty."

The Kazekage fell silent, unable to muster the right words that might make ease Naruto's nerves, not that he expected him to. The mission itself was hard as it already was, but with old traditions out the door, Naruto was allowed to be worried, was allowed to feel just a little bit of fear at the prospect that whoever was heinous enough to conduct human experimentation was using his family's secrets to do so. They had to be someone who actually was one of remaining Uzumaki left, or someone who was close to the Uzumaki clan there. When Naruto didn't hear Gaara say anything for a while, he looked at him.

Gaara had been giving him a sympathetic smile.

"It'll all work out," Gaara said encouragingly, "it always does. Just like how you got this job. It was meant to happen, and you will also have a part in making sure no person with a kekkei gengkai will be subject to the torture of ingesting poison just so a Tailed Beast can be sealed into them."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Naruto admitted, "I know we'll all be okay."

"So what is it?"

Naruto hesitated, vaguely wondering if Sakura would yell at him if she knew he was saying this out loud.

"I want to see it. Where my mom came from. Maybe there are some clues there." Naruto had said the words in a rush, hoping Gaara would just ignore the flurry of words, but instead, the Kazekage nodded and offered him a smile.

"I think Sakura-san would appreciate going with you."

"If she doesn't yell at me first for not taking her suggestion from the start," Naruto laughed.

"Even if she did," Gaara advised him, "in the end, she would still go with you. The both of you have always been that way."

The Hokage didn't say a word once that thought flew out of his friend's mouth, and he was left to wonder if he should have just listened to Sakura in the first place. Information was always important to obtain, but maybe once they decided it was enough to really begin investigating, maybe he could actually go with her while a clone managed things back here. He wanted to smile at the thought - it would feel like old times again, like he was his usual self again.

But he could picture his own wife smiling bitterly as she uttered the words he hated hearing.

It was a lot to consider. The Hokage sighed, and just then, Gaara stood up as though to leave.

"You really just came here for a chat?"

"Yeah," Gaara nodded, "thought it had been a while, you know?"

Naruto pursed his lips. "How do you feel about drinking some sake?

"What's the occasion?"

I don't want to be alone, and I don't want to talk to anyone else for the rest of the day, he thought to himself.

"There's supposed to be some fireworks tonight we can see from here, but they're actually being set off in Suiren."

"That's kinda far from here, no? Can we really see them?"

Naruto smirked. "I see them every year."

"With Hinata?"

The Hokage winced. "From my office."

Gaara's shoulders sank at the wistfulness he heard in his friend's voice, and gave him a smile. "Sure, I'd love to stay. When does it start anyway?"

"Later in the evening. You mind drinking the whole day?"

The Kazekage scoffed. "I may not look like it, but I can handle my liquor enough that I can drink a whole day."

"Bottoms up then, bitch," Naruto laughed, turning behind him to pull out the whiskey and two glasses.

The two Kages transitioned from talking of pressing issues, and eventually began catching each other up on what was going on in their lives. Gaara was not yet married, but there was a line of suitors for him that he did not know how to choose from. Naruto told him of the routine with the kids, and how much he missed them since he was away so much. They laughed, spoke of their troubles, and kept drinking uninterrupted until the sun began to go down. It was only when the clock struck midnight that Naruto looked out the window behind his desk, and saw the first few fireworks in the sky. He smiled, thinking of Sakura near there, and hoping that she saw them much clearer than he did.

"Hey Gaara?"


"Thanks for coming today," he whispered, "you're a good friend."

Gaara didn't say a word, but if kindness was a sound Naruto could hear, he could definitely hear it in the way he shifted in his seat to look out the window at the fireworks.

"You wishing you could see it with someone special?"

"My wife? We do this during the summer."

"But not the winter?"

"Winters are usually busy."

"What about Sakura-san?"

Naruto blinked, looking at him. "What do you mean?"

"You don't think about watching these fireworks with her during the winter, since you both have a lot of work around this time?"

"No," Naruto frowned, "that feels like it's crossing some kind of very dangerous territory."

Gaara shrugged. "Not if you know you're just old friends."

Taking his words into consideration, Naruto looked out the window again and listened to the fireworks, wondering if she would even want to see fireworks for a festival with him. Maybe it would just be for them in the winter, when they both have a lot of work? Cerulean eyes watched the gorgeous splash of colors in the sky and the cheering of the people of Konoha below, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the display. Sakura and Kakashi-sensei were probably about to make their way to Kiri, and he drew in a breath.

Behind beautiful lit up skies that felt like his heart when he was around her, there was a darkness there, too. Something unfamiliar that he did not dare to touch, and not because he was afraid of the darkness itself. Of the unknown, of the secrets he knew he was keeping. The problem was allowing light to seep into that darkness he kept inside himself.

What if allowing Sakura in forced him to realize he still loved her?

Not that he didn't already.

As he watched the fireworks spark up in the sky, he thought of spearmint eyes and spring, the light green glow of her hands as she mended people's wounds and made them whole again. He thought of the fact that she avoided him for fifteen years - and maybe it was because she might have been happy with Sasuke, or happy raising his child - but the last fifteen years were hard on him because he never saw her face.

As the last of the fireworks lit up in the sky, he prayed on them that maybe, he would stop loving her, and for her to be happy with Sasuke.

It was all he could do to keep his heart from continuously breaking every time he saw her face and heard her voice, knowing that even the smallest parts of his being were yearning for her.

For many years, every part of him did.

next ⇥

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Repress 8109 0 0 2. Lapse 6888 0 0 3. Fragments 5697 0 0 4. Dissemble 4932 0 0 5. Family I 7189 0 0 6. Family II 8175 0 0 7. Tribute 10628 0 0 8. Apprehension 7839 0 0 9. Clandestine 7789 0 0 10. Nanadaime 8441 0 0 11. Pursuit 9655 0 0 12. Credence 5976 0 0 13. Nanadaime II 6495 0 0 14. Betrayal 5485 0 0 15. Transparency 5858 0 0 16. Nanadaime III 5297 0 0