Kakashi sighed yet again as he moved one dusty, fragile scroll from the shelving unit in front of him to one to his left. How he, the Hokage, had been roped into doing such a menial task, he couldn’t quite figure out, but he was convinced it had something to do with Sakura’s maniacal smile and Shikamaru’s tactical strategies. He’d be a little upset by it all if it didn’t make him the slightest bit proud.
Still, there had to be some sort of rule that the Hokage didn’t have to do things like rearrange the scrolls in the Hokage’s library, despite the fact that there probably was some sort of rule that no one but the Hokage should ever have access to the scrolls in the Hokage’s library. Of course, it had been a very long time since Kakashi was a stickler for the rules.
He sighed again as he moved a few more scrolls. Even if it was entirely boring and, he was almost sorry to believe, a little beneath him, he did kind of feel it was a better way to spend his time than signing his name on scroll after scroll until his eyes crossed, his sight blurred, and he collapsed on his desk head first.
There were days when he wished he’d never promised Obito that he would be Hokage.
(Then he would remember that he never actually had promised Obito he would be Hokage and that he had walked into this paperwork hell of his own free will. Sort of.)
Eventually, all the scrolls on the shelves in front of him were moved elsewhere, leaving the shelving unit bare and able to be moved into his office. Dusting off his hands and pulling some chakra into his arms, Kakashi moved forward to lift the large piece of furniture. But as he began to pull it away from the wall, he heard the unmistakable sound of stone moving, so he set the shelving unit down and moved around it to study the stone floor.
Even in the dim lighting, Kakashi was able to discern that one of the stones was loose, and he bent down to feel along the edges. They were smooth, indicating that the mortar had been sliced – either by blade or chakra – rather than the mortar eroding away and cracking with age. Frowning slightly in thought, he pried the stone up, not knowing what he would find, but certainly not expecting the black, sealed box that sat within the floor.
This boggled Kakashi. The was the Hokage’s library. One had to get through three sealed doors and ANBU to even get in the room; why would there be the need for a sealed box hidden in the floor? What could possibly be in the box?
“Hokage-sama,” one of his ANBU suddenly said behind him.
“Yes?” he asked, still turning the box over in his hands, examining it from all angles for trap jutsu.
“The clan heads have assembled in your office… along with the… Elders.”
Kakashi looked up at that, the box momentarily forgotten because that certainly didn’t sound good. Huffing out yet another sigh, for an entirely different reason, Kakashi shoved the box under his arm and left the library, allowing the door to close and seal behind him, followed by the other two doors. The ANBU followed him to his office, where two more ANBU stood at attention; they opened his door for him, and Kakashi walked in to be greeted by a lot of grim faces, save Shikamaru and Ino’s. They both had to become clan heads after the war, and while Shikamaru had his usual lazy scowl, Ino was trying to smile at him, but it only came across as nervous.
Kakashi sauntered to his desk and set the black box down on the surface, his air carefree, though he was on high alert for anyone who knew him well. “To what do I owe this distinguished gathering?” Instead of sitting in his chair, he sat on the corner of the desk, crossing one leg over the other and his arms across his chest.
Hyuuga Hiashi stepped forward and bowed slightly. “Hokage-sama, we have been informed that you have received a missive from Uchiha Sasuke that he will be returning to the village within the month.”
Kakashi rose one brow in query, wondering what little birdie could have possibly spread that information to the clan heads. But it wasn’t exactly a secret that Sasuke was coming home, him being cleared of charges and everything, so he wouldn’t spend too much time wondering about it.
Hiashi cleared his throat quietly. “We are all very aware of Uchiha’s status; we cleared him of charges ourselves at the urging of yourself and the petitions of Uzumaki Naruto, among others. But while his loyalty may not technically be in question, the clans have deemed it a good idea to solidify the Uchiha’s ties to the village.”
Kakashi had a feeling he knew where this was going. “And what is your proposal?” he asked quietly.
Before Hiashi could answer, Homura and Koharu stepped forward, their heads bowed slightly. “Uchiha Sasuke should be married to an eligible young woman and begin rebuilding the Uchiha clan,” Homura said gruffly.
Kakashi narrowed his eyes and said, “Unless I dreamed it, I remember removing you two from the council due to the last plans you had for the Uchiha clan. I’m not inclined to entertain your ideas for a new Uchiha clan.”
Homura and Koharu visibly stiffened, stepping back with severe frowns on their faces, but Hiashi quickly stepped forward. “It may have been their idea, Hokage-sama, but all the clan heads agree with this. Having Uchiha tied by family to the village should ensure loyalty.”
Kakashi refrained from asking how that had worked out for Itachi, instead sweeping his eyes over the rest of the clan heads present. Shikamaru and Ino avoided his eyes, but the others stared at him openly, some even nodding their agreement with Hiashi.
He let out a small huff. “Be that as it may, Sasuke is by all rights a clan head himself. While your collective agreement may override my authority in some cases, it cannot be used against another clan head without his consent.”
“But you can add it to the conditions of his probation, Hokage-sama.”
Kakashi was dangerously close to losing his temper. “Adding conditions to the probation after the fact could be seen as forcing his hand. Terms of probation are to be agreed upon prior to release to ensure that a prisoner knows all conditions of freedom upfront and can make an appropriate decision at their own discretion. Turning around a year later and saying, ‘Oh, you also have to marry someone and sire children or else be imprisoned again,’ is not exactly fair.”
No one had anything to say to that.
After a moment, Shikamaru let out a large huff of breath. “Hokage-sama has a point. And forcing Uchiha to do this will only paint the clan heads in the same light as the previous council.” He pointedly ignored the Elders as he said this. “But we can offer it as a suggestion to him, that we strongly encourage it, and he will undoubtedly read it as an exercise of trust – meaning, it will be a further act on his part that will prove that our trust is well-placed.”
“So, Hokage-sama, you will arrange a formal meeting when he returns, yes?” Hiashi asked.
They had him cornered, and they knew it. Even if he said no, the clan heads could override him on this, as it more or less pertained to the safety and prosperity of the village. Standing up and moving around his desk to sit, he finally replied, “Fine. Now leave.” The group bowed and began to file out. “Not you two,” he said to Shikamaru and Ino as he reached for some parchment to begin a message.
They stopped their retreat and turned to face his desk. Kakashi continued to write until the last person was gone and his guards had closed the door. At the soft click, Kakashi threw his brush down and leaned back with a tired, loud, and angry sigh.
“Please don’t tell me that you two are actually on board with this idea.”
They were both quiet for a moment before Ino spoke up. “Not per se, but…” She paused before looking helplessly at Kakashi. “I speak not for myself, Hokage-sama, but for the clan. Sasuke-kun having ties to the village will go a long way to easing the discomfort in the clan at having him back.”
“And his current ties,” he said with as much derision that he could muster, which wasn’t much, “Are they insufficient?”
Shikamaru sighed. “You know as well as we do that Uchiha has one tie, and that’s Naruto. You also know that it’s just common sense that the gatekeeper and the key master not be the same person.” Kakashi blinked at that. Shikamaru glared slightly. “Uchiha’s loyalty can’t begin and end with Naruto.”
Kakashi wasn’t entirely inclined to believe that, but he knew when to pick his battles. “All right, I think I’m done with this particular topic for now. You may leave.” Ino murmured her goodbyes, but Shikamaru stayed. Kakashi raised his brow in question.
“What’s this black box?”
Kakashi also wasn’t inclined to share this with Shikamaru, since Shikamaru hadn’t seen fit to give him a little heads up about this thing with Sasuke. It may be petty, but Kakashi felt little compunction about it.
“Oh, nothing,” Kakashi said. Shikamaru said nothing, and he turned and left the office. Kakashi stared at the door for several minutes, wondering exactly how long it would take for Sasuke to completely lose his cool when this suggestion was laid before him and how many times Naruto would look at him in disappointment when he found out about it.
But Kakashi didn’t want to think about it any more today. He did want to send Sasuke some sort of warning, but that could blow up in his face and end in Sasuke not coming home at all. And then Naruto would still look at him in disappointment.
Sighing for the umpteenth time today, Kakashi let his eyes stray to the papers on his desk before settling on the black box. That would be an excellent way of not thinking about the Uchiha problem right now. He reached for it and looked it over again, quickly ascertaining that the only seal was a kage-class jutsu that he could easily remove. Of course, that in itself probably should have been cause for concern; there weren’t that many reasons why something would be sealed so that only a Kage could open it, and none of those reasons were ever good.
After flowing through the signs to release the seal, the lid of the black box sprung open, and Kakashi peered inside cautiously, only to find what looked to be an old mission scroll. He reached in and gingerly brought it out, unfurling it to read the contents.
It seemed to be a mission to send an ambassador to the Land of Iron a little over a decade ago, with strict instructions that the shinobi would not return unless personally summoned by the Hokage. This was no pay-for-service mission, but one penned and signed by the Sandaime himself, and it only contained his signature and the signature of the shinobi assigned to the mission, which meant that the council and clans had no idea about this mission.
The pieces clicked.
Sandaime had sent someone from the village without telling the clan heads, the Elders, or Danzou, and the scroll had been sealed and hidden so that those people never found out.
It couldn’t have anything to do with Itachi’s mission, as this was handed out about three years before the massacre. Kakashi, eyes wide, hurried to the end of the document to find out who had been sent on this mission, and the breath stalled in his lungs.
The name was familiar, for several reasons, but Kakashi had no time to reminisce. He had to find out if she was still there!
Reaching for a blank piece of parchment and his brush, Kakashi furiously wrote a message to General Mifune that he would get to the hawks as soon as he resealed the mission scroll. Once the scroll was resealed inside the black box, and the black box shoved into one of his desk drawers, Kakashi practically ran to the aviary and demanded their fastest hawk. He placed the message in the tube himself and sent the hawk, his breathing slightly labored from more than the run.
He had jinxed himself, it seemed. It looked like the Uchiha problem would be the only thing he’d think about for the next several days.
Something was wrong.
Naruto stared down the main street of Konoha that led to the gates, his brows drawn down in a thoughtful frown as he wondered what could have happened. He sensed no danger, but he felt something wrong nonetheless.
Sasuke had sent Kakashi a message a month ago that he was finally coming home from his journey of redemption, and Naruto had hardly been able to contain his excitement. And when he felt Sasuke’s chakra in the forests outside the gate two days ago, he’d become unbearably anxious, fidgeting nonstop and annoying his friends to no end with his distracted state.
But Sasuke had never come into the village. He was still out there, Naruto could feel him, but he seemed… hesitant to pass through the gates. Naruto was torn between letting Sasuke be and going out to see why he was waiting. This should be Sasuke’s decision, the decision to return, to willingly walk into the regimen of village life after so long gone, but Naruto just had to know what reservations kept Sasuke just outside the village.
So, biting his lower lip briefly as he contemplated his decision one last time, he flickered out of sight from the main street and materialized in the forest, just a few clicks from Sasuke’s location. He felt a brief flare of chakra, so slight that anyone not attuned to it as he was would miss it and knew it for the invitation it was.
He jumped into the trees and quickly found the clearing where Sasuke had made camp. He landed on the leaf-strewn ground and found Sasuke standing, his hand on his hip, facing Naruto with a small smirk on his face. His cloak was travel-stained, covering the side where his other arm used to be. His hair was longer, his once gravity-defying locks now straight and covering his Rinnegan.
Naruto didn’t know what it was that he felt upon first sight of Sasuke in a year, but it was something much more than happy. He glossed over it and grinned.
“Bastard!” he greeted cheerily, walking forward and throwing an arm around Sasuke’s neck in a brief hug. He let go quickly, knowing it probably made Sasuke uncomfortable, and stepped back.
“Idiot,” Sasuke returned softly before turning his attention to the small scroll in his hand that Naruto had missed, his small smile dropping into a slight frown.
“What’s wrong, Sasuke?” Naruto asked, his lips turned down in his own frown. “Why have you been out here for days?” He looked closer at the scroll in Sasuke’s hands. “What’s that?”
“It seems the Elders aren’t quite done with me.” He rolled the scroll up and placed it in his bag before sitting down on the ground. Naruto joined him.
“What do you mean?”
“Kakashi sent me a message a few weeks ago. It seems the Elders have convinced the clan heads that, as a former missing-nin, I need a leash once I return to Konoha.”
Naruto’s heart beat frantically at the implications. Sasuke couldn’t possibly be going back to prison! He swallowed. “What kind of leash?”
Sasuke met Naruto’s eyes as he smirked, though Naruto saw it was by no means any kind of smirk he’d been treated to before: it seemed rather self-deprecating than anything, and Naruto wanted it gone.
“They want me to get married, probably to a girl of their choice, and produce Uchiha heirs.”
It took Naruto a few seconds, but Sasuke’s words finally settled into his brain, and he squawked indignantly, “What?!”
“I’ve just been taking a little bit to determine what my response will be,” Sasuke continued as if Naruto hadn’t just exploded in confused indignation of his behalf.
This caused Naruto to actually pause before delving into a blistering rant about where the Elders could shove their ideas. “Your response?” he asked.
“It’s obvious that I have no choice in this matter, Naruto. But I won’t just let them dictate my life like this. If I must get married, then it will be to a girl of my choosing. Or something.”
Something cold and dark washed over Naruto at the words, and it was confusing, as he wasn’t quite sure what caused it or what it meant, though he ultimately pinned it on people trying to manipulate Sasuke once again.
“Is there,” Naruto paused and licked his lips. “Is there someone you have in mind, someone you like?”
Sasuke’s lips pressed together, and his eyes flitted briefly to the side. “No.”
“So, what? You’re just going to marry someone and hope it works out?” Naruto wasn’t sure why it made him so angry, since it really wasn’t any of his business, but he really wanted to know what Sasuke was thinking.
“Oh, no,” Naruto growled as he reached a hand out and grasped Sasuke’s shoulder, pushing slightly to get Sasuke to look him in the eye. “Tell me what you’re thinking, bastard. Let me in. Let me help! Or else,” he paused, frowning slightly and lowering his voice. “Or else everything we went through a year ago would be… meaningless.”
He felt and heard the sharp intake of breath from Sasuke, and he waited patiently as the other frowned, glared at the ground, and – hopefully – tried to gather his thoughts. He realized that his hand was still on Sasuke’s shoulder, and he slowly – reluctantly, he also realized – pulled his hand away and let it fall into the open space between his legs.
“I don’t,” Sasuke started softly. “I don’t want to do this, but I don’t see any way out of it.”
Naruto nodded. “What about Kakashi-sensei? He can’t really be okay with this.”
Sasuke shook his head. “He says he’s working on a way to stop it, but there’s little he can do if all the clans are united.”
“What?” Naruto asked in disbelief, as Sasuke’s words finally sunk in. “Are you telling me Ino and Shikamaru are on board with this?”
“Apparently.” Sasuke inhaled sharply and sat up straighter. “Enough. While I’m… grateful not to be in prison, I always knew I’d have to pay some sort of price for my actions.”
Naruto pressed his lips together, forgoing the rant he wanted to spout not only about the clans and their stupid idea, but also about Sasuke’s continued attitude about what had happened. For all intents and purposes being tricked into killing one’s own brother… Naruto felt that Sasuke had more than paid for his poor decisions.
“Sasuke,” he said lowly, seriously. “You know I’ll help you, right? If this isn’t what you want, I’ll stop at nothing to keep it from happening.”
Sasuke snapped his head up and around, his lone black eye staring at Naruto incredulously before his lashes fluttered to hide his surprise and whatever other emotion Naruto’s declaration may have elicited. “I know,” he replied quietly. An awkward, but not tense, silence passed between them for a moment before Sasuke continued, a playful smirk pulling at his lips, “I guess it pays to be friends with the village hero.”
“Ha!” Naruto laughed brightly, grateful for the slight change in subject. “Well, this seems like the perfect way to use my clout.”
“I didn’t know you knew that word, idiot.”
“Fuck you, bastard!” Naruto laughed again, hitting Sasuke on the shoulder. He stood and looked down at his friend with a bright smile. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
“Hn.” Sasuke stood gracefully, grabbing his pack from the ground and slinging it over his shoulder. “All right.”
Naruto stood frozen for a second, staring at Sasuke’s small smile and marveling at the ease with which Sasuke agreed to return to the village. Something warm enveloped him, inside and out, and in fear of blushing, he quickly turned from Sasuke and began the small trek back to the village gates.
Sasuke walked behind him for a few steps before lengthening his strides to walk at Naruto’s side, and they walked in companionable silence as they came upon the village gates. Izumo and Kotetsu greeted them lazily, not even blinking twice at Sasuke’s return to the village. Not that their reaction was a barometer to measure everyone’s reaction, but it seemed to unwind something inside Naruto that he hadn’t realized was wound.
He laughed quietly at himself. What had he been expecting? That people would glare and throw things at Sasuke? Maybe not everyone knew what had happened to Sasuke’s family, maybe everyone knew what Sasuke did with Taka and the Akatsuki, but what everyone also knew was that Sasuke had joined the war, had helped stop Obito, then Madara, then Kaguya (okay, maybe not everyone knew about Kaguya, but still…!), and that can’t be overlooked, saving the world and everything.
“What?” Sasuke asked quietly, catching his laughter, as soft as it had been.
“Nothing, just… really glad you’re home.”
Sasuke didn’t actually say anything to that, but Naruto knew a “hn” when he heard one. Or didn’t hear one. Whatever.
They continued down the road in silence again, but as they meandered closer to the more populated areas of the main street, they saw Sakura jogging slightly to meet them, an excited and genuine smile on her face. She came to a stop before them, and Naruto knew she was physically keeping herself from hugging Sasuke.
“Sasuke-kun, welcome home!” she said brightly, a light blush painting her cheeks. Naruto watched Sasuke return a slight smile.
“Thank you, Sakura.” Sasuke moved forward to continue his trek to, Naruto assumed, the Hokage tower, and Sakura got into line on his other side, continuing with him and Naruto.
“Are you going to see Kakashi-sensei?” Sakura asked, her fingers clasped together behind her back.
“Yes,” he answered, but offered nothing else. Naruto watched Sakura frown just a little. As the tower came in sight, Sasuke slowed down and cut a look at Naruto as he spoke to Sakura, “I have to speak to Kakashi alone. If you’ll excuse me.” He bowed slightly to her and then walked off without them. Sakura looked as if she wanted to ask him why, but Naruto already knew, so he wasn’t helping her in that department.
“I’m sure he’ll hang out with us when he’s done, Sakura-chan,” he said, throwing her a grin. “Want to get ramen while we wait?”
She sighed in exasperation but returned his grin. “Why not?” They walked to Ichiraku, chatting about nonsense, both avoiding talking about Sasuke, Naruto noticed. They walked into the bar and took their seats. Ayame flashed them both smiles and didn’t even need to ask what they wanted before it was being cooked.
His ramen was placed in front of him, and he dug in quickly. Between slurps, he eyed Sakura as she calmly ate her ramen, noticing the slight furrow between her brows. He set his bowl down. “Something wrong, Sakura-chan?”
She looked over at him, biting her bottom lip in thought a moment before sighing and setting her chopsticks down. “You didn’t ask Sasuke-kun what he needed to discuss with Kakashi-sensei.”
Naruto frowned. “And?”
“You already know. If you didn’t, you would have been bothering him about what it was, right?”
He couldn’t exactly refute that. “I don’t follow, Sakura-chan.”
She sighed again, looking away from him and shaking her head slightly. “It’s nothing, really, Naruto. It was just… you two are still so close, and I’m… still on the outside looking in sometimes.”
“We’ve been through a lot together, trust each other; we can talk to each other now, about a lot of things,” he said without thought.
“And Sasuke-kun doesn’t trust me,” she said quietly.
“Ah, no! Sakura-chan, I didn’t mean to-”
She waved him quiet. “No, I know, Naruto. You always believed in Sasuke-kun, never doubted him, so it makes sense that he would trust you more than anyone else.”
Naruto didn’t know why, but those words made him feel warm inside, which made him embarrassed, so he looked away, down into his ramen bowl. Sakura continued.
“It’s about what the clan heads want to do, right?” Naruto looked at her, wide-eyed. “Ino was really upset about it, so she ended up venting to me.” She slid her fingers lightly atop the counter. “You think it’s a bad idea?” she asked quietly.
Naruto blinked, his surprise slowly replaced by confusion, then burgeoning anger. “You don’t? Sakura-chan! They can’t just do that to him, force him to marry someone like that. Someone he doesn’t even love!”
“Shinobi marriages aren’t always about love, Naruto.” She paused, and Naruto was nearly about to blow his top at her when she added, “You don’t think Sasuke-kun might come to love his wife?”
Naruto was about to scream at her that she was putting words in his mouth, that her even suggesting that she supported having Sasuke’s freedom taken from him in that way was so fucked up, but he stopped when he realized that… she wanted to be in the running for Sasuke’s wife. She might already be in the running. Sakura wasn’t from a shinobi family, but she was a strong kunoichi, had been trained by the Godaime, and had helped stop Kaguya; she would be an easy choice for rebuilding the Uchiha clan.
Being married to Sasuke was Sakura’s dream. So, what did that make him, who vowed he would help Sasuke from being forced to marry anyone? If the clan heads did choose Sakura, he would be actively trying to crush her dream…
He swallowed, his eyes suddenly a little teary. He looked away from her.
… And he didn’t care, because he would do anything to make sure Sasuke was happy.
Naruto looked at her again and took a deep breath, trying to be careful with his words. “I think, Sakura-chan, that Sasuke is the type of person to resent anyone and anything, even another victim of the Elders’ schemes. Especially a willing victim.” Someone who willingly went along with the Elders because she wanted Sasuke to herself, was what he hoped that conveyed to her.
And maybe she got it, because her brows furrowed in thought, a small frown on her face as she stared into her broth. “I get what you’re saying, Naruto,” she said, her words shaded in slight hurt. “But I love him,” she whispered desperately.
Naruto hunched his shoulders in discomfort as Sakura swung her watery green eyes his way. He swallowed again. “I don’t know much about love, Sakura-chan, but I imagine it involves doing something that makes the other happy, even if it doesn’t end up good for you.”
“You don’t think being with me will make him happy?” she asked defensively; Naruto could tell she was starting to get angry, which only served to make him angry, too.
“I think it has to be his choice to be with you, Sakura!” he yelled, startling Ayame behind the counter. He clicked his tongue and stood from his chair, reaching into his pocket for his frog purse. “If you force Sasuke to be with you, Sakura, no one is going to be happy, least of all you.” He threw money on the counter to cover both his and Sakura’s food and stormed off.
He made his way to an empty training ground, feeling the need to blow shit up and tear everything apart. His conversation with Sakura played repeatedly in his head as he released jutsu after jutsu into the defenseless terrain. And it wasn’t until he’d cleared out a significant number of trees that he realized just why he was so angry.
If Sakura forced Sasuke to be with her, no one would be happy, least of all Naruto. And it wasn’t just Sakura; Naruto couldn’t stand the idea of anyone with Sasuke. But rather than being angry at the Elders’ plot – and he was that, for sure – he was startled to find that he was mad that they were trying to take Sasuke away from him.
He was jealous, of all things, and it made him uncomfortable. What did it mean? He wasn’t quite sure, but he thought that somehow, maybe, these feelings were wrong. Like, he wasn’t supposed to be having these feelings. For Sasuke. Whatever these feelings were.
Naruto let loose a barrage of rasengan and tried not to think about it anymore.