AN: Seriously, I lined up the worst week of new medications with PMS. My life has not been fun. It has turned around now however, and I'm happy to know it's likely to keep getting better for a while as the antidepressants kick in for real. Life is looking up again!
Somehow, through all that, I still got this done in less than a week, and I'm feeling pretty awesome about that. Reading your comments always makes me want to publish more, (I guess I'm just a sucker for attention that way,) and I've gotten so much support from you since finishing WGS and starting this it makes me all mushy and soft inside.
Love to everybody!
Naruto can't sleep. He's restless, only he can't come up with anything he wants to do. His kunai could use sharpening, and his kitchen needs cleaning, he but can't find the motivation. It sounds dull, just like watching tv or reading about new jutsus or, well, whatever. He remains where he is instead, sprawled on his bed with his head hanging over the edge, watching the apartment upside down.
It's a little weird still, that it is his apartment, only it isn't. The house is the same place, the layout done by the original plans, the walls painted the same colour. Only the furniture is new, which is mostly a good thing, since he makes enough money by now to get himself some better stuff. Like a bed that's not for kids. (As in; it has room for company. Although, when he'll make that happen, or who said company would be, remains unclear.) The apartment's a brand-new version of itself, but Naruto is the same old Naruto and he remembers his first attempt at cooking, and the scorch mark that should be on the countertop from it. Just like he knows the bannister outside his front door should have a dent from where Sakura threw him into it.
Sighing, Naruto pulls himself up to a seated position. Sage mode is easier to reach every time he does it, the stillness needed something he can now achieve between one breath and the next. For the very first moment, the pulse and flow of chakra through the village is close to disorientating in its intensity, it always is with this many shinobi around. Naruto sifts through the different signatures, looking for someone he knows who's out and about at this time. Kiba and Akamaru is traversing the roofs, but they are on guard so he can't go bother them.
He's just about to give up when he feels it, at the very edge of the village and high up; the static charge of Kakashi-sensei's steady electricity. That's a plan then; he'll go find Kakashi and make him entertain Naruto until he can sleep. The man has been inaugurated as Hokage a few days ago, in a stiff ceremony where they all stood to attention as Kakashi accepted the hat with a serious face, but that hardly matters. After Naruto being dragged out of bed, countless times and at all hours, and told to get ready for training in five minutes flat, Kakashi owes him more than one night of sleep. Hokage or not.
The Hokage mountain has a set of stairs to the top, but Naruto hasn't used those for years. He runs straight up the wall instead, the shift of chakra to make his feet stick second nature by now. The height doesn't matter; he won't fall. Popping up right in front of Kakashi-sensei, however, might get him thrown straight off, so Naruto makes sure to keep a bit of distance rounding the crest. This time he's not a clone, after all.
Kakashi's posture doesn't change as Naruto comes to stand next to him, he merely glances at him before looking back out over the village. "Did you want anything?" The voice is mild, inquisitive, and sort of implying Naruto is disturbing.
"I'm sorry," Naruto tells him, "I wasn't aware only you were allowed to come up here and brood at night." He had planned to goad Kakashi into sparring or something, but despite what Sakura tells him Naruto's not a complete idiot. He can see this is not the time.
The soft yellow light trickling up from below them isn't enough to cast shadows over Kakashi's mask, making his face unreadable. He never answers Naruto's challenge, allows several seconds pass by in silence instead. "What do you see?" he asks in the end, making a small gesture to the village. It sounds like the start of one of his overly complicated theory lessons, the ones that mostly makes Naruto frustrated.
"The village," Naruto shrugs, "houses, people." He wonders what kind of an answer Kakashi's looking for, there's usually a specific one Naruto's supposed to come up with. He never understood why Kakashi doesn't simply tell it to him straight away instead.
Kakashi stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Sure," he says, "but what do you see? That makes you want to be Hokage?" There's something in Kakashi's voice just then, something Naruto has no word for but that makes him think maybe this isn't a lesson for him. Maybe it's a lesson for Kakashi. Or something.
Looking out over the village, Naruto tries to formulate an answer. Below him, the lights go out in a few more windows, the inhabitants turning in for the night. "At first," he tells Kakashi, "it was about respect. They'd had to respect me if I was Hokage." There's a sting remaining, when he thinks of those years, of how this village has feared and mistreated him. "Then," he continues, preferring not to linger on the thought, "I realized that you don't become Hokage and then you get respect, it's the opposite way around. So, then I wanted to become Hokage to prove that I had their respect, you know?"
In the corner of his eyes, Naruto can see Kakashi turn to watch him. He sends the man a small smile. "I've realized since then," he says, "that I don't need to be made Hokage to know that." For a fleeting second the village's celebration of him after he'd met with Nagato springs to Naruto's mind. That day; coming back to see the village like that, to feel the devastating lack of a certain chakra, to see the utter devastation, had been one of the worst in Naruto's life. It had ended alright though, and the celebration is one of his all-time highs. It's weird how something so good could come out of something so horrible.
"And now?" Kakashi asks, his attention still on Naruto.
"Now," Naruto says, feeling his answer out as he says it, "I want to help make it all better. Fight for those who can't. Try to give the next generation a whole life without a single war." The words feel important, heavy, like they're pulling him down more firmly on the ground. It makes him smile. "And I want to be like my dad," he says, "and live in the Hokage mansion. It seems sweet."
"Maa," Kakashi says, and Naruto can't see the smile, but he can hear it, "I find it overrated, you can have it." Naruto snaps his head to the side, staring at Kakashi, that's… "Only," the man continues, "I think the council would string me up by my toes, so maybe not."
Naruto hangs his head. "Mean," he says, putting a hurt in his voice he doesn't really feel, "getting my hopes up like that."
"You'll get your chance eventually," Kakashi says. It makes Naruto smile for the simple reason that it's confirmation: It will be his one day.
Unlike Kakashi, Naruto isn't good at that whole saying things without saying them dance. Nor is he very good at not speaking his mind at all, and Kakashi was the one to bring the topic up. "Why don't you want it?" Naruto asks. The question's been rolling around in his mind ever since the fiasco in Land of Iron, but there hasn't been an opportunity, not until now. Whatever difference it makes now, when Kakashi already holds the title.
Usually, when Kakashi doesn't want to answer something, he'll wield sarcasm or vagueness like kunai; precisely and without room for discussion. This time, the silence stretches for so long Naruto thinks Kakashi is pretending not to have heard him. When he finally sighs, it's muted, expressed more by the movement of his shoulders than sound. "If we were at war," Kakashi shakes his head, turns to Naruto. "I did well in Anbu for a reason, you know?"
Naruto don't know, but he doesn't dare say that. Not when Kakashi's answering his question. Not when there's a darkness in his sensei's eyes that Naruto can't fully tribute to the night surrounding them. "I'm good at fighting and carrying out mission, I know how to lead a team, or an army," Kakashi tells Naruto, "and in Anbu nothing else matter. Is discouraged, in fact." Kakashi turns back to the village. Naruto wonders, for the first time, what being in Anbu is like. He's never seriously considered it for himself, not when he needs to build up his own name if he's becoming Hokage. Slipping into the shadows wearing a cold porcelain mask never seemed worth the kind of interesting missions it might bring. Not when it doesn't even come with bragging rights.
"They picked me," Kakashi says, voice low, "because I've got a famous name and are a good commander. But we are not at war. This village don't need someone to lead them in battle, it needs someone to lead them in everyday life, and in peace. A politician, and a diplomat, and someone who can help mend what was broken and build on this new alliance." Catching Naruto's eyes, Kakashi folds his brow into a smile. "You'll do great at it, I think," he says, and for a full moment Naruto can't breathe because his chest is so full of warm fuzz, "if I don't mess it up before then."
Which takes Naruto right back down on earth again. Any floatiness remaining is more a sudden feeling of tethers coming loose and leaving him to drift. Sure, he suspected there might be more than pure laziness and a hatred for administrative work to Kakashi's unwillingness to accept the hat, but this is far beyond anything he'd ever imagined. Naruto is at a complete loss for words. His sensei isn't supposed to sound this unsure, to doubt himself this way. Naruto doesn't know what to do with that. How to respond. "You won't," he settles on.
Kakashi snorts. "And now I know why you shouldn't lie," he says. Naruto has no idea what he's talking about.
"I'm not lying," he tells Kakashi, just in case that's what was suggested. "I really think so, you know. And you said I'll be good at it, so I should know."
"Will be," Kakashi says, drawing dry normalcy to his voice, "as in a future version of you. Don't let it get to your head or it might self-inflate and get to big for the stupid hat."
"Nah," Naruto answers, allowing the deflection, "it won't be a problem. I can always make a bigger hat." He grins at Kakashi, but the feeling doesn't go all the way to this core. There's a small ball of worry sitting there now, and a hefty amount of thoughts he has yet to finish thinking.
"Maa," Naruto can hear Kakashi's smile in his voice, "I don't know how the village will feel about a chibi Hokage. I'm not sure they'd see the humour in it the way I would."
They toss a few more bantering comments back and forth. Naruto's unsure whether to be relieved Kakashi seems more like himself again, or unhappy they never finished the conversation that mattered. Things he doesn't know how to say still itches on his tongue. He wants to tell Kakashi that it's okay, that he'll be fine because he's smart and what he doesn't already know, he'll figure out. Only, they've left that part behind, and Naruto feels it might be better to leave it there. Kakashi seems fine again, like himself, and it would be dumb to drag him back down. Right?
Sakura's had a late shift at the hospital. She's tired, and in desperate need of a shower, and by the looks of it, it'll have to wait. The reason being Naruto, sitting on a low wall outside the staff entrance as Sakura steps out into the cool night air. He looks up at her, irises yellow and eyes wrapped in orange. Sakura's heart makes a double tap, because sage mode usually means trouble. He must see it on her face, because he shakes his head with a smile. "Just training, Sakura-chan," he says, "since you're late."
Pointing out her shift only ended half an hour ago, and he can hardly complain since she didn't know he was here, will get Sakura exactly nowhere. She cuts that bit out instead, with the hope it'll get her home faster. "Was it something you wanted?" she asks, and it comes out a bit more annoyed than tired, but Naruto doesn't let that stop him. Never has, and probably never will.
"Can I walk with you home?" The question makes Sakura blink. She's a kunoichi, a chūnin to Naruto's genin, and she hardly needs someone to walk her home because it's dark out. "I know you're tired," Naruto goes on, "but I wanted to talk to you and this way it won't take out of your time."
Naruto stands, shuffling his feet and Sakura feels a cloying apprehension. He looks like when he was twelve, fan-boying over her and trying to make her go on a date, and they got past that stage years ago. Or at least so she thought. In her silence, he raises his head, and there's no trace of a blush on his cheeks. Sakura exhales. "Okay," she says.
They get two full blocks from the hospital before Naruto speaks. "Sorry," he says, "had to wait for the patrol to pass by on the roof." The sage mode is still active, and maybe that's why; so he can make sure no one is around to overhear. It makes Sakura anxious again. Naruto's usually not very secretive, usually screams his thoughts from the rooftops for any who will listen, usually never gnaws his lips in thought while glancing at her the way he does now.
"I saw Kakashi-sensei earlier," Naruto starts, voice low, "and I… he was…" Sakura might be tired, might want her shower and her bed, but she stops at that. Turns fully to Naruto. "Do you think he's okay?" Naruto asks, his eyes wide under the streetlight.
For the full span of a second, Sakura curses the fact that she's Kakashi's physician and that there is such a thing as patient confidentiality. Fucking shit. She needs to talk to Naruto about this, for both their sakes, but where is the line here? What are her observations as Sakura, and what is medical findings and covered by confidentiality? When Kakashi said 'I trust you', what exactly did he mean? Rubbing her face, Sakura bites back on any inappropriate words. "I don't know," she says instead. That at least can't be a violation of any code of conduct. "I honestly don't know."
And she doesn't, really, but at the same time; Naruto even asking this question sort of answers it.
"Yeah," Naruto says, without pressing her.
They stand in silence for a few seconds, sharing the orange bubble of the streetlight and trying to gather their thoughts. "What happened?" Sakura asks in the end. She might not be able to share what she knows, but Naruto isn't bound by any oaths and he sought her out.
"I was bored," Naruto says, scraping his toe against the ground, "and I looked for someone who was up, you know, and I found him on the top of the Hokage mountain." Sakura manages to stop herself before words tumble out of her already open mouth. Naruto's eyes snaps to her, and he hold out his hands, palms out. "Not like that," he hurries, "jeez Sakura. He was just, brooding, you know?"
Forming a fist, Sakura punches Naruto's arm, not hard enough to injure but not far from it either. "Don't scare me like that." She wants to scream it, but doesn't. Hisses instead to not draw attention to them. That Naruto saw where her mind went is not good. She's not supposed to let on that she knows Kakashi is anything but fine. He's totally not eating anti-depressants, nor is he possibly falling apart behind that stubborn mask of his. Nope. And sure, he said he wasn't more unstable now than before, but that isn't enough to convince Sakura.
Rubbing his arm, Naruto glares at her. "I'm not sure if you got the memo," he says, "but medic-nin aren't supposed to hurt people."
"I'm a kunoichi," Sakura reminds him, "I'm pretty sure hurting people is in my job description. Now get back on subject; what does 'brooding' mean?"
At first, it looks like Naruto is going to smart-mouth her, but he visibly reigns it in and settles back down. "I don't know, staring out at the village, asking me why I want to be Hokage, stuff like that." Bringing his hands up to meet behind his neck, Naruto keeps his elbows tightly together in front of him and looks down. "So I asked him why he doesn't, you know?" The continuation Sakura waits for never comes. Naruto sighs instead, and lets his arms down. "I think I messed up in answering him," he admits, "but I honestly had no idea what to say, and then he was back to normal all of a sudden, and I didn't want to mess with that, and…"
"You," Sakura can't help the disbelief in her voice, "didn't know what to say?" A frown crosses over Naruto's face, pulling his eyebrows down and together and changing the tilt of his whisker marks. "I'm just saying," Sakura defends herself, "you always now what to say when it matters. I mean look at Nagato, or Obito; it wasn't supposed to be possible to talk them around." There're more examples, spread out over the years. Zabuza, Gaara, Tsunade, the list goes on; Naruto has a way with words that makes people listen.
"Yeah," Naruto scratches at his neck, "but then I was angry. They were being idiots and it pissed me off. This was different."
Sakura is tired. Really tired, and she blames that for why she starts to giggle. When she's started, she can't stop. It's not even very funny. Maybe this is what a nervous breakdown feels like, she has the time to think before she manages to pull herself together. Maybe not then. "Shit," she says when she's got her voice back under control, "what do we do?"
Naruto shakes his head. "I have no clue," he says.
There's no one they could turn to, even without the whole complication of patient confidentiality and Kakashi's trust. Tsunade has left and won't be back for months, possibly not until the summer. Kakashi is friends with some people, first and foremost Gai, but Sakura can't see that conversation going well. Then there's only Naruto and her left, and they are Kakashi's friends, but also his students, making their whole relationship slightly skewed. It could be righted, maybe, but Sakura doesn't know how.
"We'll just have to stick around, I guess," Sakura finally says, "and keep our eyes open. Make sure he knows we're here if he needs help."
"What?" Naruto questions. "Pretend like everything's normal?"
It doesn't feel good, but Sakura has nothing else. "You've got any other ideas?" she challenges, and watches Naruto deflate.
"Not really, no," he says. "Although maybe it's not so bad," a small smile is forced over his lips, "I mean, that's how he seems to want to do it, isn't it? And maybe I can get him to train with me a little more, to draw him out of his mind?"
"Yeah." Sakura nods. Naruto makes an excellent point, after all; Kakashi does seem the prefer dealing with emotions by pretending they doesn't exist. Who are they to force him to do it differently? "We'll just make sure to stick around," she says, "and if he wants to talk, we can try to be prepared next time." Not that she has any idea what to prepare for, but with Naruto nodding vigorously she doesn't point it out. Why rain on his parade if she can avoid it.
"Definitely," Naruto says. "Believe it!"
It's not the best plan Sakura had laid out, but it's a plan. For the two of them, meaning she's not completely alone in this anymore. That's something, at least.