And I need you to recover
Because I can't make it on my own
I have wondered about you
Where will you be
When this is through?
M4 (Part II) - Faunts
Peace is the biggest lie the Shinobi Nations have ever been fed.
Oh, sure, they did gang up against an all powerful goddess and stopped the end of the world. Did it resolve centuries of bad blood between the lands? It certainly did not. For all that Naruto is finally Hokage and living his dream, it doesn't mean missions have stopped coming to the desk.
One of the Nanadaime's first reforms had been to raise the graduation age at fifteen. The Konoha 12 all think it's an amazing idea. The Clans, not so much. It hasn't stopped Naruto before, and it's not stopping him now. It does mean one very real thing for the shinobi population: they can't stop working. They literally can't. Not only did the war decimate their ranks, but the new graduation age means they aren't getting more people to repopulate the force.
As a result, shinobi are barely home, the village is left practically defenceless, but the children aren't sent to kill at twelve. Small victories.
It also means the ruling regarding Sasuke's fate had been a lot more forgiving than it should have been, in everyone's but Naruto's opinion. They simply can't spare him. He's regularly sent on missions, just like the rest of the Konoha 12, no matter how much it pisses off the Clans, who fear for their heirs (which is a nice sentiment, but it's not like they risked their life in the last war or anything).
Sakura's role had been simple: train as many field-medics, as quickly as possible, then get back to the mission desk and work with everyone else.
Peace is, indeed, a big, ugly lie, is what Sakura thinks when she receives her next assignment. Why else would she be hired by the Kumo higher ups to assassinate Wave's daimyō?
Unfortunately, it's the kind of money they can't spare, even if it breaks about sixty-seven rules in the Alliance. It's also why the mission's parameters don't include a time estimation. This is deep undercover work, the kind that will take her months, if not years, to finish.
Sakura lets out a disappointed sigh, but signs the register. It's an S-rank, so she doesn't waste time and goes up to the Hokage's office. Ino lets her in, which is still something Sakura is getting used to. The last place she would have imagined Ino ending up in is the Hokage Tower. She's certain there's an end goal she's not seeing yet, but her friend isn't bulging on the matter.
“Sakura-chan! You're back!”
She smiles at her teammate, his tired slouch not dampening for one second the glint in his eyes. He's where he's meant to be, and that's not something she gets to comment on. She's simply happy for him.
“I got home yesterday, I'm leaving again in a few hours.”
Naruto's smile lessens. “I'm sorry you don't have more time to rest.”
“It is what it is, Ho-ka-ge-sama,” she smirks.
“Shut it,” he says, looking away with reddening cheeks.
Sakura hands him the scroll, wincing a bit when pain rises in her shoulder. She was the one to establish the new resting periods, to fit the number of missions they had to tackle. She knows, intellectually, that her body is capable of handling another mission. It doesn't mean it has to like it.
“Oh,” he frowns, reading the scroll, “I remember that one. They shouldn't be long, sit down.”
Sakura eyes him with suspicion, but complies. She's not really expecting anything, but she's still surprised when Neji and Shikamaru enter the office, half an hour later.
“Hokage-sama,” Neji bows, completely ignoring the eye roll Shikamaru gives him.
“Alright, sit down too, we have stuff to talk about.”
Sakura rolls her shoulder while they sit, trying to ease the pain. Shikamaru looks well rested, but Neji has a cut on his cheek that hasn't been healed and his thumb is held in a splint.
“Sakura was handed a mission. Kumo wants her to kill Wave's daimyō.”
Naruto cuts them off. “I know. Kiri hired the two of us to protect the daimyō. Which is why you're here and not leaving for Wave.”
Her shoulder forgotten, Sakura gives Naruto an incredulous look. She doesn't have to look at Shikamaru and Neji to know they're doing the same.
“I've been informed that it would be... ill advised to inform either of the Kage of what the other one is doing.”
That sounds like something he heard a lot, and Ino is being worryingly quiet in her corner.
“Sakura's pay is thrice as high as both of yours combined. Kumo has always been richer, so it doesn't surprise me, but her mission is also a lot more dangerous.”
Naruto wiggles his nose, rummaging the mess on his desk until he finds a file.
“Here's what we're going to do. This is an offer of asylum for the daimyō. Neji and Shikamaru, you'll be doing what's in your mission order. Sakura, I want you to infiltrate the palace without them knowing, we can't risk people knowing you're from the Leaf. Then you're going to speak to the daimyō and tell him he can hide in Konoha if he wants. If he refuses,” Naruto sighs, “then kill him.”
She bites her tongue before the reply can come, because it looks like it's hard enough for him to say that. The mantle has been very disappointing in some aspects for her best friend.
“We can't afford to loose your pay. If he accepts, then it's all good, because you're going to fake an attempt, which Shikamaru and Neji will stop so they can be paid. The daimyō will leave for Konoha, and you're going to fake his death, so you can be paid too.”
This time, she has to speak.
“Naruto, I'm not doubting your intelligence-” Ino snorts loudly, Naruto throws an inkstone at her face, every day life at the Hokage's office. Sakura continues: “I'm not doubting your intelligence, but who came up with this plan?”
She's expecting Shikamaru speak up, but he stays silent. Instead, Naruto surprises her again.
“Hinata did! She's been helping me, 'cause I'm trying to give her a little less missions so her father gets off my back.”
“He's a dick,” Shikamaru mumbles.
“Shut up, Neji, you know I'm right.”
Naruto hands the asylum file to Sakura. She takes it, quickly reading through it.
“When do we leave?”
“Shikamaru, Neji, you're going first. Introduce yourself to the daimyō and start the job. He's expecting you. Sakura will leave at the same time, but she'll stop in the small villages. Broadcast the fact that you're here. Play the war hero. Say that's your going to save the orphans or something.”
“Very diplomatic of you,” Ino whispers. Naruto waves his stapler threateningly.
“You know what? Tell people you're going to visit your good friends at the palace. Everyone knows we're all attached to the hip anyway, so it won't be weird. When you're in the capital, find somewhere to stay and play the hero card again.”
“You think people know about the mansion?” Sakura asks, trying to hide a stupid giggle behind her clenched fist.
Ino leans on her elbow, the paperwork around her complimenting her skin tone (because of course it does).
“Oh, you mean the fact that we're all so traumatized we're living in the same house? All twelve of us? Really, Forehead?”
Naruto throws the stapler at her. Sakura is beginning to sense a theme. “Finish the paperwork, Yamanaka. And no, Sakura-chan, I'm pretty sure they don't know. It's been covered up by everyone and their mother.”
“We wouldn't want them to know,” Neji mutters sarcastically, “what would the good people of the Land of Fire think?”
“What did I say? Hiashi is a dick.” Shikamaru adds, rolling his eyes.
“Alright, that's it,” Naruto smiles. “All of you, out, you're leaving in an hour.”
They jump out of their seats, strangely excited at the prospect of this mission. After a shallow bow, they leave the office behind. Sakura is the last one out, and she's slow enough to catch, her eyebrows raising to her hairline, Naruto getting his inkstone back and Ino kissing him. So that was her end goal, uh? Well played, Pig.
“Do you know who's at home?” Neji asks as they leave the Tower.
Sakura shrugs. “I know Kiba came home last night, like me. I'm pretty sure I also heard Lee and Sasuke somewhere, but that's it.”
“I saw Shino when I left this morning,” Shikamaru adds.
“Well, that's manageable,” Neji says as they come closer to the Hokage mansion.
Sakura nods. Ino was barely joking when she said 'traumatized'. Every time one of them goes, the others hover like brooding shadows until the one leaving drags the closest pouting form into a hug. It's the weirdest form of collocation, but it works, so they ignore their respective clans who insist they go back and find a nice wife/husband/baby-maker.
Nonetheless, the less people are in the house, the better. The hovering is a lot easier to deal with and it takes less time to appease everyone's specific fears before taking off.
Lee and Shino are sparring in the front yard, where they all collectively decided that the flowers were ugly and no one minded if the space was changed into a small scale training ground. They're doing something taijutsu related, because Shino is getting his ass handed to him.
“Oy, Lee! Lay off, will you? We're leaving!”
Their taijutsu expert immediately steps off, letting Shino catch his breath. In a flicker, he's standing in front of them, frowning.
“All three of you? For how long?”
“We don't know,” Shikamaru shrugs. “It might take a long time, though.”
Lee is still frowning as he crosses his arms, taking a step back that makes him bump into Shino's chest.
“That's not good, is it?”
“We will miss you,” Shino says solemnly, tugging Lee back when the young man starts shaking.
“Kami, I hate this,” Sakura mumbles as they go around the house, to the garden at the back.
“We're not exactly better when we're the ones seeing people off.”
“Doesn't mean I have to like it.”
The garden is a thing of beauty, green grass leading to a koi pond surrounded by bamboo. Small stone bridges rise above streams of water, Ino's skill in flower arrangement complimenting the sides. Sasuke is laying in the shadow of a sakura tree, leaning against Akamaru's stomach.
He looks up from his mission report when they get closer. His face is sombre as soon as he understands why they're here.
Putting down his paperwork, he gets on his feet and wait for them, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
“When do you come back?” he says in a rough voice.
“I don't know,” Sakura replies, looking straight into his mismatched eyes.
He makes an aborted gesture towards her, so she offers him a hand and he draws her into a hug. It's over barely a moment later, but Sasuke looks a lot more relaxed. He nods in Shikamaru's and Neji's direction.
“Take care, both of you,” he says simply, before sitting down again.
They don't linger. They can't find Kiba in the mansion, so they pack quickly and they get to the gates.
Hinata is waiting for them, clad in her own mission attire. Apparently, the truce to appease Hiashi can't resist the need for shinobi work. Good to know the world isn't changing.
“Sakura,” Hinata says in a strangely formal tone, “I would like your permission to court Naruto, as you're his only remaining family.”
Sakura chokes. “I'm sorry? Hinata, I'm not sure... I mean, Naruto is already-”
“Dating Ino, yes. I'm also planning to court her.”
Shikamaru whines pitifully before Neji elbows him. “Uh, you do whatever, Hinata. I'm sure they'll be very.. happy,” Sakura says uncomfortably.
The heiress nods. “Have a safe trip, please, and come back to us.”
“We will,” Neji replies.
It's already a complicated mission. They have to play their cards right if they want it to work, and that means sticking to the plan. They camp on the first night, deciding to separate in the morning. Sakura would go on her little tour of the villages, and Shikamaru and Neji would go straight to the palace.
What they did not expect, was to get ambushed as soon as they stopped. But no, not by bandits or terrorist organisations or moon gods, because those they know how to deal with. No, they get ambushed by assassins.
Sakura ducks without thinking about it. The tree behind her explodes, split it half by the explosive kunai.
Outnumbered doesn't even begin to cover it. They can't even count how many shinobi are attacking them. They're not heroes of war for nothing, though. Living in the same house, sharing the same training ground, has apparently paid off. None of them is used to being sent on missions together, and yet they move around each other as if they practiced it.
Sakura grabs the half trunk that almost killed her and throws it in the melee. Shikamaru uses the moving shadow of the flying trunk to extend his own until ten enemy shinobi are caught. Once they stop moving, Sakura breaks their neck one by one and Neji follows the cleared space, taking out the ones who think getting behind Sakura is a good idea.
They're heroes of war, but the rate at which they're being sent out on missions is taking a toll on them. They get sloppy. Neji lets one kunoichi slip and the woman plunges her naginata through Sakura's back.
She stumbles, choking on blood, before grabbing the spear and pivoting on her hips. The strength she puts behind the gesture unbalances the enemy kunoichi and sends her flying. As soon as the naginata is free of the woman's grip, Sakura breaks the bladed end and drags it out of her body.
Behind her, Neji and Shikamaru are taking on the remaining shinobi to give her the time she needs to take care of her wound. They're struggling. Shikamaru isn't a heavy fighter, he's not meant for the front lines. His favoured techniques don't blend well with the all-out brawl they're in.
Neji is just as stuck, having to restrain his strongest jutsu as to not hurt Shikamaru. His range has been greatly lowered by the wounds he sustained during the war, his lung capacity having suffered the most. He's devastating when needed, but only for a short period of time, because he tires quickly.
Sakura knows that, she knows their weaknesses. The decision is easy. She doesn't have much chakra, that has always been her weakness. If she uses it heal herself, she won't have enough to help them finish the fight. She grits her teeth, pops a soldier pill and only seals the major blood vessels around the exit wound. It will have to do.
The sudden burst of energy sends her forward, right in the melee where she's the most useful. Team 7 has always been an tank-squad and that's the best way she knows how to fight.
Her fists are bloody and her shoulder hurts like hell, but she punches through enemy ranks. One solid kick opens the earth in half and it swallows a handful of shinobi. Suddenly, the space around them is clear. It's so brutal it feels like whiplash. She takes a step back, her arm brushing against Neji's chest. Shikamaru kills his last opponent, and everything is silent.
They don't talk, simply start searching the bodies for a mission order or a forehead protector. Neji finds a scroll on a woman's body, and reading it reveals that Kumo heard about Kiri's mission. That means a mole in the Tower and a lot of money lost, because apparently the daimyō is dead.
“Pack up,” Shikamaru sighs, “we're not sleeping near the bodies.”
They travel less than half an hour at top speed, before stopping in the darkest part of the forest, the kind that only Konoha shinobi know how to navigate. Sakura puts her bag down when a wave of dizziness makes her sway. The copper taste in her mouth is back with a vengeance.
Blood fills her throat and she coughs. Her knees buckle under her. She falls like a marionette.
Neji and Shikamaru appear at her side without her noticing. She's cold.
“Poison,” she whispers.
Neji doesn't waste a second and grabs her backpack, already going through her scrolls until he finds the right one.
“Of fucking course it's poison,” he mutters as he unseals the vials. “Of fucking course she couldn't be bothered to tell us that after we finished fighting.”
Shikamaru ignores him. “Is the wound still open?”
Sakura shrugs, instantly regretting it when the pain in her shoulder makes her choke on the pink saliva filling her mouth. Shikamaru opens her flack jacket and cuts her shirt in half with a kunai, cursing when the fabric stays stuck to the wound because of the dried blood.
“Absolute idiot who can't take care of herself, this is all the Rokudaime's fault,” Neji keeps on rambling as he props Sakura's head on his knees, before pouring a vial in her mouth. They all deal with injuries their own way. Neji doesn't deal, he complains. Shikamaru just becomes scarily efficient (not that he isn't usually, but now it's scary) (many that's the poison talking, though)
Shikamaru sends her a sorry look, before ripping the shirt off. She grits her teeth, a snarl escaping her. He cleans the wound with some water from his flask, then grabs her hand and puts in over the injury. She takes a deep breath, focusing on Neji's hand in her hair. Her hand lights green and she heals herself, dancing around the poison and the antidote fighting in her bloodstream.
She's not Kyojin Sakura for nothing, and the wound is sealed in a matter of minutes. Neji bends until he can press a kiss on her forehead, and she closes her eyes.
“Alright, now we're sleeping,” Shikamaru says softly, laying down with his head on Sakura's legs. Neji goes on his side, curling around Sakura's head and shoulders like a halo. His hand finds Shikamaru's and he squeezes once, hard enough to bruise. The Nara kisses his knuckles gently, before laying their joined hands on Sakura's chest.
“It's a shame,” Sakura says in a rough voice. “I would have liked to pretend to attack you.”
Shikamaru snorts. “Wait until we get home, Haruno. When the others hear about the shit you just pulled, everyone's going after you.”
“Yeah,” she says in a dreamy tone. “I can't wait.”
“Shikamaru,” Neji stage-whispers, “I think she got hit on the head.”
“Nah. That just proves she hasn't been.”
Sakura snorts with laughter, her body aching in a good way now that she's completely relaxing.
“We're sleeping now, dorks,” she says.
They shuffle closer, until their bodies are all touching. Neji sighs in contentment. Shikamaru's hand is warm in his, and warm over her chest. Sakura smiles to the stars, and sends a prayer to the gods.