Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto

Compromise

by SangreFria 1 Reviews

(Speculative future!fic.) Naruto doesn't know it yet, but this will be one of the most important days of his life. And it will bring more than a few surprises...

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Naruto,Sasuke,Tsunade - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2008/05/14 - Updated: 2008/05/15 - 5772 words - Complete

It had taken years for Naruto to perfect the shinobi art of sleeping perfectly still, but the stiffness of his muscles gave away the nightmare roiling just below the surface. The Kyuubi was working on the seal again, and Naruto could almost feel the rake of claws digging into his belly. The pain sharpened, and his subconscious self thrashed against the Kyuubi's chakra within the watery caverns of his mind, struggling to get enough breath to scream. The distress disrupted his physical body's breathing as well, pushing him closer to consciousness.

Then, suddenly, the pressure and pain began to dissipate. He could feel the furious howls and half-human curses, as the Kyuubi's chakra was forced back into its cage and the seal reinforced. But instead of drifting down into a deeper, more restful sleep, Naruto felt the sudden pull towards awareness.

He could feel a cool, early-Spring draft from an open window, chilling the skin of his bare chest and biting easily through the lightweight jounin-issue trousers he'd still been wearing when he collapsed into bed. His muddled mind took a moment to remember that he always slept with the window closed. About half a second before his eyes snapped open, he realized that he wasn't alone in his bedroom.

Naruto was leaping toward the presence, kunai in hand, before he was fully awake. A lightning-quick blow to his face sent him reeling before he even got a look at his assailant. Naruto landed in an awkward crouch, with the realization that the blow had been open-handed. His eyes struggled to focus, as he tried to overcome the last dregs of sleep and the vertigo from his tumble. Clearly, whoever it was had no intention of hurting him; enemies don't just give you a little slap on the jaw when you come at them. He could make out pale skin and dark hair in the shadows. Neji? No, probably Sai. Ever since that bastard figured out the concept of "a prank", he'd been driving Naruto insane...

The figure moved into a shaft of moonlight streaming through the window. Naruto's breath caught, and time itself seemed to slow. The red Sharingan eyes were bleeding back into deep black as he watched, and he knew that he was gaping like a fish out of water. His numb fingers trembled as they clutched the forgotten kunai, mind scrambling to catch up with current events. Naruto lurched to his feet and absently dumped the weapon on his windowsill; it clattered loudly in the silence, but his blue eyes remained fixed on that pale face.

It was truly an adult's face now, all childish roundness gone from the cheeks. This only seemed to make his features more beautiful than Naruto remembered, perhaps because this slender face was better suited to the look of aloof composure he used to know so well.

"Sasuke..." Naruto hated the way that his voice shook on that last syllable, making it come out more as a breathy hiss. The other man continued to watch him in silence, as if waiting for what else he had to say. Naruto could feel his hands clenching into fists at his sides, and he bit down on the first statement that came to mind. Four years, you bastard! Four years!

Naruto reined in his urge to march up to his former teammate and launch a top volume rant- or a righteous fist- right into his carefully blank face. But if there was one thing Naruto had learned from his interactions with Sasuke, it was that the bastard wouldn't so much as acknowledge Naruto's presence until he was good and ready. And in the meantime, he'd just ignore whatever he didn't want to hear.

Naruto knew that, until he felt like it, Sasuke wouldn't even divulge what the Hell he was doing in the blonde jounin's bedroom at half-five in the morning, so there was no use giving the neighbors a cardiac incident by bellowing at this hour.

In a rare show of patience that would have done Tsunade-baba proud, Naruto decided that he'd let the other man stew as long as he liked before his prissy arse switched to a more talkative mood. Naruto folded his arms over his bare chest and tried to loosen the muscles clenched along his broad shoulders and upper back, shifting his weight in a way that made it clear he was prepared to wait for the long term. Let anyone try to say that he hadn't learned anything from Ba-chan's "Hokage lessons".

He watched the dark eyes drift systematically around the room, taking in the scrolls and weapons tossed haphazardly about in the kind of chaotic order that had always suited Naruto. The somber gaze seemed to deliberately skim over the framed photographs without pausing, but lingered on the bone-white ANBU mask that had been left next to Naruto's alarm clock; the vibrant swirls of red paint were muted to a burnt rust color in the half light from the window, but they still highlighted the delicately pointed ears, slanted eyes, and vulpine snout of the fox.

"Congratulations." Sasuke's eyes didn't shift from the mask, but the nearly whispered word was clearly addressed to Naruto. The man in question couldn't keep a frown from twisting his features, or the slight bitter edge out of his petulant reply.

"If you wanted to say that, you should have come see me after the initiation ceremony. Three years ago."

At first, Naruto didn't think the other man would respond, and was finally gearing up to demand answers to some rather pointed questions, but Sasuke's low murmur took him completely by surprise. "I apologize. I've been busy."

Naruto distantly felt the air leave his lungs in a rush, but he couldn't seem to tear his focus away from that pale profile. He knew that he hadn't heard wrong, but his mind still spun around the possible implications of a voluntary apology from Sasuke. All the surreal events of the night seemed to gang up on him at once, and he moved to sit heavily on the edge of the bed.

His relocation had drawn Sasuke's full attention, and he watched Naruto carefully from across the room. Naruto felt like a bit of a wuss; S-class missions were fairly commonplace in his life, and he dealt with them without so much as flinching. But get Sasuke to say that he's sorry, and suddenly he went weak in the knees.

It's just...He'd never thought that he'd ever see Sasuke again, let alone this. Even the idea of those words from Sasuke belonged to the realm of fever dreams. Which left one vital question rocketing through his thoughts, to be blurted out with breathless anxiety.

"Sasuke....Are you dying?" The look on Sasuke's face would have made Naruto laugh if the situation hadn't seemed so dire. But the question seemed to loosen something in his former teammate. Sasuke crossed his arms over his chest and relaxed enough to actually lean back against the wall, even deigning to go so far as to slouch slightly. "No, you idiot. I'm not dying."

He studied Sasuke with suspicious eyes; he looked healthy enough, on reflection, and he couldn't see any reason for him to lie about this. But the only other possible option in this bizarre "Sasuke says sorry" scenario was out of the question as well; problems with the Kyuubi aside, Naruto wasn't dying either. Naruto's brow furrowed in thought. If neither of them were dying, then why would Sasuke...?

"And I'm not here to kill you, if that's what you're thinking." Chin tilted upwards, tightened pale lips, a faint wrinkle between dark brows, and a steady glare down his nose gave Sasuke a perfect look of disdain. It reminded him of the twelve-year-old Sasuke who'd catch him trying to sneak mud clods down the back of his shirt during their D-rank weeding days. Almost a childish expression; almost a challenge. And Naruto's flippant response was almost a reflex. "I'd like to see you even try, bastard."

A painfully familiar smirk crossed Sasuke's refined face. "You wouldn't see me, moron. I'm too fast for you." Naruto felt an answering expression tug at his lips.

But they weren't twelve-year-old genin anymore, and no amount of nostalgic banter could change that. The question of "why" still hung in the air between them. Why was Sasuke here? Why now, after four years? And, most importantly, why was Sasuke holding out the hand of truce?

Everything he'd done since Naruto had woken up- the offering of congratulations, the apology, the relaxed stance, and the casual banter- had been nice in a way that was completely foreign to how Sasuke treated people; how he treated Naruto, in particular. He'd even looked offended when he thought Naruto expected a murder attempt, for fuck's sake!

If Naruto didn't know any better, he'd swear that one of them was dying. That could be the only explanation for all this. Sasuke had never seemed like the kind of person to change his ways, but Naruto had always been an optimist. When news of Itachi's death arrived, his heart had skipped a beat. The one thing that motivated Sasuke- that drove him away- was gone. But despite all of his hopes, Sasuke didn't come home to Konoha in the end.

A few months of agonized waiting, and then rumors began to fly of a Sharingan user rebuilding the hidden village of Sound. The village swelled with refugees from the former Hidden Rain, and it became clear quite quickly that the rumored Sharingan user was Sasuke. Before the year was out, Sound had become a strong and well-disciplined village, and he had become the Nidaime Otokage. This realization stung, and not just because Sasuke had achieved the rank of Kage- his dream- before Naruto himself was even close.

It meant that he'd never be able to bring- or force- Sasuke home. He had put down roots in Sound; only the complete destruction of the village could pull them up. And no matter how badly he wanted him home, Naruto wasn't selfish enough to wish for that. Sasuke had faced the slaughter of everyone close to him once, and once was already one time too many as far as Naruto was concerned.

Sasuke's smirk faded as Naruto continued to study him in silence. They'd avoided it long enough; it was time for some answers. Naruto decided that his tried-and-true method of taking the direct approach would be best in this situation. And since Sasuke seemed to be in a remarkably agreeable mood, it might actually work this time.

"Since we've already established that nobody's dying, why are you here?"

Sasuke's face was back to its usual pale mask, as he pushed away from the wall with a smooth motion and turned to face the window. The moonlight on his profile drew and held Naruto's eye helplessly. Damn, couldn't that bastard have turned out at least a little ugly?

Though facing the window, the Otokage was still watching his every move out of the corner of one elegantly slanted eye. "You really don't know, do you?" The question wasn't really a question, and his tone reminded him of the one Tsunade-baba used when she realized that he hadn't been paying attention to a single thing she'd said in the last five minutes. "Someone is dying, Naruto. You're completely oblivious, as always."

Only Sasuke could make his given name sound like "idiot" without even having to try.

But instead of automatically firing back with an insult, Naruto paused to consider this carefully. He searched his mind for what Ba-chan had called "the spider's web", since all intrigue in the ninja world formed one. He tried to concentrate on the way that subtle-but-interrelated details came together to form a complete picture of a covert operation, just like she had been coaching him to do. Several threads of an idea came together at once.

The small lines appearing around her eyes and mouth. The way that her smiles seemed more tired and wistful lately. The more frequent tea breaks, and the less frequent paperwork. The extra moisture in Sakura's eyes when she thought he couldn't see. The way that Shizune's hovering had become more pronounced in the last week; the way that his lessons had given way to casual chats about nothing and everything; the quiet, fond way that she called him "brat"...

Naruto really was an idiot. He really, really was.

"Ba-chan..." He didn't see Sasuke visibly tense at the sound of his half-broken whisper. He stared at a random patch of floor in front of him, seeing all of it come together. She had some amazing healing jutsu at her disposal, but he knew that some of them actually shortened her lifespan. That, and she was the best medi-nin that Konoha had ever produced; if anyone would know when their time had run out, it would be her.

He could vaguely feel a prickling pain in his eyes, and couldn't help but feel slightly betrayed. Why hadn't she told him? Why had she hid it from him? How much time did she have left? His mind flashed to the tender way she had dismissed him that very afternoon. Would he even get the chance to say goodbye?

Sasuke's low murmur interrupted his whirling thoughts. "I received a messenger bird two weeks ago, arranging a meeting of the Kage for tomorrow morning. I'm due in the council chamber in less than two hours." Naruto stared at him blankly, silent tears glinting in the corners of his eyes.

The Uchiha looked more than a little edgy to be present during the blonde man's moment of grief, and the following remark came out a bit clipped and harsh. "My intelligence network suggests she still has a few more months to live." But Naruto could spot it for what it was: an attempted consolation, no matter how backhanded or stilted.

He whispered a quiet but heartfelt "thank you" in Sasuke's direction, which seemed to make him even more uncomfortable. He shrugged one shoulder slightly, ignoring the gratitude shining in the blonde man's eyes, and hurried on with his previous train of thought. Turning from the window in order to face him head-on, black eyes locked with blue and he let the final stroke fall.

"According to her message, the sole purpose of the meeting is to officially declare you her successor and step down from her position in one motion. You'll be Hokage by sunset."

Luckily for Naruto, he was already sitting down. The floor was pretty hard in this apartment.

"W-what? Sasuke, you...But I...I'm really going to..." Completely dumbstruck. And gaping at his former teammate for the second time in less than an hour. It probably wasn't his best look, if Sasuke's slightly smug expression was anything to go by. It was like he hadn't woken up at all, and this was all just a crazy dream. Maybe he should ask Sasuke to slap him...again. The bastard.

"She also had a few stipulations and addendums to discuss with me during my last formal visit..." Sasuke's expression was immediately recognizable to Naruto; it was the one he wore when he felt like he was facing a particularly irritating imposition. "I hope, incidentally, that you realize what a terror that woman is. According to our current treaty, the Otokage and Hokage must officially meet at least once a month, and spend no less than two days discussing present affairs. This provision becomes effective this afternoon, and will persist into the foreseeable future."

Naruto stared at him blankly, his brain trying to wade through all of the shock and catch up with this new surprise. As an officially recognized missing-nin of Konoha, the village elders had originally proclaimed Sasuke a traitor and sentenced him to death should he ever be found within the borders of Fire Country. When they also sentenced Naruto to a life within Fire Country, he had very nearly flown into the Kyuubi-fuelled destructive rage that they were so afraid of in the first place.

Of course, when he needed to leave the country for an important mission, those old farts were never the wiser. Tsunade-baba tended to turn a blind eye to the rules when she considered it safe to do so. But while the seal weakened with each passing year, Naruto's captivity had become a more realistic precaution, and he didn’t fight it so much anymore. Ba-chan had responded by increasing the time he spent learning from her, and that pissed off the old coots just as much as the thought of him "running wild" outside the village.

Sasuke's sentence didn't really hold up, either, since they couldn't refuse entry to the Otokage on official diplomatic business; and any assassination attempt would have been as good as a declaration of war against Sound, so that was definitely out of the question. The elders were all stomping mad when the former missing-nin strolled into the village, not half a year after they proclaimed his death sentence, looking as calm as if he were just out for a leisurely afternoon stroll.

The streets had been so crowded with onlookers that day, Naruto was quickly forced to take to the rooftops just to see the dark head at the front of the Sound honor guard. He had yelled out the loudest greeting he could manage, but Sasuke had either not heard him over the roar of the crowd, or had simply ignored him. Naruto had always suspected it was the latter.

Despite having their hands tied by diplomacy, the old bastards did what they could against Sasuke, clearly out of spite and wounded pride. The first visit by the Otokage was the only one when he was visibly seen in the street; all other meetings had to be conducted in secret, and their infamous guest only arrived or departed under the cover of night. No one but the Hokage was permitted to directly address the Otokage.

Predictably, Naruto had thrown a fit when he heard that he wouldn't get the chance to see Sasuke again, let alone talk to him. For three months, Naruto's sessions with Tsunade always began with questions about Sasuke. Had she seen him? Was he all right? Did he look healthy? Did he stay for long? Did he seem like his life in Sound made him happy? "Yes", "yes", "yes", "no", and "being the Otokage seems to have mellowed out his sour personality somewhat. I think that's as close to 'happy' as he's going to get, brat."

Three months of endless questions was all it took for Tsunade-baba to finally snap. "Your one-track mind is going to be your downfall someday, brat. If that Uchiha doesn't manage to cause it first..." She had leaned back in her chair, pinching the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "The village elders are wary of you both, and they won't allow any more concessions. I've done all I can to negotiate a life you can bear to live with; I know that you're not as happy as you could be, but that's the first thing you need to learn if you're going to become Hokage. You have to be able to give up some things now if you want to get what really matters in the end. It's called compromise."

She had glanced at him then, no doubt seeing the mixture of obstinance and frustration in his frown. "Be patient, Naruto. You're young, so you can afford to be patient. All you have to do is wait for those ancient windbags to die off; then you'll get what you want." Tsunade had completely ignored Shizune's scandalized gasp, and her scolding reminder concerning discretion. "Ah, it doesn't matter if one of their spies overhears me. They already know how I feel about them." Tsunade's smile was as cheeky as some of Naruto's personal best.

But she still took the extra time in the following months to drive that lesson into his thick skull. "Patience and the ability to compromise. Those are the two things you've always had trouble with, but if you're going to be the Hokage, then those are the two things you'll need the most. I would add 'determination' to the list, but we all know you have that one in spades."

The look she had given him then was some kind of cross between affectionate and chiding, telling him with her eyes that he had far too much determination, but that she treasured him all the more for it. "I'm sure the whole village is looking forward to seeing you use your sheer stubbornness to head-butt those old fools into line. Figuratively speaking, of course." Her smile had turned slightly predatory, as if she were imagining the non-figurative scenario. "But you'll still have to make compromises, from time to time. Remember that, brat."

And Ba-chan...had been right. Or had she just been planning this all along? Naruto would get to see Sasuke all the time now, since he would be returning to Konoha every month to meet with the Hokage. And from tomorrow onwards, Naruto was the Hokage.

He was going to be Hokage. The realization finally hit him like one of Sakura-chan's characteristic "Die, you pervert!" specials. Though, instead of striking him in the face, this one was aimed right under his ribs and stuck there, spreading a feeling of lightness through his whole body.

Naruto threw his head back and laughed, the pure, wholesome, joyful sound of it ringing through the small apartment.

It felt like having a beat-up old hitai-ate tied around his forehead. It felt like seeing a dead teammate suddenly breathing and walking and waving at him. It felt like being told he was worth fighting against in a chunnin match. It felt like mastering the Rasengan. It felt like grabbing a bell from a teacher. It felt like watching another jinchuuriki take a breath and open his eyes. It felt like beating an evil organization into the dirt. It felt like finally bringing Sasuke home; in a way, he sort of was. Every month for a weekend visit, he whispered to himself.

It felt like finally achieving your lifelong dream. It felt like being the Hokage.

He could feel himself grinning from ear to ear while he caught his breath, but turned to share his dopey smile with Sasuke anyway. His fellow village leader had the strangest look on his face, as if he weren't sure exactly what he was feeling in the midst of Naruto's euphoric triumph.

Naruto felt a surge of playful affection for the typically aloof bastard, and he just couldn't help himself. With a face like that, Sasuke was just begging to have his feathers ruffled even more.

He bounded to his feet, and with three swift steps, had managed to envelope Sasuke in a bear hug. Sasuke had half-drawn a dagger by reflex, but had frozen in place the moment Naruto's bare arms had circled his shoulders. He felt him go as stiff as a board, and if he hadn't already been squeezing the life out of him, he'd have sworn that Sasuke's breath had stuttered to a halt out of pure surprise.

At least Naruto wasn't the only one suffering a few shocks tonight. He also took a few seconds to revel in the fact that he was ever so slightly taller than Sasuke now. He loosened his embrace, but Sasuke still hadn't relaxed, and three inches of steel shone in the darkness by his hip. He turned his head towards Sasuke's ear, smooth black hair tickling his cheek.

"Oh, come on, bastard. Don't tell me you're afraid of a hug."

His voice had been low and teasing, stirring the hair near his mouth with small puffs of breath; but if the resolute click of the dagger being rammed home was any sign of Sasuke's mood, then he must have heard it as more of a dare.

He felt the tense shoulders under his hands forcibly unwind, and he didn't have to see Sasuke's face to imagine that he was probably glowering imminent murder at Naruto's guiltless bed. When Sasuke's arms shifted upwards from their previous position at his sides, Naruto was expecting a quick shove to end the quiet moment, so he was amazed to feel the hesitant brush of hands trailing along his ribs. He held as still as possible, barely breathing, as slender sword-callused fingers settled between his shoulder blades.

Naruto felt a soft sigh gust past his ear. "You really don't know the first thing about personal boundaries, do you?" And though Sasuke may have been telling him off, he was still allowing it. So this was another kind of compromise between them. When the pale fingers crept down to rest over his right lung, it became an unspoken apology.

Naruto felt that prickling feeling in his eyes again, but fought it back down. This was too important, and it would all be ruined if he scared Sasuke off with tears. Or words, for that matter.

He made it known that the apology was accepted by gently resting his chin on Sasuke's shoulder, tentatively running a hand up and down his spine in a slow soothing motion. It may have been something that's usually done with a girl, not to mention that Sasuke hated both physical touch and anything that might imply he was weak, but it just felt like the right thing to do.

Even if Sasuke didn't need it, Naruto needed to do it. He had forgiven Sasuke for that scarless wound- and everything it implied- years ago, but had only had it thrown back in his face. So now, he needed to give the forgiveness that Sasuke had never bothered to request in the past.

Naruto finally pulled back from his hold on Sasuke, hoping that he hadn't pushed the other shinobi too far with his spontaneous...cuddling. He almost didn't believe his eyes; in the split second before Sasuke had realized that he was moving, he'd seen Sasuke's face. He quickly burned it into his memory while the severe, careful blankness hastily returned to those elegant features.

That expression...Sharp dark eyes softened until they looked almost sleepy, stern mouth yielding and lips slightly parted, tranquility written in every plane of his face...

He hadn't guessed that Sasuke could ever make a face like that, let alone while pressed up against Naruto. It seemed that he hadn't just been tolerating it, and maybe Naruto had overlooked a lot of things about Sasuke; he supposed that there might be some things that Sasuke needed as well. Maybe it was easier for him to compromise with Naruto than it was to compromise with his own pride.

Sasuke's intense eyes regarded him warily, as if daring him to mention what he’d seen in that unguarded moment. Naruto decided to keep his mouth shut and treasure it.

The sky was beginning to turn grey, and they stood there observing each other in the false dawn light. Sasuke's face remained as cool and impassive as it had been when Naruto had first laid eyes on him in the moonlight, possibly to make up for his lapse.

Naruto wasn't quite sure what his motives were in coming tonight, but all of the subtle, kind gestures he'd been making towards Naruto suggested a permanent truce. They had well and truly buried the hatchet. But had Sasuke planned all this for the sake of diplomacy? After all, as the Kage of allied villages, they'd have to get along.

But...While he wouldn't put it past Sasuke to consider all of that carefully, he suspected that there was more to it than that. No, this wasn't just a truce. The moment that Sasuke had wrapped his arms around Naruto, it had become far more than that. It was a strengthening of the bonds between them; bonds that Sasuke had once so ruthlessly denied for the sake of his revenge.

But that was water under the bridge, as they say. Years had passed, and Naruto had always hoped for some kind of reconciliation. So if Sasuke was willing to offer a hand in friendship, then Naruto would hurry to grasp it with both of his own. Because whatever the motives, Sasuke had succeeded in making him the happiest he could ever remember being. And that was certainly a step in the right direction.

He wished that he could turn back the clock and remove this remote look, but not if it meant that he wouldn't have seen Sasuke without any defenses. Even if Sasuke had chosen to clam up completely, it didn't change the fact that he'd seen and understood more about Sasuke tonight than he had in years.

If distance and coldness were his defense mechanisms, then Naruto could respect that. He had a feeling that Sasuke would always be a little standoffish, but it was clear that having a stable life and caring for his village over the years had done wonders for him. And Naruto would help Sasuke learn to embrace that, as much as the surly Otokage would allow.

Naruto was willing to compromise if Sasuke was.

"Uh...Are you hungry? It's nearly breakfast time." Naruto tried his most encouraging smile, but Sasuke's attention had turned to the open window.

"No, I ate a few hours ago. My entourage should be arriving soon, as well. I'll need to meet them." His voice was quiet, but didn't sound the least bit regretful to turn down Naruto's invitation. He moved towards the window without a backwards glance.

"Then!" Sasuke flinched slightly and paused; Naruto was just as surprised that he had nearly shouted the word. He continued in a more subdued tone. "Then...Would you like to stay for some tea?"

Sasuke turned to look over his shoulder, mouth open to decline once again. But then he hesitated, studying Naruto's face carefully. His own expression didn't change, but something seemed to shift in his eyes. Sasuke's reply was as soft as Naruto's offer. "...Yes. Thank you."

Naruto's beaming smile wasn't in synch with dawn breaking, but it was close enough.


_________________________________________


A masked shinobi appeared at her side. His silence was a clear indication that the Otokage had not yet arrived in the antechamber, but the up-curved crescent of his eye implied where the missing dignitary was. Tsunade let out a short huff of laughter.

"Don't give me that cheerful look, Kakashi. Once I'm gone, they'll be your responsibility. You're just lucky your hair is already grey." He reached across the crisp sheets to squeeze her hand, speaking with soft amusement into the dark stillness of the room.

"Aa, Hokage-sama. I'll try my best to prevent a war." Kakashi's voice took on a more serious, if slightly fond tone. "And Naruto?"

Tsunade released a deep sigh and relaxed further back into the pillows. The shinobi portion of Konoha knew that Naruto would make an outstanding Hokage, no matter what the village elders had to say.

And as the time for appointing a successor grew closer, their arguments to the contrary were becoming weaker and less frequent by the day. Of course, Tsunade had had a little help in that respect.

It seemed that every time one of the councilors would bring up doubts about Naruto's control, they would be silenced by the sharp creak of leather gloves tightening over clenched fists. The sound would always emanate from half a pace behind and to the right of the Hokage, and the effect was always immediate.

Tsunade had found herself fighting a smile more and more often during those meetings; the looks that would appear on those old dotards' faces, as they stuttered to a halt and were forced to swallow down the rest of their slander, were absolutely priceless. It was actually a bit of a shame that the role of Hokage wasn't being passed to her personal protégé. Sakura would have made an excellent...diplomat.

But her successor had been chosen in her heart long before she took Sakura under her wing. Naruto would be their Rokudaime. And while he- and his curse seal- were far from perfect, if there was anyone who could overcome the challenges and obstacles yet to come, it was that smiling, loud-mouthed brat.

"I'm confident that his succession will be a smooth one. I doubt even he realizes just how much support he has, both in the village and out. And to be honest, I'm not worried about the Kyuubi."

Naruto had an indomitable spirit and determination that couldn't be matched, and she had the feeling that he'd hold together his seal through sheer willpower, if that's what it came down to in the end. She had bet her life on him in the past, and even the Legendary Sucker couldn't jinx his winning streak.

And it seemed that the last two great gambles of Naruto's life would be definitively decided before the sun rose. He'd always been willing risk his life for his dream of becoming Hokage someday; the same way he'd been willing to risk his life time and again for the sake of a sullen, traitorous Uchiha whelp. It seemed that these two dreams had become intertwined by the hand of Fate, and it was fitting that the realization of each dream was dependent on the other.

Naruto's ascension to the rank of Hokage was the force that pulled Uchiha back to Konoha tonight; finally pulling him close enough to Naruto for them to patch up their fragile and neglected bonds. And in turn, the formal support of the new Hokage by the Otokage would absolutely secure Naruto's place as Rokudaime. She doubted that Naruto would ever realize how important Uchiha's stance would be in making him Hokage; the other Kage might have hesitated if Gaara were his only supporter, but with Sand and Sound both decided in his favor, they would follow the Otokage's lead in welcoming him into their ranks.

Tsunade smiled softly to herself, trying to imagine what Naruto's face would be like once he realized that he'd received both Sasuke and the rank of Hokage in one fell swoop.

"I have no regrets. Not where that boy is concerned, at least. Jiraiya gave his life to give Naruto what he needed to survive. I'm glad that I can give mine, so he'll have what he needs to live."



Omake:

Thirty minutes before the succession ceremony...

Naruto: "Ha! You look really weird in that robe, Sasuke!"

Sasuke: "You're wearing one too, moron."

Gaara: "....."
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