"I have to admit there is something I wondered about," the man says; "Why him instead of ... perhaps, her?"
Sakura smiles, the polite kind that leaves her eyes cold. Naruto doesn't bother, just snorts.
Tsunade puts down her tea cup with a tiny, precise clink, rests her hands on her lap in a demure way that's just short of mocking. "My choice of heir seems questionable?"
A long pause, as the man stares at Tsunade and Tsunade stares back. Sakura has allowed her polite, frozen smile to melt away drop by drop and now she just looks smooth and cool. Water. Still and waiting. Naruto's eyes go from his people -- Sakura, Tsunade -- to the man, and then back and once again.
Then he laughs. "Okay, old man. Shoot."
The man narrows his eyes at him a little bit, like he thinks Naruto isn't taking him seriously. Tsunade sighs, but in an amused, unsurprised way. "I'd be much obliged if you would share your impressions."
"... She's your apprentice."
"She understands your ethics."
"By now, I'd hope so," Tsunade says drolly. Sakura lowers her eyes, demure, and takes a sip of tea.
"Soon she will match you in pure strength and healing techniques."
"Soon she will surpass me," Tsunade corrects calmly. A pause. "Naruto already does."
Naruto opens his mouth to contradict her and then grimaces when he realizes he can't. He still feels a little bad for her, no matter how much preening he wants to do. "Maybe in pure power, but you're canny. All those centuries of experience and ow."
Sakura grinds her heel in his toes a last time, and takes another sip of tea.
"... Also I can't do the healy thing anyway."
"Which is hardly a prerequisite for the position," Tsunade counters. "None of the other Hokages could, and they managed just fine."
The man's eyes bounce from one to the other, watching them interact. "But still a good plus to have, as you have proven."
Tsunade doesn't answer that, just makes a little hand gesture to say, yes, noted, your next point now?
"The girl is smarter," the man says, face hard like a challenge thrown.
Naruto gives a mock-wincing laugh. Sakura and Tsunade smile identical, 'you are amusing me, little man, and you will never know why or how' smiles.
"That she is," Naruto says. He's kind of glad it's been thrown in his face so often, how stupid he gets at times, because there was this one time they said it in front of Sakura and she exploded all over the place.
Sakura sniffs at him. "In a logistical and tactical way, certainly..."
"Anyway," Tsunade interrupts. "Are those your main concerns?"
"They'll do as a summary," the man allows. Tsunade gives a brisk nod.
"Alright." She lifts an index finger. "Naruto is stronger than Sakura, physically and with chakra both. Being a high-caliber healer, she is harder to kill than most. Being a demon host, Naruto is nearly invulnerable. She knows more jutsu. The jutsu he does know are more devastating. If I have to bet on one person as a last line of defense for the village, Naruto is a better choice."
Naruto winces at the word 'bet' from Tsunade's lips, but Sakura's heel lifts up in warning, so he grumbles down at his own cup of yucky leaf juice and doesn't say anything.
Tsunade lifts a second finger. "Sakura understands my ethics, but she doesn't share all of them. Naruto..." A pause, a little smile. "Naruto's ethics are an inspiration to mine."
Naruto ruffles his hair and ducks his head, embarrassed. "Not really. Just cause you got your head stuck up your ass that one time ow Sakura-chan damn it."
The man arches an eyebrow at the byplay. "One doesn't lead a village with high ideals alone."
"One can sure as hell try," Naruto counters without having to even think twice, and he stares at him right in the eye because like fuck he is going to bend on that. "And I know it can't always happen that way, but the other ways are going to stay last resort."
"But you won't want to even contemplate them," he counters. "You will miss opportunities for being biased against them."
"I won't," Sakura replies instead. The man looks at her in surprise, and she smiles, polite and meaningless. "I, after all, have no problem with such methods."
After a moment to digest that, the man says "... That only adds to my point."
"My lack of issue with hard methods would be counterproductive in the long run. I am not running a platform on how dangerous the current political climate is and how much we need to sacrifice and accept harsher laws, and that attitude would be a poor example." Sakura looks at the man, reserved, passionless. "Anyway, Hokage isn't a tactical or logistics post. Hokage is a leadership. What you move isn't troops and supplies, it's people. I have an academic grasp on people's reactions and emotions -- I can predict them, to some extent. I could figure out ways to manipulate crowd reactions. Naruto gets people, on a visceral level, and what's more, he is good at making them feel understood and special, and at inspiring them. He cares about them all, and they can tell."
Naruto fights not to squirm; trying not to blush, now, that's a lost cause. But the man is staring at Sakura so hard, maybe he doesn't notice.
"And you don't?"
She smiles, thin like a blade. "In the abstract, yes. I would fight for any single member of the Leaf. It's my duty, anyone's duty. For Naruto it isn't a duty. He protects them like I would protect my own family. People can feel that. Can trust that." She puts her cup down. "Trust and charisma are essential elements to leadership. I don't have them. Naruto does."
"But they can be worked on. And a competent Hokage is better in the long run; does it truly matter if the civilians don't have a personal attachment to the person holding that post? They already have one to the post itself regardless, it'd take a lot of incompetence to change that."
"Sir, I wouldn't be Hokage for all the gold in the Five Countries. Not if it came with a palace and cabin boys and everything else I could ever ask for."
"But you'll be his advisor?" He scowls, like she has no idea, like he's maybe a bit insulted. "Do you believe the responsibilities are that much lesser? They might possibly be worse, especially if you're also going to shoulder the tactical side."
"Naruto," she says, and now she almost sounds serene, and Naruto's throat goes tight, "will be Hokage for Konoha. I will be advisor to the Hokage for Naruto."
There's a nuance between 'Hokage' and Naruto's name that comes clear through to him. He knows what it means. If the Hokage were anyone but him, they'd be shit out of luck. He grins. If he could do it without being totally obvious he'd squeeze her hand. Then he looks at the man, and he grins wider, with more teeth.
Yeah, you just try turning us against each other.
There's a long moment of silence as the man stares hard at them, one after the other, looking for a crack, but they just wait, Tsunade sipping tea and being amused, Sakura all cold and 'yeah, you just bring it on' and Naruto grinning, loose-limbed, because he's got the best grandma-type Hokage right now and he's going to have the best advisor girl ever when it's his turn and nothing that guy says or does can make a dent in that, and if he doesn't understand it that's his own damn fault.
Then the man gives in, though he sighs like he's only humoring them, really, but shyeah right. "Very well. I'll support his nomination."
"Thank you," Tsunade says dryly, to the tune of 'that's nice of you! (I wouldn't have cared if you hadn't, though)'. "Well, that was a nice discussion. Please pass on my regards to your master."
The Daimyo's first advisor snorts and climbs to his feet. He gives them a jaundiced look as he turns to leave -- and maybe a slightly less irritated one, slightly more 'I get you' to Sakura. Naruto smiles, because he gets him back now. "Yeah, say hi from me too. I'm glad he's got a guy like you, too." He grins, nudges Sakura-chan with his elbow. "They're really useful, huh -- ow!"