Chapter 1: Some Things Change, Some Things Don't
In which a four-year-old body isn't as troublesome as one would think It would be, Naruto as a child is absolutely adorable, Ino-pig is still the bestest friend a girl could ask for, and the Kyuubi, Sakura reckons, is probably having a good laugh somewhere at her expense.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-I know, I know; here's another new fic and I haven't even posted the final chapter of OSAF yet. In my defense, when a new plotline bothers me, I just have to write it down. As you can probably tell from my other fics, my update speed is pretty erratic; I mostly just post as soon as I finish a chapter for any of my stories, so yes, all my other fics are still being worked on. I will never stop writing them unless I actually quit writing fanfiction. With that said, hope you find this newest one enjoyable.
-I'll also be trying out a slightly different style of writing. I've always wanted to see what a story in present tense would turn out like, so here's my hand at it.
Chapter Summary: In which a four-year-old body isn't as troublesome as one would think It would be, Naruto as a child is absolutely adorable, Ino-pig is still the bestest friend a girl could ask for, and the Kyuubi, Sakura reckons, is probably having a good laugh somewhere at her expense.
Chapter 1 – Some Things Change, Some Things Don't
The first thing Sakura thinks of when she opens her eyes is, 'I'll kill Naruto for painting my ceiling pink.'
This is quickly followed by the chilling thought, 'Naruto's already dead, stupid,' except it isn't her who supplies this helpful reminder.
Shooting up in bed, Sakura automatically reaches under her pillow for a kunai that isn't there even as she thinks, 'Inner?'
'Who else?' Inner retorts, sounding exasperated. 'Honestly, Kura-chan, you're not very bright in the morning, are you?'
Sakura spends a long moment gathering her reeling thoughts, which are currently all over the place as she takes in her surroundings.
"Where am I?" She asks aloud, and then immediately closes her mouth with a near-silent click. She is confused and on edge but she is fairly certain her voice is not supposed to be so... high-pitched.
Inner snickers in her mind and Sakura feels a familiar annoyance mix with her confusion.
'Don't you remember?' Inner asks flippantly. 'Death and destruction? The Kyuubi? Back to the past? Am I ringing any bells here?'
And just like that, the last memory clicks back into place and Sakura stares around her room with new eyes. That's right; when she still lived with her parents, her bedroom had been pink.
"I'm back in the past," She feels a smile spread over her face before a frown takes over. "What's wrong with my voice?"
'Ah, well,' Inner hedges like she always does when she knows something Sakura doesn't and also won't like. 'There might've been a slight... problem.'
And that is how Sakura finds out she isn't twelve, as the Kyuubi promised in its final moments after Naruto dies and her world burns around her, but four, tiny and short and about as useful as her shishou in the rare occasion when she is actually completely drunk out of her mind.
Well, Murphy's Law has always hated Team Seven more than any other.
But Sakura doesn't dwell on this miscalculation for long because she is home and her parents are alive for the first time in ten years.
Sakura remembers what a deep sleeper she has always been before her ninja life drilled it out of her so it isn't a surprise when her parents look taken aback to see her up and dressed at seven-thirty in the morning.
What does come as a shock are the tears that instantly spring into her eyes as she sees her mother standing by the stove and her father sitting in his chair at the table with a newspaper cracked open in front of him. It makes her heart ache because she hasn't seen either of them like this since she was sixteen and fighting a hopeless war.
Her mother is quick to scoop her up and Sakura wastes no time in snuggling into her, clinging to her like she used to before she started growing up and thought hugs were uncool.
And Sakura simply spends the next few minutes crying and crying and has she always been this much of a crybaby at four? Because the tears won't stop even though Sakura the Medic-nin, Sakura the Battle-hardened Kunoichi, long stopped crying in the future.
Sakura eventually manages to convey to her parents that she was merely upset over a nightmare and she sits and enjoys her father's comforting arm around her shoulders and listens to her mother's reassurances.
Sakura is four and prone to crying and feels a thrum of fear every time her parents leave her line of sight, but it is the happiest she has been for a very long time.
Soon enough though, her parents are off to work, and Sakura, who even at four can take care of herself for the most part, is left alone in the house with Maki-san from next door checking in on her every few hours.
This suits Sakura just fine because for all that she is four in body, she is also twenty-six in mind, and being babysat is mildly embarrassing.
So she spends her morning pondering her present place in time. She grudgingly forgives the Kyuubi for tricking her or lying to her or simply making a mistake, because at four, the Uchiha Massacre has not happened yet and she could save one of her boys from a lot of grief and hate.
It would also give her two years to build up her chakra reserves because even though her mind retains all her medical jutsus and various genjutsus and ninjutsus, she still can't perform half of them. She is somewhat comforted when she flicks out a few Bunshins and realizes that her taijutsu skills and reflexes are still there, though her shorter limbs make her overreach more than once.
In the end, after a short workout that leaves her half-dead on her feet and soaked in sweat, Sakura takes a quick shower, whips up a hasty lunch enough for two, and Shunshins out of the house, leaving a clone behind to satisfy her next-door neighbour.
Sakura is four and tiny and unassuming, but she is still as determined as ever and her first act in the past will be to find one of her lost boys.
Sakura checks Ichiraku Ramen, two parks, and four playgrounds before she finally finds her past-future teammate alone on a swing set. The other children give him a wide berth, playing at the other end of the playground, and she feels a deep-seated shame when she realizes how lonely Naruto looks.
She starts by clambering half-heartedly on a nearby jungle gym because it would just be plain weird if she marches right up and offers to eat lunch with the blond. And Sakura has already decided to stick to her shy persona; it is the only way to throw off suspicion when someone notices her 'prodigal' skills sooner or later.
She spends the next fifteen minutes playing even as she meanders closer and closer to where Naruto is sitting. Quite a few times, the parents or babysitters standing around the playground shoot her worried looks and Naruto dirty glares and it takes everything Sakura has not to blow up at them. She has always had an explosive temper, large enough to rival Tsunade's, and she has no patience for people who look down on her future Hokage.
But Sakura is supposed to be shy and reticent so she keeps her anger in check and makes her way to the swing next to Naruto's instead. She knows the exact moment he tenses as if waiting for barbed words and unfriendly sneers but she ignores this and kicks her feet a couple times to try to get herself moving. For once, she is glad she is so short and her toes barely touch the ground because it gives her an excuse to turn to the boy next to her and blurt out timidly, "Hi, I'm Sakura. Do you mind pushing me?"
The stunned expression on Naruto's face and the way he looks around first as if he thinks Sakura is talking to someone else is almost physically painful. But she pushes this aside and waits patiently for Naruto's answer, beaming openly at him when the blond finally nods, slowly and carefully as if he is waiting for the punch line to a very cruel joke. When Sakura only shifts in her seat expectantly, Naruto gets to his feet and circles around her.
The nervously gentle way his hands press against her back makes her four-year-old tear ducts want to fill. She really is a crybaby at heart.
So Sakura laughs to take her mind off how generally unfair the world is to her surrogate brother, which isn't all that hard to do when she catches a glimpse of the brightening light in familiar blue eyes and the tentative grin that answers her.
Only once does Sakura's plan to befriend Naruto threaten to fail. Half an hour after they have taken turns pushing each other on the swings and are taking a breather, one of the adults, a man with dark hair and an even darker scowl comes over and begins berating Naruto for tainting an innocent girl with his evil.
Naruto immediately shrinks in on himself but his chin juts out defiantly and his hands clench at his sides, and Sakura doesn't know whether she wants to punch the civilian or cry from the injustice of it all more.
So she picks neither and reaches out to grab Naruto's hand instead.
"Naruto's my friend! Leave him alone or else!" She declares in true four-year-old fashion before spinning on her heel and dragging a completely dumbfounded Naruto after her, leaving the civilian with his mouth hanging open.
Her face warms as she storms away and she wonders if a part of her is actually four because some of her reactions thus far have been that of a child's, but she knows the side-effects of travelling back in time are well worth it when she finally stops by a cherry blossom tree and turns to find Naruto staring at her with heart-wrenching gratitude.
"Let's eat," Sakura says, sitting down on the ground and not caring that her pale pink dress will probably stain as she brings out the lunch she has packed. "I made sandwiches today but I don't think I can eat all of them by myself. Wanna share?"
This time, Naruto agrees readily, plopping down next to her, and Sakura is content to listen to the blond chatter through mouthfuls about what he likes – ramen – and his latest prank – painting the front entrance of the Hokage Tower pitch black – and how he wants to be a ninja.
When Naruto turns to her, swallowing a large bite of sandwich as his gaze turns somber and his shoulders square, Sakura pauses as well and tilts her head curiously at him.
"I've a dream too," Naruto reveals, eyeing her intently. "I'll tell ya if ya don't laugh."
Sakura nods without hesitation. "I promise."
Naruto believes her because he continues, leaning closer as if divulging a secret. "I'mma be Hokage one day. I'll train and become the strongest ninja ever and then I'mma be the greatest Hokage Konoha's ever seen!"
He stares at her like he expects her to burst out laughing even after she promised, but Sakura doesn't think this is funny at all because she knows Naruto will become Hokage, and yes, he will be the greatest one to go down in Konoha history.
She nods instead and tells him, clearly and without guile, "I have a dream too. I wanna be a medic-nin. When you become Hokage, I'll be your head medic."
Maybe it's because there is nothing but honesty in her words, or because she has told him her own dream, or even because she said 'when' and not 'if', but she can visibly see Naruto's last defenses fall as he beams at her and grins so widely that she is sure his cheek muscles are sore.
His happiness is contagious though and Sakura finds herself smiling back, and they spend the rest of the afternoon chatting about everything and nothing. At six, when she has to head home, she suggests with only a hint of uncertainty, "See you here tomorrow?"
Naruto instantly nods, waving cheerfully at her as they part ways.
Sakura turns a corner, hurrying home as fast she can the civilian way and counts it as a win when the ANBU she sensed the moment she entered Naruto's vicinity earlier withdraw as she slips into her empty house. They have deemed her a non-threat to Naruto which means her last option of defying older ninja and maybe cracking some heads (which, admittedly, is one of her more reckless ideas) would not have to be carried out.
That night, she welcomes her parents with a modest dinner - she sticks to rice and egg and some fish because anything more complicated than that might have them enrolling her in culinary school or something - and a warm smile when they get home. They are surprised but do not question her sudden interest in the kitchen.
But when Sakura goes to sleep, she is submerged in dreams drenched in blood and bodies and she wakes up screaming loud enough to wake the dead. She chokes on sobs and clutch at her parents when they come running. As she drifts off into a restless doze between her parents, she thinks it is time to invest in a few privacy seals, preferably before she is signed up for therapy.
She is up at five the next day and she leaves another clone in her bed as she slips out of the house for a walk.
Her feet take her to the memorial stone and she finds it ironically amusing that she of all people has taken over Kakashi's ritual. With a sigh, she traces the empty spaces on the stone, the places where the names of her friends have once been in her timeline.
She says it like a promise, an oath, a vow. She will keep it; die trying isn't even an option.
She leaves when she feels a familiar chakra signal approach; it wouldn't do to let the Copy-nin see her here, no matter how much she misses him.
Sakura meets up with Naruto again and he is more like the hyperactive ninja she grew up with, mischievous and enthusiastic as he realizes Sakura really is his friend now.
In return, Sakura, after buying a few kunai with the pocket money she has saved up, teaches Naruto how to throw them. She can't quite help the pride that runs through her at the blond's obvious awe. In her timeline, Naruto has always been the one she depends on. It is nice to give a little back.
Two weeks after she has returned to the past, Sakura finally stumbles on her best friend.
She remembers, even before she enters the Academy, the way other kids tease her for her hair and her forehead. Keeping to her character, she shies away from them, and one day, when Naruto is busy – visiting the Hokage, he tells her, and a small part of her is guiltily happy at how reluctant he sounds – she spends the day by herself wandering the streets of Konoha, memorizing the shops and restaurants that stand where once a battlefield had razed everything to the ground.
"Hey, there's Forehead!" A childish voice jeers. A smatter of laughter follows.
Sakura feels her face warm and mentally curses her four-year-old body. Outwardly, she backs away from the approaching crowd of children, led by a purple-haired girl that Sakura remembers being tormented by but can't quite remember the name of.
"So," The girl comes to a stop in front of her, hands on her hips and a superior smirk on her face. "Still showing your face around the village? I feel bad for the people who have to even look at you."
Sakura isn't sure whether to roll her eyes or scoff but she continues staring at the ground as she backs away.
"What, can't talk either?" The girl steps forward and shoves Sakura, startling her enough to make her trip and fall to the ground. "You really are dumb. Can't even-"
A bell chimes as a door flies open and someone dashes out onto the street. "Hey!"
Sakura stares wide-eyed at the pale-blonde hair cut stylishly to frame the girl's face and can't help thinking of the parallels between the first time she met Yamanaka Ino and now.
"What do you think you're doing?" Ino is scowling at the group, fierce even at four. "Honestly, don't you have anything better to do than pretend you're better than everybody else?"
The purple-haired girl sneers, her eyes flickering to the flower shop before returning to Ino. "What do you know? I'm a kunoichi. You just sell cheap flowers."
Ino somehow manages to make the girl look insignificant in comparison even though she is slightly shorter than the bully. "Not as cheap as you," Ino retorts, eyeing the clothes the girl is wearing. "With those clothes, other ninja could find you from a mile away."
The girl flushes with embarrassment, the dull red rising in her face. Ino doesn't wait for a reply, turning to Sakura instead.
"Are you okay?" Ino crouches down in front of a wide-eyed Sakura, holding out a hand.
Sakura knows Ino is tough and often exudes her own bossy arrogance but there is a kind side to her that she shows only to her friends and Sakura has always been thankful for it.
She lets Ino lead her inside the flower shop, leaving the fuming girls on the street.
"Here," Ino passes a slightly dazed Sakura a white flower with a splash of yellow on the inside.
'Euphrasia,' Sakura's mind provides, recalling all the things her time's Ino once taught her about flowers.
"It's a Euphrasia, or Eyebright," Ino tells her, smiling encouragingly. "It means cheer up."
One finger pokes Sakura in the forehead. "I suppose it is a little big," The blonde continues matter-of-factly. "But who cares?" She taps a finger on her chin before nodding decisively.
"Wait her," She instructs, before dashing up the steps in the backroom.
Sakura obeys and fiddles with the flower in her hands. She doesn't care if she ends up broke; she is going to buy a preservation seal for this if it kills her.
Ino soon returns and Sakura recognizes the bright red ribbon trailing from her fingertips. The one her Ino gave her has long since faded and was even shredded in battle when she was nineteen. She ended up taking a single thread of it and sewing it into her headband. It reminded her of what she was and still is fighting for; her village and her friends.
"There," Ino finishes tying Sakura's hair up and drags her over to a mirror. "You look beautiful, just the way you are. There's no need to hide."
Sakura is four and small and the things she needs to do to save her precious people seem like an unending list.
But when Ino takes her hand and smiles like Sakura has been her friend since forever, Sakura can only smile back and hope Ino can see how much their friendship means to her.
Sakura will save them all this time. She swears this to herself and the people who are all counting on her. Failure is not an option.
Finished! So yeah, just something I'm trying out. Hope this Sakura is okay.
Chapter 2: Things Begin to Shift
In which hints of having ninja aspirations are dropped, being able to cry at the drop of a hat has its perks, the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke is a universal thing, and Sakura makes her first major future-altering change without even realizing it.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-Like I've noted in the summary, this fic will be GEN. No pairings for Sakura. There'll be crushes eventually (ie. HinataxNaruto) and the obvious ones (ie. FugakuxMikoto) but that's it.
-Also, the Hyuuga Affair happened when Sakura (and Hinata) was three, so unfortunately, Neji's dad is already gone. I had a scene all planned out for this but since I've decided Sakura is four, it'll be cut out.
-And Sakura has smaller chakra reserves than when she was twenty-six but more than when she was four. Her list of jutsus, mostly medical ninjutsu and genjutsu, will be quite extensive. She comes from when she is twenty-six and if you have managed to catch the hints, has been through ten years of war and was Naruto's head medic; she should be better than Tsunade by that time.
Chapter Summary: In which hints of having ninja aspirations are dropped, being able to cry at the drop of a hat has its perks, the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke is a universal thing, and Sakura makes her first major future-altering change without even realizing it.
Chapter 2 – Things Begin to Shift
Even in her teens, Sakura's parents never really understands her decision to become a kunoichi.
Back when Sakura is six, she is mostly friendless and even she can admit that her self-esteem issues have self-esteem issues. Contrary to popular belief, she did not enter the Academy for Sasuke, whom she didn't even know or take much notice of until a few years in. It wasn't even for Ino, whom she didn't meet until her first year in the Academy.
The first reason – the only reason back then – she wants to become a kunoichi is because she hates the way the other civilian children tease her. She is bookish and reserved, never the most outspoken child, so making friends when she is so quiet and has pink hair to boot is difficult at best. She has begged her parents to enroll her in the Academy; surely the ninja she has heard of, with their different techniques and different backgrounds, will not make her stand out so much.
Of course, that doesn't happen; she is still teased, but it remains the best choice she has ever made.
But in that timeline, Sakura does not bring up her desire to become a kunoichi with her parents until she is six. She is four now and she isn't sure how to breach the subject with them.
In her time, they are always supportive, always trying to understand her world, but Sakura still drifts from them eventually. She did not visit her parents for close to a year before they are killed by enemy-nin; she cries at their funeral – tracing Haruno Kazuki and Haruno Saki on the tombstone over and over again – and never even tells her team why she comes to training with red-rimmed eyes the next day. She swears she will not put a wall between herself and her family this time.
So she tries to be discreet. She brings up questions about ninja and what they do. She mentions a newfound interest in medicine and healing. She asks about Tsunade, whom even civilians all know about.
Sakura is smart and she can be perceptive; she gets both from her parents so it isn't long before she catches them exchanging worried glances behind her back. She does not want to put them through the anxiety and fear of losing a daughter but she is a Konoha-nin and Naruto's head medic first and foremost. She promised her surrogate brother that she will fix this, give her village a better future, and she will not fail.
She manages to beg her parents to let her roam for a few hours among the busier streets of Konoha while they are at work one day, with Maki-san watching over her. Her next-door neighbour looks uncertain when Sakura purchases a set of shuriken but Sakura can be charming when she wants to be and her big green eyes and bubbly smile win the woman over.
Later, Sakura deliberately leaves out a few shuriken on her dresser before going to take a shower. When she returns, she finds her mother sitting on her bed and staring blankly at the weapons. Sakura feels like a cruel daughter.
Her mother musters a smile for her though and says nothing about the shuriken. If her goodnight hug for Sakura that night is a little tighter than usual, neither of them say anything.
But Sakura is four and any average child who wants to enter the Academy has to be six. She cannot wait that long. She knows she must get the attention of a Chuunin or a Jounin. What better way to do that than use her in with Ino? She feels slightly guilty about using their friendship to get Inoichi's attention but she is a ninja so she dismisses the remorse and steels herself with the knowledge that Ino would've done the same thing in her position.
In the end though, this turns out to be unnecessary. It is not Inoichi who takes an interest in Sakura first.
It is almost two months since she has come back – and her fifth birthday is coming up fast – and after a week of acting restless around her parents and looking longingly at the public library when she accompanies her mother to the market on weekends, they finally relent and drop her off at the library before they go off to work, making her promise that she will stay on the busy streets when she goes for lunch or a snack or just a walk.
It probably helps that Sakura has slowly become more mature over the last few months until she is greeting her parents with a dinner every night on weekdays and cleaning up after herself even more than usual. Her parents are proud, of course, and they don't get too suspicious because Sakura's mother already started teaching her to cook when Sakura is three. Her meals are still simple and, in Sakura's opinion, will never be better than what her mother can make, but they still taste good and not many four-year-olds can boast of actual skill in the kitchen. But they also look a bit sad sometimes and it takes a few days before Sakura realizes that they do not want her to grow up so fast.
It is unfortunate that their daughter is already grown up.
But free from pretending to be in the house all day, Sakura spends a few hours each day with Ino and plays with Naruto in the afternoons without needing to keep an eye out for anyone who might know her and tell her parents.
Naruto has become completely relaxed around her, no longer harbouring any doubts about her desire to be his friend, and even accepts Sakura's help when she offers to help him with his penmanship and grammar. Most of the time, Sakura has to cajole him into these lessons because her exasperating Hokage, especially as a child, likes moving around much more than sitting still. He pouts at her when she crosses her arms and forces him to read and write, and Sakura has to remind herself not to squeal at the cute expression.
Naruto can hit bulls-eye with her kunai seven times out of ten now and Sakura doesn't know whether she is prouder of him or herself. She has only ever taught the green medics entering the hospital and even though Tsunade has told her that she cannot work full-time as a medic and take a team of Genin at the same time, she has always harboured a secret desire for one.
Teaching Naruto, she thinks wryly, is a lot like teaching a team. The blond certainly has enough energy to match three ninja-wannabes entering puberty.
Ino on the other hand teaches her about flowers, and even though Sakura already knows most of their names, she is still content to let the blonde lecture her about each plant. She has met Ino's mother, Yamanaka Airi, who is pretty much what Ino will look like when she grows up. With long blonde hair, a beautiful complexion, and a kind but confident smile, the woman welcomes Sakura without hesitation, treating her as if she has grown up with Ino since birth.
Naruto and Ino are the first and second of her friends that Sakura interacts with. With two months under her belt, she supposes it is high time to meet the most difficult of her boys.
Sasuke is adorable at age four but the way he laughs and runs around like the child he is almost gives Sakura a heart attack. It certainly makes her do a double-take.
Even in the other timeline, she is no longer in love with Sasuke. She definitely loves him; of that there is no doubt, but he is her moody overprotective brother who is never vocal about it but chases away any men who so much as looks twice at her just as fiercely as Naruto; as determinedly as Sai and Yamato; as creatively as Kakashi.
Sakura never knows whether to laugh or punch them all. Seeing as she has tried the latter and her dates still end up with food poisoning or last minute long-term missions or sudden training accidents, she mostly just resigns herself to their idiocy.
Sasuke returns to Konoha after he and Naruto beat the crap out of each other when they are seventeen. Naruto wins by a narrow margin and drags their long-lost teammate back to the village. Sakura is the one who heals them both – Naruto first; she owes him that and much more – but when she seals up the last gash on Sasuke's arm and he hn's at her without gratitude or acknowledgment and sneers something derogatory at her, it is not Naruto who jumps to her defense first, or Sai, who has been calling Sasuke Emo since they met each other, or Yamato, who stiffens with a frown.
It is Kakashi, whom she and Naruto have always believed to like Sasuke best – this comes with no small amount of jealousy that she always does her best to ignore until it becomes clear he likes them all fairly equally – who whacks the youngest Uchiha none-too-gently with his book and eye-smiles at the startled expression that surfaces briefly on his face. It is not his normal bullshitting Kakashi-smile or any other smile he has ever presented them with because there is an edge of warning in his expression.
And then the Copy-nin pats Sasuke on the top of his head in an almost patronizing manner before suggesting a spar between Sasuke and Sakura. Sakura is too shocked to turn the idea down even if she wants to and Inner is spewing curses and insults. Sasuke looks like he wants to refuse but Kakashi hauls him out of the hospital bed and shoves him onto the nearest training grounds.
Sasuke underestimates her and Sakura kicks his ass around the field with Inner's vindictive glee. He manages to return a few punches and even has to retaliate with a watered-down Chidori that scrapes Sakura's side, but with a combination of her own skill, Sasuke's arrogance, and a little luck, she wins the impromptu spar and doesn't even go over Sasuke's injuries before she rushes over to her sensei and gives him a hug. She doesn't think she has ever loved Kakashi more than in that moment.
Now, though, there is nothing moody or unstable about Sasuke. He is running around with a few other Uchiha kids on the playground, smiling with none of the weight that comes with tragedy.
Sakura actually doesn't see him – she is playing with Naruto in the sandbox at the other end of the playground – until she gets up and wanders a few feet away to pick up a bucket Naruto brought along that day and she is just a little too slow to move out of the way when Sasuke barrels into her, his weight and height knocking her clean off her feet.
Naruto is up and in front of her in the blink of an eye, glaring furiously at Sasuke who looks startled and a bit frightened as he stares with a deer-in-the-headlights expression at Sakura.
Sakura on the other hand is sniffling a little as the four-year-old automatic response of tears immediately reared its head. She wipes at her face and reassures both her boys that she is fine, but this only seems to infuriate Naruto even more who berates Sasuke for hitting a girl.
Sakura tries to correct this because Sasuke didn't hit her, not really and certainly not on purpose, but Sasuke is already teetering forward and looking very contrite, apologizing profusely as he tries to reach forward to help her up.
Naruto cuts him off and whirls around to help Sakura instead, being as gentle as a child could be.
"I'm alright, Naruto," Sakura offers a watery smile as she dusts off her skirt. She turns to Sasuke who is still hovering uncertainly in front of her and gives him a hopefully reassuring smile. "I'm fine. It's alright. You didn't mean to."
She catches Naruto glowering at Sasuke, who still looks stricken and keeps babbling out apologies. Sakura figures that four-year-old Sasuke handles girls about as well as twenty-year-old Sasuke. That is to say, comically badly.
So she takes this opportunity to pat Sasuke on the shoulder and reassure him that she is not hurt before ignoring Naruto's protests and Sasuke's hesitation and drags them both back to the sandbox. Children forget most grievances when they have something fun to concentrate on after all, and she knows what her boys are like.
So, with a hidden spark of deviousness, she starts them on sand castles and then points out innocently that Naruto's looks like the beginnings of the greatest sand castle she has ever seen.
Naruto glows and shoots a smug look at Sasuke. True to form, Sasuke does not take this lying down.
Soon, they are both expanding their castles and looking to her for approval. Sakura backs off and sits to the side, taking turns in announcing whose is better. It was rather entertaining watching the two squabble.
By the end of the day, they have used up most of the sand, either for their castles or down their shirts and in their hair after Naruto hurls the first handful and the two boys end up in a sand battle until Sakura steps in to stop it.
She considers the meeting an overall success though because when Sasuke's mother comes to pick him up and her eyes shutter when they land on Naruto, Sasuke is quick to introduce both of them with genuine enthusiasm, boasting about his castle before waving shyly at her and shooting Naruto a childish haughty look, which Naruto returns by sticking out his tongue, before following his mother home.
All in all, Sakura is quite happy with the result.
The next day, she and Naruto meet up with Sasuke again, and even though Mikoto spends the entire afternoon watching them with sharp wary eyes, she says nothing and even includes Naruto when she buys Sasuke ice-cream, though that might just be the Uchiha upbringing kicking in. The woman smiles at Sakura though as she hands over a strawberry ice-cream, and though it's still a bit unfair because Mikoto only nods when Naruto thanks her, Sakura will give the Uchiha matriarch a break because she is visibly trying.
Mikoto obviously loves Sasuke very much if she is willing to look past all the rumours about Naruto and give him a chance just because her son is friends with the Jinchuuriki.
Sakura's own parents obviously don't know what to make of her friendship with Naruto when she makes clear who she has befriended and asks if Naruto can come over for dinner.
Her mother is more worried than her father, who has always been a little more laidback and tends to avoid listening to rumours for the most part, so with his help, Sakura eventually gets her mother to agree.
It takes a few days for Naruto to agree to join them, and even then, Sakura has to grab his hand and pull him through the front door.
To her relief and pride, her mother shows only the most minimal of discomfort and her father none at all, and while dinner starts tense, Sakura directs the conversation to Naruto's latest argument with Sasuke. While children find their differences offending, judging by the smiles on her parents' faces, adults find it amusing, especially when Naruto loudly declares that 'stupid Sasuke' is trying to get all of Sakura's attention to himself.
By the time dinner is over, Sakura's dad insists on walking Naruto home and Sakura is allowed to accompany them. Sakura hates the confusion on Naruto's face at her father's actions, and once they have seen Naruto to his run-down apartment, she catches similar feelings on her father's face. Sakura gives him a long hug, and perhaps he understood because her dad carries her home without her even having to ask.
When her mother suggests, without any prompting at all, that Sakura invites Naruto over again soon, Sakura tackles her with a hug and knows she has the bestest mum in the world.
Sakura never tells Naruto to keep their training a secret so she is not surprised when ANBU start popping up within her vicinity even when she isn't with the blond. The Hokage must have told them to only observe though because they never bother her and stay at least several feet away at all times. If Sakura is not a fully-trained (somewhat, anyway) kunoichi, she would never have sensed them.
So she shows off, just a little.
She keeps it small and makes sure not to do it even in Naruto or Ino or Sasuke's presences. She is still shy around others, and being a civilian, most ninja knew going into such a bloody profession would not be met with approval from parents.
In the library, when a book is on the very top shelf and even a stool can't help her, Sakura makes sure the ANBU tailing her that day gets a full-view of her walking up the side of the bookshelf to retrieve said book.
Sakura can almost hear the shinobi's surprise.
And when she is taking a walk in a nearby park and happens on a bird with a fractured wing, Sakura huddles behind a bush and heals it with the most basic of medical ninjutsu.
Sakura has to swallow the amused laugh threatening to burst out of her when the ANBU observing her almost topples out of a nearby tree.
Sometimes, she wonders why they are so shocked. Itachi and Kakashi did a lot more than she has when they were her age.
But at the rate she is going, there will be no need to snag Inoichi's attention if she already has the Hokage's, but again, Sarutobi is not the one whose attention she catches most.
It is, ridiculously enough, March twenty-eighth when some idiot missing-nin decides that it is a good day to kidnap Uchiha Sasuke and sell him off to the highest bidder.
Sakura spends that morning with Ino and her mother, who closes up shop and throws a mini birthday party for her, complete with cake and candles. Ino gives her a set of barrettes, a book on flowers, and a pair of black ninja gloves because Sakura often comes to visit with scratches on her hands from training. Ino never asks, though from what she has hinted at, Sakura knows the blonde wants to enter the Academy with her.
Both Naruto and Sasuke have long since verified when her birthday is, and they both proudly presented her with a present when she meets up with them under the cherry blossom tree she first ate lunch with Naruto under.
Mikoto spreads out a blanket and produces a picnic basket for them as Sakura opens her presents. She has seen Sakura train with both Naruto and Sasuke, and though Sakura has kept the majority of her skills very, very hidden, the woman also knows that Sakura's accuracy with kunai and shuriken rivals that of a Jounin.
So when Sakura opens Sasuke's present to reveal a beautiful new set of kunai, adorned with a single miniscule cherry blossom on each handle, Sakura is not surprised and hugs Sasuke tightly much to the boy's embarrassment.
Mikoto muffles her laughter when Sakura grins impishly over at her after poking one of Sasuke's red cheeks. Sakura is kind of glad Sasuke's mother likes her so much and very glad she has thawed when it comes to Naruto, smiling genuinely at him when she talks to him.
Naruto looks nervous when Sakura opens his present, but Sakura just wants to burst out crying when she sees what he got her.
It is a photograph, placed in a simple wooden frame decorated with cherry blossoms, but she thinks, distantly, that the picture inside it is absolutely priceless.
The photo is of her, Naruto, and Sasuke, gathered in Sasuke's home in the kitchen and making onigiri. Naruto and Sasuke are in the process of scowling at each other and trying to outdo the other at making the snack. Both have rice in their hair and on their clothes while Sakura is between them, playing mediator and laughing freely. Mikoto must have taken the picture secretly.
"I asked Mikoto-san for the picture 'cause I saw her take it that day," Naruto is babbling anxiously. "I thought it'd be nice and all and I know it's not a lot but-"
Sakura lunges forward, wrapping the startled blond in a tight hug as she uses the gesture to force back her tears. Her stupid Hokage will never know how much this present means to her but she won't let him apologize for it.
"Thanks, Naruto," Sakura says when she pulls back, hoping her eyes weren't too bright. She thanks Mikoto as well, who is smiling knowingly at her, and Sakura tinges pink, just a bit.
Naruto is beaming at her though, and even Sasuke doesn't look too sulky at her obvious enthusiasm over his rival's gift since she is quite happy about his present as well.
The rest of the afternoon is spent eating and laughing and playing tag, before they have a competition with throwing kunai. Mikoto referees and Sakura wins, but Sasuke and Naruto insist it is because she is the birthday girl and they let her win so they keep trying to outdo the other instead.
"I think I must thank you for introducing those two, Sakura-chan," Mikoto says softly when Sakura sits down beside her for a break as the boys continue arguing.
Sakura turns to blink at the Uchiha matriarch and the woman expands, "Sasuke-chan has never made a friend outside of the Clan. He is always trying to please his father and he used to spend all his time following his brother. I am glad Sasuke-chan adores Itachi-kun so much but it is better if he has friends his own age," Her smile turns rueful. "Even if it is with someone he argues with more often than not."
Mikoto knows Sakura is highly protective of her two boys and she probably knows her stance on Naruto as well, but the Uchiha Matriarch has changed and Sakura just smiles warmly back at her.
"Sasuke is his own person," Sakura tells her and then takes a gamble. "I think his dad should be proud of what he has been able to do so far and not think as much about Sasuke's worth to the Clan."
For a moment, Sakura is sure she has crossed a line, but Mikoto only frowns thoughtfully before ruffling Sakura's hair, a small smile making its way back onto her face. They say no more on the topic but Sakura thinks she likes Sasuke's mother.
It is when they near the Uchiha compound when it happens.
A scuffle of some sort has broken out among a group of Uchiha children several dozen feet away and Mikoto hurries off to break it up, leaving the three of them to say goodbye for the day. The street is mostly deserted; no outsider would hang around in front of the Uchiha Compound for no reason.
Sakura and Naruto turn to leave, but they have only just rounded a corner when Sakura senses it.
A hostile presence is heading directly for Sasuke, and Sakura forgets.
She forgets that Naruto is beside her and there are still ANBU tailing them. She forgets that she is supposed to be hiding her skills. She forgets she is in front of the Uchiha compound.
All she knows is that Sasuke, her teammate, her friend, her brother, is in danger, and the ANBU aren't drawing closer because they always keep a respectful distance nowadays, and Mikoto is too far away, and Sasuke won't have sensed it yet.
And in that moment, it isn't an enemy-nin abducting a four-year-old Sasuke. Her memories take her back to Orochimaru and a twelve-year-old Sasuke who leaves and breaks Team Seven and Sakura will die before she lets that happen again.
In the span of a heartbeat, she Shunshins away from Naruto and takes her place in front of a startled (unstable) Sasuke. She whips out her kunai just as the enemy-nin (Orochimaru), wearing a simple mask that covers part of his face and a dark cloak (tall, pale, long black hair with snake-like tongue) appears in front of them. She ignores the shinobi's widened eyes and slashes down, drawing blood even as her right arm pulls back, chakra automatically gathering in a closed fist, and then releases it with everything she has.
The enemy-nin is thrown backwards and crashes through three trees and a bench before finally skidding to a stop at the base of a fourth tree.
Dead silence falls around her, and Sakura can only think of one thing as her memory clicks back into the past-present.
The punch is nowhere near as strong as what she can mete out when she is twenty-six but definitely more than what an average child can do.
She can sense the two ANBU on Naruto duty gather on a nearby rooftop. She catches a glimpse of Naruto out of the corner of her eye, gaping in awe. She feels Sasuke behind her, shocked into silence as she stands protectively in front of him.
It is Mikoto's gentle hand on her shoulder that snaps her out of her frozen state though and it takes a moment to realize she is shaking and splattered with blood. She wants to scream at her four-year-old body for betraying her or berate her mind for doing the same but Mikoto seems to sense her turmoil, and though the woman clearly believes it to be because Sakura has just seriously injured if not outright killed a man and not because Sakura has had a flashback, the time traveler still lets the Uchiha matriarch draw her into a tight hug.
Part of her still can't believe the Uchiha Clan Head's wife is getting her kimono dirty and another part of her wonders why she isn't comforting Sasuke instead. In the very back of her mind, yet another part of her that is still fighting a war on a bloody battlefield urges her to go finish the job and make sure the enemy-nin won't ever get back up again. She ignores this as best she can.
When Sakura finally feels stable enough to draw back, and her eyes immediately seek out her boys. Her eyes widen when she finds Sasuke gathered in Itachi's arms but calms down soon enough. Itachi will not be their enemy this time around, will not suffer like he did in her timeline; she will make sure of that.
Naruto is still standing at the edge of the Uchiha compound but the two ANBU who guard Naruto have gathered around the still body of Sakura's handiwork, and a dark-haired man that could only be Uchiha Fugaku is standing with them.
Sakura isn't sure how to proceed when Fugaku turns away from the enemy-nin and looks directly at her. Even at this distance, she can tell that he is as stoic as all Uchiha usually are, but she grew up with Sasuke and Gaara and Neji and can practically write a book on the meaning of facial twitches and one-worded grunts.
So upon closer inspection as he draws closer, she picks up some curiosity, sharp appraisal, and just a hint of gratitude.
Sakura still has no idea what to say.
She doesn't have to come up with anything though because Sasuke suddenly wriggles out of Itachi's grip and runs over to her, grabbing the hand that wasn't still clutching a kunai and giving her a worried once-over.
"Are you okay, Sakura?" He demands with the sort of arrogance only a Uchiha could afford. "You shouldn't have done that; you could've gotten hurt! Did he hurt you?"
Sakura only has time to shake her head numbly before a flash of yellow appears in her line of sight and Naruto is there as well.
"D'ya wanna sit down, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks, not waiting for a reply as he starts pulling her towards a nearby bench that is still intact. He turns to scowl at Sasuke though it is half-hearted at best and his blue eyes are worried. "Ya shoulda protected Sakura-chan, Sasuke! It's our job ta protect her!"
Sasuke scowls right back though he looks almost ashamed. "I already know that! Don't tell me what to do!"
Sakura just manages to refrain from rolling her eyes. Even at four, her boys think she needs to be protected, but she accepts it now instead of blowing up at them as she once did. She is the only female on Team Seven and, weak or strong, the idiots of her team all seem to have an irritating instinct to protect her at all costs.
So she lets them fuss over her and avoids Fugaku's piercing gaze. She catches Mikoto muttering something to her husband and he nods once, curtly, before turning away from her and focusing on the hapless kidnapper instead. Sakura really likes Sasuke's mum.
Itachi on the other hand is still staring at the three of them but he makes no move to approach and Sakura has a feeling that the nine-year-old is simply keeping watch over them. She knows of Itachi's near-fanatical need to protect his little brother and anyone his brother is friends with also falls into that category, if only to keep Sasuke happy.
Half an hour later, Sakura has taken a bath and is dressed in some of Sasuke's clothes. Mikoto, ignoring the slight frown on Fugaku's face, walks Naruto home first and then accompanies Sakura back to her house. The adrenaline has finally worn off and Sakura is almost stumbling with fatigue. She has spent inordinate amounts of time over the past three months building up her chakra reserves but, much to her frustration, a Shunshin followed by a chakra-loaded punch still takes quite a bit out of her. She is mildly put out when she recalls how Kakashi could Shunshin perfectly fine when he was a child.
In the end, Mikoto ends up carrying her down the last few blocks as Sakura gives directions. Sakura can't help the flush of embarrassment rising in her face; head medic and Jounin and she can't even walk home.
Her parents are already home and preparing to leave again, no doubt to search for her, and they almost have simultaneous heart attacks when they see Mikoto carrying Sakura home.
They thank the Uchiha matriarch profusely and frown even more worriedly when Mikoto gives them a glossed-over version of what happened.
Mikoto leaves soon enough but not before smiling at Sakura and thanking her for saving her son.
Sakura can only nod mutely and offer a weak smile back. Protecting Sasuke has never been and will never be something she would hesitate to do.
Mikoto seems to realize this because her smile widens before she murmurs a polite goodnight and turns to go. Her eyes are thoughtful, not calculatingly so, but still in a way that makes Sakura pensive.
When her parents finish fussing over her and they all retire for the night, Sakura wonders what will happen now.
Fugaku has heard of Sasuke's new friends, of course. His wife was certainly worried when she tells him that their youngest son has befriended the Jinchuuriki. Fugaku doesn't mind so much; he knows the truth about Uzumaki Naruto, and though he doesn't particularly like the rumours floating around the boy and his hands are tied, he is also not too concerned about Sasuke associating with Minato's son.
In retrospect, he supposes it is a major oversight on his part to dismiss the civilian girl Mikoto also mentioned. The shy child with apparently excellent aim pales in comparison next to Konoha's Jinchuuriki.
He is very wrong.
He also sensed the hostile chakra signal earlier and was in the process of rushing out of the compound, Itachi, who flashes to his side form his room after sensing the same thing, beside him. He arrives at the compound gates just in time to witness a flash of pink, a spray of crimson, and the chakra-loaded punch that he has only ever seen one other kunoichi perform.
Fugaku turns and levels his wife with a stern gaze. Mikoto doesn't look at all bothered.
"You neglected to mention the girl's perfect chakra control," Fugaku remarks. "Among other things."
Mikoto shakes her head. "I have never seen Sakura-chan use chakra before. She usually takes turns throwing kunai and shuriken with Sasuke-chan and Naruto-kun. She even went through a few katas Sasuke-chan show them. That is all."
Fugaku frowns. "She is a prodigy," He eventually says, not quite sure how he feels about a civilian child being such.
Mikoto nods in agreement. "Only Tsunade-sama has ever managed to throw a punch like Sakura-chan did today."
Fugaku ponders his choices for a moment longer before making up his mind. "Then it would be beneficial if she enters the Academy as early as possible with the Uchiha Clan's backing."
"Fugaku," There is a hint of warning in Mikoto's voice so Fugaku explains. He is not so heartless that he is only doing this to gain the clan a potential asset in the future. Not entirely anyway.
"She will have an easier time if a Clan is representing her," He clarifies. "And... a Uchiha always pays his debts. She saved Sasuke today. Connections with a clan will help her in her career. She wishes to become a kunoichi, does she not?"
"There is still the matter of her parents," Mikoto objects.
Fugaku would have shrugged if Clan Heads are allowed to shrug. "You or I will convince them."
His wife sighs, clearly unhappy about this. Fugaaku knows she has always wanted a daughter to dote upon and has no doubt taken Haruno Sakura under her wing.
"She will be a kunoichi," Fugaku repeats. "If she receives help from us, would it not be better for her in the long run?"
Later that night, lying in bed with Mikoto sleeping next to him, he thinks again on his wife's parting words earlier.
"Sometimes, Fugaku, I wonder if you think too much about the Clan and too little about the people who form it on the inside and support it from the outside. You are not thinking about that girl; you are only thinking about her worth to the Clan."
He cannot say there is no truth in this.
Finished! Hope it came together alright.
Chapter 3: To Get One's Way
In which the Hokage finally gets involved, the Uchiha pay the Harunos a visit, several children get sulky, and talking to Uchiha Itachi is, as Sakura knows, about as productive as lecturing a brick wall.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-I know the first two chapters have been a little summarized in certain parts but I just wanted to introduce Sakura into the past first. There will be more dialogue from now on and things will start getting deeper.
Chapter Summary: In which the Hokage finally gets involved, the Uchiha pay the Harunos a visit, several children get sulky, and talking to Uchiha Itachi is, as Sakura knows, about as productive as lecturing a brick wall.
Chapter 3 – To Get One's Way
It isn't often that true prodigies are born. Hatake Kakashi is one. Uchiha Itachi another. He would like to think Namikaze Minato is also one, but though his successor was a genius with seals and ninjutsu, he cannot be classified as a true prodigy, not on Kakashi or Itachi's level anyway, so Sarutobi is intrigued when he starts hearing signs of one.
It certainly comes as a surprise for Sarutobi when, one day, the ANBU he assigns to watch Naruto comes back and reports that his surrogate grandson has made a friend.
A civilian girl who goes by the name of Haruno Sakura. A child with pink hair who seems honest and open if a bit shy, and plays with Naruto without reluctance.
Sarutobi is not ignorant to the way his village treats his late successor's son. He is disgusted by their display and hates that there isn't much he can do about it, but he can protect Naruto to some degree so the first thing he does is find out as much as he can about Naruto's new friend.
Haruno Sakura is four years old, almost five. Her father, Haruno Kazuki, is a construction worker, and her mother, Haruno Saki, is a teacher in one of the civilian schools. She was born in Konoha, as were her parents who are honest hardworking citizens. She is shy and sometimes bullied and do not have any civilian friends. She has also struck up a friendship with his head interrogator's daughter, and Sarutobi knows there aren't any problems on that end.
There isn't much else about her that particularly stands out, and as days turn to weeks and his ANBU continue giving him reports about Naruto, their voices become just a little bit milder when they talk about Sakura, as if they genuinely like her even though they have never talked to her. Sarutobi is used to harder tones because the people Naruto usually interacts with – shopkeepers, restaurant owners – often treat him with resentment and anger.
On the contrary, these incidents seem to lessen with each daily report, and when Sarutobi enquires to the reason, the ANBU reporting to him – Crow – tells him about the little spitfire Sakura can become. He describes the way Sakura scowls and defends Naruto against anyone who speaks badly to his face and never lets anybody finish an entire insult before she cuts them off. Sarutobi swears Crow is laughing inside when he relays all this.
So Sarutobi is satisfied with Naruto's new friend, especially after Naruto comes on one of his bi-weekly visits to his office and tells him all about Sakura, how cool she is, how nice she is, how she is his friend.
Sarutobi can't be happier.
But one thing that does pique his interest is when his ANBU and Naruto both bring up Sakura's proficiency with kunai and shuriken. Naruto even demonstrates what he has learned from Sakura and Sarutobi is amazed when Naruto holds a kunai in a practiced expert grip and outlines a rough circle on his office wall.
Curious about any other skills Sakura might possess, Sarutobi sends out a few ANBU to observe her. They come back and relay with borderline awe that Sakura has excellent chakra control, can walk up walls without problem, and knows basic medical ninjutsu.
Sarutobi is stunned. There has never been a case in Konoha where a prodigy has come from the civilian sector.
But before Sarutobi can make up his mind about what to do with this information, the ANBU tells him that Sakura has befriended the second son of the Uchiha Clan Head and given Naruto a rival to boot. Sarutobi doesn't know whether to laugh or sigh when Crow tells him, with no small amount of amusement, that the two boys don't like to share their female friend.
Sarutobi also hears that Uchiha Mikoto has taken to spending time with all three children, that she has not discouraged Sasuke from associating with Naruto. The Hokage is quick to order his ANBU to keep an eye on this; he doesn't know what the Uchiha Clan is up to but he doesn't want them using Naruto in any of their plans.
But his ANBU assure him that she doesn't do anything, and while a little cold to Naruto at first, she has slowly softened and now treats him with almost as much affection as she does Sakura, whom Mikoto seems to have taken a great liking to.
This news eases Sarutobi somewhat. He isn't sure why Fugaku hasn't implemented the Jinchuuriki into whatever recent plan the Uchihas have cooked up but perhaps the Clan Head still has enough respect for Minato to leave his son well enough alone.
But still, Haruno Sakura is intriguing and Sarutobi is looking forward to what she can do as a kunoichi. He thinks it is about time to suggest to Naruto to bring the girl along with him next time he comes to visit.
Sarutobi looks up from his thoughts and the paperwork he has been going over and nods at the ANBU in front of him. Crow is on Naruto duty again today.
"There has been an incident," Crow says after a curt salute. "An attempted abduction of Uchiha Sasuke took place in front of the Uchiha compound earlier this evening."
Sarutobi almost snaps the writing utensil in his hand but his face is outwardly calm as he waits for the ANBU to continue.
"The abduction failed and the shinobi who attempted the kidnapping has been confirmed as a missing-nin from Iwa," Crow expands, and then pauses. Sarutobi gets the feeling that the man isn't sure how to proceed.
"The missing-nin is currently being healed so we can hand him over to Yamanaka-sama," Crow finally says.
Sarutobi nods, his shoulders loosening a notch as he frowns over the ANBU's words. "Fugaku-san stopped the abduction?" He presses. He knows the Clan Head takes personal offense if any of his clan members are attacked at home. "Or Itachi-kun?" The young Uchiha heir's obsession with protecting his younger brother is sometimes almost worrying to Sarutobi.
Crow is silent for a few seconds. "No, Hokage-sama," There is a strange inflection to his voice that Sarutobi can't quite puzzle out. "Haruno Sakura stopped the abduction."
Sarutobi literally does not know what to say to this. His mind tries to work out how a four-year-old civilian child can possibly stop a missing-nin, and one from Iwa no less. Granted, the girl is turning out to be quite the genius but a missing-nin?
"What did she do?" He demands. "How did she manage to send the missing-nin to the hospital?"
Crow shakes his head a little in a way that gives Sarutobi the impression that the man is just as shocked as he is.
"She used Shunshin," Crow reveals and Sarutobi leans forward intently. "She and Uzumaki Naruto were just leaving and she must have sensed the missing-nin's approach. She Shunshined back to Uchiha Sasuke just as the missing-nin tried to snatch the boy. She had a kunai with her and defended with that. It presented her with an opening in which she took," He pauses and shifts a little on the spot. "... I believe she utilized something similar to Tsunade-sama's technique. Her chakra-enhanced punch sent the missing-nin through three trees and a park bench and gave him two broken ribs, a concussion, and partly severed a neck artery with her kunai."
Sarutobi is speechless for a long moment. It takes perfect or near-perfect chakra control to do what his old student can do and a four-year-old manages to pull it off?
"Sakura-chan did this?" He says aloud, not really meaning it as a question. "And she did not get hurt?"
Crow shakes his head. "No, she took the missing-nin by surprise; he was not expecting retaliation from any of the children."
Sarutobi is mentally reeling from this new turn of events but still has the presence of mind to demand, "You let a four-year-old girl confront a missing-nin alone?"
Crow immediately bows his head and when he speaks, his voice is a little tighter. Sarutobi knows all the ANBU on Naruto duty have grown fond of Haruno Sakura, which is also part of the reason why he can't believe she is the only one who went to Sasuke's defense.
"There are no longer as many incidents between Uzumaki-kun and the villagers and we have taken to following from a farther distance," Crow admits in a flat voice. "And today is also Haruno-san's birthday; we gave the children more privacy to celebrate."
Sartutobi winces. Naruto has been telling him all about Sakura's birthday for weeks.
"That is no excuse," His voice comes out even harsher than he intends; he feels a little sick that Sakura has to face a kidnapping attempt on her friend and no doubt see the blood she herself has had to draw on her birthday of all days.
"It was our mistake, Hokage-sama," Crow's voice is still professionally bland but Sarutobi can sense the anger behind it and knows the man is genuinely sorry. "It will not happen again."
Sarutobi nods curtly. "Where is she now?"
"Uchiha Mikoto cleaned her up and accompanied her home," Crow relayed.
Sarutobi blanches. "Cleaned her-"
"Some of the arterial spray ended up on her," Crow confirms stiffly.
Sarutobi closes his eyes and hopes Sakura is not too traumatized. "How did she seem afterwards? Do I need to send Inoichi over to her house?"
Crow hesitates but eventually gives a negative. "She was shaking immediately after and Mikoto-sama had to carry her halfway home but she seemed alright overall. She did not cry."
That could be shock, Sarutobi thinks grimly, but puts the issue out of his mind for now. His ANBU will tell him if Sakura shows signs of trauma in the days to come.
"Very well, keep me updated about the missing-nin," Sarutobi says instead. "I want him in front of Inoichi the moment he wakes up." He pauses, and then adds, "One more thing; who else saw Sakura-chan's abilities besides Sasuke-kun and Naruto?"
"Uchiha Mikoto, Uchiha Fugaku, and Uchiha Itachi. As well as several Uchiha children."
Sarutobi mentally grimaces but only nods dismissively at the ANBU. Crow gives another sharp bow before he disappears in a puff of smoke.
Sarutobi sighs and leans back, grabbing his pipe. He will need to speak with Fugaku come morning about the attempted abduction. There is also the knowledge that the Uchiha Clan Head will no longer leave Sakura alone to worry about.
Sarutobi finds Haruno Sakura to be an intriguing girl, and after tonight's mishap, even more so. But Hatake Kakashi and Uchiha Itachi are both just as intriguing and they come with their fair share of problems. He has no doubts that Sakura will be the same, and that is what worries him most of all.
Kazuki and Saki do not go to work the next day and Sakura can admit to a little relief when she wakes up choking on screams and finds them sitting in the living room.
They hover over Sakura all day, and though she feels slightly smothered, Sakura doesn't complain. She knows she has worried them and they are simply reassuring themselves that their daughter is still very much alive.
She isn't surprised when she senses Naruto's approach and a knock at her door sounds a few minutes later. Even as a child and despite the fact that Sakura can throw a kunai a lot better than he can, Naruto is still just as protective of her now as he is in the future.
"I'm fine, Naruto," She says for the fifth time as they sit outside in the garden munching on the lunches Sakura's mother made for them. "Completely fine, honest. The man didn't even scratch me."
Naruto finally nods, still reluctant, but his eyes light up with excitement and Sakura knows exactly what Naruto wants to talk about now.
"That punch was so cool, Sakura-chan!" Naruto crows, practically bouncing in place. "Can ya teach me? Please?"
Sakura smiles but shakes her head. "You need perfect chakra control to do something like that, Naruto, and with all that energy, you're probably more of an offensive type."
Naruto's face falls and Sakura feels unbearably guilty even though she is telling the truth. "How 'bout I teach you something else?" She compromises, getting to her feet and dusting off her shorts. "Here, watch."
She moves over to the side of her house and plants one foot against the wall. A few seconds later, she has strolled up the side and turns to Naruto with a grin. As expected, the blond is staring at her with a mix of awe and envy.
"Show me, show me!" He jumps to his feet as well and scampers over to stand under her. "How d'ya do that? I've seen grown-up ninja walk sideways like that but I dunno how they do it. Ya have ta show me!"
Sakura laughs and proceeds to spend the rest of the afternoon teaching Naruto how to walk up the wall. It is just as hard for him this time as it is when he was twelve, but instead of berating and ignoring him as she once did, Sakura sticks to encouragement and tips and by the time evening comes around, Naruto is tired and a little bruised but he can reach the halfway point and stick there without falling.
It is almost six when Sakura feels a chakra signal deliberately flare nearby. It is muted, as all ninja tend to do when off-duty and Sakura automatically steps in front of Naruto even as she whirls to face the garden fence.
Uchiha Fugaku is standing on the other side, and though Sakura hastily stills the motion, she can tell that the Clan Head has caught the instinctive twitch her hand makes for the hidden kunai in her clothes. She can't tell if it is approval or something else that flickers through the man's eyes.
It is impolite to not acknowledge a Clan Head so Sakura bows her head politely. She has long since decided never to bow fully to anyone save her Hokage. Tsunade and Uzumaki Naruto are the only two she will ever bow down to. Sarutobi as well, but only to an extent.
She sees Fugaku's brow furrow ever-so-slightly but doesn't linger as she turns back to Naruto who is gasping for breath on the ground, not having noticed anything amiss yet.
"Naruto," She draws his attention and he seems to spot the sobriety in her eyes because he sits up attentively right away. "Could you bring our plates back inside and then tell my parents that Uchiha Fugaku-sama is here?"
Naruto looks around and Sakura almost winces at the blatant way his eyes widen when they land on Fugaku. She really should teach him how to be subtler in his actions. Then again, Naruto and subtle isn't something that one usually sees in one sentence unless the words 'is not' are in between.
To his credit, Naruto doesn't flinch from the Clan Head's cool gaze, deliberately holding it with an edge of defiance in his stance before turning to Sakura. "Are ya sure, Sakura-chan?" He asks anxiously. "I think your parents will hear if I yell loud enough."
Sakura quirks a smile but shakes her head. "I'll be fine. Go on."
She waits until Naruto has disappeared inside the house before moving to the closed gate. Fugaku meets her there, inclining his head with all the impassive cordiality of an Uchiha upbringing. He doesn't smile, but Sakura doesn't expect him to so she simply looks timidly up at him and opens the gate to let him in.
"Good evening, Uchiha-sama," Sakura greets. "Are you here to see my parents?"
Fugaku nods. "Yes, I wish to speak to them about yesterday's incident." He glances down at her as they walk up the path before continuing stiffly, "And I believe I owe you my gratitude for saving my son."
That is as close to a thank-you Sakura will ever recieve and she accepts it with good grace, nodding silently as her father steps outside, eyes wary and almost scared, not of Fugaku, but of what the Clan Head's visit implies.
For the most part, civilian children who want to become ninja apply to the Academy when they are six. It is technically harder for them to graduate much less advance through the ranks since they have no clan or shinobi to associate with and no one to really teach them outside of school. On occasion, when a civilian particularly stands out in the Academy, a clan might take an interest in them and nominate them for a fast-tracked program. Even rarer, a civilian child may be nominated for an early admission or for said program before even entering the Academy, and that is what Sakura is aiming for.
She is somewhat confused as to why Uchiha Fugaku himself has come instead of sending a lesser Clan member, and not a little pensive at what being associated with the Uchiha Clan may entail, but Sakura keeps quiet and listens to her father when he tells her to go upstairs. She does so, but only to the top step. Naruto's blue eyes blink at her from where is sitting – on the second floor landing – and she places a finger to her lips before motioning for him to join her. He grins and creeps over to her side and the two of them huddle together to eavesdrop. She makes sure to only suppress her chakra to a certain level so Fugaku can still sense her – eavesdropping is normally impolite but she is aiming to impress the Clan Head – and then sits down to listen in on the conversation.
It is both a satisfying and guilt-inducing discussion.
Kazuki starts off the conversation with a grave demeanour and a heavy heart. "Uchiha-sama, how may we help you?" Beside him, his wife shifts just a little. Clearly, she doesn't want to help their guest at all.
If Fugaku notices, he does not say. Instead, he levels Kazuki with a stern gaze. "Haruno-san, I am sure my wife has informed you of yesterday's events. Your daughter saved my son's life and for that, I am grateful."
Here, he pauses to incline his head in the barest of thanks. Kazuki is not a violent man but he has to hold back the urge to lash out and maybe throttle the Clan Head. He doesn't because this will get him arrested at best and killed at worst, so he simply nods back instead.
"It has come to my attention, however, that your daughter is quite able in defending herself and others for a child of five," Fugaku continues, and Kazuki tenses further. "She showed skills yesterday that, quite frankly, puts her on the level of a prodigy."
Kazuki forces his voice to remain calm as he speaks. He knows why Fugaku is here; he doesn't want the man to beat around the bush any more than he already has. "You want my daughter," He concludes in a flat voice, ignoring the way Saki flinches next to him. "She's five, and you want to take her and make her into a killer."
Fugaku's eyes narrow and his voice becomes frosty. Apparently, he's gotten the hint and isn't going to prevaricate any longer either. "She has enormous potential. It would be a complete waste to allow her to stagnate."
Kazuki narrows his eyes with borderline hostility. "For you or for her?" He counters quietly, a hint of bitterness entering his words. "If she wants to wait until she's six or if she doesn't want to become a kunoichi at all, will you leave her alone?"
Fugaku's eyes flash and he ignores Kazuki's query. "She wishes to be a kunoichi," He says instead. "There is no point in pondering possibilities that will never come to pass. Having ties to a clan, especially the Uchiha Clan, is an honour and it will smooth her career path that much more."
"You think very highly of your clan, Uchiha-sama," Kazuki says, and he is careful to keep his words neutral.
Fugaku nods sharply, his features hardening even further. "Of course. We are a proud and strong clan."
Kazuki says nothing to refute this. He probably couldn't without offending the Clan Head. Instead, his mind strays back to Fugaku's offer. On one hand, he hates the fact that this man will do almost anything to pull his daughter into the shinobi world as quickly as possible. Even if he says no now, Fugaku will probably pull strings with the Council or something equally underhanded to get at Sakura and Kazuki is only a civilian; he stands no chance. But on the other hand, he knows Sakura wants to be a kunoichi; it has been a known but unspoken fact in their household for months, and if his daughter is going to enter the Academy one way or the other, at least, if he agrees here, then it will be on their terms and he can make sure Sakura will not be indebted to the Uchiha if and when she takes this offer. His little girl is the one who saved Fugaku's son after all; the Uchihas owe her, not the other way around.
"I would like to talk to my family about this in private," Kazuki says at last. "In the end, it will be Sakura's choice. Perhaps we can give you an answer in a week's time?" He words it like a question but his eyes challenge Fugaku. The man may be a Clan Head but Sakura is still his daughter and he'll be damned if he lets anyone completely walk over him when it comes to one of the two people he cherishes more than anything in the world.
Fugaku knows he has won for the most part and he inclines his head again in acceptance. "Very well; I will await your answer a week from now."
After Kazuki closes the door behind the Clan Head, he leans against it and wishes he is deaf because he does not want to hear his wife cry.
He glances up and sees his daughter descend the stairs, Naruto a step behind her, and he knows they have both heard the entire conversation. They are holding hands and both look anxious, but Sakura is not scared at all. Just determined.
Kazuki wonders when his little girl grew up. She is only five and because of work, they did not even celebrate her birthday beyond a few gifts and a small cake. She has already assured them that she is quite happy with what they gave her but yesterday's incident weighed heavy on everyone's mind and Kazuki knows that they all went to bed with restless thoughts.
Sakura is growing up and Kazuki knows he can't stop her.
It is three days after Fugaku's visit and Sakura is walking to the park where she usually meets Naruto in the afternoon. It hasn't escaped her notice that an ANBU has been following her ever since she left her house.
She has met Crow before, both in her current time and in her own timeline. The chakra signal of Shiranui Genma is very familiar to her after all the times she has healed him and gone on missions with him and fought beside him.
Naruto has also introduced them – Sakura-chan, this is Crow-chan; Sakura almost laughs at that – after one of the times when even Sakura's scowls couldn't hold off a civilian's harsh words and Genma interfered on their behalf.
Genma has never stood in plain sight so blatantly though, none of the ANBU have, so, curious, Sakura approaches him.
Genma nods, peering down at her from behind his mask as she fidgets in front of him. "You feeling okay from the attack?" He finally asks.
Sakura stifles a giggle. It is technically against ANBU protocol to speak in anything but a bland tone of voice so nothing would be given away. Genma is making an effort to sound like his usual self, most likely to put her more at ease.
"I'm fine," She nods instead, smiling warmly at the masked shinobi. "Thanks for asking."
Sakura gets the feeling that Genma is smiling too before his eyes flicker to the package Sakura is clutching to her chest.
"Some clothes for Naruto," Sakura answers the unspoken question. "Kaa-san says no one should be limited to only one choice of clothing."
Genma sounds amused when he enquires, "And how are you going to get the brat to take them?" They start walking again, the senbon-wielder slowing his steps to match Sakura's shorter paces.
"Tell him my mum got them as a gift but they don't quite fit me and she doesn't want to return them," Sakura replies promptly, before adding with a fierce look, "And he'll take them if he knows what's good for him."
Sakura knows Genma is biting back laughter but he only nods and they continue on in comfortable silence. He leaves when Sakura reaches the park, silent as a shadow as he disappears from view once more.
Sakura looks up to see Naruto running towards her, arms flailing with enthusiasm. "Hello, Naruto," She smiles affectionately at him. He really is too cute at four.
"Sakura-chan, c'mon!" He grabs her hand and doesn't even ask about the package before he starts pulling her forward. It is a testament to how excited he is about whatever he wants to show Sakura.
"Where are we going?" Sakura asks jogging after the blond.
"We're gonna go see the old man!" Naruto announces, and Sakura's eyes widen. "He says he wants ta meet ya and I told him I'd take ya to see him!"
"What- wait, Naruto!" Sakura is ignored and dragged across Konoha to the Hokage Tower. She doesn't know what to expect or what she is going to tell the Sandaime. It is an oversight on her part; she really should have asked Naruto what he has told Sarutobi.
Sakura just hopes her mind will be quick enough to come up with the necessary lies.
Sarutobi is just as kind as Sakura remembers he is from her short interactions with him but there is a piercing glint in his eyes that puts her on guard. There is a reason this man is revered as the God of Shinobi.
She takes the seat he offers beside Naruto and they both listen to the blond babble for a while. There is an underlying tension in the room, though Naruto seems completely oblivious to it.
"Naruto," Sarutobi finally cuts in mildly. "Perhaps we should let Sakura-chan speak? You haven't forgotten about her, have you?"
Naruto looks indignant even though they all know the Hokage is only teasing. "Of course not!" He turns to Sakura with a wide grin. "I told jiiji about what Sasuke's dad said! You're so lucky! You get ta enter the Academy early!"
Sakura quickly glances at the Hokage and doesn't even have to pretend to look nervous because she is nervous. She knows of the rift between the Sandaime and the Uchiha Clan; what did Sarutobi think of this new development?
"I have heard about what you did," Sarutobi says, his head tilting a little as he watches her. "Your skills are quite powerful for someone so young."
It is a test and Sakura pulls a bashful smile onto her face as she responds. "I had to save Sasuke. I'd do anything to protect my friends," She tells him, and it is the honest-to-god truth because she swore the same thing when she was twelve and fighting for her friends' survival.
It is the right thing to say but Sarutobi continues, "That is very admirable, Sakura-chan. Where did you learn the techniques you used?"
Sakura blinks up at the Hokage with big innocent eyes. "At the library. There are scrolls there. A librarian told me they were really basic for older Academy students and Genin but they might be too hard for me. I read them anyway and I learned loads! Mostly in medical ninjutsu though. The scrolls described what chakra was and a little on how to use it.," She pauses as if deep in thought, and then adds brightly, "Gathering chakra in my hands is really easy!"
The Sandaime doesn't question this; for someone born with perfect chakra control, chakra-enhanced strength is second nature.
"And the Shunshin?" Sarutobi presses casually.
Sakura blinks again and tilts her head in a confused manner. "Shunshin?"
The Hokage observes her carefully as he clarifies, "How did you move to protect Sasuke-kun so quickly?"
Sakura's brow furrows before she lets her expression clear. "Oh, the Ninja Dash?"
Sarutobi looks amused. "Yes, Sakura-chan."
Sakura shrugs. "I saw some adult ninja do it and I saw the Ram seal they used so I just tried it. It took me a few weeks but I finally managed a short distance," She stops again at the stunned look on the Hokage's face and deliberately mistakes it for disapproval. "Should I have waited until I was a grown-up ninja? I'll stop from now on if I shouldn't do it yet."
Sarutobi quickly shakes his head. "No, no, it's not against the law. But to be able to pull off Shunshin at your age; it's very impressive, Sakura-chan."
Sakura breaks into a tentative smile and inwardly hopes the lies are believable enough and remarkable enough to mark her down as a prodigy.
The Hokage doesn't continue his questioning though and his attention moves on to something else.
Will you accept the Uchiha Clan's offer then, Sakura-chan?" Sarutobi's voice is thoughtful and Sakura shifts a little in her seat.
"I want to become a kunoichi and I think it's a good idea," She blurts out, carefully phrasing her words. "'Cause Uchiha-sama is indebted to me for saving Sasuke, and this way, we'll be even."
She sees Sarutobi's eyes sharpen even as she finishes. She has just demonstrated her intellect without being too blatant about it. Her deduction would leave people wondering whether she is simply taking the Uchiha Clan Head's offer at face value or seeing the bigger picture and ensuring that she would not owe the Uchiha Clan in any way after she graduates.
"I see," Sarutobi smiles and his posture relaxes just a little. "Well, we will have to get your parents' permission of course, but the Uchiha Clan will handle any tuition fees. Being represented by a clan means they will pay for any books and scrolls you will need, as well as the weapons you will be learning to use during your time in the Academy. This will continue until you become Genin and start earning your own money."
Sakura nods. She already knows this but wants to find out if she can graduate early like Kakashi and Itachi. "How many years will I need to study at the Academy?"
Sarutobi frowns a little. "Well, it depends on how fast you can learn all the material. The average student starts at the age of six and graduates in four to six years. There have been exceptions of course, but it is hard work."
Sakura nods. Her memory is better than most with the exception of Shikamaru and Sasuke's Sharingan and she is not willing to spend four tedious years slogging through material she has already learned once. It would be absolutely pathetic if she cannot graduate within a year.
"What about me, jiiji?" Naruto pipes up beside her. "I wanna go with Sakura-chan to the Academy too! She's been teaching me loads, not just throwing kunai! I can read and write better and I know more words and everything!"
Regret crosses Sarutobi's face and Sakura knows he is thinking of the Council. She has had to deal with them more than once in her own time with Tsunade and she knows it's no picnic.
"I'm afraid you can't go yet, Naruto," Sarutobi says gently. "You're only four; surely you can wait a few more years?"
Naruto's face falls but Sakura can hear the unspoken thoughts in the Hokage's words. Even in a few years, if the Council is completely adamant against it, they may still refuse his entry. They will certainly not allow him to start early.
Sakura wants to storm into the Council room and yell at all of them for their incompetence (she supposes, to be fair, not all of them; mostly just the Elders and the civilian representatives and the son-of-a-bitch Danzo) but not only would it be a comical attempt at best, it would also do more damage than good.
As Naruto continues wheedling, Sakura thinks about Fugaku's offer and his debt to her. She has never wanted to become a Hokage but she remembers the political aspects of her shishou's job. Being the woman's apprentice, Sakura was bound to pick something up.
She glances over at her surrogate brother who looks increasingly upset and is still holding her hand in a death grip. They both know that if she enters the Academy, she will have much less time to spend with Naruto and the blond has always harboured a fear of abandonment.
Sakura only hesitates for a moment longer, weighing the pros and cons, and then suggests timidly, "I could get Uchiha-sama to nominate Naruto too. I'll tell him that's my condition for taking his offer."
Naruto is gaping at her, disbelief warring with hope and gratitude, and while Sakura flashes a smile at him in a reassuring gesture, it is Sarutobi's reaction she is most interested in.
The Hokage is staring at her with a small frown on his face, concern lurking behind the contemplative expression.
"A clan offering to nominate you is an honour, Sakura-chan, not a bargain," Sarutobi finally says gravely, his eyes drilling into Sakura's own. "It would be disrespectful to do anything other than accept or decline."
Sakura tightens her own grip on Naruto's hand and straightens in her seat, her chin jutting out defiantly. She has come back not only to make sure her friends have a future but also to see that they will be happy. If she doesn't start changing things, her bloody timeline will still come to pass. She has made up her mind. Nothing will stop her from seeing it through now.
"I saved Sasuke," She points out. "And if I have to, I'll do it again and again without any payment, but Uchiha-sama offered his Clan's backing after that, not before. It is an honour, which means we'll be even. He is returning the favour and I can pick what that favour will be, can't I?"
Sarutobi has wiped all expression from his face and is now staring at her with a neutral gaze. "You could, but it would put you in their debt. Getting another child into the Academy when he has yet to show reason for early enrollment isn't completely dismissible. They will expect you to repay them in some way in the future."
Sakura knows the Sandaime is also thinking of the lengths Fugaku will have to go to to convince the Council if he agrees but she won't let Naruto down now that she has gotten his hopes up; can't when he is looking at her like she is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Inner takes the time to point out to her that she probably is.
"That's okay," She decides out loud. "One favour to get Naruto in. He's more than worth it."
For a moment, the closed off expression lifts from the Hokage's face and she sees approval shining through before it is quickly tucked away again. Instead, Sarutobi turns to Naruto with a raised eyebrow. "Well, Naruto? If Sakura manages to get Sasuke-kun's father to agree, will you promise to work hard?"
Naruto doesn't reply with words right away. Instead, he tackles Sakura in an exuberant hug, wrapping his arms around her and hooks his chin over her shoulder. Sakura hugs him back just as tightly when she feels her shirt getting wet. Naruto isn't usually one to cry.
"I'll work hard, Sakura-chan," Naruto swears when he finally pulls back. He roughly drags his forearm over his eyes to dash away any remaining tears before staring back at her with a determined gaze. "I won't waste this chance. I'll study all day if I have to."
Sakura has the feeling that Naruto couldn't study all day no matter what she does but she knows he is grateful beyond words and very happy and that is enough for her.
"I'll make it happen," She says, and she can't help the wide smile that spreads over her face when Naruto believes her without question.
The week is up and Sakura stands stiff-backed in front of the Uchiha compound in simple but respectful clothes. Her parents want to come with her but Sakura insists on doing this alone. She wants to seem a little more grown-up and they are worried enough without knowing she will be indebting herself to the Uchihas after today.
The guards at the gate are obviously expecting her because they give her a stiff nod and an unimpressed once-over before waving her in. Another Uchiha leads her up the path without a word to what looked like the main house and Sakura can admit to a little relief when she sees Mikoto stepping outside to greet her.
"Hello, Sakura-chan," The woman smiles warmly at her and takes her hand as if she has simply come over to play with Sasuke again. "Come in. My husband is in the sitting room. How have you been?"
"Fine, thank you," Sakura answers, but her smile almost falters when she steps into the living room and finds not only Fugaku but Itachi and Sasuke as well. Itachi is standing by the window, silent and still as a statue, while Sasuke is sitting on the couch. He brightens when she steps into the room but his father's presence seems to stay his usual behaviour because he stays seated, posture perfect.
Fugaku pins her with a cool gaze and greets her with a stiff nod. "Sakura-san," He begins, and Sakura wonders if Mikoto forced him to use her name. "Thank you for coming. If you would like some privacy, we can retire to my study."
Sakura shakes her head. She doesn't really mind who hears what she has to say. "Here is alright, Uchiha-sama," Sakura takes the seat across from Fugaku and catches a glimpse of Mikoto bustling out of the room again, presumably for some tea.
"Your answer then?" Fugaku prompts without delay.
Sakura has rehearsed what she is going to say about a million times ever since she has made up her mind. She is probably going to offend Fugaku no matter how she words her decision; the question is how much.
"Thank you very much for the offer, Uchiha-sama," Sakura starts. "I would be honoured to accept. But I would like to make one request." She pauses and determinedly ignores the stilted silence that descends on the room. At least she hasn't said condition.
"What is this request?" Fugaku finally asks, sounding even more frigid than he did when he was talking to her parents.
Sakura looks straight into the Clan Head's eyes and does not waver. She is not afraid of him and she wants him to know that. It has been a long time since she has been afraid of anyone. Her only fear is failure; failure to fulfill the only reason she is here in this time.
"I have a friend I don't want to leave behind," She says. She has decided on a mixture of childishness and maturity. "He also wants to become a ninja and he has already started training. It would mean a great deal to me if the Uchiha Clan can push his enrollment through as well."
The subtle we are now even and I will owe the Uchiha Clan a favour is implied in her last words. There is only give and take in the shinobi world and even children understand that on some level. She knows she has gotten her meaning across.
Fugaku stares at her long and hard and the silence is almost stifling. She senses Mikoto in the doorway behind her but doesn't turn to look, keeping her gaze locked on the Clan Head in front of her instead.
"You are speaking of the Uzumaki boy, I assume," Fugaku voices at last. Sakura can't tell what he is thinking.
Her head dips. "Yes. His studying habits can use a little work but he is only a four-year-old boy," She pauses, and then adds boldly, "He is almost as good as Sasuke with throwing kunai and shuriken."
This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Fugaku would possibly die before admitting to anyone outside of his immediate family that his sons are anything less than the best that everyone expects the Clan Head's sons to be. On the other hand, she knows Sasuke is nowhere near as good as Itachi was at four, and at least a part of Fugaku considers his second son to be the spare. But Sasuke is still much better than average and that is what Sakura is banking on.
She sees Sasuke shift in his seat and feels a little bad about dragging him into this. She knows he doesn't like being compared but she also knows that, for some reason, Sasuke doesn't really mind when it is her that is doing the comparing and it is Naruto she is comparing him to. They are the same even in her timeline; she has never understood it.
"But he is not as good as you," Fugaku says abruptly.
Sakura is momentarily thrown. She did not expect this to come up in any of her imagined scenarios. At the moment, she doesn't even know which 'he' the Clan Head is referring to.
"I can only do my best," Sakura phrases her answer diplomatically. When in doubt, Tsunade always said, never take a side. Don't let yourself get trapped or you're screwed. "Just like Sasuke and Naruto."
There, a non-offensive answer, a reply that doesn't make her sound weak, and just a touch of defiant reproach all rolled into one response.
Something flickers through Fugaku's eyes and Sakura waits with bated breath. In the end, it all depends on how highly this man thinks of her. Ninja do not flaunt their skills. They pride themselves on subtlety. Sakura has been plenty subtle throughout this entire conversation. She hopes it is enough.
"Have you looked into the Academy's curriculum?"
The question is completely out-of-the-blue and Sakura is probably going to get whiplash before she leaves.
"Yes," She confirms, not really seeing the harm in admitting that much. "It teaches the basics that are required for students to become Genin."
"Correct," Fugaku leans forward slightly. "I have seen your skill in the practical area but that is not all that makes up a ninja. By your estimate, how long would it take you to graduate from the Academy?"
Fugaku is testing her, of that she has no doubt. He is asking her without words if she considers herself worth the trouble Fugaku will have to go to to get Naruto into the Academy. In the long run, it does not matter if the Clan Head believes she can live up to expectations if she herself does not. Yet she isn't sure why he is asking after her intellect. Surely she has already proven herself in that area in their current verbal sparring? Nevertheless, she does not lie when she gives him her response.
"One year," Sakura replies without hesitation. She is neither boasting nor is she overestimating herself.
Even Itachi shifts at her declaration and Sasuke is staring at her with wide eyes. Sakura doesn't look away from Fugaku and doesn't glance over at Itachi. Everyone in the room knows she will break the Uchiha Genius' record and miss the famous Copy-nin's by only a year if she can turn her claim into reality.
The Clan Head has raised an eyebrow at her but he does not voice whether he believes her or not. Instead, he straightens and leans back and Sakura knows the conversation is nearing its end. She is suddenly anxious because the man has yet to give her his answer.
"The new term begins on April nineteenth," Fugaku informs her calmly even as he rises to his feet. "I will have someone deliver two sets of books to your household for yourself and for the boy."
It takes Sakura a moment to realize the Clan Head has given his approval and she can't help the genuine smile that spreads over her face as she ends up beaming at him. Fugaku looks temporarily taken aback but recovers in record time and nods curtly as she thanks him. They never do get around to that tea but Mikoto has already whipped it out of sight.
Sasuke walks with her all the way down to the front gates but he is frowning almost worriedly.
"Something wrong, Sasuke?" Sakura tilts her head at him.
Sasuke offers a very un-Uchiha-like shrug and stuffs his hands into his pockets. The Sasuke in her time makes this action look like he has a stick up his ass. This Sasuke only looks like he is sulking. She supposes that is an improvement.
"You and Naruto are going to the Academy together," He finally mutters, and Sakura can hear the jealousy in his voice.
"We'll still come visit," Sakura assures. The main clans' children can be recommended for the Academy at anytime by their parents or clan heads if they show enough aptitude. It would be up to Mikoto and Fugaku to make that decision for Sasuke.
"Sasuke-chan, it is almost time for dinner," Mikoto's voice makes them both look up and they see her approach them with Itachi by her side. "Head inside to wash up."
Sasuke nods dutifully and waves half-heartedly to Sakura before scampering away. Sakura doesn't have time to worry about him before Mikoto is speaking again.
"You'll work hard at the Academy, won't you, Sakura-chan?" Mikoto starts sternly but her eyes are smiling.
Sakura nods vigorously. "Of course, Mikoto-san. And Naruto will too; I'll make sure of it."
Mikoto laughs. "I'm sure you will." She has seen Sakura tutoring Naruto; the blond has long since learned not to argue with her when Sakura deems it time for him to study.
"Well then, Itachi-kun will walk you home," She glances at her son who nods woodenly in confirmation.
Sakura doesn't know whether to be exasperated or horrified. "Oh no, that's very kind of you but it really isn't necessary-"
"Nonsense," Mikoto waves a hand. "It is getting dark and no girl should walk home alone. Itachi-kun will accompany you."
Two minutes later, Sakura finds herself making her way home with a stoic Itachi beside her and a very uncomfortable silence between them.
Somewhere up there, she just knows the gods are laughing at her.
Sakura has never been one for complete silence when in the company of someone else so by the time they are halfway home, she grasps at a random topic and starts talking.
"Sasuke's talked about you," Sakura ventures a glance at the elder Uchiha sibling. "I hear you're going to try for Chuunin soon?"
Itachi nods mutely and Sakura mentally scowls in her head. She doesn't know if he is intentionally refusing to talk to her or if he really is as socially inept as her time's Sasuke once told her.
"Do you know when your father will enroll Sasuke?" Sakura tries again. "I really wish we could go to school together."
There is a short pause before Itachi shakes his head once.
Sakura grinds her teeth together. This bastard is worse than Sasuke, Gaara, and Neji put together.
'So that's your game, huh?' She fumes. 'Silly me; shouldn't be asking yes or no questions.'
"I know you're still a Genin but how are you finding your missions?" She asks sweetly. "The Hokage probably gives you tougher ones than normal Genin so how are you handling them?"
Sakura grins smugly inside her head and then almost falls over when Itachi shrugs.
And the worst part is she actually understands said shrug to translate to Okay; no particular trouble. I could handle harder.
Goddamnit, she has spent way too much time in Sasuke's company.
By the time her house comes into view, she has fired off three more questions, all answered with a single raised eyebrow, a sideways tilt of his head, and a slight frown, respectively. To her great irritation, she completely understands all three replies.
She all but stomps forward to unlatch the gate but spins around to face Itachi as she closes it, finally giving in to the urge and scowling fiercely up at him.
Itachi blinks once. What?
Sakura mentally screams at her brain to stop interpreting Uchiha-ese.
Outwardly, she jabs a threatening finger at him and lets her temper out.
"Stick around, Uchiha!" She almost winces at the high-pitched squeak her five-year-old self still speaks in. God, she can't wait until puberty hits. "I'm gonna get you to talk if it's the last thing I do!"
Without waiting for a reply (she just knows it's going to be two raised eyebrows which will translate to Really? I'd like to see you try.) and not caring that she is being very rude to the prized first son of the man who is sponsoring her, Sakura spins on her heel and stalks up the path to her house, still fuming.
Had she looked back, perhaps she would've caught the slight upward twitch of Itachi's mouth as he waits until she is inside before taking his leave.
Fugaku doesn't know whether to be impressed or insulted after Haruno Sakura takes her leave. He just knows he can't seem to find any of the anger he usually experiences when someone challenges him. He just feels... mildly amused.
To be able to learn Shunshin and incorporate chakra-enhanced strength into her fighting style at her age does not only take prodigal talent but also a quick mind so Fugaku deliberately draws Sakura into a verbal showdown. He expects her to, at best, butt heads with him a few times, but acquiesce to his authority in the end.
She surprises him.
Not only does she dare to make a request (and he knows it is a condition; it is very clear to him that she would have turned his offer down had he denied Naruto's entry) but she is also good enough to challenge him with a double-sided confrontation.
So he listens to the unspoken words and hears the silent promise she has made to return the debt she now owes the Uchiha Clan – the Clan, not him, because her request will politically affect the Uchihas as a whole. He sees her skill with diplomacy and her unwillingness to back down. And yes, he definitely takes notice of the way she reprimands him for his treatment of Sasuke.
It leaves him incredulous of her audacity and he challenges her in return. How good does she think she is? Is a future favour from a mere five-year-old civilian girl who has the potential to become great but won't necessarily reach that far worth the difficulty he will have with the Clan Elders and the Council?
And she does not hesitate to say yes.
The girl could simply be overconfident of her own abilities of course, but Fugaku has seen his fair share of misplaced arrogance. The child shows none of that, and there is even something about her that he can't quite place but draws him in and makes him willing to take a gamble on her and her future.
A knock on his study door makes him turn and Fugaku blinks when Sasuke steps into the room. His second son rarely visits him when he is working here.
"Otou-sama," Sasuke nods and Fugaku notes the determined air around him. He is carrying a few scrolls in his hands as well as a set of kunai. "Please enroll me in the Academy for the upcoming term."
Fugaku stares, his features carefully blank. This is new. Not only is Sasuke speaking with the sort of formality Fugaku has been trying to drill into the young boy for a few years now, he is also speaking up for himself for the first time in his young life.
"Oh?" Fugaku raises an eyebrow. "You believe yourself qualified?"
Sasuke nods sharply. His hands tighten around the scrolls but that is the only sign of outward apprehension. Fugaku is slightly impressed.
"I have been working on the first year material," Sasuke continues, motioning at the scrolls. "And my aim with kunai has improved."
Fugaku glances down at the scrolls and weapons again. He doesn't really need proof as Sasuke is obviously prepared to give him. The boy would never come to him with anything less.
"Why all of a sudden?" He asks instead even though he knows the answer.
Sasuke's shoulders square and his chin juts out just a little. Fugaku makes a mental note to correct him on that later.
"I want to study at the Academy with Sakura and Naruto," He says with uncharacteristic firmness. He hesitates for just a second before confessing, "I do better with them."
Fugaku knows he should reprimand Sasuke for this. Uchihas did not depend on anyone outside of the Clan. But he is not blind and he has seen how much happier Sasuke has been over the past few months. He has also caught occasional glimpses of his son in one of their private training grounds, practicing by himself instead of following Itachi like a lost puppy and begging him for training. Sasuke has gotten new incentive and his son has just confirmed his suspicions of where he found said motivation.
"You will not be able to graduate in a year," Fugaku says coolly, and he regrets his words, just a little for just a moment, when Sasuke flinches minutely.
But just as quickly, Sasuke looks up at him again instead of sulking or getting upset and nods reluctantly instead.
"I know," Sasuke acknowledges. "But I'll catch up to her one day and I'll still be able to study with Naruto."
He stops and stares back stubbornly as if he plans on enrolling himself if Fugaku refuses.
Fugaku can admit to more than a little pride.
"Very well," He nods dismissively and turns back to the papers on his desk. "I will enroll you along with the other two. Now go to bed."
He can almost hear Sasuke's joy but doesn't reply when his son thanks him and all but skips out the door.
As the door closes behind Sasuke, who speaks in stilted tones to his own father and vice versa and doesn't seem to expect anything other than the little recognition he has been given, Fugaku wonders if maybe Sakura could be right.
Whoever accuses Itachi of being unobservant has either been living under a rock for the past nine years or is simply too stupid to live.
Itachi is particularly perceptive when it comes to his brother, whom he is very protective of, so when he returns from a mission and Sasuke is not there to greet him, he immediately gets suspicious.
It isn't long after that that he finds out why Sasuke no longer follows him around. His mother is happy enough to tell him of Sasuke's two 'best friends', but when Itachi mentions them in casual conversation, his brother is surprisingly reluctant to talk about them.
It takes Itachi a few days and his mother's sympathetic explanation for him to realize that, for the first time in his life, Sasuke doesn't want to share something with him.
He gets concerned – curious, his mind supplies helpfully – and not a little annoyed – jealous, his brain snickers – and ends up following Sasuke one day, in secret of course, and finally (sort of) meets his little brother's friends.
The village's pariah and a civilian girl. With pink hair. Honestly, who has pink hair? He even checks her parents; her father has normal brown hair and her mother is a redhead.
But he soon forgets this oddity when he sees them practicing. Sasuke has gotten better and the blond boy isn't far behind. But it is the civilian girl who catches his interest.
She is beyond both boys' level. Her aim is excellent and she is even good enough and patient enough to teach her friends.
So he follows – stalks, the voice in his head chirps cheerfully. It sounds a lot like Shisui's voice and if it continues, Itachi just might have to go hunt his cousin down and kill him; the older Uchiha has clearly cast some sort of jutsu on him – the girl, just to see what else she can do, and even he is stunned when she walks up walls and practices Shunshin in the privacy of her backyard. She is as good as he was at her age and he doesn't quite know what to make of it.
As the weeks go by, Sasuke continues to keep his friends to himself and Itachi continues to observe the girl. He learns her name – Sakura – and idly thinks her parents are somewhat unimaginative. Even he could've thought of a better name, and Shisui always says he has the imagination of a rock.
Still, Itachi doesn't understand why Sasuke doesn't want him to meet his friends. It isn't as if Itachi is going to steal them.
But the day he senses a hostile presence and reaches his compound's gates in time to see Sakura protect her brother without a single care for herself, he thinks he begins to see why Sasuke is so possessive of them. If Naruto has even half of Sakura's protectiveness, Itachi can admit that his brother is very lucky to find two such people. Hanging on to them is only logical.
He fully agrees with his father's decision of backing Sakura and almost, almost, gapes when Sakura challenges his father's authority right in the middle of his own home. When his father capitulates to her pleasantly-worded demands, Itachi is impressed and fascinated in equal measure.
He doesn't even blink in protest when his mother asks him to walk Sakura home.
Itachi has seen Sakura interact with Sasuke and Naruto and knows how much of a temper she has so he decides to see how far he can go before she blows up at him.
He is increasingly amused when Sakura shoots different questions at him in an attempt to get him to talk. He notes with some interest that while she is frustrated with his soundless replies, it is only because he won't give a verbal response and not because she doesn't understand.
By the time they reach her home, she is spitting mad and Itachi very nearly chuckles when she breaks at last and rages at him with a five-year-old's fury.
He thinks Sakura is the most intriguing person he has come across in a long time and he wonders how far he can push her until she finally succeeds in what she has promised.
He believes it will be rather fun to find out.
Finished! Wow, that was long.
Chapter 4: Friendship
In which Shisui irritates the hell out of Itachi, the Council doesn't know what to make of Uchiha Fugaku, Sakura is invited to an interesting dinner, and the Academy proves to be a place that induces homicidal thoughts.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-Glad you all seem to like Itachi. I've always thought he was kind of flat in the canon since he always came off as emotionless and stoic and distant for the most part. In this fic, he's still nine even if he is a genius and is more mature than others in his age group, so I've given him a bit of a mischievous streak, and being socially awkward what with not having friends, his friendship with Sakura will be a trial for both of them.
Chapter Summary: In which Shisui irritates the hell out of Itachi, the Council doesn't know what to make of Uchiha Fugaku, Sakura is invited to an interesting dinner, and the Academy proves to be a place that induces homicidal thoughts.
Chapter 4 – Friendship
"How is my favourite cousin this fine bright morning?"
Shisui grins when Itachi twitches like he's about to fall out of the tree he is perched in but catches himself just in time. His little cousin may be a genius but Shisui isn't known for his Shunshin for nothing. He takes pride in the fact that he can still surprise Itachi on a regular basis.
"Shisui," Itachi acknowledges curtly but, as usual, makes no attempt to start a conversation.
Actually, on closer observation, Shisui wonders why his cousin seems a little tense at the moment. And now that he thinks about it, what in the name of Konoha is Itachi doing in a tree in the civilian sector at seven in the morning?
"Itachi, what are you doing?" Naturally curious, Shisui studies his cousin closely before glancing around. He has always been an early riser, much like Itachi in that respect, and was on his way to get some dango when he picked up his cousin's chakra signal.
Letting his senses probe his surroundings, Shisui finds his attention drawn to the neat-looking house several feet away. He looks back at Itachi again and finds the younger Uchiha's gaze fixed determinedly in the opposite direction.
Well, Itachi is practically shouting for Shisui to investigate.
Clambering easily up to the branch Itachi is crouching on, Shisui peers at the normal house again and blinks when he finds himself with a clear view of the backyard. And a...
"Itachi," Shisui turns to gape at his cousin as a horrifying thought snakes into his mind. "Are you stalking little girls now?"
Itachi's head snaps around and he glares irritably at Shisui without ever shifting his expression. "I am not stalking anyone. What I do in my own time is none of your business."
Shisui stares at Itachi for few seconds longer as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on here. He hasn't seen his cousin for several months now having only returned yesterday from a mission to Kumo - and after the whole Hyuuga disaster, isn't that just a picnic - but he recalls that Itachi is usually training at this time. Unless he has a mission, Itachi is almost always training.
So what's changed?
Carefully, Shisui focuses on the pink-haired girl doing katas in the yard again. She can only be five at most and a civilian child to boot; why is Itachi so interested in her? Looking closer, he notes the smooth, practiced movements of the exercises she is going through. She's quite good.
"She's pretty good for a kid," He comments out loud. "Who is she?"
Itachi glowers at him, clearly unhappy that Shisui is cutting in on his... whatever this is, but he answers after Shisui maintains an expectant look on his face. "Haruno Sakura. She's Sasuke's friend."
Shisui's eyebrows shoot up briefly in surprise. "Oh? Sasuke-chan's made a new friend? And a girl at that," He grins again. "You're little brother's got more moves than you do, Itachi."
Itachi almost frowns but retains a blank look while still somehow conveying his displeasure. One day, Shisui really would like to find out how he does it.
"So, what, you're here to see if she's a danger to Sasuke?" Shisui can't help snickering. "C'mon Itachi, what is she gonna do? Fangirl him to death?"
Itachi just gives him a deadpan look that unmistakably questions Shisui's brain capacity. But he doesn't look as annoyed anymore; in fact, his cousin looks almost amused.
Shisui gets the feeling that he is missing something.
He looks back at the girl again. She's really nothing special; above average for a civilian but he's seen shinobi children go through katas like that every day.
He hasn't completely hidden his chakra signal like Itachi has, only muted it, and when he shifts and rises so he can sit on the branch above, he catches a set of green eyes flicker in his direction for half a second and knows he, at least, has been spotted.
That is definitely not normal. He may not have concealed himself entirely but children from ninja families twice her age shouldn't be able to sense him.
"She is entering the Academy in a few weeks," Itachi speaks up and Shisui almost keels over from the shock. He can't ever recall a time when his cousin has offered information without prompting when it isn't for a mission. "She will be represented by the Uchiha Clan."
Shisui's eyes widen and he studies the girl more intently. To be represented by their clan, she would have to gain the approval of their Clan Head. Holding a successful conversation with Itachi when he is at his moodiest is easier than impressing Uchiha Fugaku. Shisui can attest to this; he's tried it.
"She must be something else then," Shisui remarks. "What did she do?"
There is a definite smirk on Itachi's face now. Obviously, he is quite smug about knowing something that Shisui is still in the dark about. Shisui doesn't know what to make of this either. Itachi usually doesn't care about one-upping him.
"She saved Sasuke from a possible abduction," Itachi tells him. "She defeated an Iwa missing-nin in the process."
Shisui stares between Itachi and the child in disbelief. "Wait, a little pink-haired girl took down a missing-nin? An Iwa missing-nin? Those guys are hardcore I-eat-children-for-breakfast psychos!"
Itachi gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look. "Nevertheless," His cousin intones, finally turning back to the girl. "She succeeded. She also convinced Otou-sama to enroll Uzumaki Naruto as well, and Sasuke went to father last night and convinced him to admit him too."
Shisui doesn't know what stuns him more; the fact that this girl has somehow manipulated their Clan Head into doing what she wants or the fact that this is the most Itachi has ever said to him at any one time.
He decides to ignore the latter and stick to the former.
"She doesn't have blackmail on our esteemed leader, does she?" Shisui pays no attention the dark look Itachi shoots him.
"She made several good points to Otou-sama," Itachi says stiffly.
Shisui rolls his eyes. "Lighten up, Itachi. I was joking. What about the Uzumaki brat?"
"He is also Sasuke's friend," Itachi informs him curtly.
Huh, back to short answers again. Ah well, Shisui couldn't really expect Itachi to become a chatterbox. That would probably just give everyone heart attacks.
"Well," Shisui stands, dusting his pants off. "I'll leave you to your stalking in peace."
Itachi looks torn between irritation and alarm. "I am not stalking," He intones flatly. "And where are you going?"
"Aw, do you want me to stick around that much, Tachi-chan?" Shisui coos, grinning at the lethal glare Itachi shoots him. "Don't worry; I'm not going far. But you've gone and stirred up my curiosity. I can't just sit around anymore, can I?"
And before Itachi can stop him, Shisui leaps to the ground and Shunshins into the pink-haired girl's yard.
He can almost feel Itachi's desire to strangle him.
Sakura doesn't know what to think when she senses a foreign chakra signal in a nearby tree. She has seen pictures of Uchiha Shisui before so she knows him on sight, and Sasuke has told her once that his older cousin is as un-Uchiha-like as they come.
Still, she does not expect Shisui to Shunshin into her yard and bound right up to her with a grin and a good-natured greeting.
"Heya!" Shisui drops into a crouch right in front of her and Sakura doesn't know whether to run away or stick the crazy teen with a kunai. She settles on staring warily at him instead.
"I'm Shisui," The teen continues. "I hear you're being represented by the Uchiha Clan; that practically makes us family! Nice to meet you!"
Sakura stares at Shisui and tries to see the Uchiha in him. Except for the looks, she finds this impossible.
"I'm Sakura," She mumbles, backing away a little from the teen's proximity. If she doesn't have so much practice dealing with Naruto and Kiba, she would've taken insult and fled the moment Shisui landed in her yard.
"Yeah, I heard," Shisui says with good humour and Sakura flushes a little. Duh, he has already said as much.
She casts around for something else to say and grasps onto what little information she has on him. "You're Shunshin no Shisui?" She ventures.
Shisui nods, eyes brightening. "That's me. Fastest in the entire Uchiha Clan. Pretty cool, huh?"
Ah, there was the famous Uchiha arrogance, but it was tempered with the teen's natural friendliness and Sakura finds herself smiling back despite his uncharacteristic personality.
"I can do Shunshin too," She says instead.
Shisui blinks, obviously surprised. "Oh? Care to show me then?" He points to the other end of the yard. "There and back. Let's see how fast you are."
Sakura can't help but be pleased that there is no disbelief in Shisui's voice. He could of course have already heard of her Shunshin when she saved Sasuke but most people would still harbour some doubts if they did not actually see it. And she still remembers Sasuke's harsh critiques so it is something of a surprise to meet a Uchiha who doesn't sneer first and ask questions never.
Forming a Ram seal, she flickers away, barely letting her feet settle on the ground at the far end of her garden before she flashes back again. She can feel the drain on her chakra but ignores it in favour of blinking up at Shisui, mildly winded but a lot better than when she first started practicing the technique.
Shisui has broken out into an even wider grin and he ruffles her hair with enthusiasm. "That was awesome, Chibi-chan!"
Sakura can stand a lot of things; she has had to what with being Naruto's friend and medic, but she is not going to stand for anyone calling her Chibi-chan.
"Don't call me that," She scowls up at the teen, swatting at the hand.
To her surprise, Shisui only chuckles, looking highly amused. "You know, you remind me of Tachi-chan."
Her brain stalls. Tachi-chan?
She wonders if Shisui has ever called Itachi 'Tachi-chan' to his face, and then wonders why the teen is still alive because of course Shisui has. The older Uchiha seems just like Naruto personality-wise.
"You can just call me Sakura," Sakura suggests with a glower.
"Alright, Kura-chan," Shisui says cheerfully.
Sakura twitches. Did this idiot have selective hearing? Besides, no one but Inner calls her Kura-chan.
"You'll get faster as your chakra reserves grow," Shisui takes no notice of her annoyance. "Maybe you'll even be as fast as me someday."
With that said, he flashes out of sight and Sakura's eyes widen as she tries to follow his speed. Before she can even focus on the teen at the far end of the yard, he is back again, standing beside her with a proud smirk.
"How's that, Kura-chan?" Shisui flops to the ground not without grace. "Think you can beat that one day?"
Sakura can tell him right now that even at twenty-six, she thinks she can only match that speed and Shisui is only thirteen at the moment. In her timeline, she is certain even Itachi in his twenties is only slightly faster than Shisui is now.
But it isn't like her to say she can't and she crosses her arms stubbornly and tells him, "I'll beat that speed and then you'll have to lose the nickname!" She huffs at the smirk on his face. "Just you wait; I'll be much faster when I grow up!"
"That's the spirit!" Shisui ruffles her hair again and Sakura doesn't bother ducking out of the way. She can tell this will become a habit the Shunshin expert isn't going to drop anytime soon. "But don't think I'll make it easy for you. You're gonna have to work your a- butt off."
Sakura snickers inwardly at Shisui's slip. He is as far from the typical Uchiha as possible and she can't say she minds.
"Anyway, I was on my way to get some dango," Shisui continues, getting to his feet again. "Wanna come with me? My treat, in celebration of the Uchiha Clan gaining a new family member."
Sakura almost rolls her eyes. She isn't really a family member just because she has the Uchiha Clan's backing. She remembers reading about the other handful of shinobi the Uchihas have taken on over the years though and knows they all went on to marry one member or another so at least she knows why Shisui seems to have all but inducted her into his clan. Still, Sakura isn't planning on marrying anybody anytime soon.
But the dango sounds nice and she doesn't even have to pay so she nods and scampers inside to leave a note for her parents. They know she is preparing for the Academy so they have told her to simply leave a note if she needs to leave early or stay late to practice.
As she rejoins Shisui out front, Sakura thinks she senses a flare of killer intent for just a millisecond from the tree Shisui was perching on earlier but when she turns to look, there is no one there.
Beside her, for some unknown reason that he doesn't divulge even after Sakura asks, Shisui laughs.
When Itachi closes the front door with an audible snap, Mikoto immediately knows he is annoyed. Her eldest son typically makes as little sound as possible.
"Did you not have enough time to finish training, Itachi-kun?" She asks as he steps inside the kitchen.
Itachi shakes his head but doesn't say more than that right away, busying himself with getting a glass of water. Mikoto doesn't mind; she knows her son is only gathering his thoughts and not being impolite.
Several minutes later, Itachi asks abruptly, "Why do people like Shisui so much?"
Mikoto can't help but stare. Of all the things she is waiting to hear, it is not that.
Itachi must have caught the perplexity in her expression because he clarifies, a strain of annoyance leaking into his voice as he sits down at the dinner table. "He has no respect for personal space and he does not even act like a Uchiha. He says what he wants and he calls people by ridiculous monikers without asking for permission."
Mikoto blinks. Is her son...
"Itachi-kun," She starts gently, moving to take a seat at the table as well. "You have never had any particular problems with Shisui-kun's personality. What brought this on?"
Itachi actually fidgets a little and Mikoto starts getting worried. Did Shisui cross a line in his interactions with Itachi? She has never worried because she thought her stoic son could use some affection from someone other than herself but perhaps Shisui has finally somehow insulted Itachi with his teasing and her admittedly introverted son didn't understand it was only that?
When Itachi does not say anything more, Mikoto enquires tentatively, "Did something he say come out as an insult? I'm sure Shisui-kun didn't mean it. What did he say?"
Itachi frowns. "He said he has the fastest Shunshin in the Uchiha Clan and it would be hard to surpass him in that area."
Mikoto frowns in utter confusion. Itachi has never minded that fact, especially since it is the truth.
"Then he took her out for dango," Itachi adds, his hands tightening around his glass of water.
"'Her', Itachi-kun?" Mikoto asks cautiously. "He was talking to someone else?"
Itachi nods. "Of course. I would not care if he said that to me."
Mikoto picks her next words carefully. "But you cared when he said it to the... girl?"
Could it be?
Itachi nods again, his frown deepening. "He interrupted her training and he was rude even when he introduced himself but she didn't seem to mind."
"And this is a bad thing?" Mikoto asks slowly, trying to contain her rising glee.
Was Itachi taking an interest in something other than training?
Itachi nods a third time before tacking on with just the slightest hint of resentment, "She was impressed with his speed."
Mikoto tries very hard not to smile. "Well, Shisui-kun is very fast. I'm sure anyone who hasn't seen him use the Shunshin would be."
Itachi's mouth twitched downward. "... He called her 'Kura-chan' even though she told him to call her by her real name."
Apparently, her son is not happy that she doesn't seem very sympathetic to his plight and is trying to point out all of his cousin's faults.
"'Kura-chan'?" Mikoto's voice comes out more shocked than she planned and she straightens unconsciously.
Clearly believing that his mother has finally caught on, Itachi demands, "He obviously shouldn't if she doesn't want him to, right? So why did she agree when he asked her out for dango?"
Mikoto is still stuck on the nickname. "Itachi-kun, are we talking about Sakura-chan right now?"
Itachi gives her a rare impatient look as if he expects his mother to be telepathic and just know. She is clearly being slow on purpose.
Mikoto really wants to laugh.
"Itachi-kun," Mikoto can't help smiling. "I'm sure Shisui-kun only wanted to make Sakura-chan feel more welcome. After all, she will have more interactions with our clan now that we are representing her."
"... He called her 'Kura-chan'!" There is indignation in her son's voice as he repeats himself, and for once, he seems to forget to speak with the typical Uchiha aloofness. "Like they're friends even though they just met!"
"Shisui-kun is just being friendly, Itachi-kun," Mikoto explains. "Doesn't he call you 'Tachi-chan'?"
Itachi immediately scowls. "I do not like it, but Shisui is my cousin. We grew up together."
"And Shisui-kun wants to be Sakura-chan's friend so he gave her a nickname," Mikoto says firmly but not unkindly. Her emotionally distant son is finally showing interest in something normal and she doesn't want to discourage it. "I'm sure she would let you as well."
Itachi is silent for a long moment, and even though the only sign of his irritation is the frown on his face, Mikoto knows he is stewing inside.
"... I met her first," Itachi finally tells her quietly but there is a sliver of hurt in his voice.
Mikoto doesn't know whether to laugh or hug her son. She chooses the latter and makes a mental note to thank Sakura at a later date when she feels him hug her back. It has been a long time since Itachi has felt the need for affection from her, and she is glad it is for something as simple as this.
Her eldest child is a prodigy but most forget he is also only nine years old. While he can wield weapons and complete high-level missions without fail, he is also very deprived of the social interactions most children his age experience. Mikoto has always hated the fact that Itachi has never learned how to play or make friends or even just relax.
"Itachi-kun," She says when he pulls away. "If you want to be friends with Sakura-chan as well, all you have to do is talk to her. It doesn't have to be about anything specific; Sakura-chan will understand." She pauses, and then adds, "And Shisui-kun can be friends with her if he wants. After all, Sasuke-kun and Naruto-kun are also her friends, aren't they?"
Itachi scowls just a little but nods in a resigned manner before downing the rest of his water. A thought seems to occur to him as he stands up to leave.
"She said she would get me to talk," Itachi mutters almost to himself. "That means she will have to talk to me."
And with a sharp nod of satisfaction, he retreats to his room, leaving a bewildered Mikoto in his wake.
Later, when Sasuke descends the stairs and catches his mother laughing to herself, Mikoto has to give the impression that she has simply been thinking of something funny before starting on Sasuke's breakfast.
Itachi's predicament isn't really humorous but Mikoto just can't help herself. Her son is finally acting his age and it is quite amusing to watch.
Fugaku has spent all day in the Council room fielding questions and pushing two children's – one of them being the Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki – enrollment into the Academy. Suffice to say, he is in a rather foul mood by the time he comes home so he doesn't find it particularly fair when his wife comes to greet him with unusually good cheer.
"Something good happen today?" Fugaku asks as he sits down wearily at the dinner table. It is late and his sons are already in bed.
Mikoto hmms an affirmative as she places his dinner in front of him. "Itachi-kun had a slight falling out with Shisui-kun today but I think it is for the best," An almost demonic glint appears in her eyes and Fugaku watches her somewhat warily.
"They're fighting over a girl," Mikoto tells him cheerfully. "Sakura-chan to be exact."
Fugaku wonders if the day-long Council meeting has affected his mental faculties. He wouldn't be surprised if it did.
"Sakura-san is five, dear," Fugaku points out wryly. "And Itachi is nine. She's too young for anyone to be fighting over and our son's too young to be doing the fighting."
"Well of course," She agrees. "It's just friendly rivalry between children. Shisui-kun is only thirteen after all. But it's good for Itachi-kun. He needs to learn how to socialize."
Fugaku grunts and doesn't say anything to dispute this. His wife has always been adamant on this aspect of Itachi's life. So long as Itachi doesn't do a complete one-eighty and start skipping training, Fugaku doesn't mind who he interacts with while off-duty.
"What about you?" Mikoto's gaze becomes concerned. "It looks like you've had a hard day."
Fugaku sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "You could say that. Honestly, you'd think I grew a second head today with all the stares I got. That Yamanaka looked like he wanted to check my mind for possession or something."
Fugaku is tired and only his wife is around which is the only reason he loosens his tongue a little.
Mikoto releases a soft laugh at this. "Well, you have to admit, it is very out-of-character for you to represent two children outside of the Uchiha Clan. And one of them being..."
She trails off meaningfully and Fugaku nods. Sometimes, he wishes he could tell his wife about Naruto being the son of the Yondaime; she has already figured out for herself that Naruto is not the Kyuubi.
"Did it work though?" Mikoto continues. "Did they approve?"
"In the end, if push comes to shove, only the Hokage needs to approve it and he did," Fugaku confirms. "But it is better if the Council agrees. They didn't have any problems accepting Sakura-san's admission but the Uzumaki boy took me most of the day to convince them." He pauses and then scoffs, "Nara agreed just to speed things along. He was ready to fall asleep by late afternoon. I think he was asleep by the time the meeting ended. How someone like him became a clan head is beyond me."
Mikoto laughs again and Fugaku finds himself smiling back grudgingly.
"You know as well as I do that Shikaku-san more than makes up for his laziness with his intellect," Mikoto says.
"If he had intellect, he wouldn't be so lazy," Fugaku grumbles without heat.
They fall into a comfortable silence as Fugaku finishes his meal. As Mikoto cleans up, Fugaku leans back in his seat wearily, mind casting back to the meeting with the Clan Elders this morning.
The Elders are not happy with Fugaku taking on an extra burden like Konoha's Jinchuuriki but he insisted. He doesn't know where he is going with this decision, not exactly, but his instinct tells him it is the right choice. He is as afraid as they are that the Uchiha Clan will soon be reduced in strength with the other clans standing against them.
But after today's meeting, he notices something strange. He has told his wife that Nara Shikaku only consented to get the meeting over but he knows it is only part of the reason. Shikaku does not capitulate immediately after all. He listens to Fugaku's reasons and summary of Naruto's skills with sharp eyes that contradict his signature slouch. He brings up points that make Fugaku defend his claims with honest reasons. And during a break in the early afternoon, he ambles up to Fugaku and asks with uncharacteristic sobriety if Fugaku is being sincere.
Fugaku wants Haruno Sakura associated with his Clan for his Clan but the only reason he wants Uzumaki Naruto is for Sakura and, after a night's contemplation, for Minato. And he has not played political war with the Elders and the Council for hours just to entertain himself so his answer is a frigid but vehement yes.
Shikaku ends up staring at him with an odd look on his face that Fugaku cannot decipher for several seconds before shrugging lazily and meandering back to Inoichi and Chouza. But after that, Fugaku suddenly finds himself with three new allies and it isn't long until they manage to talk Tsume and Shibi around as well. The Hyuuga Clan Head takes a while but Fugaku originally expects Hiashi to downright refuse until the bitter end so he doesn't mind. Once they are convinced he isn't representing Naruto for underhanded reasons, Fugaku is taken aback by the number of people willing to stand beside him.
And he doesn't understand that. He has always thought the other Clans wanted the Uchiha Clan undermined and kept under surveillance, used only for the power they bring to Konoha but having no real voice within the village. Surely they would do whatever they could to discredit him and accuse him of treachery. But after today, after the way the other Clan Heads helped his petition get through the village Elders willingly, Fugaku isn't sure what to think.
The only thing he is sure of is that maybe he should start thinking of ways to convince his Clan's Elders to reconsider the coup d'état they have been planning.
"Finally home, dear?"
Inoichi looks up and smiles wearily at his wife who is descending the stairs in her sleepwear.
"You look exhausted," Airi observes, bustling into the kitchen to heat up his dinner. "Council meetings usually don't take all day. Did something big happen?"
"That Uchiha brought up a huge issue," Inoichi grumbles, slumping into a seat. "He didn't even have the decency to warn us beforehand so we could prepare to bulldoze the Elders and not spend the entire day fielding their bullshit."
"Language," Airi says sternly as she carries his dinner over. "And warn you about what?"
Inoichi digs into his meal with enthusiasm and swallows a huge mouthful before speaking again. "He wants Uzumaki Naruto enrolled in the Academy in the upcoming term along with a civilian girl."
"Uzumaki..." She trails off, looking thoughtful. "That's good, isn't it? So long as he isn't doing it for any ulterior motives, with the Uchiha Clan backing him, Naruto-kun will get a decent education."
Inoichi smiles fondly at his wife and her lack of judgment. Despite her love of gossip, Airi has never been one to let others guide her beliefs and the rumours on Konoha's Jinchuuriki are no different.
"Exactly," Inoichi nods. "But Uchiha could've warned us first."
"Do you blame him for not coming to the rest of you?" Airi is suddenly frowning. "He probably thinks you'd all disagree with him."
Inoichi scoffs and retorts, "Anyone would disagree with him after seeing that stick up his ass- ow!"
Airi glares at him as Inoichi rubs his head. "How many times have I told you to make an effort to listen to his side of things?" She scolds. "Honestly, it's no wonder he expects all of you to oppose him."
Inoichi rolls his eyes but doesn't argue. He supposes today is a prime example of what his wife has been alluding to for years.
"What about the girl then?" Airi enquires. "Who is she? It isn't like the Uchihas to take in someone from the civilian sector."
Inoichi nods in agreement. "She's quite the prodigy, apparently. She knows Shunshin and can already fight efficiently with kunai, and her chakra control takes after Tsunade-sama's."
Airi's eyes widen. "Chakra-enhanced strength?"
"Yeah," Inoichi shakes his head. "She's the one who saved Uchiha's second son from that Iwa missing-nin I mentioned."
"She must be amazing," Airi remarks, and then her head snaps sharply to the right, her eyes focused on the doorway. "Yamanaka Ino, I told you to go to bed!"
It is a testament to how tired he is that Inoichi's relaxed guard doesn't pick up his own daughter. He raises an eyebrow when Ino slips into the room, looking guilty but defiant.
"I just wanted to see Tou-san before I went to sleep," She mutters before brightening when Inoichi opens his arms. She bounds forward and clambers into his lap, clearly happy that her father isn't mad at her. Inoichi shoots Airi a sheepish look over Ino's head and his wife rolls her eyes in exasperation.
"You're always spoiling her," She lectures half-heartedly.
"And you're always not," Inoichi points out. "It balances things out."
Ino giggles in his arms as Airi scowls at him.
"How was your day, Ino?" Inoichi glances down at his daughter.
"Great!" She exclaims, snuggling into his chest. "Sakura came over and I taught her how to make a flower wreath."
Inoichi stiffens. "Sakura?"
Ino pouts up at him. "My friend, Tou-san. The one I'm always telling you about."
Inoichi frowns in consternation. Huh, he somehow hadn't made the connection. "Her name's Sakura?"
Ino huffs in annoyance. "Yeah, Tou-san."
Airi shoots him a mildly exasperated look. "Is that important?" She asks.
Inoichi shrugs. "The civilian girl Uchiha is representing is Sakura. Haruno Sakura."
Ino perks up. "Yeah, that's Sakura's last name," She wilts just as quickly. "She said she was going to go to the Academy early. I didn't know it was this early."
Inoichi blinks down at her. What are the odds that his own daughter would be friends with the girl who managed to impress the Uchiha Clan Head?
"She's told you about it?" He presses.
Ino nods. "Yeah, she said she was going to the Academy soon," She makes a face and thumps one foot against the table. "I wanted to enter with her but I wouldn't be able to keep up anyway. She already knows a lot."
Inoichi exchanges a look with Airi. Ino has never expressed a desire to go to the Academy. She has always known she would be going when she turns six and she has never had any problems with it but there has never been any particular interest either.
"You know, I could enroll you early if that's what you want," Inoichi suggests, but Ino shakes her head.
"There wouldn't be any point," She tells him with a sigh. "I checked the stuff we'd learn in first year and I think I need to start reading more. Maybe next year."
Inoichi just nods silently, sharing a pleased look with his wife this time. He's glad Ino has finally shown some enthusiasm towards studying and he suddenly wants to meet the person who seems to have inspired that in his daughter.
"You remember we're going over to Shikaku-ji-san's place for dinner in a few days, right?" He chuckles when Ino groans. "Are Shikamaru-kun and Chouji-kun that bad?"
Ino instantly scowls. "They're so boring," She complains. "All Shikamaru does is watch clouds and call everything, and I mean everything, troublesome, and Chouji spends the entire time eating."
Airi giggles at this and Inoichi laughs outright. "Well," He grins. "Why don't you invite Sakura-chan? I'm sure no one would mind if you brought a friend along so you would have someone to talk to."
Ino brightens and throws her hands around his neck. "Really? Thanks, Tou-san! I'll ask Sakura-chan tomorrow! Now I won't be the only girl there!"
Inoichi smiles in bemusement. "You do know you have female cousins and so do the boys."
Ino rolls her eyes. "But they're all older, Tou-san. Besides, they're not my friends."
Inoichi sighs and doesn't argue. His daughter is too much like his wife in that aspect. He knows he won't get anywhere when Ino is being stubborn.
"Alright, that's enough," Airi cuts in, sending a stern look at Ino. "It's way past your bedtime, young lady. Up you go."
Five minutes later, Ino is tucked back into bed again and the two adults sit back at the dinner table as the clock ticks the night's minutes away.
"You just want to meet Sakura-chan," Airi points out after a long moment of companionable silence.
Inoichi shoots a slightly guilty look at his wife. "Not entirely," He protests. "Ino will have a friend to play with and I'll finally get to meet her."
Airi just sighs. "Aren't these dinners just for our three clans?"
Inoichi waves a hand. "Most of the time, Shikaku, Chouza, and I don't even talk business and I know you women just get together to exchange the latest gossip. It's just a social event. Shikaku won't mind."
Airi throws her hands in the air and rises to her feet. "If you're sure. I'm going to bed. Don't stay up too late."
"Yes, darling," He says obediently, smiling faintly at his wife as she disappears from the kitchen.
Leaning back in his chair, Inoichi turns his thoughts back to the earlier meeting. He has always pegged the Uchiha Clan Head as a stuck-up man who believed everyone to be beneath him and everything unrelated to his clan unimportant.
But Fugaku had been bewilderingly genuine in his insistence to enroll Uzumaki Naruto, going so far as to accept their help instead of maintaining his haughty nature and trying to shut them all out at the smallest signs of opposition.
Inoichi wonders who brought around this change in the man or at least convinced Fugaku to show this side of him. The Uchiha Clan is just as important as any other clan in Konoha, just as needed, and he ponders on the possibility of the clans' relations improving with each other from this point on.
If that actually comes to pass, Inoichi wants to know who he has to thank.
"Are you sure it's alright?" Sakura asks anxiously for the third time as Ino led her to the Nara Compound.
"I'm sure Sakura," Ino assures her with a roll of her eyes. "My dad said nobody would mind. Besides, these dinners are always so boring. I need someone to talk to and who better than my best friend?"
Sakura smiles even through her worry. Ino has never been one to hold back what she thinks.
Ino sweeps past the Nara sentries with a wave and a winning smile and they let her through, showing only passing interest when their gazes land on Sakura.
"Come on, I'll introduce you to my dad," Ino tells her, ushering Sakura around the main house.
Sakura bites back a sigh. She knows Yamanaka Inoichi, of course; there aren't many who don't, and she has worked with the Clan Head before in her own timeline, not to mention she had been introduced to him by Ino the first time around as well.
"Tou-san!" Ino calls out and Sakura looks up to see Konoha's top interrogator relaxing on the porch with Nara Shikaku and Akimichi Chouza beside him.\
Great. Not just one clan head, but three.
"Hi, Shikaku-ji-san, Chouza-ji-san," Ino greets hastily before pushing Sakura forward and grinning proudly up at her father. "Tou-san, this is Sakura, my best friend."
Sakura is immediately pinned under three sharp gazes and her face warms even as she ducks her head in a shallow bow. "Nice to meet you, Yamanaka-sama," Sakura murmurs, and then because it's just plain stupid not to greet the other two as well, she turns and offers a shy smile. "Good evening, Akimichi-sama. Thank you for inviting me, Nara-sama."
There is a moment's silence where Sakura thinks she has botched her introduction, but then Inoichi chuckles and Chouza smiles kindly at her as Shikaku nods lazily.
"It's nice to meet you too, Sakura-chan," Inoichi leans forward with an amused smile. "And there's no need to be so formal here. Inoichi is fine. Same for these two."
Sakura smiles and nods in acceptance. She blinks when Shikaku stirs and peers at her curiously.
"Huh, you really do have pink hair," He remarks, ignoring the look of reproach Chouza sends him.
Sakura can't help smiling just a little, feeling a thrum of nostalgia run through her. In her own timeline, out of all her friends' parents, it was Shikamaru's father she had gotten closest to. Being almost on par with the Nara heir in terms of intellect, Sakura was often called on to plan strategy with the Naras and she had spent more than one night slumped over their coffee table with Shikaku and Shikamaru and a stack of battle plans. She is more than familiar with Shikaku's barefaced observations.
"Yes sir," She says in response. "My parents were pretty surprised too."
Shikaku raises an eyebrow and quirks an amused smile at her before leaning back again, his entire posture languid as if he couldn't be bothered to straighten out his spine. Sakura has to muffle another giggle.
"Help yourself to the food, Sakura-chan," Chouza put in. "The barbecue's delicious."
Sakura only has time to nod in acknowledgement before Ino is dragging her away again, pointing out her uncles and aunts and cousins and chattering away about what they do.
Sakura finds herself relaxing in the friendly atmosphere, but in between bites of food and meeting Shikamaru and Chouji's mothers, she catches glimpses of Inoichi or Chouza or Shikaku watching her with inquisitive eyes. She doesn't know if this is a good sign or not.
When Ino stops talking to sip at some water, Sakura takes the opportunity to point at two figures lounging on a grassy area near the porch where the three Clan Heads are lounging and ask, "Who are they?"
Ino turns to look before making a face. "Oh, them. That's Shikamaru and Chouji," She hesitates for a moment before getting to her feet and motioning for Sakura to follow. "You'll probably meet them sooner or later so I'll introduce you now."
Sakura's happiness at seeing another two of her friends is dampened by the sorrow that wells up in her simultaneously. There are times when she walks through the village, looking at everything around her still alive and flourishing, and feels like she wants to cry. It is even worse when she sees people she knows from her previous timeline.
"Oi, Shikamaru, Chouji," Ino's voice takes on a note of bossiness as she puts her hands on her hips and scowls down at the two boys. "You could at least say hi when someone our age comes to these dinners. If she didn't have me, she'd be all alone."
Shikamaru doesn't even bother opening his eyes but Sakura knows he has already seen her and understands exactly who Ino is talking about.
"If she didn't have you, she wouldn't even be here," The Nara heir counters.
Beside him, Chouji is very quiet as Ino blushes and starts berating Shikamaru. Sakura remembers Chouji to be rather shy and wary of other children because of his size. She remembers the way other people teased her for her hair and forehead and wonders why she never took the time to talk to Chouji when they were in the Academy together.
Well, it would be different this time.
Smiling tentatively, Sakura steps forward and crouches down beside Chouji. "Hi," She sticks out a hand with earnest sincerity. "I'm Sakura. You must be Chouji. It's nice to meet you."
Chouji blinks first at her and then her hand as if he can't believe she is talking to him willingly. And then, slowly, he extends a hand as well and shakes hers clumsily.
"Nice to meet you too," He says, an edge of uncertainty underlying his voice.
Sakura pretends not to notice and beams warmly at him instead. "I already met your parents; your mum's really nice."
Chouji flushes with pleasure and the tension in the line of his shoulders disappear as he finally smiles back at her.
"She is," He agrees before blinking curiously at her hair. "You have pretty hair," He blurts out, turning even redder.
Sakura can feel herself blushing but she flashes an appreciative grin at the boy. "Thanks. Most people just think it's weird," She stops to flash a smile at Ino, who has stopped yelling at Shikamaru and is currently staring at her like she has grown an extra limb. Shikamaru has finally opened his eyes and is peering at her as if he doesn't quite know what to make of her.
"Ino chased them all away," Sakura continues. "The bullies I mean. "She's my best friend."
Ino's grin is radiant at Sakura's open declaration and her bad mood from before disappears like mist at high noon. She sits down on the grass, reaching out to tug Sakura down as well so she is sitting between her and Chouji before jabbing a finger at Shikamaru.
"And this is Shikamaru," She announces. "He's lazy and boring and likes to watch clouds. And he plays old man games."
Shikamaru shoots the blonde an annoyed look but only mutters "troublesome" before turning his attention back to Sakura.
Sakura smiles again. After her first Chuunin Exams, Shikamaru has always been like an older brother to her. When her parents died, Sakura rented a flat, but more often than not, she would spend her nights in one of the Naras' guest bedrooms, one that had slowly become 'her' bedroom.
"Hi," She says. "Does 'old man games' mean shogi?"
Shikamaru's eyebrows rise with interest. "You know shogi?"
Sakura nods, swallowing a snicker when Ino groans beside her.
"Not you too, Sakura!" The blonde wails. "It's bad enough that Shikamaru plays it!"
Sakura just laughs. "It's not so bad, Ino. You just need a lot of patience."
Ino scowls but accepts Sakura's quirks like she has always done before climbing to her feet. "Well, if you're going to talk about shogi, I'll go get some food for you. You didn't eat the yakiniku yet."
Chouji opens his mouth as if he wants to ask Ino to get him some too but closes it again a moment later. Sakura frowns just a bit before piping up, "Mind bringing enough for all of us, Ino? We might as well just eat together so we don't have to keep getting up when one of us gets hungry."
Ino ponders this for a second before nodding agreeably and flouncing away, making a beeline for the food set out in the centre of the compound.
Sakura smiles to herself and turns back to the boys, only to blink when she finds Shikamaru sitting up and watching her with thoughtful eyes. He knows exactly what she has just done and Sakura can't really be surprised. It is Shikamaru, after all.
He doesn't bring it up though, and moves the conversation back to shogi instead. "So you play," He says bluntly. "Are you any good?"
Sakura tilts her head to the side. At twenty-six, she has only managed to win almost half the games they have played ever since he taught her how. She has even played Shikaku, but over the span of ten years and a total of fifty-two games, she has only been able to win four times against Konoha's Head Strategist. Considering the fact that even Kakashi has only been able to beat Shikaku six times out of fifty-five, she is quite happy with her four.
At the age of five, if Shikamaru somehow manages to beat her, Sakura just may consider beating her head against a wall.
"Pretty good," She replies, and then because she knows what buttons to push, "What about you?"
Shikamaru takes on a mildly offended look and he actually straightens up. "I'm a Nara," He says as if it is all the explanation anyone would ever need.
Sakura blinks innocently at him and feigns ignorance. "I know you are. What does that have to do with anything?"
Shikamaru stares wide-eyed at her for a moment. "All Naras can play shogi," He explains, looking mildly put-out.
Sakura waves a hand. "Anyone can play shogi. Are you good enough to beat me?"
Shikamaru actually gawks at her for a few seconds, and then he is scrambling to his feet. "Wait here," He orders, and then he is off, running for his house as fast as he could.
Sakura bursts into giggles and grins mischievously at a bemused-looking Chouji. "He gets pretty worked up about shogi," She says wisely.
Chouji grins back, smaller than hers but just as genuine. "He does. Clouds and shogi are practically the only things he cares about."
Sakura's features soften and she leans over to knock shoulders with him. "And you, right?"
Chouji turns to look at her, clearly surprised, before his smile widens and he nods. "Yeah, Shikamaru's my best friend."
They both look up when they hear rapid footsteps heading their way and exchange amused looks as Shikamaru scampers up, shogi board in hand. He plops down right in front of her and demands, "Let's play."
Laughing helplessly, Sakura nods and sets up her pieces as Ino returns with two plates piled high with food. It is going to be a long evening but Sakura can't think of anywhere she would rather be right now.
"I like her," Shikaku announces as he adjusts the chakra he is using to listen in on the children several dozen feet away.
"You must," Inoichi agrees dryly. "Eavesdropping is usually too troublesome for you and now you've stooped to eavesdropping on children."
Shikaku rolls his eyes. "You started it. You're a bad influence on me."
"You're both bad influences," Chouza cuts in mildly. "And when Yoshino-chan and Airi-chan catch you, you're both also dead."
"You're in the same boat as we are!" Inoichi protests indignantly.
"No I'm not," Chouza denies with an uncharacteristic smirk. "I'm not eavesdropping on anyone. Can I help it if you're relaying everything they're saying to me?"
Shikaku tunes out Inoichi's reply and heightens his eyesight instead. It is the girl's move and he wants to know what she will do next.
Haruno Sakura is not what Shikaku expects. Of course, he doesn't really expect anything at first; it's not in his nature to make up his mind about something before getting all the facts. But between everything Fugaku has told them about the girl and said girl's actual appearance – pink hair? Really? – Shikaku instinctively thinks of one of those odd prodigies who have genius reflexes and a sharp mind but no clue how to blend in with the rest of civilization or act around other people.
So, despite his typical stance on having no prior expectations, Haruno Sakura is not what Shikaku expects.
When she greets Chouji without the usual taunting other kids often start with, Shikaku approves, and, when he hears, Chouza is relieved. When she calms Ino down from the beginnings of a rant with only a few simple words, Shikaku is surprised, and, beside him, Inoichi is glad; his daughter usually bulldozes anyone in her way when she gets riled up. When she is perceptive enough to mind Chouji's feelings and smart enough to prompt Ino into getting what the Akimichi heir wants, Shikaku is mildly impressed.
And when she causes Shikaku's own son to sit up and take interest in what she is saying, resulting in the boy being more active than Shikaku has seen in a long while, well, that just takes the cake.
"Oh, not good enough," He murmurs under his breath as he watches Shikamaru shift a silver general. "Should've moved the knight, brat."
Indeed, a moment later, Sakura takes Shikamaru's gold general and leaves his left side wide open. Shikaku can almost feel his son's frustration.
"Is the game really so interesting, Shikaku?" Inoichi leans forward to peer in the same direction.
"She's good," Shikaku mutters in response. "Better than Shikamaru."
"Is she?" Chouza shifts forward as well. "Shikamaru-kun's really good for his age. Sakura-chan must be excellent."
"No, there's something..." Shikaku trails off, studying the pattern of Sakura's pieces. Her playing style is strange. Unique. And yet...
"It's familiar," He says aloud as her moves click into place in his mind. She does not always move as he expects; sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes not, but the times she does move according to his own thoughts, her style becomes clear. "She plays with a Nara's hand."
Inoichi and Chouza both snap their heads around to stare at him.
"What does that mean?" Inoichi demands, but Shikaku ignores him, mostly because he doesn't really understand at the moment.
As far as he knows, the girl has had no interactions with his Clan, and even if she has, it wouldn't explain how she has managed to pick up some of their style. She may be a prodigy but it often took years to incorporate someone else's approach to shogi into her own style. It doesn't make sense.
Shikaku hates things that don't make sense. It gets him curious and curiosity is just really troublesome.
With a sigh, he deactivates the chakra in his eyes as Sakura checkmates his son's king.
"Troublesome," He grumbles and rolls onto his back. He will have to keep an eye on the girl. There is something here that simply doesn't add up and he wants to figure out what it is.
But still, Haruno Sakura is definitely not what he expects.
As Sakura waits at the front entrance of the Academy, she thinks back to last night's dinner with the Naras, bringing the grand total up to four. Ever since the dinner Ino dragged her to almost two weeks ago, Shikaku has somehow wrangled her into accepting another three invitations. The fact that Shikamaru has all but demanded her return for multiple shogi games doesn't help her case.
It isn't as if she has anything against the Naras; on the contrary, she loves being back in one of the places she has spent quite a lot of time in, but there is something about the glint in Shikaku's eyes that makes her pensive. She recognizes that look; it is the one her time's Shikaku, and later Shikamaru, always have when something has piqued their interest, and she knows there is no stopping either of them until the truth is out.
"Sakura-chan!" The exuberant shout automatically makes her smile and she turns to wave at Naruto.
"Good morning," She greets as the blond runs up, hair a mess and his new shinobi-wear mussed as if he only paused long enough to throw them on haphazardly. With an exasperated sigh, Sakura reaches out to still the ball of energy before tugging the clothes into place.
Naruto rubs the back of his head and grins sheepishly at her as he holds out his arms obediently so she can adjust the blue-gray shirt he is wearing. Finishing by running a hand through his unruly locks, she levels a stern look on the blond that has absolutely no effect on him. Naruto simply stares back brightly, wide blue eyes melting whatever annoyance she feels.
Sakura rolls her eyes and shakes her head when Naruto chuckles, obviously knowing he has ducked out of a lecture.
"Sakura! Naruto!" Sasuke is hurrying towards them, Itachi and Mikoto following at a more sedate pace. He skids to a stop beside them, a little breathless but much neater in appearance overall than Naruto as he joins them eagerly. "Have you been waiting long?"
Sakura shakes her head but Naruto immediately cracks an exaggerated yawn. "We've been waiting forever, Sasuke!" He tells him, crossing his arms over the strap of his book bag. "What happened? Fell asleep in the bathroom?"
Sasuke immediately scowls back. "I wasn't asking you, dobe. Why would I care how long you have to wait?"
Sakura smiles as they begin bickering again. Not a minute in each other's company and already arguing. She has long resigned herself to it.
It was a surprise when Sasuke announced, a few weeks back, that he is enrolling as well. Sakura is more than happy of course but she is used to the Sasuke who has to be nagged into spending time with them even when he clearly wants to and not this Sasuke who laughs and plays and hates being left out of anything she and Naruto is doing. Sometimes, she still finds this hard to believe.
"Good morning Sakura-chan," Mikoto says as she walks up, smiling fondly at her youngest son and his best friend. "Honestly, those two."
Sakura giggles and nods in agreement. She glances at Itachi who stares back emotionlessly. Her face instantly forms a frown.
She catches Mikoto hiding a smile out of the corner of her eye and she blinks at her in confusion but the Uchiha matriarch says nothing. Instead, she shoots Itachi a pointed look that the heir may or may not have understood because, after a moment, he offers a stiff nod in her direction.
Sakura's brain immediately translates Good morning.
Her frown morphs into a glare but she is in Mikoto's presence and screeching at Itachi is probably not a good idea.
"Good morning," She mutters instead, returning the silent salutation half-heartedly. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Mikoto sigh in defeat and wonders what that is about but doesn't ask.
Without waiting for another wordless reply from the human statue, Sakura turns back to Naruto and Sasuke and reaches out to whack them both gently upside the head.
"Stop that!" She scolds as they turn to pout at her. "We've got school and if you get into another fight, we're all going to be late, so settle down!"
They both murmur contrite apologies and Sakura grins smugly inside. Fifteen, twenty-six, or five, she is still boss.
"Right then, let's go," She announces.
They wave goodbye to Mikoto and Itachi before making their way into the Academy. The curriculum will be easy for her so she hopes she will get as much time as she wants in the training yard once she shows how far ahead she is. Right now, she has to concentrate on building up her stamina and fully adjusting to her five-year-old body.
*Two Weeks Later*
It soon becomes kinda clear that the Academy, while boring to Sakura and mildly interesting to Sasuke, would be no walk in the park for Naruto. Not because he is stupid and the curriculum too hard, no; it is because the shinobi teaching them are stupid.
Sakura watches with gritted teeth as someone-or-other-sensei sneered for the umpteenth time when he returns Naruto's test. There is red scribbled all over it and Sakura doesn't even have to look at it to know it is harder than everyone else's. Prior to said test, she had stayed up with Naruto reviewing and testing him and knows he knows the material.
Sakura has tried to hold her tongue, for Naruto's sake. She and even Sasuke at this age knows Naruto doesn't like bringing attention to the unfair way other people treat him, but enough is enough.
In her head, Inner is screaming profanities. 'Motherfucking sonofabitch! You call yourself a shinobi? You're not worth the dirt that dogs piss on-"
Sakura tunes her out in favour of taking a deep breath to steady her temper as the sensei says something that makes most of the class snigger. On her left, Sasuke is stabbing his pencil into his workbook and making a valiant attempt at reigning in his frustration, not caring about the hole he has poked through the paper.
These shinobi are stupid, suicidally so, because Sakura is not going to sit back and take this anymore. And in her timeline, even Orochimaru learns to be wary of a pissed-off Sakura, not that it helped him much in the end.
The sensei turns away and all she notices is Naruto's downcast eyes and hunched shoulders, and she sees red.
Sakura stands up so violently that her chair skids back and hits the wall with a loud bang. It is lucky that she sits in the back because she is fairly certain she would've injured whichever student was placed behind her.
The sensei whirls back, obviously startled, but Sakura doesn't give him time to even open his mouth before she is marching forward and seizing the test paper from a frozen Naruto's hands. A cursory glance at it tells her everything she needs to know.
"This," She hisses, thrusting the test in the man's face. "Is not what you told us to study for. This is fourth year material. Are you so blind you can't even tell what kind of test you're handing out?"
The sensei's face rapidly turns an ugly shade of red. "Haruno-san," He snaps in an icy voice. "Return to your seat this instant. I will not tolerate such offensive behaviour in my class."
"That's exactly what I was gonna say," She snarls, voice so thick with fury that her words come out slightly distorted. "I won't tolerate this any longer either! What has Naruto ever done to you?"
She takes a step forward and is gratified to see the sensei step back when cracks break out under her foot.
"Aren't you supposed to be a professional?" She continues, the test now crumpled beyond repair in her balled fist. She takes another step forward. "Senseis are supposed to teach their students, not make sure they fail! You've done nothing but pick on Naruto like some petty five-year-old ever since term started! You should be fired! You should be demoted back to Genin! You should be stripped as a ninja, you STUPID CLOSE-MINDED INSIGNIFICANT ASSHOLE!"
Her voice has risen to an enraged shriek by the time she finishes. She is so angry that people could treat her surrogate brother like this, and even angrier that anyone could ever consider treating a child like this.
Her sensei is literally cowering in front of her and Sakura realizes she has unleashed her killer intent without realizing. Luckily, it is only aimed at the man and not at the six-year-olds around them so she makes no effort to pull it back.
"Sa- Sakura-chan," Naruto whispered behind her, sounding stunned and meek at the same time. She feels him pluck at her sleeve and immediately turns her head to look at him, gaze softening as she pushes her anger away for the time being.
"It's okay," He insists, which only infuriates Sakura more. "I don't mind; I'm used to it."
Sakura opens her mouth to refute this but someone else beats her to it.
"What do you mean 'it's okay', dobe?" Sasuke has also stood up, the most Uchiha-like glare Sakura has ever seen on this time's Sasuke carved on his face as he glowers at their sensei. "What are you, brain dead? It's definitely not okay!"
His glare switches to Naruto though it softens just a touch. "You are going to be the Hokage one day; you said!" Sasuke throws this out like an accusation and Naruto can only nod, looking slightly dazed.
"Well," Sasuke crosses his arms and gives the blond an unforgiving stare. "I refuse to serve under a Hokage with no backbone so either give up that dream or stop complaining and let Sakura and I do our- our job!" He falters just a little at the end but finishes with steel-like certainty as if he is daring Naruto to refuse his words.
Sakura doesn't think she has ever been prouder of him.
For his part, Naruto looks shocked beyond belief and it takes a moment for him to react. For several long seconds, he turns first to look at Sakura, who meets his gaze with all the love and loyalty of her twenty-six-year-old self, and then back at Sasuke, who even at four is convinced he is right, and then at their sensei, who can't meet Naruto's eyes at all.
And then, motions deliberate, Naruto sits down.
Nothing more is said between them but Sakura knows she has just witnessed the very beginning of something powerful and long-lasting.
It is Sasuke's turn to give the sensei a piece of his mind and Sakura steps back to observe, easing up on her killer intent.
"The Uchiha Clan represents both Haruno Sakura and Uzumaki Naruto," Sasuke starts coolly, and when the sensei blanches and pales, Sakura realizes he hadn't known.
"By denying Naruto's education at the Academy," Sasuke continues. "You are opposing the wishes of my Clan, the village Council, and the Hokage himself. If you don't want to be called in front of the Council to explain your despicable actions, I suggest you find a replacement, and fast."
Sakura thinks Sasuke is channelling Itachi because this is the most formal she has ever heard him speak. She supposes that all the time spent following his brother around has really helped his development towards threatening people in politely phrased diatribes. Idly, she wonders when Itachi would find the need to use a word like 'despicable'.
The sensei looks to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Sakura is vindictively pleased. Perhaps another wave of killer intent would send him to the hospital.
But before she could consider this plan of action, the door swings open and the Hokage himself walks in, followed closely by Crow.
Sakura has to try really, really hard to keep a vicious smirk from surfacing on her face.
"I can't believe we got in trouble!" Naruto grumbles as they wipe down all the desks in the classroom. "I mean that bastard was asking for it!"
Sakura trades an amused look with Sasuke as she scrubs at a piece of gum under the table.
The Hokage had removed their sensei and dismissed the class for the rest of the day before turning a severe expression on Sakura and Sasuke. The two of them had been reamed out for half an hour for disrespecting a sensei no matter how badly he taught, and then they were assigned chores for the rest of the school day.
"This isn't so bad," Sakura says optimistically. "It could've been worse; we could've been expelled. Besides, you don't really have to stay, Naruto. You weren't punished."
Naruto throws a rare scowl in her direction as he starts on the windows. "Yeah I do, Sakura-chan. You two got in trouble defending me. As future Hokage, I have to take responsblity for this sort of thing."
"Responsibility, Naruto," Sakura automatically corrects, but she smiles to take the sting out of the words.
"Yeah, that," Naruto waves a hand. "'Sides, this is worth seeing sensei get chewed out by the old man."
Sasuke snorts and Sakura catches the self-satisfied smirk on the boy's face. Obviously, Sasuke is very pleased with what he did today.
"We should've done that two weeks ago," He mutters instead, kicking a garbage can over to the desk he is working on. "We would've too if you hadn't been such a girl about it."
His mouth snaps close a second too late and his eyes quickly dart over to Sakura who raises an eyebrow.
"I mean girly," Sasuke amends lamely before realizing this isn't much better and fumbles for another adjective. "I mean-"
Sakura takes pity on him and releases her pent-up laughter. Naruto joins in, all but cackling at the embarrassed look on Sasuke's face.
"It's fine, Sasuke," She grins cheekily at him. "We were pretty cool today."
Sasuke really does smirk this time and hns in agreement.
Six hours later, the three of them stagger out of the school, completely exhausted but still very pleased with themselves.
Mikoto is at the gates to meet them and only sighs when she spots their bedraggled appearances so Sakura assumes she knows what's happened.
"Alright, let's get all of you back to our place," She announces, ushering the three of them in the direction of the Uchiha compound. "You can all take a bath there and then stay for dinner."
Both Sakura and Naruto brighten at the invitation. Neither of them wants to drag themselves home in the state they are in.
As the compound comes into sight, Mikoto reaches out to hug Sasuke with one arm and Sakura with the other before moving forward to hug Naruto as well.
"Two weeks in and already in trouble," Mikoto just says at their questioning looks, but she smiles at the same time.
Sakura thinks Uchiha Mikoto is rather proud of them too.
Finished! Another long chapter but I couldn't make myself cut it in half. Hope I didn't butcher Shisui; it's my take on him.
Chapter 5: Suspicions and Decisions
In which the Academy becomes a better place, Sakura trains with Shisui much to Itachi's chagrin, Shikaku gets even more suspicious, and Genma is... well, Genma.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-So, yeah, obviously the senseis at the Academy are unfair to Naruto. That's the line I've decided to take.
-Neji, Tenten, and Lee won't appear just yet, but they will soon, either in the next chapter or the one after that.
-And in case any of you are wondering, Itachi becomes Chuunin at ten so he's still Genin at the moment.
-Iruka will be coming up but he is only fourteen at the moment and a Genin so not yet.
-This chapter is a lot shorter than the last two but they'll all range from three thousand to over ten thousand words.
-I originally planned to have a bit of a reveal in this chapter but it just didn't fit and I was writing myself into a dead-end so I decided to save it for later.
Chapter Summary: In which the Academy becomes a better place, Sakura trains with Shisui much to Itachi's chagrin, Shikaku gets even more suspicious, and Genma is... well, Genma.
Chapter 5 – Suspicions and Decisions
"A shinobi must always put the mission first."
"A shinobi must never show emotion."
"A shinobi must never question their commander, which I don't get. What if the commander's wrong?"
Sasuke rolls his eyes as he looks up from his own scroll. "You still have to follow orders, dobe."
Naruto stares back dubiously. "So if the commander makes a completely stupid decision that would end with everyone dying, we should still go along with it?"
Sasuke scoffs. "If the decision would end like that, 'the commander' wouldn't be the commander."
"But just say they were!" Naruto persists. "What if they make a mistake that only one person sees?" He turns to Sakura who has put down the list of rules she was testing Naruto on. "We should definitely point that out, right Sakura-chan?"
Sakura drops her chin into one hand, studying the blond with a mix of amusement and thoughtfulness. Even at this age, Naruto has learned not to follow orders mindlessly.
"Yeah," Sakura nods in agreement as she continues slowly, "I think we should trust the commander to make the best decisions for everyone on a mission and follow their orders no matter how hard they are, but also retain a personal opinion on our actions."
"Exactly!" Naruto nods vigorously before screwing up his face. "Wait, what's 'retain'?"
"To continue having something," Sakura quickly explains. She keeps forgetting to dumb down her vocabulary.
"My father always says we should do what a higher-ranking shinobi says on missions," Sasuke cuts in before pausing and then amending, "Especially if that higher-ranking shinobi is a Uchiha."
"I'm not saying we should disobey orders for no good reason," Sakura says carefully. "I just think we should always do what's right, and what's right is, well, to always make sure our actions follow our ninja way."
Naruto peers at her inquisitively and even Sasuke shifts forward intently. "What's our ninja way?"
"It's different for everyone," Sakura wracked her mind. "It's like each person's code of conduct. What you believe in. A rule each shinobi lives by."
Understanding dawns in Naruto's eyes and Sasuke leans back with a contemplative expression.
"So I have to make up my own ninja way," Naruto frowned. "I don't know what that is yet."
Sakura laughs a little. "Take your time, Naruto. You're not even a ninja yet. I'm sure you'll think of one eventually."
"It's like the Will of Fire, right?" Sasuke looks at Sakura questioningly and clarifies, "Aniki once mentioned that the Will of Fire is the life philso-" His brow furrowed. "Phi-lo-so-phy of Konoha. The belief our village lives by. I don't know what that is though," He ends with slightly reddened features.
Sakura smiles reassuringly and flips through her scrolls before pulling one out. "Here, I saw it while I was reading." Spreading it out on the table, she points at the depiction of the Will of Fire statue built in the Konoha cemetery.
"The Will of Fire," She recites from memory. "States that every true Konoha shinobi must love, believe, cherish, and fight for their village, as previous generations have done before them."
She glances up and smiles at the twin looks of fascination and determination on her boys' faces. "That's what Konoha-nin believe and follow," She watches them calmly. "And each shinobi has their own personal oath."
"What's yours, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asks eagerly only for Sasuke to punch him in the shoulder.
"She just said it's personal, dobe," Sasuke reproaches though he can't quite hide his own curiosity as he glances over at Sakura.
Naruto pouts and Sakura offers a compromise. "I'll tell you when the both of you can tell me yours."
Instant agreement comes from both of them and Sakura just smiles again and returns to her books. She thinks back to the last promise she made in her own timeline, the vow she swore to her soul.
Protect my friends, protect my village, and protect their futures, no matter the cost. That is my ninja way.
"We don't really have another Chuunin instructor to spare, Hokage-sama," Shikaku scratches his head in irritation at having been dragged back to work at eight in the evening to talk about Chuunin instructors of all things. He isn't even in charge of the Chuunin!
"I realize that, Shikaku," Sarutobi says wearily and motions at a scroll on his desk. "I have checked the registry. But I need a new instructor by tomorrow. Aren't there any other Chuunin or even Jounin available?"
Shikaku shakes his head. "Any Chuunin not in the registry at the moment are either on missions or unqualified. Or both. And my Jounin didn't become Jounin to teach at the Academy. Besides, most of them are on missions too."
Sarutobi sighs and looks so tired for a moment that Shikaku takes pity on the man.
"Look, what is this about?" Shikaku squints down at the crossed out name on the roster. "If this... Hamaguchi is causing any trouble, I can talk to him. I'm sure I'll be able to straighten him out before tomorrow."
Sarutobi smiles in spite of himself. "That's not the problem, Shikaku. Hamaguchi did let personal feelings affect his teaching but after what he went through, he doesn't want the position anymore."
Shikaku raises an eyebrow in silent question.
Releasing a chuckle, Sarutobi expands, "Naruto was placed in his class and like most of the village, Hamaguchi made his life... difficult. Naruto's friends spoke up against this treatment and ended up scaring him, for lack of a better word."
Shikaku perks up just a little at this new information. "By friends, do you mean Haruno Sakura?"
It is Sarutobi's turn to look bemused. "Yes, along with Uchiha Sasuke."
Shikaku is quiet for a moment before enquiring, "What did they do?"
Sarutobi looks even more bewildered as to why his notoriously lazy Jounin Commander is making an effort to know more about something that isn't really necessary for the issue at hand. Shikaku can't blame him; he's been questioning his own sanity as well.
"Well," Sarutobi frowns thoughtfully. "I do not know the exact details but the ANBU who came and reported the incident told me that Sakura-chan yelled at him for a while and Sasuke-kun followed her example by using his clan's weight to frighten Hamaguchi." His smile is just on the side of satisfied. "From what I saw when I walked in, they did quite a number on him."
Shikaku absorbs this with bland features, filing 'will protect friends from authority figures' away in his mental catalogue of Haruno Sakura's traits.
"Why so interested, Shikaku?" Sarutobi asks next, looking curious now.
Shikaku offers a shrug. "Sakura-chan's friends with my son," He says, giving a half-truth. "Just wanted to know she didn't get expelled for this."
Sarutobi tilts his head and regards Shikaku in a way that tells him he hasn't really fooled the Sandaime, but the Hokage doesn't say anything, only nodding in acceptance instead.
"I could see if any of the current Chuunin instructors would be willing to take an extra class," Shikaku suggests. "It'll be troublesome but I'm sure at least one of them will agree."
Sarutobi nods, looking relieved as he glances at the stacks of paperwork he still has yet to complete. "That would do nicely. Make sure they have nothing against Naruto."
Shikaku nods back as he accepts the registry from the Hokage before sketching a lazy salute and Shunshining away. What a troublesome job but at least if he has to suffer a late night, so do the Chuunin on the list.
Sakura likes Daikoku-sensei much more than the first one. Granted, the man is very Uchiha-inclined and spent fifteen minutes singing Itachi's praises to an increasingly annoyed Sasuke but at least he is fair to Naruto and treats the blond like any other student. For this, Sakura is willing to cut him some slack.
The other students still stay away from Naruto as much as possible but after Sakura's apparently terrifying rant the previous day, they keep their opinions of the Jinchuuriki to themselves. There is resentment between them of course. Sasuke because of his position, Sakura because of her civilian status, and Naruto because he is Naruto. But the three of them stick together and keep to themselves, and the boys are always willing to pick a fight with anyone who so much as looks at Sakura wrong. Oftentimes, she is the one who has to hold them back.
Sakura flies through the first year curriculum and answers all the questions Daikoku-sensei fires at her. In the end, he agrees to let her train on her own for the latter half of every school day, much to Sasuke and Naruto's visible envy.
She spends that time running around the outer edge of the training yard, never stopping until she is literally ready to keel over in exhaustion. After that, she takes a five-minute break before starting her katas and honing her aim with kunai, shuriken, senbon, and even a tanto with the ability to channel chakra that the Uchiha included with her supply of weaponry.
In her timeline, a tanto was something she used on a regular basis so she is glad she can work with the weapon again in this time. She doesn't dare direct her chakra into the blade; that is pushing it even for a prodigy, so she contents herself with simply working the weapon into her fighting style.
What does want and has yet to find is a sparring partner. Training alone is all well and good but she wants to know how long she can last against someone who can actually challenge her. The other kids in her class, even Sasuke and Naruto, do not give her any difficulty at all.
Strangely enough, she thinks of Itachi first; if anyone near her physical age group can beat her, it's the Uchiha heir, but she can barely think about him without feeling the urge to throttle him until he talks.
So she thinks on it some more and does the next best thing. She resigns herself to a lot of hair-ruffling.
"Shisui-san?" Sakura peers into the private training grounds Mikoto had pointed out for her.
Mikoto is correct in that Shisui is training in this area. Unfortunately, she has failed to mention that her eldest son is also training here. Sakura wonders if she knew and just hadn't told her.
"Kura-chan!" Shisui deflects a blow from Itachi before leaping back, waving at his younger cousin to stop their spar before jogging over to her. His expression is bright with genuine delight at seeing her and Sakura can't help but smile.
"How are you today?" Shisui crouches down in front of her and Sakura has to fight the desire to scowl at their height difference.
"Alright," She shrugs. "School was boring. Naruto's trying to one-up Sasuke again. Mikoto-san is making curry for dinner. What about you?"
"Had a small mission at the edge of Fire Country earlier but it was simple enough," Shisui replies promptly before eyeing her curiously. "Did you need me for something? Are you in trouble?"
Secretly pleased that Shisui would be willing to help her so readily, Sakura plasters on an offended look anyway. "Why would you automatically assume I got into trouble?"
Shisui grins cheekily at her. "I'd like to think you'd come to your knight in shining armour if you ever do get into any danger. You know I'll come to rescue a damsel in distress- ouch!"
Sakura glares at the teen in front of her, tiny fist still pulsing with chakra. "I am not a damsel in distress!" She retorts. "Call me that again and you'll get more than a bump on the head."
Shisui rubs the growing bruise at the side of his head. "Yes, ma'am," He agrees sheepishly with such a Naruto look that Sakura sighs and reaches out again to heal him.
"Honestly," She huffs, barely noticing the surprised look on Shisui's face as her chakra smoothes away the bruise with easy efficiency. "You're more childish than I am!"
Shisui smiles and ruffles her hair but there is something like wonder in his eyes as he prods gently at his head as if he really can't believe he is healed, even if it is just a bruise. It takes a moment for Sakura to remember that her healing abilities are something only the Council, the Hokage, and a few ANBU know about.
"Anyway," She continues. "I just came to see if you'd be willing to spar with me but Mikoto-san didn't mention you were busy-"
"I'm not busy!" Shisui interrupts, spinning to face the so-far-silent – no surprise there – Itachi. "Hey, Tachi-chan! We've been sparring for a while now. Let's take a break while I see what Kura-chan can do, 'kay?"
Itachi's expression is still as blank as ever when he nods curtly and heads over to where the rest of his gear is but Sakura gets the funny feeling that he is irritated. Well, she knows she would be irritated too if someone cut into her training time with someone else. She really isn't being fair.
"Itachi-san," Sakura calls out, watching him stiffen and turn back to her. She wonders what she has done to make him dislike her so much. "I can wait until your training practice is over. I just got off school anyway. A little break before I spar won't hurt."
Itachi is silent for several seconds and his eyes flicker over her shoulder, presumably to look at Shisui. When Sakura follows his line of sight, she catches the look on the older Uchiha's face, part exasperation and part irritation.
She has absolutely no idea what is going on.
"Itachi can watch," Shisui finally announces with a puzzling amount of adamancy. To her surprise, Itachi inclines his head without protest and settles next to a tree.
"C'mon, Kura-chan," Shisui ushers her further into the training area. "Do you need to warm up first?"
Sakura shakes her head, pulling on her gloves. She has left most of her weapons back at the Uchiha Main House. "I can start anytime. Taijutsu only?"
Shisui nods, rolling his shoulders before sliding into a ready stance. Sakura mirrors his actions and only waits a heartbeat before she is shooting forward.
Sakura is twenty-seven in a five-year-old's body but to finally be able to let loose without worrying about harming her opponent is exhilarating. She has not been in a proper fight in far too long.
Several times, she overreaches and Shisui takes the opportunity to trip her up or knock her back, but for the most part, she attacks and parries and blocks with a wild grin on her face.
Shisui is fast; she already knows this, and Sakura can see him holding back for her. This frustrates her even though she is aware that she could never keep up with Shisui when he is at his fastest. Still, it chaffs at her that he is going easy on her.
So she forces his hand. She is used to people underestimating her because of her pink hair, because she used to be weak, because she is female, but they also usually learn their lesson after the first few minutes and a chakra-charged fist to the face.
Sakura can't reach Shisui's face so she does the next best thing; she punches the ground.
On hindsight, breaking up a Uchiha training ground probably isn't the smartest idea but it definitely shocks Shisui out of his mind as the earth cracks and breaks apart under his feet.
Sakura can't help the smug satisfaction that courses through her body at the expression. She wishes she has a camera on hand.
Shisui recovers quickly enough though and launches a counterattack almost immediately. Sakura ducks and tries to keep her distance but Shisui simply increases his speed and keeps up with her with relative ease. He is no longer holding back.
Staggering backwards from a particularly harsh blow that she manages to deflect with her forearm, Sakura lowers her guard for the next strike, wincing when Shisui's fist cracks one of her ribs. But she takes the opportunity to close her hand around his wrist, her chakra holding him in place and yanking him forward and off-balance before following through with a kick straight into his sternum. She lets go of his arm simultaneously and sends the teen flying backwards into a tree.
Sakura only has a second to congratulate herself before Shisui is up and towering over her again, and before she can twist out of the way, he has flashed behind her, grabbed her arms, and pinned her onto the ground, too fast for her to stop.
"Yield?" He gasps and Sakura nods as she gulps in air. At least Shisui is also breathing hard and she lets that mollify her somewhat as the teen lets go and she rolls over to lie on her back.
Shisui is sitting up, but one of his arms is wrapped around his torso and he couldn't seem to sit straight.
"Damn, Kura-chan!" He grimaces a little. "I almost feel sorry for that missing-nin you attacked!"
Sakura pushes herself into a sitting position and presses a hand to her ribs, healing chakra seeping through her clothes and skin and mending the bones.
"I couldn't beat you," Sakura points out, trying to keep the whine out of her voice.
Shisui smiles but it looks more somber than usual. "Kura-chan, if you had beaten me, I would be veryupset with myself."
Sakura just huffs and crawls over to his side. She doesn't think he would be feeling that way if he knows she is actually twenty-seven and still adjusting to her stupid five-year-old body.
"Shirt off," She orders, slipping into medic-mode without a second thought.
Shisui just blinks at her, obviously lost.
"It's easier for me to heal without clothes in the way," Sakura clarifies.
Realization dawns in Shisui's eyes and he immediately shakes his head. "You don't have to, Kura-chan!" He assures her hastily. "I'll heal on my own-"
He cuts himself off when Sakura starts glowering darkly at him. She has always had to fight her sparring partners and friends to let her heal them, especially the boys, as if they were in some sort of macho contest with each other! They avoided the hospital like the plague and insisted on being fine when she could see their broken bones.
"Shirt off now, Uchiha," Sakura growls. "Or I take it off for you."
Shisui stares at her for a moment longer before a sly smirk makes its way onto his face. "All you had to do was ask," He begins tugging off the dirty shirt. "Although don't you think you're a bit young to be-"
"I swear to god I will- I will castrate you if you continue that sentence," Sakura snaps, face flaming.
Shisui just laughs as he sets aside his shirt and allows Sakura to approach. "I don't know if I should be scared or a little disturbed that you know what 'castrate' means."
Sakura snorts and concentrates on healing the damage she has wrought. It takes her a good fifteen minutes to heal a cracked collarbone, three broken ribs, and an ugly gash running the length of his right arm that was probably caused when she threw Shisui into the tree.
She leaves the bruises and shallow cuts though because she is literally sagging with exhaustion by the time she is finished and doesn't even have the strength to protest when she feels Shisui picking her up. She has deliberately pushed herself as far as possible and at least now she knows what she is capable of.
"You're really something else, Kura-chan," Shisui says from somewhere above her.
It is the last thing Sakura hears before she slips into a tired slumber.
"Why did you not stop her?" Itachi asks as he and Shisui heads back to the Main House.
Shisui shrugs, the motion careful so Sakura is not disturbed.
"She wanted to heal me and I wanted to know what she could do," Shisui replies. "Which, by the way, is a hell of a lot."
"She is now suffering from chakra exhaustion," Itachi continues as if he did not hear his cousin's response. "You are endangering her life."
Shisui shoots the Uchiha heir a mildly annoyed look. "I would never do something like that. If she had gone any further, I would've stopped her. She's only tired right now."
Itachi stays moodily silent which only increases Shisui's irritation. "Honestly Itachi, would it kill you to say hello? Kura-chan thinks you hate her or something."
Itachi immediately stiffens. "I do not," He denies. "And she does not."
"How would you know?" Shisui challenges. "You don't talk to her at all and your jealousy problem is just making her think you don't want anything to do with her!"
Itachi actually stops walking and Shisui grudgingly pauses as well. He knows Itachi can be possessive about the few people close to him and having never had any friends, he would also be prone to bouts of resentment when someone else interacts with someone his cousin is interested in. But he knows Itachi is simply shutting people out with that attitude and Sakura is too cute to get hurt in the crossfire when Itachi does something stupid in retaliation.
"Look, friendship is a two-way thing," Shisui says flatly. "I know you don't have much experience in that department but you can't expect her to read your mind and just know you want to be friends with her. It doesn't work like that, Itachi. If you want to befriend her, you have to let her know. Clearly. Without the assumption that she knows telepathy."
That said, Shisui turns and continues on his way, not waiting for Itachi to catch up. His little cousin would need time to think anyway.
Two weeks later, Sakura is once again parked in front of a shogi board with Shikamaru on the other side. The boy is scowling fiercely at the board as if it has done him some personal offense and Sakura is trying not to laugh.
Shikaku, who is lazing on a tatami mat on the side, has no such compunctions and he smirks openly as he watches his son puzzle over the game.
Shikamaru shifts a rook, Sakura moves a gold general, Shikamaru takes said general, and Sakura checkmates his king. Shikamaru's face falls and Shikaku chuckles outright.
Sakura just rolls her eyes at them and get to her feet to stretch out the kinks in her body. The entire afternoon is gone.
"Ah, Sakura-chan," Shikaku waves a hand in the general direction of the kitchen. "Mind getting the rest of the sake in the kitchen?" He raises the bottle in his hand. "I'm all out."
Sakura sighs but doesn't complain. She's done enough alcohol-fetching for her time's Shikaku.
She doesn't notice the way Shikaku tracks her movements into the house, his eyes lingering on her feet the entire way.
"Tou-san, what am I doing wrong?"
Feeling the tug on his sleeve, Shikaku turns back to his son and smirks again. "Sakura-chan's thinking several steps ahead of you. You just need experience, brat."
Shikamaru grumbles something under his bed before flopping back onto the wooden floorboards. "Sakura should be a Nara," He says stubbornly.
Shikaku can't help snickering at that. "Oh? Well, if you play your cards right, marry her and she'll be a Nara."
His son shoots him a horrified look before making a face. "No way! She's like-"
Shikaku raises an eyebrow when Shikamaru cuts himself off. He had only been teasing but the boy had obviously taken it seriously. "Like?" He prompts.
Shikamaru scratches at a cheek before shrugging. "She's like my sister. I can't marry my sister."
Shikaku stares, inwardly surprised. "What, she's not too troublesome for you?" He finally asks.
Shikamaru considers this with absolute gravity. "She's nowhere near as troublesome as Ino," He concludes. "I like having Sakura around. She plays shogi with me and likes watching clouds with me."
Shikaku grunts and then turns to smile at their topic of conversation when Sakura returns, a bottle of sake in hand.
"Thanks," He says as she hands him the bottle. He notes the fact that Sakura has already opened it and has even wrapped a cloth around the top like Yoshino usually does because he tends to spill a little sometimes.
Moving to pour some into a cup, he enquires casually, "Do your parents drink much, Sakura-chan?"
Sakura blinks at him, obviously confused. "Um, no, Shikaku-san. They don't really like alcohol."
Shikaku hms an acknowledgement and watches discreetly as Sakura's attention diverts back to Shikamaru when his son demands another game. The girl sighs and says one more.
She has said that three times now.
Shikaku leans back and stares up at the summer clouds. He wonders if Sakura knows how very careless she is around the Nara household. He has observed her for several weeks now and realizes she is much more closed when other people are around. Even with Ino, Sakura watches what she says with a vigilance that would make an ANBU proud.
But around Shikamaru and himself and even his wife, Sakura is less wary. He supposes it is also because he is more observant than most people so he sees other signs that his friends do not pick up.
Like the way Sakura never makes a sound no matter what type of floor she walks on, her footsteps always silent. That habit is usually the mark of a person who has lived and breathed war for so long that they have forgotten how to walk normally, but that doesn't make sense for a five-year-old girl so Shikaku stores this information away like everything else he has noticed.
And then there's the sake. As far as he knows, only Yoshino and Airi serve alcohol along with a cloth because, in their opinion, he and Inoichi can't drink without spilling like three-year-olds. It is not so surprising if other people do this as well but he highly doubts Sakura has worked in a bar recently. And if her parents don't drink, Shikaku doesn't know where she would pick up the knowledge of how to open sake bottles.
There are other discrepancies like the way she navigates the Nara compound with the ease of someone who has lived there for years. Sakura never has to ask for directions to, well, anywhere, not to the bathroom, not to the kitchen, not even to the stables where any sick deer stay. Shikaku once witnessed Shikamaru telling the girl to meet her there, pointing only in its general direction before hurrying off to finish his chores. Shikaku had followed at an inconspicuous distance, just in case she took a wrong turn, but she never did. She had made a beeline for the stables, pausing only to greet Rikumaru who was grazing on the fields. Even from the distance Shikaku had lingered at, he could see how Sakura greeted the deer like old friends. Rikumaru, who was typically wary around strangers, had stood still when Sakura hugged him.
Contrary to popular belief, Naras couldn't actually understand deer like Inuzukas could dogs but Shikaku knows enough about animals in general to realize they are a lot more intelligent than people usually give them credit for. He had joined Rikumaru after Sakura disappeared from view that day and posed a remark of how troublesome it was that Rikumaru seemed to have taken a liking to pink-haired girls. Rikumaru had huffed a breath and shaken his head and Shikaku had gotten the impression that the deer was laughing at him.
A part of Shikaku wants to go to the Hokage with all this. After all, no matter how you look at the situation, the circumstances surrounding Haruno Sakura are suspicious at best.
But another part of him wants to wait, wants to cling on to the hope that there is a very good reason for all the inconsistencies, because he likes having the girl around. Somehow, Sakura just fits into his family, and that becomes all the more clear after what his son said.
Shikaku automatically smiles when he hears his wife's voice even as another voice in his mind sighs 'troublesome' with resigned fondness. Shikamaru perks up a little and grins at his mother when Yoshino appears at the porch door.
Yoshino smiles back at both of them before surprised delight seeps into her features. "Sakura-chan! Playing shogi again?"
Shikaku watches, silent and contemplative, as Sakura smiles brightly up at his wife, genuine happiness spreading over her face as she talks to Yoshino.
He downs the rest of his sake and makes up his mind.
He would hold his tongue and wait, and see where this decision takes him. It is a gamble; after all, unlikely though it is, Sakura could be an infiltrator or even possessed, no matter how thoroughly he has checked for both. But his instinct tells him it is the right choice and it has yet to lead him wrong.
He has no doubt that Sakura is involved in something, but if whatever that something is turns out to be something good and he gets her tossed into prison and or executed instead, Shikaku is fairly certain his wife and son will never forgive him, which they will have every right to. He is reasonably sure he wouldn't forgive himself.
On the other hand, if that something turns out to be bad and his village pays for it, he will be equally guilty of treason, aiding and abetting, and several other troublesome charges that will probably get him put to death. Should that happen, Shikaku isn't likely to forgive himself either, so, he reasons, he may as well pick the option that he, his family, his gut, and his conscience agrees with.
"Stay for dinner, Sakura-chan," Yoshino commands, already bustling back into the house.
Sakura jumps up and ignores Shikamaru's complaints as she hurries after Yoshino. "Then I insist on helping," She calls out. "I'm good in the kitchen."
Yoshino's reply isn't audible but Shikaku knows his wife is quite glad. The best he and Shikamaru can do in the kitchen is boil water and make sandwiches.
Shikaku glances at his son whose features have taken on a rare somber expression. "What?"
"Sakura isn't all that troublesome," Shikamaru says, gaze as intense as Shikaku's own when he is concentrating on something important. "It'd be nice if she sticks around."
Shikaku tilts his head and contemplates his son for a while longer but Shikamaru is already turning back to the shogi board, clearly planning out his next move.
Shikaku wonders how much his son sees but knows he won't get a straight answer. Shikamaru is too much like him in that respect.
With a sigh, he gathers up the sake and cups and heads inside. On the contrary, he thinks Sakura is very troublesome, if only because Shikaku feels he has done more work since meeting the girl than he usually would in six months, but at the very least, she has also made things interesting.
For now, Shikaku will stay silent and watch, and pray he has made the right decision.
Genma recognizes her immediately when she walks by the bar he is frequenting, weighed down with an armful of scrolls. How can he not when he has spent the better part of six months watching her along with Naruto?
"Genma?" Kameko, the woman he is with, shoots him a sultry look that, for once, doesn't really interest the senbon wielder. Instead, he hms distractedly and glances up at the sky outside. It is getting dark and a rare summer storm seems to be rolling in.
"Genma!" This time, the woman's voice is sharper, obviously annoyed that Genma isn't paying any attention to her.
Genma stifles a sigh and shoots her an apologetic look. "Sorry sweetheart," He wracks his brain for an excuse. "I just remembered a meeting with the Hokage I have to get to; gotta run. Drinks on me another day?"
He pays the bill for them even as Kameko opens her mouth to voice her indignation but Genma is already halfway out the bar. He only met the woman a few days ago; he doesn't particularly care if he sees her again or not.
On the other hand, the girl is already turning a corner down the street so he broadens his stride into a jog and hurries after her, keeping his eyes on the bobbing pink hair.
He almost crashes into her when he turns the corner and hastily backs away in the face of the accusing green eyes staring up at him over the top of the scrolls.
"Are you a pervert?" The girl demands.
Genma is hard-pressed not to let his jaw drop and he almost chokes on his senbon. "What?" He splutters. "Of course not! I'm-"
He stops when the hard edge in the girl's eyes melt, replaced by amusement as she begins to giggle.
"You-!" Genma's shoulder relaxes and he finds himself smiling back as he considers the successful trick she has managed to pull. "Brat."
She stops laughing and shifts the scrolls into one arm before sticking the other. "I'm Sakura, but you already know that. Nice to meet you."
Genma frowns even as he shakes her hand, a niggling suspicion sparking in his mind. "And I would know that because?"
The girl tilts her head. "'Cause you're Crow-san, of course. Your chakra signals are the same."
Genma really should be surprised but he hasn't spent months observing Haruno Sakura just to be taken aback by the fact that a five-year-old child managed to pick up his chakra signal when he was decked in ANBU gear, especially after he talked to her that one time.
"Hm," Genma smiles at her around his senbon. "Well then, I'm Genma. Nice to meet you too. Properly."
Sakura grins and shuffles the scrolls a little. Genma quickly reaches out and takes two-thirds of the pile.
"I'll walk you home," He offers at Sakura questioning look.
Sakura grins again as they begin walking. "Just like always."
Genma chuckles. That is true. When it is his rotation on Naruto duty, he has fallen into the habit of letting his partner shadow Naruto home while he does the same for Sakura.
"How're your studies coming along?" He asks as they turn down a quieter street.
"Spectacularly," Sakura replies dryly. "Fabulously, wonderfully, marvelously; take your pick. Daikoku-sensei's used them all."
Genma snickers a bit. "Funeno's always been a bit dramatic, especially with the Uchihas. He's got a lot of... admiration for them so you should be proud that you've managed to catch his attention."
Sakura just scoffs. "Wish he'd stop; it's embarrassing. The other kids hate me enough as it is." She pauses and then hastily tacks on, "I'm not complaining, really. It's just an observation. I have Naruto and Sasuke, and I have Ino and Shika and Chouji outside of school. I've got plenty of friends."
Genma just nods silently because he knows she isn't complaining. He has watched her when she is at the Academy; apparently, Naruto and Sasuke really are all she needs.
Instead, another thought strikes him, one that has been on his mind on and off ever since the incident.
"I never apologized for that missing-nin disaster," Genma glances down at the pink-haired girl. "You shouldn't have had to do that. We were close by."
Sakura shrugs carelessly. "You've got nothing to be sorry about; it's just one of those things. Besides, it's not me you're supposed to be guarding, remember? I can take care of myself just fine."
Genma doesn't really know what to say to this so he just nods again. From the missing-nin's medical report, Sakura can take care of herself and her friends, but he still hates the fact that he had let his guard drop low enough for an enemy to get close enough to take a shot at any of the kids. Sakura may be a prodigy but she hadn't even entered the Academy yet back then. Having to draw blood like that isn't something Genma can approve of, even if it does mostly get the whole 'first kill' issue over with. He is fairly certain the girl doesn't know the missing-nin is still alive.
"Well, we're here," Sakura announces and Genma glances up at the house he has grown familiar with. "Thanks for walking me home."
Genma smiles down at her and hands her back the scrolls. "No problem. I'll see you around, brat."
Genma waits until Sakura disappears into his house before turning away. He considers heading back to the bar but decides to go home in the end.
He remembers the rumour going around that Sakura would graduate in a year – he has no doubt that she will – and he wonders which sensei she will get when she does.
A fleeting thought enters his mind but he pushes it away. He has too much to do to even consider taking on a team of brats, even if he actually likes one of those brats.
Finished! Like I said, not as long, but the next chapter will start getting more serious.
Chapter 6: Conflicts and Conclusions
In which Sakura finds out just how socially retarded a certain Uchiha heir can be, Fugaku defends his recent actions from his clan's Elders, a missing-nin escapes, and graduation is just around the corner.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto...
-Sorry for the delay; had a physics final to study for but that's over now.
-I already have an idea as to who will be teaching Sakura after she graduates; won't say anything more than that. Sasuke and Naruto also won't be on the same team she is (at least not right away) as they won't graduate at the same time.
-I'll definitely be adding minor characters to this story too (ie. Hayate, Yuugao, etc).
-Still going to keep this gen; I might add pairings later on but I'm not planning on it at the moment.
-I'd like to think that Sakura's shy persona has been 'lessened' through her interactions with Ino, etc so that would be why she's somewhat more outgoing now.
Chapter Summary: In which Sakura finds out just how socially retarded a certain Uchiha heir can be, Fugaku defends his recent actions from his clan's Elders, a missing-nin escapes, and graduation is just around the corner.
Chapter 6 – Conflicts and Conclusions
Tucking a medical scroll under her arm, Sakura locks up her house and heads out for the day. For once, there is no school, no Naras, no Naruto and Sasuke, and no other friends to meet up with. She has the entire day to herself.
She continues believing this right up to the point when she unlocks her garden gate.
And then she stops.
"Good morning, Sakura-san," Itachi says impassively.
It actually takes a few seconds for Sakura to register the fact that Itachi had spoken out loud.
"Uh," She replies intelligently.
A long minute passes, stressed with silence.
"Good... morning?" Sakura finally returns, inwardly cringing at the audible question mark at the end.
Itachi seems satisfied though because the intensity of his gaze lessens somewhat even though he continues watching her.
Sakura scans the standard shinobi gear the Uchiha is wearing and wonders why he isn't training or on a mission. More importantly, she wonders why he is standing outside her house at eight in the morning.
"Can I help you, Itachi-san?" She finally asks when it is clear Itachi isn't going to say anything.
Itachi blinks and the set of his shoulders shift a little. "I would be pleased to make your acquaintance, Sakura-san."
Sakura just stares. What?
Most likely seeing the lost look on her face, Itachi tries again. "I would like to gain your friendship."
Sakura's mind is literally blank for several moments but she is more dumbfounded than confused as the seconds tick by. Itachi wants to be... friends with her? If she doesn't know better, she would think it is a joke.
When she recovers, the first thing out of her mouth is, "That was blunt."
She flushes a little at her own candour but neither of them can deny the truth of that statement.
Itachi tilts his head a little. "Shisui said I should make my intentions clear to you," A miniscule frown creases his brow. "Have I done so?"
Sakura can't help gaping at him. So Itachi doesn't hate her? Then what was with all the frowns and stiff nods and stony silences?
"Are you serious?" She can't help blurting out, and then quickly amends, "Nobody says things like that just because..."
Sakura trails off as a thought strikes her. Itachi has told her that he is following Shisui's instructions. So either Itachi is going along with a prank, which Sakura just can't see happening, or the Uchiha heir is really just completely clueless on how to go about making friends.
Itachi is still staring at her but Sakura can pick out the slight tension running through his frame. Huh. Why hasn't she seen it before?
Looking closer, she thinks she can pick up the same brittle quality in Itachi's eyes as she once did in Naruto's and Sai's and even Sasuke's when he thinks no one is looking, the one that speaks of uncertainty and fear of not being accepted and just the smallest shadow of longing, like he wants her company but isn't sure how to go about getting it.
And she wants to slap herself.
Haruno Sakura, She scolds mentally. How could you not see this coming? A child prodigy from the Uchiha Clan would no doubt receive resentment from teammates and colleagues alike, but they would hide it because of what he represents. Where would he ever learn how to make friends?
So she forgets all her previous frustration to the emotionally stunted heir and focuses on the patience that she has built up when dealing with her boys. She does the first thing that comes to mind.
Waving a hand in the general direction of the open street, Sakura asks brightly, "I haven't eaten breakfast yet. Wanna go get ramen with me?"
If she isn't already looking for the signs, Sakura would have missed the slight widening of Itachi's eyes and then the minute relaxing of the tightness in his jaw.
He doesn't answer verbally but Sakura supposes it is alright since he has already proven to be willing to speak to her, not to mention she does understand his wordless replies, so when he only inclines his head, Sakura doesn't reprimand her brain for translating Yes, I would like that.
Itachi isn't one for talking so Sakura fills in the silence and chatters on about the week she has had and tells him about the medical texts she has read so far. Itachi never cuts in with his own opinions or even looks at her but by the way his head is turned just a little towards Sakura, she knows he is listening.
Ten minutes later, they are seated in Ichiraku Ramen and Sakura is trying not to laugh as they wait for their orders. She supposes with Itachi being Itachi, the Uchiha heir wouldn't exactly be one to take the time to wander through the streets of Konoha. The fact that he is having breakfast out in the open is so unprecedented that it seems to have shocked most of the population into stares and whispers.
"You really don't get out much, do you?" Sakura asks dryly as Itachi blinks owlishly at the bowl of ramen Teuchi places in front of him. She flashes a smile at the chef when her own miso ramen is produced before turning back to Itachi. "Don't tell me you've never had ramen before."
Itachi gives her a look and Sakura blanches. "Really? You've never had ramen before?"
"Uchihas don't eat ramen," Itachi says blandly.
"Sasuke does," Sakura reminds him.
"Sasuke is friends with Uzumaki-kun," Itachi counters.
Sakura chews on her ramen for a bit. "Fair enough," She allows after swallowing a bite. "But so does Shisui-san."
Itachi gives her another look, this time one that is equal parts reproach and deadpan amusement. "Shisui is an anomaly. He does not count."
Sakura blinks at him, chopsticks halfway to her mouth, before she laughs and nods in agreement. "There is that. He really isn't much like the rest of you Uchihas."
They sit in a comfortable silence as they eat the rest of their meals but when they finish, they spend several minutes fighting over who would pay what.
"I can pay for myself, Itachi-san," Sakura insists stubbornly, already digging into her weapons pouch.
"It is simple courtesy for me to pay for your share as well," Itachi maintains adamantly, whipping out a plain black wallet before Sakura can even find hers.
"No, it's chauvinistic," Sakura retorts, ignoring the fact that she probably shouldn't know a word like 'chauvinistic'. She is in the company of a fellow prodigy after all. "And you're nine. If we were both several years older and you were my boyfriend, then I'd consider letting you pay."
Itachi doesn't look even mildly perturbed. "It is unbecoming for a man to let a female companion pay for a meal when it is he who takes her out to eat."
Sakura puts her hands on her hips and glares up at Itachi. "Okay, one, you're not a man yet, no offense to your ego. Two, I'm the one who asked you to eat breakfast with me. And three, if you put that money on the counter, I'll kick your ass from here to Suna."
This is apparently enough to give Itachi pause as his hand halts an inch from the table, halfway through the process of placing the appropriate amount of money down.
Sakura smirks triumphantly but it slips off her face when Itachi enquires, "I do not believe that to be possible. From your spar with Shisui, I have deduced that you are not yet on par with me."
Sakura's mind blanks for about three seconds before she channels Inner and her temper explodes because it is such a Sasuke thing to say and the tiny bit of her that still remembers that twelve-year-old Sakura rears its head.
"Oh, that is it, Uchiha!" Sakura snaps, finally fishing out her own money and slamming it down on the counter with almost enough strength to crack it. "We're gonna fight and I'm gonna show you just how on par with you I am!"
Itachi barely has time to drop a few coins for his own meal before Sakura grabs his arm and hauls him out of the stand, dragging him in the direction of the nearest training grounds. Itachi may be stronger overall at the moment – which is something she is determined to ignore – but Sakura's strength is only rivalled by Tsunade.
Neither notice Teuchi shaking his head as they leave. "Poor kid," He mutters, sweeping the money off the counter. "Don't those Uchihas teach their children not to anger females in general?"
For his part, Itachi has no idea what he has done wrong. His mother has always lectured him on the importance of being a gentleman but Sakura has not reacted to his actions the way he expects. Mulling over the last few minutes, Itachi lets Sakura drag him through the streets of Konoha and doesn't notice the varying looks of astonishment and disbelief crossing shinobi and civilian faces alike as he is led to the training grounds like a puppy on a leash.
Sakura is very independent, he can acknowledge that, and she never lets Shisui coddle her in a spar, often forcing his cousin to fight seriously. So perhaps he should have treated her as an equal and let her pay her own share? But just because he offered to pay for her didn't mean he saw her as anything less. He has seen her fight Shisui, after all; her abilities make even him wary.
"Alright, let's spar!" Sakura announces, dropping his arm when they reach the first training area.
Itachi arches his eyebrow in silent question. Is this really necessary?
She understands him, of course, something he has never figured out how. Only his mother has ever been able to interpret all his gestures.
"Damn right it is!" She responds hotly, already tucking her medical scroll away.
Itachi frowns and crosses his arms. He had originally planned to befriend her. Fighting doesn't seem particularly productive in reaching that goal.
"No," He says, and watches as one of Sakura's eyebrows twitched.
"What do you mean 'no'?" She growls.
"I mean I will not fight you," Itachi clarifies, which only makes the twitching worse.
"Why not?" Sakura snarls indignantly. "You think I'm too weak to take you on-"
This is so far from the truth that Itachi disregards decorum and cuts her off. "I do not believe that," He assures her. "I have seen you spar with Shisui. Your abilities in taijutsu is formidable, your skill with medical ninjutsu even more so. It would be foolish for anyone to underestimate you."
This leaves Sakura gaping for reasons Itachi isn't sure of. He is only speaking the truth; why is she so surprised?
"But- But what about what you said back at Ichiraku's?" She splutters. "You were all 'you'll never be on par with me 'cause I'm Uchiha Itachi'!"
The last part is stated in a crude mimic of his voice and Itachi can't help twitching a little as well. "I did not," He denies. "I said you were not yet on par with me, and you are not. Your stamina still needs work. But when your chakra reserves build up enough, not even Shisui's speed will prevent you from defeating him."
Sakura gawks at him some more and Itachi waits patiently for her to speak.
"Oh," She says after a long moment. "So... you don't think I'm weak?"
Itachi regards her with some puzzlement. "Why would I?" He asks, which only seems to make her brighten more. "I am not so thoughtless as to believe you would pose no challenge for me even right now, much less when you have built up your stamina."
He pauses, and then feels it would probably be better if he makes amends now about earlier. "And if you insist on paying for yourself, I will agree to split the cost of our meals from now on. Even if one meal costs more than the other."
"Oh," She says again, this time much more cheerfully. Her arms drop back to her side and her stance relaxes, absently reminding Itachi of an offended cat calming down. "Well that's alright then, I can work with that. Sorry about just now."
She smiles sheepishly at him and Itachi blinks at the sudden change in demeanour. "You do not wish to fight anymore?"
She waves a dismissive hand and jogs back over to his side. "Nah, not in the mood. Wanna just walk around a bit?"
Itachi nods in agreement, feeling a little dazed at Sakura's seemingly bi-polar disposition. But she isn't angry anymore; more importantly, she isn't angry at him and Itachi has managed to calm her down all by himself. He thinks this is an accomplishment worth being proud of in and of itself.
The rest of the day is spent in the library and Itachi actually finds himself interested in what Sakura has to say. She is cheerful and enthusiastic when she talks and her knowledge of medicine is more in-depth than anyone he knows. Granted, he has never been particularly fascinated by medical ninjutsu and really only knows the basic healing all shinobi eventually learn but he can't help feeling a little awed at how much knowledge is stored away in Sakura's mind. She will become a powerful kunoichi, this he already knows, but he thinks she will be an even more formidable medic-nin.
"Thanks for listening to me babble all day, Itachi-san," Sakura grins up at him and he nods stoically in response as they stop in front of her house.
Sakura rolls her eyes and mutters something he can't quite pick up but her chakra doesn't spike so he is fairly certain he is still safe. He still remembers the last time Shisui pushed Sakura too far. The pink-haired Academy student had put him through the floor with one fist. Even Itachi had been hard-pressed not to laugh.
"I have a training session with Shisui-san tomorrow so I'll see you then?" She ends on a questioning note and Itachi nods again. He doesn't have any missions scheduled for the next few days, although that might be because he hadn't asked for any recently. Well, his mother is always telling him to cut back a little.
When she waves and makes to turn away, Itachi quickly intercepts her. "Sakura-san, how far along am I in gaining your friendship?"
Sakura stares at him before her mouth twitches just a little. She is clearly amused but her green eyes soften considerably. "I thought we were already friends," She says and a genuine smile spreads over features without reluctance.
Itachi opens his mouth to say something but for once, he is unprepared and he ends up closing it again, mildly embarrassed.
Sakura just giggles and waves at him in farewell. "Call me Sakura, Itachi-san. I'll see you tomorrow."
And before Itachi can return her parting gesture, before he can tell her call me Itachi, she has disappeared into her house.
For a long minute, Itachi stays standing in front of her house. When he finally turns away, a small smile has made its way onto his face.
He had had fun today, which doesn't happen often. And it seems he has made a friend as well, which has never happened.
All in all, it has been a very good day.
"Are you serious, Fugaku? We have been planning this for years and you wish to forget everything now?"
Fugaku bites back a sigh and concentrates on not glaring at the Clan Elders. This is a first because he is usually on their side, but even he has to admit that his recent actions have been uncharacteristic at best.
"I am simply proposing to put any further thoughts of the coup on hold," Fugaku explains, ignoring the dubious looks all around him. "After what happened to the Hyuuga Clan, it is unwise to provoke unrest within the village. Konoha will be seen as weak to the other countries."
"Fugaku!" One older cut in sharply. "It is not Konoha we should be worrying about! The village is prosperous enough but the Uchiha Clan is the exact opposite. We must act, and soon!"
Fugaku levelled the Elder with a cool gaze. "The Uchiha Clan is, I believe, more valued to this village than I previously thought."
Discontented murmurs swept the room but Fugaku forges on before anyone can interrupt. "Recent dealings with the other clan heads have led me to reconsider their stance on this clan. It seems to me that they are not as against us as I originally believed them to be."
"And what exactly has led you to that conclusion?" An Elder on the far side of the room enquires, dark eyes hard.
Fugaku is relieved that they are at least willing to hear him out, no matter how reluctantly. "They supported me in a recent petition I had to bypass the village Elders with," Fugaku explains. "Once I gave them sufficient reason to support my cause, they aided my request and saw it through to the end."
"Are you speaking of the Uzumaki boy?" Another Elder asked, voice frigid. "Why you took on such a burden I will never comprehend but the other clans could very well have their own motives for aiding you. That is not an adequate basis to stop all plans for a coup!"
"Then what is?" Fugaku counters just as icily. He has never really noticed before but his clan is very cold. Maybe he just never wanted to notice. "It was still a decision needed to pass through the Council and one that would benefit with all the clans' agreement. It was a decision like any other decision."
"It was not for the good of the Uchiha Clan," The Elder's nose flared, the only outward sign of anger. "What benefit does representing that demon have, I would like to know!"
Fugaku tightened his jaw to reign in the sudden burst of rage inside him. He had never gone out of his way to look out for Uzumaki Naruto but after so many months of watching the boy interact with his son and Sakura, some... obligation on his behalf had appeared. Minato had been a close friend once upon a time and he didn't like the way people treated the man's only child.
But the Elders don't know any of this and Fugaku doesn't have the clearance to tell them so he uses their fear against them instead.
"And you think the boy wouldn't notice all the resentment and hatred directed at him?" Fugaku challenges. "If the seal ever fails, wouldn't the Kyuubi have a much easier time in taking over if the boy feels no loyalty to this village at all? And would it not be better if our clan holds more of a place for him than it previously did?"
The law bans people from talking about this issue but within his own compound, Fugaku doesn't really care since he is using the information to defend the boy.
There are gasps and mutters from all directions and Fugaku lets them talk. He doesn't want to bring Sakura into this unless absolutely necessary. While she does owe a debt to the Uchiha Clan as a whole, he doesn't want the Clan Elders to know this because even they are impressed with Sakura's skills and they will exploit her debt in as large a capacity as possible.
Sakura has left an echo of herself in his thoughts. Perhaps it is because he alone is consciously aware of just how much influence she has had on his recent actions or perhaps it is something else entirely, but Fugaku can't help the seed of – he can't call it anything else – blind faith he has in her. Either way, he wants – needs – to save that debt for a rainy day because ever since Sakura got him thinking on that fateful evening, something a lot like dread has been knocking insistently against his attention, telling him that the path the Uchiha Clan is going down is not at all safe or wise. And if a time ever comes when the Uchiha Clan will need to be saved from itself, Fugaku will need all the help he can get.
"Perhaps it is a wiser decision than we originally thought," One Elder finally acknowledges grudgingly. Uchihas do not like yielding to anyone, even to other Uchihas. "But it is still not enough. Should the village turn against our clan, we must be ready."
"We were planning to attack even before Konoha showed signs of blatant hatred," Fugaku retorts sharply. "And what good is civil war if it only draws the entire village into another shinobi war with another country? We would be destroyed anyway."
Another wave of murmurs swept the room but Fugaku doesn't wait for anymore complaints. He is tired of their protests. He does not understand why they do not see what he sees, but then again, he had not seen the bigger picture either before Sakura came along.
"This is my final decision," Fugaku says firmly, rising to his feet. "For now, plans for the coup will be placed aside. Instead, perhaps the Uchiha Clan would benefit more from creating stronger ties to the other clans of Konoha."
On that dismissive note, Fugaku turns and vacates the room. He is quite sure most if not all his Elders are still unhappy with his verdict but he also knows that he has given them something to think about. At least that will put them off for a little while.
Neither Inoichi nor Ibiki had gotten much out of the Iwa missing-nin in the past few months. Even Anko at her worst had had little effect and they are forced to conclude that the missing-nin is exactly what Inoichi managed to find out from the man's mind.
"Just a missing-nin who thought it would be a brilliant idea to kidnap the Uchiha's second son," Inoichi mutters as he files away the most recent paperwork for the captured nin. Damn, he hates paperwork. He has no idea how Sarutobi does it on a daily basis.
Glancing up, he frowns at a stack piled neatly on the right between two other stacks. He is fairly certain that is new. Picking up the top sheet, his eye twitches.
"Shikaku you bastard!" He snaps aloud even though he knows the man is probably halfway home by now. "How many times do I have to tell you to do your own paperwork? We're not even in the same department!"
"You've known his habits for years, Inoichi," A familiar voice says from the door. "You should be used to them by now."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it," Inoichi grumbles, not bothering to turn as Chouza enters the room. "He only ever gets worked up when a disaster hits Konoha."
Chouza chuckles but the sound dies faster than usual and Inoichi glances up with a frown. "What's wrong?"
The Akimichi Clan Head looks uncharacteristically frustrated. "The missing-nin you interrogated a few weeks back; he's gone."
Inoichi is on his feet in an instant. "What? What do you mean he's gone? He's locked up in our holding cells waiting to be deported back to Iwa!"
"Well, he's escaped," Chouza says shortly. "That's what Shikaku's doing now. He's sent out some Jounin around the village and the Chuunin at the gates swear blind that no one's come or gone all day." He pauses, and then grins dryly, "Except one was sleeping when Shikaku got there and the other looked about ready to drift off."
Studying Inoichi's growing disbelief, Chouza adds with resigned amusement, "Oh, and just so it won't be a shock, the Hokage's hopping mad, someone's gone and spray painted the Hokage Monument hot pink, and it's just after Academy hours at the moment. We've got kids everywhere."
Inoichi slaps his forehead before moving to grab his coat.
"It's gonna be one of those days, isn't it?" He asks rhetorically as he follows Chouza to the door.
Chouza just laughs despite the situation.
"Can someone please explain to me how a four-year-old kid can spray paint the Yondaime pink in broad daylight during school hours while being tailed by ANBU and all without getting caught? And don't tell me it's not the boy; everyone knows it's him."
Shikaku is fuming – as much as a Nara can fume anyway – so Chouza does his best to chase away his friend's irritation. The Jounin Commander has been running around all afternoon trying to keep track of his Jounin spread out through the village and making sure the missing-nin hasn't yet killed off any civilians. Needless to say, the man is more than a little annoyed, especially seeing as the Hokage had originally given Shikaku an off-day today.
Shikaku sighs and waves a hand at a group of Jounin. "I don't care what it takes; just find the missing-nin. Capturing him is preferable but kill him if necessary. Spread the search to the eastern gates."
The Jounin dart off and Shikaku turns to Chouza and Inoichi with another sigh. "We have to find him," Shikaku says grimly. "I want one of you at the western gates and one at the southern. I already have Shiranui and Mitarashi at the main gates," A slightly humorous but wry smile twists his lips as he gestures at the head of the Yondaime. "If nothing else, I don't want the missing-nin spreading word about that pink monstrosity to the rest of the world. Konoha would never live it down and that's just too troublesome to even think about."
Inoichi snickers as Chouza smothers a smile and asks, "What about you?"
The smile fades from Shikaku's face as he twirls a kunai in one hand. "I'm going to go find Sakura-chan," He says curtly. "She's the one who got him captured. If the missing-nin decides on revenge, he'll be heading straight for her."
"She's probably with the Uzumaki boy," Inoichi points out. "There'll be ANBU around."
A dark frown creases Shikaku's brow even as he turns away. "Yeah, I hear they did a great job last time."
And then he is gone, flitting over the rooftops in the Academy's direction.
Chouza meets Inoichi's mildly stunned glance and suggests calmly while suppressing another amused smile, "I imagine that's what Shikaku would be like if he had a daughter."
Inoichi just shakes his head. "He only gets sarcastic when he's stressed and that doesn't happen often. It's just a bit of a shock."
They depart with a nod at each other and Shunshin off to their assigned positions. Neither of them knows Sakura as well as Shikaku but the girl is a good influence on their children – Ino's become more responsible; Chouji's become more confident – and that is enough for them to worry about Sakura as well.
Sakura is sparring in the Academy's training yard with both Naruto and Sasuke at the same time – they have long since accepted the fact that she is stronger than both of them – when she senses him. Both boys are panting when she calls a stop to their spar, and she doesn't waste any time in grabbing their hands and dragging them off to the side into the shadow of the Academy walls.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto's eyes are curious as he peers at their surroundings. "What's wrong?"
"Remember what I taught you about sensing chakra signals?" Sakura murmurs, eyes focused on the rooftops as the hostile signature draws closer. "See if you can sense him."
Both Naruto and Sasuke obeys, closing their eyes to concentrate. Sasuke gets it first and his eyes snap back open as he clutches at Sakura's hand in a tighter grip.
"That's him, isn't it?" Sasuke whispered, eyes wide as his brow creased in recollection. "That's the man who tried to kidnap me. I thought he was caught!"
"He must've escaped," Sakura says grimly as Naruto opens his eyes as well, looking uncharacteristically solemn. Both boys are already hiding their chakra signal as best they can and Sakura has already tucked hers away but she knows it isn't enough to fool the missing-nin.
"Naruto," She glances at the blond on her right. "Any shortcuts that can get us to the Uchiha compound from here?" She knows Naruto knows Konoha like no one else even as a child.
Naruto spins around, squinting towards the left before gesturing to them. "Yeah, this way. C'mon."
Neither Sakura nor Sasuke hesitated as they hurried after the blond and weaved out of the school, pausing only to grab their bags. Sakura makes sure to take up the rear. Last time she managed to catch the missing-nin off guard but she is fairly certain she would only be able to hold him back for so long now that he knows what she is capable of, not to mention she has two kids to protect this time.
The presence draws closer and Sakura whips out her kunai as they continue to run, keeping to the shadows of alleyways as Naruto leads them through Konoha.
"Keep going!" Sakura only has time to shout this to her boys before the missing-nin is bearing down on her. She brings her kunai up just in time to block the downward punch of a metal gauntlet.
She hears her teammates cry out in alarm and the reminder that they are the ones who need protecting right now, that she is the only one there who can do the protecting, gives her enough strength to shove the missing-nin back.
Her opponent is missing teeth and is splattered with blood, the haggard air of a torture victim hanging over him. Sakura watches him warily, not daring to take her eyes off him as she calls over her shoulder, "Naruto, Sasuke, keep going. I'll hold him off."
The missing-nin releases an ugly hacking laugh but it is her boys' immediate responses that frighten her.
"No way!" Naruto's stubborn reply sets Sakura's teeth on edge and she tries not to lose her temper right then and there. "We need to protect you, Sakura-chan!"
"Yeah," Sasuke agrees. "We can't just leave you here."
Normally, she treats these sentiments with indulgent amusement but right now, she simply wants to scream at them for being idiots or kick their asses for thinking her weak.
Because she is currently contemplating kicking the missing-nin's ass, Sakura picks the former. "YOU IDIOTS!" She snarled. "I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU DON'T RUN NOW I AM GOING TO KICK YOUR SORRY ASSES AROUND THE TRAINING GROUNDS AND ENJOY IT!"
She doesn't hear their answer because the enemy-nin is surging forward again and Sakura needs all her senses to keep up. She ducks under the first swipe and jabs forward with a kunai, taking satisfaction when she draws blood. But it is a shallow wound and her opponent doesn't even seem to notice as he comes in swinging again.
A set of senbon come flying in from her left and she catches Sasuke circling around the missing-nin out of the corner of her eye. The shinobi dodges them and catches one before flinging it back at Sasuke, who is too slow to move out of the way in time and Sakura has to yank out a shuriken to deflect it.
"Damn it!" She swears as the missing-nin turns malevolent eyes on his original target. "Hey, eyes on me, bastard!" She yells, snapping a kunai at him. It slices his cheek open and embeds itself into the wall behind him but it is enough to turn the man's attention back on her.
"No, over here!" Naruto shouts and Sakura would've hit him if he had been close enough. Naruto's kunai is snatched out of the air and the missing-nin grins.
"NARUTO, SASUKE, GET BEHIND ME! NOW!" Sakura roars, very much at the end of her patience. Her voice cracks just a little, still too high-pitched to sound all that commanding, but the authority in it is unmistakable and both boys rush to her side, looking frightened and confused and still obstinately defiant.
Under any other circumstances, Sakura would've hugged them.
But she has bigger problems right now and she barely manages to block the missing-nin's next blow, muscles shaking at the sheer weight of her opponent's strength. Grimacing, she snaps out one foot and catches the man in the groin. The enemy-nin moves back just enough to merely grunt and stagger back but at least it gives Sakura a breather.
"I just want the boy," The missing-nin growls, eyes flickering to Sasuke.
"Over my dead body," Sakura snaps back instantly, blinking sweat out of her eyes as she levels her remaining kunai at him. She doesn't understand why her opponent wants Sasuke so badly. If she is in his place, she would make escaping the village her top priority.
The missing-nin shrugs. "Suits me fine. Still have to pay you back." A bloody sneer twists his lips and before Sakura can blink, the man has shot forward, one hand wrapping around her wrist. With a jerk and a loud snap, Sakura's wrist snaps and her kunai tumbles out of her suddenly numb fingers.
She can't quite bite back the cry of pain that tears itself from her throat but she still has enough presence of mind to lash out with her other fist. It catches the missing-nin, who probably thought Sakura would go down after a broken bone, square in the gut, deliberately putting the right amount of chakra in it to shut down his kidneys and liver. The man howls as he is thrown backwards, crashing into a brick wall with a satisfying crunch.
To Sakura's dismay, the enemy-nin clambers to his feet again within seconds, one arm wrapped around his stomach and an enraged grimace on his features.
"Stupid little bitch!" The missing-nin spits out, and Sakura just manages to turn and throw herself over Naruto and Sasuke as a kunai comes flying at them with lethal speed. Her superior strength brings them all down to the ground but she winces as the metal blade skims her back. It is only a scratch though so she doesn't spare the injury any thought as she rolls over and finds the missing-nin towering over them.
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto is tugging at her shirt, still trying to somehow tuck her behind him and away from danger, and Sasuke is clutching at her good arm as if that alone will hide her from view, and Sakura doesn't know whether to be exasperated or pissed. Already furious with her five-year-old body for being next to useless, pissed sounds like a good idea so she digs her elbows into whatever parts of their bodies she can reach to shut them up.
"Looks like you get your wish after all," The enemy-nin cackles, picking up the kunai Sakura had dropped earlier.
Sakura glares, her brain is screaming for help, Inner is raging inside her, and she lifts a foot and brings it back down with an ear-splitting crack. The ground under them shakes and the missing-nin lurches on the spot, momentarily thrown off-balance, but it is enough.
Out of nowhere, a kunai comes flying out, metal glinting in the afternoon sunlight as it finds its mark in the missing-nin's neck. The weapon slams into the shinobi with so much fury behind it that he is literally knocked sideways off his feet. Instinctively, Sakura throws an arm over each of the boys under her, ignoring the pain that lances through her when her broken wrist is jostled as she covers their eyes from the gruesome sight. Blood gushes out of the wound and the enemy-nin gurgles as crimson splashes his lips. It only takes a moment more before the light in his eyes dies and he stills on the ground.
Sakura blinks and glances to the side as Shikaku leaps down from a rooftop. She has rarely ever heard the Nara Head sound so worried, and it is usually directed at his son during the war in her previous timeline.
"I'm fine," She coughs out, struggling into a sitting position. "Check these two."
Sakura catches an exasperated look from Shikaku before Naruto and Sasuke are speaking, talking over each other to describe her injuries to the Nara Head.
Two more Jounin appear, bending over the missing-nin with matching frowns. Her line of sight is blocked when Shikaku crouches down in front of them, giving cursory once-overs to the two boys before focusing on her.
"Let's see," Shikaku holds out a hand and Sakura extends her broken wrist.
"It's fine," Sakura assures, pushing the pain away as she focuses healing chakra to her injury. "It'll be healed soon enough."
Shikaku says nothing for a moment, just watches the soft green light glowing around her wrist with unreadable eyes before looking up again with a wry smile. "Be more careful, Sakura-chan."
There is a shadow of something else in Shikaku's voice, as if he is hinting at a different meaning than the obvious one but Sakura doesn't have time to ponder on it as one of the Jounin call for him. The Nara Head ruffles her hair before rising and hurrying over to the dead shinobi, already muttering orders to the Jounin.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Sasuke interrupts her thoughts and Sakura quickly turns to him with a smile.
"I'm fine, Sasuke," She says before scowling at both of them. "And you two are idiots. You should've run."
Naruto puffs up, crossing his arms. "Shinobi don't run," He protests.
"Then you can stand your ground all you want when you are shinobi," Sakura retorts.
"Well what kind of shinobi would we become if we just left you alone to face the enemy?" Sasuke asks dubiously.
"Yeah, we have to look out for each other!" Naruto says belligerently.
Sakura sighs but feels her anger slipping away with each passing second. She never could stay mad for long at these two and they had been trying to protect her.
"Thanks then," Sakura allows grudgingly. "But next time, try thinking before going up against a missing-nin. We haven't been working on battle formations for nothing, you know."
Naruto shoots her a sheepish look and Sasuke glances away, slightly embarrassed, but Sakura just smiles again and they know they are forgiven.
The missing-nin is well and truly dead this time and is quickly taken away for disposal. Naruto gets permission to stay with Sasuke for the rest of the day and night but Sakura insists on going home. She doesn't spend much time with her parents anymore but she has promised herself that she wouldn't let them drift apart again so seeing them when they get home from work as much as possible is the least she can do.
An ANBU doesn't accompany her home this time. Instead, Shikaku takes her hand and walks her home. Both are quiet and the silence between them, while not uncomfortable, is a little tense for reasons Sakura isn't sure of.
"Shikaku-san?" Sakura speaks up then, not liking the strained atmosphere. "Is something wrong?"
Shikaku glances down at her, studying her for a few seconds before offering a slight smile. "Nothing's wrong, Sakura-chan. It's been a busy day though."
Sakura nods and lets the issue go. If Shikaku doesn't want to say, nothing she does will get him to reveal it.
"By the way, how did your friend spray paint the Yondaime's head?" Shikaku suddenly asks.
Sakura blinks and then giggles. The air clears between them as Shikaku arches an eyebrow at her. "Dunno," She sings. "It might not be Naruto."
"Never said it was," Shikaku points out good-humouredly. "Could be Sasuke-kun."
"Sasuke?" She gives him a skeptical look but her mouth betrays her and twitches into a smile. "Mikoto-san says we're a bad influence on Sasuke."
"Oh?" Shikaku looks thoughtful. "You like Mikoto-san then?"
Sakura nods enthusiastically. "She's great. We helped her throw a birthday party for Itachi the other day."
"A birthday party for Itachi-kun?" Shikaku repeats slowly, looking slightly shocked.
Sakura swallows a snicker at the expression. "Yup. He was twitching a lot when we showered him with confetti and made him cut his cake but I think he liked it anyway."
Shikaku chuckles softly. "Never thought I'd see the day," He mutters almost to himself before saying more loudly, "I don't suppose Fugaku was there as well?"
"Oh, he was," Sakura confirms. "I made sure to ask him earlier and Mikoto-san made him clear his schedule for the day. He looked kinda uncomfortable at the beginning but Itachi actually laughed when Naruto tripped and fell into the garden pond and took Sasuke with him and then Fugaku-san looked a lot more relaxed."
"I see," Shikaku considers her with sharp eyes but again, he doesn't expand on what is on his mind and Sakura doesn't ask.
When they reach her house, Sakura exchanges goodnights with Shikaku before heading inside. She glances back only once, half inside the house, half out, and catches the Nara Head's gaze again. It isn't unfriendly or hostile; far from it, but there is still something in it that unsettles Sakura. She will have to watch herself more carefully from now on, but after she gives one last wave and closes the door behind her, she remembers how easily Shikaku can usually hide anything he feels behind a lazy facade and wonders if the man had shown her a little of what he is feeling on purpose.
If so, she wonders why.
He isn't pleased. The man he sent inside has not come back and he has picked up enough gossip from various Konoha shinobi to know that the missing-nin is now a dead nin.
It doesn't throw a particularly big wrench in his plans; the younger Uchiha boy is simply supposed to be collateral. He is confident he can convince the Uchihas' precious heir to carry out this part of his plan without the boy.
He knows the missing-nin won't be able to reveal anything so he is not concerned on that front. Instead, he ponders on the rift between the Uchiha Clan and the rest of the village. For now, it is deep enough to cause even more problems if it continues on its destined path but he will have to keep an eye out just in case.
He will have to intercept Uchiha Itachi next time the boy leaves the village for a mission. Turning him against his own clan will be the first step.
"There is an odd number of students graduating this year," Sarutobi begins. "Mostly because one of those students is graduating much earlier than anyone expected at the beginning."
In the Jounin-filled office, Genma alone brightens. "Sakura-chan really did it then? I always knew she would!"
Sarutobi's mouth twitches as he regards the laidback shinobi. "Yes, it seems, just as she promised, she has managed to complete all the Academy curriculums in one year alone."
"Wait, who's Sakura?" Sanae queries from the left.
"Haruno Sakura," Sarutobi clarifies. "A prodigy from the civilian sector represented by the Uchiha Clan."
"The Uchiha Clan took her in?" Tekuno whistles in admiration. "She must be something else."
"Yes, which brings us to the problem of which sensei to hand her off to," Sarutobi glances down at the list of teams he has drawn up. "For the most part, I have already drawn up teams for those of you who have agreed to take on a Genin team. Sanae, Riku, Kai, Tekuno, Taichi, Hayama, Hiki, and Raidou."
The aforementioned nin all nod and Sarutobi focuses on the remaining shinobi. "Now, I know you have not signed up for a Genin team, but I do need an extra Jounin to apprentice Sakura-chan to until her teammates graduate."
"She already has teammates?" Hiki enquires curiously.
Sarutobi nods serenely. "I will be placing two others with her when they graduate, which will most likely be only two years from now. They work well together and their Academy sensei has already mentioned their excellent teamwork, so whoever takes on Sakura-chan will have to be prepared for the long haul."
Murmurs sweep the room but no one speaks as Sarutobi continues. "Kakashi, Genma; I have called you in today because I believe either one of you are ready to take on a team."
He pauses then and is hard-pressed not to twitch in annoyance as the sound of a flipping page permeates the room. "Kakashi, are you listening to me?"
The Copy-nin looks up and eye-smiles at him. "Of course, Hokage-sama, but I'm not interested in taking on any brat."
Sarutobi sighs. He has grounded Kakashi for the time being. The man has been on far too many ANBU missions and some down time would be good for him. He has told the Copy-nin that until he has taken on at least one team of Genin, he would be banned from any S-class missions. Sarutobi knows Kakashi has resorted to wait him out. Too bad for him Sarutobi can be as stubborn as they come.
But for now, he glances at Genma instead. The senbon wielder shrugs. "I'd like to, I really do, but I've got my own missions plus rotation duty." Here he adds a meaningful look and Sarutobi nods in return.
"You will be taken off the rotation, of course," Sarutobi assures him. "And your missions will be cut back so you can properly teach Sakura-chan."
Genma looks thoughtful. "She's not gonna be a hard one to teach," He admits. "She's already at least Genin material. Chuunin in some areas after seeing what she did to that missing-nin."
There are agreeable nods all around. Not many shinobi in Konoha have missed the rumour of a five-year-old Academy student taking down an Iwa missing-nin.
"She's that Sakura?" Kakashi suddenly cuts in, the orange book in his hand lowering. "The one who's friends with the Uzumaki boy?"
Genma snorts. "Where have you been, old man?"
Kakashi shoots him a bland look. "In Water Country, for the past year."
Genma blinks but is too comfortable with himself to feel any embarrassment and simply shrugs instead. "Whatever," He turns back to the Hokage. "I'll take her. I wanted her as a student from the very beginning anyway."
Sarutobi is about to nod but has to suppress an amused smile when Kakashi jumps in again. "Hang on, I don't mind taking the girl. She's mature for her age and she can help keep the boys in line when they join her."
Sarutobi raises an eyebrow but doesn't say anything. Kakashi was on rotation duty as well and would have seen what Sakura is capable of.
"You just said you weren't interested in teaching brats!" Genma protests, unconsciously straightening in place. "I've been watching Sakura-chan all year; she's my student!"
Kakashi waves a dismissive hand. "You just agreed right now," He points out mildly. "And Hokage-sama said either one of us would do."
"You turned the offer down," Genma bristles. "I didn't."
Sarutobi notes the incredulity on the other Jounin's faces. It isn't often Kakashi stirred himself for anything and Gema is usually quite easygoing.
"I'm sure another team will come along," Kakashi says easily. "You've taught before, haven't you? You've had a team already. I actually need one to get back on active duty." Here he spares a moment to shoot a reproachful look at Sarutobi.
Genma scoffs around his senbon. "So you're doing this for yourself, because Sakura-chan will be an easy student to teach and you'll be able to get all of them through the Chuunin Exams that much faster. Yeah, I can see how that's a great help to her."
Kakashi frowns, his book closing almost absently in his hand. "I'll make sure she's prepared," He counters, voice still mild. "I wouldn't make her take the exams if she's not ready."
"And I'll train her like I actually care about her," Genma retorts tersely. "Do you even know what she specializes in?"
"Medical ninjutsu and taijutsu," Kakashi says immediately.
"And genjutsu," Genma corrects. "She has excellent aim and is devoted to her friends. She works hard and eats the library for breakfast. She wants to be Head Medic of Konoha when she grows up."
Kakashi stares at him for a moment, visible eye blank even though the man is still relaxed. "Have you been stalking her?" He finally asks lightly, but there is no mistaking the slight edge in his words.
Before Genma can snap anything back, Sarutobi finally stops them. "That's enough," He says firmly.
He looks between the two. They have never been friends as far as he knows. Perhaps that will change somewhere down the road but Genma remembers the Kakashi from before the deaths of Uchiha Obito and Namikaze Minato, and unlike his peers, the senbon wielder has never simply accepted the change. Sarutobi knows Genma always keeps a careful if subtle eye on everyone around him and is obviously wary of the sides that the Copy-nin has hidden of himself. It stands to reason that Genma doesn't like the fact that someone he cares about may be placed under Kakashi's protection when he doesn't really trust the man at all.
"Well then," Sarutobi lets the slightest of smirks surface on his features as he tilts his hat back. He wants his ninja to get along and he needs a sensei for Sakura. It seems he can kill two birds with one stone in this case. "You can both teach her."
The matching stunned looks he receives are rather satisfying.
Finished! Again, sorry for the delay but I did say that my updates can be erratic. This chapter was particularly hard to write too so I hope it came out okay.