Immortality is something no one should even think of pursuing in the first place. It’s actually sad, heartbreaking, and most of all… lonely. Her existence was akin to a ghost of superstitious myths, drifting aimlessly in the mortal plane with the wind, unnoticed, unfelt, and unheard. It was infuriating, but it was more depressing.
No matter how hard she tried, no matter how many miracles she could muster- just to be noticed, just to be felt, just to be heard- it was futile. While her siblings’ names were praised, revered, and worshipped, she was left forgotten in the minds and hearts of the people.
No… not forgotten.
To them, she never even existed.
Well there is that small family who believed in her… but they, too, were wiped out of existence.
It hurt, it really hurt; to watch village after village, city after city, generation after generation, rise and fall like blossoming flowers in spring and wilt during the harsh winters. But it was truly a nightmare. She just wanted to be acknowledged, to experience the camaraderie of friendship, and the love of a family.
If she could choose, she would’ve preferred death.
Tsunade watched as students milled out of the school through a window from the Hokage’s office. She watched little boys and girls split and combine into groups, others running up to meet with their families coming to fetch them. But her honey-colored eyes remained transfixed on a little girl around the age of five or six, walking alone near the walls as if wanting to blend with the shadows, that is until another child ran up to her. This one, the moment he went through the gates, people of every age scooted away to give him a wide berth. His sun-kissed hair was like a ball of sunshine as he chased after the girl.
She couldn’t see their faces but by the way the girl perked up when the boy came close, it was enough to tell that they shared some sort of bond. Tsunade just stood there, watching until the two children were out of sight.
“Who would’ve thought that those two little ones would come together?” Hiruzen spoke from behind his desk, resting his old back on the chair comfortably. “To be frank, I thought that those two would repel each other, not attract”
“But it’s a good thing, isn’t it?” she turned her attention to the Sandaime Hokage. “I’ve been watching that girl from the moment she was born. I’m happy that she finally found herself a friend. I just hope that her choice will make her circumstances better, and not worse”
The old man only nodded sagely. The villagers feared the boy because of his tie to the demon fox, and the girl had suffered just because of her oddity, like she was some sort of eyesore. As much they wanted to intervene, it will only cause more trouble for the two- the girl, probably, but the boy? He must make his own name without hiding from any shadow.
She was crying again.
When hands tangled themselves over her head as fingers tugged harshly on her pink locks. She only wanted to play. Alone, maybe draw carelessly on the ground with a stick at one corner of the playground, but she always had an inkling of hope that someone would come to her and ask her to play. She thought that day had finally arrived. A boy approached her with a ball in hand, followed by his peers and they invited her to join.
For once, she felt that flicker of hope ablaze but when their ‘game’ started, it was nowhere near fun. They told her that she was the goal as every child kicked the ball with all their might towards her direction. Each blow more painful than the last. She tried to reason, but they insisted on their ‘game’. When she tried to run or hide, they chased after her and started tugging on her hair, her arms, her legs, her ragdoll clothes.
No one came for her. Who would?
But someone actually did. Someone she didn’t expect.
He lunged after the boy that invited her, and he and his friends were immediately overwhelmed with immense fear. It was evident in their eyes and how they ran. They called the blonde boy with blue eyes a monster. It was not the first time she heard them call him that. She often saw him sitting sideways on a swing, in front of the school and in the playground. She wanted to come up to him, seeing as how he was always alone, and that his eyes bore the same sadness and injustice as she. However, she heard people call him names, spoke to him of things they wouldn’t speak to any regular child.
Approach him and you’ll get hurt, they said. And she didn’t want that.
The uproar made the other children in the park scramble away, leaving only the two of them. He looked back at her as if he wanted to say something, but he snapped his head away as if looking at her had burnt his eyes.
Then she lunged at him.
Alarmed, he stared back with wide eyes as she had done something that no one would even dare do. She touched him. Her small, lithe hands cradled his cheeks, as her verdant eyes bore into his.
“Does it hurt?” she whispered, but she was the one who has a bruise on her cheek. “Does it still hurt?” she repeated, and the boy felt as if something heavy inside him finally lifted and he could breathe freely.
It felt like she was reaching out to him… inside him.
Naruto choked as tears cascaded down his whiskered cheeks.
Inside his cage, Kurama stiffens, feeling invisible hands touch his massive muzzle.
“Are you okay, Naruto-kun?” she turned to the blonde who was unusually quiet for the last few minutes.
He shook his head, “I’m fine, Sakura-chan! No need to worry” he grinned widely, scratching his cheek in embarrassment. “I was just remembering how we first met”
“Ohhh” she drawled, her gaze falling down to stare at her feet. “Is it… something bad?”
“Wha- NO! No, no, no, NEVER! Sakura-chan!” he raced up in front of her, arms flailing with panic in his voice. “It’s good! Something good! Meeting Sakura-chan… saving her from those bullies… when she was the one who actually saved me… I never felt so happy before I met you, Sakura-chan!”
His honest proclamation earned him a blush on his cheeks, making the girl smile widely with relief. Happy that she met this boy. She’ll never understand why people would say mean things to him. He’s the kindest person she ever met! And aside from the Hokage and Tsunade, the only person who will not look at her like she’s some blot on the canvas of a masterpiece.
“Me too, Naruto-kun! You are my first and very best friend!” she bounced before extending her fist to his direction.
“You are my first and very best friend too, Sakura-chan!” he grinned the widest he can as he extended his arm to connect their fists.
It was something they always saw two friends doing and adopted the idea. They stayed like that for a while, ignoring the disapproving gazes they got from the onlookers, before resuming their walk. Eventually, they came across three people. Each had dark hair and onyx eyes, their garbs were a dark hue of blue except for the red and white fan stitched to their backs.
Sakura was already running towards them before Naruto even noticed. She lunged herself unawares at the young shinobi, both who should’ve sensed the girl before she was even ten feet away from them. Her little hands clutched at the hem of the one with long hair tied to a ponytail while the other two, one older with short curly hair, and the younger one with spiky hair, stared in disbelief.
“They will get hurt”
“Stop! Please! Don’t do it!” she clutched at him fiercely, eyes pleading and welling up with tears. “If you do it, you will never be happy! You will never save anyone! You will never save the village! You will never save him!” she turned to the boy around her age.
“-was a lie”
“The stone is not true!” she begged, turning to the older one, all three of them too shocked at the fact that the girl they’ve heard rumors about to suddenly latch herself at them, let alone register the nonsense she’s spewing. “The stone is not true! It’s a lie! It was all a lie! I tried to stop them but no one listened! Nobody ever listened! Please! Your sacrifice will only be for nothing! Don’t do it! He never wrote that! I saw it!” Sakura turned again to Itachi, “You will kill them all! No one will ever be happy! Don’t listen to him! Don’t-!”
“Get your filthy hands off of my brother!” Sasuke slapped the pinkette’s hand away, being the first to break from their reverie.
“Sakura-chan!” Naruto came up to her, putting on a brave stance in front of the three Uchiha while Sasuke defended his brother.
Shisui remained perplexed as the girl shifted her eyes between him and Itachi, while the Uchiha prodigy only stared with that unexpressive face of his. Of course, they were well aware of the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, and they were warned to stay away from the blonde orphan for the betterment of the clan. That one was common. Conversely, they only heard snippets and passing conversations about the pink-haired oddity. They said she was a witch, an abandoned and unwanted child, a cursed child, and many more. But more commonly, they referred to her as a mentally retarded child who just reaped the benefits under Tsunade Senju’s support. What and why the blonde would feel so obligated, no one really knew.
It was the first time they encountered the girl, and they realized why the villagers called her the crazed one.
An argument was starting between Sasuke and Naruto as they defended the people they cared for the most.
“Sasuke” Itachi called, his younger brother was about to raise his fist. “Enough, little brother. Let’s just go” Without further ado, he turned on his heel and started the trek back to the Uchiha compound. Shisui followed suit while Sasuke gave them one more threat.
“Don’t ever come near us again, you freaks!” he stuck his tongue out before running back to his brother’s side, chest swelling with pride at the thought of protecting his elder brother. Shisui glanced back at the two children.
Naruto, used to the treatment and name-calling, fussed over his only friend while she tried to convince him that she’s fine. The blonde has heard about her too, and was very curious of their claims. He would’ve also convinced himself that she’s a lunatic but their friendship outweighed his doubts. Besides, Sakura was the kindest and nicest person he ever met. He’ll never let anyone hurt her again.
“What do you think was that about, Itachi-chan?” he whispered to his younger cousin but Itachi did not reply, having no answer as well. But against the girl’s confusing spews, he was more bothered of the genuine sadness in her eyes.
“That was beautiful, Sakura-chaaaan…” Naruto sighed dreamily, relishing the echo of the final notes of Sakura’s shinobue song. He had begged the pinkette to play for him in hopes that it will make the pinkette forget about what just happened with the Uchihas. Thankfully, it worked, for once she started to run her fingers over the bamboo, it’s as if the whole world sank into a peaceful stillness as even the birds sang along with her song. “How can you play so well? You’re a master with this instrument!” he grinned.
Unbeknownst to them, they had two other audiences hidden in the trees. They would always come by to listen to the song of the girl’s flute every day.
Sakura smiled at him appreciatively, setting the flute she begged Tsunade to buy her on her birthday back in its protective case. “I don’t really know, Naruto-kun. I just felt like I’ve always known how to play it”
The blonde pursed his lips, “Well, whatever, it’s still soooo cool!”
“Thank you, Naruto-kun. Come on! We need to do our homework now!” she untied the books she borrow from the kind, old librarian to help them with their studies.
The two proceeded to indulge themselves on their recycled notebooks as they worked on the questions given to them by their teacher. If not for the dreadful words spoken towards the two, they would’ve been just two kids working together on top of a treehouse. One would even say that they looked absolutely adorable.
Closest to them, Iruka rubbed at his bandaged fingers that he unfortunately hit with a hammer one-two many times. It was only recent when his curiosity and sympathy for the mistreated blonde jinchuuriki had him follow the boy in the shadows. Covering and sweeping off the fear he unknowingly caused with the villagers. He had always seen the boy alone, so he was very happy (and shocked) to find out that he managed to gain a friend. Albeit, the villagers called her the ‘Crazed child’.
When they decided to build a treehouse they had dubbed as a hideout for their own, Iruka was at first reluctant at the proximity of their desired treehouse near the Naka shrine, seeing as it was a sacred place strictly in the Uchiha compound. However, as he watched with worry and amusement at how Naruto bravely hammered uncoordinated planks of wood and nails they collected, he decided to grant the children their safe haven. It was also the first time he heard Sakura’s flute. Though he wasn’t adept to carpentry. Still, he managed to build a steady foundation of the treehouse and its walls. He planned to finish the roof by the following morning only to find that it was already finished when he returned the next day.
He had always wondered who did it.
Thankfully, the children only smiled and accepted the surprise gift for them; even prayed to kami in honest, innocent thanks. Since then, Sakura would always play her flute in that treehouse after they came from school. She would leave just as the sun would begin to set to head back to the orphanage, and the blonde would wave her off a good night. No one, not even the orphanage would take him in, so he claimed the treehouse as his new home as opposed to his previous lodgings in a storage room in the red light district. Iruka would often leave a bowl of ramen from Ichiraku, and sometimes a pair of onigiri for the boy’s dinner when Sakura wasn’t able to smuggle some orphanage food for her friend.
They would formally start in the Ninja Academy soon, and deep down, Iruka hoped that they would be assigned to his class.
When the sun began to set and Sakura waved goodbye to her friend one last time, a man of silver-hair whooshed away through the canopies.
On one night, as the Uchiha clan conducted another secret meeting for their impending coup d’état underneath the Naka shrine, before the stone monument, the meeting was abruptly halted when the chosen Uchiha heir- the pride of the clan- suddenly acted out of place.
When Itachi looked at the stone monument for the second time, a pair of full, viridian eyes stared back at him followed by a wave full of despair and tragedy that immediately overwhelmed his entire being. It clenched his heart in a vice-like grip, and he couldn’t do anything about it as if the stone had burned his eyes.
Uchiha Fugaku had never thought he’d see his first-born son, not since the day of his birth, to cry so hard. Of course, he didn’t know that his own son acted as a double- no, triple agent. While he believed that he has his son’s cooperation in their coup, Itachi was secretly leaking information to the elders of the council, and was in contact with an Uchiha rogue.
Still, with this sudden turn on events, they had no choice but to postpone their actions to a later date until their heir has regained his bearings. Fugaku was still a father after all.
Later that evening, when he and his wife questioned their eldest of his sudden attack, as tears continued to cascade down his eyes, his voice croaked with the struggle to breathe and talk.
“It felt so alone” was his cryptic answer until he cried himself to sleep.
Itachi was not able to report to the council that would have fueled their decisions for the Uchiha clan’s fate.
“Stupid Shisui… Stupid Itachi…” Sasuke glared, kicking the poor pebble again to who knows where since he came out of the house. He was so excited since it was the day his brother promised to train with him, but all of his hopes deflated when he saw his elder brother ready to leave with Shisui through the door. He said that he needed to be somewhere and only apologized with a poke on his forehead. He did not know what happened to his precious brother about the night before. Itachi seemed fine earlier and his innocence made him ignorant of his mother’s worried face. “Stupid promises… stupid, stupid, stupid!”
The pebble flew off from the force of his angry kick and landed in the bushes. An angry huff escaped through his nostrils as he stubbornly walked over to search for the abused stone, ready to vent his frustrations to it once more. Little hands parted the berry bush but it was too thick to see so Sasuke had to crouch down to the undergrowth of the small forest surrounding the Uchiha clan compound.
He continued to search in his crawling position, swatting away small leaves and even picking up some of the edible red berries the bush grew. His frustration made him more impatient and was about to shout his annoyance of the damn pebble until the silent air was cut with a clean cleave of gentle music. The ravenette paused, brows scrunching together in confusion. What was someone doing here?
It was a flute. Definitely a flute. Its slightly higher tune was at first long and dragging as if announcing to the wind that it was going to play a song. Then, either there was another person playing another instrument or he was hallucinating, but he swore he heard the wind chime so clearly as if it were right next to his ears. The little raven-haired had listened to a few music from his father’s radio and his mother’s shamisen but for the first time, Sasuke was enchanted. The beautiful melody hung in the air with birds singing with the lulling tune that made him calm, even sleepy. Like a lullaby that washed away all of his previous exasperations. He even forgot why he was so angry in the first place.
It ended all too soon for his taste, as his eyes shot open when he realized that the song suddenly disappeared as soon as it sung. Braving to find the source of the beautiful melody, Sasuke poked his head up, catching small leaves on his hair and clothes. To say he was surprised was an understatement.
“Y-You?” he stared, blinking at the pink-haired girl holding a bamboo flute between her fingers close to her chest, her head tilted at him curiously. He was about to say something but was unfortunately interrupted.
The call was loud and annoying to his ears. Not wanting to be caught as he was, Sasuke dove back into the bush, crawled to the other side of the undergrowth, and ran back to his house.
He came back the next day, and the next, and the next.
Those two, they were his classmates in the academy and had never paid any attention to them till then. At his desk, from the corner of his eye, he saw them interact with one another. While the others shunned and pointed at them, they ignored them as they chatted, played, and even laughed in their own little world. He never realized what he was missing till he continued to observe them. Sasuke wanted to graduate and become a genin already so that he can be taught in the art of shinobi as soon as possible so that he could stand alongside his brother. Maybe then he would acknowledge him more.
But seeing those two, watching them smile and laugh without a care in the world as if they were not the most shamed people of the village, it made his gut twist in agony.
The blonde was pursing his lips at him, eyes narrowed and brows scrunched together in suspicious accusation while the pinkette looked between the two of them curiously, a small smile tugging the corners of her lips. She had just finished playing her flute when the Uchiha finally decided to face the nagging feeling inside him.
It was the girl who broke the silence.
“Did you like it, Uchiha-san?” his head snapped to her with slight surprise. “My song, did you like it?”
“Hn” was his response, crossing his arms across his chest with a huff.
“Oi! Don’t be rude! Answer her properly!” Naruto pointed an accusing finger at him.
“I just did” he answered stubbornly.
“Idiot! ‘Hn’ is not even a word!” he mimicked exaggeratedly, crossing his arms in the same way. “I thought you were smart, Uchiha. But you don’t even know the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’!”
Heat of embarrassment crawled up to the tips of his ears. “Of course I know what’s ‘yes’ and ‘no’! There! I said it!”
“Ha! You just knew how to say it because I just said so!” Naruto huffed, lifting his chest up as if making him bigger. “Arrogant teme doesn’t even know how to talk!”
“Wha- Why you! Are you calling me an idiot?!”
“You catch on fast, teme!”
“How dare you- you think you’re better than me, dobe!”
“I know I’m better than you! Teme!”
No one knew who tackled first but the next thing that happened was a blur of blonde and black rolling around the grass.
“Does it still hurt?”
Naruto shook his head before grinning widely and scratching the back of his head in apology. “Not anymore. Thanks, Sakura-chan”
“What about you, Uchiha-san?”
“Hn” the ravenhead answered, eyes glaring to one side as he stubbornly rubbed the dirt away from his bandaged cheek with the back of his hand.
Not taking his response kindly, the blonde immediately grew angry. “Oi Teme! What is wrong with you?! At least thank her properly after helping you!”
Sasuke glares at the blonde but before he could retort, a sound of something ripping caught their attentions. Naruto panicked, suddenly fussing over the pink-haired girl.
“Sakura-chan! What are you doing?!” he stared with wide blue eyes as the girl takes the strip of cloth she tore from the hem of her shirt.
“It’s okay, Naruto-kun” she smiles at him before turning to Sasuke. She took his hand and the he didn’t protest as she wrapped the cloth around his palm -amateurishly but passable- that he managed to scrape over a sharp rock during his scuffle with the blonde. “I’m sorry, Uchiha-san. We ran out of bandages. Don’t worry, it’ll be enough! Just make sure you wash it properly first when you get home, okay?”
“Hmm?” she tilted her head curiously to one side, causing the young Uchiha to turn his head to hide the streak of red across his cheeks.
“My name is Uchiha Sasuke… j-just call me Sasuke”
Green and blue eyes blinked at him in wonder, confusion marred their faces before they turned to each other in silent gesture. And despite the blonde’s early dispute with the ravenhead, Naruto’s eyes sparkled and so did Sakura. They both smiled widely showing their teeth before bursting out in laughter.
“What’s so funny?!” Sasuke fumed.
Naruto’s grin never left his face. “Because we forgot to tell you our names! ‘ttebayo!”
“But I already know your names”
“Not when making new friends!” Sakura giggled excitedly, shifting to properly face the two boys.
“F-Friends?” coal eyes went wide.
“Me first! Me first!” the blonde waved his hand up enthusiastically before grinning widely at Sasuke. “The name’s Uzumaki Naruto! Nice to meet ya teme!”
The ravenhead only looked at him curiously, confused at his sudden change of attitude. “And my name is Haruno Sakura. I hope we can be friends, Sasuke-kun”
He could only stare at them, with baffled eyes and a slightly open mouth. Most of the kids wanted to make friends with him because of how cool he looked and simply because he’s an Uchiha. They all wanted to be in his good graces but he always found them to be annoying and tended to avoid them. Plus, he was too busy vying for his brother’s attention that he thought that having friends was completely unnecessary and a waste of time. Still, he never tried to make friends in the first place.
He couldn’t make out what these two kids were. Crazy maybe. After all, didn’t he just had a fight with Naruto? And wasn’t he rude to Sakura just because she was nice to him? It was funny- confusing. He could feel his stomach churning in an oddly good way that made him uncomfortable and shy. He’s an Uchiha. He shouldn’t be shy!
Konoha’s bell tower rang, booming across the sky, signaling the people that it was six o’clock and kids should be heading home because of the curfew. Naruto’s smile dropped as quickly as it came.
“Do you have to go, Sakura-chan?” he whined, watching the girl bring the straps of her worn red backpack over her shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Naruto-kun, but I’ll get in trouble if I don’t” She clapped her hands apologetically at him, making the blonde pout. “Here! I’ll leave these books so you can practice!”
The blonde pouted but accepted the book nonetheless. It read, ‘Chakra and Jutsu Basics’ and ‘My First Adventure of Words’.
“You guys can read?”
“Well duh!” Naruto stuck his tongue out playfully, snorting with pride while Sakura chortled.
The pinkette grabbed onto the rope dangling on the sturdy branch of their treehouse before sliding down through the wooden hatch and onto the grass below. She landed down on her feet and brushed off the dirt on her palms and looked up.
“I left a melon bread in your bag, Naruto-kun! Make sure you eat it all!” she cried up and Naruto beamed as he and Sasuke looked down the hatch.
“I will! Thanks Sakura-chan! You’re the best!” the girl beamed back before scurrying off. Naruto went to the open window of the treehouse and the ravenhead followed suit. He waved both of his small arms at the girl who began her way back to the village’s orphanage. “Keep safe, Sakura-chan!”
“Bye Naruto-kun!” she shouted back, “You too, Sasuke-kun!”
The silent boy was taken aback at that, completely unexpected. It felt odd, but he couldn’t help the tingling feeling in his chest. He doesn’t know what to call it but instead he raised a shy hand up and waved farewell to the girl until she was out of sight. When he turned around, Naruto was already lighting a much worn yet still functional paper lamp.
Sasuke can’t help but ask, “You live here?”
“Well yeah” Naruto smiled, though a bit sad “I know it’s not as good as your house, but it’s much better than the storage room and horse stables. Besides, its home”
“Why aren’t you in the orphanage then? At least they’ll give you a better room”
“They don’t want me there” He pursed his lips before sliding his blue eyes on the empty first aid kit and slapped his fist on his palm in realization. “Ah! I gotta make sure we get lots of bandages tomorrow! I’m not as good as Sakura-chan in dressing wounds though”
Naruto said bashfully, scratching his nose before wincing when he scratched the bandage wrapped across the bridge.
“She’s good…” Sasuke looks down on the torn cloth wrapped around his palm. “How did she learn to do it?”
“Sakura-chan gets picked on by kids a lot. Unlike me, the other kids just avoid me” he looks sadly to one side. “She said she learned it by reading books so that the next time someone hurts her, she can take care of herself. But that’s not going to happen again! I won’t let anyone hurt Sakura-chan as long as I’m here ‘ttebayo!”
“She learned… just from reading?”
“Yeah! Sakura-chan’s really smart! I didn’t even know how to read or write properly until Sakura-chan started to teach me! She taught me lots of other things too! Now I won’t get in trouble with the teacher anymore because I always pass my tests now!” Naruto’s jovial grin was brighter than the lamp, “She’s amazing, right?! She’s my first and very best friend!”
Sasuke said nothing while Naruto gushed over how lucky he was of having such an amazing best friend. The ravenhead swallowed thickly, until the blonde’s stomach rumbled in hunger. Sasuke looked at him with wide eyes and the blonde responded with a shy scratch on the back of his head.
“Ehehe… oh! Here!” he scrambled towards his own worn orange backpack to fish out the melon bread Sakura promised and another thing wrapped in foil. The blonde extended the bread towards him. “It’s not much, but friends always share! That’s what Sakura-chan told me! Don’t worry, I still have some leftover chicken legs I got from some eatery. It’s not that delicious anymore but if you want, I can give you some too!”
Despite all that, before the Uchiha could protest, Naruto had already broken off half of the melon bread and shoved it in his hands.
When he got home that night, when his mother fussed over his dirty appearance and re-cleaned his wounds, when there were fresh and neatly folded clothes ready for him outside the shower, when he noticed that he has a big and warm room for his own, and when he sat down on the dinner table full of food with his family, Sasuke realized how lucky he was.
But when he took a bite out of his kozuyu, no offense to his mother, but he can’t help but notice that the cheap melon bread Sakura left and Naruto shared with him, tasted so much better.
On the next day, Sasuke- for the first time- volunteered to go with his mother to the market and demanded extra food- claiming them for his own.
Oh and he also bought a new first aid kit set too.