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Sing as their bones go marching in again

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Sakura is tired. She’s standing on the roof of Konoha’s hospital, and she’s tired. She’s watching her teammates set up to kill each other, and she’s tired, so, so tired. This was always going to happen, after all—Team Seven was a mistake, a mess, something always doomed to fail. They’re a team who’s not a family; nothing like the InoShikaCho trio.

 

Do something, Inner whispers.

 

(They may argue, and Ino may complain about them a lot, but Sakura would switch places with her in a heartbeat. She’s got the advantage of knowing her team from the start, the advantage of actually getting along with her teammates. No matter how much she complains, Ino cares, and so do Shikamaru and Choji. Sakura honestly can’t say the same for Sasuke.)

 

But she wants them to do well, wants Naruto and Sasuke to succeed. Wants herself to succeed. She wants to have a team that’s like a family, wants something better than the echoing silence of the Chūnin apartments, the indifference from Kakashi and Sasuke, the infatuation from Naruto.

 

Do something, Inner says again, more insistent this time, so Sakura does.

 

She gets in between them, she trusts them to stop themselves for her—and she stares with wide eyes as Sasuke doesn’t, as Naruto tries, desperately but doesn’t quite make it, and she squeezes her eyes shut—and there’s nothing. No pain, none of the burning ache that comes with electricity burning through nerves, or the sharp searing that comes with skin and flesh tearing open.

 

Instead, it goes like this: Haruno Sakura is the daughter of two civilians, from civilian families. She is nothing and no one—smart, yes, top kunoichi, yes, but she will never be on par with clan kids. She is teammates to an orphan powerhouse from a dead clan and the last remaining Uchiha.

 

Haruno Sakura is nothing and nobody, but she breathes and grows and thrives and the forest thrives with her.

 

(She opens her eyes to wood, grown from nothing, and Hatake Kakashi stares in disbelief at the tree where his student used to be.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

When she was four, petals stuck to her fingertips and brush tugged at her hair. Sakura didn’t mind, and never will mind. When she was five, she was shy and small and had a best friend in a girl with blonde hair who had a house full of plants.

 

When she was six, she discovered that plants grow better if she helped out somehow, and told Ino’s mom as such. She’d smiled, shrugged it off, but accepted Sakura’s help without question.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She peeks out of the tree with her heart in her mouth, to find not only Kakashi-sensei, but the Hokage and Jiraiya of the Sannin as well. They stand there, watching the tree. Watching her. Waiting for her. Jiraiya is expressionless—perhaps even slightly disappointed, for some reason—and the Hokage, the last living Senju, is frowning.

 

It is Inner, in the end, who makes her come out; whispers if you can’t trust your Hokage, who can you trust? Sakura might not entirely trust Tsunade—she doesn’t know her, just knows of her—but she certainly trusts her Hokage, and Tsunade is the Hokage now. So she steps out of the tree, melts from the bark itself, and almost, almost relishes in the shock that makes its way across Jiraiya’s face.

 

“Kakashi-sensei?” she says, hesitant, instinctive. Scared. Sakura hates being scared. Hates how her heart speeds up, how her hands shake, just ever so slightly.

 

Kakashi-sensei doesn’t reply, but Tsunade speaks up, still frowning. “Hey, you’re Haruno Sakura, right? That’s quite an ability you’ve got there.” It’s unbearably polite, considering the expression on her face.

 

Sakura hesitates, shrugs lightly. She knows what it is; knows that somehow, somehow, she’s just used the First Hokage’s bloodline ability, the Mokuton. She knows that even the Hokage herself doesn’t have the Mokuton, knows that the ability has supposedly died out.

 

She knows, of course, that the only way she could possibly use Mokuton is with Senju DNA. She knows that this is why they’re here—they’re questioning her, trying to find out how she has it, why her, the civilian-born nothing-girl on a team of powerhouses.

 

But she doesn’t know either. “I’m sorry,” Sakura offers up, her voice weak, wavering. She hates that too.

 

Why can’t we be stronger? Inner practically hisses, disdain dripping from her voice. Why can’t we stand on the same level as Naruto and Sasuke? Why do we always have to be tens of steps behind?

 

“What are you sorry for?” Tsunade asks, and Sakura shrugs, helpless. It’s an answer to both questions.

 

“I don’t know why I have it,” she says. “I only just found out.”

 

“An instinctive response to the fear of death,” Kakashi murmurs, speaking for the first time. Jiraiya glances at him, looks back at Sakura with narrowed eyes. She flinches—he’s Jiraiya of the Sannin, and she really doesn’t want to find out what he’ll do if he thinks she’s lying. But he just nods, still scarily quiet. Tsunade nods back, her expression smoothing out just slightly, and Sakura feels something like relief.

 

“Okay,” the Hokage says, and now it’s her who’s voice wavers, hesitant. “My clan isn’t as dead as we originally thought, then.” Tsunade gives her a grin that’s full of teeth and promises—terrifyingly bold, even with the hint of confusion, of sadness, that lies hidden behind the danger— and Sakura gulps, but takes the offered hand.

 

And is promptly thrown back into her tree.

 

“Next time,” Tsunade snarls, “Don’t grow a tree through my hospital.”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

When Sakura was a child, she liked playing outside. She used to hang around in the forest surrounding Konoha, down by a little stream. She’d sit on the banks, dipping her bare feet in the water, and she’d talk to the trees. Talk to the trees and the ferns and the little animals, who snuck quietly up to drink the fast-running water.

 

When Sakura was a child, she was a part of life by that river.

 

And something noticed.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

“The best way to keep you safe, politically speaking, is for you to take the Senju name,” Tsunade tells her, voice kinder than Sakura’s ever heard it. “You’re living in the Chūnin apartments, yeah? There’s a room open in my house, if you want it.”

 

She thinks of her apartment, thinks of being the only Genin in a building of Chūnin, thinks of the silence that rings in her ears. She thinks of her parents, cold and crushed and gone, thinks of living with someone who isn’t them, and doesn’t know what to choose.

 

You should, Inner says, you know you should.

 

Inner’s right; and Sakura knows it. She knows, but she’s still not sure. Emotions aren’t as easily convinced by logic, after all.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Sakura was an odd child—friends with Ino and Shino and no one else, friends with the girl who worked with flowers and the boy made of bugs. She wasn’t quite right, didn’t speak right, or act right. She was the girl who liked trees and water and animals more than people, and that—that wasn’t a ‘human’ thing to do. To be.

 

Sakura never cared.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

“The best way to keep you safe, physically speaking, is training,” Tsunade tells her, and that’s the only warning Sakura gets before the Sannin starts throwing punches. “First lesson:”  she says, grim, “Is dodging.”

 

She’s teaching you what she knows, Inner says, and she knows pure force and medical ninjutsu. You’ll need someone else to teach you Mokuton.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She moved into Tsunade’s house—the Hokage’s house—and it felt odd for all of ten minutes. Then Tsunade yelled for Sake, and Shizune yelled right back, and Sakura laughed, bright and happy, and realised that home is what you make it.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Once, long ago, a little boy wandered into the woods.

 

He walked and he walked and he walked, talking to the trees and to the animals, digging his fingers into soft earth and dipping his toes in cool, fast-running water.

 

Once, long ago, something else came out.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Sakura doesn’t realise how little she’s been interacting with Team Seven until Sasuke leaves—leaves to join the man who orchestrated the invasion that killed her parents—and she finds herself completely and utterly blindsided. She doesn’t realise until anger clouds her vision red and hazy, until she’s sent on the retrieval mission with Shikamaru and she shatters the earth dome with a chakra-enhanced punch and Naruto stares at her like he doesn’t know her.

 

She doesn’t realise until she’s seeing the hospital overlayed overtop of the Valley of the End; until it’s not her standing between them, cradled in the welcoming arms of a tree grown from chakra and fear—instead, it is Naruto with a charged hand through his chest and an orange cloak of chakra boiling as it heals him. It’s Inner screaming, Sakura crying, and Kakashi taking them back to the village.

 

Then Naruto leaves; becomes the student of a Sannin just as Sasuke is Orochimaru’s, just as Sakura herself is Tsunade’s heir. Sakura is there when Tsunade officially dissolves the team, when she lets Kakashi go back into ANBU; go back to taking high-ranking—albeit no longer suicidal—missions.

 

And she thinks that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t much of a team at all—maybe they were a Jounin-sensei who didn’t want to teach, an aloof flight-risk with a doujutsu, an ostracized orphan who only wanted a family and a civilian girl too focused on civilian things.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Her new Mokuton teacher is strange in many ways—he is nature the same way Sakura is, green and bright and not-quite-human, but not really anything else. He has his quirks; as do all Jounin—but his seem to be more than most. He says his name is Tenzo, and his voice is almost expressionless. His face is expressionless.

 

Sakura looks at him, and she thinks ANBU, before correcting herself, because—no, whatever he was, it’s not quite ANBU. She is the Hokage’s heir, and she knows the guards, knows Kakashi, and this man…

 

Even if he was ANBU at some point, he’s human—he should have more personality than a wooden wall.

 

He’s like a blank version of us, Inner says, I don’t like it. No one should be blank.

 

(And Sakura will drag that out of him, bit by bit, with him kicking and screaming all the way. If she has to.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

“I’m going to teach you to heal,” Tsunade announces, “Because my father couldn’t, but my uncle could, and even though you have the Mokuton you do seem more like Tobirama.”

 

Senju Tobirama was a genius and a soldier, a man with a prejudice but a great man all the same. Sakura isn’t entirely sure if it’s a compliment or a complaint, but she thinks she will take it as the first.

 

(It is a compliment, really—Sakura is headstrong, focused, smart. She has a head for politics and for learning, a streak of self-sacrifice that runs as deeply in her as it does in Naruto. She is vicious, practical and vengeful; she knows when a fight is lost, knows when it is more appropriate to kill than it is to save; even if she has not yet had to make that choice. She will, however, always choose others over herself—if it is a choice between saving a friend and saving herself, she will choose her friends. It is scary, that—scary to said friends and to her family, but it is a part of her and there is no chance she will drop it.)

 

So Sakura starts to shadow medics at the hospital, meets Inuzuka Hana and her nin-dog, meets a Hyuuga nurse and many, many civilian ones, and she realises, quietly, that although Senju Tobirama himself was a medic, the majority are girls.

 

“It’s a funny thing,” Hana says, grim, sharp teeth bared in a pantomime of a grin. “They think it’s weak, or beneath them. They forget that their second and fifth Hokage are both medics, and they forget that medics make the best killers of them all.”

 

Sakura mulls that over in her head, later, sits outside on the grass with flowers blooming between her fingers. This is where Team Ten finds her, as she sat herself down quite close to their training grounds.

 

“Sakura?” Ino says, and Sakura hadn’t realised that she’d been around her graduating class so little that they’d be surprised to see her. “It’s so good to see you!”

 

“Ino!” She replies, and she’s happy, she really is—Ino is one of her best friends—she’s just… distracted. “It’s great to see you too!”

 

“We have so much to catch up on,” Ino gushes, grasps Sakura’s hand and heaves her to her feet. There’s a deceptive strength to Ino’s grip, and she pulls Sakura up far easier than she would have originally thought. “You should join us for our after-training team lunch!”

 

She’s gorgeous, Inner breathes, and Sakura ignores her, hesitates to accept, because this is a team bonding exercise, something they do all the time—but there’s nothing but acceptance and curiosity in Shikamaru’s eyes, and Choji smiles, warm and welcoming as always.

 

“You’re welcome to join!” he says, “More people to split the bill with!”

 

Sakura laughs, light and warm, even as Shikamaru grumbles, “More food’s being brought, though.”

 

(She joins them for lunch.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

It’s over their meal that she says, carefully, cautiously, “Do you guys have a team medic?” Shikamaru and Ino exchange a look, and Choji looks up from his food, interested.

 

“No, actually,” Ino says, tilts her head curiously. Her hair’s still short, but it’s longer than it was after she cut it to match Sakura’s during the Chunin exams. “Why?”

 

“Medics are useful,” Sakura hums, steals another piece of pork from the grill and ignores Choji’s glare. She smirks, looks up through her lashes and knows she’s caught all three of them. “I think Choji would make a good one.”

 

“What?” Choji says, and he’s not offended just—confused, not used to people thinking he’d be good at things. Sakura just offers half a shrug and slides from the booth.

 

“Thanks for the food,” she says, drops her share of the bill on the table. “If you want to learn,” she adds, looks directly at Choji, “ask your teacher if you can come to the hospital tomorrow.” He nods, still stunned, and Sakura smiles, slips out of the restaurant. There’s a seed planted there, now, and Sakura’s always been good with seeds.

 

She thinks this one will turn out beautifully.

 

I concur, Inner says, smug.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

The next day, when she turns up to the hospital, Choji is waiting.

 

“Hey!” she greets, chipper, glad, “Good to see you here!” Sakura opens the door, waves him in and laughs at his stuttered thanks. “No need to thank me, we’re just going to be shadowing a medic.” Choji nods, and he looks curious, but still a little shell-shocked. “Relax,” she says, “it’s nothing bad. The Nidaime was a medic, and the Godaime is one.”

 

“No, yeah, I know,” Choji says, hurred, “it’s just that…” he trails off, and Sakura drops a hand onto his shoulder, comforting.

 

“You’ll do great,” she says, her smile as warm as she can make it. Choji nods, but he still looks a little uncomfortable. Sakura frowns, unsure how to help, when thankfully, Hana turns up. She’s got her younger brother in tow, and she’s grinning like a madman.

 

“Sakura?” Kiba demands when he sees them, “Choji? You two-”

 

“Medics in training,” Sakura confirms, lets a hint of viciousness slip into her smile, because Kiba can be a bit of an idiot sometimes. Hana snorts, approving, and leans on her little brother. “Where’s Akamaru?”

 

“Oh, he’s with Kiba’s team,” Hana says, waves dismissively. “It’s always good to get the teammates used to working with the dogs too.” Sakura hums, and together they walk up to the receptionist to check in.

 

“Senju-sama,” someone says from behind her, and Sakura spins, locates the civilian medic she was tailing two days ago.

 

“Sakura, please,” she says, for probably the fourth time. The nurse is entirely unrepentant, still smiling politely.

 

“Wait, Senju-” she hears Kiba say from behind her, before he’s cut off—likely by Hana. There’s a hiss—someone berating him, “How could you not know about that, it was entirely public, what kind of rock have you been living under-” but she ignores it, motions for the nurse to continue.

 

“Hokage-sama asked me to come and get you,” the nurse says, and Sakura sighs.

 

“I was with her just this morning, what now!” she whines, hears Hana—the traitor—laugh at her.

 

“You better go, baby-sannin,” she says, and when Sakura looks back at her, she’s smiling. “I’ll look after your new project for you.”

 

“Thanks, Hana!” she says, before she makes her way out of the hospital, Kiba’s loud questioning ringing behind her.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Tsunade’s summons was interesting—a reminder that the next Chunin exams are coming up in two months, and an offer to train her in poisons from Mitarashi Anko. Sakura is—well, she’s torn. She knows Anko can’t be blamed for Orochimaru’s deeds, knows that she’s just a victim in all of this, the same way Naruto is with the Kyuubi.

 

But…

 

Orochimaru’s invasion killed her parents; and Sakura is angry, still.

 

Sakura is angry, and hurt, and she’s fourteen but it feels like only yesterday that she was thirteen and shell-shocked as she was told, softly, kindly, that her parents had been crushed in the invasion.

 

But then she looks at Anko, hears Inner whisper take her up on it, and she says yes.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Tenzo-sensei says something funny, and Sakura laughs, half-shocked and half unbearably happy, because that was a joke, and if someone had told her, two months ago, that Tenzo-sensei would joke with her, she would have called them insane. She’s getting better with her Mokuton, getting better with her poisons—she has to get better, with both poisons and antidotes; both because she works in the hospital and because Anko-sensei really seems to like surprise attacks.

 

Sakura laughs, because she’s getting better, because Anko-sensei and Tenzo-sensei are getting better too—and perhaps, they’re all improving at different things, but Sakura’s proud of them nonetheless.

 

She smiles, feels her cheeks ache with how wide it is, and Tenzo smiles back. For now, that’s enough.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She joins Ino and Choji’s team for the next Chunin exams—held in Iwa, this time. The sun beats down, the land cracked and brown and dead, but when pushed, trees will grow anywhere.

 

Sakura grins a smile that is all teeth, a smile taught to her in equal parts by Hana and by Anko-sensei, and she takes her chakra and pulls, and watches as wood grows from the ground.

 

“Senju Sakura,” Tsunade says, holds out her flak vest, and Sakura’s grin is fierce and proud in equal measure. She passed, her team passed, Team Eight passed.

 

Konoha is becoming something fierce again, Inner whispers. Sakura agrees.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

When Sakura was a child, she had loved the library almost as much as she’d loved the forest. She’d spend hours, absorbing the scrolls on anything and everything she could get her hands on. The ninja at the desk always watched her, silently amused.

 

None of this has changed, except the amusement has shifted into something like respect. Sakura isn’t Haruno Sakura, clanless daughter of civilian merchants anymore. Now she’s Senju Sakura, adopted heir to Senju Tsunade, Godaime Hokage and daughter of the Shodaime.

 

Now, her interest in the scrolls on Uzushio is treated with respect, with quiet fear, because last time a Senju showed an interest in sealing Senju Tobirama invented the Hiraishin.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She’s on a B-rank assassination mission with Ino and Kiba as backup when it happens. She slips into her targets room, takes his head with the tanto Tenzo had taught her how to use, when a blue man in an Akatsuki cloak kicks down the door.

 

“Aw,” Hoshigaki Kisame says, “You already killed him? Damn. There was good money in this one.”

 

Fuck, Inner hisses, and Sakura agrees silently. She backs up slowly, carefully, keeping her distance and keeping both Kisame and the window in her line of sight.

 

“Hoshigaki Kisame,” Sakura gets out, and her throat is dry and tight, but she knows she was at least loud enough for her comm to pick up. “The tailless tailed beast.”

 

“You’ve heard of me?” Kisame grins, his teeth sharp, sharklike, glinting in the moonlight. “I’m honoured.”

 

“Shit,” Kiba hisses through the comm, “We’re coming, can you get out of there?” Sakura backs up just a little more, sees red eyes over Kisame’s shoulder and drops her gaze to stomach level instantly.

 

“Uchiha Itachi,” she says, and is proud of how little her voice wavers, given his notoriety in Konoha. Itachi says nothing, but Kisame takes a step forwards. Sakura steps back in turn, keeping the distance between them and slowly, slowly shifting towards the window. Ino and Kiba are both swearing in her ears, breathless in a way that speaks of utter terror.

 

They know they won’t survive this encounter if they come into this room. Sakura’s going to have to get out on her own.

 

“I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage, bounty-stealer,” Kisame says, “You know our names, but we don’t know yours. I like to know the names of those I kill.” She can’t see it, but Sakura swears his grin gets wider, showing off more of those dangerous-looking teeth.

 

Sakura takes a deep breath, another step back, then she looks up to meet Kisame’s eyes, says, “Senju Sakura,” and dives out the window. She meets up with Ino and Kiba, waiting just in the treeline, and they run like hell back for Konoha.

 

They’re a good distance from the inn when they finally stop, half-terrified and completely out of breath. Then Ino stalks forwards, aims a punch at Sakura’s head.

 

“Shit, what was that for?” Sakura complains, leaping backwards.

 

“You gave your name to a missing-nin!” Ino shrieks, and Sakura winces, ducks away from another swing. “You impulsive fucking idiot!”

 

“I know!” Sakura snaps, and Ino pauses, watches her cautiously. “I know it was a stupid thing to do, but they’re going after Naruto! If I can distract them from him, even for a bit-” She’s cut off as Kiba sweeps her legs out from under her, and she hits the ground with a sharp exhale.

 

“You’re a self-sacrificial idiot,” Kiba informs her, his hands lighting up green as he hovers over her. He apparently decides she’s fine, because the medical chakra fades from his hands and he stands, says “C’mon. We gotta go inform the Hokage.”

 

I used to think that the day Kiba would be sensible would be the end of the world, Inner snickers, but you’re such an idiot sometimes that anyone looks good next to you.

 

Fuck you, Sakura thinks back, you’re a part of me.

 

Yep, Inner agrees.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Tsunade is, understandably, not at all happy. Sakura gets what’s half a dressing-down, half a screaming match, with both her mission partners and Shizune watching on.

 

Tsunade takes a deep breath, settles back into her seat, and glares at her with narrowed brown eyes. “I can’t afford to take you off the missions roster,” she says, “but you’re going to be doing D-ranks and cakewalk C-ranks as the backup for Genin teams for the next month.”

 

Sakura thinks she takes that punishment gracefully, because they’re right. Telling missing-nin like Hoshigaki Kisame and Uchiha Itachi her name was unbearably foolish, but she doesn’t regret it.

 

Then Anko-sensei and Tenzo-sensei both turn up, and Sakura groans, quiet.

 

“Okay, brat,” Anko-sensei starts, “since, apparently, I’ve been training an idiot, you’re getting double the amount of training. If you’re gonna insist on having ninja like the Tailless Tailed Beast on your trail, you better be able to fucking hold them off.”

 

“Hopefully,” Tenzo-sensei puts in, and the glance he shares with her other teacher almost makes Sakura wish they’d never met, “you’ll be qualified to take the Jounin exams in four months.”

 

“You’re trying to-” Sakura starts, pauses, fails to process it and just stares at her teachers in silent disbelief. Anko-sensei just grins, wild, and Tenzo-sensei offers a calming smile.

 

“Don’t worry,” he says, “you’ll be ready for it.”

 

“But you might wanna look a little more closely at the fuinjutsu section of the library,” Anko-sensei offers. Her grin is utterly wicked, and Sakura’s a little concerned. “It’s always good to have something unexpected, of course.”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Sakura’s one hundred percent sure that this wasn’t here before she left for that horrendous assassination mission. One hundred percent.

 

She remembers Anko-sensei’s wicked grin, the look she’d shared with Tenzo-sensei, and thinks that this may have been what her teacher was referring too.

 

“You might wanna look a little more closely at the fuinjutsu section of the library.”

 

Sakura reverently runs her hands over the embossed letters, Tobirama Senju, and thanks her teacher with all her heart.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

We’ll be ready for it, Inner says, confidently victorious, even this far before the exams. Sakura smiles, more a challenge than a true smile.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

“He was a genius!” Sakura announces, bursting into Ino’s room.

 

Ino shrieks, throws a senbon—that Sakura dodges, thank god—and yells, “Don’t do that!”

 

Sakura completely ignores her in favour of spreading a scroll out over her bed. Ino sighs, grabs a hair tie, and does her hair up as she wanders over to look. “See!” Sakura gushes, pointing at things that Ino really doesn’t understand, “It’s a space-time base, obviously, but no-one could get the Yondaime’s Hiraishin kunai to work because each tag is specialised! Designed so that it’ll only work with one person’s chakra powering it!”

 

She looks up, and she’s so, so, excited, face flushed and eyes sparkling. Ino looks at her, thinks oh no, she’s hot, then realises she has zero impulse control anyway. So she kisses her.

 

And Sakura kisses back.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Tsunade takes one look at her, slams a 50 Ryo note into Shizune’s hand, and grumbles something about always taking sucker bets. Shizune just smirks, pats Tsunade’s shoulder in a way that would get anyone else thrown into a wall, and pockets the money.

 

“What?” Sakura says, blank.

 

“Congrats,” Shizune says, heading for the kitchen. “Both for the girlfriend and because you won me 50 Ryo.”

 

“Were you betting on my love life?”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She doesn’t master the Hiraishin before her Jounin exam. Sakura hadn’t expected to, of course, but it still irritates her—still seems like a failure, kinda. Ino insists it isn’t, insists that she’s amazing for even figuring out that you need your own seal to make it work, but Sakura’s not so sure.

 

She goes into the Jounin exams feeling like she’s not good enough for them, and comes out of them with a promotion, a kind of bone-deep shell-shock that comes with succeeding when you hadn’t expected to.

 

Senju Sakura is a Jounin of Konohagakure now, she’s powerful, and she knows she is, intellectually, but-

 

She’s around people like Tsunade, like Shizune, Anko, Tenzo, Kakashi, powerful people, who she looks up to. Her girlfriend is Ino, the Yamanaka head already shafted for T&I.

 

Sakura’s powerful, knows she’s powerful, but she always thought it would be them before it would be her.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Sometimes, sometimes, she slips off into the forest around the Nara compounds, sits with the trees and the streams and the deer. Sometimes, Shikamaru finds her, sits with her, and they watch the clouds together. Sometimes, he doesn’t find her, and she watches the light filter through the trees alone. It’s nice, either way, and it’s a connection to nature, to a part of her that she doesn’t get as much when she’s training with Anko-sensei or Tenzo-sensei, or when she’s helping out at the hospital.

 

Other times, Hana invites her over to help with the puppies, or just to hang out with the dogs. Sakura loves those moments, loves the little times where she gets to hang out with her friends and with her girlfriend, with the dogs and the deer.

 

These little moments are spots of calm in the hecticness of ninja life, and she treasures them.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

It’s in winter, Ino’s head laid in her lap as Sakura runs her fingers through blonde hair, that she remembers the rumours. The rumours that the Yondaime Hokage taught his guards the Hiraishin so that they can keep up with him, and the rumours that the guards are still guards today, just with a slightly shifted target.

 

“Sakura?” Ino asks, kind and beautiful and perfect, and Sakura leans down, kisses her, soft and gentle, and says;

 

“I think I’ve figured it out.”

 

Ino sits up instantly, shifts to face her. “You have?”

 

Sakura hesitates, just slightly. “Well, I’ve figured out who could teach me it?”

 

Ino grins, bright and happy, and says, “I’m so proud of you.” Sakura grins back, because she’s found a way to learn the Hiraishin, and Ino looks at her, leans forward, and kisses her breathless.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Once, not so long ago, a little girl wandered into the woods.

 

She walked and she walked and she walked, talking to the trees and to the animals, digging her fingers into soft earth and dipping her toes in cool, fast-running water.

 

Once, not so long ago, something else came out.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

She jumps up beside the man in the bear mask, sits beside him silently as they watch Tsunade work—or, really, drink while staring in despair at the mountain of paperwork on her desk. Sakura’s glad that while she’s heir to the Senju clan, she isn’t heir to the position of Hokage, because she doesn’t think she’d be able to handle this much paperwork.

 

(Knowing that Kakashi is currently Tsunade’s first choice for her successor makes it all the funnier.)

 

Ask him, Inner says, insistent, excited.

 

“So,” she says, feels the Bear-masked ANBU start next to her, “I hear you know the Hiraishin.”

 

Shiranui Genma tilts his head slightly to the side, turning to focus on her. “A version of it, yes.”

 

“Can you teach me?” she asks, soft, careful, because if she has her facts right, Genma was 17 when the Yondaime died on what was technically his watch, and even fifteen years later, there’s no way that wound has faded entirely.

 

Genma studies her, looks down at the Hokage below them and back up at her, and says, “Okay.”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Once, long ago, a tree spirit found a wandering boy. The boy talked to nature, loved nature, wished the trees and animals well. He respected the forest and everything in it, and the tree spirit liked the boy.

 

(A blessing from a spirit can cause most interesting abilities indeed.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Naruto returns to the village, and Sakura isn’t there to see it. She’s out on a mission in water country—assassination again, highly ranked because the client suspects the target may have hired another village’s ninja for protection. She doesn’t get back for another week or so, give or take a few days, returns successful but exhausted. She meets Ino first, actually, while heading to the Hokage tower and her girlfriend wastes no time in thoroughly distracting her from her goal.

 

She makes it to Tsunade’s office eventually, and Shizune takes one look at her before shaking her head tiredly. “Waylaid by Ino?” she asks, and Sakura chuckles sheepishly.

 

“Just a bit,” she says, “pretty sure most of this is the mission’s fault.”

 

Shizune laughs, ushers her into Tsunade’s office, where she comes face to face with Naruto.

 

“Sakura-chan?” he says, and he hasn’t really changed much—he’s still wearing orange, still has such a loud presence—and Sakura realises that she’s really missed him.

 

“Naruto?” she says, and then he’s sweeping her into a bone-crushing hug. She can see Tsunade and Tenzo-sensei over his shoulder, but she doesn’t think she really cares. It’s Naruto, finally back, and he’s not dead in a ditch somewhere or drained and broken, like she’d dreaded. “You’re back!”

 

“Believe it!” he says, and Sakura laughs, bright and warm and a little helpless. “Wait, Sakura-chan, are you a Jounin now?”

 

“Yeah!” she says, and she’s grinning and Naruto is too and it’s perfect. “Yeah, I am!”

 

“That’s super cool, Sakura-chan!” Naruto says, and Sasuke would have glared and complained, but not Naruto, never him, “It means you’re super strong, y’know!”

 

Tsunade clears her throat, amused, and says, “I think Sakura came with a report?” Kakashi-sensei snorts, soft and fond, and Sakura hears a muffled laugh from Genma up in the rafters. She glares up at him, then steps around Naruto to hand Tsunade the report.

 

“The client was right,” she says, and Tsunade’s eyes narrow. “Kumo.”

 

“Glad to have you back,” is all Tsunade says, but Sakura smiles, because she knows how this works by now. “Now go and have your reunion, I don’t want my office overflowing with sap.” Sakura laughs, hears Genma quickly muffle his own again, hooks her arm through Naruto’s and leads him out the door.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

“We found Sasuke,” Tsunade says, her expression and her voice both grimmer than Sakura’s ever heard them. “I’m sending Team Seven after him.”

 

“Tsunade-sama!” Shizune says, “You dissolved Team Seven! And Kakashi’s on bed-rest!” Sakura can’t help but feel relieved at the defense—she hates Sasuke, she does, he’s a traitorous bastard who defected from the village and went to the man who orchestrated the invasion that killed her parents—but she doesn’t think she could fight him. Not clearly, not as best she can; not with the anger blinding her vision and the knowledge that once, long ago, she’d loved him.

 

But… Naruto will want to go. He will want to go, and he will want to try and bring Sasuke back.

 

And Sakura doesn’t think she can forgive Sasuke, doesn’t think she’ll be able to ever think of him in anywhere near the same way she had before, but she thinks she can handle this. She thinks she can bring him back, even just to face trial, even just because Naruto wants to save his old rival.

 

But can you do it without killing him? Inner asks, pessimistically curious.

 

Yes, Sakura replies.

 

At least, she hopes she can.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

Once, not so long ago, a tree spirit found a wandering girl. The girl talked to nature, loved nature, wished the trees and animals well. She respected the forest and everything in it, and the tree spirit liked the girl.

 

(A blessing from a spirit can cause most interesting abilities indeed.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

They do go, and Sakura goes with them, because what else can she do? They’re assigned Tenzo-sensei as their team captain—something that Sakura is inordinately relieved by, especially with their fourth and final member being Sai, a boy with the same jarring falseness Tenzo-sensei had had when she’d first met him.

 

The whole trip is disconcerting, between trying to introduce Naruto to Tenzo without revealing his abilities—Sakura knows better than that; she doesn’t trust Sai, and she doesn’t trust that they’re not being watched, either. At the end of it all, the fact that there are two Mokuton users on this team is their biggest advantage, and there’s no way in hell Sakura’s losing that.

 

But eventually, eventually, they get to Orochimaru’s hideout, find empty room after empty room after empty room.

 

And it is, in the end, Naruto who finds him first. Sakura’s silently, secretly glad that it wasn’t her, both because she’s not entirely sure what she would have done without Naruto there to ground her, and because she doesn’t think she could have handled finding Sasuke anyway.

 

They’ve found him nonetheless.

 

“Sasuke!” Naruto yells, half-begging, “Come back with us!”

 

He won’t, Inner says, and Sakura knows she’s right.

 

Sasuke stares down at them, indifference written across his face. He’s indifferent to Naruto’s pleas, indifferent to the fact that they came for him, and Sakura hates.

 

Nature hates with her.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

In the end, they don’t bring him home. Sakura slips through Ino’s window, curls up on her girlfriend’s bed and cries softly.

 

When Ino gets home, she makes Sakura a hot chocolate and sits with her, silently comforting. When she finally gets up the courage to talk, Ino just listens, nods at the appropriate times, but doesn’t interrupt.

 

When finally, finally, Sakura stops talking, exhausted but done with her tale, Ino grins the grin of Anko at her most bloodthirsty and says, “Do you want me to rip his legs off?”

 

And Sakura laughs, light, but denies it. “I think,” she says, “I’d like to do that myself.”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

The next time Sakura meets Itachi and Kisame, they’re after Naruto.

 

“Oh!” Kisame says, and he’s still grinning that god-awful shark-toothed grin. “Look, Itachi, it’s the Senju girl. Sakura, right?”

 

She feels her team's eyes shift to her, but she keeps her own locked on Kisame, carefully avoiding Itachi’s eyes. “Long time, no see,” she says, “pity you lost me last time.”

 

Kisame’s face darkens. “Look, little bounty stealer, we’re just here for your friend. You’re just a bonus.”

 

Oh no you fucking don’t, Inner says, and Sakura agrees, snarling quietly. She hears Naruto yelling, and pulls her tanto from her back. The only way she even has a chance going up against Kisame is with her Mokuton and her tanto. Tenzo-sensei being able to back her up is a bonus, but she thinks he’s going to have to focus more on Itachi, Naruto and Sai.

 

Let’s do this, Inner hisses, vicious and cold and furious.

 

So Sakura grins, a challenge, and says, “Sorry, shark-boy, you gotta go through me first.”

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

(She ends up in the hospital after that stunt, missing half her chakra and with her back flayed open by the spikes running down Samehada’s length. They didn’t get Naruto, though, and that’s all that really matters.)

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

The first time Senju Sakura uses the Hiraishin, she’s eighteen years old and it’s the end of the world. Kaguya stands over them all, a rabbit goddess vicious and powerful, but Sakura is the heir of the Senju clan, a pink-haired girl blessed by the forests themselves, and she stands side by side with the best of the best.

 

She stands on even ground with her predecessors, with nine Kage, with Naruto and Sasuke. She stands on even ground with chakra monsters and those who are considered gods amongst ninja.

 

She stands on even ground and she fights the same, with the chakra-enhanced strength taught to her by Tsunade, with the Mokuton given to her by the spirits of the trees, with the Hiraishin, invented by the Nidaime, perfected by the Yondaime and learnt, eventually, by her.

 

The first time Senju Sakura uses the Hiraishin, she drives a blade of wood through black Zetsu’s heart, and she lets it grow and grow and grow until a spirit-tree-cage encases the majority of their troubles. She leaves the wooden blade there, pulls her tanto from her back and throws another marked kunai.

 

“Hiraishin?” Minato asks her, as she lands beside him.

 

“You’re a genius,” she tells him.

 

He laughs, says, “Thank you,” then adds, “you’re pretty good yourself.” She grins, decapitates a white Zetsu clone, offers her former Hokage a salute.

 

“Don’t die again, Yondaime-sama,” she says, and vanishes again. Minato chuckles, turning back to the fight. The pink-haired menace will be fine. She kind of reminds him of Kushina, actually—a storm of nature locked in human form.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

The next time she lands, it’s to block a white Zetsu clone coming down on Choji’s unprotected back as he pumps healing chakra into a downed ninja.

 

“Why is no one guarding you?” she asks, annoyed, as she cuts off its arm, ignoring the spray of white goop that splatters up her sleeve.

 

“I was,” Senju Tobirama says, dropping down from the ridge towering above them. “My apologies. I got a bit sidetracked.”

 

Sakura stares at him, huffs in annoyance, and goes back to carving her way through the hordes of clones. “You’re a genius too,” she says, but she sounds more irritated than awed. “You know better than that.”

 

“Yes,” Tobirama says, and he sounds emotionless, but Sakura knows people better than that, and she catches how the corners of his lips twitch up, ever so slightly.

 

“Then guard properly,” she snaps, and with a muttered “honestly,” she vanishes. Tobirama’s slight smirk widens, just that little bit, and even as he pulls water from the air itself he’s remembering another ferocious kunoichi, dark hair pulled into a topknot, who used to berate him similarly.

 

[ 木霊 ]

 

The war ends after Yamanaka Ino punches a goddess in the face. She gives Naruto and Sasuke—who are apparently the reincarnations of the sons of the Sage of the Six Paths, which Sakura personally thinks is bullshit—the opening they need to seal her.

 

Gods, Inner says, I love our girlfriend. Sakura agrees.

 

The war ends, and the sun shines over a tired battlefield of ninja from different villages, who all had had the same goal: survive.

 

The war ends, and Sakura looks up at the clear blue sky and thinks, it’s a good day to be alive.

 

She’s not tired anymore.